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New York NotesRetrospect of NY 2010Wendy's New York Journal, March-April 2011New York VillanelleAmsterdamBerlin

Retrospect of NY 2010

Having completed the New York Diary for 2011 (which is after the following), I now regret not writing one in 2010. The year 2010 was special for us, as we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary, my 60th birthday and my retirement. We visited some places we had never been before and therefore it seems worth recording. My account is in the form of retrospective notes.

We set off for NY during the second week of June, later than in the previous year. This was because I could not take any more holiday until my retirement at the end of May, and then John had his external examiner rôle in St Andrew's at the beginning of June.

We learnt from previous experience, and flew direct to NY from Amsterdam. As a special treat we stayed in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Columbus Circle, for the first four nights. We had a park view room with a splendid outlook along 59th St. and onto Central Park, a great place to sit and watch the world go by. The bathroom was enormous, with a separate shower and wc. Staff in the hotel were friendly and helpful but did not make you feel ill-at-ease. We took breakfast in the main restaurant, which had huge windows overlooking Central Park. The food was excellent, offering anything you wanted: fresh berries, choice of cereals, proper toast, a single freshly boiled egg, or a full English. Early one morning we were walking in Central Park when we came across a woman with binoculars who invited us to look into one of the tall trees. You could see a racoon in the branches quite clearly. Apparently there are a lot of these living in the park, but many carry rabies.

All too soon we had to check out of the Mandarin Oriental. It was a wrench to leave this lovely hotel.The Hilton was our stopover before setting off to the Hudson Valley. The Hilton also provided storage for our large cases while we were out of town. From Grand Central Station we took the Hudson Line to Tarrytown. The train passed under Central Park and emerged above ground around 125th St. The journey to Tarrytown took only 50 minutes, where we collected a hire car from Enterprise. The car was a light blue Chrysler Cruiser automatic, which came complete with dog hair and sticky door handles. John managed to find the way to the Hilton DoubleTree hotel, which looked motel-like. But the room was clean, quiet and comfortable. The restaurant appeared rather grand for the hotel. However, the food was good, service pleasant.

Right next to the hotel was Lyndhurst, one of the many beautiful mansions in the surrounding area, the house originally built for William Paulding, a former mayor of New York City. On the advice of a member of hotel staff, we decided to walk there. No mean feat, as it had a long drive. The house was a Gothic Revival Mansion in enormous grounds, with a view of the Hudson River. There was only one other couple on the house tour. The grounds were quiet. The stables and carriage house were taken over by preparations for a function, and a large marquee was being erected. The walk back to the hotel was hot and tiring, but it had been worth the effort.

The following day, we decided to visit Philipsburg Manor and Kykuit. The Manor was not well signed. We drove past it twice. In fact, it was on the edge of Tarrytown. Philipsburg Manor was one of the largest slave plantations in the North during the 17th and 18th centuries. The manor house, which dates back to 1685, was owned by a Dutchman, Frederick Philipse. The estate still functions as a working farm, with a working flour mill. We saw a demonstration of the grinding, with two different grains being used. Staff working around the estate were dressed in period costume, mainly for the benefit of school parties, I suspect.

After lunch, we joined one of the bus tours to Kykiut, the Rockefeller Estate, set high above the Hudson River, with a fountain and landscaped gardens to the front. The house is not particularly spectacular, but is used to display art works by Picasso, Henry Moore, and Constantin Brancusi, among others. The grounds make a series of different gardens, with ponds and a tea house. The terrace has views of the river and is used to display sculptures to advantage. This was a tour worth taking.

The next morning, time to move base to the Poughkeepsie Grand, our hotel for the next three nights. It was not grand, more like a poor 1960s Holiday Inn. The room was OK, with a view towards the Hudson River. But the food was burger in type, and not particularly good. We took a walk around the town to get our bearings, a depressing experience. Many premises were closed or boarded up. A lot of the shop doorways had signs saying 'No Loitering'. Poughkeepsie had the feel of somewhere that had seen better days. There were occasional examples of shops trying to make a go of it, but there seemed to be little money about. However, this was to be a base for visiting some of the other mansions. There was little choice of places to stay in the area.

We drove to the Vanderbilt Mansion, outside Poughkeepsie, a 54-room country palace built in 1898. Our guide for the tour of the house was a female ranger with a loud and penetrating voice. But she gave a clear and light-hearted account of the house and its occupants. The house was grand and lavishly decorated, the grounds extensive, and once again on the edge of the Hudson River. Those wealthy New Yorkers of the gilded age knew where to live.

The Franklin D Roosevelt Museum was close to the Vanderbilt Mansion, so we paid that a brief second visit. We didn't stay long because we wanted to see Eleanor Roosevelt's cottage, Val-Kill. This was the only home she ever owned. She used the grounds for the headquarters of Val-Kill Industries, which taught crafts to rural workers who then went on to produce Colonial Revival furniture. Val-Kill cottage was simple and homely. There was real peace about the place. We sat in the garden watching chipmunks for about half an hour. All the staff had gone home and we were the last people on the site.

John had long wanted to visit Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. So the following morning we set out to find it. The aerodrome was hidden in the trees, about two miles from Rhinebeck town. To our surprise, it was uneven farmland. There was no tarmac runway, only roughly mown grass. While waiting for the flying to start we looked at the displays of old vehicles. We noticed a model T Ford looking tatty in a corrugated iron shelter. We thought it didn't look used, so were shocked to see a young man, dressed in twenties-style braces and cap, get into the car and start it first try. He then drove round the airfield with several other old vehicles. There were army vehicles, farm vehicles, cars and motorbikes in sheds all round the site. It was obvious that there was much restoration work to be done. On display was a great range of aircraft, many in flying order. Two of the aircraft were used to give flights to members of the public. I was too nervous to try it and John didn't want to go on his own. We saw three young men using an aircraft engine with propeller, to pull a chassis across the airfield. The contraption looked most unsafe and they treated it with a degree of abandon. There were several hangars full of planes, which we also visited. It was a hot day and we were tired, so the last exhibits got short shrift.

Saturday night in the hotel was noisy. There was a wedding and a number of guests got rather drunk. We were woken in the small hours by a noisy guest being escorted to his room by one of the hotel staff. At that point we wondered what on earth we were doing there.

In the morning we took a walk along the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge. This opened to rail traffic in 1888, but stopped being used for trains in the 1970s. It has been converted to a pedestrian walkway and was reopened in 2009. One the morning we used it, there were lots of walkers and joggers around. We only walked half way across because we still had the return walk to make, and the day was working up to be hot.

We had read about the modern art gallery called Dia:Beacon which was sited in an old Nabisco box-printing factory on the banks of the Hudson. The gallery proved difficult to find. We drove round the town at least twice and eventually found it tucked away beside the river. The building and the setting were attractive but, as is too often the case, the contents were disappointing. Some of the ideas were clever, but most were poorly thought out and executed. We witnessed two grown men fighting in the back streets of Beacon. Not edifying.

Our last outing in this mid-Hudson area was to Locust Grove, home of Samuel Morse, inventor of the electric telegraph and Morse code.

We were the only visitors to this idyllic spot. After a tour of the house, we sat in the garden watching birds. Then we looked round the museum of Morse's inventions. This was a man who changed communications for ever, yet nobody seemed interested in visiting his home.

Food was difficult on this part of the trip. Mostly we ate in chain restaurants located in shopping malls. Typically, the food was fried and covered in sweet sauce. On Sunday evening we ate at a local Italian restaurant, which wasn't to our taste. Portions were enormous, the food too creamy. No wonder many Americans are overweight.

Back in Manhattan, we returned to the Hilton on 54th St. We were to be there for more than a week, so we took a mini-suite. This provided a separate seating and sleeping area. We both had a proper chair to sit in.

June is not a good time of year for music in Manhattan. We had only been able to book one concert, Joao Gilberto, at Carnegie Hall. The day before the concert, he cancelled! We think it was due to some problem travelling to the USA - but he does have a reputation for cancelling at the last minute. At least the cost of the tickets was refunded.

As part of a series of summer music, our friend Daryl Sherman was playing in Bryant Park. We went along to hear her play (on a green piano) and sing. She was very good, as usual, and the audience large. We also met our eminent friend Dan Morgenstern. The Park had a lovely holiday feel. Bryant Park has certainly changed from a few years ago. Then, it was a venue for winos. On this trip to NY we determined to do a few things we had never done before. One morning we got up early, took a cab to Brooklyn, Old Foulton St, and walked back to Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge.

The walk was fascinating. We were on a different level from the cars, so avoided the noise and smell of traffic. The view up and down the East River was clear. That morning there were lots of pleasure walkers and joggers, but there were also people in their office clothes, walking to work.

John had always wanted to be in the audience for one of the big NY TV chat shows. Before we left home he applied for tickets to the David Letterman Show. We were told to arrive at the theatre on Broadway the day before the recording. After waiting in a long queue, we were interviewed and given tickets and instructions for the following day. The day of recording involved yet another queue. We were given final instructions and sent away for an hour. Eventually we queued for a final time to be admitted to the theatre. We were seated downstairs, about half way back in the auditorium. The show was recorded live. Nothing was repeated but there were breaks for changes of scene. During these, Letterman told stories or jokes. It was a typical television recording, but slickly done by an experienced team. As we left the auditorium, the audience for the next show was waiting outside.

On our first trip to Manhattan in 1980, we visited the Intrepid aircraft carrier. Since then she has been refurbished, with more aircraft added to the display. We decided to have another look. The carrier is moored on the West Side, where the transatlantic liners berthed, and where West Side Story was set. There was a good display of aircraft, mostly American. The day was hot. Even with the breeze on deck, we were relieved to retire to the air conditioning below. Films of the navy's role in WW11, complete with loud explosions, were being shown to schoolchildren. I don't think they believed battle was real. They thought it was a movie.

Although we had visited the Metropolitan Museum several times before, we had never managed to see the Egyptian exhibition because it was always busy. This time we went early and made a point of visiting that section only. The Temple of Dendur was enormous and awe-inspiring, surrounded by a moat. The temple was a gift to the people of America in return for their help in building the Aswan Dam. There was a number of peripheral exhibitions of Egyptian art. Some of the sculpture and pottery looked modern in its style and execution.

Another first was a visit to Mount Vernon Hotel on 1st Avenue and E 61st St. This old house started as a farm, well away from developed Manhattan. The farm changed its use, became a sort of pub, then a hotel. The building is furnished appropriately for the period, with a number of old maps of the NY area, showing how the city grew over a short time.

We were the only visitors on our tour of the house. This historic site is far enough away from most tourist centres to be little visited. The terrace at the back of the house is a haven of peace. We sat there for a while, hardly believing that the busy city was on the other side of the wall.

One sunny Sunday afternoon we decided to explore the Upper West Side. We walked west along W66th St., past where Benny Goodman once lived, and then along Riverside Boulevard. There we sat to watch children playing and families promenading. We felt like New Yorkers for a while. This is a prosperous residential area. Most people were well-dressed.

I particularly wanted to visit the New York Historical Society, hosting an exhibition of the original Audubon bird paintings. Unfortunately, most of the premises were closed for refurbishment, the only part open was offering an exhibition of a rock musician. So that was a disappointment.

Late afternoon one day, we were walking along the east side of Central Park when we noticed the National Academy was still open. We had never looked in there, so we decided to see what was on view. It was mainly an exhibition of student work which varied in quality. Some was excellent. One particular student had mastered the art of making clay to look like bronze. Not surprisingly, their work commanded a high price.

We had always wanted to have lunch in the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park. Although we had made a booking we still had to wait for our table. We were seated in the second bank of tables away from the lakeside, but had a good view of the boats. The day was hot. It was a relief to be in the shade. The restaurant was busy and noisy, the service rather slow. Food was good, but nothing special. We were pleased to satisfy our curiosity about the place.

For our homeward journey to Leeds, we made our return transfer to JFK by limousine, courtesy of the 777 Company, http://www.dial7.com

The ride was an improvement on a Yellow Taxi, but not a lot!


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