Friday, June 22, 2018

NYC Day 1: Let them be happy

Why we came to NYC ...

We begin our trip in a panic as our passports had expired and spend a morning and a great deal of money making sure they are updated in time for our trip the next day. Lesson learned, likely this will never happen again. (We hope!)

We race to Billy Bishop Airport to catch our flight. Our son left an hour before us on an earlier flight to join his boyfriend. Porter has revamped its lounge and there we see two good friends heading for Boston for a wedding - a happy coincidence. 

We have been coming to NYC since our university days. In the early 1980s, the downtown core of Manhattan near Times Square was a rough place seemingly overflowing with peep shows, shabby retailers and very desperate looking individuals. But we were braver then (or more oblivious to harm) and we fared well. I remember seeing films at St. Marks Cinema (now long gone) and then dancing down Broadway together at night after we saw a Rogers and Astaire film. We were quite happy to sack out in a $50 a night not-so-reputable hotel in Times Square and wander the city in search of adventure.

Art Deco fixture in the lobby of the hotel
Today we are a tad more aspiring in our pretensions and fancied a hotel near Greenwich Village and NYU - in a hotel that Rob had been eyeing for some years. The Washington Square Hotel at 103 Waverly Place is just steps away from Washington Square. The area is busy, diverse, chaotic, a mixture of very elegant townhouses, students and down on their heels New Yorkers. It's a strange, sometimes exciting, sometimes disturbing brew of people.

Excited to be in this hotel, a historic 1902 building which has housed the likes of Hemingway, Dylan Thomas and 1960s folk heroes like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, we were intrigued by the Art Deco decor. Alas, the room (small, spare and mildly disappointing) was not what we expected. The lobby which promised much does not correspond with the floor we are on, which resembles a downscale south of the border motel with curious white stucco walls and ugly mosaics of exotic flowers. The view is abysmal. The sky is not visible from the lone window. So ... whatever. We are here to have fun we decide, not sit in a hotel room and sulk about our accommodations.

The Stonewall Inn today ... preparing for Pride 
As we approached the hotel we saw the Stonewall Inn - a historic, almost sacred, site for the LGBTQ community. It was the scene of a spontaneous, violent riot on June 28, 1969. The New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, then a gay club. The raid sparked a riot among patrons and Christopher St. residents which lead to six days of violent clashes and the beginning of today's Pride parades every June across the world.

Rob at the David Bowie Is exhibit
First stop: Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway ... yes, Brooklyn at last. In all the years that we have been coming to NYC we have never been to this borough. "David Bowie Is" is a multi-media exhibit that was featured in Toronto a few years ago and which I never got a chance to see. Rob did and he loved it. This museum is beautiful - brilliantly clean, well designed and spacious. The Bowie exhibit was ambitious but perhaps not carefully curated to my mind. Too many intriguing things to see in too many crowded spaces with too many people. We Canadians, a cautious and fastidious people, would have handled it more efficiently I think in Toronto. The multi-media - TV appearances, movies, concerts, fashion, audio clips, albums and music - so many facets of this talented artist's life - could have been more carefully displayed and given us, the museum goer, a bit more space to observe and appreciate his talent. 

Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party 

As luck would have it, the museum also houses Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party - still stunning and gorgeous to behold. It is comprised of a long triangular table with 39 place settings - a history of women in Western civilization representing both historical and mythical women across millennia. The colours and designs are overwhelmingly beautiful. The place setting on the left above is dedicated to Virginia Woolf.

After the museum, we search for a hospitable place to eat close to our hotel and we find one at Amelie Wine Bar, 22 W. 8th St. Elegant French cuisine served and the place rocking with attractive young couples and groups of pretty girls (what are we doing there?!). Rob ordered hand-seared brook trout with green beans and I ordered Gratin De Raviolis Du Royans (both excellent) accompanied by beer and rosemary flavoured lemonade. The food is excellent but at a price. Not for the fiscally faint of heart. Without dessert or tip the bill was close to $90 American.

We are close enough to The Strand Bookstore, 828 Broadway, my favourite bookstore in the world - and we walk there within minutes. I find a book of poetry among the thousands of books. I have been searching for this volume for a while: Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters.

Close to The Strand is a tiny, perfect gelato place called Amorino, 162 8th St. for pistachio gelato. Small in size but worth the crowded seating for a taste.

We walk back to Washington Square, which is lit up like a Christmas tree and there is an Afro-Caribbean band playing. The odd tourist starts to wiggle and flail, even a few kids chime in. We giggle and text our son, who is with his boyfriend in another part of the state. Not brave enough to dance ourselves we laugh a bit at the eager dancers. He says, "Let them be happy." So we wish them well and go home after a very long but fruitful day. 

Washington Square monument by night

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