National Geographic, June 2013, Part 1

The Mystery of Risk, by Peter Gwin, photographs by John Stanmeyer

I have to admit that I approached this article’s and, indeed, this issue’s topic, risk-takers and why they do what they do, with a notion that I’m pretty risk-averse. I don’t like thrill rides, I don’t speculate on the stock market, I’m not even all that fond of driving. I spend a lot of time stressed out and kind of anxious.

But then I realized that I have plans to visit Yellowstone this year and hope to actually go far enough into the backcountry that I become one of the (at most) 5% of visitors who take that — what’s the word?  oh, yeah — risk. I travel to strange cities and wander around with a camera (and a cell phone because I’m not a complete fool and want to have access to 911 (or 119 or 211 or whatever) in case I overestimate my abilities) just to see what there is to see and how the people there live. And just starting a blog isn’t really the behavior of someone who plays it safe all the time.

Gwin tells us that scientists are finding the chemical triggers that make people take risks. And, contrary to what you might think, risk-takers are different from adrenaline junkies. Risk-takers are motivated by dopamine, not adrenaline. Adrenaline junkies take risks and get a buzz from the actual fear, and the buzz lasts after the fear is over. Adrenaline junkies have a higher-than-average chance of become addicted to other risks, like gambling.

Apparently, the dopamine-oriented risk-takers find reward in the risk that they take (like my desire to learn as much as I can, not from books, but from actually seeing the places and meeting the people and taking pictures and then thinking and writing about it) and, up to a certain extent, they take further and further risks for as long as the reward lasts. It’s not the danger, it’s the reward, whatever the reward is. And this description of the dopamine-oriented risk-taker, actually, does kind of sound like me.

Who knew?

In this article, Gwin mentions Paul Salopek, whose Out of Eden Walk hasn’t been updated in the magazine in a while (I just checked his blog and apparently he’s in Khazakhstan right now) talking about the risks our most distant ancestors took as they left the Great Rift Valley.  I wonder if the people who live in and/or near the Great Rift Valley have less of the dopamine-fueled risk taking than average. Their ancestors chose to stay, after all, and not take the risk. Meanwhile, the ancestors of the people of South America were the ones who traveled farthest from the Great Rift Valley, so presumably they were motivated more by dopamine than the ones who stopped earlier in the migration of humanity.

Deep Sea Challenge, by James Cameron, photographs by Mark Thiessen

James Cameron, perhaps best known for being a movie director, has apparently had something of a midlife career change. After working with a Russian exploration company on his 1997 film Titanic filming the actual wreck of the famous ocean liner, Cameron has apparently begun working more on oceanic exploration.  To that end, he and a team of “dreamers from all over the world” built a submarine, the Deepsea Challenger, to take Cameron to the deepest place in the world (the deepest point of the Marianas Trench), Challenger Deep.

Deep Sea Challenge is a sort of journal of Cameron’s trip to the bottom of Challenger Deep. He shares with us how he felt and what he experienced.  The Deepsea Challenger had a few mechanical problems, but Cameron did return successfully to the surface with some samples of the dirt from the bottom and of the the lifeforms that can be found at such a depth.

And this is one of the side effects of starting out at January 2015 and working my way outwards the way that I am. Looking around at Google, it seems that we’ve been following the career of James Cameron, ocean explorer, for at least a year by now.  It should be interesting to reach the beginning of this tale.

San Antonio Zoo, an Update

I’ll probably include this information on my post for the San Antonio Zoo, but I’m going to put this here just so that I have it in the blog until such a time as I can update the post. Or maybe I’ll just link this post there. Actually, now that I think about it, that’s probably the best way to go.

Lucky the elephant is no longer all by herself in her enclosure.  As of today, the San Antonio Zoo has taken on a middle-aged Asiatic elephant named Nicole. Nicole was formerly a performer with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The zoo says that they matched Nicole with Lucky by comparing their personalities, sort of like a dating app, I guess, and they hope that the two will turn out to be compatible.

One thing in Nicole’s favor is that she is a former circus elephant. This means that she is already socialized to humans and should pick up the routine at the zoo pretty quickly.

Let’s hope that the new roommates hit it off and have a long friendly association together.

South Texas Destinations: The San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, Texas

This post is due to go live on June 27.  I had hoped to go to the Witte Museum on June 21 to take pictures and then write that post. It is now June 19 and I haven’t made that trip to the Witte yet.  So, since I did finally get to the San Antonio Museum of Art (“SAMA”) for a very, very fast trip (40 minutes!) on June 5, let’s do that instead and then I’ll visit the Witte on Tuesday and get some pictures and post that article on what looks like July 5.

Meanwhile, I have another National Geographic issue to get to reading.

I have been going to art museums for just about as long as I can remember.  So, again, once we moved to San Antonio, the now-ex and I had to check out the art museum. I think it took us a couple of years, but it was well worth it.  And one Alex was born, we started going even more often.

San Antonio Museum of Art
A slightly less-than-perfect panoramic photo of The San Antonio Museum of Art, 2016

SAMA has the usual portraits and landscapes and modern art (they have a Warhol soup can (Pea Soup, I think) somewhere; the last time I could find it, it was near the entrance to the auditorium).  But the two areas that the museum is best known for are its collections of Latin American and of Asian art.

In 1998, the museum opened the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art (you can just see the leftmost edge of this addition in the far right of the image above). Nelson A. Rockefeller was grandson of John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil (which was later broken up into various companies including ExxonMobil (which used to be two companies)).  Rockefeller also held a number of government positions, most notably as Vice President under Gerald Ford from 1974 until 1977.  In his private life, however, Rockefeller was an avid art collector. One of his favorite things to collect was pre-Columbian and folk art of Latin America.  After Rockefeller’s death in 1979, his heirs began searching for museums to display his art, and San Antonio became home to 2,500 pieces.  Not all of the art in the center is from Rockefeller’s collection, but a pretty decent number of them are. The center also has a gallery of modern/contemporary Latin American art.

The Lenora and Walter F. Brown Asian Art Wing (the big glass block in the left of the image above), which opened in 2005, is the other section that the museum is known for.  Walter F. Brown was active in the oil and gas industry and founded a company called Delray Oil.  The Asian Art Wing has thousands of artworks from China, India, Japan, Korea, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, Tibet and Vietnam.  the Asian Art Wing has an extensive collection of Chinese ceramics.

My own favorite, though, is the Art of the Mediterranean World section (the fist floor of the left-hand tower on the left of the above image). This is where our old friend Gilbert M. Denman, Jr., comes in.  You do see his name elsewhere in the museum but quite a lot of the artworks, including the wonderfully restored statues of Marcus Aurelius and Trajan, were his donations. Denman (and others, I think) also donated a number of pieces of carvings from the “Amarna” period, which is when Akhenaten ruled Egypt.  These pieces include at least one that I’m pretty sure is Akhenaten’s abdomen, and, my own favorite, solar rays that end in hands.

A Peek Ahead . . . .

I’ve been debating whether to write up the Witte so early in my blog.  There are only, like, 11 museums in the city, and that’s including Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum, the Magic Lantern Castle Museum, and the US Army Medical Department Museum, all of which are already better covered by other sites (including Atlas Obscura) than I think I could do myself. So, since I’ve already covered two of the eight remaining museums, I was considering writing up the Witte later, particularly since there are something like 200 city parks (and that’s not counting county parks, parks of suburbs that are contained within the borders of the city, or state and national parks that are in or near the city), and I’ve only written up, by my count, five of them.

On the other hand, I will be doing two writeups on the Witte.  They’re in the process of a major remodel which won’t be done until sometime in 2017, so I will do one on the history of the museum and its current status and then another in another year or so on the finished museum.

So, should I do a park or two (or, you know, seven) and get those out of the way, or do Witte Museum Part 1?

I have to go to bed now, so I’ll sleep on this for tonight.  I can’t wait to see what I decide to do.

National Geographic February 2016, Part 2

London Down Under, by Roff Smith, photographs by Simon Norfolk

Okay, so cities build on top of the remains of previous generations.  In London Down Under (more on my reaction to that title later), we are told that the old layers of London go down 30 feet.  I would assume that the materials the higher levels are built from came from outside the city and thus the city itself is getting more prominent. If this happens in all cities, would the planet actually kind of start getting bigger?  You can tell I didn’t sleep well last night.  I’m still a little loopy.

London was always one of the places I’ve wanted to visit, and when I had my cancer, I didn’t want to die without having been to the UK, London in particular, so we went.  It took a toll on our credit cards, but it was worth it.  I loved London and would love to go back someday.

London Down Under is about the archaeological digs that they are doing in London, the things they are finding, and how, contrary to what you might have expected, the dampness of London is actually protecting the artifacts. One of the archaeologists that Smith interviews, Sadie Watson, says that items that would have rotted away centuries ago. I’m trying to figure out how that would even work. I can find references to how salt water preserves artifacts, but not fresh water, like that of the Thames and the underground rivers such as the Walbrook. The water would make an anaerobic environment, but that would still leave anaerobic organisms, and anaerobic organisms can break things down.  That is the source of fermentation, after all — fungi breaking down carbohydrates in an anaerobic environment.

Now to my issue with the title.  “Down Under” generally means “Australia,” or, rarely “New Zealand” or, even more rarely, someplace like Chile, Argentina. I haven’t been able to find one dictionary that defines the term as “subterranean.”

The Changing Face of Saudi Women, by Cynthia Gorney photographs by Lynsey Addaria

Gorney and Addaria travel into the world of the women of Saudia Arabia. And I use the term “world” intentionally. Saudi Arabia is one of the most, if not the most, sexually segregated countries in the world.  Women have different places to sit in restaurants, different lines at the grocery store, and entirely separate areas of the shopping mall.  Not that men are forbidden entirely in some of these places but the only men who are allowed there are husbands or immediate family members of the women in question.

Apparently, some of the women of Saudi Arabia, at least, don’t see their segregation as creating a female ghetto but rather as a safe space rather like women-only colleges and universities.  Women got the right to vote in 2015, the same year that women were first allowed to be members of the Consultative Assembly, which is, from what I can tell, more or less like a combination of Congress (in that they draft laws) and the President’s Cabinet (in that they are merely advisory and don’t make the actual decisions) in the United States. But Saudi women still cannot drive in Saudi Arabia.  Some women drive outside the country, and it apparently is pretty common for cars to stop just over the border into Bahrain and for the woman to take over driving.  So, when women do get the ability to drive legally in Saudi Arabia, at least some won’t need to be taught.

For the entertainment value, I went to look at the King Fahd Causeway, which links Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, on Google Earth to see if I could see any cars doing this, and there definitely appears to be a car on the shoulder just past Bahrain Passport Control. Maybe that car wasn’t switching drivers, but just maybe it was.

Midnight Slalom, by Jeremy Berlin, photographs by Oskar Enander

Midnight Slalom is a short piece with accompanying photographs about a 2014 nighttime shoot of skiers on the slopes of mountains in Alaska and British Columbia. The pictures are breathtaking.

My Travel Memories: The United Nations, New York City

Alex and my trip to New York City covered pretty much everything we did in New York City in 1988, with two exceptions.  1.  the United Nations, and 2. The American Museum of Natural History. We fit a lot of things that we didn’t do in 1988 into our 2015 trip, though, and you can see them all under my 2015 Vacation category.

So, today we’ll focus on the United Nations.

At least in the United States, we tend to glorify World War II. At least in Europe, the United States was clearly on the side of the good guys. The Nazis were killing their own citizens by the millions.  It’s really hard not to be on the side of the angels when your enemies are that bad.

During the war, the “Allies” as they are commonly known (the countries that were fighting against Germany, Italy, and Japan) decided that they needed to find a way to avoid wars like this in the future. They began in 1941 with the Atlantic Charter, an agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom, and then about four and a half months later, 26 countries signed the Declaration of the United Nations. By the end of the war, the United Nations included 50 countries who signed the Charter of the United Nations in 1945. Of course, eventually Germany (then the nations of East Germany and West Germany), Italy, and Japan did join the United Nations.

The stated goal of the United Nations was to avoid a conflict like World War II from ever happening again. As an attempt to avoid all wars, it has been a pretty spectacular failure. The United States, in particular, has taken up arms in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, at the very least, in the years since 1945.  Other countries have had their own conflicts, as well.

Has it avoided World War III? Perhaps the situation hasn’t arisen that would have ended up being World War III, but I like to think that just maybe it has. Unless, of course, future historians decide that the conflict in the Middle East that began in 2001 and involves something like 40 different countries, has been World War III, which I don’t think is an impossible development.

My own interest in the United Nations started in the 1970s, when Diana Prince (civilian alter ego of Wonder Woman) worked there. When I ended up being pretty good with foreign languages (a trait I inherited from my maternal great-grandmother, who spoke five), I thought about majoring in a foreign language and becoming a translator and perhaps I would have been good enough to get work at the United Nations.  We’ll probably never know. As I told you in my previous post on our 1988 trip, I was beginning to date the man who is now my ex-husband at that point.  I opted not to major in a foreign language because I knew that I was already only going to be able to see him every few weeks. I didn’t want to have to live in a foreign country for a semester (or more!) and miss seeing him for 16 or 32 weeks.

Delegates' Entrance to the United Nations, 1988
The old Delegates’ Entrance to the United Nations. This sign, at least, was gone when we were there in 2015. I think that the delegates now enter with everyone else.

When we visited the United Nations in 1988, we walked from our midtown hotel to the UN building. We walked down 45th street, so close to Grand Central Terminal that we could practically touch it.  Grand Central was on my list of places that I wanted to see in person, but we were on a schedule, so my folks and I kept walking. We made up for that in 2015.

The original hope for the United Nations was that they would find someplace unclaimed by any nation to hold their headquarters. That ended up being impracticable, so they decided on New York City as the location.  John D. Rockefeller bought an 18-acre parcel of land that used to hold a slaughterhouse and donated it to the United Nations. The United States ceded the land to the United Nations, so the headquarters is no longer part of the United States, though all of the laws that apply in New York City are enforced at the United Nations. The United Nations headquarters uses the US dollar as its currency, but it has its own stamps.

When we visited, none of the various organs of the United Nations were in session. This was bad because we didn’t get to see any of the activities of the United Nations, but it was also a good thing because our tour guide was able to talk about the General Assembly and the Security Council and things in the chambers themselves, which made it more interesting.

One of the most memorable parts of the tour, though, was the disarmament room.  This room has various artifacts in it, most notably coins and a statue that were in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the nuclear blasts there. Our tour guide told us that the delegates had to walk through that room to get to the General Assembly chamber.  I don’t know if that was true then, and I am less certain of that now that the delegates apparently have to go through security with everyone else.

Alex and I are planning a return trip to New York City as part of our 2017 trip to Canada (which I’ve already saved up for).  The United Nations is going to be the top of our list of things to see if/when we do make that return trip.

National Geographic February 2016, Part 1

Seeing the Light, by Ed Yong, photographs by David Littleschwager

Seeing the Light focuses (heh) on the evolution of the eye and its function in different species. Eyes all receive light, but they use that light for different purposes.  In humans, the light is used to perform functions like reading, driving and functioning at practical tasks. In other species, the practical aspects prevail. Some use their eyes to look for prey, others use them to avoid becoming prey.

Yong includes the sentence, “You use it (light) to . . . . read these words.” And, of course, not all prospective readers of “these words” are able to use light in this way because they are blind. By the way, I can now read the text on-line version of the magazine if I go directly to the article. If I want to use the table of contents, though I still need to go to the text version, which one can see okay on my computer, but for which a screen reader (the software that a blind user uses to read computerized documents) would be useless. I’m not sure if software like KNFB Reader, which takes pictures of words, uses optical character recognition to turn them into text, and then reads it aloud with synthetic speech would be able to see the page clearly enough to read it.  An old-fashioned screen reader, however, would be able to read the text version of the articles aloud for a blind reader, which will help for the last few years.  As to the years prior to those.  LibriVox volunteers are in the process of converting the public domain issues to speech, as well. However, that just covers issues through 1923 at the moment. They still have quite a ways to go (the latest issue available is from 1896), so that should hold them until at least 2019, when publications from 1924 will enter the public domain. I have actually considered reading for them, but I hate my voice. Like, really hate it.  I’m not enthusiastic about my appearance, either (that’s why you’ll likely never see a photograph of me on this site). I’m trying to psych myself up to do it, but I may never reach that point.

Denali, by Tom Clynes, photographs by Aaron Huey

Clynes visited Denali National Park in Alaska at least twice — one visit was in March, when he got a chance to travel the park by dogsled. The other was in June, when he visited the park like a tourist.

Early in Denali National Park’s history was first formed, there was a debate about how many miles of roads they need to pave for visitors.  They ended up with a compromise of sorts, and a 15-mile stretch was paved. The road was too narrow for the number of visitors they had, and so they ended up using a sort of mass transit system, where buses take the visitors along the road. The visitors can get on and off the buses at pretty much anywhere, and people do leave the buses.

The big draw of Denali is the wildlife. There are 39 species of mammal and 169 species of bird at Denali, according to their website. The centerpiece of Denali is their wolves. Scientists collar the wolves to study their habits and, over the last six or so years, the number of wolves in the park has been halved, from 100 to 50. This article focuses on the wolves, and why their numbers are dwindling.

Some of it, of course, is poachers — you can’t patrol the entire perimeter of a six-million-acre park, so some people will invariably sneak in to steal wildlife.  Others, however, are hunts outside the park that are otherwise perfectly legal.  Clynes meets a hunter who, among others of his fellow Alaskans, believes that the federal laws that protect the wildlife of the park, particularly the predators, are “overreach.”

There are no answers to the questions posed in this article yet.  All we can do is wait and research and study and hope that someday there will be.

South Texas Destinations: The San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio, Texas

Remember the quarries in Brackenridge Park?  The ones that were put there, at least in part, to support the production of cement? We’re still there.

This area didn’t go immediately from empty land to quarry to park, though. For a period beginning in 1863, this area was a tannery. In 1863, Texas was part of the Confederacy, so the products of the tannery were used by the Confederate Army. This is why it’s generally referred to as the “Confederate Tannery.” I wish there were some photos from that era. It sounds like there was a quarry there, then a tannery, then maybe they did more quarrying, and then it became a park. There were cameras in 1863, so maybe someone took a picture of the tannery at some point, but if there is, I can’t find it.

The San Antonio Zoo actually began, from what I can tell, three times.  The first was a menagerie of sorts in San Pedro Springs Park.  From what I’ve read, there was also a menagerie at the Hot Wells Hotel (post to follow, perhaps not until the planned county park opens, if that happens in the next couple of years). George Washington Brackenridge actually established the zoo in the park, with bear, buffalo, deer, elk, lions, and monkeys. An article I read years ago, and that I cannot find now, said that the menagerie at the Hot Wells hotel (which consisted of a bear and some ostriches at the very least) was moved to Brackenridge Park once Brackenridge set up his zoo there.

Now the ex-husband and I have always been fond of zoos, and we heard good things about the San Antonio Zoo, so it was one of the first places we visited when we got here. We visited so early in our residence here, in fact, that we had no idea where we actually were going and we ended up going around the long way.

I love the zoo, but be warned.  A lot of the 750 species of animal at the zoo are birds.  I stopped and counted it up and it looks like around 25% of the species are birds. I’m not sure if that’s more or less than for most zoos, but it feels like more.  A lot more.  Of the good, the San Antonio Zoo is a player in the attempts to breed the Attwater’s prairie chicken and the whooping crane.

Actually, never mind.  I found on the San Antonio Zoo’s website where they state that they have “One of the largest bird collections in the country.” So that answers that question. Definitely bird-intensive.

Hixon Bird House, San Antonio Zoo
Let’s see if you can guess what animals live here. Yep. Birds. This is the Hixon Bird House.

In fact, that page on the website says “we participate in over 230 endangered species programs.” The prairie chicken and whooping crane are two. They used to breed snow leopards, as well.  I think there was something else in the snow leopard cage the last time I was there, though. I wonder what the other 228 species are . . . .

One of the relatively recent upgrades to the zoo, and one that has gotten a lot of positive press, is their “Africa Live” area.  This is an area that has a focus on, as it says on the label, animals of Africa. The entrance is an air-conditioned building that has primarily smaller animals, fish and reptiles and things of that nature.  There is also a viewing window for pygmy hippos. Beyond that building is an open area with more animals, including a new (as of 2015) feature where for $5 you can feed three lettuce leaves to a giraffe.

Speaking of interactive things (and also going back to the bird theme), the zoo also has Lory Landing, where you can feed nectar to lorikeets. The Rainbow Lories tend to be the friendliest, so of course, I always attempt to coax one of the more standoffish species onto my hand. What can I say? I’m a rebel.

On the negative side, the zoo gets some bad press for Lucky, our one remaining Asiatic elephant. And, as much as I love the zoo, I do feel bad for her when I see her all alone in her enclosure. But the zoo has a page detailing her care, including the fact that the USDA, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and “third party agencies” have examined her habitat and routine and said that it is, at the very least, adequate, and sometimes more than adequate.  She also has seven employees, including two full-time veterinarians, seeing to her physical and emotional health. The zoo has considered getting another elephant to be a companion for her, but they worry that, at the age of around 56, she is getting to the end of her life expectancy.  The stress of adjusting to another elephant might have negative consequences for her health. At the moment, there is a lawsuit seeking to send her to a sanctuary, but, again, she’s getting old and separating her from the only home she’s ever known and changing her routine may well also be bad for her health.  Personally, I don’t know why they would work as hard as they have to keep her (not to mention the expense of her staff!) unless they honestly believed, and were getting feedback from outside organizations they trust, that keeping her in her current situation is the best thing for her.

June 27, 2016:  Lucky now has a roommate.  You can read the update I posted here.

The zoo is open 365 days a year.  Whenever I tell anyone this, I point out that they have to send people in to take care of the animals anyway, why not have a few more employees there and make a few bucks? And San Antonians take advantage of the fact that the zoo is even open on Christmas. Christmas of 2015, Alex and I went to the zoo and there were no parking spaces available. We ended up going downtown instead.

Most of the paths at the zoo seem like they should be wheelchair accessible.  I think that the steep uphill path in the Rift Valley area at the back of the zoo might be a bit much for wheelchair users. I’ve also heard that some of the restrooms are difficult to access, but I seem to recall a restroom in the Africa Live building that didn’t have the sharp 90-degree turns of the restrooms in other areas of the zoo.

National Geographic July 2013, Part 3

Hay. Beautiful. by Adam Nicolson, photographs by Rena Effendi

Hay. Beautiful. is about the hay farming communities of Transylvania. The farmers have a low-technology lifestyle that eschews things like weed killer.  As a result, their fields are full of what most of us would classify as weeds, but which the farmers, and Nicolson, apparently, view as wildflowers.  What do I call them?  When I was five, I fell in love with Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) flowers. I learned that the difference between a weed and a wildflower is in your attitude towards it, so I say that they’re whatever the farmers say they are.

Nicolson details the steps to harvesting hay and then shows us how the hay then goes on to help them produce most of their other food, particularly milk.

Times have changed, as they always do, and this way of life is dying out. One village in the region, Gyimes, is attempting to save itself by adopting one piece of advanced equipment — a refrigerated milk dispensing machine. Farmers bring their milk to the machine and, if it meets the government’s standard for hygiene and quality — is put in the machine.  A truck comes in twice a day to take the milk into the city for sale. Every farmer whose milk meets the standard and is put in the machine shares in the revenue generated by the sale.

I don’t know if this tactic worked over the long haul or not.  So far all I haven’t been able to find any information on what has happened over the intervening three years.

The Comeback Croc, photographs by Luciano Candisani, text by Roff Smith

This article is mostly text accompanying Candisani’s photographs of yacare caimans in Brazil. Yacare caimans have traditionally been used to make crocodile-skin leather (for handbags and belts and such). In 1992, harvesting of crocodile skin became illegal and the government of Brazil is attempting to stop the poachers.  As a result, the population has rebounded amazingly in that region.

Smith says that their future seems assured in Brazil, but he leaves us with a question about how the yacare caiman will fare in the rest of its range. As of the day I’m writing this (June 14, 2016) Wikipedia lists their status as “least concern” and the St. Louis Zoo says that their status is “common.” So it looks like whatever the other countries did worked.

Our 1988 Vacation: Why New York City?

I read a lot.  I also was exposed to the usual amount of other media (movies, television, music, etc.). And about half of those movies and televisions shows (and a fair number of books) are set in New York City.  As a result, they throw out names of landmarks like they’re things everyone should know.  As just one example that sticks out right now, in Tootsie, Michael and George (his agent) meet for lunch at the Russian Tea Room. Well, George doesn’t know that it’s Michael he’s meeting, but that’s beside the point.  But they just drop that name there — Russian Tea Room — like it’s something we should know.  Other names are dropped into media, like Central Park, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building*, and Grand Central Station and I desperately wanted to actually see them. To visit them and make them real to me and not just names in a movie/television show/book/song**.

And besides that, I have always loved Chicago.  When I was growing up, the only city in the country larger than Chicago was New York City.  So I kind of figured that if I loved Chicago, I should love New York City, as well. And I wanted to go to see if that held true (and it really does, though I still love Chicago more).

Back in 1981 when we went to Niagara Falls, I asked my folks if we could go to New York City while we were “there.” Of course, they aren’t actually that close together; it’s still a six-hour drive. Niagara Falls is, however, a heck of a lot closer to New York City than Chicago is. My mother was actually disgusted by the idea. She had been to New York for the World’s Fair in 1964 and she said that the city was dirty and disgusting and she never wanted to go back.

George Washington Bridge, 1988
The George Washington Bridge, on our way into New York City from New Jersey, 1988

In 1988, I started dating the man who’s now my ex-husband (and I really need him to pick a pseudonym — otherwise I’ll just start calling him Thomas (I used a random number generator to pick a number between 1 and 100 and then consulted a list of the top 100 names from the year he was born and that’s the result). We’d been dating for about six months by then and that was the longest I’d ever dated anyone. My mom was pretty sure we were in it for the long haul and so, since this might be my last family vacation with them (I actually went on one more, in 1989), she asked me where I wanted to go. There was really no competition. I asked for the one city I’d always asked for — New York City. And, finally, I got my wish.

Oh, by the way, my mom said that New York City was much nicer than she remembered and that she wished we’d planned to stay another couple of days.

* In the song “Hard-Knock Life” in Annie, they mimic Miss Hannigan saying that the floor should shine like the top of the Chrysler Building. I was 13 or so the first time I heard this and I asked my mom. She didn’t know, but obviously the audience was expected to.

**Or idiom in the case of “Grand Central Station,” which has come to mean a busy place.