from Sandy Needham

Thursday, September 8, 2016

USA Travel Dispatch: Northeast, MANHATTAN

Elisa and Ben, our home exchange couple in Greenwich Village, invited us to dinner at their apartment for "orientation" while we were staying in the Bronx. The building is a beauty, and I fell in love instantly with them and their home. The decor and, much more so, the feel of the place was custom-ordered for me! Elisa, a choreographer, was a dancer with Martha Graham's company and traveled the world, filling their apartment with international folk art and photography. Ben, who works with the World Bank, has added to this collection with his own travels.

On left: Elisa dancing

I swear there is a choreographic quality in the very arrangement of objects!  

A dance studio with shoji screens divides the living area from the bedroom. 

I usually traversed this space with the old familiar chassé...glissade...jeté from my years of ballet classes!

The Asian influence continues particularly in the meditative atmosphere of the bedroom.

The fabulous little terrace off the bedroom is perched near treetops in a rare green courtyard behind neighboring buildings.

Elisa herself is full of vitality and charisma. She oversaw her dance company's last performance as choreographer only one week before and was now officially retired. What fun to compare dance notes, eras in the city, travels. Ben is recovering well from the heart scare, and is one of those thin, wiry guys who looks like the picture of health, clogged arteries or not. They explained how appliances work and left us notes about their favorite restaurants in the area.

What a fantastic two weeks we had there. Newton had his office corner for work, I had all my convenient rendezvous' around the city, and we loved entertaining on the terrace and in the living area. The neighborhood is fantastic for shopping, food, museums, and getting anywhere easily in Manhattan.

We went to the World Trade Center - The National September 11 Memorial and Museum. It is a dramatic, yet peaceful space that will become even more inviting as the trees grow. 

The twin pools offer a moving tribute. The instant I saw the engraved names, the shock and sadness of that morning came back to me; very emotional.

We did not wait in the long line in the heat for the museum, which I am determined to visit someday, nor did we pay the ridiculous $35 per person to ride to the top of the new World Trade Center building. There are other elevated views in the city. We did spend the afternoon walking and walking... eight miles' worth! 

We walked the Westside Promenade for the first time, then took in the Battery Park Esplanade. Both areas were in gorgeous condition, full of lush plantings and happy summer activity. 

West Side Promenade with Lady Liberty
View from the Battery Esplanade
Happy kids in Battery Park
Summer blooms with bee
Battery Park Swedish Festival
We started up the East side to South Street Seaport, then turned left and crossed Manhattan to lovely Gigino's Trattoria that was actually near the World Trade Center, where we had begun. I had to hobble to the subway to get home!

Cooper-Hewitt Museum
I went to several museums while Newton worked at home. The Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum had undertaken a complete overhaul since I had been there. This is housed in the old Andrew Carnegie mansion. It is full of decorative design and has a 21st century approach, though I missed the previous emphasis on textiles and wallpapers. It has a beautiful outdoor garden for lunch (and for cocktails and dancing to live music on summer Thursdays).

Cooper-Hewitt Garden
The Whitney Museum of American Art had not only been overhauled since I last visited, but moved to quite a fantastic new building near the Hudson River, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. It's previous building by Marcel Breuer now houses the modern and contemporary collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Outdoor terrace
While moving about the indoor/outdoor spaces designed to re-imagine the museum experience, I was very taken with the exhibit featuring portraits from the permanent collection. I happened to be in the right place at the right time to join a staff member leading a small group of us through the unique approaches the various galleries brought to the idea of portraits, including the room with no faces depicted at all. The woman was marvelous and added so much to my visit and to my Art History degree!

Portrait of the avant-garde Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, American sculptor, collector, and founder of the Whitney Studio Club in 1918, which grew into the Whitney Museum 
Walking Camera II, gelatin silver print by Laurie Simmons
Self-portrait by Edward Hopper

James Dean, Marfa, Texas by Sid Avery

For Internal Use Only

Stuart Davis, a founding member of the Whitney Studio Club, had his own striking exhibit.

Salt Shaker

Shapes of Landscape Space #3

At closing time, Newton met me right outside the museum for our first walk along the High Line - the former West Side Line of the New York Central Railroad, now a mile-and-a-half long elevated public park.

South end of the High Line at the Whitney

The railway bed
Newt filling his FitBit with LOADS of steps!

The landscaping was effulgent green!

We exited the High Line to have dinner at Chelsea Market - a bustling place teeming with eateries, overflowing with hungry locals and visitors. I had fresh, exquisite oysters and a dry senior equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup.

Museum of Mathematics door

I read about the Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) a few years ago. It was nearby at 26th and Fifth Avenue, so I had an afternoon presumably designed for kids, but clearly exciting for adults.

Honeycomb and other patterns
Entry floor...and my flip-flop

My personal favorite: a floor maze with various challenges
The bathroom sink in the Museum of Mathematics

Light Grooves, Z-intaglio in alloy by Matthew Brand 
But JUST as beautiful as nature and art and numbers: my New York friends and relatives! 

Lucia Gratch - my touchstone. She is the kindergarten teacher at Blue Rock School and generally magnificent. Lucia drove in from the Hudson River village of Nyack to go to the Museum of Modern Art together. This time I shared the joy with a consummate artist/photographer. We had lunch, explored special exhibits, strolled through our perennial favorites from the permanent collection, and shopped in the fantastic MOMA gift shop. (Our sons were meeting in California at this time, completely independent of us!) Seeing Lucia is like being 'home' - wherever we may be.

Our favorite special exhibit was of Japanese architectural models:

Most striking to me: this evokes the sculptural kimono in Kabuki wood block prints! 
I would really like to explore this building

The Degas special exhibit was intriguing with drawings and a monotype collection.

Among our perennial favorites:
Rousseau, Sleeping Gypsy

Matisse, Goldfish and Sculpture
MOMA Courtyard

Claudia Wilson - my assistant in the Blue Rock School office who made any hectic day...Fire Inspection day, too-many-Admissions-tours day, staff shortage day, etc....FUN anyway! We had a Japanese lunch in desperate starving condition after I mistakenly thought we could buy lunch at the Union Square Farmer's Market. (No.) She also drove in from Nyack and made yet another day fun! There is absolutely only one Claudia.
Carolyn McMonegal - Longtime textile designer friend and revered family friend to all of us. Carolyn is retired and lives with her cat in the same jewel box of an apartment since I've known her ('78). It is filled with her amazing artistry and innate taste. We shared this trip's lunch and always-interesting gab session with her old friend since Art Student League studies, Stephanie, and a mutual longtime textile designer friend, Jean... 

Jean Cristobal - Jean was in New York from her town of Voorschoten in the Netherlands. We go way back to the same textile design studio with Carolyn, where both Jean and I had to travel to the printing plants in the South to oversee the printing and colors. Being half-Japanese, Jean studies ikebana and Japanese ink brush technique in Holland. She is another fantastic artist and person through and through.

Desiree & Jeff Greene - speaking of artists! Desiree is a painter and Jeff restores buildings all over the world via his famous EverGreene Architectural Arts studio. He is also a World musician in the group he co-founded, TriBeCaStan. All their children are artists! We've known them since their daughter and Elise attended Blue Rock elementary school together. We had a great evening entertaining them at our 'home,' where they also appreciated our hosts' fascinating space. I was super happy to see Desiree againin her kitchen - for girl time. She has a gentle, collected presence and 
intelligence that I highly treasure.

Todd Tarpley  - our nephew, son of my sister Dorothy. Todd sent me to the nearby McNally Jackson book store on Prince Street to buy his children's books. He has published four, so far. I was happy to forgo the two bucks saved by ordering online. While browsing there, I was distinctly reminded why independent booksellers need to stay with us. Todd also enjoyed our apartment, where he arrived to autograph his books. He looked up little-known historical facts about the shifty character for whom our street was named! We got to see Todd twice: dinner on the upper West Side with the whole family: Jennifer is an admissions director at a school uptown; Samuel is starting college at Trinity NOW, and Ethan goes to Elizabeth Irwin High School in the Village.
Ethan, Samuel, Jennifer & Todd

Nancy Taylor - a world traveler if there ever was in a tent in Ladakh; crossing the Sahara with eleven people in a sedan; getting shot at in Papua New Guinea, and on and on. She was recently in the West Bank laughing with two Arabic women farmers, though she found their situation anything but laughable. She gave me one of the best history books I've read, My Promised Land by Ari Shavit, which illustrates the ever nuanced and complicated story of Israel through the stories of individuals from every side. Enlightening. She grabs life by the shoulders, and any tidbit of her impressions she shares is sheer gold. I was lucky to see this curious and brilliant woman twice!

My McCracken Cousins - My cousin Tad raised three smart kids in Oklahoma City: Bill, Windy and Katie. They are all lawyers in Manhattan! Bill is married to Amy, who works for the Schools Chancellor. Their kids are Charlie and Nori, seasoned galavanters on the back of a bike with a killer picnic basket. The family takes great advantage of the outdoor offerings of the City. Katie and husband have daughter Daphne, who bears a strong resemblance to her great-grandmother, my Aunt Katie!

Katie & Windy

Bill & Charlie, reading Todd's book
Amy & Nori

Windy reading Todd's book to Daphne & Nori
When I saw this incredible photo of Daphne & Nori, I understood what Windy was doing with such a fancy camera!
These photos were taken on Governors Island, where I met up with this lovely group of once-and-twice-removed cousins. We bicycled to a great outdoors space they visit frequently and had a picnic. Newton caught the ferry to the island later to join us for the Eurocup soccer final between France and Portugal. The park had a big screen set up and beer for sale. I love having relatives in the City!

Cooper-Union student-designed housing

I'm always attracted to interesting architecture. Here are some buildings we passed in our wanderings.


An old favorite!
Our last night we went on a jazz cruise around lower Manhattan. The music was great and the views, spectacular.

People may complain that Manhattan is too intense or too harsh. For me, Manhattan is a salve full of grace.


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