Monday, July 12, 2010

The Tourists Go Local

Museums or shopping? Shopping or museums? Shopping won!

Sarah and I walked the Garment District near Madison Square Garden and Penn Station looking for fashion bargains. Since the clothes I now own are sufficient to see me to my grave (and then some) we concentrated on things for fashionista Sarah. Lucky for our wallets, we didn't see much she liked.

For our afternoon adventures, we had the good fortune to be joined by my cousin Gerald and his wife Renee. They've lived on Long Island since Gerald's employer offered him a position in NYC several years ago. Renee teaches social studies in a Manhattan high school. We looked forward to being in the hands of local experts.
Our rendezvous point was the Chelsea Hotel. What a landmark! Any Leonard Cohen fans out there? Bob Dylan fans? How about Mark Twain or Jack Kerouac? The Chelsea has a place in all their biographies and those of many more writers, artists, actors and folk famous or notorious for one reason or another.

Excerpt from hotel web site -- "Owing to its long list of famous guests and residents, the hotel has an ornate history, both as a birth place of creative modern art and home of bad behavior. Bob Dylan composed songs while staying at the Chelsea, and poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso chose it as a place for philosophical and intellectual exchange. It is also known as the place where the writer Dylan Thomas died of alcohol poisoning on in 1953, and where Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols may have stabbed his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, to death on October 12, 1978.

Famous visitors and residents of the Chelsea Hotel include Eugene O'Neil, Thomas Wolfe, and Arthur C. Clarke (who wrote 2001: A Space Oddyssey while in residence). Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and the Grateful Dead passed through the hotels doors in the 1960s."

It's an interesting building on its architectural merits as well. When it opened in 1884, it was located in what was then the heart of the Theatre District. Check out photos of exterior and lobby.

In contrast, our hotel Belleclaire has a single historic guest note -- they say Mark Twain once stayed there and Max Gorky was once thrown out for staying with a woman other than his wife -- "This is a family hotel!" said the outraged manager.

With the Chelsea as our starting point, we were off to see the surrounding area -- one of the oldest residential areas of Manhattan-- starting with Chinatown. I though I could pack a lot of "stuff" into a small area but the vendors along the Chinatown streets have me beat by a mile. Lots of food vendors and some great prices for fresh fish. (photos) Sarah tried the currently popular "bubble tea" which is a drink in which pearl tapioca provides the bubbles. Chewy bubbles -- go figure.

Columbus Park is here. It has been an important public space in a neighborhood that has been home to a successive wave of immigrants. It is adjacent to the infamous "Five Points" neighborhood popularized in "Gangs of New York." For many in the area, it is the local "casino" where people gather to gamble at Go and play Chinese Chess, Mah Jong, dominos and cards. Cameras are unwelcome so I settled for a few stealth shots.

Cross a street and you are in Little Italy. Another few streets and its Greenwich Village. And then there's SoHo -- THIS is where Sarah and I should have gone shopping! So, we had to do a little shopping.

We made another visit to Herald Square and the Flat Iron building a were able to get some travel fuel (ice cream) at the nearby Madison Square Park's Shake Shack. (Some consider Madison Square Park the birthplace of baseball, since Alexander Cartwright formed the first baseball club there in 1845.)

Many consider the Flat Iron, also known as Burnham's Folly, to be New York's first skyscraper. On a more anecdotal note, it is said that the building created unusual eddies in the wind which would cause women's skirts to fly around as they walked on 23rd street. This attracted throngs of young men who gathered to view the barelegged spectacle. Police would try to disperse these knots of heavy-breathers by calling to them, "23 Skidoo." This phrase has passed out of common usage, but its descendant, the word "scram" remains in a back corner of the American lexicon. ( Another note -- Few in New York believed that a building this tall could stand so every night for a few months after it was completed in March of 1903, people gathered on the sidewalks at night expecting to see the building collapse.

As you look up at the building, you see the silhouette of a torso at the top of a nearby building. More looking reveals at least six full size sculptures of the male torso located on top of various building and two more in the nearby park. I believe all of them taken together constitute a single installation. If I can find out more about the artist and this work, I'll post the information in a separate note.

Since the Flat Iron is my second on my list of favorite buildng, right after the Chrysler building, I've included a number of different pictures/illustrations of it in the group of pictures that relate to this text post. The photo post also includes several other "skyscrapers" that didn't collapse and in so doing add to the beauty and interest of the city streets.

We finished our explorations with some excellent Italian food served up by the folks at the Rocco Restaurant. My favorite -- a salad of tender baby spinach leaves, slices of a perfectly ripe pear, crumbled gorgonzola and a light dressing of olive oil and lemon juice.

Our thanks to Gerald and Renee for a wonderful afternoon being a part of the real NYC.

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