new york city

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Smartphone Americana, story and photographs by David Guttenfelder

Guttenfelder spent 20 years living abroad working as a photojournalist. He returned to the United States in 2014 and began to explore the country of his birth as if he were a new immigrant. Rather than using the expensive cameras he used in his years abroad, however, he chose to use his smartphone.  He says that he “want(s his) images to be imperfect and immediate, to capture something both fleeting and timeless about the America that (he is) rediscovering.”

And the pictures he took really are stunning. I think that my personal favorite is the tail end of an RV with mountainous scenery as it drives past a view of the Badlands in South Dakota.

Every Last One, by Rachel Hartigan Shea, photographs by Joel Sartore

In my last National Geographic post, I said that this article will also be tangentially about death. And extinction, cancer, John James Audubon painting the portraits of dead birds, there’s a lot of death, and potential death, going on here.

Joel Sartore is a photographer who used to travel all over the world, until his wife, Kathy, developed cancer. Sartore needed to be there for her and to take care of his kids, so he stopped traveling for his work. Using John James Audubon as his inspiration, he decided that he wanted to start taking portraits of animals. As you may or may not know, Audubon was drawing, which takes longer than photography, and he needed his subjects to sit still longer than they would in life, so every bird that Audubon drew was dead and wired into a natural pose.

Sartore contacted a friend who worked at a local zoo and got his friend to lend him a white box and a naked mole rat. And thus Sartore’s new career was born. Some of the animals that Sartore is photographing are endangered, some even critically endangered. Sartore photographed one of the last five northern white rhinoceros in the world just before she died. Sartore’s photographs are amazing. In this article, we see 77 of his photographs. Sartore estimates that it will take 25 years to finish photographing just the species that are in zoos. He may not live to see that part of his career finished.

Oh, and Kathy had another bout of cancer in 2012, but has been cancer-free for four years now. His son, Cole, had Hodgkins lymphoma in 2012, but Hodgkins lymphoma is curable, so his prognosis is excellent.

Urban Parks, by Ken Otterbourg, photographs by Simon Roberts

If you’ve been reading here very long at all, you’ll see that I really love urban parks, so this article was right up my alley. Otterbourg traces the origins of some of our urban parks, mostly focusing on lands that have been reclaimed from other uses, including the rebirths of the Cuyahoga and Chonggyecheon rivers, the creation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and other parks.

I’m disappointed that Millennium Park isn’t listed here. The creation of the park above a parking lot and old railroad lines seems right in keeping with the “reclaming land to make parks” theme of this article. Speaking of which, it’s August, so it’s only about two months before I return to walking San Antonio’s own reclaimed-land park, the Peak Greenway.

 

We’re going to frame my trip to the American Museum of Natural History as a flashback.  Our story opens with a movie called The Relic, released in 1997. The Relic was filmed, in part, in Chicago, most notably at the Field Museum of Natural History. I’ve always loved the museum, and I got my now-ex to kinda like it, too, during our relationship. So, although I’m not a big fan of horror films, we went to see it.

The Relic featured a cargo ship in Lake Michigan, kind of by the Shedd Aquarium, if memory serves (bear in mind that this was 19 years ago now and I have never felt motivated to see the movie again). I don’t think the water is deep enough for a ship that large and according to Wikipedia the ship was originally headed for Chicago from Brazil — up the Illinois River? That doesn’t even work.  I mean, the Illinois doesn’t go that far, and the ship would have to have gone through the Gulf of Mexico up the Mississippi first.  And then from the Illinois River to the Sanitary and Ship Canal which, despite the word “ship” in the name, was probably not really intended to carry cargo ships from Brazil.  In real life, by the way, a cargo ship from Brazil would dock at the Illinois International Port, which is on 95th Street at the place where Lake Michigan meets the Calumet River, so it likely would have gone up the Atlantic Ocean to the St. Lawrence and then through Lakes Ontario, Erie, and Huron to Lake Michigan.

The crew is all dead when the ship arrives, but if they made it that far, obviously they can’t all have been dead that long.  You know? If they’d died in the Illinois River, they probably wouldn’t have made it past Lockport because, well, there’s a lock in Lockport.  While having Joliet menaced by a monster would be an interesting movie (Ooh! And we could have a ragtag team of prisoners from the penitentiary be the heroes! That would be fun!), that’s not the movie that they have here.

I kind of wandered off the topic there. Sorry.

Anyway, so the film uses the outside of the museum Stanley Field Hall, which, if I recall correctly, still had at least one of its old fountains that are now long gone.  It was very nice for a more or less perennially homesick Chicagoan.

Then we venture farther into the museum (to sets on a sound stage, probably in California) and suddenly it stops being the Field Museum. With no warning whatsoever, the Field Museum turns into the American Museum of Natural History.

This was, as I’m sure you can understand, kind of disorienting. It also totally spoiled my suspension of disbelief. I spent the rest of the movie thinking, “But that’s the American Museum in New York.” And when I told the now-ex of this experience, he was actually kind of confused at how certain I was that it was the American Museum, so I looked it up. Yay for our first years of Internet access at home!

And sure enough, the novel that the movie was based on was set in the American Museum of Natural History.  The American Museum refused to let them film inside the museum, so they shopped around for other museums. The people in charge of the Field Museum liked the script (and probably the visibility for our city in general and the museum in particular) and so they gave permission to film there.

I remember the museum as being a very nice one, though not “home,” like the Field Museum is.  Now I’m wondering, though, if we got to the whole thing.  Now, granted, my folks never spent much time at the “peoples of wherever” exhibits in the Field Museum, so it’s not surprising that I don’t remember it.  I suspect we might not have seen it.  However, there’s a planetarium in the museum as well, and that has been my folks’ idea of a good time, but I don’t remember it at all.

Megalodon jaw, AMNH, New York

Megalodon jaw, American Museum of Natural History, New York City

I do remember the prehistoric creatures areas at the museum.  In fact, the only photos we took in the museum were my pictures of the Megalodon jaw (see above — I wasn’t sure which side I liked better, so I’m including them both).  I’m unclear on whether the jaw on display is a new one, or if it is the original jaw being seen from a different angle. It does appear to no longer be displayed in the doorway of a room with mood lighting.

Overall, I think I’d like to return and see what, if anything, looks familiar from the intervening nearly 30 years.  I would also like to make sure that I get to that planetarium.

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.

I’m currently in the process of rethinking our upcoming travel schedules.  Not for 2016; those are paid for and thus graven in stone at this point. Rather, I’m rethinking 2017 and following years.  Originally, we were planning to go to Europe in 2017, but then I discovered the SAIL Amsterdam event, which is an event where tall ships converge on Amsterdam every five years.  The next one will be in 2020.  I really wanted to take Alex for this, however, SAIL Amsterdam is held in late August, which would interfere with his school schedule (even though Alex will be in college by then).

When I was considering taking Alex to SAIL Amsterdam, I thought about taking Alex to Canada in 2017.  Then I discovered that SAIL Amsterdam was too late in the summer, so I was back to Europe in 2017. However, when I was researching other tall ships events, I found that there is a tall ships thing in Quebec City during what would be my normal window for our big vacation (from the Monday after the second Friday in July until the fourth Friday in July) in 2017.  This is perfect.  I had also hoped to return to New York City in July of 2017 anyhow, so we could fly out to New York, then take the train from there.  It would probably be easier to take the train from New York to Toronto then go in a circle, coming back to New York from Montreal, but we wouldn’t be able to spend much time in Toronto that way, not and make it to Quebec City in time.  Maybe Montreal, then right to Quebec City and then take our time coming back through Montreal to Toronto and back to New York?  That’s got some potential.

I’m not sure what will happen with Europe now.  2018?  We usually go to see a volcano in even-numbered years, and there are three volcanoes in Germany, so we could do that.  Or we could stick with our current plan to go to Seattle (Mount Rainier would be our volcano in that case) in 2018 and go to Europe in 2019.

If we do the New York to Canada and back to New York thing in 2017, both times I’ve flown out of Terminal 2 at JFK, I’ve had terrible vertigo, so don’t let me forget my Benadryl.

My son and I are out the door for our annual vacation in just about 72 hours.  We’re going to New York City with a day trip to Philadelphia.

Why New York?  When I was a kid I always wanted to visit New York and in 1988 when I was starting to date my now-ex, my folks finally agreed to go.  We had a fantastic time and I’ve always wanted to go back.

Fast-forward to my son and my 2013 vacation to North Carolina.  We rented a car and drove through the Smoky Mountains and the Outer Banks.  I’m not a huge fan of driving at the best of times and driving in places that I am unfamiliar with makes me really nervous.  Nearly all of that vacation was driving in unfamiliar places.  As a result, we were both so stressed out from some of the driving that I told my son I needed a couple of years off from rental cars.  In 2014, we went to Rome and Naples and pretty much took public transportation or walked everywhere (we took a cab a few times as well).  Then, for 2015, I needed someplace else we could go where we wouldn’t need a rental car.  I asked a dear friend who grew up in the New York City area if she would recommend New York City as a vacation destination and she said of course she would.  So when the time came (about six months ago), we started planning for New York.

Now, in the next 72 hours I have to pack, clean my bathroom, clean my bedroom, do all of my laundry, and board my cat.  I don’t have to do much other cleaning because my dad will be home.  We invite him every year and every year he refuses to go.  We’re boarding the cat because my dad and the cat don’t get along and I will be more relaxed knowing that they’re out of each others’ hair (or fur, as the case may be).  I’ve gotten a start on those first two, and am about to start on the third.  I’ll do most of the fourth on Sunday and that last item has to wait until Monday.