Christmas on Manhattan

Will & Stocking

Robin & Harmonica

Kristina, Robin & Orange

Will & Hat
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December 25, 2011
Hanover - New Canaan, CT

No white Christmas this year.

At Thanksgiving we had debated where to go for Christmas this year. I had suggested a quiet time in the White Mountains, with some simple skiing. But instead we are heading to Manhattan. I am not certain if we , like moths, are drawn to the bright lights, or if my bright idea of visiting Bermuda during a storm last year has lessen people's faith in my oracle abilities.

With little snow in New Hampshire, heading to the big city was probably the wiser choice.

We awoke in Hanover. I lay there for awhile hoping that boys would bring me my stocking in bed, but it was not to be. Eventually I brewed coffee, baked scones, lit a fire and roused the rest of the household. Christmas morning in front of the tree and fire is a cozy place.

After opening presents we packed up and headed south. The highways are nearly empty and the drive to Charlie and Kristen's house was eventless. In fact with four drivers in the family we all did a lot of reading on the way.

Kristen has a grand Christmas dinner nearly ready, and Kris and Charlie are already there (yes, I know, there are two Charlies, Kris, Kristen and Kristina in this story -- you'll just have to figure it out.) Eileen joined us for a little while via Skype from Georgia, and gave us a tour of her house.

In the evening Will spent a long time showing Owen his virtual "Mind Craft" world, something Owen has recently discovered. Robin and the two Charlies played poker. As usual, I think the chips won.

Owen, Will & Mind-Craft

Kristen after Dinner

Kris & Kristina

Robin, Charlie, Charlie & Poker

Monday, December 26, 2011
New Canaan, CT - NYC

Our departure was delayed until after Liverpool FC battled it out to a draw with the Blackburn Rovers (1-1). Charlie then drove us ten minutes to the train station and we were riding the rails within five more minutes. The train is packed with people all sporting new holiday coats and jackets, smelling more like a department store then a commuter line. After Stanford the train is express to Manhattan, one stop at 125th street and then Grand Central Station.

The man running the taxis stand is in a jolly mood, telling us how he will do his best to get us on our way. He also told us how fortunate we came before three when he went off duty, because the next shift was staffed by a surly, most unhelpful character who wouldn't lift a finger to keep us from being run over, or abandoned with out a cab. Amongst all of his chatter he was continuously waving cabs in, dropping suitcases into trunks and sending taxis packed with people bouncing west on 42nd street.

It was soon our turn and we too headed west, past the Public Library and Bryant Park to 9th Avenue, and then south. Our hotel, the Maritime, is on the corner of 9th and 16th Street.

We had expected to just leave our bags and check in later, but our rooms were ready. When I reserved the rooms I had asked that they be on the same floor and high up. We are two doors apart on the 11th and top floor. The Maritime is a theme hotel. The windows, although large, are round to remind you of a porthole, and the rooms are trimmed in wood to remind you of a cabin on a yacht. All the corners, like the ends of the bed frame and the joints between the wall and ceiling are curved. It was built 45 years ago for the National Maritime Union, and still feels like the deck should have a long, slow roll and a bit of yaw.

We walked down to the Hudson, about three blocks west of us, and then north a block to Chelsea Pier. First lunch in front of large windows looking out on the river, and then to explored the pier. Chelsea pier is known for amusement. There is a golf driving range, a bowling alley, a gym with gymnastics and an ice skating rink. It is the day after Christmas, boxing day, and there are a lot of shiny skates on the ice.

North of the pier is part of the Hudson River Park System and a skateboard rink. A lot of semi-tough looking guys are taking there turn riding their board down into concrete pits which looked like empty swimming pools. Down one wall, a sweeping turns on the next wall, an orbit around the lowest level of the pit, and then the good rider will casually pop out the other side and let the next rider fly. It is the physicist in me who ask Will how can they end up where they started? Presumably they lost some energy to friction. (They pump there knees to rise up, like pumping a swing.)

On the High Line, suspended over
Tenth Avenue
Our wanderings took us a bit further north and then inland to the "High Line". The High Line is an old elevated train line which recently has been converted to a park. The elevated area is about eight to ten meters wide, with a walk way in the middle about three or four meters wide. It is a nice day for December and I see a lot of crisp Christmas coats. The walk way is packed with people, a continuous flow with a north bound and south bound lane. Occasionally you can get off on a siding. I think I would like to come here in the summer and sit. But December, even in the sun, is too brisk for that. Still, I would like to see it when the grass doesn't look like straw, and only the seed pods remain on the flower stalks. There are trees and bushes here too, but now is the stick season.

When the High Line crosses Tenth Avenue there is a siding which looks like an small amphitheater, a space with bench seats facing a stage. Except the stage is a big window framing Tenth Avenue. We are levitated about the street and looking north.

Finally we reach the south end of the High Line and return to street level. Near here we find the "Pastis", a French (Parisian) cafe which Kristina knew about, and so stopped for Fica. Coffee, Moose, Crepe Suzette, ... . The cafe is all mirrors and wood trim and looks like where you would find exiled Americans all reminiscing about the "Gay '90s". Crowded but fun.

We made reservations at "Duo Camerio", a Mexican restaurant which Will knew about, and then wandered through Chelsea market for an hour and then back to our hotel. Pastis, Duo Camerio, Chelsea Market and the Maritime are all on Ninth Avenue and within about six blocks of each other.

Back at the hotel we played pool in the bar and put our feet up for a while.

In the evening we went to dinner at Duo Camerio. Will had raved about the guacamole, and so we had a lot, the second round because we agreed with Will. Robin and I had an enchilada filled with beef brisket which was good and spicy.

After dinner we wandered back to Chelsea Pier and bowled at "300" for a while. Robin is much better then any of the rest of us. On the second game Kristina made Robin take her turn as well as his own. I bowled a 103 which I think is an all time high and first time over a century!

On the way back to the hotel we walked past a building which was all glass and lit up. Some how the glass looked frosted and the whole building like an ornament you place on a mantle piece.

And then to bed.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Kristina and I were up before the boys and so walked back to Pastis for breakfast. A cappuccino and chocolate croissant for Kristina, and coffee and a croissant with ham and cheese melted inside for me. We read the New York Times and ate slowly. Sipped coffee and watched people.

On the way back to the hotel we picked up croissants and orange juice for the boys.

Robin was ready to join us and we headed back out. Will will rendezvous with us near Union Square. We pointed our toes southeast down Greenwich Avenue and eventually came out on Washington Square. New York University, one of the schools Robin is considering, surrounds this square. Robin and I had visited here a few months ago, but this was Kristina's first time. It is not nearly as busy as the day we were here in September. The students which then `owned' the square and wore it like a campus quad have vanished. But there is still life under the great arch.

Next we walked northeast towards Union Square, and met Will at the "Strand Bookstore". It was starting to rain and so nice to step inside for a bit. This bookstore claims to be the largest independent bookstore with 18 miles of shelves. I don't know if it is the largest. I do know that it took us twenty minutes to find each other after browsing for an hour. The basement especially is a labyrinth of shelves and I kept expecting to find a sign telling me I had found the center of the maze, or perhaps run up against a Minotaur. I did find two copies of my book "Hidden Worlds".

We some how found our way out, carrying half a dozen volumes with us. We headed south past Cooper Union, where 4th becomes the Bowery. Our goal is Chinatown for lunch, but we fall short, victims of our stomachs and a long stay in the biblo-labyrinth. We end up at a lunch pub just south of the Cooper Union.

Refreshed we head south into Chinatown. It appears as if most of the kitchen equipment must pass through this district multiple times, sold on one block, refurbished and resold on the next. I was actually a bit disappointed with most of Chinatown. It is a just busy and grubby without being exotic. However we did get onto one side street which had markets on the sidewalks, even in the rain. It had fruit, vegetables, and ugly looking fish flopping around in the ice.

We walked pass the Manhattan Bridge to St. James, under the ramp of the Brooklyn Bridge, down Perl Street and into the Seaport Historic District.

Our original plan was to buy tickets to a show here and then walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to Dumbo in Brooklyn. The line outside the ticket office was very long, so I got in line while the others debated as to which show to go to.

The ticket line was drenched with a cold rain and a cruel wind which inverted a number of umbrellas. Will, Kristina and Robin meanwhile read what was posted and picked out "Chicago", with "Porgy and Bess" and a few other as alternatives. Half an hour later I was getting to know the people around me in line, we had crept forward a bit, and Robin visited me with a cup of hot coffee. The rain continued. A push cart selling hot dogs lost its umbrella to the wind.

After an hour, and with ten people in front of me Kristina joined me and in a dozen minutes it was our turn. By the time we got to the window only "Porgy and Bess" remained.

With tickets in hand we joined the boys in a mall on the pier. I was chilled after an hour and twenty minutes in the rain and wind. We watched the Brooklyn Bridge, now lit up just outside of the window. We will save a walk across that bridge for another time.

We took a taxi back to the hotel, hot shower and dry clothes. We at pizza next to the pool table in the hotel, and then took another taxi to the Roger's Theater near Time Square.

It is an old theater with plenty of plaster relief and gold paint, now covered with modern lights, monitors and sound systems. The set itself is build around a rough wood platform set up on 10"x15" timbers which gives the appearance of being on a wharf or pier.

The Midtown Skyline from our Hotel
I had thought of "Porgy and Bess" as a musical, which shows how ignorant I am. It is clearly an opera, even if performed on Broadway. The performance, these singers were strong and gifted. I had been told in the ticket line that I would be moved to tears. It was good, but I didn't find myself drawn that far. Maybe because I was listening to the music more then watching the story. Still, it was a beautiful show to see and hear.

Afterwards we walked through Time Square which is lit up as bright as daytime. We were entertained by a video billboard four stories tall which occasionally would display an image of the people looking at it. Lots of people on the sidewalk would be jumping up and down trying to find themselves.

We walked south on 7th Ave to Madison Square Garden, then took a taxi to our hotel. The boys turned in, and Kristina and I walked down Greenwich Ave a few blocks to a tavern where we had wine and coffee. Then home to bed.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Manhattan - Hanover

There are patches of sunlight on Chelsea Market and some other buildings on 9th Avenue when I sat by our window with my coffee and wrote in my journal. The High Line is still in shadows.

We slept late, but not nearly as late as the boys, so left them some money for breakfast and stepped out. The front desk recommended a place on the corner of 14th and 6th which we never found. So we headed south on 6th from there and found a bistro on the corner of 11th and 6th, the "French Roast". Our waiter was about my age and very talkative. He told us that every block of New York City had a story -- and then went on to recite a few blocks.

We headed east and past a set of old row houses, except one had a new facade. Our waiter had told us that the "Weathermen Underground", the anti-Vietnam group, had been building bombs here, one of which had blow up and knocked out the front of the building.

We then headed north on 5th Ave, and back to the hotel on 18th street.

Will had walked to Union Square for his breakfast, and been texting with Kathleen en-route. He tells us that she is going to meet us at our hotel. We are meeting a lot of Lynchs in the Upper West Side for an early dinner.

After checking out we were waiting for Kathleen in the lobby when she called Will and asked where we were. We told her between the fireplace and the front desk. She said she was too. I realized that she must have been next door at the "Dream Hotel". (In truth, the front door of the Maritime is concealed with scaffolding.)

We left our bags at the hotel and hopped on the Subway, the "L" under 14th street, and then the #1 north under Park and Lexington Ave to 86th Street. From here it is a short walk to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The place is busy, I expect mainly because it is the week between Christmas and New Years. All five of us went first to the Great Cathedral Gates, and then agreed to regroup here at 3:00.

I wandered randomly, but was still amazed that in the next hour and a half I never crossed paths with any of the other four. There was an exhibit on Caricatures and Satires since Napoleon and Electrotypes, a method of copying metal art object from the 1870's. There was also an exhibit on a master cabinetmaker which led me into the Frank Lloyd Wright Room. I really liked this, especially the lines in the window frames.

There was also time to see my favorite parts of the permanent exhibit including the Egyptian Temple, the wooden paneled rooms from the Renaissance, and the Impressionist!

Robin & Will at dinner
We rendezvoused as planned and caught two taxis to the restaurant where Kris and Charlie as well as Charlie and Owen preceded us. (Kristen is involved with the selling of her parent's home.) Billy soon joined us and we went into our table.

There are ten of us, Charlie & Kris, Billy & Kathleen, Charlie & Owen, Will & Robin and Kristina & myself. The menu seemed expensive until we realized that each platter served 2 to 4 people. So after much talk a joint menu was devised and ordered. Pasta, Chicken and Swordfish, good and plentiful! The place seems designed for large Italian family events.

There was also another round of Christmas gifts since none of us had seen Billy & Kathleen yet.

At about 6:00 people started talking about if we could catch the 7:07 train. I tried to point out with few words that talking about our chance didn't actually improve the odds, and instead I went to gather coats and hats from the cloak room. The four of us caught a subway down Broadway, while the rest looked for taxis to Grand Central Station. We made good time, leaving the restaurant at 6:05, got our luggage at the Maritime, then caught a taxi to Grand Central and had tickets in hand at 7:05. The train was really a 7:14, and with three minutes to spare Charlie, Kris, Charlie and Owen joined us. Their taxis had been caught in traffic.

The train was crowded and we bumped into the night with Owen sitting on my knee. An hour later we got off at Daren, collected our car from Charlie's house, saw Kristen, and then headed north. With four drivers in the family this is now such an easy trip even at the end of a long day.

A few notes on New Year's Eve
A number of years ago I was inviting a neighbor to our New Year's Eve party. He was reluctant to come, but then said, "I guess I could watch the ball come down at your house as easily as at mine". We do not have a TV to watch Time Square on, but I didn't want to disappoint him. So for the last few years I have rigged a light from a tree or on a pole which gets lowered at midnight.

I am particular proud of this year's construction.