Monday, September 28, 2015

The Reunion Conclusion

28 September 2015

We love New York.  Can you tell?  We tend to stop here when we're in the US - Richard spent years living here, I grew up not far away, and there's just sort of a homey feeling to being in New York City.  

However, there's always something new and different and exciting happening, plus new places to discover and interesting things to do.

We've been staying in Stuyvesant Town, or Stuy Town - this is sort of a mini city in the city, a housing community consisting of some 100 apartment buildings, each with who knows how many apartments.......there are literally thousands and  thousands of people living in this mini city.  Stuy Town is located in lower Manhattan, on the east side, up against the East River.  The community has gardens, lawns, community programs for children, a café (very convenient for a fast breakfast), and has almost a small town feel to it.  

There's a fountain in the center, and the area is called The Oval.  This was the perfect spot for viewing last night's lunar eclipse, we had a fabulous view of the red moon!  People shared photos and use of binoculars, we huddled together on the benches around the fountain, others sat on folding chairs - it was a large and friendly gathering of eclipse watchers.

Anyway, Stuy Town is near many of our favorite eating spots, the best being Veniero's, an Italian pastry shop.  Or pasticcieria, in Italian.  OMG so good!  We've only gone there twice in our eight days here, the shop has been around since 1894, so we haven't tried everything.  It truly is the kind of place where one could easily say "surprise me" and find an amazing and wonderful pastry.  I tend toward things overflowing with fruit, like my little tart.  My rationale being that hey, it has fruit, that's healthy!  (And those berries are fresh and juicy, not cooked - see, healthful!)

The normal New York thing to do is to walk almost everywhere, so we do that too.  Hopefully burning off the calories from those little Italian tarts and all.

Most people, when they think of New York City, picture the steel and glass highrises of midtown Manhattan.  But this area, lower Manhattan, is the area that was developed in the 1800 and early 1900s.  There are beautiful brick or stone homes with graceful mouldings around the window and door exteriors, trees lining the streets, and wrought iron gates or railings adding graceful touches to the architecture of a more genteel age.  I'm constantly finding new and interesting buildings in New York.

So, reunioning.  I met up with a friend one day, and we decided to meet at Pete's Tavern.  Pete's is an OLD tavern, or pub, dating back to 1864.  Yes, early Civil War or so!  Pete's is probably best known as being the place where author O. Henry sat and ate, drank, and wrote.  Really, we may have sat exactly where O. Henry sat when he first thought of one of his short stories!  (There are also photos all over of the celebrities who frequent Pete's, but O. Henry is the tavern's claim to fame.) 

We discussed possibly going to the White Horse Tavern, another old and venerable New York spot.  It's history is a bit less cheerful, though - this is the place where the poet Dylan Thomas had his last drink, chugging it down before going out and collapsing on the sidewalk.  He was taken to a hospital, but never regained consciousness, and died a few days later.  That was just too sad, and we opted to skip the White Horse.

We did, however, walk by the house where Washington Irving lived when he was in the city.  He died in 1859, so he never made it to Pete's, even though his home was nearby.  Actually, Washington Irving's estate was in Tarrytown, near the Hudson River; this is where I learned to swim as a child.  And of course our town, Armonk, was rumored to be where the headless horseman in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" rode his horse, terrifying all the residents.  (That's a rumor.  The historical fact is that double-agent Major John Andre was captured and taken to Armonk during the Revolutionary War.)  

History just seems more alive when you see where these authors lived, or wrote, or just got drunk.  I know, not what your English teachers want you to learn, but it's true, it makes these writers so much more real and human and almost alive.

We also walked by St. Mark's in the Bowery, the second oldest church building in Manhattan.  It's a lovely old stone church, and where Peter (or Petrus) Stuyvesant is buried.  Well, he was buried in a crypt under the family chapel in 1672, this church was later built on that site in 1799.  Later, the steeple was added, and the wrought iron fence was constructed later still.  The church is still in use - and has been in use consistently since it was first built.  St. Mark's in the Bowery is known for being more politically active, participating in social justice campaigns as well as religious worship.  Interesting and well-know little church.

 Then we had three days focused on family.  First we met up with my two nephews, who are wonderful young men and a joy to catch up with.  The only down side was that we planned to meet at the Carnegie Deli, and they're still closed due to electrical system problems.  Disappointing, but our focus was the nephews, so we had a great time.  Then we met up with a group of Richard's cousins - it was good to have time to sit down and focus on a smaller group of family, just six people (plus a baby), rather than meeting everyone at a wedding or funeral, when there really isn't time for one-on-one conversation.  We both enjoyed the cousin time.

I also managed to get a bus to the wilds of the Bronx.  (I only say that because that's how Manhattanites tend to feel about what are referred to at the "outer boroughs."  Really, the Bronx is as much a part of New York City as Manhattan, but there are large parks.  One crosses a river to get there.  People live in actual houses (gasp) rather than apartment buildings.  People have yards!  So yes, the wilds of the Bronx.  Had a lovely visit with my cousin, we haven't seen each other since who knows when, and she and her partner even managed to get me some matzah ball soup and cheesecake, since I missed that because the Carnegie was closed.  (These things are important!)

By now it was Sunday, and we were meeting up with Richard's friends who are former colleagues.  (And yes, they are now my friends too - but I'm the only non-attorney in the bunch.)  

And this was the big event weekend.  The Pope had been in town, and left the previous day after speaking to the General Assembly of the United Nations.  President Obama was in town for a series of meetings.  The leader of the People's Republic of China (mainland China) was in the city.  There were rumors that Putin was in town.  (And, we later found out, there was a concert in Central Park with both Coldplay and Pearl Jam.  As I said, a BIG EVENT weekend!)

We met our friends and did the usual hugging and talking and catching up.  A little bit of walking.  Stopped for a bite to eat overlooking a street that was blocked by police cars, with police railings set up all along the sidewalk to prevent people from entering the street.

As we're sitting there, still talking, the motorcade begins - first, motorcycle cops with flashing lights and sirens zooming by.  Then what looked like an ambulance or two.  Then a series of huge black cars and vans, carrying who knows which leader - but a few had American flags, and I think I caught a glimpse of a tall thin man with a vaguely familiar profile in the back of one of these cars.  Did I see the real President?  Did I see a double?  Did I just see a Secret Service body double?  I don't know.  None of us knows.

More cars, more vans, a few more police vehicles and maybe some armored cars.  And then all was quiet again.

What I found most interesting, though, was that there was a group of Falun Gong supporters or believers standing on one corner of an intersection, waving flags and handing out literature explaining their persecution under the current Chinese regime.  Across the cross street, there was a group of people supporting the PRC, mainland China, waving the red flags and signs denouncing the Falun Gong.  And then, across the main street, was a third group with signs about the Falun Dafa - I don't know if this is part of the Falun Gong, or another group.  But they were all clustered together, sort of cancelling each other out.  And, most likely, waiting for the leader of the PRC to come by so they could either make their anti-government statement or show their political support.

Today we met Richard's old buddy and colleague in Washington Square Park, which is in Greenwich Village.  This is on the west side of lower Manhattan, and was well known during the 1940s-50s as home of jazz clubs and beatniks; in the 1960s as home of hippies and the peace movement; and in more modern times, home of artists, alternative lifestyles, and the gay-lesbian-transgender-bi-questioning movement.  It's also another old part of the city, filled with interesting shops and good restaurants.  And, what I've always found to be odd, the park has the Washington Square Arch at one side, facing Fifth Avenue.  This arch is made of local marble but was carved and built in 1889, and is a replica of France's L'Arc de Triomphe.  The question of course is WHY?  

Turns out it was to celebrate the centennial of George Washington being inaugurated as the first president of the USA.  It wasn't a gift from France, like the Statue of Liberty.  It was just a grandiose copy.  Plagiarism, pure and simple.

That's it for our reunioning.  We haven't caught up with everybody, we're having MagicJack issues.  But we've been constantly busy, have enjoyed the food and sights and sounds of New York, and have enjoyed the excitement of what may have been the most monumental visit of heads of state in quite a while.

Never a dull moment in the city that never sleeps.

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