Category Archives: USA & Canada

Weekly wisdom – it begins

Work finally begins
when the fear of doing
nothing at all
trumps the terror
of doing it badly

Alain de Botton

Copyright: Louise Ralph

…on the streets of Brooklyn NY


From tagging to masterpieces – street art in Brooklyn

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise RalphIn New York, like so many cities around the world, graffiti or ‘street art’ has risen from the subways to urban spaces, becoming more fashionable, accepted and even collected…

It’s the organic, transitory nature of street art that makes it so fascinating to me. And it has an edginess you don’t get in other art forms.

Maybe that’s because much of it remains illegal, with artists fined and potentially jailed and their work buffed off at a high (and resented) cost to the city.

No surprise then that one of the highlights of our trip was the New York Graffiti and Street Art Tour in Bushwick, a working class district on the north side of Brooklyn.

Our guides Izzy and Mar took us on a fascinating journey into this artform – from tagging to masterpieces and beyond.

TAKI 183 is recognised as the one who started it all in New York City, with his simple signature (tag) attracting the attention of a New York Times reporter.

The story ran in 1971 and TAKI 183 became the ‘father of contemporary graffiti’*

If the street art in this city started with TAKI 183, he did the place a service (although I’m sure many would disagree)! Here are some of the works you might catch in Brooklyn – if you’re quick.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

…and some ‘shoeffiti’

We highly recommend taking the tour… and when you’re done, stop into the Rookery in Troutman Street, where the atmosphere, service, food, craft beer and wine really hit the spot. Try their signature comfort food dish Oxtail Sloppy Joe (not recommended for vegetarians!).

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Never let go…

* Read the NYT article here and TAKI 183 bio here


The (sea) eagle has landed

Travelling is always enlightening, often life-changing and mostly awesome. It also opens your eyes to the things you love about home.

Like family, friends… and little things you love about where you live. Like walking along the beach at dusk and coming across a sea eagle having a fishy feast…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise RalphThese eagles have landed too (which thankfully didn’t involve fish gizzards).

It’s a long flight from NYC to Australia – even longer when you get a bonus three-hour wait on the tarmac at LA airport. Not that we’re complaining about technical difficulties with fuel tanks being solved before take-off!

New York was amazing… there are more stories to be told.

And more adventures to be planned. Because this trip confirmed what we’ve always believed in –>


This is New York, baby

Copyright: Louise Ralph

The streets of New York City are an assault on the senses – the traffic, the noise, the seething masses, the cocktail of odours.

But if  you want to get into the spirit of New York, you really need to cast off your tourist hat and walk in a New Yorker’s shoes for a while. Or, in NYer speak, go ahead and just do it…

  • Ride the subway at peak hour – but be prepared to make like a sardine. It doesn’t matter if the carriage is full, people just keep ‘getting on in’, making it an interesting balancing act between crushing up against people and maintaining your personal space (which is clearly more of an attitude than a reality)
  • Walk the streets, fast. Because he (or she) who hesitates is lost – and possibly shoved in the back and told to move aside. Seriously, NYers have places to be and they get pretty annoyed with dawdlers or someone who stops dead in front of them, oblivious to the human pile-up behind them
  • Wear flats. I’m guessing this is where the corporate wear + running shoes look took off. Today, ballet flats are the shoe of choice for getting places. If you’re going to wear heels, make sure you can walk at pace and negotiate grates and uneven pavements – or things could get ugly
  • Tune out to the sirens, horns, vendors and people trying to get tourists to take a city ride. And turn a blind eye to the trash on the streets and the construction going on absolutely everywhere…
  • Catch the lunch hour buzz at one of the eateries in Pearl Street, between Hanover Square and  Coenties Alley in the Financial District, or get ‘on the line’ with office workers at the best street vendors or food outlets in the area
  • …and who can argue with this? A sign outside an East Side bar in New York City

    …and who can argue with this? A sign outside an East Side bar in New York City

    Check out the dog walkers – and the dog parks dotted around the city. Some off-leash areas even have water features you’d normally see in a kiddy pool, with water squirting up out of holes in the concrete. The dogs love it… and New Yorkers clearly love their dogs!

Most of all, stay positive – NYers are remarkably cheerful considering every time they hit the streets they have to negotiate streams of locals and tourists.

We’ve found them to be mostly polite, helpful, and always up for a laugh – and that’s not something we
expected.

So walk fast, be friendly and eat well… this is New York, baby


Snapshots of New York City

Going with the flow of New York City, here are some snapshots of this frenetic city… with some of the calmer bits thrown in.

Heading to the top of the Rock

The Rockefeller Centre is pretty awesome, considering the risk John D Rockefeller Jr took to finance and build it himself after the stock market crashed in 1929. What vision and what a view!

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Empire State Building from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck at the Rockefeller Centre

The history of the plaza is fascinating and the views from the top are stunning, especially of the Empire State Building. It’s something you might consider missing when you visit New York City, but don’t. It really is worth the ride…

Copyright: Louise RalphCruising the Hudson

You can take the free Staten Island Ferry out to look up at the Statue of Liberty, or you can jump on one of the Circle Line sightseeing cruises for a fee and see the lady and the city from a different perspective.

The great thing about the cruise is that you get to hear all the stories of the city.

…like the cliffs that apparently inspired Bill Finger’s Bat Caves.

…or the Pepsi Cola sign that was the first neon sign in Times Square but was preserved and moved to Long Island City.

…or that Times Square was once called Longacre Square and cattle were grazed there. Cattle, who would’ve thought…?

Copyright: Louise Ralph

The pepsi sign at Hunter’s Point

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Loving Lower Manhattan

If we were going to live in New York and dollars weren’t an issue, Greenwich Village would be our first choice.

It’s our kind of place, with its eclectic atmosphere, boho history, old-time jazz bars, cozy bars and cafes, and bookshops you could hang out in all day.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Three Lives & Company book store In Greenwich Village

Copyright: Louise Ralph

And then there is nearby SoHo, an enclave that got its name from its location south of Houston Street.

Wander the cobblestone streets, watch shoppers on a mission or do some power shopping yourself, and take in the beautiful wrecking-ball-dodging restored buildings.

A leisurely lunch at the Antique Garage is the perfect place to kick back and recover over some delicious Mediterranean food…

Kicking back at Birdland

When it opened in December 1949, critics and nightclubbers said Birdland wouldn’t survive for more than six weeks. Sixty years later, it’s still here.

Charlie Parker once called it ‘the jazz corner of the world’. There’s something about this place that makes you believe it.

It may be almost 11:00pm, but we can’t walk past Birdland when the exceptional Maria Schneider Orchestra is about to come on.

Okay, we can’t pretend to be jazz aficionados but critics use words like evocative, majestic, heart-stoppingly gorgeous to describe Maria’s music – so in we went.

Oh wow…Maria writes the music – feels the music with every fibre of her being (I do not exaggerate!) – and her orchestra delivers it with precision and soul. Their respect for her – and each other – is truly remarkable, clearly the secret to such perfection.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Maria Schneider Orchestra at Birdland NYC

At the risk of exhausting you – and myself (which happened days ago), I’m going to leave it there. For now.

Because EB has just arrived back from the gym (I kid you not) and it’s time to get ready for dinner. No doubt we won’t be back in until early tomorrow morning…

 

 


Remembering 9/11…

 

Copyright: Louise Ralph

9/11 memorial pools

Most of us know exactly where we were on September 11 2001. I remember watching the television footage with EB in our financial planner’s office.

We watched with absolute horror and disbelief as the hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Centre.

Then suddenly there was new footage as another one struck.

It is eerie to be standing here today, in this place where ordinary people were going about their business on that day.

Then this act of terror ripped them from their families, stole America’s innocence and sent ripples around the globe.

The two pools are a fitting memorial to those lost on that horrific day, especially for the families left behind to mourn them.

The pools reflect the physical space left when the twin towers were destroyed, while the curtains of water fall like teardrops into the void – tears for lives lost and a world forever changed…

Copyright: Louise Ralph


Give my regards to Broadway…

You can’t stay in New York without seeing at least one Broadway – or Off Broadway – show. But what is Broadway and what isn’t?

I thought ‘Off’ Broadway referred to something on the fringes of the district or more experimental. But it’s nothing quite as dramatic. I’ve discovered that it actually all comes down to the seating capacity of the theatre.

A Broadway show is one in a theatre with a seating capacity of 500 or more. Off Broadway shows hold 100 to 499, while Off-Off Broadway shows are even smaller and usually the experimental ones. Makes sense, yes?

book of mormonOur first show was The Book of Mormon – and what a baptism of hilarity on Broadway that was.

I hadn’t read any reviews, just picked it from a list of shows before coming here, purely based on its religious flavour and those outrageous SouthPark guys who created it.

From the opening ding-dong ditty, throughout this magnificently layered, gaspingly clever musical, and to the end where you are lifted to your feet – these guys have (ahem) totally nailed it.

If you’ve had a religious upbringing like us, you just have to see it. If you haven’t, you just have to see it.

EB and I have never been huge fans of musicals – but the Book of Mormon has converted us…

Next week, we’re seeing Cabaret. It won’t be as irreverent I’m sure, but we’re looking forward to it. This stuff is pretty addictive – and, hey, when on Broadway…!

 


Walking the (high) line

Copyright: Louise Ralph

If you don’t get to see all the sites in New York City, make sure you visit the High Line.

Copyright: Louise RalphAbandoned and overgrown, this elevated freight line was earmarked for demolition. Instead, it has been transformed into an incredible public space – a testament to the persistence of locals who resolved to make it into an urban oasis.

The Friends of the High Line raise private funding to maintain and operate the park, which runs along the lower west side of Manhattan and has brought new life (and a real estate boom) to neighbourhoods along the line.

The design elements of the High Line ‘park in the sky’ reflect its railway heritage – and the landscaping is delightful, incorporating plant species that once grew in the area.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

From here, you’ll have a unique perspective of the city streets and see some amazing buildings and wall art along the way. I could bang on about it all day, it’s so impressive, but I think these pics will tell the story…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

 

 

Copyright: Louise Ralph

 

Copyright: Louise Ralph

A different perspective…from the High Line

 

Copyright: Louise Ralph

In Common Crossings (2014), Marianne Vitale uses decommissioned railway components to evoke the park’s history and the westward expansion and industrialization of America.

Spring is here and The Standard Biergarten becomes an outdoor cafe again...

Spring is here and The Standard Biergarten becomes an outdoor cafe again…

The High Line ends in the Meatpacking district – now a fashonista’s paradise. It’s a great place to eat, shop or just hang out (did someone say take the weight off your feet and have a vino?).

We stopped for lunch at The Standard Biergarten which sits under the canopy of the High Line.

In winter, the bar and pizza oven are dismantled and the space is transformed into an iceskating rink, complete with a doughnut and hot chocolate shack.

The High Line definitely goes to the top of my NYC-wow list… Simply brilliant.

Copyright: Louise Ralph


New York, New York…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

New York City has a pulse. At night it glows, drawing you like a moth to the flame – even when the thing you need most is to stay in and have an early night.

Along the restaurant strip on 45th Street, we stop for a late dinner at Bocca Di Bacco, not because it’s recommended to us but because it looks cozy and classy (and I’ve been learning Italian, so I like the name).

Either we’re lucky or you can’t go far wrong in New York when it comes to restaurants, because the authentic Italian food, extensive wine list and relaxed, friendly service is pretty awesome.

At midnight, we find ourselves promenading along Broadway with the multitudes, indulging in people-watching and stopping at iconic stores like the Hard Rock Cafe and Disney on Broadway.

Apart from New York’s ubiquitous yellow taxis, you can’t help noticing the number of dark ‘urban assault vehicles’ on the street. I’ve always been a bit cynical about movies where people just don’t notice those vehicles lurking outside their apartment.

Now I know why they wouldn’t realise they’re being watched or followed. Black Chevrolet Surburbans or Cadillac Escalabes with heavily tinted windows are everywhere you look. Clearly New Yorkers love them – either that or there’s a lot of surveillance going on around here.

Ah New York. A waiter told us the city really does sleep – but only between 4am and 6am. I’ve decided our motto for this trip is you can sleep when you’re dead.

I need more coffee…

 

 


In a New York state of mind…

After about 20 hours of flying time we arrived in New York City feeling pretty seedy. But with our hotel in the middle of the Theater District, and only metres from Times Square, our plan to get some rest before we hit the streets was soon discarded. After all, this is a city that never sleeps – and we’re in a New York state of mind.

Times Square NYC

Times Square NYC

Times Square is a pulsating neon hub in Midtown Manhattan. It’s hard to miss – and hard to move through. It’s jammed with tourists trying to get the perfect snaps, NYPD keeping the peace, and Elmo and other movie characters angling in for random hugs.

We wandered a few city blocks to the Pongsri Thai Restaurant on 48th Street for something fresh and spicy after all that airline food – and by the time we’d finished the surprisingly hot (hot!) food we realised just how tired we were.

But clearly still operating on Aussie time, we were both up at dawn and EB was itching to get going. Faced with two powerful life forces – New York energy and the Energiser Bunny (EB) – I gave in, strapped on my walking shoes and off we went.

What started out as a stroll to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) turned into an epic journey almost the entire length of Fifth Avenue, through Central Park, and into the Guggenheim instead. I know, I know. Why am I surprised when I’m travelling with EB?

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Spring is finally here and New Yorkers (and lots of squirrels and birds) are out in force lapping up the delicious sunshine in Central Park.

 

Copyright: Louise Ralph

The Guggenheim is a ‘monument to moderism’ with its spiral ramp rising up to a domed skylight. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright late in his career and only opened to the public in October 1959, six months after his death.

After five hours of walking, we finally stopped at the Morrell Wine Bar and Cafe in the Rockefeller Plaza for a well-earned and delicious lunch, surrounded by posh ladies lunching after their Fifth Avenue spending sprees and business people unwinding over a few drinks.

Time to wander back along Fifth Avenue to our hotel, to rest our feet for more nighttime adventures and birthday celebrations for EB… I suspect I’ll need a holiday (or at least a few Thai foot massages) when I get back to the land of Oz.

Fifth Avenue NYC

Fifth Avenue NYC