Category: New York City

A favourite Woodstock moment 48 years on

I’ve only been to upstate New York once – and that wasn’t anywhere near Bethel.

But I’ve recently found myself thinking about that part of the world and the event that, for me, really put Bethel on the map – the Woodstock music and art fair.

It’s 48 years since almost 500,000 people converged on the area over four days from August 15, 1969.

Woodstock 48 years on
A pivotal moment for an entire generation, Woodstock produced sounds and images that may never be forgotten.

Much of the festival has entered into folklore: Jimi Hendrix playing guitar with his teeth on ‘Star Spangled Banner’; Joe Cocker nailing the Beatles song ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’; or Ten Years After booming through ‘I’m Going Home’.

Scenes of the huge crowd chanting through a rainstorm, sliding in the mud and bathing in the dam have been published endlessly – and were part of an Academy Award winning documentary about the event.

But, my favourite moment of Woodstock didn’t even feature a musican.

It involved a crew-cut dairy farmer who is said to have supported the Vietnam War, but also believed in the right of free speech.

The late Max Yasgur had allowed the festival to take place on his land at Bethel, when others had declined.

And his speech to the hippie hordes was classic:

“I’m a farmer. I don’t know how to speak to 20 people at a time, let alone a crowd like this.

“But, I think you people have proven something to the world: half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music – and have nothing but fun and music – God bless you for it”.

Over the years, I’ve read reports that Max Yasgur and his family also freely handed out every bit of water and milk they could when the Woodstock crowd swelled dramatically.

This was a remarkable man indeed and, when he died in the early 1970’s, I was delighted to see him given a full-page obituary in Rolling Stone magazine – apparently one of the few non-musicians to have received such an honour.

It seems that, although he may not have agreed with all the sentiments of the counterculture, he actively defended the right to express those sentiments.

Max Yasgur, God bless you sir

New York: politics and the Naked Cowboy

I wondered how long it would take.

It seems that every so-called celebrity in the US has expressed an opinion on the Trump presidency.

But, there was one glaring omission: it took quite a while for anyone to seek  comment from one of the best known figures of Times Square – the busker who calls himself the ‘Naked Cowboy’.

Robert Burck, a strapping guitar player known for busking in his briefs, 10-gallon hat and boots, often poses for photographs with tourists wandering around Trump Tower.

New York friends tell me he has been doing his Naked Cowboy thing, regardless of the Big Apple’s weather, for about 18 years. In late 2015, an article on Time’s money.com website suggested that Burck made as much as $150,000 a year – mainly from tips and sponsorships.

And, in 2010, this New York City icon and avowed conservative briefly flirted with the idea of running for president himself.

All this considered, it’s about time the Naked Cowboy was asked for his views on the election.

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I was, therefore, delighted to see a recent article on the website of Business Insider Australia.

Quoting an upcoming interview with Burck in the January edition of The New Yorker magazine, the website described how The Naked Cowboy saw the President as a fellow “media whore”

“I have an affinity with Trump. I get him,” Burck is quoted as telling The New Yorker.

“We’re both media promoters, media whores, whatever you want to call it.

“People get hung up on political stuff, but I don’t care. Black, white, gay, transvestite — just stand up and make something of yourself.”

The Naked Cowboy apparently goes on to say that his wife is an illegal Mexican immigrant.

“Maybe she’ll be the next to be deported, who knows?

“I don’t think Trump would do that. But if he does, hey, that’s fate.

“Plus, it’s a nice thing to have hanging over her head — you know, ‘Do the dishes, or else.’”

Well, at least The New Yorker had the creativity to stray outside the usual predictable media formula of mainly interviewing other media.

If you are in New York City, check out the Naked Cowboy daily at around lunchtime in Times Square, 45th and Broadway. You may even hear him singing his theme song – unsurprisingly called “I’m the Naked Cowboy’.

He also has his own website.

Main photo courtesy Wikimedia and Alfred Hutter

New York series: where to explore in the Big Apple

Most people know the Statue of Liberty, Central Park and the World Trade Centre site – but here’s 16 more icons of New York City well worth seeing

1. Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) – 11 W 53rd Street

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Photo courtesy Wikimedia, Flickr and hibino
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A masterpiece

2. Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) – 36 W 44th Street

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Photo courtesy Wikimedia, Flickr and mister-e

3. Guggenheim Museum – 1071 5th Avenue

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4. M & M World – Times Square

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5. The High Line elevated garden – West 34th Street, from 10th & 12th avenues.

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6. Grimaldi’s famous pizzeria – 1 Front Street, Brooklyn

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7. Empire State Building – 350 5th Avenue

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8. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, Central Park

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9. Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi – 1021 6th Avenue

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10. The Hotel Chelsea – 222 West 23rd Street, between Seventh and Eighth avenues

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This famous hotel may be closed for renovations

11. Diana Ross Playground, Central Park – West 81st Street

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12. Times square commercial neighbourhood – West 42nd to West 47th 

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13. Macy’s Department Store – 151 West

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14. Bronx Zoo – 230 Southern Blvd. Bronx

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15. Ed Sullivan Theatre radio and TV studio – 1697 – 1699 Broadway

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In the days of David Letterman

The main photo shows New York City’s Staten Island Ferry which carries 22 million people a year between St. George on Staten Island and Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan.

The five mile, 25 minute ride provides a majestic view of New York Harbor and a no-hassle, even romantic, boat ride, for free!

 

New York: giant bridge on the road to Woodstock

“New York State throughway is closed, man”

As a teenager in Australia in 1969, those words by folk singer, Arlo Guthrie, at Woodstock, really struck a chord.

One day, I told myself, I’d see this throughway that literally became clogged by traffic headed for the legendary rock festival.

My opportunity came in recent years, when Sue and I passed the site of the Tappan Zee Bridge and its eventual replacement – known as ‘The new NY bridge’ – which is being built on the throughway near New York City’s northern suburbs.

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Promoted as possibly the biggest and most challenging bridge project in the US, it will be the widest on the planet, carrying at least 138,000 throughway vehicles a day across the Hudson River between Rockland County and Westchester.

The project – said to cost about US$3.98 billion – includes two parallel, 3.1 mile bridges about 25 miles north of New York City.

Although not scheduled for completion until 2018, the new bridge was already taking shape at the second widest point on the Hudson River.

Most of the substructure work—which includes piles and pier columns—is finished.

Construction continues with the ever-growing placement of steel-blue girders, road deck panels and stay cables on the iconic 419-foot main span towers.

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We were also keen to see the original crossing, an iconic cantilever structure that was apparently designed to last only about 50 years, but has been operating since about 1955.

An Internet search revealed that the 3.1-mile Tappan Zee crossing was named by 17th century Dutch settlers. The Tappan was apparently a native American tribe that once lived in the area – and the word ‘zee’ means sea in Dutch.

It’s been a long time since Woodstock, but I have ticked this one off my list.

And, in seeing the New York State throughway, man, I also got to view a massive and eye-opening engineering and design feat.

Main photo courtesy Pinterest and New York Daily news.com

A NYC oasis

It was a sunny Autumn day in New York City when we came across Trinity Wall Street.

Striding briskly through the frenzy of the city’s Financial District, in lower Manhattan, we were unexpectedly faced with an extraordinary sight – an old burial ground of tilting headstones, manicured green lawns and shady trees.

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Alongside this green oasis – in the shadows of surrounding skyscrapers – stood a magnificent old stone church built in the classic Gothic Revival style.

We meandered along the stone pathways of the graveyard to discover that we’d stumbled upon a venerable American institution – Trinity Wall Street Episcopal church and its famous 300-year-old cemetery.

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Photo courtesy: Village Voice

Apparently, the church site dates to 1697 when it was earmarked by the English King William 111 as the Anglican seat in the capital city.

There have been three church buildings on the site – near the corner of Wall Street and Broadway.

The current structure was built in 1846 and has been designated as a national historic landmark because of its architectural significance and place in the history of New York City.

We were told that, at the time of its completion, the 281 foot Neo-Gothic spire, surmounted by a gilded cross, dominated the skyline of lower Manhattan and was the highest point in New York until being surpassed in 1890 by the New York World Building.

Trinity became a welcoming beacon for ships sailing into New York Harbor.

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Pausing in the shady cemetery, we also discovered that the two-and-a-half-acre yard contained the tombstones and memorials of notable 18th Century New Yorkers, including many leading participants of the American revolution and the early years of Republic.

We were also intrigued by the obviously more modern bronze sculpture of a tree alongside Trinity Church.

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Apparently, the base of the sculpture is made from the roots of a huge sycamore tree that had stood for almost a century before it was flattened by falling debris from the nearby World Trade Centre after the September 11 terror attacks in 2001.

During the attack, people took refuge in Trinity from choking clouds of dust.

The tree sculpture carries a credit to artist, Steve Tobin.

Heading back into the busy Manhattan Financial District, we marvelled at the enormous contrast of such an oasis of calm and tranquility amid the hustle and bustle.

From Central Park to the High Line and Turtle Pond, such contrasts are not uncommon in New York City, where a special kind of beauty can await around almost any corner.

Main photo courtesy  Gigi alt (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

New York: find these six surprises

New York City constantly surprises.

As well as the usual attractions, there are many unexpected delights in a city of such astonishing diversity.

Thinking back to our last visit – in the warmth of the American fall – brings memories of unplanned adventures and priceless moments of quiet and beauty amid the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.

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Central Park Lake

For example, any traveller to the Big Apple should seek out the Loeb Boathouse and lake in NYC’s Central Park.

The boathouse itself is faintly reminiscent of a slower time when diners undoubtedly sipped drinks and chattered about boats slipping by on the adjoining lake.

We were fortunate enough to do both.

A boating excursion there is truly a world away from the big city. As you move across the water, there is no better view of the grand bridges of Central Park.

The lake covers 22 acres and contains many shady, quiet coves, partly hidden by overhanging trees. It is an amazingly peaceful place, set against a vivid city backdrop.

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Michael Friedsam Memorial Carousel

While in Central Park, don’t miss another surprising New York City attraction – a vintage carousel.

One of the biggest merry-go-rounds in the United States, the Michael Friedsam Memorial Carousel dates to 1908.

It has been a Manhattan institution for more than 60 years.

Not far away is Belvedere Castle, a tall stone structure which offers panoramic views over much of Central Park.

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Belvedere Castle in Central Park

The castle was intended to be a Victorian folly – a fantasy structure without a real purpose – but it served for many years as New York City’s official weather station.

While still in Central Park, don’t miss Strawberry Fields, a sombre but moving memorial to the late, great John Lennon. It is located directly opposite the Dakota building where Lennon was murdered.

An excellent way of viewing the Big Apple by night is to take a walk over one of the famous bridges that link the island of Manhattan with the mainland.

We were lucky enough to be guided over the Williamsburgh Bridge and it was a wonderful and unexpected experience to stand in the centre of the arch, feel the wind in your face and marvel at the noise of the city falling away in the breeze.

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And, of course, one of the most surprising of all activities in NYC is a ride on the Staten Island Ferry.

Dubbed as ‘one of the world’s greatest and shortest water voyages’, the five-mile ferry ride is free of charge and provides a perfect view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, as well as the skyscrapers and bridges of Manhattan.

New York: a humble tree you should find

The  best travel experiences are often the unexpected ones.DSCN0468

For example, the ‘Freedom Tower’ is a ‘must see’ for visitors to New York City.

Set amid the Financial District of Manhattan Island, the tower and its adjoining September 11 Memorial and Museum stand on the site of the former the World Trade Centre.

A striking view from all sides, the tower complex also contains an unexpected surprise.

While visitors marvel at the cascading waters of the North and South memorial pools and silently read the names of the  2,983 people who died in the Twin Towers, it’s easy to overlook a humble pear tree standing nearby.

Yet this pear means a lot to the Big Apple.

The survivor

Known as ‘The Survivor Tree’, the Callery Pear was pulled from the ruins of the World Trade Centre, where it had stood in the plaza area since the 1970’s.

The tree trunk was charred and covered with ash, but it refused to go down – and was nursed back to health at a local nursery.DSCN0469

After also surviving a massive storm in 2010, the pear tree was replanted in the grounds of the September 11 Memorial, as a living reminder of resilience, survival and rebirth.

Since then, the tree – which is surrounded by more than 400 Oaks in the eight  acre grounds of the memorial – increasingly has become an attraction in its own right – accepted as a living example of  the ability to bounce back from trauma.

Continuing the symbol

With the aim of keeping the Survivor Tree alive for coming generations of visitors, officials at the memorial propagated the fruit of the pear into seedlings, which have now grown into  saplings.

In years to come, a new generation of travellers may be able to visit the offspring of ‘The Survivor Tree’ standing in NYC’s Central Park or other prominent public places.

See directions for visiting the September 11 Memorial and don’t miss ‘The Survivor Tree’.