Sunday, 18 April 2010

New York day 2

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Mark had wanted to do a helicopter journey over New York, and on an impulse we booked to do this today (New York was having an unseasonable heatwave while we were there, which was due to break the next day).

As this was an impulse, we had a hurried journey by subway to get to the South Ferry Pier. This was our first subway journey. I wasn't too worried about being on the subway - mainly because I was too busy worrying about going in a helicopter. I used to love flying when I was a child but, as I got older and became more aware of mortality, I became more nervous about flying. I was worried because I vaguely remembered a news story a year or two ago about a helicopter crashing into the Hudson. Mark reminded me that it wasn't a helicopter - apparently it was a small plane. I'm not sure that knowing that made me feel any better.

There are quite a few helicopter companies that run trips from South Ferry - and on the approach to the pier, you are likely to be beseiged by a number of people trying to convince you to take a helicopter trip with their company.

The helicopter trip lasted 20 minutes and was pretty expensive, but as an experience I felt it was worth the money. It was still a bit misty (smoggy?), but seeing New York from the air is a good way of appreciating the scale of the city. I believe that on the day we went they had instituted a new law that prevents helicopter trips from flying directly over Central Park. The trip we went on instead skirted around the park - I didn't feel that I enjoyed it any less due to this, although while waiting for the trip we were treated to an argument from someone who was due to take a helicopter trip and was unhappy that the trip would not be as advertised. Beware that they will also probably try to sell you a photo of yourself by the helicopter after landing as well, even though you have already paid over a reasonable sum of money for the trip itself.

Because our helicopter trip was an impulse deal and we had taken off early, we hadn't had any breakfast. So we had our first New York bagel in a little shop near Wall Street. I had wanted to see Trinity Church at the end of Wall Street, as it looked very attractive in the New York guidebook that we had. We also saw the front of the New York Stock Exchange, although by now it was mid morning so we didn't see many Gordon Gekkos bustling around.

From Wall Street we went to Ground Zero. When we were there Ground Zero was a building site, as I believe they are building a memorial. I'm not sure that it would be possible to visit New York and not go to Ground Zero - I feel like attention must be paid. I still feel that the destruction of the Twin Towers is our generation's death of JFK - everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard what had happened.

After going through the Winter Garden shopping centre (a huge marble and glass extravaganza, with palm trees growing inside the main concourse), we walked through Battery Park (which appears to be New York's squirrel central). We walked around the waterfront of Battery Park, with a view of the Statue of Liberty. In accordance with my father's wishes - he is keen on family history - I checked the name plaques of the war memorials for our family name, but didn't see it there. We weren't in the phone book either.

We then got the Staten Island Ferry to get better views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. In retrospect the Staten Island Ferry is probably not the best way to get to see the Statue of Liberty - although it is the free way. There are boat trips which will take you to the Statue and Ellis Island - and these will probably take you closer than the Staten Island Ferry does. It is hard on the Staten Island Ferry to get the chance to take photos unless you get on quickly and try and make sure no-one is in front of you. I thought that I would stay on the ferry when we got to Staten Island so that I could get a better view - but they don't let you stay on the ferry at the other side (you have to get off and get back on again). On the plus side though, Mark made friends with a local commuter while I was trying to get some good photos.

We went out for an early Italian before going back to the hotel to get ready for the theatre. I had been warned that people don't tend to dress up for the theatre on Broadway (apart from first nights), but I decided that I wanted to dress up. I wore my favourite red dress. This might be my only chance to go to the theatre on Broadway - and to a Sondheim - and I wanted to be glamorous.

We were going to see "A Little Night Music" at the Walter Kerr Theatre (decor - enthusiastic about red plush seats and gilt, short on leg room - although I am also short on leg, so it didn't bother me too much). If I were to make a Nick Hornby-esque list of my favourite Sondheim shows, "A Little Night Music" would be around the middle of the list - although probably upper middle. It is a tale of romantic and bitter-sweetly comic intrigue, based on the Bergman film "Smiles of a Summer Night." It is probably one of Sondheim's most accessible shows, but I have to admit that I prefer him when he is more quirky or daring.

I was also excited about seeing Angela Lansbury on stage. I grew up liking Angela Lansbury: when I was a child "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" was one of my favourite films to the extent that I always wanted to be called Miss Price in role-play games; and I enjoyed watching "Murder, She Wrote," despite being aware that she would probably run out of friends because they all seemed to end up as murderers or victims. My favourite Disney films strangely fed in to my adult interest in Sondheim musicals - just as Angela Lansbury is revered as an interpreter of Sondheim's work, one of my first crushes was Dean Jones in "That Darn Cat," who went on to star in "Company." I even have a Sondheim-y name (Amy is a character in "Company," and my middle name is also used in "A Little Night Music").

I wasn't disappointed by Angela Lansbury's performance, even despite my high expectations. She played Mme Armfeldt with eccentric, crotchety charm. Her delivery was faultless - and her interpretation of "Liaisons" marks probably the only time that I have not been vaguely annoyed by the rhyming of liaisons with raisins.

As well as Angela Lansbury, the star casting came in the form of Catherine Zeta Jones. I'm not a huge fan - I don't dislike her, but I didn't have the same anticipation about seeing her on stage. That said, she was very good. To play Desiree Armfeldt is to follow in illustrious footsteps - for example Glynis Johns, or Dame Judi Dench, both of whom have very distinctive singing styles. "Send in the Clowns" was, after all, written with Glynis Johns in mind once she had been cast - and was written with regard to her strengths and limitations as a singer. Catherine Zeta Jones is technically a better singer, and also effectively put across the emotion in the music. The male lead was Alexander Hanson. I hope it is not disparaging to say that he is not a big star name, but by no means does this imply that he is any less talented than Catherine Zeta Jones. I had actually seen him years ago in the only West End play I have ever seen (Ayckbourn's "How the Other Half Loves," which owes much to "Private Lives"). It was pleasantly nostalgic to see him again, like bumping into an old school friend with whom you had lost touch.

We walked back through Times Square at night. Times Square is more spectacular at night, when the glitter and glare of the neon signs light up the sky. That said, I did finish the evening feeling that I am a bit too old and grumpy for Times Square at night. Imagine a frustrated day shopping in a city centre with people dawdling in front of you and stopping randomly in your way - times that by one hundred - and you have a rough idea of my impatience with Times Square at night. Although I think that is more an indictment of my of my old, antisocial irascibility than it is of the bustle of the place itself.

I did get a kick out of seeing a guy in an Elmo costume mingling with the crowds outside Planet Hollywood....

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