Tag Archives: Central Park

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Three Days, Two Skates and One Big Apple

In my rural village of a hundred souls we wait for a deep spell of cold, with little snowfall, to produce sturdy, pristine ice on the canal. Our natural rinks, spontaneously cleared by locals, last a few hours or a few days, eventually kiboshed by fluctuating temperatures, freezing rain or heavy snowpack. But while they last, those precious days are some of the most magical of the year.

In New York City, little is left to volunteers and Mother Nature’s whims. According to schedule, spaces are cleared, ice-making equipment is tuned up, and private and public outdoor rinks throughout the city are constructed. Lessons are booked, pick-up hockey is organized, and lovers ice skate by the light of the moon. From November to March, residents and visitors fulfill their winter fantasies.

I packed my skates and mapped out a plan to visit a number of iconic and lesser-known New York City ice rinks. But Mother Nature triumphed spectacularly.

We were bumped to an evening flight due to torrential downpours and strong winds, one of the hundreds of cancelled flights in and out of La Guardia that day. The next morning we woke up to this:

Bad weather in New York City

Flash flooding lay waste to the outdoor rinks and my carefully laid plans. But, by the evening, a few snowflakes had begun to fall and, the following morning, we were blessed with this:

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Jumping out of bed, I packed up and headed for a latte at Caffe Reggio,  Greenwich Village’s iconic coffee house and home of the first cappuccino machine in America.

Caffe Reggio in Greenwich Village, New York City

But it was a no go on the joe. Compliments of the Commissioner of  the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, the place was shut up tight. Disappointed? Yes. Somehow spared? Who’s to know? Cannoli at Pasticceria Rocco more than sufficed, and I grabbed the Q train to Brooklyn.

At 10:00am on a Thursday, Prospect Park was empty except for an odd dog walker. Designed by Olmsted and Vaux, it is a mini-Central Park, created in the mid-19th century to attract the wealthy and accommodate the needs of the commuter suburb of Brooklyn, at the time, the third-largest city in the U.S. after NYC and Philadelphia.

I was the third person to step onto the immaculate ice surfaces at the LeFrak Centre, which includes two rinks, one covered and one open air with generous views of Prospect Lake. Maybe two dozen people showed up in total, but I was as good as alone. Plenty of room to skate my heart out to the piped-in tunes of Wham’s Last Christmas and the Eagles’ Take it Easy. ($6 adult entry fee, $6 skate rental)

Ice skating rinks in New York City, Prospect Park Ice skating rinks in New York City Ice skating rinks in New York City, Prospect Park

I skipped a 37-stop bus ride to Brooklyn’s other outdoor rink, opting for Manhattan and the South Street Seaport, a micro-rink in the original port of NYC…

Ice skating rinks in New York City, South Street Seaport Ice skating rinks in New York City, South Street Seaport

…a snowball’s throw from here:

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It may not be the largest or fanciest of the outdoor rinks, but it’s worth checking out for the area’s East River location, history, architecture and artisanal stores and restaurants.  ($10 entry fee; $6 skate rental – but I didn’t see a kiosk so I skated for free)

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I hated to rush off,  but at 4:45pm I had a date with Husband (and a Zamboni) at the rink at The Standard Highline Hotel in the Meatpacking district.

In the mid-winter cloak of early darkness, small children clung to oversized penguins for balance, chopping their way across the ice. Their parents sat rinkside with hot drinks, under the glow of heat lamps that made the breezy outdoors comfortable. The lounge, entered through bright yellow revolving doors, is separated from the elements by floor to ceiling glass and offers a helluva view of the inside and outside action. It’s lively and  romantic. It would be the perfect place to try skating on a first date: intimate and easily accessible to alcohol.

Ice skating rinks in New York City, The Standard High Line Ice skating rinks in New York City, The Standard High Line Hotel

We drank the most excellent mugs of hot chocolate and Bailey’s until Hayley and Tenzin showed up with their “baby” Zamboni. It’s really a modified golf cart, complete with plastic tanks of water and a switch-operated blade.

Of course I begged them to drive it, telling them it’s every Canadian’s dream. Americans dream of growing up to be President; we’re content to drive the Zamboni.

Hayley cleared the rink of the little people and their penguins and Tenzin gave me guidance. I drove in an ordered pattern, careful not to slide into the plexiglass boards. I would not be lying if I told you I shouted “I’m driving the Zamboni!!” at random passer-bys, who mostly chose to ignore me. Parents waited with their small kids by the rink wondering when the weirdo would get off the cart and let them skate already.

I ended by flooring the accelerator, pulling doughnuts in the middle of the tiny rink, and laughing maniacally. I don’t know, maybe it was kind of weird. A million thanks to DD and JG for making this slice of craziness happen. ($12 entry fee, $3 skate rental)

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Midtown’s Bryant Park rink has a lot going for it, besides being free: It is ample in size, generous in its siting, convenient in its location and, at this time of year, surrounded by a Christmas market and food kiosks. It opens at 7am, much earlier than any other rink, so it’s possible to catch a skate while the sun rises, before heading off to work or in lieu of a morning run.

At midday, it was busy but not crowded, filled with school kids on skates for the first time, clinging to the boards, holding hands with their besties for balance, and grinning from ear to ear. The place overflowed with happiness.

Ice skating rinks in New York City, Bryant Park Ice skating rinks in New York City, Bryant Park Ice skating rinks in New York City, Bryant Park Ice skating rinks in New York City, Bryant Park Ice skating rinks in New York City, Bryant Park Ice skating rinks in New York City, Bryant Park

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Just seven blocks up 5th Avenue from Bryant Park, Rockefeller Centre, home of the world’s most famous skating rink, is world’s away in its experience.

I’m not a big fan of crowds, and this area of midtown, the epicentre of consumerism, is crazed at this time of the year. Turning onto 49th, I felt my mood souring. By the time I reached the rink, encircled and smothered in people, I was in a New York State of Mind, and not in a good way. Down the stairs I pressed, towards the tiny ticket office and a young staff member indifferent to my questions. 12:30pm – 45 minutes away – was the next open slot, and I wasn’t prepared to wait amidst the crowds for an opportunity to skate on a postcard-sized rink for $30 plus a bag check. It was less about the money and more about the opposite of happiness that was creeping up my gullet.

I turned and pushed my way back up the stairs, my patience and manners lost in the rush. I headed towards 6th and up to Central Park. I needed some space far more than I needed to scratch Rockefeller rink off my list.

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Sixth Avenue ends at Central Park. I crossed 59th, avoiding the pedicab and horse drawn carriage solicitations, and headed straight into the park, curving slightly to the left, and then gently to the right. In just a few moments, the Trump Rink – or Wollman as everyone still calls it –  appeared below, sheltered in a shallow bowl. Of course it is a perfect place for a skating rink; nothing in Central Park is left to chance.

Ice skating rinks in New York City, Wollman Rink, Central Park

The skaters of all ages, shapes and sizes flit about in dark contrast and long shadows against the sparkling white ice. The sun dominates the highrises, creating a fuzzy white light that mutes the buildings and trees, easing their outlines against the sky. I look away and see the vivid sharpness of the winter sky; I face the sun and am draped in a veil of dreaminess.

It costs $11.25 for an adult to skate during the week, but it is Friday afternoon and, apparently, Friday afternoon is really the weekend, and so it is $18 even and $6 for a locker rental. No music blares; the sounds are of laughter and delightful conversation and a little traffic if you listen really closely. I can best describe them as the sounds of gratitude: for the sunny day, the rosy cheeks, the joy of being alive, of learning something new, of an old or new body moving, even slowly at first.

I could stay here all day but I am pulled by a schedule and other desires, as I always am. I trade a visit to the Lasker Rink at 110th in the Bronx for a short visit to the Anna Wintour Costume Center at the Met to see Death Becomes Her and try hard to not think about what I’ve missed. (Stay in the moment, stay in the moment, stay in the moment and you will know you’ve made a good trade.)

I head down 5th with my magical skates thrown over my shoulder, and so many strangers smile in recognition. I toss them under the table in the bar where Husband and I sit down for a drink and they are a conversational opener.

“I’ve skated the city,” I tell Lisa and Charlie, who have inquired about my adventures. I give them my card and tell them this very story.

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Bethesda Terrace’s Magical Minton Ceiling

Like other great cities, New York is a museum unto itself. It is possible to visit and never set foot inside any building – save for your hotel – and come away filled to the aesthetic brim. It’s all eye candy: the people, the architecture, the street art, the signs of wear, seasonal changes, the movement of everything, the intentional and unintentional.

The Minton tile ceiling design is made up of 15,876 individual encaustic tiles. These are divided between 49 panels. There are two repeated panel designs that differ only in the central motif being either large or small. Each panel is made up of 324 tiles. The tiles were fixed to cast iron back plates by a simple brass ‘dovetail bolt’. This ingenious fixing used a special slot in the back of each tile that was produced by inserting a wedge-shaped piece of wood that burnt out during firing. The head of the bolt could then be fitted and cemented for extra strength (Figure 2). Once in place, the protruding bolt was threaded through the back plate and secured with a nut (Figure 3). Each back plate was held in place by a grid of structural cast iron work attached to the Arcade stone and brickwork (Figure 4). 

Many private buildings in NYC restrict public access for reasons of privacy and security, so gems like the Woolworth Building are no longer open to common curiosity seekers. But for every inaccessible space, there are ten public jewels like Bethesda Terrace.

Although it appears to be natural, every detail in Olmsted and Vaux’s Central Park plan was purpose-built.  Bethesda Terrace, adjacent to the park’s 72nd Street Cross Drive, too, was purposely designed and implemented by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey to be “a place of social gathering.”1  Standing on the footbridge above, onlookers are presented with a lovely view of the terrace, fountain and lake. But its subterranean delights are well-concealed; the tiles aren’t visible until you descend the staircase and step inside.

I was triply rewarded for my visit: a bright sunny day cast dramatic shadows, furnishing high contrast between dark and light; the Peace Industry Music Group provided a breathtaking musical accompaniment in a cathedral-quality sound space; and nearly 16,000 magnificent Minton tiles, flanked by frescoes, stretched from one end of the arcade to the other.

Bethesda Terrace Minton Tiles Bethesda Terrace Minton Tiles

This is one of the most important installations of Minton tiles in the United States. Others include the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC and the exhibition display collection housed in the Smithsonian.  Bethesda Terrace is the only known use of Minton encaustic tiles in a suspended ceiling2

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As if I wasn’t already agog at the tiles, I plunked myself down on the floor to stare at, listen to and photograph the beauty of the Peace Industry Music Group. Like a modern Van Trapp family, the group includes seven of nine siblings, plus guest players, led by father John Valiant Boyd.  The singing begins @ 2:30.

I returned one rainy morning and had the place mostly to myself. With a book and a thermos of coffee I could have tucked up in a niche and spent the day reading to my heart’s content, a sublime woman-cave in the picturesque heart of the city. Alas, my tile obsession – and corresponding list of must-sees – got the better of me, and off I went in search of the next treasure trove.

Bethesda Terrace Minton Tiles Bethesda Terrace Minton Tiles

Resources:
Minton Tile Ceiling, Bethesda Terrace, New York by Danny Callaghan July, 2013 http://www.madeinstaffordshire.com/thepotteriestiletrail/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/TACS-GE71-Minton-Tile-Ceiling-Article-copy.pdf

 


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bethesda_Terrace 

  2. http://www.victorianamagazine.com/archives/12299 

StudioloGubbio

CurioCabinet: Studiolo Gubbio

In our family, turning six entitled the birthday child to a five-day trip to New York with Mamma.

It was a mutually beneficial ruse: I enjoyed a big-city adventure roughly every eighteen months and they got my undivided attention and an itinerary to match their interests.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art became a staple.  Set on the edge of Central Park on Museum Mile, it is child-centric – without earnestly striving to be so – and offers a gorgeous building containing a near-bottomless reservoir of eclectic man-made miracles.

On that first trip with my eldest son, Dante, we made a beeline for the Arms and Armor Collection, the Egyptian Collection and the European Sculpture Court. What we accidentally discovered was a private study carefully crafted from walnut, beech, rosewood, oak and fruitwoods in the trompe l’oeil style.

Credit: Rogers Fund, 1939     www.metmuseum.org

Federico da Montefeltro (1422-1482), Duke of Urbino in the Marches, a leading military figure in Quattrocento Italy, was also famous for his knowledge and understanding of the arts. In the palace of his capital of Urbino he created a studiolo, a small room for study, decorated with a lavish wall paneling of intarsia, or precious inlaid woods, that was completed about 1476. The redesign of his palace at Gubbio, following plans by Francesco di Giorgio Martini, also began that year. Once again, Tuscan artists outfitted another studiolo with panels of intarsia. This time they emphasized the duke’s personal devices and such attributes of learning as musical and scientific instruments, skillfully executed from designs of great refinement. (www.metmuseum.org)

When I saw the Studiolo Gubbio I recognized perfection.

I was awestruck and heartbroken, knowing that I could never make anything so creative, intricate and powerful.  The Studiolo was not born of a generalist like me, but of three masters of their craft.   With flawless execution, the ingenious craftsmen tricked observers into seeing three-dimensional objects where only two existed.  When I saw these panels I grasped the overwhelming impulse of humans to possess great works of art and craft.  Why would plain walls do when these exist?

The scale of the Studiolo is human, but it has lost its original context like so many other precious and desirable objects cloistered in museums and private galleries. This room was once in a house – albeit a large one – alive with daily activity and usefulness.  There is gain for gallery visitors like myself, but there is a measure of loss, too.  The Studiolo is no longer animated.  Its voices are silent and its lively narrative closed.

While I could never afford something as precious as the Studiolo Gubbio, inspiration flows freely.  We returned home and I set out to create a modest studio for Dante.  I painted the floor, panelled the walls, created a Greek alphabet frieze, and painted a magnetic wall map of the world.  There he strategized battles and moved his ships and explorers to the far corners of his imagination.

The look on his face while he played?  Priceless.

 More images and history of Studiolo Gubbio are available here.