Supersized Art at Storm King

George Cutt’s Sea Change, the only motorized sculpture at the 500 acre Storm King sculpture park, twists and turns silently on itself like skeletons of two fern fronds. Calder Hill is stamped with Alexander Calder’s trademark geometric shapes, in bright red steel set against the green lawns leading up to Museum Hill. Down in the South Fields, behind the mirror-fence, a deer pauses to stare in at Zhang Huan’s huge Three Legged Buddha, whose face is half-submerged in the grass.

Whispering into Buddha’s ears

Emerging from under the spindly white steel web of Kenneth Snelson’s Free Ride Home, two very loud children roll down a steep hill, giggling hysterically while gathering momentum.

The Free Ride Home

There was no need to shush them. This was interactive art appreciation at its best. In fact it would have been remiss of us not to scramble up a leaf-covered hill in the North Woods and run, whooping down the other side – if only to be stunned into silence by the implausible balancing act of Menashe Kadishman’s Suspended.


Set in the lovely Hudson Valley, an hour and a half north of New York, it’s a day-trip that puts art and nature in a whole new perspective as you run, walk and ride bikes under and around the more than 100 sculptures from artists including Mark DiSuvero, Andy Goldsworthy and Alexander Liberman.

The great climbing hill in the North Woods

We managed to go last week just before it closed for the season. It will reopen on April 3rd, 2013. It’s impossible to imagine the park and its sculptures in anything but the burnt light of a Hudson Valley Fall. But we will be first in line in the spring to let it surprise us all over again – and to check on our own contribution to the park, a small shelter of fallen branches along the South Fields path called Surface, 2012.

Liquid Light: William Lamson’s “Solarium” was part of this year’s Light and Landscape exhibition. Each pane of glass in this hut was filled with caramelized sugar.

If you go

We took a day-trip package with Coach USA’s Shortline Bus from New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal. The $45 ($22.50 for kids aged five and over) covers bus trip and the $12 entry fee ($8 for kids) to Storm King. Getting there was a breeze as the bus takes you directly to the door but with a 5pm pick-up time it’s not the most flexible option when you’re traveling with kids. I recommend a Zipcar rental for this trip.

Our Highlights

Sea Change

Sea Change is mesmerizing. I was drawn in by its graceful swerving arc through the air and Ruby loved the shape of “antlers”, made by the two poles as they swerved apart.

The Three Legged Buddha: To all three of us, it looked creepy from afar but up close, its head looks like its basking in the sun, with half its face submerged in a still pool.

Mozart’s Birthday: Henry loved this enormous Di Suvero sculpture of industrial beams and a brushed steel pendulum. And that it came with a rubber mallet. Hit the brushed steel gong to make music.

Momo Taro: Isamu Noguchi’s quiet white stone carving tells the story of a Japanese superhero, a little boy with superhuman strength who was found inside a peach. Children are encouraged to climb inside the peach – reappearing with superpowers is optional!

Fallen for jazz

The first Jazz & Colors Festival brought a string of small musical miracles to Central Park on Saturday. Just five weeks after they were given permission to go head, the organizers of this pilot event found 30 ensembles and scattered them throughout the park. In glades, atop bridges, next to playgrounds and by the roadsides we found them, each group offering its own spin on the same 18 jazz standards. The result was as promised – a whole new landscape painted 30 different colors of Fall.

All the ensembles, mostly trios and quartets, worked through classics like Billy Strayhorn’s Take the A Train, Fall, by the Miles Davis Quartet and Charles Mingus’ lovely Nostalgia in Times Square.

If you were on the East side and you timed it just right, you could, for example, see Marc Cary stationed in front of the Jacqueline Onassis Reservoir at East 90th Street, play Scrapple from the Apple on his Melodica (blow-organ), then make it to the lawn between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the hot sugared nuts vendor, for the Roy Campbell Tazz Quartet’s own Scrapple –on trumpet.

Our tour began at the West 85th Street playground where the Jason Kao Hwang Trio were wrapping up Autumn Serenade and launching into Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat. This was song no.7 of nine in the first set, so we were off to late start. We headed north and reached 90th Street as rockjazz pianist Elew was in the final throes of his own raucous rendition of Pork Pie Hat.

It’s hard to pass by a grand piano in the middle of the road and a small crowd had amassed around the charismatic quartet. After setting the scene he promptly silenced it, with a quietly soaring version of Rodgers and Hart’s Manhattan.

Joggers, dog-walkers, families with strollers, tourists – no-one within earshot escaped the reverie. Elew (Eric Lewis) muted his piano keys like guitar strings and leaves skittered up the road in the breeze to accompany the rustling snare. The bassist found his moments and gently interceded. Innocent passers-by, pulled out of their afternoon by the lull, failed to pass by.

It ended too soon. A whoop went up from the crowd and like that we were all released back into our day. Next came John Coltrane’s Blue Train then intermission. We paused to check out the quidditch match (yes really!) on the lawn and spent the rest of intermission at the 100th Street playground.

Travelling with children, you learn to recognize when you’ve seen “the one” – that thing that allows you to leave peacefully if there’s a mutiny. I had my highlight and was happy to roll with the punches from then on. As intermission ended we decided to cross over to the east side and make our way down to the Naumberg Bandshell in time to see the Mingus Big Band finish up the second set. We would see what we would see along the way.

Even on bikes and carrying a few leftovers from our Halloween stash, we were never going to make it from 85th Street up to the Harlem Meer to see Marika Hughes and Bottom Heavy or down to Pinebank Arch to see Lakecia Benjamin and Soul Squad. We saw seven of the 30 groups, for about a half to one or two songs each – it was more than enough for each of us to go home with a buzz.

Ever the romantic, Ruby was taken by the atmosphere on the carriage bridge between Cedar Hill (our sledding Hill) and the Alice in Wonderland statue (the best climbing spot in a park full of non-climbing trees). She became besotted with Sharel Cassity Quintet’s Skating in Central Park,. Henry’s favourite was the terribly cool, “anchor-shaped” electric violin played by Jason Kao Hwang. And the afore-mentioned blow-organ – he’s all about process!

Without really trying, our timing was perfect. We reached the Mingus Big Band at 3:40, just as the pre-dusk cold started to creep in. After spending the afternoon hanging out with little clusters of impromptu audiences, the three of us stopped paying attention when we joined the huge stationery crowd at the Bandshell. However we still got our big finale as Empire State of Mind closed the set. The crowd went as wild as a jazz crowd can.

On the way back to our exit, we met a friendly drum teacher watching the lake. Like nearly everyone else in the park that day, she had stumbled upon this fantastic free event. Between her and a few other walkers stopping to compare who saw whom play what, it was unanimous: On Central Park’s busy events schedule this one was a keeper – well timed, well-managed and well worth adding to next year’s calendar now.

Two Bridges, Sandy and a cupcake election: the whole watermelon

So many bloggable things have happened over the last two weeks. At risk of failing the first grade writing workshop checklist on my wall, which includes the question, “Is it a seed story?” (as opposed to a “watermelon story”), I’m just going to list them.

The seeds are out of date, so here’s the whole watermelon.


I went way downtown, even below Chinatown, which in my mind was always the end of Manhattan. The little pocket of the Lower East Side between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges may have its own neighbourhood name, but “Two Bridges” is one of those in-between neighborhoods, like Hell’s Kitchen or Murray Hill. If they were Australian country towns their claim to fame would be a sign boasting that they’re “the gate-way to…” somewhere else.

I spent the afternoon at St Joseph’s church with 72 members of the North American Craco Society (Craco Italy, not Krakow Poland). We celebrated the Feast of San Vincenzo, Craco’s Patron Saint, with mass and then lunch in the basement cafeteria. It’s another story. I hope it will turn into a published one before the year’s out.

I left the reunion at 4pm to get into the subway three hours before the MTA was due to shut down in preparation for Hurricane Sandy. Early evacuation was just taking effect as I crossed the Grand Street exit off Manhattan Bridge. Traffic heading in both directions was snarled and the queue outside the Lucky Star Bus window on the Bowery was snaked around the block. Families sat on suitcases looking nervous, cold or bored and a young couple close to the office window screamed at one another so long and loud their yelling drowned out the traffic noise. The pair stood nose to nose the whole time, spraying each other with shouting and spittle. People in the queue behind them covered one ear and wondered if they should be afraid. Yet somehow – either used to this routine or used to long uncertain waits for transport, accommodation or evacuation – neither one raised a hand once.

The Bowery, at the Manhattan Bridge exit


School was cancelled in case the storm hit while people were commuting. We had a wonderful rainy day at home carving pumpkins and weather-watching.

I learned I have to mind my manners, when Ruby said to a relative in Sydney on the phone: “It’s just wind, New Yorkers take these things so seriously,”  If I’ve rolled my eyes at what I may or may not have called a propensity for hyper-caution here, I apologize! Cynicism doesn’t suit us.

Snapped: The skyscraper crane swinging ominously over midtown on Monday

Still at work late in the afternoon, Martin wasn’t taking things at all seriously until he watched a crane collapse two blocks from his office. He came home early after that and we spent the rest of the night watching the storm on TV, occasionally checking on the real thing outside the window. The wind outside was noisy but apart from a chunk of scaffolding flip-flopping down the sidewalk, it wasn’t nearly as dramatic on 85th Street as it was on TV.


New York Magazine’s photo of lower Manhattan’s power cut

Everybody uptown awoke to an island that had been cut off at 49th Street. New Jersey, the Rockaways in Brooklyn and Staten Island were awash with debris, sodden and in some places flattened.

I wondered if the statue of Craco’s San Vincenzo, lying prone in his box next to the alter at St Joseph’s, was still in tact. I wondered about the guy I accidentally pushed off his stoop when I exited through the church’s (obviously seldom-used) cafeteria door. I hope he found a safe place to sleep in time.


Still no school. No subway. Traffic on every corner was gridlocked and every business was short staffed as a result. Those that opened were over-run with “downtown refugees” – up to shower, charge phones, shop and eat. We met a dad and his daughter outside a locked playground and while the children tried to pick the padlock with a stick, then gave up and used the stick/lock-picker to play spies, he said their return home to an apartment near the Chelsea Market was uncertain.

Block Party: trick-or-treating, stoop-to-stoop on 87th Street.

“They told us it could be from three weeks to six months.”

The West 87th Street block party still went ahead, thanks to a neighbourhood that had the foresight not to decorate too early. It was a little more subdued than previous year but the spiders, webs and ghosts that climb the brownstones between Riverside and West End Avenues each year were still out in force. Locals still dressed up and socialized on their stoops, dishing out candy to the hundreds of kids who run from step to step.

A father and son team had set up a hotplate over their fence and were grilling hot dogs for anyone tired of candy. Their neighbour two doors down offered “spiced wine for the moms?” while his giant St. Bernard dozed next to  a cauldron full of candy and kept its owner’s feet warm.


The Marathon was cancelled.

The unofficial marathon: with flights and hotels booked and miles of training behind them, there was nothing stopping runners getting their time in the sun with four laps of central park.

I feel for the runners who psyched themselves up to run 26.8 miles. But everyone, runners included, felt for the people on Staten Island who were still chipping away at the debris around their houses. They could really use those generators, space blankets and bottled water earmarked for the marathon route. I didn’t see any animosity from the runners in letters to the editor in the days afterwards. The only real malice came from the New York Post itself, which had launched the campaign to cancel the event in the first place.

Poor Bloomberg, he did a good job last week, he willed the Marathon to go ahead but there was no win-win in this one.

Tuesday – Election Day

Two candidates spent $6 billion convincing 57 per cent of the population to vote. Some of those voters spent 40 minutes (in Bloomberg’s New York electorate) to four hours (South Carolina), lining up to use as many different voting systems as there are states. From a the broken voting machines in South Carolina, to a touch-screen system in Pennsylvania that relies on an election official to dip his or her ID card every time someone votes, in order for that person’s vote to be registered (requiring an official to accompany every voter to their ballot?) to a six-page paper and pencil ballot in Florida.

My local Fairway Supermarket electoral system seemed entirely reasonable in comparison!

Never mind Ohio: Who won the Fairway Cupcake Election? Republican vs. Democrat cupcakes were sold through Nov. 5 for $1.49 each – buy as many as you like, as many times as you like – citizenship not required!

Special Places

It’s been a while since I’ve tended my blog. Unlike my houseplants, I hope it’s hanging in there! I’ve been busy being with my mum, who is staying with us this month.

Last week we checked off one of the few things on her ‘to-do’ list and went to the theatre district.

I took her to see Peter and the Star Catcher at the intimate (by Broadway standards) Brooks Atkinson Theatre on 47th Street. The actors were fantastic, the play was great – a kind of scripted theatre sports of a kids story for adults (it’s about how Peter Pan came to be). Then she took me to Sardis. The theatre district stalwart would not have been my first choice but for mum, it was part of a package. She and Dad had been when they came to New York in 1998.

“I’d just love to Go to Sardis and See a Show while I’m here,” she told me several times before she came.

“It doesn’t matter which show.”

At 9:45 we walked into an almost empty restaurant. Most of the staff were hanging around the Little Bar, a cloak-room/ entry-way/ bar at the front, watching Obama’s second debate with Romney while a handful of diners finished up their theatre-district dinners. The huge round room was carpeted red, lined with dark red wood-panel walls crammed with characatures of broadway actors. It was just the way she remembered it.

We sat at the table in the back and mum looked over my shoulder to where she and dad sat last time. An older couple from Texas were shown to a table so close, the four of us felt we’d been dumped on a communal table, which was odd considering the empty restaurant. But they were enjoying each other’s company so much it was hard not to enjoy theirs. Full of contentment and southern charm and with their Lion King Playbill between them, they only stayed long enough for a glass of wine each and a dessert for the wife who was celebrating her birthday. They were having a wonderful evening and so were we.

Our supper: a more-than decent malbec, oily and too-rich french onion soup and an entirely forgettable dessert, was probably the best either of us will have this visit. Special Places being what they are, it was never really about the food, or even the place. I wish dad could have been there as well, or in my place (there’s a long post about U.S health insurance, to tackle another time). I’m sure mum and dad both do too, but we walked out to the cab-flagging frenzy on 8th Avenue and I felt that between the three of us and 14 years, it had been a great night.

By the time we left, the restaurant had filled almost to capacity with the post-show crowd, half of them tourists ticking off their New York guide book’s ‘must do’ list, some of them older New York show regulars, who come because they’re regulars, and a few like our new friends from Texas, who will go home and remember where they sat when they had that lovely evening at Sardis.

The big apple: beyond the bridge

We left Manhattan!

This is the third time in three years we’ve hired a car to take our weekend excursions beyond the bridges. That’s a pretty poor record and one we only think of remedying in spring and autumn – those very short windows between long, extreme seasons. Before you know it, it’s too hot to bother or too cold to contemplate.

Exit over the Hudson. The GW Bridge

So, in 10am Saturday-of-a-long-weekend traffic, our rental car crawled up the Henry Hudson Parkway before crossing the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey and the other, non-Manhattan New York. We were headed upstate to New Paltz, a quaint town at the foot of the Catskills, full of olde worlde charm but kept vibrant by the State University of NY campus. In October it’s full of students and day-trippers, up for all the pick-your-own orchards.

The 1.5 hour drive to the well-named Apple Hill Farm took us nearly three, thanks to the long weekend traffic and a misunderstanding about which town we were in when we rang to ask for directions…

“The Shop-Rite’s on your left? McDonalds up ahead on your right? Just keep heading south for around 15 minutes and turn left off Route 32.”

We were pulled up across from a Shop-Rite, with McDonald’s just up ahead on our right. In a completely different town (Newburgh). What are the odds? It took another 40 minutes or so of back-tracking up and down Route 32, with a few accusations of “bad googling” from the driver to the navigator and lunch time came and went. But leftover birthday cake made a good enough lunch and when we finally found the farm, the rest of it grew on trees.

Apple Hill is a no-frills operation on the side of the road. Just turn up and pay $10 for a peck, $20 for a bushel and fill them up. Its concession to city-tourists is the hay-rides between the roadside and the orchard at the top of the hill. As far as the kids were concerned, a peck-bag each and a hay-ride was all you need for an “awesome” day out.

A race up the hill, past the Macoun, Jonagold and Crispin, which had all been picked early due to the unseasonably slow onset of a cold snap, and everyone disappeared into the trees to find the perfect apple.

Pre-picked. Thanks to an early season

The early apples go into big crates, lined up along the crest of the hill. It can make picking feel a bit like shopping, except that everyone’s so helpful. And so diligent with quality control!

We finished just as the weather turned, and autumn officially set in for the year. Then drove the ridiculously short and simple four minutes into New Paltz and sat, somewhat stubbornly given the brisk change, outside at the Harvest Cafe. There we had the best burger this side of the Minetta Tavern. Lunch at 4:30pm after running around an orchard all afternoon is bound to be good.

Eating apples straight from trees was good. Just getting out of town was good and our timing was perfect. With Halloween looming, the apples will be gone when the leaves peak in a couple of weeks.

Even getting lost on the way there wasn’t so  bad – it meant we were outside during the hour in which the season, quite literally, snapped after that final little warm spell flickered out on Friday. The sky darkened and the wind whipped up as our beautiful apples bounced around the boot on the way back through the Hudson Valley.

Within reach. Red Delicious

Ruby dragging her half-peck of perfect apples.

Great and small distractions: The Foo Fighters, E.B. Wight and Staying In

One of my favourite things about living in Manhattan, apart from reading what EB White wrote about it, is that it all happens with or without me. This weekend we stayed in, but the city followed us to our doorstep. The noise, the traffic, the closed playgrounds, the stressed out techies yelling into cell-phones. It could have been annoying. Instead, it felt like we were just here for the big party across the road too.

To coincide with the UN General Assembly, the Global Citizen Fund held this year’s free concert on the great lawn on Saturday night. All week we’d watched the equipment, barricades, recording trucks and trailers – full of sound-guys with headphones and lanyards – being parked along Central Park West. My Saturday morning exercise/ mothers’ group in the pine-tum was interrupted, mid-lunge, by a City Parks security officer hurrying us along so they could finish closing off the park.

By noon, some of the 60,000 people who earned tickets in the lottery were filtering out of the subway at 81st Street and heading into the park. By 5pm, when I went out foraging for wine and take-away, an intrepid school boy had set up a cake-table by the barricade that funneled crowds onto the Great Lawn.

The traffic has been chaotic, car-horns have been working double time and our lovely work out got cut short. But in return, I felt involved. Just by being affected by it, I’ve contributed to this great free event. The Foo Fighters, Neil Young, The Black Keys and K’NAAN should thank me, because I made way!

Like most of my feelings about this city, White has already put it so beautifully in his wonderful essay, Here is New York.

“New York blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation; and better than most dense communities it succeeds in insulating the individual (if he wants it, and almost everybody wants it or needs it) against all the enormous and violent and wonderful events that are taking place every minute. Since I have been sitting in this miasmic air-shaft, a good many rather splashy events have occurred in town… I didn’t attend and neither did most of the the eight million other inhabitants, although they say there was quite a crowd…. I mention these merely to show that New York is peculiarly constructed to absorb almost anything that comes along… without inflicting the event on its inhabitants, so that every event is, in a sense, optional, and the inhabitant is in the happy position of being able to choose his spectacle and so conserve his soul.”

BAKE SALE! a young entrepreneur sells cupcakes in the concert queue.

Aside from my missed squat-jumps, the show passed us by. Like last year’s Black-eyed-peas concert, we heard it second hand as neighbours in near-by brownstone buildings barbecued and sang along on their roof-top decks. We switched on the children’s air-conditioner to drown out the base and drums reverberating down our street and finished watching Homeland with our Mexican take-away.

The spectacle may be optional, but it’s nice when it happens on your doorstep. We can be participants by association.

“… The gift of privacy and the excitement of participation.” I always suspected it, but never thought of it in just nine words. This is what I love about New York!

Back-to-school, backdated

School started two weeks ago and I find myself overwhelmed by all the things I’ve been wanting to do for the last three years. There’s so much to do I don’t know where to start. So, in the interest of starting somewhere, I’ll start here.

Because this is me, I’m starting in the middle. I don’t read instructions before putting things together, hence my inability to backdate these two back-to-school articles. This should be the first post, and you’re supposed to be able to click over to “writing” and then click back into this main blog page again. I’ll figure it out. In the mean time, as much as I hate technology, I’ve discovered that I like linking things!

While I work on increasing my attention span, I’ll use this space as a warm up. And to release some of the mental clutter I’ve accrued over the last three years – living in New York, living in New York with children, running, writing and holding onto those delicious first impressions before they become too familiar. Once the clutter’s out, I’m hoping I can write short, snappy sentences and salable articles…

… Sound like therapy?

That’s so New York!

8am to 3pm. Let this be the Year of Getting Things Done!

MTA ad-space

During the summer, or maybe earlier, in the spring just after graduation, a poster on the C train proudly announced to commuters that “Poetry in Motion is back”. And what a lovely use of unused advertising space it is. Certainly a welcome change from the compensation firms suggesting we might be entitled to $$$ if our children suffer birth defects; the ads announcing that there are alternatives to abortion out there if we call this free and confidential number; and the ads asking, is cocaine affecting your lifestyle? Call this number.

I’d prefer Ruby and Henry to be sounding out these words:

(Un-blurred, it reads


He told us, with the years, you will come

to love the world

And we sat there with our souls in our laps,

and comforted them.

Dorothea Tanning)


Brooklyn Bridge walk turns into a DUMBO feast. Sunday 16/9


What a find!! Just stumbled upon a Mindil beach markets under the Brooklyn bridge. Tucked between the brick arches of the historic tobacco warehouse just behind Jane’s Carousel, and DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass – the neighbourhood’s official name!). If only we could photograph smells. Columbian arapa, filipino spring rolls, watermelon limeade to start.

We were aiming for a non-food centred weekend but this wholesome Sunday walk across the bridge is about to turn into a very long progressive lunch. It’s nearly always about the food. “Smorgasburg”, the offshoot of Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Flea, runs every Sunday until November 18. They could have stretched it one more weekend for a Thanksgiving leftovers barbecue. Pulled turkey rolls anyone?