Catacombs, Pudding, and Holland Taylor

Maybe rats and other creepy crawlies come to mind when thinking of the underground world of New York City. You take the subway? You’ve probably seen a rat. In fact, you take the subway, you’ve probably seen some things. Lots of things. Anyway, this is not about subways. This is about what’s underground in NYC, and if you go to the old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, you’ll find catacombs. You can tour them by candlelight, and you can keep the candle and keep lighting it as long as the battery has juice because it’s not a real candle because there was already a fire there once, so the non-fire candle is a safer way to take a tour.

Tommy of Tommy’s New York came into the air conditioned holding room across from the church to say hello and explain that the tour is so popular that he splits up the groups and has two guides go in opposite directions. It seems that everyone wants to see a catacomb by candlelight. What you may not be expecting is that in addition to catacombs, the tour goes through a church and through the cemetery grounds and you get a tour guide who has a tiny projector to show you neat pictures of people who were buried. You learn gossipy history. You learn stuff while underground holding a candle!

Things we learned (oh! “we” refers to my officemates and me):

  1. People used to bury their loved ones in the catacombs and then go into the catacombs to pray because the catacombs were kept open.
  2. People learned that open catacombs could start to smell, so the catacombs were sealed and reopened and sealed and reopened.
  3. Exit signs glow in the eeriest way underground.
  4. The Ancient Order of the Hibernians protected old St. Patrick’s so no one could set fire to it, and the wall surrounding the cemetery is a fortified wall.
  5. I cannot spell cemetery correctly on the first try. I keep writing cemetary. I’m a teacher.
  6. The Italian family that started Italian restaurants in NYC is buried there.
  7. There’s a crypt that was left unlocked which means it’s accessible and no one has come back to lock it and it’s got Edison light bulbs in it along with some very expensive marble and tile because, although you can’t take it with you, you can for dang sure come close.
  8. Boss Tweed came up, and it was super interesting, and I can’t remember any of it (grief fog!), but I do remember that two guys who didn’t like each other very much are buried next to each other.
  9. Getting buried there is way expensive.
  10. I would not want the job of cranking the wheel to make the Erben Organ make sound.
  11. Sheep need a vacation.

After the grand tour, we got coupons to places to eat nearby! Though we didn’t use the coupons, we did head over to Rice to Riches for rice pudding. The signage alone overwhelmed me. I had to order at a counter–one of my top non-favorite things to do in life–and there were vats of pudding to choose from and then more signs. Worth it. I finished almost all of my pudding before realizing that my insides might try to climb out from the effects of eating so far out of the  norm. However, a bowl of Be My Banana Coconut is simply irresistible and worth anything that could possibly happen as aftermath–and nothing happened so I clearly make good choices.

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Like I joined Entertainment Weekly’s panel and got invited to the Crosby Hotel for a preview of the second season pilot of Mr. Mercedes. It’s a show on the Audience Network through AT&T Direct Now. That means I cannot watch the show at home, but it sure was thrilling. After the viewing, there was a Q&A with three main cast members and a producer: Brendon Gleeson, Holly Gibney, Holland Taylor, and Jack Bender. Thrilling again! I was especially gleeful to see Holland Taylor. Don’t ask me why. I simply got giddy. She’s so elegant!

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Let’s add this all up, okay? Three things in one day. This might go down in history as the day I did the most things ever. And also a day when I learned I can eat a vat of rice pudding, watch one episode of a show I’ll likely not see again, AND tour the underground of NYC without bumping into a rat. A good day, right there.

 

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Forts!

My brother the history teacher/photographer and I the poet/all around geek set out on another tour of almost-edge-of-central New York. This time, it was all about artillery. The plan didn’t specify “see as many cannons as possible in one day,” but our touring led us to do just that. In addition to cannons, we also saw creepy things, maps, sweeping landscapes, and torrential downpours followed by walls of humidity that we felt and breathed in as well. Basically, it was your typical summer day of I Love NY frolicking.

We first stopped at Knox something or other. It’s not very memorable because we couldn’t go inside. It was a building. There was a sign covered in bugs I’d  never seen before. There was a guy with a parks shirt on who disappeared. So then we left. Fun times.

We made our way to the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor which is on the grounds of Washington’s final cantonment. Here is a word I cannot pronounce no matter how many times I hear it. It’s like a fancy word for camp. The Hall of Honor is one of the saddest places I’ve ever visited–and I’ve visited Dachau. The museum shows the history of the Purple Heart and houses the only known original patch from when Washington first created the honor. The entire history of its development is on display.  Many veterans were quoted as saying it’s the honor you don’t want to get (because you have to be injured in battle to earn it) but it’s the one that makes them most proud. We watched a film that documents veterans sharing stories of how they earned their Purple Heart, and some of them earned more than one. I sat there feeling pretty pathetic and sad. Anything I can do for a veteran, Purple Heart or not, I’m always up for because I know I couldn’t possibly be in the military ever.

We checked for our uncle in the roll call. He’s not listed so we got the information on how to get him on there. If you know someone who’s earned a Purple Heart, have them fill out this information and get listed. They deserve it.

The cantonment was a whole other kind of place but in the same place. I think it’s set up for kids because there were things to touch and lift and poke at. There was a whole lower level of artillery. Quite a few cannons. You think you’ve seen one and you’ve seen em all, but nope! The French decorated their cannons like dolphins!

The grounds sprawl more than they seem from the entrance. We found all kinds of structures, some that had original pieces like doors and battens. There was a hole in the floor in one building and we found out it was because of groundhogs. We didn’t see any animals, but after that, I was on high alert.

Keeping with the theme of Washington, we headed towards his headquarters. Which was under construction with a new roof and some other things happening across the grounds. It didn’t exactly scream authentic from the outside with all the pick up trucks and equipment, but the inside was preserved as if Washington were still there. We got a personal tour because no one else was taking the tour at the time we arrived. We learned that people from that time period slept sitting up or grown men had to share beds that seemed to be children’s sized. All these beds folded for travel.

Also, at that time, if you wore glasses, you were thought to be disabled and weak and shunned. Washington wrote in really big handwriting, and only once did he put on his glasses in front of his men. They saw it as a sign that the war was taking its toll even on the great Washington. This is why I wear contacts.

Onto Fort Montgomery! Where the skies opened and rain basically plopped down all at once. This kind of rain was the kind that didn’t cool anything off and made the outdoors seem like invisible soup. From fog comes cool photos, though. Plus, my brother and I found the Appalachian trail, a trail we once tried to hike together several years ago but wound up on different mountains and never met up. We finally made it together at Fort Montgomery. We didn’t go very far, though, because mud.

After overhearing a very confusing conversation between my brother and me about geography and my lack of spatial understanding, a woman behind the counter offered to show a film to us. We watched and  learned a bit more about the attacks during the war. Out in the lobby, there were more firearms plus mannequin-like men in positions of being in battle that was off-putting for my tastes. See? This is why I can’t be in the military. I can’t even hack it with fake soldiers.

After that, we arrived at Stony Point State Park. We had an animal encounter but it was okay because we were in the car and it was in the woods. They have a lighthouse and a small museum. They also have an outdoor set up of what a military camp might look like. Plus, all the way at the top of the hill, there’s a lookout point. Plus plus, another cannon.

 

We traced many wins and losses that day. Spoiler alert: We won the war.

To celebrate, we found a diner and ate while the second round of torrential downpour spouted out of the skies. By the time we were done, the sun was shining again and we walked out into a wall of thick heat that made my brother’s glasses fog up. And that’s why I wear contacts.

All About The Benjamin. Franklin.

Art. Fitness. Drizzling. Parks. Sweets. History. Philadelphia has all this stuff in a very walkable way.

Side note: Every time I write Philadelphia, I can’t spell it right the first time. What vowel would you like to put after the L? I like every vowel that isn’t A first. Why is this happening? Anyway.

S and I have been attempting a day trip since February. Finally, we found a day in July. Then we had to move the date again because I pulled my neck out by taking out my ponytail holder and couldn’t drive for a few days. True story. This is what a grieving body feels like.

In a rather straight-shot-quick-drive, we got to Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, late morning. Very exciting! We parked in the space I reserved in a garage in the city’s hub. Very exciting! We walked out of the parking garage. Very exciting! We walked right into the middle of a protest that was toeing the line between super-activist and semi-hostile. Very terrifying!

Right down the street, however, were some lovely statues dedicated to some of our Founding Fathers! Very exciting!

Public art is one of my favorite things, so we found sculptures and statues (many of Benjamin Franklin) and seemingly permanent sidewalk art. I definitely wanted to see the Love sculpture to see what it was like compared to the one in NYC. We quickly found that there’s an additional love sculpture in translation! And we found a banner that I was convinced said love. And it did not.

Also, there are fountains. One in particular you can swim in even though the bottom of it has big black lettering that says No Swimming. Maybe only kids can swim in it. Maybe the lettering should say No Diving. On a super hot day, this is the place to be because there’s a really nice mist that comes off the jets, and it smells like chlorine, so I didn’t feel as if I were contracting malaria as I walked around.

Philadelphia has an art museum! We didn’t go into the art museum. I didn’t see a whole lot of people go inside. Instead, most people ran up the steps because that’s what Rocky did and everyone loves Rocky. The Rocky statue is not at the top as I thought it was. It’s on the sidewalk next to the museum, so if you want to meet Rocky and not climb the steps, you’re welcome. S ran up about four times in total and then a few more in just the top half. There are a lot of steps and a lot of landings and then a lot more steps. I ran up the second two sets once. Same Rocky vibe.

While we missed hearing the Wanamaker Organ, we saw it. It’s in Macy’s. Also in Macy’s is a gigantic eagle that’s so heavy that the floor under it is reinforced. That’s German artistry for ya.

We found our way to a bank of sweet shops and had at it. Franklin Fountain has a bunch of different ice creams and intriguing drinks that include phosphates. I don’t know what the heck that means, but I got a Hemingway’s Dream because, you know, Hemingway.

Shane’s Confectionery neighbors the fountain, so we went there and saw all the candy in the world. A few blocks away is Rocket Fizz that also sells candy in addition to toys and weird flavored soda–like Ranch Dressing flavored soda.

Two history-related activities for us were seeing the Liberty Bell (Me: Did you want to see the Liberty Bell? S: Uh, sure) and seeing the Betsy Ross House from the outside (Us: Hey, there’s Betsy Ross’s house.) The Liberty Bell wasn’t crowded, but no one really felt the need to wait their turn to take a photo. My photo captures that essence perfectly, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Philadelphia shuts down pretty early. We criss-crossed the city all day and towards dusk, we found one more love statue. Then we headed home after a day of dabbling in almost every category a full vacation week might include. Much needed and a long time coming. Great day. Great friend.

 

 

Tesla, My Neon-Bright Love

IMG_1068Nikola Tesla invented. From his mind circa the 1880s came electricity. Okay, not exactly, but his inventions harnessed power and revolutionized technology. Also, he’s been popping up in my life in various ways. Remember that time my brother and I went daytripping in StonyBrook and stumbled across the Tesla exhibit? Remember that time I trounced around NYC and stumbled across the random street sign for Tesla? Remember that time I was on vacation and the hotel tv was playing a series about Tesla non-stop? Remember that time Tesla opened for Def Leppard at Jones Beach? Okay, different Tesla, but still. And but really? Is it different? Anyway, Tesla needs me. Maybe I need him.

In fact, if you’ve been at any of my recent poetry readings, you know I need him. I’ve been writing about him. If you know this, then you also know he’s the basis of my next collection. Poetry needs Tesla, too.

The best way to discover why our mutual affinity has been growing was to attend his birthday celebration. You might say, But wait, isn’t he, like, no longer among the living? To that I say, What’s your point? Wardenclyffe is still standing.

Out in Shoreham, Tesla did some things. His lab is there along with the remains of his tower of power–just the base squares in a circular pattern on the ground. The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe plans to reopen the grounds as a science center. Right now, it’s still kind of desolate, but it serves quite nicely as a place for a birthday celebration.

This year, they held the Neon Birthday Expo. The expo included tours of the grounds, robotics demonstrations, tables of local artists and science-related clubs and organizations, a neon tent dedicated to neon things, and a PSEG table from which I scored another new pair of free sunglasses. All my sunglasses are now sponsorships. Tesla cars lined up and showed off.

I was in my nerdy geeky techy love glory. Moseying along the nature path. Moseying around the perimeter of the grounds. Moseying through the neon tent and then moseying quickly out because it was about 1000 degrees inside. (All the moseying was due to the day being really hot and we were all in direct sunlight. Which is actually a good thing because it was a birthday celebration and birthday parties should be sunny. )

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Find Clayton Orehek for all your neon art needs.

The keynote speaker was Gregory Olsen. Um, you guys, he’s an astronaut.  This totally made up for my not being able to find the astronaut at BEA. 

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Kyle Driebeek played Happy Birthday on the theramin. If you don’t know what that means, click this link because the link is better than any way I might attempt to describe it.

Then, there was cake. I shit you not. They had two sheet cakes complete with Tesla’s face on them.

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I’m looking forward to the day when we can head out to Wardenclyffe when it’s all decked out as a science center. It’d be one step closer to meeting the man himself. In the meantime, there’s always Belgrade.

Oh, and this. Because I like to amuse myself.

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On Aviation

Aviation2018 (1)When the Cradle of Aviation Museum asks you to take a survey in exchange for two free passes, the answer should be Sure thing! You know that was my answer. That’s how I wound up taking my mom on a whirlwind tour of the history of aviation.

Fact: Museums in the summer see their fair share of camp kids.

Luckily, we got there right before camp kid lunch time, so we found ourselves amid hoards of same-shirt-wearing children for only one segment of our tour. The museum actually got pretty quiet even with the sounds of different planes and a myriad of short films throughout each period of time.

Then we met Joel. This guy knows his stuff. He operated the replica of a plane to show us how the propeller moves and how the tail comes down. More than that, though, he gave us tidbit after tale regarding planes, war, and technology. We parted ways somewhere between the world wars but then met up again in the space age. That’s when he and my mom exchanged Where We Were When stories about the moon landing and then Woodstock. We sat in a replica of what I’m going to call a space cockpit. It was tiny, even for me. I asked Joel about height and he was like, yes, there was a limit.

You know what’s not limited though? Dreams. Yeah, that’s right.

Speaking of, the museum is opening a new exhibit on space in September. Which means we’re most likely going back because even more space.

Before leaving, we got to chatting with Joel about my brother the history teacher and then about how I teach right next door. He was like, Hold on a minute. He went to his office and came back with a walking tour of campus. (Campus used to be military grounds). I’m really looking forward to seeing campus in a new way!

Outside, Joel showed us the plaque declaring the grounds a historic site. (We need to get one of those for campus, too.) I’ve gotta say, jiving with our own personal tour guide was such an unexpected delight. Go to the museum on a summer Friday afternoon, and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to get one, too.

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Hyde Park Hudson

The Roosevelt clan has an intricate history that can get convoluted in many branches of their family tree across New York. Teddy Roosevelt was all the rage two years ago when my brother and I visited Sagamore Hill. This year, we turned our sights to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, his wife but also his distant-some-number-removed cousin. Don’t ask me to explain it. The tree is confusing. Ask a park ranger. They know everything.

Incidentally, I’d just seen that sprawling tribute to FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt in DC, so I was primed for this occasion.

We got up to the Roosevelt headquarters in time for a tour of the home. Because we were a small group, we fit on the little tram that took us from the park building to the house. A distance of maybe a three minute walk, so we felt kind of silly taking a ride. But what were we gonna do? Be jerks and say, Nope! We’re better than all of you and prefer to walk! Jerk move, no thank you.

The views from the back of the house sparkle and gleam. The inside of the house is mostly roped off (and we couldn’t go upstairs because it was hot and there was  no A/C, and again, we wouldn’t have minded, but again, we’re not going to be the jerks). The most interesting thing about the house is the glass walkway installed over the stairs and ramp from the foyer into the office. It preserves not only the physical materials but also the fact that a President of the United States who was nominated and then elected for four terms did all that while needing the assistance of 10-pound braces and a wheelchair. We need more of that can-do attitude these days. And maybe a bit more of a return to class. At least, like, civility. At least, like, in public.

We moved onto the library. Fact: The FDR Presidential Library was the first presidential library and he used it while in office. This is the point of a library. This library has his car in the basement, too. Letters to the president hang on the wall, and not all of them are complimentary. One guy wrote a letter to say how he was disappointed in his vote for FDR. Someone else sent him a recipe.

The exhibit showed posters from the world wars, complete with an alert at the beginning to warn that there would be insensitive references to Japanese Americans. There was not warning that it would also have completely sexist materials, but I guess that’s just, like, everything, so no warning needed. I kept thinking, oh that might be racist, and, hmm, that’s got a bit of the racism. Then I turned a corner and saw a poster that started out Jappy Jappy, and was like, ahhh, there’s the racism. Which means that racism appears on lots of levels from subtle to in-yo-face. The sexism I simply stopped taking note of. Because I’m a girl. Thinking is hard.

These posters really made me realize how much World War II was the main focus of life in the United States at that time. One war played part in the country taking a turn for the worse. Then another war made the country start to thrive. Everyone had a part. Don’t travel because traveling is for the troops! Rationing means the troops get to eat! Gossip gets troops killed! Hey, Ladies, write a letter to a fella!

Another Fact: The iconic Rosie The Riveter campaign did not catch on until much later as part of widespread nostalgia and a move towards feminism.

It would be nice if one day we could have peace unite us and thrive on that. The military’s goal would be to help in times of natural disaster and need. It would be really, really nice.

The rest of the library houses: the war-room complete with maps and rotary phones; FDR’s office that includes a copy of Ferdinand the Bull; a statue made out of pieces from the Berlin Wall; drawers and drawers and drawers of archived files.

The grounds also have a rose garden that grows roses and other pretty things. There lies the Roosevelts and their dog, too.

Onto Val-Kill, the side of Val-Kill Industries and the home that Eleanor owned. There’s another long story about all that, which I cannot even begin to retell. Again, ask a park ranger. The tid-bit I remember clearly is that Mrs. Robinson, that song from The Graduate that really has nothing to do with The Graduate, was originally entitled Mrs. Roosevelt. Mind. Blown. Right?

Upon arrival, a park ranger in a tram asked if we would like a ride up to the the Vistor’s Center. Because when we pulled in I’d literally said out loud, I wonder where we go now, I said to the guy, Sure thing! We took a very quick ride up a small hill on a dirt road and over a one-lane bridge that’s smaller than my driveway. Again, we felt a little silly, but really, this help us figure out where to go. (Later on when we were leaving, the tram ranger pulled up next to us and asked if we wanted a ride back. We politely declined.)

We stood in the room where Eleanor Roosevelt spoke to JFK when he came to ask for her support. She agreed to support him only if civil rights were a major part of his platform. We stood in a room where much of the furniture had been made on-sight. We stood in rooms that were only a percentage of the original because the grounds had not originally been declared a landmark and everything was sold at auction.

Hey, if you bought something from that auction, return it. It’s history. And don’t be a jerk and ask for lots of money for it. Eleanor Roosevelt did lots of good things, so do a good thing, back.

Also, at some point in wandering through rooms of files and historical content, I realized that Herbert Hoover and J. Edgar Hoover weren’t related. Okay, to be completely honest, I knew that there was a Herbert Hoover and I knew that there was a J. Edgar Hoover, but in my mind, somehow, they were the same person. So when I posed the question, When was Hoover in charge of the FBI, before or after his presidency?, my brother literally palm-slapped his forehead. And I was like, Oh, yeah, two names, two people, were they related, though? Another palm-to-forehead. So that’s a no.  I’m a teacher!

Then it was time to walk over the Hudson. Walk Over The Hudson is a pedestrian/cyclist span across the Hudson. It gets you really close to the sun in 90 degree heat, but the wind from the elevation is a nice trade-off.

Because we were in the direct sun, I put on my hat. My head shape and hats do not play nicely. Because we were in the direct sun, I was sweating buckets, which should surprise no one. Additionally, I had on my free sunglasses that I got at Summer Solstice. What I’m getting at here is that I clearly was the most attractive gal out and about in the Hudson Valley. Back it down, gents! Back. It. Down.

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Even nicer are the views. Stunning. Truly stunning.

Also stunning, quite literally, are lightening strikes, as this sign hints towards.

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Capping off the day, we ate at a diner. My favorite type of restaurant! Eveready Diner appeared on Season 1 of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, so my brother was excited about that. I’ve eaten at two other DDD places, and they both were bleh. This experience turned that bleh into a yum! The food was so friggin good. Since my brother is a history teacher who loves DDD, this entire day was my birthday present to him. Happy Birthday, big brother!

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Architecture Is My Bag

Architecture is so my bag that I wasn’t even sure if I was spelling architecture right. I’m as much of an architect as George Costanza. I admire anyone who can figure out how to build anything, so if someone can build a building and have it not fall down, I admire that someone. All this means that I have no idea how I won two tickets to the Architecture Design Show. Tickets run about $30, and I got two for free. Free. That’s one of my favorite words.

So SD and I met up at Pier 94, an indoor sprawl of showroom. We walked. We admired. We opened and closed things. I signed up for free stuff. We found fireplaces. We found wine fridges. We witnessed a couch turn into a bed and a coffee table turn into a regular table. As opposed to an irregular table. I’m not only an architect, but I’m clearly an interior designer, too.

There were fixtures that wouldn’t even fit into my house. There was artwork that had fossils that cost more than my car. SD asked me, Who comes to things like this? And my answer was simple, Designers and rich people. AND people who win free stuff. We can all figure out in which category I fall.

After roaming through a vast amount of square footage, we took an Uber (my first!) to a thai place and ate good thai food, something I don’t eat often so it was a delight!

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And then because I was in NYC, I found some gems that made me smile, and these days, every smile means so much.

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SD asked, Do you think they meant poet? I answered, Maybe but probably not.

 

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I’m happy I got in this picture.