New York Part IV

I was once again in New York! Except this time the weather was much better! The purpose of this expedition to New York was to see New York. You will recall there has been a pandemic, and so despite spending two years only a very short train ride from the Big Apple, neither me nor my super amazing girlfriend had spent much time there. In the free time between finishing all of our final papers and graduating we decided to head down there and see what there was to see!

The first major thing we went to go see was the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I had visited both back around Thanksgiving of 2019, but my super amazing girlfriend had never been. Besides the patriotic fervor that of course burns in her heart, she had relatives that came through Ellis Island and wanted to investigate the origins of her family’s American adventure. I, too, have relatives that came through Ellis Island, but she actually knows who her’s are and was therefore much more equipped to gain deep insights from the experience. Visiting the two islands was very nice and made for a lovely day out, and the only disappointing bit was that the area where you can actually research the people who came through Ellis Island was closed for COVID, seriously knocking the knees out of our attempts to investigate people who came through Ellis Island.

One thing I saw this time that I hadn’t seen last time I was on Ellis Island is a section about more modern-day immigration into the United States. This section had me in my feelings because while it wasn’t exactly jingoistic it didn’t quite reach the full level of reflection that I think the immigration paradigm needs these days. A particular example is the sidebar above. I’ll only bother to link to one random article on the perils of international adoption (which doesn’t even touch on the cultural components that need to be reckoned with), but man that sidebar only bothers to note some minor difficulties before firmly coming down on the side of believing adopting “orphans” from other countries is always a good thing. The National Park could do a lot better than this!

Every time I pose like this I think to myself “why do I always pose like this?” and then I pose like this.

Having gotten a satisfactory fill of American history, our major excursion the next day was up to The Met Cloisters. I am bad at researching the places we go to, especially when my super amazing girlfriend selects the destination, so I didn’t know what to expect. It was nice! When we went they had set up a one-way path through the whole museum for you to go through. When we got to the first cloister (which is a courtyard sorta thing), I took lots of pictures because I was like “I like courtyards so I better document this courtyard, which I assume will be the only courtyard we’ll see, what with most locations in the world only having one courtyard if they have any.” But then we came across several more cloisters and suddenly I understood the name!

Frankly I’m not all that much into medieval art (maybe I mean early modern?), so a lot of the art-art wasn’t totally doing it for me, but I liked The Cloisters a lot. First off, I am still stunned by the concept that you could just go over to Europe, buy loads of bits of old churches and stuff, and then just cart them to the US and use ’em to build a museum. I suppose the Benin Bronzes wouldn’t be surprised, but still. I am also unclear if the various sarcophagi they had still had dead people in them, or if they didn’t where those dead people wound up. The architectural bits were in fact very pretty though! And I like the overall philosophy of just stuffing as many courtyards into a place as you can. We also liked the unicorn tapestries they had, one of which I am doing my pose again in front of above. The Cloisters is nice!

After we finished up at the Cloisters, we took the subway back downtown and wanting to fill our afternoon with something else we decided to go to the American Museum of Natural History. This was nice! I liked the bits about Africa the most. I mostly take photos of very niche things however. The photos above are of some dioramas I found particularly interesting, showing various ways that people had to raise water up. These might have been handy back when I nominally taught people how to fish farm for a living. They had an Archimedes’ screw, which I knew about, but that counter-balanced pot thing on the left would have been a lot easier to build.

I am also a particular fan of reed/grass baskets. This is mostly because back in Zambia I would wake up in the morning and watch my host mom use a winnowing basket in order to winnow, and then go to the Moto Moto Museum and see those exact same baskets in a museum, and I find that funny. The bottom three baskets in the picture above are from various places in Africa, but the basket on top is actually from the United States, woven by the descendants of enslaved persons. I own a very similar one I bought in Charleston, SC. I am writing this blog post from the ~future,~ so I will have even more pictures of reed baskets to show you in follow-on posts.

The various halls of various animals in the museum are a particular bounty for Atlas Obscura, including the gorilla diorama above. I particularly liked it because I have been pretty much literally in the exact spot the diorama shows, which Mt. Nyiragongo in the background. Pretty neat! That’s um, that’s all I have to say about that.

The rest of our time in New York, when not at museums, was very fun as well! We looked around and saw the sights! We met up with a friend of mine for dinner, and also had dinner with my aunt and uncle, and also had dinner with my super amazing girlfriend’s friend! It was great! We had New York Pizza and looked in at least one bookstore! Very nice! All in all a very nice time. On our very last day, as we were walking to the train station, we also got to see “Ghost Forest” by Maya Lin. I thought it was pretty funny that people were just using the trees as like, regular trees, lounging among and against them. On the one hand, maybe that is a pretty blasé way to face climate change and the inhabitability of large swaths of the planet, but on the other hand it’s nice to see people interacting with and using public art, you know?

And so that was our New York adventure. A pretty nice time!!!

Surprise! New York Part III

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Surprise! This past weekend I was in New York yet again! I have become one of those super hip types that travel down to “The City” every weekend to do culture and crap! And culture is exactly what I did this past weekend.

The Jackson Institute arranges these networking events for us to network. This was a “soft” networking event, in that it didn’t have “network” in the name of it, but they sent out a list of attendees beforehand along with their job titles and companies so we could see what people we would like to talk to. So that’s a whole thing. The nominal excuse was a trip to the Rubin Museum of Art to tour their current exhibition, “Clapping with Stones.” All the current Jackson students were stressing over finals, so very few of us showed up, so the whole event was pretty intimate and cozy and that is pretty nice I suppose. We rendezvous’d at the museum on Saturday afternoon and went to go see some art.

The art was good! At least I think it was. We had an actual tour guide which is nice to explain things (vice just wandering around ourselves) and context is helpful. The only picture I took is the top one (with my crappy phone camera, but I told myself the streaky light effect was artsy), and the museum website doesn’t have the name of it as far as I can tell. The tour took about an hour and then we adjourned to the museum’s rather large cafe. They gave us wine and appetizers (dumplings and kale salad) and we had a go at the whole networking thing. Turns out former Jackson people are just as cool as current Jackson people so we all had a great time.

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Thanks NPR.

The other purpose of this trip to New York was to see “The Book of Mormon.” My aunt and uncle are artsy New York theater types and turns out I’ve never seen a Broadway play, so for my birthday they wanted to change that. I had absolutely no opinions about which play to see, so they decided that The Book of Mormon would be a good place to start. I had told friends I was going to go see it and that was a whole mix of reviews. The initial impression from everyone is that it is great. But with such stellar reviews going around other people were worried I would set my expectations too high. So they warned me against that.

Having now seen it, yeah I dunno man. Some of the musical numbers are pretty good. But content-wise, I did some googling and this essay and this essay both more or less capture my feelings about it. I was downright queasy when they rolled out the “Africa” set. They managed to humanize the characters a bit more later on and frankly the “We Are Africa” piece felt about spot-on when it comes to White Savior complexes and all that jazz. So yeah. I don’t think I’m going to see it again.

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After the play we took a stroll through Times Square to get to the subway. We passed on the way the “World’s Big Sleep Out” event (but didn’t manage to see Will Smith). This is another case of me having mixed feelings about protest-type events. Now that I have read the article, it seems to be a fantastic event and the guy that organizes them seems awesome and puts his money where is mouth is. I do like how many caveats the people in the NYT article put in (“‘I can’t ever relate to the helplessness and hopelessness of being truly homeless because I really do have those keys in my pocket, but at least for one night we are creating awareness to imagine what it’d be like sleeping outside,’ Mr. O’Shea, 54, said.”), and there are probably apt comparisons to be made between some of these people and the sincere and well-meaning Mormons who go to Africa and confront General Butt Fucking Naked. After we passed the Sleep Out we passed an actual homeless person. I sorta wonder if the Sleep Out people would have let him sleep with them?

Brooklyn Part II

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For our Saturday in New York, we went to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This was neat! For several reason: 1) I had never been to either of these things, 2) I got to take THREE!!!! boat rides, between THREE!!!! different islands, and 3) Freedom n’ shit.

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Walking around Liberty Island is pretty cool. I’ll spare you the phenomenal number of pictures of the Statue of Liberty I took because there are better ones elsewhere (except for the one up top, the one just above, and the one later on, but those all have excuses), but please admire the one right above because it features a hawk or eagle or something perched right on Lady Lib’s finger there. I assume that the hawk is looking for terrorists or just admiring America. We didn’t get tickets to go up in the statue or even up on the pedestal, so we had to be happy simply admiring Liberty from afar. But that is fine because the island is lovely with excellent views of New York City, and has a museum and a pretty good gift shop. In the museum you find out all sorts of things, including the bewildering array of steps it took to actually construct the statue. They must have used an absolutely insane amount of plaster.

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After you’ve had your fill of Liberty Island, the ferry takes you on the like four minute ride over to Ellis Island. This was pretty enlightening. I have heard about Ellis Island of course and like apparently 100 million other ‘mericans have ancestors that passed through there, but I didn’t quite realize how large the facility is. It is pretty impressive! Nor did I quite realize that most immigrants only spent like 2-5 hours there. I suppose it is significant because they all went there, but 2-5 hours ain’t that much time. But the whole island is massive and is built on landfill but the facility at its structural peak didn’t get used for too long I think, because by the post-WWII era we had other ways of screening immigrants. So that’s neat. We had spent so much time on Liberty Island that we didn’t have a super long time to spend on Ellis Island, but that is fine because unless you get the “hard hat” tour (we didn’t) there is only so much you can explore there. But the biggest advantage of being there so late in the day was:

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The fact that the ferry ride back to NYC was at night and the whole city was lit up and there were fantastic views of everything!

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I had my own pictures that had exclusively the city lit up but I like this picture of all my fellow tourists flocking to take pictures because it has everyone just really appreciating how pretty everything looked. Given my druthers I think I’d rather be in the backcountry of Zambia or something but if you have to be in New England (I don’t actually think New York is New England but it’s all north of the Mason-Dixon line so who knows) this is a pretty place to be and the weather was pretty good if cold! Plus I got to contemplate America n’ shit for like the whole day which, you know, ‘Merica.

Brooklyn Part I

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Reading this week:

  • Farsighted by Steven Johnson

Right off the bat the title of this article is wrong. Pretty much none of what I write about will take part in Brooklyn. But for Thanksgiving I went down to visit my aunt and uncle who live in Brooklyn, and the rest of the family came up. Thanksgiving itself was pretty quiet and involved turkey and stuff, and then we stayed in New York for the weekend. On Friday and Saturday we went around and did tourist stuff. I’ve been in New York several times before, almost all those times to visit said aunt and uncle, but I think this is actually the longest amount of time I’ve ever spent in the city. I’m practically a native now.

The first thing we did on Friday was to head off to Rockefeller Center. Dad seems to like the place. He wanted to watch the ice skaters and the windows over at Sak’s across the street. So we did that. I think I would have rather gone shopping; I could use some new shoes. But whatever we watched the skaters. Those are the top photos. They were pretty neat I guess! There are other skating rinks in Manhattan with better views but I guess this one is significant or something. Sorry for being such a downer?

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The single most exciting part of the day for me was St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Not for the cathedral. I don’t really care about Christian religious structures period, and as far as cathedrals go St. Patrick’s is pretty whatever. I’ve seen better. But I learned about the St. Killian’s candle burning system! This thing amazed me that it existed. The boxes of candles spread throughout the place proudly proclaim that it is patented. Patented candle burning system! The audacity! The appeal of the system is that it is low maintenance. All those little candle holder thingies have a hole in the bottom, so when the candle burns low enough it just drops through and the candle holder is ready to accept another candle. A huge think of wax builds up below, and a) I don’t understand how that never catches on fire and b) someone has to clean it but it must be easier than cleaning out individual candle holders, but that is the only drawback. I even contemplated donating $2 so I could light a candle (no one was guarding them I could have just lit one but it didn’t mean that much to me and if I want to affect the church’s finances I’ll advocate for them to pay taxes) but I decided to just google them later instead. So that was exciting.

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The second big adventure of the day was to go to St. Patrick’s cathedral. Wait didn’t I just say I was there?! I did indeed. I suppose the other St. Patrick’s isn’t a cathedral, it’s a basilica, but whatever. It is the original St. Patrick’s before the congregation decided they were cool enough to need a whole cathedral. The draw of this St. Patrick’s, besides being further downtown, is that it has catacombs that you can tour. The catacombs are mostly neat for being like, modern catacombs. The burials are not modern, but the place has been kept up and has modern ventilation and stuff (and lights, but the tour promises to be a “candlelit tour,” though the candles are electronic) and so represents what a catacombs would look like if you decided to build one anew. The tour was interesting but would have been better if it was one hour instead of two.

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The final exciting thing was going up the One World Trade Center slash Freedom Tower. Plan A was to go up and watch the sunset from up there, but despite the elevator being blisteringly fast we didn’t get up there in time (plus our tickets were for too late) but still seeing Manhattan all lit up is pretty gorgeous. Eventually I figured out the “handheld night scene” mode on my camera but taking pictures through glass never helps. So we looked all around, admired a bunch of stuff, took some photos, bought a lapel pin (I got two lapel pins this day), went down, went home, and had burgers. Excellent times in New York.