Ah, New York, where everything is big and old and somewhat grimy. Where clerks treat you like you’re kind of annoying, but hey, it’s their job to wait on you. Where pedestrians talking to themselves on the street aren’t crazy, they’re just on the phone. It’s boisterous and crowded and expensive, and one of the most fascinating cities in the world.
Spent the day wandering around Greenwich Village, Chelsea and the Garment District. Admired the Empire State Building and especially the Flatiron Building, and spent some time in Herald Square and Madison Square Park. I’ve been walking quite a lot, (though I bought some cushy socks today that put an extra bounce in my step), so any chance to sit and be in nature (and there are some great parks here) is a good thing.
Not a terribly productive day, but the weather was rather nice and it was a good chance to absorb the ambience of the city. I did get a little disoriented walking the streets, as the grid pattern that I’m used to is rather chaotic in lower Manhattan. I also managed to hop on the wrong subway on the way back, ending up in Harlem. Oops. After some wandering, map consulting and head-scratching, I figured it out.
At least I wasn’t as confused as another passenger, who seemed to think she was on Metro-North (um, that’s a whole other train company), nor did I have the train doors close on me, making me a subway sandwich (ha!) like a third passenger. How embarrassing! I did, however, manage to bang my head a time or two on the handrails when getting up from my seat. This is one reason I wear hats.
I discovered that there are different classes of subway cars on different lines. Some of the ones I rode today seem to be the Cadillac models, much more updated and contemporary-looking, with modern electronics and lots of information to tell you what the upcoming stops are. And here I’ve been riding coach most of the week! I also discovered that trains only go in one direction on particular tracks (uptown or downtown, and it’s important to note that distinction). Duh! I should have had that one figured out days ago.
After resting up from all this meandering, I headed to my third and final opera of the week, Puccini’s La Boheme, which the Met bills as the world’s most popular. They’ve performed it almost every year since 1900. It contains several extremely popular arias, including this soprano showstopper (skip to 2:30 if you just want to hear the part you no doubt are familiar with):
You know you’re seeing a first-class production when the audience applauds the costumes, set and scenery when the curtain rises, before anyone even sings a note. Among other things there was a donkey, a marching band, and snow on stage, along with a cast of dozens. Zefferelli knows how to impress.
In operas there are often tragic deaths (melodramatic as operas tend to be), and they usually don’t faze me too much. But in this opera, even though I know Mimi dies at the end, it gets to me every time. I think the reason is the fantastic music Puccini wrote for this heart-wrenching scene (you can hear it here at 3:38):
When I went to get on the subway at Lincoln Center after the opera, there was a street performer playing this very tune on his saxophone, which made it sound even more somber. Smart guy. I threw him a buck.
I then headed down to Times Square, which I had only visited during the day (this trip). Quite a different experience at night. The billboards have gotten bigger and brighter, lighting up the square like it’s daytime. The whole area is much cleaner, safer and more tourist-friendly then it was when I was here years ago. They’ve installed a no-cars pedestrian area, bleachers, and lots of places to sit and soak it all in without worrying about getting hit by traffic (which I’m sure used to happen). They’ve really done a nice job with it.
While I was there I finally stopped in the Times Square flagship store of my employer. I was not at all impressed. While it’s spread out over three floors, it felt very small and cramped (like much of New York) and the layout was a bit strange (well, the building is narrow and triangular, but hey, we wanted it for its prominence and history). There were many employees on hand, even at midnight, but not a one of them said hello to me (this is a standard requirement of our staff nationwide, but this is New York, where it’s OK to ignore the throngs of people that are everywhere). I bought nothing.
On the ride “home” I practiced my nonchalant subway gaze – the one where you dart your eyes around the car dispassionately without really looking at anyone for too long. I’m getting quite good at it. Maybe by the end of the week, I can pass as one of them.