Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Manhattan - Miscellaneous Experiences

We were so lucky that our brief visit to Manhattan overlapped with a two-week Lion King retrospective, held in a building across from Bryant Park. Guides were on hand to explain the inner workings of the puppets and describe Julie Taymor's creative process from sketch to miniature model to full-scale puppet (to souvenir plush toy!).

We learned that the elephants stand 13 feet high, weigh 100 pounds when first created, and require 4 people to operate the pole inside each of the legs.  As time goes by, the puppet will actually gain weight as it needs repairs and patches are added to it.  The loping gazelles are carried on sticks, or rotated on wheels to simulate a galloping herd. The ostriches stand 17 feet tall and the giraffes are even taller than that.

Mannequins are dressed up in some of the costumes so that you can better imagine how they are manipulated. The zebra costume consists of the head and hind legs, with the actor providing the front legs, while for the lionness puppet, the actor provides the back legs and uses levers to manipulate the body and front legs. 

The Antique Garage Flea Market is exactly as it sounds—a flea market situated within a 2-level parking garage. While we've always loved poking around antique markets, this unique setting made it even more fun.

It is always interesting to see what type of things people may have had in their possession. We found some pretty weird and even creepy stuff including  misanthropic Christmas decorations that take "Bah Humbug" to a new level, and  KKK medallions including one shaped like the pointed hood that this group wore.

Kinokunyia is a Japanese book store in Bryant Park that stocks some very cool specialty books. Our favourite was called "Darth Vader and Son" which contains quotes like "Luke, pick up your toys this instant .. Luke, I am your father! Do you want a time out?", made all the more humorous when you imagine them spoken with the Darth Vader voice.  We also liked "The Brick Bible" which told the story of the New Testament using Lego figures, and the "Hello Kitty, Hello Art" book which portrays the Hello Kitty characters through the eyes of contemporary artists.

Although not impressed with the literary merits of the book 50 Shades of Grey, which we read for our book club, we knew that it was a huge commercial success. This was made even more obvious in the Kinokunyia book store, which not only carried the book in Japanese, but also various spoofs of it including "50 Shades of Chicken" (note the bound and trussed chicken on the cover) and "Fifty Shames of Earl Grey".


The New York Public Library is an impressive building at 5th Avenue and 41st Street, that is guarded on either side by large stone lion sculptures. Just inside the lobby, Lego models of these lions can be found.

This library should be considered a museum in its own right, given its comprehensive rotating exhibitions. In honour of the 200th anniversary of his birth, a Charles Dickens exhibit called "Key to Character" features artwork from his novels, photographs of various plays or movies based on his works and Dickens' personal memorabilia including a letter opener with a handle that he made out of his beloved(?) deceased (we hope!) cat's paw.

An even larger exhibit analyzed the evolution of lunch time in New York through the past century. It looked at types of food and eating venues (home, cafeteria, pubs, restaurants, food carts and trucks) including  the invention of the automat which was a vending machine for sandwiches, hot foods and desserts. The origins of the "power lunch were also examined in this exhibit.


The High Line is an elevated walkway built on top of an abandoned freight rail line.  It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues.  Walking this trail provides an excellent view of Manhattan's west side, including some interesting graffiti and street art on the buildings. Peeping out of the window of one building was the cardboard cutout of a bare-chested man waving at us.  Another building had composite black and white photos in each of the windows, which put together, formed a boy's open-mouthed face.  We did not learn about them until after our walk on the High Line, but artist Richard Artschwager's BLPs have been positioned in locations along the path.

Whimsical art can be found both on the platform walls of downtown Manhattan subway stations, and in the subway trains themselves.  It was fun trying to spot the design of each station while riding the subway.

 The Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station first opened in 1913 but did not actually serve much in terms of oysters or even seafood. It was named after the oyster stew that was a specialty. In 1974 the restaurant was refurbished back to its original splendor and turned into the oyster and seafood restaurant befitting its new name "Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant". It was interesting that although we sat in an elegant room with high vaulted ceilings with marble columns, we sat on swivel chairs at large communal counters and were served diner-style. The oysters were delicious.

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