I Spy: how well do you know Manhattan?

According to the CE’s calculations, with all of our sojourns strung together, we’ve spent almost two of the last fifteen years here in the city. But I still can’t shake off the tourist glow; I snap photos everyplace I go. There is a collective sense of discovery in the city, always something new or treasured to see. Some moments amuse, some shock, and some uplift the soul. (Well, at least when it’s not winter and snowing/sleeting/pelting rain!)

Here are some of my favorites from this visit. Let’s play “I Spy”:

We’ll start with easy peasy:

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Got that one? There’s nothing like walking through Columbus Circle on a hot summer night, cooling off with the mist spray from the fountains. Did you know they were designed by the same firm that created the fountains at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas?

In case you missed that one, let’s go even easier:

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I walk past the Atlas statue at Rockefeller Center several times a week, but I still can’t help snapping his photo every now and then. “Don’t shrug! Don’t shrug!” I whisper to him as I pass by. He is now widely associated with Ayn Rand’s novel, but when the Art Deco statue was erected in 1937, there were complaints that he looked too much like Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

How about this one for you Midtown denizens:

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Can’t quite place it? It’s detail of a ceramic pillar at New York City Center, the neo-Moorish building that once served as headquarters for the Shriners and now serves up spirited theatre revivals.

Sometimes the devil is in the details:

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You know you’ve seen it, but it’s tougher out of context. It’s a ceiling detail in the Main Concourse at Grand Central Terminal. Taken from a seat along the rail at Cipriani Dolce, which is a lovely place to have lunch and soak up the hum of humanity – 750,000 people pass through Grand Central on an average day; that jumps to a million during the holidays!

Here’s one you’ll recognize:

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You probably know the Petrie Sculpture Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but did you know that the brick wall was the original front entrance to the Museum? According to the Met web site, “It opened onto Central Park with a curved driveway so that visitors could pull right up to the door…in their horse-drawn carriages!”

Let’s go downtown:

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If you got this one, you know your Soho: 38 MacDougal Street is the cheery home of Hundred Acres restaurant, where we had a fine dinner the other night.  Jackson Pollock once lived nearby and just up the street at Nos.130-132 is Louisa May Alcott’s former home.

Last one:

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Okay, the answer to this one could be “ubiquitous”. The squirrels are everywhere in this city, but nowhere are they more forward and brazen than along Central Park South (although Madison Square Park probably runs a close second…) This guy was putting on quite a show – luckily, he works – literally – for peanuts.

Love this city!

 

 

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Manhattan, all to ourselves.

Midsummer, and they’ve all fled to the Hamptons. Perfect time to be in the city! How empty is it? Well, not empty enough to get a reservation at the new-ish Union Square Café but you can definitely walk the streets without being jostled at every step. Grand Central is just as grand but seems just a bit less central – it’s as if everyone left but they were kind enough not to lock the door behind them.

Weather has been mostly fine. Caught this beginning of sunset from our living room window the other day. It made CPS and Fifth Avenue look like a jewel box:

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Speaking of jewels, when everyone’s away it’s easier to shop. I am coveting these lace-dipped-in-gold earrings from Peipers+Kojen on the UES:

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Ah, but the true jewel of the city is in my front yard – my beloved Central Park.

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We paused along Central Park South the other evening just before dusk and saw the first glimmers of evening fireflies in the hydrangeas. Magical.

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But back to coveting: Bergdorf’s home section seems to be one big tag sale right now, but as you might expect, the prices on their tags are forbidding. I adored this pitcher, but alas, not its price:

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No matter. There are other things for the eyes to feast upon. We took a field trip down to the WTC Oculus to see the Up Close: Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel exhibit. We paid for tickets, which gave us access to the interior of the exhibit and a complimentary audio guide, but you can get a pretty good gander at it just by walking through the hall.

We were told at the entrance that the photographs were transferred to cloth and that, as well as Michelangelo’s genius for understanding how the eye would behold the paintings from the distance of the chapel’s ceiling, probably accounts for the slightly fuzzy resolution of some of the panels. No one, least of all Michelangelo, is quite prepared for the extreme close-up scrutiny of the world we live in today, but it is, nonetheless, a joy to behold his work. I think Adam and Eve would agree:

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We beheld another art form on a friend’s terrace the other night. Green and verdant and hushed and magnificent:

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There we sat among the ferns and the orchids, drinking rosé until we had long worn out our welcome and walked home along the edge of the Park under a veiled sliver of a moon. NYC is just that magical – or maybe it is the rosé, which my friend, Lori, described to me yesterday as “the New York summer water”. Oh, how I love this city:

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Okay, so it’s not always perfect. We went to a Yankees game last night, where it started pouring at the top of the 4th inning. We got antsy after what promised to be an interminable rain delay and headed home, only to discover in this morning’s paper that we missed seeing Aaron Judge slam the ball out of the park, breaking Joe DiMaggio’s record for most  home runs by a Yankees rookie. If you aren’t paying attention, things can go awry in a New York minute.

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But today is a new day and I’m sure new adventures (and plenty of that summer water rosé) await us. I would say that I wish you were here, but I’m kind of loving having this great, grand city all to ourselves…

 

 

 

 

 

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June…or Junior?

Had a chat with a neighbor who is a fellow chicken keeper. We’ve swapped notes about our birds before and we’ve consoled one another after the coyotes roared through, treating our coops as the neighborhood KFC’s. Always look forward to chatting with him. Except for this latest conversation. Did not like what I heard.

I was telling him about baby June, our Ameraucana chick. “Oh yeah”, he said. “We got two Ameraucanas from that feed store. They both turned out to be roosters.”

Roosters?

But we can’t have a rooster! She can’t be a he! Oh no!

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Here’s the thing about baby chicks. Unless they are a sex-link variety, in which the males and females have visibly different markings, it can be a tricky business to differentiate the gender of a just-hatched chick. Hatchery personnel are trained in vent-sexing but it is apparently somewhat more of an art than a science. Mistakes are made. The first and last thing they told us at the feed store when we picked up our chicks is that they can only provide an 80%-90% guarantee that the chicks are female.

What’s wrong with roosters? First and foremost, they don’t contribute to breakfast. No eggs. They also don’t contribute to neighborhood harmony. While I don’t mind the sound of roosters crowing, other people do, and we’ve assured our neighbors that we won’t ask them to contend with any 2 a.m. cock-a-doodle-dos.

No one wants a rooster. So what happens to them all? You don’t want to know. Let’s just say that in the poultry world “male privilege” is most definitely a myth.

After that chat with my neighbor, I’ve stared and stared at baby June, looking for any signs that she could be a he. Trouble is, the conventional wisdom is that you can’t really tell until she lays an egg or he crows, which is months down the road.

Is there any way to tell?

Feathers, apparently. Hackle feathers around the neck will be pointy in a male bird. Males also have pointy saddle feathers that extend from its back and sickle feathers, which are the ones that sprout up from its tail. I panicked when I looked closely at June, because I didn’t like the look of those long feathers drooping from the back and the sides.  Should I be worried about those?

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But then I read that the feathers in question don’t really manifest until 12-16 weeks. June is only about 5 weeks old. Too soon to tell, they say. Maybe those are just normal hen feathers?

Sometimes, I’ve read, a male bird will begin displaying “boy behavior” fairly early on, boldly challenging even adult hens. Not seeing that with this chick so far. Whew! Another tell can be comb development. While both male and female birds have combs, in the Ameraucana, at least, the male’s develops earlier and larger. Here’s a pic posted on backyardchickens.com of a five-and-a-half-week-old Ameraucana chick that later turned out to be a rooster:

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And here is our baby June at about the same age:

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See? Not much going on with the comb yet. I am counting on June not to turn out to be Junior. My neighbor managed to pawn off one of his roosters on another flock. The fate of the other one has not, ahem, been openly discussed. I am really, really hoping that this sweet little chick is, indeed, a chick. You might say her life depends on it…

chick tucked in on roost with Bella june 2017

 

 

 

 

 

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Dispatches from the fog zone.

At first I couldn’t place the sound – what was that humming I heard? I walked down the hall to better hear it – ah, yes, it was the furnace kicking in. The heat had come on. Of course. Because it is June in Santa Barbara.

It’s that trickster month for tourists who show up to sample sunny California and instead get treated to our famous June Gloom. According to the Wikipedia article on the phenomenon, “this weather pattern is relatively rare, and occurs only in a few other parts of the world where climates and conditions are similar.” Tell me where they are so I can avoid them, please.

To be fair, this hasn’t been our worst June. There have been a few glorious summery days and at its worst the sun has at least shone in the afternoons. Polling neighbors on my morning walks, half of them claim to love it: “an excuse to stay in my pajamas all day!” And the rest of us sink into a muffled despair and wait for July…

I’m not sure which camp our cat Dodger is in, but he’s thinking about it. Can you see him?

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There are consolations. The neighborhood spiders are hard at work, making necklaces for the shrubbery:

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The gardenias are blooming and the air is filled with their perfume.

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A pair of mourning doves have moved in to serenade us at dusk, and there are bunnies everywhere!

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The remaining baby chick is thriving and her name, chosen by the grandsons is, appropriately, June. Maybe because she’s the color of fog.

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Meanwhile, I just add layers for the morning walk. A shirt, a shirt over the shirt, a sweater, a wrap. And don’t forget gloves. Brrrr!

At least baby June knows how to stay warm…

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This Day in History: Another Take on Watergate

If you’re old enough to remember 1972 you may fondly recall the original VW Bugs, bellbottoms, and, on your tinny car radio, the strains of  “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin“.

But you probably didn’t notice a small newspaper item about a June 17 break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices in Washington, D.C. At a luxury apartment complex. Called The Watergate. Ring a bell?

It happened forty-five years ago today, and one person who did happen to notice the newspaper report was Jo Haldeman, wife of President Richard Nixon’s Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldeman. She noted it at the time, and thought it to be peculiar. By 1975, it had become a national conflagration, consuming lives, careers and the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. Careers were made, too. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were the whiz kids who introduced what is now a deeply-entrenched practice of the media directing the political narrative.

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The human narrative of the Watergate experience has been mostly overlooked, which may be why Jo Haldeman’s just-published reminiscence strikes a chord. Entitled In the Shadow of the White House: A Memoir of the Watergate Years, 1968-78, Jo begins by tracing the moment when her husband, Bob, informs her that his dedication to Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign may lead to a position in the West Wing. Because we know what’s coming, the book reads almost like a thriller. The reader wants to warn her:  Don’t do it, Jo! Don’t go! But, of course, she does, pluckily moving her four children and three pug dogs from a secure and staid life in Los Angeles and Newport Beach to the byzantine political rigors of Washington, D.C.

There are White House receptions and family weekends at Camp David. Casual banter with Henry Kissinger and John Erlichman, and floundering exchanges with the socially-awkward Richard Nixon. There is the ever-present phone with its endlessly long cord, the “umbilical cord” between Bob Haldeman and the President. Her classic 50’s marriage – “I don’t interfere”, Jo intones at one point – is challenged, as are her political views when an up-close encounter with Vietnam War protestors leads her to apprehend that shades of gray now color her previously black and white thinking on national issues. And then there is the crucible of Watergate.  And the aftermath, where Jo faithfully prepares weekend picnic lunches to bring to her husband during his eighteen months in prison.

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In one of life’s supremely unpredictable twists, Jo Haldeman is my neighbor and my friend. She sat in my living room the other day, chatting graciously about her memoir with members of my book club. My group is all over the place politically – some of them just this side of Kathy Griffin and Antifa, a number of “coastal elites” and maybe one or two alt-rights. While there is little political agreement among us, it was illuminating to see the unanimous enthusiasm for Jo’s book. All of them found it poignant and fascinating. They are a tough crowd; each of them well read and highly discerning. Yet more than one friend confessed that deep and long-held antipathy for H.R. Haldeman had shifted after reading the book. Shades of gray.

I sometimes take neighborhood walks with Jo, and while she is scrupulously circumspect about politics, she said something to me recently that I think will resonate for a long time. “You see these political figures as they are depicted by the press, and you forget that they are real people, with real lives and families.”

We do forget, all of us. I don’t have any idea who Jo Haldeman voted for in the past election, but somehow, she understood the humanity of both candidates. She knows, from personal experience that public service entails private turmoil and that the heroes and monsters served up to us on the nightly news are not quite as one-dimensional as they seem.

Shades of gray. Forty-five years after Watergate, I wonder if anyone else can see them?

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No Fairytale Ending.

I’ve been – so far – quite lucky in love and in life; my heart remains mostly intact. But one small part of it has been frayed and mended, over and over, so that by now it must be patched like a crazy quilt. That is the corner of my heart that I have given over to the sweet animal companions that have brightened my life through the decades. Dogs and cats and one silly cockatiel, and yes, even chickens. And even though I know it is not real grief, each loss sends me reeling.

One of our two baby chicks vanished. Just gone. One moment, browsing with her mama in the bushes; the next morning, no sign of her anywhere. She was the slow one, the one to always take a wrong turn and end up on the wrong side of the gate. Maybe that is what happened. Or possibly something small – a rat? – got into the pen and plucked her. We will never know.

She was a little Blue Cochin, a portly little feather-footed butterball. I’ve long longed for a Cochin. They are stately and docile and I could tell she was going to be a sweetheart. Everything was perfect. Until it wasn’t.

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I am haunted by the loss. I searched the bushes and walked up and down the fence line of the pen again and again yesterday, looking for any sign of her. Usually there are tell-tale feathers to confirm a sad story, but this time, nothing. Poof. She is just gone.

It would be easier not to mention it at all. But there are two lessons in it worth sharing. First, a reminder to the veteran flock keeper and a caveat to the inexperienced one: always, always, always do the head count. I had gone into the coop that night to check on the flock. Mama Bella was in her usual place and I could hear peeping beneath her. I chose not to disturb her so it wasn’t until the next morning that I discovered the loss. Far, far too late by then. Always do the head count.

The second lesson comes from Bella herself. She is a fierce mama, and must have been frantic at the loss. Yet she soldiers on, calm and dedicated to her remaining chick. The past is past, no time to dwell. Move forward.

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And I will. In time. Another row of stitches on that little corner of my heart. Grateful to every one of God’s creatures that have graced my life, even for the briefest moment.

 

 

 

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Saturday blues.

I’m giving you the day off from chickens. Not, mind you, because they are any less fascinating than they were last week or the week before or the week before that…

Just giving it a pause. And maybe because yesterday morning I was out there cooing over the baby chicks and then came inside to feed the dogs their breakfast, which was – ummm, chicken. Slight moral dilemma to ponder there.

But also because I am dead tired and all out of chicken patter. No one told me that last night was scheduled for a wake fest. As in awake. As in All. Night. Long. From 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. it was the CE’s post-surgical shoulder screaming at him. From 3 a.m. onward it was, (since I can never be outdone) my own symphony of searing nerve pain, like a never-ending caterwaul in the night, like a downed electrical wire that sizzles and growls, like the throbbing hum of a badly tuned electric guitar. (It does not help at this point to read that, according to a study cited in the New York Post, your brain actually may “start to eat itself when you are overtired”).

They say nerve pain is all in your head. Literally. The body’s alarm system going awry, screaming Mayday! Mayday! and etching the signals deep into the neural pathways, belting out a chorus that never ends. Fell into a brief sleep just after I heard the first crow call and briefly dreamed that a hundred guests arrived at my house for a party as I was getting ready to take a shower. Without any pants on.  Yeah, that dream. Woke with a start. Thank God for coffee.

Feeling just a teensy bit sorry for myself – and then I stepped outside. It is that glorious time of year here again when the jacarandas bloom. Once a year is not too often to post these pics, right?

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Nothing like it to wash away those morning blues. I feel better already. Happy weekend!

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