Friday, 10 July 2009

Better Late Than Never - Me Pichaz

Sorry for the delay in posting my photos. Been a tad busy since getting back, but now finally have the slideshows for you. One of general stuff, and the other of gay pride.

The Links are posted at the bottom of the page.

Thanks for reading, and your emails.

Friday, 3 July 2009

And Finally..................................................

I started travelling at 2 pm Thursday, New York Time. Finally arrived home at 1pm GMT (Geordie Meal Time) on Friday.

The plan was to post from Heathrow to kill some of that nasty transit time, but my flight was delayed arriving and to be honest all I wanted was some coffee before dashing to catch my flight to Newcastle.

I duly arrived back in the 'homeland', but as the crowd subsided to just me at the baggage hall, it soon became apparent my bag hadn't made it. Arrrgghhh!

Exit to British Airways desk to be assertive with them, as they had charged me $45 dollars for having 1.2 kg over my limit from New York, as well as changing my seat selection from the online check-in - 'ee wor a libaty!'

A pretty limp wristed apology and I'm asked to wait for an hour to see if my bag is on the next flight. I suggest they contact Heathrow and make sure my bag is on the next flight. Their response - "Well it's only an hour." "Well it might just be an hour to you pet, but I've already been travelling for 23 hours and one more might just push me over the edge of being reasonable lyke." She made the phone call and confirmed my bag wasn't on the flight, but it would be on the next one. Eventully she agrees that they can deliver my bag to my home address - with a little friendly persuasion. (Can't wait to get the customer feeback questionniare).

I drive home and as I enter my own neighbourhood in Stockton it feel as though I'm in Legoland, with nothing taller than 4 stories, the roads strangely quiet, the cabs are no longer yellow and I can't see a single Starbucks - "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore I think to myself."

I've had a chance to sleep, my final thoughts and observations are as follows:

I loved New York, didn't find the place or the people at all intimidating. I did buy a guide book, and it was interesting as a point of reference, but I used a city bus map most of all.

My favourite mode of transport was walking, followed by the bus. I didn't like the subway because it was always too hot down there, and the smell of the hot air, oil, B.O. and often packed trains was not my idea of fun. Public transport is cheap however, $2.25 per journey of any distance if you have a metro card, which you can re-charge, and can be used on buses or the subway.

The rumour that shopping in New York is cheap for clothes is a myth. Perhaps jeans are cheaper, but otherwise prices are as in the UK, or more expensive, as you pay a tax on top of the marked price.

So will I be going back? You bet I will, this was just the warm up visit. I don't think I could live there. I thought about it on the way back. My heart belongs in Northumberland. New York made it beat a little faster at times, but only places like Bamburgh Beach, Lindisfarne, Hadrian's Wall, the Cheviots, Wallington Hall and the Angle of the North still make it miss a beat.

So until my next adventure, as yet destination unknown, thanks for the comments and the emails. In the next couple of days I will post all the photos I took on a web page and put a link on here, as the ones on the blog are just a small sample of what I saw - but first some more sleep.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Trying To Pack - Mumble, Mumble

My final picture: Gave him my loose change and single dollar bills, and wished him luck with Mariah

Well here I am, taking a break from swearing at my suitcase, with possibly my last cup of espresso - as I'd like to think I will sleep away the torment of the plane ride home, with the aid of some earplugs and a face mask - pink of course, purchased specially from 'a very gay shop'.

Weather is nice today. Have fed the birds, and the tomatoes. The birds have shown their appreciation of their new pent house spa by fertilising the window box.

I didn't think I'd bought much, but looking at it a few minutes ago, I think I might need to borrow and extra bag to get all my 'uber cool' New York tat home.

I've been out for my last walk this morning, and have been thinking that this trip hasn't felt like a holiday, it's been much more than that, and best of all I feel like I have reconnected with my family. Three weeks wasn't enough, maybe I just need to do it more often.

I'm a bit pushed for time today, and already have a few thoughts and reflections I'd like to add, so as I have 3 hours to kill in Heathrow tomorrow morning before being repatriated to my beloved Geordieland, I will post from the airport, perhaps with a pint of Guinness instead of espresso.

So for now 'Gan Canny' oot there in sybaland lyke

Oh, and have a nice day

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The 19th Floor Terrace Garden - Complete

Work completed on the corner terrace at 155 East 34th St.

Plants used: Courgettes, Tomatoes, Peppers, Peony Roses, Parrot Impatiens, Dragon Tree, Honeysuckle, Sunflowers, Calendula, Marigolds, Nasturtiums, Geraniums, New Guinea Impatiens, Chives, Variegated Sage, Basil, Thyme, Clematis, Star Gazer Lillies, Sweet Peas, Hydrangea, Hibiscus, Gazanias, Bouganvillea, Rhubarb, Vinca and one or two others I've forgotten the name of because it's late and I've had two beers.

A Bit Naughty I Know But.............Well she did ask for it

The following story is about as unbelievable as "This is the New Tardis" - but we are talking New York remember.

As we walked back from our little outing I was stopped by a woman in the street trying to get donations towards some political fund or other. She had some pamphlets and booklets picturing Barrack Obama with Hitler, and other such ridiculing. When she realised I was English she waded into Tony Blair, but I had to inform her that we now have 'Gordo' - "Oh has Blair left?" Yeah he's he's not a politician anymore he's setting up a 'Blairland', it's a theme park. "Gee that's amazing. Is it going to be in England?" Yes, he's going to set it up in London, he's renting Buckingham Palace, the Queen can't afford to live there anymore, so she's moving to Windsor. Haven't you heard about it over here? "Gee no." Oh you should look it up on the Internet - Google it. "Gee, yes, I will when I get home." "say would you like to make a contribution to my party?" No sorry, I'm still paying towards Iraq, Afghanistan, and cleaning up the planet, but when your lot have sorted out the mess they made, give me a call. "So would you like to sign my petition?" Err - no - but have a nice day.

(No doubt when she does Google 'Blairland', she will think it's Google that is wrong - and yes she was blonde, and a Republican - Gee wizz, thicker than a deli sandwich)

Dining In Comfort And Completing My Mission

The terrace complete with candles

Dylan's, it's not just for kids

Pecan Pie Joy

Well my dear friends, I've almost completed my final full day in New York. The weather was kind, and it been a very sunny and humid day. I was up at 7 am re-potting and planting - well only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun - not streetwise Geordies.

Typically I ran out of large containers, so a trip to 'Home Depot', America's answer to B&Q, except it's not out of town it's in town, and you can't find anything you want. I'd like to say the staff were helpful, but afraid they weren't, they were mostly as lost as I was, language problem I think - it reminded me of the sketch by the 'Two Ronnies' in the hardware shop. Ronnie Corbett asks for something and gets four candles, when he wants fork handles - yeah you got the picture - well I thought I was going to have to draw one. The staff were of course polite, as everyone here is, and finally I found what I wanted.

After that Amanda and I walked a few blocks to 'The Comfort Diner', an iconic 50's style diner, complete with chrome trimmings, free coffee and cold drink refills, waitresses chewing gum and as they collected tips or took your order on their little pads. The 'bus boys' delivered the orders and refilled any glass or cup that looked remotely empty, and the manageress surveyed the waiting public - yes there were queues, and hollowed out her instructions in a brassy New York manner. there were booths, and tables and you could even sit at the counter, just like the cops do in cheesy movies.

The menu was beguiling, the talk of others close by kept me amused. Requests for eggs over easy, or sunny side up, bacon on the side, hold the greens. I felt like I was on the set of Thelma and Louise for a moment or two. Then, when I saw the blueberry pancakes delivered to the lady across from us, I nearly died - there were enough to feed a family of four, and she wasn't very big, and that was before she smothered them in butter and the maple syrup. We were awoken from looking at the menu by two glasses of iced water, and then iced tea, before 'Betsy' asked what she could get for us - Amanda plumped for the BLT sandwich deluxe, which means a sandwich that comes with coleslaw and chips made out of sweet potatoes. I decided to go for the club sandwich, just hoping it wasn't the size of a club house. Fortunately it wasn't, but Amanda's plate was kind of full. As it was my last day, and so far I haven't had dessert, I bravely asked for the menu. Betsy informed us that they had everything but pumpkin pie - shame as that's what I wanted to try, so I decided to go for American cheesecake instead, and Amanda went for pecan pie. Mine was perfect, So was Amanda's except it came in apiece that must have weighed about two pounds - see photo. haha. No way could she eat it all so we asked for it to be wrapped.

When we left we went in search of another New York icon, Dylan's Candy Store, which as it turned out made Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory look somewhat second rate. I'm sure if you are a kid in Manhattan Dylan's is kind of like heaven on earth, with three stories of candy of every imaginable style and colour. My personal favourites were the bacon flavoured mints, tequila flavoured lollies complete with worm inside, and peanut butter flavoured toothpaste - it's ok I bought them as presents, so it could be yoooouuuuu - haha.

Having waled about forty blocks we arrived back home and did a quick trip to the hardware store for the items I couldn't find in B&Q USA, then went back to work on the terrace. When I'd finished and tidied up I had the bright idea of getting some jars and candles so it could be used at night, so had to go back out to yet another New York institution ' Jack's 99c Store. A bit like 'Poundland' but even more chaotic. However I had seen preserving jars in there sometime this week so I bought 12 of those, and when I got back home I removed the lids and filled them all with candles and placed them on the ledges and in a large as yet un-planted flower pot, so in the evening there is a soft glow on the terrace, to unwind in the evening with a quiet drink or dine alfresco. And so my gardening mission is completed finally, Amanda approves of the terrace now, and the birds very much approve of the new cafe on the corner with built in swimming pool, with Mrs Blue Jay splashing and chirping loudly, as I cracked open a celebratory beer.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

'Newt', The Gentle Busker

I thought I'd lost these pictures, which would have been sad, but just a case of the wrong memory card.

On one of my wanderings, last Thursday I think on my way back from Central Park, I met a busker, 'Newt'. He asked me if I could spare a cigarette, so I made him two.

He nodded as I dropped the dollar bill into his guitar case.
"Thank you."
I asked if I could take a few pictures.

"Sure man," He smiles wryly, "But sorry about looking like a hobo... Guess I'm going for that Neil Young look... except he was already famous before he stopped caring about his appearance."

He laughed when I said it's all part of the charm.

Newt is "between apartments" at the moment. I guess that's the way homeless people describe it.

Then he sang. Dylan and Cash, with a voice that sounded like it had been soaked in whisky, rubbed by sandpaper then left in the smokehouse for twenty years. He sang like only a broken man with broken dreams could.

People came and went. Some dropped a quarter, some dropped a dollar, but they all went on their seperate ways before long, to the museum or the office or the girlfriend.

I passed him a cigarette as he finished his song dropped him a dollar and bid him a good day.

Ah Yes, The Garden - Oh No, the Weather

The storm visible up 3rd Ave from the terrace 

The New York Stock Exchange- perhaps they are expecting Guy Fawkes on 4th July

Well the plan of doing the garden was a good one, and we did start with the best of intentions, buying four sacks of 'Miracle Gro' potting compost from the hardware store down the street and carrying it home like a pair of pack horses - one bag each in a rucksack and manhandling the other like a slippery drama queen. when we returned Mrs Blue jay was warbling away eating a banana in her new bowl, but with the temperature in the 80's, I figured it was best to wait until later when it would be cooler to start planting and re-potting.

So Amanda and I set off for the southern edge of the island, to return some items to 'Century 21', a large discount department store, where I would suggest Marines could be trained in urban warfare, especially at this time as there was a sale on. Geez it was scary. I asked the security guard - the one with the alarmingly blue contact lenses - not even old 'Blue Eye's' himself had them that colour - where we should go with returns, which turned out to be the 3rd floor. Once on the third floor we could see nothing but a sea of shoppers and you could barely make your way through the hundreds of rails of clothes. I asked another member of staff and she said something unintelligible to my northern ears, but Amanda interpreted and it was to the back and then right, apparently.

The deed was done in a relatively short time and soon we were out of the Guerrilla warfare training camp, and on our way to Battery Park to see if we could find the farmers market. We gave up after several viewings of the 'not for tourists' guide to New York, two attempted sales pitches of Michael Jackson RIP T-Shirts, and several attempts to sell us fake goods of many sorts. Our final view of the guide hastened us to one of the back streets of the financial district near Wall St and soon we found our way to 'Sophies Cuban Restaurant'. Iced tea was followed by  Tamales, Cuban beef stew with fried plantains and rice and a Cuban sandwich which had more meet in than the Bay of Pigs, all for the princely sum of $24. Replete we stumbled upon a small market and purchased some plants. White Gazanias, pink Bizzie Lizzies, and Cosmos, to fill any gaps there might be later in the garden.

While walking back to the bus stop, we noticed a lot of policemen and probably representatives of other agencies - nudge nudge, wink wink say no more, but they were wearing ear pieces in the close proximity of the American Stock Exchange building, which was wearing the most outrageously large flag, and underneath a row of more stars and stripes, and one solitary Chinese flag. I commented that they must have used the Union Jack to its full potential and were now moving onto bigger fish. Amanda said I should be careful they might come over and lift me - yeah well I doubt I was much of a threat with a dozen bedding plants.      

When we arrived home later we noticed a rather dark and threatening sky gathering, and in the time it took us to enter the building and get to the 19th floor, the rain began, along with the thunder and the lightening, so gardening was cancelled. Three hours later and it's still raining and gardening is still cancelled. 

unfortunately tomorrow is my last full day - sniff sniff - so if the weather is bad tomorrow I'm just going to get on with it regardless - so fingers crossed the weather is better at the end than it was in the beginning.

Monday, 29 June 2009

At Liberty in Central Park

Amanda and her friend 'Ms Liberty' outside Central Park.

A day of highs and lows today. Post-pride come down this morning here, but then the emails started to fly in, some insults - naughty people, and some offers from even naughtier people. Just for the record I'm doing nothing for less than $5 an hour plus benefits and as many pretzels as I can get down my cleavage.

That aside, Amanda and I went on a little trip to the American Museum of Natural History. An impressive and beautiful building on the west side of Central Park. The main entrance has a huge entrance hall decorated with vast, murals depicting Theodore Roosevelt's life, as well as quotations engraved on the walls. In the centre of the room are two dinosaur skeletons, a Brontosaurus and a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which tower into the vaulted roof.

It's not my sort of museum, but the families of the little Bart Simpsons running wild, and the little Bart's themselves looked as though they were enjoying it. We had booked tickets for the Hayden Planetarium, and were treated to a vast video spectacular on the ceiling of the auditorium, with a show entitled 'Cosmic Collisions', which was as much a history lesson as a preliminary lesson in astro-physics.

Before leaving the building we had to negotiate the five different gift shops in order to get to the exit. All manner of over priced clutter and trash in there, from glow in the dark stars for your ceiling to astronaut freeze dried food - I was semi-tempted with the 'Indiana Jones' hat but, but not alas in my size, and besides they didn't have any whips to go with it.

We took a cross town bus to 5th Avenue for a leisurely stroll, to 'Jack's 99c Store' for garden supplies. Alas no buckets, but I did get a dish cover for a microwave oven that will make a neat bird feeding platform, as it has two steam vents, so I inverted the dish, opened the vents and fastened it to the top of the railing. Not only does this keep it steady, but it also allows and rain water to drain away - yeah I know I missed my calling I should have been on Blue Peter.

So tomorrow is gardening day, time to finish off the work and officially open the this space.

Just Little Old Me - New York Pride Style

Now you can see why I don't like the 'predominantly whites' rule for croquet - haha

And keep the comments clean you lot back in the UK.

Not One But Two - Woohoo!

Ha ha finally met my my NYPD policewomen on duty at pride. Officers Morris and Alvarez, or 'Peaches and Tina' to their friends. Couldn't buy them coffee and doughnuts as they were on duty, but I'm holding them to that rain check for next time.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Gay Pride In New York

Wow where do you start? Weather was perfect, crowds were huge, colourful, friendly and very noisy. The pavements were five or six deep down 5th Avenue and it was so nice to see the taxis being held up for a change.
The parade started up on 55th street at noon and went down 5th Ave and then into the West Village. There were thousands of people taking part in the march itself, groups of varying persuasions, colours, faiths, sports, political followings, and genders - but all one happy party, that paraded down the route in around 4 hours.

It was great to see such diversity, and especially so many, older, or I should say, 'mature' gay people. Sometimes it's easy to loose sight of the fact that it is only within my own lifetime that it has become some way towards acceptable to be gay, in the society that I live in, other are not so lucky, and all of us continue to hope that we see the day when there is true equality for everyone, regardless of their sexuality.

The UN Took My Sister

At some point during cocktails on Friday evening my sister told me she had had the day from hell and had to go to Geneva for 3 weeks - the next day. So here I am in New York, and now she is in Geneva - way to go United Nations.
Even better when their mission statement is 'Global Association of Governments, facilitating co-operation in international law, security, economic development and equality for all' - bloody bureaucrats!

Economically it's cost them around $7,000 in expenses alone to send two people from New York to Geneva for an annual meeting that takes place every year - enough to maintain a village somewhere for a very long time - so it's not just the British Government that couldn't organise the proverbial party in a brewery.

The UN Representatives wear blue hats, but then so did 'Thunderbirds' - see where I'm going with this? "F.A.B." - you can make your own acronym - mine is too bad bad to publish.

Croquet: day two

That very nice chap, Stuart Lawrence, manager and host, gave me a late start. I gave him the nickname of 'Master Yoda', as he had been giving the New Paltz crowd some coaching. I used my time wisely, and walked four blocks extra on the way in to get not one but two Large cappuccinos with extra shots of espresso.

It didn't do me a lot of good, well either that or Russell Brown had had more, as he set off like a train and left me in his wake for some time. The were mutterings, and even Master Yoda, commented on my lagging behind. Hoop four was my nemesis, could I get through it or in front of it - more chance of finding a New York Policewoman with 'Take me for a pint of Guinness' pinned to her uniform. Then when I finally conquered hoop 4, bugger me if it didn't bite me on the way back and give me a good kicking at 3-back. Eventually as time approached - oh yes the ignominy of it, went to time - haha - 'am I bothered', to coin a phrase - we were level. Sudden death, the golden hoop. I saw a tiny crack in Russell's armour and finally took the innings and 4-back to take the game by that wonderful score of +1t.

I happily lost a rather long and drawn out semi-final against Chris Patmore. You name the cardinal sins of croquet, one of us surely committed them - took off into hoops, cross wired ourselves, clanged hoops - good D Class spectator stuff - oh and Stuart told us we went over time too - haha.

I said my farewells and left as Gay Pride the following day was going to have my full attentions.

The New York Association Croquet Championship

Eric and Justin of New Paltz - Great lads, with great spirit

Players from far and wide assembled at Central Park on Friday morning. Canada, America and England represented. The English contingent includes Chris Patmore, now living in New York, Peter McDermott from Middlesbrough, and me. Peter deserves a special mention just for the fact, he arrived on Thursday evening, and only travelled here for the tournament, to go home on Sunday evening. Dedication or madness? - You decide.

Play got under way and no early shocks, although the sunny start was interupted by a heavy shower in the morning that sent players searching for waterproofs, except Chris Patmore who had consulted the net for his weather forecast - D'oh, boy did he live to regret that one later!

I was a bit slow out of the blocks in the morning due to lack of coffee - couldn't find a bloody Starbucks when I wanted one! Finally got my act together with a cappuchino, some nicotine and 'wor Cheryl' and the rest of Girls Aloud on my MP3, and beat Ken Shipley, even though he so kindly bought me the coffee.

In the second game against Eugene Nathanson I finished in 8 turns with a triple - damn that American coffee is good!

My third game was again Justin Burbeck, one of the three players from The State University of New York, New Paltz Croquet. Justin, Tom and Eric, all play American Rules Croquet, or Golf Croquet, but apart from a couple of hours coaching the previous weekend had not played Association - oh and they are used to grass about three inches long. Justin and I had some fun, he peeled his partner ball from about 15 yards while trying to hide from me, but unfortunately he just found the lawns too quick for his style.

After I'd finished playing I was waiting for my sister to arrive. The weather had been very warm and sunny and there were thousands of people in Central Park. Sunbathing, baseball, frisbee, runners, cyclists, families, chess players, martial artists - you name them they were using the green space. Then around 5.30 pm the wind suddenly got up, the sun disappeared, there was a flash of lightening, a crack of thunder, and the heavens opened. By the time I walked the ten yards to my bag and got my waterproofs out I was soaked. Some of us sheltered under a large group of trees beside the lawn entrance and watched the mass exodus from the open spaces. Within ten or fifteen minutes it was obvious that it wasn't to going to blow through as quickly as it had arrived, and as the torrential rain and almost deafening thunder raged, those of us still at the venue sought refuge in the pavillion. The paths turned into mini rivers, and virtually everyone looked as though they had been in a swimming contest, not persuing any of the above activities.

About half a hour later a rather damp sister arrived, cursing the weather, yellow cabs and announcing a bad day at work. I suggested we should go home, but she was set on cocktails to sure the day - yeah like I need heavy persausion - haha.

We duly arrived home about 11pm, still slightly damp, but not caring due to whatever those drinks were, hic!

Normal Service Is Resumed

Thursday, now what did I do on Thursday? Having my second beer and a senior moment.....errr
Ah yes, went to practice my croquet in the morning at Central Park. NO sushi man on the bus this time, but some nice members of the New York Croquet Club welcomed me, and it was sunny and generally very pleasant.
For those who play the 'Queen of Games', the croquet Club share their two lawns with the New York Bowling Cub. The surface was lovely, apart from some small patches around the boundaries, caused by overhanging trees. Given the amount of rain there had been, together with their lush covering, I found the lawns easy paced for short court play, but on a full size lawn I knew they would be quite hard work. On top of that you could feel the humidity rising from them, and at times it was a bit like having a leg sauna, the average temperature being around 80c.

In the afternoon I meandered my way home from west 69th down to east 34th. For those of you that don't know, Manhattan is arranged on a grid system. The big streets, such as Park Avenue, Lexington, 5th Avenue all run from north to south. Meanwhile the streets are in the main numbered, highest at the north, lowest at the south. 5th Avenue is the dividing line for them, whether they are designated east or west. So, it's virtually impossible to get lost.

My instructions when I got back were to meet my sister at the Brooklyn Museum at 7pm , cocktail reception for the great and good members of the museum to mark the start of a new exhibition. Don't ask me what, I was too busy people watching. There was no doubt some high class net working going on, some were dressed up, some were dressed down, and some were just there for the free booze and the free food was my conclusion. The wine was $1.99 a bottle and to be avoided, the beer was locally brewed and acceptable.

We left there after a while and I was treated to another subway journey into the depths of Brooklyn, followed by a walk to the waterfront to watch the sun disappear on Manhattan, which was pretty spectacular. Then after a 'Time Out' recommended burger, at 'Five Guys', we walked back over the Brooklyn Bridge, the pedestrian section of which is wooden boards overhead of the drivers below. the bridge is bigger than it looks in films, and took a while to walk over. when we arrived at the Manhattan exit, it was 11.30pm, and it was still 76c according to the neon sign. We took a bus back home from near to Ground Zero, and arrived just after midnight, but without turning into pumpkins and not having been rained on, something of a feat to be reckoned with.

Normal Service Will Resume Later Today

Sorry for the interruption in transmission from NY, rumours that I was arrested by by the NYPD are not true in the slightest - bugger, and it's not for the want of trying. Afraid playing croquet got in the way, but will get back on track today after the 40th birthday party and Gay Pride March. Have a nice day. :)

Thursday, 25 June 2009

A Word On The Bird life - The Feathered Variety

The American Robin (photo courtesy Peter LaTourette)

The Blue Jay

Thee Mourning Dove (photo courtesy of Peter LaTourette)

A few days ago we had a visitor drop by on the terrace, the door was open and he quietly wandered to the step, looked into the living room and then wandered back out. I threw some bread for him and, 'Maurice', as we have named him has been back every day since, for breakfast and lunch. He is a 'Mourning Dove', potters around between the plants, sometimes inspecting the plants from the rims of the pots, eats his meal and then flys off. He's quite shy, and I haven't been able to get a picture of him yet, but haven't given up.

This morning Maurice was not the only visitor, a Blue Jay stopped by first, and helped himself to some of Maurice's breakfast, then an American Robin, which isn't a robin at at all but a type of Thrush.

While I have been writing here this morning the Jay and Maurice have both been back, so perhaps I need to put a small bird table on the terrace to let them know they are welcome on the 19th floor.

Just One Of Those Days.....................

I had a lazy start to the day yesterday. Not lazy in terms that I didn't get up, more lazy in terms that I didn't go out until the early afternoon,as I was busy faffing about with photos and cursing the computer for being a Mac and not a PC - yeah I know they are prettier, but it's over ten years since I had one and I've forgotten all of the keyboard shortcuts, and besides it was raining - again.

By around 2pm I've finished and decided to go to the Guggenheim Museum. I put my camera in my bag, and my waterproof and set off, walking up to Madison, then catching a bus up to 89th St. On the bus i sit and watch the streets roll by, then my eye is taken by a man who got onto the bus and is carrying three large circular platters of sushi, which are covered with clear plastic lids and taped together for ease of carrying in one hand, in his other hand he has a carrier bag of unknown substance. As we travel up Madison the bus gets busier and busier, and the man with the sushi is looking decidedly nervous. MY guess is that his goods are probably for a dinner party or cocktail evening, and probably cost a couple of hundred dollars. At first he tries to keep anyone from sitting next to him, even thought there people standing, but eventually a rather smartly dressed woman insists he moves and allows her to sit. She's only there for three blocks, then she alights at 57th St, and most of the other people that are standing do too, and by 61st, there is plenty of room on the bus and the man with the sushi looks slightly less worried and laces it on the seat next to him to answer his phone - yep you guessed it - two men get on the bus and on their way to the back of the bus, the driver has to break suddenly for one of the kamikaze taxi drivers and one of them loses his balance and gets thrown so he sits on the expensive take away. 'Sushi man' gets a bit irate, meanwhile 'sush squasher' protests his innocence and blames the driver, the driver blames the taxi driver, and then tells sushi man he should have had it delivered anyway. Sushi man says his wife will kill him and wants 'sushi squasher' to pay for a replacement. Sushi squasher tells him to do something unlawful with the sushi - it's as good as any Broadway comedy. Then just as the 'seaweed might hit the fan', so to speak, the police arrive, and try to calm the situation down. I desperately want to take a photo, but daren't, and I've been dying to laugh, but have been biting my lip hard to stop myself (I can do it occasionally when I have to). The policemen stay on the bus until both injured parties have left at their respective stops. The advise sushi man to tell his wife it was an accident, and they sit down, but this time I can't bite my lip any longer and I have to say to them, maybe it wasn't an accident, maybe it was an 'act of Cod' and the back of the bus erupts with laughter, as we have all been dying to laugh but not dared to until sushi man had left.

By the time I get to my stop most of the audience of the sushi incident have left and the policemen too. I walk two blocks in the sunshine and then I get my first glimpse of the Guggenheim, the Frank Lloyd Wright building, which is celebrating its Golden Anniversary this year. I take my camera out of my bag and set up a shot from the side street, press the button, and the display says - battery dead! Now I know what it's like to have your sushi sat on.

I decide not to go into the museum after all, as if I can't take any pictures, there seems to be little point, so I decide to come back another day and walk a little way down Fifth Ave by Central Park, before catching another bus that will drop my by St Patrick's Cathedral. No Sushi man this time. As I leave the bus I feel a few spots of rain, there's a tremendous clap of thunder and the heavens open. I step into the nearest door, which happens to be a rather high class cigar shop. A gentleman asks if he can help, and I tell him I just want to get my coat out of my bag and then I'll be on my way.

It takes about 45 minutes to walk home in the rain, as the buses are full, and I don't like the subway, as to me it feel like you are traveling inside a central heating system, a very old, dirty and smelly heating system.

By the time I arrive home I am well and truly soaked from the bottom of my waterproof down, and drip quite unceremoniously in the lift. I have just enough time to grab a sandwich and get changed and then head back out to see Diana Krall at Carnegie Hall.

For those of you that aren't familiar with her music I have put a link to a site below. Carnegie Hall was very impressive, as was Ms Krall, her quintet and the orchestra. The ninety odd minutes passed too quickly, with a combination of material from her new album 'Quiet Nights In' and some from her older albums.

The bus ride home was thankfully uneventful, and the short walk thankfully dry.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Supersize Me - Diners, Deli's and Dunkin' Donuts

Ronald McDonald ain't gonna tease me no more - I just ate that sucker!

I've walked a lot of streets in New York during my visit, and tiniest minority are without any form of restaurant or food outlet. Sitting in the kitchen, and looking down East 34th St, I can see at least 15 restaurants and bars, 2 drug stores, 2 deli's, one frozen yoghurt shop, a branch of 'Subway' and a Dunkin Donuts/Baskin & Robbins outlet. I know there is a Starbucks on the other corner, but it's actually quite nice not to be able to see it, as there are so many of them, virtually one every street, and in some cases more than one. The best one I have seen so far, was I think on East 42nd, which was a dual purpose outlet, Starbucks and a branch of a bank, and we are not talking just an ATM machine here, we are talking whole staffed branch of a bank - perhaps as you need to have a mortgage to regularly buy Starbucks.

One high street name conspicuous by it's absence is McDonalds. I've only spotted four branches in my time here, and come to think of it I haven't spotted many Burger Kings either. Col Saunders and his KFC (Krappy Fried Chicken) fair slightly better, but again are not as much in evidence in New York as they are in the UK. But then we don't have the number of hot dog, pretzel and decidedly dodgy looking hot snacks. If you think a 'doner kebab' is a dangerous thing, stay well away from the street carts here that sell things on skewers. They say it's chicken, but hey it could be just about anything - and then my mother whispers gently in my ear from the past "Where do they wash their hands?" My guess is that personal hygiene is not a pre-requisite for being a street vendor here. Mind you not everything on the Street is dodgy, the fruit and veg carts offer a good choice at a reasonable price. Personally, i usually opt for the bananas at 4 for a $1 - well you I don't need to worry about washing them before I eat them, so mother would be pleased that I did listen to that little lecture.   

The diners offer simple American food. Burgers, omelette's, soup, pie, salads, wraps, steaks etc etc, and in general it's good value at around $11 - $14 including tax and a tip. The one thing they really should address is the size of the portion they offer. Now anyone who knows me, knows I'm a bit of a food fan, but I haven't been able, or even wanted to attempt to finish a meal at a diner yet. They will happily package up anything you want to leave, but not many people do. The amount of waste food generated just within the places in this neighbourhood must be tremendous, and rather than encourage smaller portions, it's actively discouraged in some places by surcharging if you share one portion.

I'm reliably informed by the family that the best hot dogs are at 'Nathan's' at Coney Island, but to be honest I could live without one of those. Katz's Deli, that's the one where Meg Ryan famously 'faked it' in 'when Harry met Sally', is the best deli. Apparently there is a chip shop in Brooklyn that does fish and chips, yes even mushy peas, and to follow deep fried mars bars - but if I wouldn't eat it at home I'm not doing it here. 'Murray Hill', which is this neighbourhood in midtown is known for it's Indian cuisine, and therefore been renamed 'Curry Hill', because of the Indian shops and restaurants.

My impression is that people don't cook much here, they live in small 'cookie cutter' apartments, with kitchens that are not really kitchens, so they dine out or visit the deli, and in the morning they grab a bagel and a coffee on the way to work, just like it is on TV.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Oops, Nearly Forgot, Monday Walk, Gallery Special

No comment, (they took my fingerprints and pic at the airport, Guantanamo is still open for business,  and I look so awful in orange, so my lips are sealed.) 

Even More Monday Walk Gallery

Sorry dog owners, but, matching your outfit with your dog's? 
Yep that's New York.

A fairly typical 'deli' come convenience store

Street entertainer/contortionist - ouch!

A Note To Readers

The photos within the blog are shown at a smaller size than they actually are. If you want to see them actual size just click on them.

More Monday Walk Gallery

The Bubble Man - bubble guns, 2 for $5

Almost visible

A fine emporium of trendiness, and with such a catchy name too.

Monday's Walk Gallery

Times Square collage

The M&M's Store

Al Imagining his tunes and the Queen drinking 'Newcy Brown'.

Sunny Monday in New YOrk

Finally some decent weather yesterday, sunshine and warm, so off I set just after 9am, in my new Nike 'sneakers' as pounding New York's concrete was taking it's toll on my feet in trail sandals, and I take my camera in search of something. I set off for Times Square, a few blocks east and north. Wasn't sure where after that, but I think that is half of the fun. Times Square, recently pedestrianised, in a fashion, is the mecca for consumerism. Large digital screens decorate and demand the attention of those around them, they even provide deck chairs to sit and watch, and some people sit there and watch ´not sure which is scariest.

I'm approached to buy a ticket for an open top bus - bugger, I must look like a tourist!  I turn down the opportunity, preferring to walk and define my own route. Within a few yards of that I', approached for discounted tickets to 'Chicago' on Broadway, by a rather attractive 'Roxy Hart' publicist. I turn down that opportunity too, the ticket I mean.

I walk down and come across the M&M shop. No that isn't a mis-spelling of M&S, I mean M&M as in those annoying sweets. Three story store of M&M's everything, and I mean everything- yep even toilet paper. Consumerism gone daft. You name it they have M&M stamped, printed or illustrated on it. You can buy the annoying sweets for $12.99 a pound in an colour imaginable, as well as some interesting pre-mixed combinations, baseball colours, basketball colours, Christmas, Halloween, NYPD took my eye - haha, NYFD, different countries - Just had to get out. My niece Amanda informed me later that there is a 'Hershey's' store too, thankfully I missed that one.  

I head East and walk in Chelsea, to find the 'Chelsea Hotel', link below, infamous for being the place that Sid Vicious killed Nancy, as well as being the home of many literary notables. It's a huge imposing great lump of red brickwork, with black wrought iron balconies, the main entrance decorated with brass plaques announcing it's connections with the past. From Chelsea I head into Greenwich Village, allegedly the bohemian sector.  After a while I think that is a fair description (photos to follow). It's pleasant, and it's different, I know I'm not in 'Kansas' anymore, much more like 'Oz' than 'the Toon'.

I walk down through Greewich and into Soho, no not that Soho, although it has it's moments, as I did pass a 'gentleman's club with live poll dancing'. Sitting outside to one were Lou and Jack, a mother and son, both coloured and asked if I could spare a cigarette. They were like everyone else here, courteous and polite, their worldly possessions in an old supermarket trolley. Lou looked about 60, and Jack maybe 40, but who knows, I suspect they were not that old. When they realised I rolled my own they were fascinated, they didn't know you could do that. In the end I gave them my supply, they looked as if they could use it and appreciate it more than me. I asked Lou if I could take their photo, but she said no, very politely, she was too ashamed of being homeless.  They wished me a good day and I continued on my way. Lou and Jack fading into the background of New York, the invisibles, the people so many ignore and pretend they can't see. 

Lunch is a sandwich and a coffee from a deli, which I take to a park I've spotted. I watch the world pass by quickly as mine takes a break. The kamikaze taxis plunder by noisily, the people wander past at various speeds, and a small gathering of sparrows and pigeons arrive to make their bid for any lunchtime leftovers. They eat well from those in the park, one pigeon being particularly large, definitely super-sized, perhaps too many McDonald's, or Dunkin Doughnuts scraps, but I shall keep his picture for the chapter on food. 

Soho is full of fashionable shops, so fashionable they don't put prices on the things in the window, as if you have to ask you can't afford it. I sort of wished I was wearing my knotted hankie, and go and ask the price of things just to be rebellious, but I didn't. The Soho clones walked round in oblivion, with their ipods neatly keeping the world at bay, or their blackberries keeping them in touch with it. One wonders what they did pre-mobile technology.

From Soho into Chinatown and Little Italy. Chinatown bustles like nowhere else, grocery shops, fruit shops, veg shops, fish shops, bakeries, even a dairy, all Chinese and all so throbbing with life, either in what they are selling, or the people who are buying it. The fish gasp for air form their shallow dishes of water, the crabs claw at the air and blow tiny bubbles in their baskets, every other conceivable ingredient is on display, whether it is fresh or dried. 

Into Little Italy, I spot a rather 'sopranoish' looking chap lighting a cigarette on a corner. He gives me a look, and it's not a friendly one, so I don't stop to ask him for a picture, maybe 'The Feds' already have one.

Not long after that I meet Al. Another of New York's homeless. He is sitting quietly with his cup asking for change. I drop some in and then spot the Newcastle Brown Ale logo on his shirt, which makes me laugh. He asks politely what's funny, so I tell him that his t-shirt is advertising a beer from where I am from in England. He smiles and ask if the Queen drinks it? I could shatter his illusion, but I choose not too. He smiles and says it's 'neat'. I ask him for a photo and he smiles and says yes. I ask him what he is listening to on his ipod, he explains it doesn't work, he found it in the bin, but he wears it and imagines the tunes.  

I eventually arrive in the financial district, and find 'Ground Zero', although it is very difficult to see what is happening behind the hoardings, only tiny gaps offer a clue to the enormity of the space left by the atrocity. It's a building site like no other, the size is just overwhelming. I see some vantage points where I could possibly get to to take photos, but I don't want to, it feel like an invasion of privacy. I don't feel any strange atmosphere while I'm there, unlike other places I have visited in the past, it's only on the way back I find a memorial made out of salvaged girders that has been moved temporarily, that I sense any of the grief attributed to the events of 9/11. Meanwhile all around people go about their daily lives, only curious tourists appear to take an interest in the site, as the construction of the new is ongoing. 

I meander my way back to East 34th St, and arrive about 8.20pm. I walked about 160 blocks, not sure how far that actually is, but don't really care, I had a great day, met some lovely people, saw some wonderful sights, and will surely appreciate my bed in the future. 

Brunch Pics

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Brunch and Shopping - It's What Sundays Are For Apparently

It took years for England to offer Sunday shopping, most of it around Christmas, and in very limited ways at first. Now we think we are doing well if we can find Asda still open at 4pm - not so in New York. The shops open at 9.30am and remain open until 7pm. the streets are as busy, if not more so with tourists and locals all looking and shopping.

The day started with brunch at 'Nolita House', an unassuming bar come restaurant, in the 'Nolita', or North of Little Italy District' with my big sister. A complimentary Mimosa cocktail, followed by a steak sandwich and salad. Live bluegrass music in the bar kept the place buzzing, as patrons tucked into green eggs and ham, eggs Benedict, shrimps and grits, French toast etc etc. (By the way French toast here isn't French Toast here, it's bread and butter pudding.)

While waiting to be served my attention was drawn to a framed notice. 'In case of Choking' and detailed the correct procedure. I'm not sure I really want to see that on a restaurant wall, it doesn't really give me the right message, especially when I read on and it says. "If the person has stopped breathing, cannot talk or appears distressed, ask them if they are choking." Pardon me but if they have stopped breathing, can't talk and are generally distressed and going blue around the mouth they are hardly likely to answer. I ponder if an inadvertent or perhaps premature Heimlich manoeuvre has ever been used as a pick-up technique in New York? Then as I pondered that thought my eye was drawn to a notice chalked on another wall - "Bottled beers available", and there top of the list 'Newcastle Brown Ale'. Talk about six degrees of separation - spooky or what.

We leave and walk onto Broadway and work our way down to the tip of the island, calling at various shops on the way, 'bling emporiums' run by the brothers, who rap as they wrap. More jeans stores than branches of Mcdonalds, enough shoe shops to keep even Imelda Marcos happy, and some truly mad, bad and downright wacky ones to boot.

Did I purchase? Yes I did, my outfit for the pride parade next Saturday. My guess is that there are only two places on earth where I won't look out of place or different 1) New York Pride & 2) The Bigg Market in Newcastle on any Friday night. I won't spoil the surprise, just tune in next Saturday for photos, but make sure you have the Tena Ladies handy.

Off for a manicure now...................laters xx

New York Icons

The New York Yellow Cabs - all driven by relatives of 'Mad Max' in my humble opinion.

Mac shop on 5th Avenue

John Lennon Memorial, Central Park.

A Word On The Weather

Apparently this is the seventh wettest June in the history of New York. Visibility is not measured in yards here, it's measure by stories. At 6am this morning it was down to about 15 floors. The usually visible Chrysler building was completely invisible from the kitchen window. 
Yesterday on my way back here the heavens opened, even wider than has been usual, and if you think I'm exaggerating, see the woman above on Lexington Avenue, who I spotted while I was waiting for my bus............... and that's another thing, they don't have bus shelters here, perhaps people just use Starbucks instead, there are enough of them.

First Time in Central Park

"Give me five"

I set off yesterday morning for my first taste of croquet in Central Park. I arrive at the park after a bus ride and a walk and find the building where I need to purchase my permit to play for $30. I skirt around the edge of the zoo and head for what I think is the direction of the 'Sheep Meadow' and the 2 croquet/bowling greens. It soon becomes very apparent that there are no signposts, and the paths, of which there are a lot, wander in somewhat random curvaceous manners, making it obvious the Romans were never made it this far.
Every now and again I would spot a map on a lamp post, but without the obligatory 'you are here' pointer they are pretty useless, and none too detailed. I ask a few, what I presume are locals, and they send me in various directions, none of them useful. In the end I just head west towards the buildings in the distance and will then look for 69th St, as that is the entrance nearest to where I want to be, and then I stumble upon a plaque 'Strawberry Fields', and I know I am not far from where I want to be.
I won't go into detail here about Strawberry Fields, but if you want to know the full story there is a link below. I find the Lennon Memorial and wait in turn for the 'tourists' to take their photos, before taking mine and then exiting to the croquet club.

Two lawns surrounded by hedging and fencing, with flower beds running inside the boundaries, in a pleasant opening in the trees. The lawns appear very lush, and there has been a lot a rain.

Preston and Blair Stuarton playing on a short lawn, obviously American Rules, as they are turning down roquets and the deadness board is in evidence. It makes no sense to me that at the end of a turn there are four balls relatively close together and neither player wants to attempt doing much except maybe run a hoop and clear deadness. My hands are itching and I want to tell them it's such a tedious version of the game, but that's the part of me that has been playing Association for 23yrs, and if I do that then I will sound like a whinging Golf Croquet evangelist, "our game is so much better than yours....blah blah blah". Truth is people just play the version they enjoy - end of!

While I am waiting to finally meet Stuart Lawrence, some curious squirrels arrive and dance across the lawn, one climbing on a hoop, another investigating my bag, before coming to investigate me, but I fail to have anything good for them, so will have to remember to remedy that for next time.

Dennis Hough arrives and is friendly and chatty. He eventually puts out the other short lawn after we have chatted a while and just as I am about to hit a ball, Stuart arrives, and we have a short lawn game of advanced, with 'Sunshiney' balls. Kind of ironic given the weather, but they seem ok.

Unfortunately having set off like a train, Stuart comes to grief at 2-back and doesn't make any more points in the game. As we start the second, I jokingly set up with a 1-back leave. As he stands at hoop 1 and looks at the long shot to corner three, he says "I don't think I really want to take this one". I tell him that if he doesn't take it I can't mess up the sextuple, so he misses, and I duly mess up, as Eric Turner and Justin Berbig of the State University of New York, turn up for their coaching session.
They have both bravely entered the advanced rules association tournament next weekend, only ever having played American Rules. We try to give them the important differences, they both look a little bemused, so we decide to play alternate shot doubles and hope that playing will help. They roquet well, but the 'finesse' shots are more of a challenge, as they are used to playing on grass inches long, and now being on the manicured lawns, their natural weight of shot is invariably too strong for what is required, but I'm sure they will adjust.
As Tom Casey, another member of their club arrives, I make my exit so as he can be included in the play, and I can escape the weather, again, hoping it will improve for the tournament.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

New York V Newcastle Part 2

The chap on the left is the 'Naked Cowboy' , who frequents Times Square, the chap on the right is a Newcastle United Fan, who frequents kebab shops.

New York V Newcastle - A Comparison

Ive been in the 'Big Apple' for seven days now, so I think it's fair to say I've hada fair taste of the place and am prepared to compare it with back home.

New York / Newcastle

Yellow Cabs that drive badly - Black taxis that drive badly
The Statue of Liberty - The Angel of the North
Metropolitan Museum - Laing Art Gallery
MOMA - The Baltic
Carnegie Hall - The Sage
Chinatown - Chinatown
Little Italy - Dean Street
Times Square - The Monument
City Hall - The Civic Centre
Central Park - The Town Moor
Yankee Stadium - St James' Park
Empire State Building - Greys Monument
Hudson River - River Tyne
Smelly Subway - Smelly Metro
United Nations - Westgate Road
Coney Island - The Spanish City
Deli Sandwich - Greggs Pasty
Brooklyn Bridge - Tyne Bridge
Ugly big buildings - The Byker Wall
Rubbish Beer - Brown Ale
Canny people - Canny people

See what a mean lyke, It's just Newcastle with a funny accent really.

Friday, 19 June 2009

The Whitney Museum - A Canny Walk for Disppointment

Hey what do you know, the sun does shine in New York and the sky can be blue too, things are looking up, or at least they were this morning.
Having walked well over forty blocks of Madison 'money no object' Avenue, to find the Whitney Museum of American Art, I have to say I was seriously disappointed. I went with an open mind knowing that it was mostly modern art, but I do struggle with some of that.
My gripes were as follows:
1) No cameras at all.
2) Staff a bit past it and a bit jaded, was afraid to ask questions in case I woke them up.
3) The lift didn't work properly. Tried 3 times to get to the 5th floor to see an exhibition, but the 'ladies what lunch' kept intervening and I kept ending up on the lower ground floor.
4) The 3rd floor was closed for renovations
5) I went all that way to see the 2nd floor of a museum - 3 times, and I didn't think much of it the first time.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Shopping In The Rain - Tacky, Crass and Oh What Fun

I woke at my usual early hour around 6am, and before the daily thought of 'what shall we do today', could fully form, I heard the unmistakable sound of heavy rain on the window. I got up just to make sure, but there was doubting the stair rods, nor the fact they had been going at it for some time. A cup of coffee and about an hour editing photos, then I decided to go back to bed for an hour, maybe the weather would change.

I woke up 3 hours later, and the weather had changed..........and not for the better. It looked more like a late afternoon in November than mid morning in June. So not the sort of day for walking and discovering. Eventually I decided to take the shopping plunge - Macy's, the Worlds largest store. I took my passport and went to the visitors centre to get my 11% discount card, but after 20 mins of shopping I'd had enough really. The Louis Vuitton was making me nauseous, the perfumes making me sneeze, and the hoards of tourists hiding from the weather were just too much - haha.

K-Mart, Old Navy and H&M followed and I could feel my reasons for living draining away, much to my nieces amusement. However, we stumbled upon the tackiest series of gift shops - crass, cheap, nasty, bemusingly ugly items, that would not have even been welcome as a bingo prize in Blackpool after 20pints of Watney's - and yet people bought them by the bag full. Oh it was great fun. Did I buy any tacky, crass presents - wait till you see me - haha.