An attendant at flight gate asked a 20-something guy with a scraggly full beer where his father was. He pointed back and said the guy in a cowboy hat - who was errantly waiting in the line for Charlotte rather than Chicago. The attendant motioned for him to come up immediately since he was in wrong line and cabin was getting ready to close.
The guy in the cowboy hat comes up to the agent and is immediately recognizable - we see him on all sorts of Alaska reality shows on TV. His name is Marty and I inadvertently delay (and hold up flight?) when he sees me taking his picture and commandeers my phone to call Steph. (I'd told him my wife Steph was a fan of the show.)
She was talking to her sister Marsha and didn't answer, so Marty waited for voice mail and said, "Hey, this is Marty from Ultimate Survivor and you shouldn't screen Tom's calls...".
Then I'm onboard my flight and Marty's son is there too. Suddenly he jumps up and says "I'm on the wrong flight!" He forgets two pieces of luggage but helpful bystanders alert him and he comes back, twice.
Checked in around 4pm at Hotel Metro in midtown, with good rooftop view of the massive Empire State building. Can see it from window in my room on 12th floor. Definitely a new part of Manhattan for me to stay in, although I kind of miss (already) the more residential Upper West side spot four years ago.
Today I made a strategic mistake in wandering way north, up into the banal touristy areas between 40th and 50th along 5th Avenue. The New York Public Library was closed for Memorial Day weekend, so I was saw St. Patrick's in the distance and headed up those blocks. Mass was just ending; I wandered around afterward but found the crypt is closed to the public, so it was kind of disappointing. The organ player played an absolutely thundering rendition of America the Beautiful at full volume as the closing hymn.
Great people watching, or people gaping. Saw an Orthodox Jew, so dressed, smoking a cigarette and maybe reading the Talmud. Saw a handicapped person being wheeled by who made remarkably unique sounds. Saw robed Buddhists and uniformed sailors and soldiers.
After much deliberation I decided to pick up something to eat from street vendor. The big decision was: coney dog or chicken kebob on pita? I want to have a hot dog for Julie at some point, since she loves them. I did the kebob, and boy was it tasty. He didn't mess around. Ate it at Bryant Park, a charming green space with plentiful chairs and an impressive variety of humanity. I watched a group playing a bocci-ball like game called Pétanque, starring old and young, foreigner and white, black and bearded.
Bryant has a large lawn area where young people, presumably NYU'rs, lounged and slept. The lawn was surrounded by leafy trees with tables and chairs at regular intervals; kiosks of food and games like Petanque lay on the edges. Seemed like a good place to chow some food or read a book, although today was overcast and cool.
A very full vacation day, full of history and remembering and using one's historical imagination, since visibly almost everything has radically changed.
Woke to the sight of the ornate architecture of the building across the street and so looked it up on the 'net. It's The Gregory, formerly The Gregorian. This area of Manhattan took off in the late 1800s as prosperity moved north.
A ton of Germans in this hotel - must be a big group vacation. Haven't heard this much Deutsch since high school German class. I'm kind of disappointed I didn't keep up with the German, or learn it better in high school. I thought three years of it would make me fluent, wishful thinking. And of course the third year was a joke since we learned nothing since the new, young teacher had no discipline and we ran rampant.
I started out thinking I would tour the neighborhood churches and then maybe the Met art museum. I love the idea of not having an itinerary, of just making it up as I go along. And my "plan" changed on a dime when I google searched the Big Onion walking tours and found an 11:00 one on immigrant New York including the notorious Five Points, the 1880s-era Irish and black slums.
I cabbed to corner of Chambers and Warren, to the old City Hall, the seat of Tammany Hall. The tour guide was a doctrinal student in her late 20s, early 30s (I believe she said her dissertation is on how women gained the "right" to wear pants, how that was controversial back in the day). She said that the Irish stereotypes of being lazy, violent and corrupt were untrue, that that was a few bad apples like Mr. Tammany. She offered as proof what was an Irish savings bank founded in 1852 across the street - she said the Irish immigrant initial depositors never withdrew their money, showing they were not simply blowing their paychecks on booze every weekend but had the foresight to save. Oh that that would rub off on Americans today. Perhaps a stretch though to use that one anecdote as proof the Irish were generally responsible.
For two hours she gave vivid anecdotes and interesting vignettes. She talked about how City Hall was slated to cost $250k but cost $13 million due to Tammany overpaying contractors. (The bossman ended up being jailed, complete with luxuries like being able to spend weekends at home; he escaped briefly to Cuba but in Spain he was extradited and sent back to America to jail and died the following year.)
We saw the building where the first retail clothes salesman made a big killing. He got the idea of letting women see the garments before ordering, a popular idea. Very rough part of town, so middle class women would line up to "window shop" with personal bodyguards. Otherwise they'd be groped or worse.
Our guide told us the sad tale of America's first supermodel, Audrey Munson. She's the model for the lady atop the City Hall and numerous others from Wisconsin to California.
Audrey went to a soothsayer who told her of her doomed life: early fame, but no happiness. You'd think that was tragic and unfair, but even saints were told of upcoming misery, like St. Bernadette who was told she would be unhappy in this life. The Blessed Mother likewise was told that a sword would pierce her heart, and Jesus knew from Isaiah and other Scriptures that he would be the "suffering servant" and die a prophet's death in Jerusalem. St Peter was told by Christ that he would go where he would not go, St. Paul was shown in a vision what he would suffer, just as he told his future martyrs that their blood was no on his hands for he told them the full plan of God (persecution before glory). By definition (that being love) God would not tell us something that wasn't for our good or the good of others. So I guess we need not fear the reaper or the soothsayer.
Audrey found little acting success until someone discovered her beauty and photographed her nude for an arts magazine. She became famous, acted in a few movies but appeared nude - she ended up being objectified and typecast, scorned. A doctor killed his wife in order to be with her even though she never even knew him, but the tabloids said she was "the other woman" and, being blamed for the doc's wife's death, her career was even more dead. By the age of 40 she was trying to commit suicide and was institutionalized for the next 60 years, dying in the 1990s at over 100 years old. Reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe, only Monroe succeeded in killing herself.
We went by Foley Square to Columbus Park, the intersection known as Five Points, and it was really hard to imagine it back then: slowly sinking homes (caused by the developers not realizing they were building on a natural spring and not a rainwater ditch), dirt roads, filth, crime. She argued it was overdone, this bad reputation. Back then middle class folks actually took tours to Five Points to gape and gasp at the poverty but not to get too close.
Then on to Chinatown, just so incredibly big. Many speak no English, as well they can in a place like this with so many countrymen. Very exotic scenery to me. We went by the Church of the Transfiguration (closed for Memorial Day, sadly), where they now have masses in Chinese, English, Cantonese, Manadrin and another language that escapes me. It was originally a Protestant church, then Irish Catholic, then Italian Cath, now Chinese Cath. The Irish and Italians didn't see eye-to-eye on worship because in Ireland they were very low key due to persecution - few ornamental things like statutes and singing and high masses - while the Italians were big on all of the above.
We went by a road that curved around (Doyers) which was a hit place for Chinese gangs back in the late 1800s. They had a menu of prices, $5 for breaking a leg, $15 for murder, or what have you, and they would execute the crime as the guy was going around the bend, then hurry back into a nearby house which led to secret tunnels that the Irish police at the time had no idea existed.
We traveled through Little Italy to the Precious Blood shrine where the dust of St Janirus liquifies many Septembers on his feast day. Pope Francis was there to witness the miracle recently. It too was closed, drats!
Old St. Pat's cathedral, sadly closed. Everybody closed on Memorial Day.
Hit McNally-Jackson, an independent bookstore, briefly. Then walked all over West Village, Greenwich Village... Saw beautiful brownstones with gargoyles...Saw the church were St. Mother Cabrini prayed, and I spent some time in there doing the same. A very beautiful and affecting church with many statues and paintings. Later I saw Our Lady of Guadalupe, adorned creatively and fulsomely. Walked to the water - the Hudson - and saw the New Jersey (Hoboken) skyline. Walked up to the Whitney Art Museum but there was a line and I had scant desire to look at modern "art". Modern okay, but art?
Started getting tired even though I'd only walked 5.5 miles, just 2.5 over my usual per day. Found a little shop nearby that had a salad bar and feasted on more nutritious fare. Not very adventuresome - I probably should've tried some authentic Chinese food in Chinatown (the guide said you look in the window and look for a letter grade to tell how safe the food is - "A" is best, "F" means you'll die if you eat it.)
The rooftop seemed a good cigar smoking spot but failed on two accounts: one, it being a remarkably un-photogenic spot on a very cloudy time, and two, my lighter failed. So I did some writing on the (again) cool night before heading back out to find a lighter. I headed out to Herald Square to see if I could cop a smoke and voila - I see the most ingenious private seat in a public space, a nook from which I could see but not be seen. It overlooked an expanse of lights and activity, Macy's being directly across the street. I spent a pleasant hour cigar'ing and collating the 99 pictures I took. It really appeals to the artist in me, taking these photos and then enhancing them using Apple's photo editor. Enjoyable pastime. I find it takes all night to just to document a vacation day with words and pictures. I have a yen for a book, preferably NY history... especially after having walked 19,000 steps (could be a new high for me).
New York still entrances me, even minus my writerly dreams (which seem the likely genesis of my Manhattan cult).
So today I showered, ate continental breakfast in the room, coffee'd up, rosary'd up, and by 10:15 rolled out the door to the fabulous Morgan Library. Great to see it while still fresh, in the morning. A short jaunt from the hotel, one of the big advantages of the hotel was proximity to this and the NYPL, I explored the exhibit "Noah's Beasts", an interesting collection of Sumerian art found around 3000BC. I was impressed by how spiritual it was in a sense, how back then they were groping towards a savior, and how the ancient writing on a stone represented an early flood narrative.
Next up was into the rarefied office and library of J.P. Morgan. In later life he spent much of his time collecting things like the Gutenberg Bible, which I got to see and admire, as well as lots of medieval religious art. Virgin Mother and child was a lot of the theme in his office. It's all sheer mouth-gape, from the mini-Sistine chapel ceiling in the entrance way to the artistry and great sense of order conferred by the library itself. "For the glory of God" in Latin was an inscription, but a lot of it seemed like for the glory of Morgan. Reminds me how NY Times author Thomas Friedman built an 11,000 house to prevent emissions from potentially twelve suburban homes: ah, the things we sacrifice for climate change.
I can't believe how religious Morgan's library office was - nearly all religious art, as if he were a cleric not a baron. Books such as "The Legend of St Margaret" from the 15th century adorn the walls. I wonder if part of this is to feel kinship with Christians past, for few things bring the dead alive more than their art. These artifacts show the longevity of the Faith as well.
It felt so peaceful there. Then walked/jogged to get to Fr. George Rutler's parish for 12:10 Mass. Guy saw me and said, "no matter where you're going, it's not worth hurrying.".
The author of a number of books and EWTN "star" gave a decently long homily for a sparsely attended weekday mass. Felt like I failed Rutler by getting his thumb wet when I received on the tongue.
Next up was an Uber ride to the Met, although I wasn't feeling too motivated. Mcsorley's pub?! Flatiron and vicinity! More time actually sitting in NYPL and letting the architecture heal!?
Why do I never allot time for this joint?
The day got behind me quick, as did this trip. No literal ray of sunshine till 5 minutes before time to leave, alas. Still, NY has that London foggy feel in that you don't go there for the weather. Especially if you want to hit museums.
I loved the chance to use my German, microscopic in vocabulary as it is. A German couple on the elevator and they get off on an earlier floor. I get ready for my moment on the stage and say, "Entschuldigung!" ("Pardon me") since I am slightly in their way. He looks up at me with recognition but without surprise or smile, so I assume I'd handled the pronunciation well enough. I certainly look far too American to think he thought of me as anything but an American but ...
Traveled to tiny Hilton Head airport and we hit the beach almost immediately upon landing, with a strenuous game of throwing the grandboys high into the surf and later jogging about a mile (Will tired quickly so part of the the jog was me carrying Will - now that is a workout).
The amazing thing was seeing something I'd never seen in all the years I came to Hilton Head - two young sharks in the shallowest water right where I was throwing Will in. Steph and Sam were back aways making sand castles and missed it. I grabbed Will and stood in the two feet of water and watched, disbelieving, the sharks go back and forth just four feet away. They were each about a yard long with a fin the size of my hand. A dog went into the water after them and the owners were screaming frantically - later they said that these were definitely sharks. Silver-lined fins and all. I hung out in the shallows watching them for maybe a minute, holding Will up out of the water.
Will uncorked quite a line later to his Mom, insisting "Yes we did too, we saw a god-da*mned shark!". That was unexpected. She obviously disciplined him for it but Steph had to bite her lip to keep from laughing.
Today's surprise was when Sam started crying like crazy after stepping on something "hard" - probably a stingray since the shallows were thick as thieves with them. A lady came over and told us that three of her family got stung and one had to go to emergency room. Her son said the pain was unbelievably intense. Sam wasn't hurt at all, just crying from fear apparently.
So thus ended the beach time for the kids, presumably for the duration of the trip.
I told Sam "the king game" was my favorite and he acutely recognized why, announcing that that was because PawPaw can relax in a chair while they fetch him some imaginary treasure.
Spent a good while playing with the boys - card games (Go Fish and Blackjack), the "king" acting game, and plenty of pool and ocean time ("Marco Polo", and throwing them in the sea).
Jogged a goodly 35 minutes this morning in the slightest of drizzles. Uncanny how I've been able to catch the worst weather of NYC (cool and rainy) as well as Hilton Head (warm and rainy).
Oh to be in Hilton Head in June! Is not the light itself more rare? The days are long and of temperate langsam.
Ahhhh, the sigh of sun-streaked contentment: morning coffee in the pool room at Canvasbck. The natural beauty feeds you - the blue water, the lush jungle beyond, the comforts of civilization (books and ipad). And it's simply irreproducible at home given the trudge work of Max (feeding, putting up with his barking and interruptions). How sweet to have even this day... And then a week at our timeshare later this year, although without the beauty of the accompanying jungle.
I call it a jungle because that's what it looks like to me - nature run wild. I'm not sure it meets the dictionary definition ("an area of overgrown vegetation, typically in the tropics"). Is this the tropics? ("Hilton Head Island encompasses 42 square miles (68 sq. km) of semi-tropical...").
Yesterday was fabulouscity. A long quenching run. A long quenching beer drink. Some Mexicano music. Some reading about the Stoics. Later, the best pizza I've had in ages ("Doughboys" and they deliver). And then the sigh of very tired limbs in the comfy bed...