Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sunday in Manhattan

Sunday. My first NYC day in nine months, and the first stirrings of fall weather in the air. I got out out my black leather blazer that made me feel so Manhattan-chic when I wore it to the city during high school.

Of course there's always something to do in New York--both what you plan and what you just stumble upon. Last time I was in the city, last December, I had a really great stumble-upon moment, which I'll blog about sometime. But this Sunday was pretty good, too. First, near Grand Central Station, the Mexican Day Parade was going on. Crowds of people dressed in red, white, and green--some from head to toe. Sombreros and banderas on sale in front of the Public Library. Since I was near the start of the parade route, things were very chaotic, so didn't stay long.

One of my favorite parts of city is "Library Way," the bronze plaques with quotes about books, libraries, learning, set in the sidewalk on 41st Street, leading up to the Public Library. One of them is by Tom Stoppard:

and I always pause a bit reverentially before it. (Go here and scroll down for a link to all the plaques. Beautiful stuff.)

When I got to Times Square, everything north of 42nd Street was blocked off. There seemed to be a crowd, and big echoing loudspeakers... "It's Broadway on Broadway" said a policewoman to a group of curious passerby.

Now, I faithfully check playbill.com, but it had slipped my attention that there would be this huge Broadway-promoting concert the day I was in the city. I set out to find the way into the barricaded area. Had to walk over to 8th Avenue, and then up to 46th or 47th... and as I entered that massive crowd in Times Square, I couldn't even see the stage, but I heard the singing, a huge brassy chorus of "New York, New York," and the confetti machines perched atop billboards and buildings were going like mad, and the semi-autumnal sunlight hit me in the eyes, and... New York, I'm back! I wanted to shout.

This was the final number of the concert (which explains the big chorus and the confetti) so soon I was filing out of Times Square again, snapping photos with my camera, the confetti drifting down only to get swept up... When I returned to Times Square about 4 hours later, there was no trace of it.

I continued on down 42nd Street to Playwrights Horizons--a nice, new theater building, with hanging banners printed with quotes from plays they have produced, which, again, just thrill my heart. I had to stop myself from snapping photos of everything (I got into that habit in Paris).

At the play I was sitting next to some girls my age or a little younger...college freshmen or sophomores, I'd guess. Those of you who are sick of Hollywood actors with no stage experience getting cast in the lead roles of Broadway shows, I have to tell you it's not going to change anytime soon, not when it leads to scenes like this one:

GIRL 1: (Reading her playbill, sees the Roundabout's ad for Pygmalion starring Claire Danes) Look, Claire Danes is gonna be on Broadway!
GIRL 2: Ooh, when?
GIRL 1: "Previews start September 21." That's soon!
GIRL 2: I love Claire Danes!
GIRL 1: Me, too! We should get tickets.
GIRL 2: Pygmalion...is that like Pygmalion and Galatea, the myth?
GIRL 1: I don't know.
GIRL 2: We should totally go!
GIRL 1: Totally!

I wanted to lean over and say "It's Shaw's play that got adapted into My Fair Lady," but refrained. Hey, at least these girls are getting excited about theatre, and Pygmalion's a good play to know, regardless of who's cast in it.

On my train back to Poughkeepsie I absolutely loved the way the conductor talked--with a West Indian accent, old-fashioned words and phrases, and an old-fashioned sort of concern for his passengers and human decency. Saying things like "I do beseech you, do not leave your belongings on the seat next to you" and "Please do not annoy your fellow passengers, everyone has the right to a pleasant trip," and "Let us all be on the good side of courtesy, folks!"

It's nice to hear that message, since even though I love New York, it can be a tough place. I honed some of my big-city survival skills living in Paris for 4 months this year, but it's still nothing like New York. In Paris, I feel, you can afford to be leisurely--there is always time for an espresso or a crepe, and if you don't like the looks of one café there's another on the next corner. But in New York, if you don't want to eat in Times Square because it's too crowded, you go two blocks over and you're in Hell's Kitchen and there's nowhere good to grab food before your matinée. Or, you arrive at Grand Central Station at 6:45 to find your train leaves at 7:10 and you need to eat something and the restaurants in the basement are already closing down for the night. In New York you cannot afford to be aimless or indecisive, or else the city will defeat you. So, despite my love for it, I don't know if I could live there. And yet I don't know of any other place in the world that has so much wonderment packed into so small an area.

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