Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Show Tapings: Various

The Wendy Williams Show
If you are lucky enough to have free time in NYC during the holiday season, I would highly recommend getting tickets to some of the numerous shows that tape in NYC.  Among them are The View, The Nate Berkus Show (this is the last season, as it was not renewed), Martha Stewart, The Wendy Williams Show, and Rachel Ray.  I was fortunate enough to get to three of these shows before I went on vacation and it was a blast!

This is the season of audience-give-aways.  At The Wendy Williams Show, it is a big dance party.  The music is blasting, and the audience is hip and jamming.  It is not for the faint of heart, but if you are up for a morning party, it is fantastic.  I walked away with gifts that were valued at up to $250.

The Martha Stewart Show
At the Martha Stewart Show, I noticed that the gifting was a little lighter than in the past (I had heard that Martha Stewart Omnimedia is dealing with some financial concerns), but our audience went home with a book and a one-cup coffee maker.  Besides the entertainment provided by Joey Kola was great.

Finally, for The Nate Berkus Show, I responded to an executive producer email, asking for volunteer participants and was rewarded handsomely.  I brought an old shirt about which I was able to ask Isaac Mizrahi about re-freshing/salvaging.  Isaac drew a sketch for me with his ideas, and Nate gave me a $300 gift card!  Plus the whole audience received gifts valued at over $800--yes, we lucked out and were in the BIG holiday gift show.

The Nate Berkus Show
Even if you aren't able to coordinate requesting tickets online in advance (they are free directly from the show websites so don't fall for online re-sellers/aggregators), you can also try to get stand by tickets. 

Although it is after the holiday gifting season, I may try to go on the Monday after Christmas or the Monday after New Years Day when our work office is closed.  Can you tell?  I'm a little obsessed.  What can I say?  Who doesn't love getting free things?  And while not all the gifts are things I could/would use, don't worry I'm not hoarding things in my small NYC apartment.  There are worthy charities as well as eBay to help manage the potential clutter.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Time in NYC: Various

Christmas time in New York City--what could be more festive?!

Bryant Park (42nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues) has an ice skating rink outdoors (see above) surrounded by pop up shops that include fabulous kettle corn, a pickle shop, and a place mimicking an outdoor porch in the Southwest (see right) complete with heat lamps and swing benches.  The shops that line the passage ways also have lots of shops that sell items for great gifts like one of a kind metal sculptures, artisan jewelry, and stocking stuffers like ear muffs and scarves.

Then there is Rockefeller Center (50th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues), with its ice skating rink and huge Christmas tree (which was first lit by President Obama--yes, he was back clogging up traffic again).  I was there the day before the tree was fully assembled (did you know it comes in parts and gets screwed in together?) (see left) as well as a few days after it was completed (see below right).  Generally I try to stay away from the masses of tourists and frenzied shoppers, but I had my own holiday shopping to do, which led me unavoidably through this area.

If you can't get your fill of Christmas trees, there is also a pretty one in the courtyard of the Palace Hotel (50th Street and Madison--the place the Pope stays whenever he comes to NYC), which is flanked by two men dressed as toy soldiers (great for photo opportunities). 

If you'd like a more sophisticated looking tree, then I think there is nothing as striking as the tree in the courtyard by the famous Le Cirque restaurant (59th Street between 3rd Avenue and Lexington) (see below).  With its white lights and the white Moravian-style lighted ornaments, it really is beautiful--plus, you can get some shopping done nearby at the newly opened CB2 or Home Depot (my secretly favorite store).

Finally, as always, NYC has its share of spectacular outdoor sculptures and exhibits, and the holidays bring out the best.  As an example, on 6th Avenue just around the corner from Rockefeller Center, there are huge ornaments along the east side of the street (see below).  

There are innumerable holiday sights to take in around New York City.  Not least of all, the famous Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall (6th Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets) with the Rockettes (tickets are still available).  So if you happen to be in the City during this wintertime, I hope you have a chance to enjoy all that the City has to offer.  

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Big Apple Circus: W 63rd St & Broadway

It's a major NYC icon and a perfect winter activity for young and old.  It is fun, friendly, and full of fantasy.  It's the Big Apple Circus!

They have the traditional clowns (this is Grandma's farewell tour, so if you want to get one last glimpse, you'll have to go before this tour ends on January 8, 2012) who provide comic relief, do some pretty amazing magic tricks, and play some fun tunes.

There is also some wonderful audience participation portions.  There was a funny water spitting act with Grandma (see left), and another older gentleman who waltzed with her.  And of course to tie in with the title of this year's tour, an audience member boy "dreaming big" about a rope acrobat.

What I thought was the best performances were turned in by the animals, which included horses, dogs, a porcupine, and what looked like a giant ground hog (but was probably some animal I just don't know).  They weren't doing phenomenal tricks.  They were just cute and presented well (which makes all the difference and makes them even more accessible--yes, I think I can teach my miniature poodle biscuit to do some of those things).

Although they were not as polished or perfected as the Cirque du Soleil acrobats, I thought the Chinese (Mongolian?) acrobats were also pretty fantastic.  They had great balancing, tumbling, and gymnastics performances.  My favorite was the human pyramid jumping rope! (see right).

There were also a glow in the dark juggler (see left), a woman who balanced showing great strength and flexibility on two posts mounted on a round platform (see below right), and a fantastic finishing act of trapeze artists directly above the audience (see at bottom).

Again, the Big Apple Circus is not as flashy as some other shows I have seen, but it was wonderfully homey in a festive way.  Surprising for the glitz of NYC, it is a heartwarming way to take a break from the frenzy of the shopping season and bring in the good feelings of the holiday season.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NY Historical Society: 77th St and Central Park West

Side Entrance with Statue of Frederick Douglass
Just a block or so south of the American Museum of Natural History is the New York Historical Society, with its own wonderful collection of paintings, home furnishings, memorabilia, and historical artifacts. It has been closed for renovation for the past year or so, but was re-opened last week.

I had never been there before today, and was pleasantly surprised by what I found.  I had mistakenly assumed this would have men's club style (like the Explorers Club), but it was wide open, bright, and exhibited amazing collections in traditional museum style, a kind of salon style, as well as a warehouse style (see Tiffany lamps displayed/stored at left).  To get more out of the visit, I downloaded the free audio guide from iTunes (which was helpful and enriching if a little cumbersome without an order or accompanying map), but if you are less technologically inclined there are free daily guided hour-long tours (check for times on level one at admission).

The museum has an extensive painting collection that rotates and has some great recognizable portraits of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, miniatures on ivory of New York society women, and Hudson River scenes that highlight NYC's natural beauty.

There are also one-of-a-kind historical artifacts like George Washington's cot from the Revolutionary War (believed to have been the one he slept in at Valley Forge) and the ceramic jug which was a gift to Thomas Nast (whose cartoons in Harper's Weekly blasted and brought into public light the corruption of Tammany Hall) decorated with a depiction of snake-bodied William S. "Boss" Tweed (with beard and without glasses) and his corrupt political gang, some diving in headfirst into the "pot of money and power" (see right). 

There are also rare historic pieces like the fancy Engish-made Beekman family coach from 1766 (one of only 3 that survive from the period), the one-of-two ladies' dressing tables built in New York of this design in the Federal style after the American Revolution,  and the slavery chains (see the tragically child-sized shackles at left).

Perhaps because of my earlier visits to Hamilton Grange and the Morris-Jumel Mansion, I thought the highlight of all of the artifacts were the dueling pistols used by Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton (see right) when Alexander Hamilton was killed.

My favorite part of the museum was the 18 minute multimedia film that relates the story of New York City and its rise to prominence from what was once considered a far-away colonial outpost.  From the dredging of the Erie Canal through the American Revolution and the influx of immigrants and the political and economic upheavals centered around New York, the film weaves an amazingly coherent story.  Obviously it is a summary, but it relates history in a meaningful and elegant way without being overly dramatic (yes, they cover recent events like 9/11 poignantly but without belaboring the details; I understand the society is also collecting artifacts from "Occupy Wall Street" in case it becomes a historical phenomenon or movement).  I would recommend this film to all NYC residents and visitors--really, that is how good it is. 

If you haven't been to the New York Historical Society, run, don't walk, to spend an afternoon there.  ASIDE: If you have kids, set aside some time to visit the lower level children's history museum, which has lots of educational and interactive exhibits.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pratt Institute: 7th Ave and 14th Street

Twist and Drop Necklace with Double Duty Hook and Eye Clasp
I've told you about The Pratt Institute before (Pratt Gallery), but for the past two weekends, I have been in a fabulous intensive jewelry making class there that I had to share.

Twisty Curl Earrings
I've never made jewelry before.  I had no tools, no beads (other than the ones that I had on jewelry I had bought), and no idea what the class would entail. 

Sea Glass Wrap Pendant on Suede
To my delight, what I found was a small class (6 students were in my class) with lots of individual attention, a really patient and creative teacher, and two full weekends of absolute fun. 

I ended up with 6 pairs of earrings, 6 necklaces, a pendant, a bracelet, and two repaired pieces of jewelry that I love (I had kept broken or damaged pieces that I couldn't wear anymore and repaired or repurposed them). 

We knotted and strung pearls on silk threads, made a simple elastic bracelet, and learned about ribbon knotting.  We also did extensive wire twisting and wrapping, beading, and crimping.

I learned so much more than I thought I would.  I got to indulge in my love of poodles (see Ribbon Necklace and Basic Bead Earrings at left and Elastic Faux Pearl Bracelet with poodle pendant (I added the bone charm too after I took this picture) at right), while also diving into the deep end with a new creative hobby. I also pushed myself to try new colors beyond my black/white/clear, and blues to include some pinks and autumn colors (surprisingly this was one of the harder things to do).

Friends and family should expect one-of-a-kind jewelry this holiday season!
Knotted Grey, Pink and White Pearl Necklace and Matching Earrings
Floating (Flex Wire) Necklace and Matching Earrings
P.S.: I made this last set (and parts of my poodle necklace above) out of some clear and frosted glass balls that I dismantled from a holiday garland (currently available at Crate and Barrel)!  After taking a class like this, my creative juices are really flowing--I've been looking at simple household items in whole new ways. Oh yeah.

Friday, November 4, 2011

China Institute: 65th Street btwn Park and Lexington

The China Institute in the upper east side is a cultural center that offers lectures, language courses, musical performances, and art exhibits. I went to the institute to take a look at their current exhibition (through December 11, 2011) "Blooming in the Shadows: Unofficial Chinese Art, 1974-1985" of paintings from 3 artist groups: the caocao she (grass society), wuming (no name), and xingxing (stars group).

The Wuming group was made up of artists who met in secrecy.  Many of them came from families that were disjointed, with the parents and/or the children sent away by the government to labor camps or farms.  Their art was considered subversive and they met by forging transportation papers and met in remote rural areas and in private homes to paint.  Their hardships were innumerable and their art dramatically expressed their melancholy and desolation.

The caocao she group formed with the purpose of putting together an artists exhibition.  Their non-traditional (non-government approved) style led them to name themselves the grass society, alluding to their irrepressible nature, like "weeds that persist after spring flowers fade."   Their abstract ink paintings and oil paintings are interestingly very similar to western abstraction.  There is definitely an Asian feeling, but there is a modernism that is remarkable in Communist China in the 70s and 80s.

The Xingxing group's name is a reference to how the artists are stars, independent from the "sun" (Mao Zedong) around which all things cultural revolved in China.  The collection on exhibit at the institute is small, but among the paintings, wood carvings (see cropped photo of a sculpture above), and modern mixed media pieces, my favorite are the Ai Weiwei pieces.  I especially liked the silhouette of Marcel Duchamp made from a coat hanger and the teetering wooden stool with 5 legs--how fun is that?

Unfortunately, there is no photography allowed in the galleries, so the only way you'll get to see this amazing collection is if you go to the institute yourself.  Admission is $7/adult and $4/students and seniors, but free on Tuesday and Thursday evenings (6-8 pm).  Please make a visit and take the time to read the descriptions of each collection.  You'll get an incredible insight into life in Communist China after the Cultural Revolution through 1985 (when modern art was officially permitted by the Communist Party).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Center for Jewish History: 16th St and 5th Ave

If you have an interest in Jewish history, genealogy, and the diaspora, the Center for Jewish History, the Leo Baeck Institute, and the Yeshiva University Museum (all co-located) is your place.  They have an extensive collection of historic documents, research facilities, interesting displays describing the diaspora (I especially liked the exhibits about the Jews of Morocco), the emigration from Nazi Germany and post-Holocaust, and even some Israeli military artifacts (like the summer uniform, which resembles boy scout hiking uniforms to me, at right). 

There are luminous manuscripts, of course, but what I found the most interesting were the documents and displays describing the Jewish search (and many near misses) for an internationally recognized "homeland."  I had no idea that they had looked at, among other locations, Uganda, Angola (from the Portuguese), Surinam (from the Netherlands), Cyrenaica (from Turkey) and even Western Australia!  The correspondence between Jewish organizations and foreign governments about various locations is eye-opening.

At the Yeshiva University Museum, currently (the first two through early January 2012 and the last through April 8, 2012), there are modern exhibits of "Jews on Vinyl," "Prophesy of Place," and "Graphic Details."  I must admit that the first two did not really speak to me, but the "confessional comics by Jewish women" were funny and insightful.  There was one series that illustrated the river viewpoint of a woman who was stood up by a date that was particularly poignant (see below).

There are free guided tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11:30 am, and admission is free on Fridays.  If you have any interest in the Jewish history (past and present) I would highly recommend a visit.  It covers a lot of ground in meaningful ways and does not get "stuck" on a single message.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Edgar Allan Poe Cottage (Bronx): E Knightsbridge and Grand Concourse

This 5-room cottage, built in 1812, was Edgar Allan Poe's last home.  He moved here with his wife Virginia and his mother-in-law Maria Clemm in 1844 in the hopes that the move would help cure his wife's tuberculosis (called consumption at the time because it was believed to have been caused by the consumption of polluted industrial air).  Back then, this area was rolling farmland and this was a typical working-class house in the village of Fordham.

Unfortunately, just two years after they moved in, Virginia passed away in the first floor bedroom (her rope bed is one of the few original Poe family furnishings still maintained at the home by the Bronx County Historical Society that operates the cottage for the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation that owns it).  Also original are the desk and the rocking chair in the parlor (see right); other furniture in the cottage are period, but not original to the Poes.

Although Poe's literary genius was recognized during his lifetime, he was not well compensated during his life and he lived in poverty after he was disowned by his adoptive parents after years of familial discord.  He was able to live in this small cottage through the kindness of a major landowner in the area, Isaac Valentine (you may also want to visit the Valentine-Varian House Museum nearby).

Thank goodness for us all that Mr. Valentine made it possible for Poe to continue his writing.  In the cottage, Poe wrote, among other things, "The Bells," "Eureka," "Annabel Lee," and "The Cask of Amontillado."  A poet, a detective fiction writer, and science fiction writer, Poe's talents were amazing.  What a pity that at the young age of 40, he passed away while on a lecture tour in Baltimore (mystery still surrounds the cause of death).

The house will finally be open to the public in a couple of weeks after about a year of renovation and restoration (I took advantage of a preview during the 2011 Historic House Festival this past weekend).  Although it is a tiny cottage, I would highly recommend a visit if you are a literary fan.  One can almost imagine how it must have been for Poe to write at his desk and have his mother-in-law read drafts (as she was known to do) in the rocking chair by the fireplace.  This is a great little gem in the City that is at long last going to be accessible again. Yay.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Art Classes in NYC: Various

Drawing Class at the Art Students League on 57th Street and 7th Avenue
I have been an art enthusiast all of my life.  With a little investigation, I have been able to find some great art classes that I think are uniquely available in a resource-rich city like NYC.

Watercolor of Peonies
I've taken a drawing and collage studio course at the MOMA.  They were in the evenings once a week for a couple of months and they included after hours access to the galleries in our private class group with an assigned security guard!

I've taken a one-off painting course at Paint Along.  This is a low commitment, fun commercial class that could be fun for a group of friends or a couple to do together.

I've taken a Korean folk art water color painting class called minwha at the Korea Society (see my last project at right).  There are various courses at numerous cultural centers around the City to match almost any interest.  It just takes some hunting on the internet.

Currently I am enrolled in a full-time anatomical drawing class at the Art Students League. For a mere $200 I attend classes taught by professional artists and monitored by 1-2 assistants Monday through Friday for 3 1/2 hours a day for a whole month.  What a bargain!  Also, you should know that they have a gallery and a small but well-stocked art supply shop open to the public with the best prices in town (see below left).  For the commitment phobic, you might also try the model drawing classes hosted by the Society of Illustrators twice a week for $15 a session.

Art Students League Store
Finally, this November I am taking a two-weekend intensive jewelry making class at the Pratt Institute.  I discovered this when I visited the gallery down at their Manhattan campus in Chelsea.  I've never really made jewelry (yes, I've strung beads and made a couple of earrings from the handmade African paper beads I purchased at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) but that was a one-off thing that I MacGyvered on my own).

There are also places one can try ceramics, photography, glass blowing (Kim Fraczek teaches in Brooklyn--she hosted a booth at the Maker Faire), cooking (try the Institute of Culinary Education's recreational classes), music lessons, etc.  I don't think I could do all of the options justice without starting a new blog, so I thought I would just write this entry to let folks know that there are tons of enrichment classes available in NYC.  They are taught by real professionals, and if you are in the City, they are definitely worth a try.

Prices vary from around $400 for 8, 2-hour sessions to as low as $200 for a Monday-Friday 3 1/2 hour sessions for a whole month of classes.  If you want to just dip a toe in, you might also join in for the free Crafternoons at the New York Public Library once a month (I'm going this Saturday) or go to one of the open sketch Sundays or Saturdays at one of the numerous museums (like the Frick) around the City (check out their websites for details).

The thing is, all of these enrichment classes are available at all price points in NYC.  It really is a tremendous resource that should not be overlooked.  Take a chance and try one. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

NYC Parades: Various

A couple of weeks ago, there was a Korean Times Parade down 6th Avenue (Avenue of the Americas) from 38th Street and 27th Street.  Two days ago, there was a Nigerian Pride Parade down 2nd Avenue from 55th Street and 47th Street (see photos throughout).  Today, there is a Columbus Day Parade down 5th Avenue from 43rd Street and 72nd Street.  I didn't know that there were so many parades until I happened to be face to face to one just by chance.  If you live in NYC, culture can actually come to you!

However, if you would like to see what might be available in the NYC neighborhood you live in or are visiting, you can check out the NYC government website.  If you are interested in the largest parades, a simple aggregation lists like Big NYC Parades also works.  In any event, you'll be amazed at all that this large, diverse city has to offer in the way of celebratory parades.

They are not all grand (although many of them, like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Gay Pride Parade, the Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, the St. Patrick's Day Parade, and the Howloween costumed dog parade, are true spectacles), but they are all happy.  Who doesn't need more "happy" in their lives?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

NY Aquarium (Brooklyn): Surf Ave

I love aquariums and I didn't even know NYC had one until recently.  I love learning about the animals but even more I love just sitting and watching them swim and play.  It's mesmerizing.  HINT: If you have the flexibility to do so, try visiting the aquarium on a weekday.  There were only about 50 people in the entire park when I visited, which made gazing at the animals for long stretches completely acceptable.

The NYC Aquarium has educational components, like the coral labs which save wild coral reefs (see right), the descriptions of the effects of over-fishing, the use of sea horses in Chinese herbal medicine, and the economic support provided to indigenous populations when people buy pets like colorful Tetra fish from pet stores. 

There are also fabulous live action shows.  At the Aquatheater you can see California sea lions really perform with their trainers.  At various scheduled times of the day you can also watch the staff feed the sharks, walruses, sea otters, and penguins.  And in season, there are hands-on touch pools where kids (and adults) can experience "first hand" underwater animals.

However, my favorite parts of the aquarium are the large tanks of sea life.  Whether it is the mysterious sea urchins and corals or the ginormous walruses that swim right up and plaster themselves up against the gazing windows (as if asking for a belly rub) or the seductive sharks swimming with the large tortoises (see left), I was transfixed by the lulling motions of the animals and the water (many of the tanks have tide simulating water motion).  These animals are just awesome (in the true meaning of the word--not the way it is overused today).

Finally, for those who would like to try a 4D experience, the aquarium offers two short movies to choose from.  One is "Happy Feet" and the other is the "Curse of Skull Rock."  For a kiddie audience, I would recommend the first, but if you can take a little scare, try the second.  I was surprised by the spraying water and the sudden pokes in the back from the seating.  It was great fun and a nice break from walking around the park.  It's worth the extra admission price.

Ok, I loved the aquariums so much that I decided to just post a few more pictures to share their beauty....  Enjoy.