nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic

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Welcome back, Met

As long as we’ve lived in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been surrounded by hoardings, covering up the work being done to reconstruct the space in front of the museum , which runs along 5th Avenue from 79th Street to 84th Street. It was pretty ugly, made the pavement very narrow in places and it was filthy to navigate in the depths of winter.

This week it was finally over. The front of the Met has been revealed and it looks beautiful. The David H. Koch Plaza is clean, simply laid out and resplendent with circular fountains and rows of bright red umbrellas providing welcome respite from the fierce New York sun.

Walking south along 5th Avenue outside the Met

Unfortunately they didn’t get rid of the ugly looking fast food vendors that line up along the pavement and pollute the air with their smoky cooking. Have a look and see what you think.

Walking north along 5th Avenue outside the Met

Walking north along 5th Avenue outside the Met










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When is Fifth not Fifth?









Aha, yes, tonight. Fifth Avenue shut down to traffic from 82nd Street all the way up to 104th Street. You’d never know this was Fifth Avenue in my photograph around 94th Street. This is Museum Mile. Starts with your world famous Metropolitan Museum, heads up past the Guggenheim to the Jewish Museum and ends up at the Museum of New York (with others in between). With a marvellous vista across Central Park, this is a beautiful part of New York. Ordinarily spoiled by buses, lots and lots of buses, cars and taxis all crammed into this one way street, but tonight was special, no vehicles allowed.

It is the night of the annual Museum Mile Festival. I don’t remember this from last year, passed me by, but this year we turned up at 6pm to wander down the whole length from 104th Street down to 84th Street. It was great. Lively, full of families with kids drawing all over the road with ‘sidewalk chalk’. Various kids entertainers doing their thing, with an escapologist wowing the crowd with his amazing fire tattoos and ability to escape from chains and a strait jacket. How lovely to wander down Fifth Avenue and not watch for the traffic; let your toddler wander along the road, confused because he can cross when the red hand is showing, rather than waiting for the regular white person to declare ‘it’s our turn to cross’.

And every museum and gallery along the way was open for free to the public. The lesser known Neue Gallerie on 86th Street was doing a roaring trade. It is hosting an exhibition on degenerate art from Nazi Germany and it is proving to be one of its most popular shows. People were queuing down the block for free entry to this one.

Just another lovely part of New York life.

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Panorama without the politics

Panorama has been on the BBC for as long as I can remember. Focused on current affairs with an investigative approach, it’s a stalwart of the BBC. But here in NYC it’s nothing of the sort. “The Panorama of the City of New York is the jewel in the crown of the collection of the Queens Museum”, says the blurb on the leaflet about the enormous 3-D map of the five boroughs of New York. It’s hard to comprehend just by looking at a computer screen, but here’s what you see when you first walk into the Panorama room at the museum:

Panorama 1









Even if you know nothing about the geography of New York, you can see here on the right hand side the long island of Manhattan with Central Park providing a rectangle of green relief in the middle. Look in the distance of the photograph and you can see how small the people are compared with the size of the map.

Walking around the Panorama you see how big Queens and Brooklyn are compared with Manhattan. But the greatest surprise is the size of Staten Island, seen here looking from the south of the island north to Manhattan in the distance on the left.

Panorama 3









And then back round for a closer look at Manhattan. It still shows the Twin Towers and when we went the Statue of Liberty had fallen into the sea, but I am pretty sure it’s still there in real life.

Panorama 2







The Panorama was originally made in early 1960s for the 1964/5 New York Fair; it still looks good today and in the newly refurbished Queens Museum, it makes it well worth the trip. And it’s only $8 suggested donation to get in, so a bargain to boot.

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Shattered in Queens

It’s quite a long way to Queens. Got my first visit to the newly refurbished Queens Museum this weekend. What a find. Set over two levels and a massive 105,000 feet space. The building has had a varied past including being originally built for the 1939/40 New York World’s Fair but since then been the home of the United Nations General Assembly and an ice and roller rink. It’s a lovely airy space and if you walk in this month, you’ll be greeted by this enormous artwork by German born artist, Peter Schumann who now lives in Vermont.

Schumann 4







Schumann has an exhibition on at the moment called The Shatterer and it’s pretty gruesome stuff. Carrying on with my general theme for seeing bonkers art, this one certainly leads the way. As you walk in you are confronted by vast black and white sculptures hanging from the ceiling, all over the walls and jutting out in to the floor space. There’s something distinctly unsettling about his work. The blurb says his work ‘often depicts past and present battles between good and evil’.

Schumann 2









I don’t know about you, but it just makes me shudder. When I was there a steel band was playing Caribbean music in the atrium, which lent a peculiar soundtrack to all this horror. As you wander through the room into the ante room you come across a large number of puppets, so far from Sesame Street and the Muppets, that Jim Henson clearly wasn’t an influence here.

Schumann 3







Quite what these fellas are trying to tell me, I’m not sure, but spending ten minutes in their presence was enough to send me back to the atrium and the comfort of the Caribbean. I asked a member of staff what would happen to the large painting in the atrium and he said it would be painted over. Good job, he said, it had been scaring the kids. I am not surprised.

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Bonkers in Brooklyn

I, like many people of my generation, would often watch Eurotrash on a Friday night and titter at Jean Paul Gaultier and his straight-man sidekick, Antoine de Caunes, as they were spectacularly rude and offensive but in lovely French accents. Well worth looking up on YouTube for a blast from the past. It made the designer, Jean Paul Gaultier a household name; it’s hard to believe he is now 60 years old.

Why this trip down memory lane? Well, Gaultier has an exhibition on at the Brooklyn Museum showing an extensive retrospective of his work. It’s an hour long trek from here involving three subway trains (one extra to avoid the steps with the buggy) down to Brooklyn, but helpfully the subway stop on the 2/3 line is right outside the museum. A relief in the pouring rain today. I wrote about the museum a while back, where someone had removed the entire front staircase from the grand facade and stuck a glass monstrosity on the front, but I’ve decided that’s OK, because it’s buggy friendly and the atrium is great for toddlers who like to run. A lot.

The exhibition is fabulous. They have, as you would expect, all of the mannequins wearing frocks, which are all very elaborate and mostly bonkers. But what’s unusual here is that they have used projectors to beam a face onto the heads of the models and they really look like they are talking, breathing, blinking. It’s quite unsettling. Even more unsettling is the model of Gaultier himself as he rambles on in French and English on a podium all by himself. Most of his designs are crazy, s&M style and over the top, but some of the craftsmanship on the frocks is incredible.

Have a look at my pics and see for yourself. It finishes on Sunday, so if you’re in New York for half term, be adventurous and go.

Jean Paul Gaultier talks animatedly

Jean Paul Gaultier talks animatedly

Ladies chatting

Ladies chatting

Medusa gone wrong?

Medusa gone wrong?

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Does recommended price mean free?

This is interesting. In NYC, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is an enormous world renowned museum filled to the rafters with art and artefacts from all around the world from a huge span of history. It is popular and always busy. It is in a great location on Central Park and it is a privilege to visit. So they recommend that you pay $25 for this privilege. You don’t have to, but I suspect many do and given how much it must cost to run the place, it’s probably a good deal for a day out.

I was browsing through my latest Groupon voucher email when I saw that the Met was offering discounted admission for $18. Seems like a good deal, but of course the admission is ‘recommended’, so what’s that telling you? According to the Met it’s about giving people the chance to pay in advance and skip the lines. For some it’s more sinister. Yesterday’s NY Daily News shows outrage at this and says “Looks like the Met continues to be the true masters in the art of deception” and goes on to talk about the Groupon deal, the 2000 people who signed up and a legal case about their approach currently in a New York court.¬†

Bit of a storm in a teacup, I think. It’s a great place and my advice would be to read the notices about admissions and make a decision based on your ability to pay and your attitude to supporting great institutions like the Met. Next time you visit a London museum and don’t have to pay for anything until you want to see a special exhibition, just remember that in NYC you rarely get anything for free.¬†

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Medieval Manhattan

Ah, I hear you say, but America wasn’t really around in medieval times. Sure, that’s true, but it doesn’t stop NYC from importing treasures from Europe and displaying them in a made up castle in the far reaches of north Manhattan. I kept seeing reference to the Cloisters in tourist blurb and at the Metropolitan Museum but couldn’t quite imagine what it meant. So on a hot and sunny day earlier this week J and I ventured up the A line all the way to 190th Street, which is a very long way away. And naturally it also involved a ridiculous amount of stairs, curses to you stairs, but I think my arms are rather more sculpted than they used to be, so I shouldn’t complain, really.

John D. Rockefeller Jr funded the Cloisters that emerged from the grounds of Fort Tryon Park in the 1930s. An architect called Charles Collens designed the building to look a bit like a medieval monastery and actually included relics into the construction and I think he did a pretty good job. It’s the home of the medieval collection of the Metropolitan Museum. The cloisters themselves are tranquil and beautifully landscaped and great fun to tootle round if you are 20 months old but hopeless if you are the mother of the 20 month old trying to keep him off the plants, climbing the walls and stopping him from falling into the gardens 20 feet below. But besides that the interior is great if you like looking at really old stuff, medieval stuff isn’t really my thing, but we did get to see the 1930s bowels of the building as we got special dispensation to use the original staff lift to go back up to the entrance – too many stairs. Again.

Fort Tryon Park is a revelation. Snuggled next to the Hudson River, which is very wide at this point, it is an almost tropical haven from the density of the rest of Manhattan. It was hard to believe we were still on the island at all. I doubt many tourists get this far, but on a sunny, hot day, it’s well worth the trip.

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A house tells the story of a changing area

I quite like reading about New York history, how areas have evolved over the decades and the personal stories that come with this. The Museum of the City of New York is a great place to indulge this and it, housed in its grand building on 5th Avenue way up on East 103rd Street, does this with great aplomb. I highly recommend a visit if you’re ever here. Reading the New York Times this weekend, I found a heart warming article in the Metropolitan section, which focused on one house in the little known area of Crown Heights, which is in Brooklyn. The article tracked the house move of the current owner (selling for $1.3 million) and recalled the past by digging through city records to see who had lived in this grand, turreted building. It was the best thing I read this weekend and well worth a look. It’s not all about Manhattan, it seems.

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1000 steps to Queens

That may be a slight exaggeration, but not much. I bravely ventured out with J and E to the New York Hall of Science. This rather grandly named attraction is based way out in the Flushing Meadows area of Queens. Practically at the end of the 7 train line, this is a world away from our part of Manhattan. And when you are doing this with a heavy toddler in a buggy in the hot, humid weather of NYC it’s hard work. Not one person helped with the steps all the way there and there are a lot.

The Hall of Science is based in a converted 1960s building that was originally built as a pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair. It’s a great hands on space for young kids to learn about science and has an excellent playground, which is great for 7 year olds and hopeless for toddlers. Just hope they are asleep so they don’t get jealous.

Next door to the Hall of Science is Flushing Meadows Corona Park, an oasis of greenery and calm in the heart of Queens and home to the Queens Zoo, sister to its more famous sibling in Central Park. It’s lovely. Small, but lovely with a rather impressive elk with the biggest antlers I’ve ever seen. There’s an old fashioned carousel and a petting zoo with some very friendly goats who love to be stroked. And in the middle is the most peculiar building called Terrace on the Park.

blog pic 29






I have just looked at the website for it and it appears to be much flasher in its Internet form than in real life. From the outside it looks really run down, a bit unloved and frankly a bit of a concrete monster. It completely dominates the park, looming over the zoo. Not sure I’d fancy getting married there, but I suppose the views must be good.

Oh, and on the way back I managed to look pathetic enough to get help with the buggy up all those blasted stairs all the way home. Just don’t be on the subway past 4.30 in the afternoon as it’s as packed as the London underground and deeply unpleasant.