For Monday I dressed in the sweater and corduroy pants bunny_hugger gave me, and we set out for Manhattan.
Our main target was an evening dinner with her brother, in vaguely the same neighborhood we'd eaten in before. As is most convenient for me at least we took the bus up, since we'd really both prefer not to drive. Plus it gave the chance to talk about things like this video game she'd downloaded for her iPod. She'd loaned her Gameboy to her brother, so he would have some entertainment on the train ride back home after Christmas, and which turned into one of those sprawling, 26-day-long, delay- and catastrophe-plagued events that every long train travel involves. (In Amtrak's defense, much of this particular problem was the Boxing Day Blizzard shutting down the Northeast.)
But since he still had the game, and was working hard on a particular game, she wasn't going to press for it back. She'd instead given in to the suggestion of downloading a game for her iPod, this a particularly fascinating one. In it you're a spider, laying down webs in an abandoned house to catch enough insects to stay healthy; meanwhile, the rooms in the house leave a trail of clues about why the house was abandoned, and why it's in the state it's in. She started out just playing one or two levels to make sure it worked, and finding that boy this ws fun and look it starts a new level right away and maybe one more level ... you can see how these things build. We spent some time each night, and the ride up, going over the setting and the clues and what they implied.
When we got into Manhattan our first little objective was Bryant Park, because bunny_hugger had found there was a carousel there. I've been in Bryan Park and while I am in many ways a phenomenally oblivious person I couldn't see how it was I'd never noticed one there. It's not a very big park, about one city block, and, you know, a carousel isn't that tiny. But I do have this obliviousness, so, well, we couldn't spend all day tromping over that space and not find anything, right?
What we did find was, first, a skating rink: a temporary attraction provided by sponsors who threw all kinds of labels over things. They even had a temporary two-storey restaurant, in which we stopped to get something warm to eat and drink, as it was about 25 degrees below zero Kelvin out there. There also were the remnants of a number of little kiosks which had been selling things for the Christmas season. There were a handful still open, but for the most part it was mysterious names occasionally suggesting what might have been sold within. But no carousel.
But we took the park, even obstructed as the sight lines were, through one more systematic survey. And there, in front of the statue of Goethe, we found it: Le Carrousel, a tiny merry-go-round right there in Bryant Park. And I do mean tiny. This was the first carousel I've seen that was ever the half-scale model of itself. It's small enough to fit in the back of my subcompact. But it's also a fun little one, awfully charming, and if the exact collection of animals is a little eclectic that's a good thing.
The baffling thing is that from the signs around it you'd get the impression the carousel is only open November to February. But no, they don't do anything so daft as have a carousel open only from 11 am to 9 pm November through February, at least according to Bryant Park's web site. In the spring they run from 11 am through 7 pm, and from June to October they run from 11 am to 8 pm. This runs counter to my intuitive feeling of carousel weather. But, from November to January, on Friday and Saturday nights, it's open till 10 pm. Yes, that just raises even more questions.
The accursedly short day meant we were drawing close to sunset already, so we figured we should walk up to Central Park and try to make that carousel, which is open ``weather permitting'', an otherwise undefined term. Bryant Park defines permitting weather as ``not raining or snowing'', which boded well for Central Park, assuming they'd be on a similar definition.
So we went just a touch east and walked up past the Fifth Avenue storefronts, taking in the chance to accidentally stumble into other people's photographs about every twenty paces. (bunny_hugger was baffled by one taken in the middle of the street, but I understood the photographer's target --- the Chrysler Building --- and just why he'd gone there for the shot --- the upper levels are made so their color changes a lot with sun angle.) There was no real end of striking window fronts. One we lingered over included a portrait of The Nutcracker in an all-female cast that took us surprisingly long to decode considering the window identified what it was in the lower left corner. Another was set on a sort of Georges Melies-ish Moon with accompanying brass spaceship gear.
Now, where's the Central Park Carousel? Central Park, yes, but you need to be more specific to actually ride it. I had my theory about its location, which in retrospect would be a better idea of where the Central Park Zoo was. We tried following likely-looking paths, running across as we did the ice skating rink there. Eventually we yielded to being lost, and I took out my iPad and summoned its map. Before long we'd cracked the secret: I had to turn on the cellular data plan for the map to work. But we started walking with a stronger sense of we wanted to go north a little and turn left at one of the cross-roads, although our estimated location didn't quite seem to match where we were.
After passing a pair of women who asked if we might know where the carousel was --- they tried going the perpendicular direction to ours --- we walked underneath a bridge and found the building! And found that it was closed! Presumably around sunset, which it was now past, because around New Year's the sun sets in New York City about 2:15 pm. But we'd proven the concept, at least, and the pair of women came around finding the carousel just in time for us to all agree that we thought it'd be open later. The building didn't list any hours at all, nor weather conditions.
We wanted yet to go back south to Rockefeller Center and that tree, but we also wanted to go somewhere warm. And we knew just the spot based on where we were: the rather famous glass-cube Apple Store. Not only is it nearby (it's pretty much opposite the southeast corner of the park), and open all day every day (which we didn't know), but it also has clean bathrooms open to the public (don't go to Manhattan without knowing where you can find clean bathrooms).
The Apple Store, which by coincidence was hosting the entire population of Communipaw, New Jersey, that day, was warm and had the clean bathrooms as anticipated. And we looked about for a game I'd only recently learned existed, the new expansion pack for Roller Coaster Tycoon 3. The game first came out around 2005 or so, and this expansion came out for Windows around 2006, so you can't say they were rushing this into print. With the help of a kid who overheard us not finding it, we found it. Unfortunately, the game requires one of those fancy new Intel Macs which have been on sale for only half a decade now, and mine is the very last model of PowerPC Mac. So it's not so bad I didn't get it for Christmas.
We walked back down Fifth Avenue, giving us a fresh look at the windows under slightly darker conditions, and came to Rockefeller Center by way of the British Empire Building. From this approach we couldn't resist stopping into the Lego Store, among other things because of the rather huge dragon they have poking out the storefront windows. The dragon runs along the inside, too, right up to hover over a Lego model of Rockefeller Center (which includes an extra miniature of the dragon in the Lego store). The Lego Rockefeller Center has the sort of little humorous bits, often of people falling over, that these projects can hardly avoid. We didn't buy anything, but the bins of bricks arranged like loose candy were nice to fantasize about. I wonder how many bricks the employees walk over while vacuuming up at night.
The tree was enormous and well-lit as usual and I even got video of the lights in their sparkle mode. And we saw the zamboni clearing the rink, for our third ice-skaing rink and second zamboni-clearing of the day. (The one in Bryant Park was cleaned while we drank cocoa.) And we stopped in the NBC Store to marvel at how much of their merchandise was still based on Seinfeld or Friends even though those shows have been off the air for over 35 years already. I was disappointed not to find any of the NBC Chimes for sale; they'd previously had a miniature xylophone with the right pieces for that network identification tone. Possibly these weren't big sellers (they also didn't have plush dolls of Polly the NBC Peacock, inexplicably), or possibly people toying with them had finally driven staff mad and they were removed to make the workplace tolerable.
With the purchase of a couple of trinkets we took the subway down to where we expected to meet bunny_hugger's brother. I sincerely believed the place to go was the West Fourth Street exit and then wander a few blocks, since the restaurant was on East Fifth Street, and we could get to that subway just by getting on the F train at Rockefeller Center, which we did, and hopping off just ten minutes later with twenty minutes to get to the restaurant. This would be excellent timing for us.
And that step went excellently well. It was that little part between the subway and the restaurant which went wrong. There was apparently a transfer which would have been better and which Google Maps had not made clear when we looked it up the previous night. We ended up wandering, a lot, and this is the part of Manhattan where the decent proper grid gives way to undifferentiated chaos, so just knowing that we were around Eighth Street was not helpful in getting us to Fifth Street. My iPad came back to serve as direction-finder again, and we reached the restaurant not so horribly late, really. They hadn't even given our table away. (They didn't really reserve tables.)
So, dinner with bunny_hugger's brother: it was at a ramen place, a kind I haven't actually eaten at since leaving Singapore. It makes for a very warm and somewhat spicy meal, particularly in the cold. And we had fine talk about what we're all up to these days, and his brother's band, and the spider game which has been enthralling us. And it turned out he'd finished the GameBoy game so was able to return it. And he might even be recording a new album soon.
After inner we left for another restaurant for dessert, something bunny_hugger thinks of as a particularly New York City thing to do and which I guess kind of is. It feels a little odd to me too. But her brother knew a place with quite satisfying cakes and pies and a surprisingly unsettling bathroom. How to make a bathroom unsettling? Well, first, make its footprint a trapezoid rather than a rectangle; right away that makes it subtly wrong. Wallappering it in amber with just-plain-old-house patterning helps. And then add small circular mirrors all over the walls and at odd places so that you get glimpses of yourself looking back at you. The effect's creepy enough you might not even notice the sink works by foot pedals.
And on returning home we realized that, yes, we could've done better on picking subway stops. And that we'd overlooked going to the Ripley's museum even though our longstanding interest in weird stuff while not believing it should make it a great attraction for us. But it was late, after all, and we did have plans for the next day.
Trivia: New York's Crystal Palace, built for the 1853 Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, was built in what is now Bryant Park, just west of the reservoir. It had four wings of equal length at right angles, made of iron and glass (except the floors), and considered fireproof. Source: The Epic Of New York City: A Narrative History, Edward Robb Ellis.
Currently Reading: Discovery! The Search for Arabian Oil, Wallace Stegner. A circa 1971 book ``as abridged for Aramco World Magazone all about how the American oil industry in the 30s had brought Saudi Arabia into the modern world and healthy prosperity for all.