The Metropolitan Opera: Pre-recorded but in HD


The Metropolitan Opera’s Summer HD Festival began on Saturday night, and of course I forgot about it until Sunday morning. Every summer, the Met airs some of its recorded performances on a screen outside on Lincoln Plaza, and it’s one of my favorite festivals in New York. It’s easy to get to, you know exactly what to expect, there are chairs (!), and you can arrive less than an hour before the “curtain” and still get a decent seat. No camping out for hours in the heat to sit on a blanket on the ground so far from the stage that you might as well not be there (I’ve been burned before, can you tell?).

I decided to brave last night’s screening despite an iffy forecast, and enjoyed about half of The Tempest before the rain arrived and sent my friend and I scurrying to a restaurant for a late dinner.

The festival continues with screenings through Monday, September 2. The only one of this series that I’ve seen is Aida, which is a spectacular production that would be great for first-timers or seasoned opera fans alike to take in (THEY HAVE HORSES ON STAGE!).

More info on the Metropolitan Opera’s website.

Summer Streets: Putting the Park in Park Avenue


Last Saturday, I got up early and headed into Manhattan to play on Park Avenue as part of Summer Streets, three consecutive Saturdays when the city shuts down motor vehicle traffic on nearly 7 miles of Park Avenue from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park. Instead of the whir of engines and the smell of exhaust, the streets are full of the sounds of bicycle bells and feet on the pavement.


I joined the pedestrian traffic heading north at 23rd Street. There was a steady stream of people, even at about 7:30 am, and many organizations were present to teach people about bike safety, give out samples of food and energy drinks, and help out with our new bikeshare program, Citi Bike. There were many bicyclists, runners, and training teams, as well as a fair number of people just out to enjoy the morning with a leisurely walk, like me.


One of the major draws for me was the Voice Tunnel, an interactive art installation in the Park Avenue Tunnel. Running from 33rd to 40th Streets, the tunnel is usually closed to pedestrians. For Summer Streets, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer created a light and sound installation where visitors record messages at the center of the tunnel that are then played on speakers synchronized with spotlights at about 10 foot intervals throughout the tunnel. It’s loud in the tunnel, with variable lighting conditions and moments of total darkness that can be very disorienting. However, the chance to walk through the tunnel was enough of a draw for me, and the artwork was an interesting bonus.

The Park Avenue Tunnel was originally built to carry the New York and Harlem Railroad, and then a streetcar line. Originally an open channel, the tunnel was roofed over in the 1850s with granite from the original railroad track below 14th Street. Now, it carries one lane of northbound automobile traffic.


Emerging from the tunnel at 40th Street, I continued on the elevated roadway up to and around Grand Central Terminal. The facade of Grand Central is lovely and detailed, but because of the elevated roadway it’s usually impossible to really get a good look at it. Luckily, during Summer Streets, you can.


I walked up to 60th Street, where I got on the subway back out to Queens. Summer Streets will be happening again tomorrow and next Saturday, with 7 miles of streets to explore, rest stops with activities for kids and adults alike, and a great opportunity to have enjoy a new perspective on familiar New York City streets. The event runs from 7 am to 1 pm, and you can get more info at the NYC website.


All the Island’s a Fair – Fête Paradiso on Governors Island

It seems sort of appropriate that most of the times I make Governors Island a destination, it’s for some kind of time-bending event – a game festival featuring a time travel agency, an 1860s baseball game, the Jazz Age Lawn Party (which I’ll be attending again next weekend! Stay tuned!). Governors Island lies between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and it feels like a place that time has passed by.


Last weekend, while my sister was visiting, we ventured out to Governors Island to check out Fête Paradiso, a traveling Parisian carnival featuring museum-quality 19th- and 20th-century amusements. That you can actually ride.


Nolan Park is a beautiful expanse of grass shaded by old, tall trees and surrounded by cheerful, bright yellow houses. A refreshment area under a large pavilion occupies the center of the space, with the amusements dispersed around it. There are attractions for kids and adults alike — more than one of the adults I saw on the high-speed dragon carousel looked like they were significantly more terrified than the kids!


There was also this carnival game, which had to be manually cranked by an operator to open and close the targets’ mouths. Having worked in an amusement park in college, I was immediately grateful that the games all operated themselves with the push of a button after watching this man struggle with levers.


One of my favorite things was this bicycle carousel, which may look familiar if you’ve seen “Midnight in Paris” (the only other one in the world was in the movie and lives at the Musée des Arts Forains in Paris). The rides were originally created to familiarize people with the mechanics of riding a bike when bicycles were first invented, and require rider participation in order to move.


The idea of getting comfortable with a new technology by playing with it is hardly novel to most of us; the best way to learn a new piece of software is to just dig in with a fun project. However, I thought that the scale and publicness of the bicycle carousel (or Velocipides
) was fantastic, and delightful, and turned the fear of new technology into a shared, joyful experience.

Fête Paradiso will be running weekends in Nolan Park from 10:30 am to 6:30 pm until September 29, and it is well worth a trip out to the island on its own. There are also usually a bunch of other things going on out on Governors Island — even if the real draw for you is just basking in the sun on an open patch of grass.


Ferries leave from Manhattan and Brooklyn, or, for $4 per ride, you can take the East River Ferry up to Long Island City, Queens (we took a beautiful sunset trip, pictured above); more information is available from the Trust for Governors Island website.

Beautiful Bronx Gardens: Wave Hill


A few months ago, I made a list of New York City Things that I hadn’t gotten around to doing yet. My Brooklyn Bridge walk was on that list. Also on the list was a visit to one of New York City’s historic mansions and gardens. I’ve been to several houses that are part of the Historic Hudson Valley Estates, but was always interested in visiting one of the estates within the boundaries of New York City. On our way back from visiting family in Connecticut one Sunday, I finally got to cross that item off the list. Well, sort of.


We visited Wave Hill in the Rosedale section of the Bronx, which is actually a botanical garden and cultural center. But there’s a big house! An interesting one, too. It was rented out to a variety of cool folks, most notably Bashford Dean, half of whose very large collection of arms and armor eventually made their way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In his time at Wave Hill, he actually began a stone museum onto the mansion to house his collection, which was finished after his death. (He’s also the only person – so far! – to simultaneously hold positions at the American Museum of Natural History and the Met, which is pretty stinkin’ awesome.)


Of course, when we went, the main house was just finishing up a two-year renovation, so we couldn’t see it. BUT, we wandered through an art exhibit at Glyndor Gallery, enjoyed a variety of greenhouses, and took in the gorgeous gardens in all their late Spring glory. It was a pretty perfect afternoon.


Wave Hill is perched high above the Hudson, featuring sprawling grounds with a variety of landscaped areas to choose from. You can sit on the perfectly manicured lawn outside the main house, or traipse through leaves along a woodland trail. There is a picnic area, and when we were there I saw a few food trucks peddling their wares.


All in all, although Wave Hill may not have technically quenched my thirst to wander through a New York City mansion, it was definitely worth a trip to the Bronx. And with free admission Saturdays from 9-12, it’s probably even worth splurging on a MetroNorth ticket to make your trip north a little faster. They are also open late on Wednesday evenings in the summer for sunset-gazing – I’m sure it’s beautiful with the view over the New Jersey Palisades. For more information, check out Wave Hill’s website. And if you make it up there, keep this warning sign in mind:



Not creepy at all, Wave Hill. Nope.

An Overdue Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge

When the Brooklyn Bridge opened 130 years ago, it was a technological marvel – the longest suspension bridge in the world! – and people didn’t know if they could trust it. A few days after the bridge opened in May 1883, a rumor that the structure would collapse caused a stampede that killed 12 people. P.T. Barnum, ever the master showman, saw an opportunity to promote his circus, and renewed an offer –  already once turned down – to stage a spectacle on the bridge. This time, with the recent deaths and persistent mistrust of the bridge at top of mind, officials allowed him to. The following May, he marched 21 elephants, including that gentle giant, Jumbo the fucking elephant, across the Brooklyn Bridge.

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Look, I go to a lot of zoos, and that is one seriously huge elephant.
(Image from the collection of the Barnum Museum)

Obviously the Bridge is still standing, so we felt it safe to join the throngs crossing it by foot one beautiful spring day a month or so ago. Somehow, despite living here for the past few years, visiting the city many times before living here, and having worked in lower Manhattan several times each, neither of us had ever walked across the bridge. It was time to make like Jumbo the elephant.

A walk across the Brooklyn Bridge is just over a mile long, with a pedestrian walkway and bike lanes suspended above the car traffic. The views are lovely – the soaring towers of lower Manhattan on one side, Brooklyn looming straight ahead, and my favorite harbor bridge, the Manhattan Bridge (it’s true!), off to one side.


Attached to many surfaces were Love Locks, or padlocks that couples attach to bridges while making a wish for everlasting love, and then throwing the key into the river. This is another reason not to eat anything anyone catches in New York City’s rivers: it probably has a key in its belly from one of these clowns.


When we made it over to Brooklyn, we waited in line for half an hour to eat Grimaldi’s pizza (I hate waiting in line for things, but I will admit that this was absolutely worth the wait! There was a pizza-shaped hole in my heart, and Grimaldi’s filled it.) and then wandered into Brooklyn Bridge Park, where E and our friend D played catch on a tiny patch of unoccupied lawn.


We wandered through Smorgasburg in the Tobacco Warehouse, and then headed back to the subway. This was, in all honesty, probably one of the most lamely touristy excursions we’ve ever made in the city (and I hope I’ve made it clear that I love doing touristy shit), but I admit it was fun. It’s always good to get a new perspective on your city, and a slow journey across a very large bridge is a really excellent way to do so.

I still feel like we maintained a bit of our insider cred, though. We stayed on the downtown 6 train after its last stop at the Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall station and looped on through the abandoned City Hall subway station to show our friend D. And the lights were on. So, I mean, that must count for something, no?

An Evening at the [Little] Orchestra: Disney’s Fantasia


Over the weekend, we went up to Lincoln Center to see the Little Orchestra Society performance of selections from Disney’s Fantasia with live orchestral accompaniment. My nephew (who alerted me to the upcoming show a few weeks ago) and his friend came into town on Friday and we headed uptown to Avery Fisher Hall.

I hadn’t heard of the Little Orchestra Society before this performance, but was impressed by their mission: “to build future audiences by presenting innovative concerts that incorporate multiple art forms to foster a deeper understanding and enjoyment of music.” They do a series of kid-friendly orchestra performances every year, and this New York City premiere of Fantasia was part of their 65-year legacy.

They played 6 pieces in total, with selections from both the 1940 animated film and the 2000 attempt. The orchestra was seated onstage with a large projection screen above them with the film spots playing. The conductor, Philip Mann, introduced each selection and gave some structure to the event, drawing comparisons between the composer’s and animator’s creative acts. It was wonderful to see the familiar scenes of centaurs, sorcerers, and firebirds combined with the force of a live orchestra backing them.

There was one technical hiccup: during “Pastoral Symphony”, the video reached a certain moment about 3 minutes in and restarted from the beginning. Twice. The orchestra, of course, kept playing, so we got to see the first three minutes of the animation 3 times with different music each time. It was annoying, yes, but also accidentally cool to see how the animation could work (sometimes really well!) with a different score. (As an aside, if you’d like to read about a character Disney has purposely excluded from recent releases of Fantasia, click here: Sunflower, the Centaur Disney Wants to Forget)

From what I can tell, this weekend’s performances were the Little Orchestra Society’s only planned Fantasia performances, but check out their 2013-2014 season for other interesting upcoming events.

Winter Winery Visits in Connecticut

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This past weekend, E and I had plans to visit friends in Connecticut for dinner on Saturday. E likes to escape from the city — to “decitify,” as he says — regularly, and since we hadn’t disappeared since Christmas, we booked a hotel room and hopped in the car.

To kill time before we were due for dinner on Saturday, we decided to punctuate our drive north with visits to two wineries. For such a tiny state famous for its crappy soil, Connecticut has an unexpectedly robust wine industry. For my bachelerotte party, I was lucky enough to spend a day in a limo touring wineries with friends, and since then I’ve visited a bunch of other vineyards. This Saturday, we tried one new-to-us winery and revisited another.

The first place we stopped was McLaughlin Vineyards in Newtown. The property is a few miles off the highway in the middle of a residential area, but we found it pretty easily. We did a tasting ($10, with souvenir glass) and sampled 5 different wines, all good. The woman conducting the tastings told us about all of the classes, concerts, and programs at the winery. On Sundays in the summer they have live music under a tent in the fields, and people bring picnics and drink wine, which sounds like a pretty awesome use of a Sunday to me. She was very excited to support other Connecticut businesses (she served one of the reds we tried with a Connecticut-made chocolate, and had soda from a tiny soda company based in my hometown for sale in the shop). We also got to meet Misha, the winery dog, who seemed to have a pretty awesome life: sleeping by the fireplace, following her owner around, and making lots of [tipsy] new friends.

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Unfortunately they were out of the Chardonnay we both liked until March. We took home a bottle of Vista Muse, a Seyval Blanc, instead, which I am pretty excited to enjoy with some seafood once the days are a little longer.

Our second stop was a return visit for me. We popped into the bustling tasting room at Haight-Brown Vineyards in Litchfield. We opted for the basic tasting ($9, no glass), since my companion can eat neither cheese nor chocolate, and grabbed a seat at the bar on the second floor. The servers here were a bit overwhelmed, and we had to wait a long time between samples. Everything we tried was good, we just ran out of time before we got to the end (and we weren’t super excited about the fruit wines, anyway). They felt bad that we didn’t have time to try everything and didn’t charge us for one of the tastings, which was nice.

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We left with two bottles of the Picnic Red, which folks at dinner enjoyed, and a few bars of decent dark chocolate, because why not?

The rest of our weekend in Connecticut was spent hanging out with friends and their families, wandering through very old graveyards, and sleeping in at The Litchfield Inn, which had most of the charm of a New England bed and breakfast, but with private bathrooms and no forced communal meals (so it was great for me).

I’d like to turn more of our trips north into mini-vacations, and this was a good start to that. Next time we go to a winery, though, I’d rather have a picnic outside than have to huddle inside by a fireplace. Soon enough!