Pennies from Manhattan

13 10 2008

When I was a freshman in high school (a long time ago), we were given a chapter of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek to read in my English class. The chapter, entitled “Seeing” is a meditation on what we see and how we see it. In it, the child Dillard enjoyed hiding pennies, and thrilled at the thought of a lucky passerby finding “a free gift from the universe.” The adult Dillard wonders who really gets excited by a penny, given that any small enjoyment or happy experience counts as a penny.

We only read the first few paragraphs for class, and I have yet to read the rest of it. And yet (being the nerd that I am) I perused those first two paragraphs so thoroughly and so often that to this day I can recite them from memory, almost verbatim. Yesterday I slowed down my fast-paced New York life for a bit, and Dillard’s words returned to me: “It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.” Simple. Lovely. True.

And so, because in my actual struggling author poverty I too often forget to cultivate my figurative poverty, some pennies:

1) Fall days. I know I pull the California girl and have a tendency to be whiny and annoying when winter rolls around. But despite the fact that it’s the season before winter, fall is fabulous. Yesterday was one of those perfect days that sets all the city into a buzz of activity: warm but not sticky, with a light fresh breeze and that great crisp scent that can only really be had in a place with seasons (sorry California).

2) Bethesda Terrace. Dominated by Bethesda Fountain, this area overlooks the lake, where city slickers can (gasp!) row boats, and can be entered or exited through the stunning, tiled arcade that’s more reminiscent of ancient Rome than modern New York (at least to this New Yorker).

Can you say picturesque?

Can you say picturesque?

3) Eccentricities. While lost in the park I came upon many of these, but two were particularly notable. The first was an elderly man with a bushy beard dyed green and orange, dressed in a frilly lace dress and a gold hat with a bird on it, and dancing to rhythmic drums to the delight of a crowd of onlookers. The second was a tiny (and by tiny I mean about eight years old) street performer who silently and adeptly performed a series of circus tricks, adroitly juggling rings, then balls before moving on to a unicycle. Amazingly enough, less people stopped to watch him.

And I end, these being just a sampling of the pennies I picked up in the course of my Sunday. Perhaps one day does a millionaire make.


6 09 2008

This is a belated PSA for anyone in New York this week with some time to spare. Every summer thousands of New Yorkers engage in a ritual: they see free shows. But first, they camp out for hours at a time to secure tickets for said shows. The name of the “ritual” is Shakspeare in the Park but this year there is a slight diversion. Instead of the bard, New Yorkers are seeing a lively rendition of Hair.

Last week, I got up at 5 am and headed to the Delacourt Theater with a giant coffee to camp out until the box office started passing out tickets at 1 pm. Before you start groaning, I have two things to say: 1) the line is all part of the fun. It’s there that you meet the colorful cast of characters also crazy enough to wait around for free tickets. Plus, there is something oddly freeing about a person telling you that you must sit in the sun and not leave your spot for six hours. 2) The show is well worth it. For one thing, it’s simply grand to sit outside and watch a great show. But Hair is energetic and beautifully done. Masterful light work brings the psychadelic era to life, and the cast is not only talented but fun. It’s clear they enjoy what they’re doing, and they make others enjoy it as well.

And (now for the soapbox part) it’s topical. We may not spout free love or hold be-ins anymore, but we’re still at war. Seeing this great show and talking to the passionate people around me (this was after Palin’s speech so many were up in arms) made me both proud to live where I do and ashamed at the lethargy of my generation. But enough preaching: go see Hair! (And hurry: it closes this weekend.)


4 03 2008

Cheesy? A little. Touristy? Most definitely. But also one of the best things about cold weather and New York City: Ice Skating. And, being from California, I’ve decided that I get license to indulge in cold weather rarities such as the outdoor ice skating rink. Sure, San Francisco has an outdoor holiday rink (named after Bay Area skating star Kristi Yamaguchi no less), but that only lasts through January 1. Besides, somehow outdoor ice skating just doesn’t feel as authentic when you don’t need a heavy coat.

That brings me back to chilly New York, with its whopping five outdoor skating rinks. Everyone knows, of course, about Rockefeller Center, and most people know about Central Park’s Wollman Rink, but what are these others? And how to decide? An ice skating rink breakdown from a New Yorker whose native warm blood entitles her to geek out on the glories of outdoor skating (even though, let’s be honest, she’s a terrible skater, and not overly fond of it after the novelty has worn off, otherwise known as the first half hour).

  1. Rockefeller Center definitely wins the award for rink with the most kitsch value. But something about that glowing fountain and the flags overhead, not to mention the heady feeling of Rockefeller Center itself makes it the most famous, and perhaps the most popular. A tourist destination it is, however. Though you might see a few die hards out there with their own skates on, most New York skaters stay away from the tiny, usually crowded, rink. It’s until 10:30 p.m. Mon-Thurs, midnight Fri-Sat, and 10 p.m. Sun, and adult rates are $10 (per two hour session) Mon-Thurs and $14 on weekends and holidays. Skate rentals are $8.
  2. Wollman Rink is perhaps the second best known. Movie lovers know it for its cameos in such sappy romantic comedies as Serendipity, but the movie’s directors were on to something. Sunken below street level in the park, the woody rink gives skaters a pristine view of some of Manhattan’s loveliest high rises, which, after dark, give off a very serendipitous glow. The rink opens at 10 a.m. daily and remains open until 10 p.m Wed-Thurs, 11 p.m. Fri-Sat and 9 p.m. Sun. Daily rates for adults are $9.50 on weekdays and $12 Fri-Sun. Skate rentals are $5. Bring your own lock to save the $3.50 rental fee.
  3. The Pond at Bryant Park is a regular winter wonderland, but unfortunately only through the holiday season. From late-October through mid-January, however, the skaters descend on midtown. Non-skaters will love this one: cheer the active on while you stuff yourselves with drinks and snacks at Celius, the cheeky rinkside restaurant. (Now that’s my kind of winter revelry.) Plus, through December 30, the park gets into the holiday spirit with kisoks selling unique gifts and crafts.
  4. Lasker Rink is Wollman’s sister rink. A little higher up the park (between 106th and 108th streets), lower rates ($4.50 adults, $4.75 skate rental), and a little less ambiance. The hours are a little shorter as well, and vary from day to day. For a hardcore ice skater, this may be the place to come, but tourists looking for the ice skating experience should probably stick to the afore mentioned options.
  5. The Kate Wollman Rink in Brooklyn is a local hangout, but a good break from Manhattan, and in beautiful Prospect Park. Unfortunately, night skating is only a Friday and Saturday night event here, but for daytime fun it’s worth a spin around the rink. Adults pay $5 and skate rentals are $6. Check the website above for hours.