Sunday, October 19, 2008

I ♥ NY

I recently returned from spending a week in New York City with my parents, who are wrapping up their LDS mission there. I loved visiting them and exploring more of New York City. In my humble opinion, New York City is the capital of the world...it is the center of so many things, and full of interesting things to do and see.

One of the highlights was attending a performance of STOMP. Stomp is performed by eight dancers / percussionists who make music with everyday objects like brooms, newspapers, garbage cans, and even the kitchen sink! I had to smile as four of the guys came out wearing kitchen sinks on a chain around their necks, making squeaking noises with the yellow dishwashing rubber gloves they wore and the water in their sinks. Another highlight was the music they made with metal folding chairs...at that point my mother turned to me and said "I hope the kids in your Sunday School class never see this!" Having your class tap and bang their chairs like that would definitely be a teacher's nightmare, but it was sure fun to watch in a performance.

Another highlight was going to Harlem to hear a gospel choir perform. We stood in a long line with other tourists to get into the Sunday services of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, but didn't get in because of the crowds. Here's a photo of me in that line:


Instead, I attended a concert held on Wednesday morning by the Addiction Recovery Choir. I found it really fun and uplifting. When I first entered the chapel, they were having a testimony meeting, where people from the choir and congregation took the microphone and told about how the Savior helped them overcome their drug and alcohol addictions. Then, the preacher gave a sermon about Peter walking on the water, and how we can do things that seem impossible to us as we trust God and look to Him. Then came the wonderful music where they enthusiastically praised the Lord...some of the people even stood up and danced in the pews. They allowed photos and videos only on the last song. Here's a little clip of it:



My mother took me to see a graffiti park, which was pretty amazing. It's actually a working warehouse. One of the owners previously held a job of cleaning up graffiti in the streets, and as he painted over it, he felt badly because much of it had artistic value. So, he setup this place where people could come to paint on Saturdays and they vote about which paintings will be painted over. Here's a photo of me in front of one of my favorites there:


I also saw art at several museums. One of my favorites was the Frick Collection, which is a collection of the personal art owned by Henry Clay Frick, displayed in his 5th Avenue mansion. He was a powerful businessman who was once partners with Andrew Carnegie. A few years before he died in 1919, he had this mansion built for the display of his art, with the intention of turning it into a museum. He collected art that was "easy to live with", and I found that I enjoyed his taste. Some of my favorites were the paintings done by Johannes Vermeer, because of his beautiful use of light. Here's a photo of the beautiful indoor courtyard there.



One of my other favorite museums was the New York Transit Museum, which is housed in an out-of-service subway station in Brooklyn. You have to look carefully, in order to not miss the entrance...here's what it looks like:



They have all sorts of interesting things, such as an exhibit on how they process all the money they receive from transit riders each day (about $9 million), and examples of all the historic subway cars. My favorite part was learning about how immigrants built the subway tunnels from 1900 to 1920. Much of the subways are just below street level and so they just dug up the street and created a tunnel below it. But, the parts of the subway that are under rivers or below hills were more difficult to build. While they were digging out the ones under the river, they had to pump in compressed air, so the tunnels wouldn't collapse. A time or two there was a weak spot in the ground above them, and the people and equipment would go shooting out like a geyser. It was dangerous, hard work and the immigrants only made a dollar or two a day. Some of them went on strike, but there were always other immigrants more hungry than themselves who were willing to break the strike, and so their wages never went up.

New York is one place where the stark contrast between the rich and the poor is very obvious, even today. Many of the people my parents know there work very very hard just to rent a tiny single room. They've commented on how the rich "grind the faces" of the poor there.

Anyway, the subway museum made me appreciate the subway like never before! I've always enjoyed riding the subways in New York, not only because it makes getting around so easy and convenient, but because it gives you a close up view of the amazing diversity of the people in New York City. Here are two videos that show some of the entertainers you find around the subway system:








Another unique experience on this visit was taking a tour of Diamond Alley kindly offered by Elder and Sister Smith, who are currently serving their 2nd mission to New York City. They showed us the basement shops where each shop owner only has 5 feet of display space, and so the jewelry is crammed in, and then took us to Tiffany's and Cartier's and all the fancy places on 5th Avenue, where they have the same jewelry, but with only one or two items per foot of display space. If you buy at the fancy places, you pay several times more, just for a different shopping experience and the name. We ran into a guy at Diamond Alley who saw Sister Smith's missionary name badge and then wanted to tell us about his near death experience. After coming back from that, he did two things:

1. Changed his name to James Bond (he even pulled out his stack of credit cards to prove that "James Bond" was his legal name, although he didn't mention exactly why he felt he needed to make this name change), and

2. made a commitment to go to Church every day, which he still does.

It was fun to chat with him. Here's a photo of my parents (on the left) and the Smiths at Rockefeller Center:


This trip, I took a walking tour of the historical portions of Brooklyn, which are beautiful. I was interested to learn that Henry Ward Beecher preached his anti-slavery sermons at the Plymouth Church here. When I went to visit it, it was full of people celebrating a Jewish holiday, so I believe it may now be a synagogue. Here a photo of some of the Brownstone homes:


Here are two of the views visible from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, where you can see the artificial waterfalls that have been on display this summer:


Lower Manhattan, with the artificial waterfall to the left:


Brooklyn has a huge park similar to Manhattan's Central Park, which was built by the same developers. It's called Prospect Park. I enjoyed walking through there, but it is so huge that found myself getting lost. I think that's a common experience, because they have several color coded trails that are supposed to help you find your way around. I happened to be leaving the park at the same time as a fisherman who had been catching and releasing bass in the lake there, and so he kindly lead me out of the park (and gave directions to several other people along the way too). Here are some of the things I saw there:

The Grand Army Plaza entrance to Prospect Park:



This guy was practicing his boxing moves in one of the tunnels under a street bridge:


Here's the boathouse, with a bride and groom getting photos in front of it:


People fishing near the boathouse:


Finally, I spent a day at the American Museum of Natural History, which is an amazing place. I walked fast to try to see it all, but couldn't. I loved seeing a meteorite the size of a Volkswagen, which they found in Greenland in the 1800's when an explorer noticed that the Inuit indians there were using metal tools, even though there were no metal deposits there. They lead him to a place where there were 7 or 8 fragments of a huge meteorite...the largest weighs 34 tons and sits on special reinforced pilings in the museum there.
They have so many amazing exhibits...from dinosaur bones to gemstones, to taxidermied animals and birds, to earthquakes and volcanoes, and exhibits on peoples and cultures from around the world. It made me think that if I ever wanted to home school my children, I'd just take them there every day!

I've visited NYC 5 times and spent about a month sightseeing there over the past two years, but still feel like I've just scratched the surface. It's a unique, wonderful place.