The Cat’s Pyjamas: The 2013 Jazz Age Lawn Party

 

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This past weekend was the second and final weekend in 2013 for the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island. Now in its 8th year, the Lawn Party is hosted by Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra, and is a chance to put on some 1920s duds, learn the Charleston, sip champagne cocktails, and listen to the beautiful melodies of the Jazz Age. In previous years that I’ve attended, it’s been a relatively sleepy little event, something that was a bit of a secret. This year, though, it was clear that the secret was out — when I arrived at the ferry terminal for the second ferry of the day, the line stretched far beyond the building along the lower Manhattan waterfront.

First, some photos. And please excuse the horrific quality – I’m in the market for a new camera.
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First, the good things about Saturday’s event.  It was very well attended and everyone seemed to be in a great mood. The costumes were fantastic (though seriously, ladies, let’s all agree not to order the “1920s flapper!!!!” Halloween costume for the event next year, okay?), and several groups really went the extra mile and brought pretty insane picnic setups that were fun to look at. The expanded food and beverage offerings were a great addition, and I was happy to see more vegetarian options available. St. Germain was out in full force and kept the revelers well-supplied with champagne cocktails. The weather was glorious! And the entertainment? Flawless, as usual.

However, there were also some problems. The event has grown magnificently in the last few years, to the point where it’s sort of outgrown its space. The Lawn Party takes place in Colonel’s Row, a long, narrow, triangular patch of grass lined by beautiful old trees and lovely old brick buildings. It is the perfect space for this event. However, this year’s crowd overwhelmed the space, so that by 1:30 pm there were picnickers set up everywhere and very few paths through the blankets to get to the food, or to the dance floor. There were also only two entrances to the space, meaning long admission lines even for folks like myself who had purchased tickets in advance.

The ticket prices have also climbed significantly over the last few years. If I recall correctly, 2011’s tickets were $8. In 2012, general admission was $15. And this year, tickets had soared to $30 per person. I do feel that the entertainers, vendors, and other attendants deserve to be paid, and paid well, but if tickets continue to rise, they will need to host the event at a site that is larger, with infrastructure such as actual restrooms in place. The roughin’-it feel was fine when the event was smaller, when it felt covert, when it felt like a secret. Now that this has become one of NYC’s better known summer to-dos, a place to see and be seen, attracting a wide range of people and families, perhaps its time to think about moving the event. I love, love, love Colonel’s Row for this event. I think Governors Island is pretty much the best possible venue for suspending disbelief and relaxing into a different time period for a moment. But if ticket prices continue to rise, there will be an expectation that the amenities will, as well. And while the organizers have managed to continuously expand the food service and ticket package offerings, they will need to consider the overall experience and amenities, as well.

Concerns aside, I had a wonderful time on Saturday and am hoping I’ll be able to attend again next year. I love the chance to sit on a blanket in a cloche hat, sipping a drink, listening to the band, and watching the parade of well-dressed folks wander by. And apparently, so does Bill Cunningham, who stopped by later in the afternoon on Saturday.

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Summer Streets: Putting the Park in Park Avenue

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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


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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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:

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Not creepy at all, Wave Hill. Nope.

A Weekend Trip to the Twenties

Last weekend, E and I suited up and headed out to Governors Island for the  Jazz Age Lawn Party.

It was our second year attending, so we knew what to expect. However, we went to the smaller, quieter, (hotter) August version last summer, so the sheer number of people, of entertainers, of vendors was a fun surprise.

The Jazz Age Lawn Party is less historical reenactment than it is a chance for New Yorkers to get a little whimsical with their wardrobe, break out the nostalgia, and picnic for hours surrounded by grass and trees and bikes and champagne cocktails.

The costumes this year were fantastic. A lot of people who made it work with modern stuff, and also a ton of vintage promenading. Fans and hats and parasols, and suspenders, suspenders, suspenders.

It’s also a chance to joke about people who we now know were in for a big economic surprise in a few years’ time — “Oh, golly, how much have YOU made in the stock market this month?!” exclaimed one of my companions dramatically. Perhaps we are using humor to address our own embarrassment and shame of our own actions (or those of people we knew) during the last boom. Or maybe people are just jerks.

More than anything, though, it was a visual spectacle to see so many people in costume, lounging on blankets, strolling among the trees, or dancing a few steps of the Charleston to the sounds of a live band. There is a feeling of safety when you are surrounded by so many people doing what can be construed as a foolish thing in one place. On the ferry over, the benches were full of a mix of people in costume and wide-eyed folks in normal clothes who had no idea what was going on. When the silly ones are the ones in the know, there’s something special happening.

We’ll see you again soon, Governors Island — possibly even for the next Jazz Age Lawn Party in August.

Photos From the First Warm(ish) Weekend of 2012

E and I had a weekend that was the best kind of busy.

It started with a much rowdier Friday night than we are used to.

And we finally found a vintage buffet to cut a hole in the back of and use as a TV stand.

We visited friends in Connecticut for cosmic bowling.

And brought the sunshine in with some lovely flowers.

Warm weather means summer bedding and happy kitties.

And changing the clocks gave us daylight lingering on until almost 7 pm!

After losing much of Saturday to sleeping off a late night at the bar, Sunday was amazingly productive. We made chocolate chip banana pancakes for breakfast, worked on the TV stand swap-out mentioned above, cleaned the entire apartment, went for a walk that turned into an impromptu half hour soaking up the sun over some brews at the beer garden, made a pan of amazing almost-vegan baked mac and cheese, and watched a movie in the evening. As I get old and settle down a bit, I appreciate Sundays more and more as a day to shake the dust out of my life, check things off the ol’ to-do list, and take care of all the little tasks that help us gather our reserves for the week ahead. A productive, happy Sunday seems to soften the blow of Monday morning just a bit.

A very small bit.

Another Weekend, Another Abandoned Train Station

Friday, I took the train up to my hometown in Connecticut, where I explored a 100 year-old train station that is only open about 8 hours a week. Amtrak still stops there, but only a few people get on and off. Rumor has it that this station will be renovated soon, and some of its magic will undoubtedly disappear, but it’s better that it be updated and in use than left as is and abandoned. I remember occasionally driving people to or from this station as a child, and watching the big trains appear around the bend and then chug off into the distance always seemed so exciting to me. It still does, really.