This is not my usual post, as it’s really a hiking trip down Memory Lane… before 9/11, back in the 90’s. Now time’s passing by so quickly, I can’t seem to get a handle on Christmas before the Fourth of July turns up. Anyway, it’s nice to look back on these two really fun trips – and I do love New York….such an incredible city, now and always.
I’ve been to New York to spend some time twice in my life (not counting flights through Newark to England and other ports of call.) And that includes some time spent in New York State…which happens to be just beautiful. My first visit encompassed both a shopping trip into the city, and a hot air balloon ride over the Green Mountains – absolutely magical.
Arlene booked us in for the balloon ride, so we drove to a field in the countryside where the balloon was being “gassed up.”
The day was just about perfect…the skies clear, with little or no wind.
Once the balloon was almost filled with gas, four of us climbed into the (very small) basket, and in short order, we were off. Because of the lack of wind, we didn’t really swing from side to side, but nonetheless, my knuckles grasping the sides of the basket were white, the higher we climbed. We made it to about 2,000 feet and the countryside spread below us like a patchwork quilt, all shades of green, everything so sharply etched, so you could even see a small black cat snoozing on gravel below.
I think we were up and drifting for about half an hour, then we gently began our descent into a small valley, with a miniscule white church at the far end. By this time dusk was settling in. Just a few twinkling stars lit up the sky. Lower and lower we came – and faster – I was afraid we’d bump into the trees, but we missed that little problem, and landed. As we came to a halt and the balloon dragged across the grass, the doors to the church opened and a mass of small children ran out into the field to see if the Wizard of Oz had landed! Magic!
We ended up drinking champagne and eating cheese nibbles as the sun went down. Despite my fear of heights, it was an incredible experience.
The next couple of days were spent just driving around the countryside, with a day spent on Fifth Avenue shopping, and a trip to Broadway to see “Miss Saigon“. Loved the play – that helicopter scene was intense. The weather held, and it was a lovely lovely time.
Autumn in New York 1998 – On the town
Three years later, it was all New York City… I left Houston on a wet and windy November day – the plane trip was uneventful, but the plane itself was cold, cold, cold. I needed 2 blankets and 2 pillows to be comfortable (and, back then, I didn’t have to pay to “rent” them). I arrived in Newark after dark, so when we flew over Manhattan- what a beautiful sight: a blanket of multi-colored jewels of lights as far as the eye could see, for miles and miles to the horizon- all massed in varying patterns and ribbons of moving color, with an inky-violet sky behind all.
The luggage came in fast, and I zoomed thru the airport to the pickup area where Arlene was waiting … Well, I’m here! We whooshed back to Ramsey, New Jersey for a good night’s sleep…
The first thing I wanted to do when we got to New York was visit The Cloisters.
The very next next day, we made our merry way to Manhattan, after a brief breakfast of coffee and scones (yum). The maples were still in living color- reds and golds everywhere. I’m so glad l got to see them before the leaves dropped from the trees.
The Cloisters is magnificent. A part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it is an “ensemble of rooms and gardens” compiled from various parts of European monasteries, and built to house a wonderful collection of medieval art, from the 1100’s thru the 1500’s. Beautiful, beautiful. The walls, constructed from old monastery stones, are at least 4 feet thick. The rooms house carvings, paintings, statues, sarcophagi, chalices, and other beautiful things such as cloaks, ivory pieces, goblets and a set of oval playing cards from the 13th or 14th century. St. Juliana was represented by a mask carved over her skull – with the skull still in the mask. A reliquary of an arm – in brass – had two small “windows” cut in it to show the arm bones of the saint!
The view of the Hudson River from the ramparts of The Cloisters is spectacular.
You can see for miles, because The Cloisters is actually on cliffs overlooking the Hudson. Cobblestone paths lead from various entryways to main roads. The gardens house all sorts of herbs and flowers, most of which, of course, were not in bloom at this time of year. The day was gray and cloudy, but not too windy… actually, it was perfect weather for this particular adventure!
Always shopping til we drop, no matter where we are! We finished touring The Cloisters top to bottom, then drove to The Plaza and checked our car in with Fernando, our super-nice doorman.
We then found the front desk, got our key, and moseyed up to our corner room at the far end of the hall. The room is nice: two double beds, big window, fireplace facing the beds, wonderful big – echoing – bathroom, huge closet, big armoire housing a huge tv, and best of all, lots of alcohol & food in the mini fridge! We immediately made ourselves Bloody Marys, and opened the nuts, cheese, and chips! and then noticed that the draperies exactly matched Lene’s robe.
After which, we cleaned ourselves up, and rambled down to The Plaza’s Oyster Bar, very New York, leather chairs, booths, dimly lit, great food; Oysters Rockefeller and smoked salmon – yum-o!
After dinner, we took a cab to Grand Central Station, where we walked around for an hour or so. It is glorious: cavernous, with soaring arched ceilings, chandeliers, huge glass windows front and back. The ceiling is etched with friezes of the various constellations, with little twinkling stars of light interposed throughout.
We looked over the subways in case we wanted to take one to Greenwich Village later, then walked to the Nederlander Theater (built in 1921), where we saw “Rent“, which at first I wasn’t sure I would like- so loud! Based on “La Boheme“, all of the characters (or most) have AIDS or the HIV virus, and are dying… I began to appreciate it much more by the second act; in the first case, I began to better understand it! Powerful and affecting, it is more emotionally engaging by the time Angel starts to “die”. The cast stayed on stage after the performance and asked the donations for the homeless HIV- and AIDS-positive. So… pretty poignant.
A funny thing happened after the play. Lene and I went into the bathroom, and about 15 women crowded in, putting on lipstick, etc…. and every single one of them was dressed in black! Not a color to be seen. So New York!
Then- great adventure – we walked from 4th street down Broadway (at 11 at night) past Times Square with all the huge lit-up advertising signs- to 58th Street, then back down 5th Avenue to Central Park and The Plaza… about 25 city blocks, I think. What a walk. No taxis were available- it’s just about impossible to get a taxi in New York unless you get with a doorman, or stand at a taxi stand. The streets were jammed with people- all sorts – absolutely packed (you’d never see this in downtown Houston, unless it’s 5PM and they’re waiting for the buses home).
Some absolutely beautiful women and gorgeous men here, wearing all sorts of different outfits, but these outfits are all…black! Skinny pants for women are definitely in; black leather jackets, pea coats – I love all this stuff.
The other side of New York is the homeless. They are everywhere…it is shattering. When we got to 58th Street, there’s a sort of overhang, and under it were all the homeless carts in a row. So hard to take in.
In direct contrast, the horses and carriages were all out and driving around Central Park. We passed some wonderful-looking New York bars- very Breakfast at Tiffany’s type hangouts-all dark wood, leather, and dim lights. Men and women in cocktail clothes (black), smoking and sipping – whatever! We also passed apartment high rises, with uniformed doormen opening limo doors, etc. Many of the apartments had their curtains open, and you could see high ceilinged rooms, elegantly furnished with deep dark furniture, lit with diamond-bright twinkling chandeliers. The whole experience is a view into another world.
Finally, we found our home away from home – The Plaza. The first thing I did when we walked in was order room service! We ordered hot chocolate, a bagel and cream cheese, fresh strawberries, hot tea, and croissants. We didn’t need any menu – I just asked, and they said “Of course, Miss Dunn!” and “Certainly, Miss Dunn” (I could get used to this.) Anyway, in short order, up came the fabulous food -fresh strawberries with a big bowl of whipped cream, chocolate and tea in tall silver pots, small pots of fresh jam, marmalade, honey and butter, and a hot sliced bagel with cream cheese- $40.00 plus tip!
It was wonderful. Here we were at 12 midnight (or later) sipping tea and hot chocolate and eating strawberries and cream. Oh, I love New York! (Of course, we could have bypassed eating and just applied the food to our hips…but…oh well.)
Funny- I’m not even tired, and it’s 1:30 in the morning. Arlene is fast asleep, so I guess I should be too. I’ll read for a bit, then- to sleep, perchance…etc. and so forth!
Saturday morning….New York –I hate to repeat myself- is wonderful: I could live here, I think but sometimes I’m not so sure: it is so frenetic. The energy level is intense at all hours. It doesn’t matter if it’s 6 in the morning or 12 at night. The shops are open, the people are coming and going, the doormen are whistling, whistling, whistling for the taxis that are always full. It’s amazing.
Last night at 1:30 AM, I finally turned out the light to go to sleep. Suddenly – outside in the street, it sounded like they were reconstructing New York. Breaking glass being bundled, brushed, crashed, bashed, shoved, collected, pushed and dumped. Sounds of trucks and semis moving and hauling…the noise was intense. I finally crashed myself, and woke up on Saturday sometime between 11 and 12.
New York has fascinating people: just a terrific amalgam of all and every kind. You see these elegant old ladies, beautifully dressed in little suits and high heels, just-done hair. They seemed to always be walking around in pairs…this will be Arlene and me in 20 years! Lots of Asians, Jews in yarmulkes, African-Americans, Germans. Heard accents from England, Australia, Germany, Japan among others. Some marvelous – I mean really good looking men – tall, slender and gorgeous, with dark hair and eyes… the John Kennedy Jr. type abounds in New York. With equally glorious-looking women- almost always blonde, slender, and tall, tall, tall.
As previously noted, everyone wears black. I mean, to see anyone dressed in a color here is to be shocked… shocked! The uniforms for women seem to be: black pantsuit; or long black skirt, black hose, black jacket; or short black skirt, thick black hose, black jacket; or tight fitting princess style black coat; or black leather jacket with everything. And black short boots. Very cool.
Off to shop.
After a satisfying couple of hours at a couple of boutiques, we toddled off to Bloomingdale’s, which happened to be across the street. Unfortunately, we didn’t see it. So managed to spend 30 minutes searching for it – we are so directionally impaired! Bloomingdale’s was a madhouse (what else is new) – it makes Houston’s Galleria look like an empty cave. People, people and more people -wall to wall people and very hot clothes.
We shopped Floor 3: Designer Sportswear. Lene bought a white sweater, and I bought a pair of gray flannel Ralph cargo pants, a DKNY short sleeved black turtleneck, and a white Ralph t-shirt.
Our sales assistant was named Gloria. I loved her: Hennaed hair, about 65 years old (maybe older), and fairly small-a typical New Yorker, born and bred, and funny as hell “Let me see ya in that sweater, honey I’m waiting out here – let me see it – is it on yet?”
Me: “I’m trying on the cargo pants, Gloria.” Gloria: “Oh, yes, those look good – no, honey, you don’t want to get them tailored here- too expensive. Ya know what I do, take them to my cleaners, tell them what to do, pay ’em a few dollars- there you are: so much cheaper than here… plus, you have to pay the shipping!”
Gloria: “I’m still waiting to see the sweater.” Me: “Well, give me a minute to get it on – the sleeves are too long.” Gloria: “Now let me tell you what you do: everyone does it we turn up the sleeves like so, there…how’s that look?” Me: “Let me think about it.”
Gloria: “You do that honey!”
We finally left Bloomingdales, picked up our clothes (on hold) from various other shops and walked back to the Plaza. We changed clothes and grabbed a cab (via our wonderful doorman) to Tavern on the Green – only to find out we needed a reservation to eat there. So we walked upstairs to the adorable little bar and had Bloody Marys. The bar is dark, with (I think) dark green walls, banquettes, duck plaques, an oak bar, and as usual- fascinating-looking people all having drinks, smoking and talking it up.
After drinks, we took a taxi (strangely available) to the Empire State Building. The lines for this are miles long- masses of people, and by this time it’s dark, but we persevere. “You got a 40 minute wait.” Okay by us.
We finally get an elevator to the 86th floor. You don’t go up to the 102nd – 86 is the observation deck. We walk outside onto the deck, and it is bitterly cold. But you can see east, west, north and south- and at night, the view is spectacular. And I mean spectacular. The lights stretch in endless patterns endlessly to the sea or just distant parts of New York. You see the Hudson River, all the bridges of New York, the Chrysler Building looking like a Christmas tree of arced lights, the World Trade Center, and more, more, more. Everything is lit, and ribbons of lights move endlessly with the traffic patterns. The lights are sometimes massed, sometimes spread out. It’s magical. Overheard: “I know it’s ridiculous, but when I’m sitting up here and looking out, I feel New York belongs to me.” (Corny, but true.)
After all this, we had about 45 minutes to find a place to eat before we had to get to the play, so we took a cab to the Minskoff Theatre, picked up our tickets, then ran across the street to Lindy’s, a little landmark deli with the best sandwich I ever put in my mouth, a Sid Caesar (all the sandwiches are named after old-time comedians). A Sid Caesar is hot pastrami and corn beef on rye with Russian dressing – and it’s almost as tall as the Empire State Building! Lene had a Charlie Chaplin- not sure what that was, but it came on toast. We both had beers. We had 10 minutes to wolf down two bites of sandwich, and 3 gulps of beer, then we had to whip out of there and dash across the street to get to the theatre on time! (I have to say, I hated to leave that sandwich.. .it was the only food we’d had all day since breakfast!)
Well… La di dah, la di dah.
The musical was “The Scarlet Pimpernel” (otherwise known, in the play, as Pimpy). And it was delightful and funny and sweet. The actors had wonderful voices, terrific personalities, and the sets were unbelievable: of the guillotine (in action), La Bastille, aboard the ship, in a carriage that rocked as if it were really drawn by horses, in the manor, at a ball, in the rose garden… it was all terrific. The sets moved back, forward, up, down, and under. Fantastic! Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the show.
And speaking of beautiful people (again): seated right next to us was one of the best looking couples I’ve ever seen in my life. She: tall, extremely slender, straight shoulder length (or longer) blonde hair, a figure to die for, and a very sweet smile. Dressed in dark brown/camel pants and top (hey, no black here.). He: dark brown hair, taller than she, slender, dressed in a dark suit, friendly- and good-good looking. I told Arlene if I was 20, I’d slit my wrists, but since I’m a tiny bit older than that (ha), I can enjoy it- I think!
After the play, we- along with hordes of New Yorkers – streamed through the streets looking for a taxi. Here’s an amazing thing: there’s never an empty taxi. At one point, I actually ran out into the street banging on one’s door… but he wouldn’t take us. Taxis can only pick people up at designated areas now (such as street comers… not in the middle of the road.) So we walked across the street to the taxi stand at the Marriott, which had about 10 people waiting, and waiting… and we joined the merry throng. By the time we got our taxi, there were about 50-60 people in line.
Police cars with sirens were blasting (good old NYPD Blue). The streets were humming with people and cars and taxis, – and we were humming along there with them in our taxi. Taxi drivers in New York don’t believe in the words “slow and steady“; nor do they believe they’re on the streets of New York: obviously they think they’re at Le Mans. Zooming is not too strong a word for what we were doing thru the streets of New York that night! But the energy level was unbelievable.
We arrived at The Plaza – and a long line waiting for the elevators. So we decided to walk up the stairs to our floor under the auspices of a very nice (although initially suspicious) security guard. All of the people here are so very nice, from the saleswomen at the Banana Republic and Bloomingdale’s to the doormen at the Plaza, to the waiters and just people in the street.
Back in our room, we again! ordered room service. Me: bagels and cream cheese, strawberries and cream, and hot chocolate. Lene, tiramisu (which I had a hard time pronouncing to the room service attendant at that time of night: “I’m sorry ma’am… we don’t have that! Oh… what was that again?” Arlene: “I wondered what you were attempting to order!”) and hot tea. Quel spread!
And now Arlene is sleeping the sleep of the just, the recycling trucks (as I found out they were) are outside on the street loading 5 million tons of glass into various carriers, and I’ve got hand cramp. But I’m in New York! Anyway, I’ll stop here and read for a while, then ….to sleep!
Sunday: These past two days have been hot and sunny and bright – unbelievably unseasonable weather for New York in November. Are we lucky or what?
We had a wakeup call at 9AM, so we could get up, shower, pack and check out, with enough time to eat lunch at the Algonquin Hotel (which I loved…what else is new).
We ordered a Continental breakfast again, which came with hot coffee, fresh orange juice, croissants and English muffins. For some reason, I wasn’t that hungry, so only ate a muffin and had one cup of coffee. Unusual for me. One really nice thing, among many: the coffee was always piping hot and really good. No lukewarm stuff for us! The sweet little bellhop then came and got our bags and held the elevator for us as we – unknowing – slowly sauntered down the hall. Then we picked up our car and took off for the Algonquin.
Goodbye, lovely Plaza.
It took us about 20 minutes to get to the Algonquin, which had been refurbished and was so old New York, I could’ve cried. We arrived before noon; not too many people were in the hotel dining room – only two or three couples, all dressed for Sunday brunch.
It’s dim inside. Dark paneling, half-way up the wall; then wallpapered to the ceiling. Fleur-de-lis pattern on the wall-to wall carpeting. The round table where Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley et al met to eat, drink and be merry, was right there in the middle of the lobby/cum/dining room. The lobby actually segues into the dining room; the round table was placed between one and the other.
To get to the bathroom, I walked down a narrow, winding, low-ceilinged little staircase to the basement. Floor, walls, ceiling of the bathroom were totally refinished in white marble. The staircase was marble, the staircase wall covered in green-painted narrow paneling.
We sat at a comer table (round) in two wine-red velvet wing chairs- which were rather low to the ground. As we sat gingerly lowered ourselves, our chins almost hit the table. Seating was all velvet chairs (green or deep red) of different styles – wing, club or whatever – or small sofas. Everything was hushed and mustily elegant. I loved it! Arlene had a shrimp salad and I had pastrami on rye (had to, I’m in New York).
It was exactly as I thought it would be – still living in the past. Charming and gently faded and genteel, it was like stepping through a door into another world.
So we ate, and finally, back in the car to the airport, with a short side trip to see Lene’s clinic in Clifton. I was thinking as we were walking around – how long ago it seemed when Arlene and I bought matching brown jumpers and ran around Houston’s Old Market Square, both married and both so young (it was the 70s).
On the way out of Clifton, we suddenly found ourselves in an avenue of over-arching maples, all yellow-leafed, with the road carpeted in yellow leaves. The sun hit the trees as we entered the avenue, and suddenly we were driving through a tunnel of shining gold.
Then on to Newark Airport – and goodbye New York: auvoir to you!