Thursday, December 28, 2006

Nowhere To Go But Up!

This is the sort of thing you see at parking lots here in New York City all the time, but you wouldn't believe it unless I actually provided photographic proof. Click to enlarge.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas in New York

I thought you might enjoy seeing how New Yorkers are celebrating this Christmas... CLICK TO ENLARGE

Rockefeller Center

Massive Christmas ornaments decorate a fountain by Radio City Music Hall

Lamppost just off Times Square

Ice-skating at Bryant Park

Crowds gather to admire Macy's shopping windows

Wreaths adorn the Bergdorf-Goodwin building on Fifth Ave.

Washington Square Park, NYU

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Space Shuttle Discovery Night Launch

This is incredible video my wife took this weekend of Space Shuttle Discovery's night launch (or is it a nuclear blast?), the first such launch in over four years.

Be sure to wait for the "money shot" at the end with the American flag.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

An Advent Search: Part II

NOTE: Last week, I blogged about attending Saint Thomas’ Episcopal Church but was called out by several friends (and rightly so!) for talking more about architecture and less about orthodoxy. I have returned to that blog and made the appropriate revisions and hope I struck a better balance in this week's post about Grace Church.

This Sunday, I (Stephanie was in Florida, reveling in a night-time shuttle launch) attended Grace Church in my continuing advent search for a house of worship in New York City.

Grace Church, a Gothic Revival masterpiece and National Historic Landmark, was designed by James Renwick, Jr., who, at 23, was just beginning his career. He would later go on to design St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Smithsonian Institution castle. Grace Church was consecrated in 1846.

Grace Church, New York City reminded me very much of Grace Church, Colorado Springs where I was first introduced to Anglicanism and attended before moving here. Both the interior architecture and the liturgy was eerily and therefore comfortingly similar.

Other than that, the first thing I was struck by was how few people attended. Only about fifty people or so. And I guess that was considered a large crowd as the Rector seemed to suggest as much from the pulpit. Perhaps just as surprising was the demographics of the crowd. While one might expect an aging congregation, this was comprised mainly of young couples and lots of radiant children.

The Rector’s sermon was quite good. He began by addressing acting (the church is located on Broadway, after all!) and how actors inhabit the characters they play, let the role take over, get their own personalities and desires out of the way, and stay in character no matter what happens during the performance. It is the same, he said, with the performance of life. Christ inhabits us and we must let Him rule over our passions and no matter what life throws at us, we must "stay in character."

One of the more pleasant things about the service was the administration of the Eucharist. Since there were so few people in attendance, we were all invited to surround the altar in a semi-circle throughout the entire ceremony, not simply come to the front for the administration of communion itself. It was a lovely atmosphere of fellowship and very intimate. It is in the communion of fellowship, the gathering together of the saints in one worshipful voice, that I truly find meaning in the physical act of attending church.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Rick Steves Guide to Our Apartment


LOCAL CULTURE & CUSTOMS: The locals, Brandon and Stephanie, are delightful and enjoy engaging with tourists. They have even been known to feed tourists and allow them to stay at the apartment free of charge. (See WHEN TO GO)

ORIENTATION: The apartment’s vast open spaces can be daunting at first, but as English is the official apartment language, one should have no problem communicating with the natives. Unless you speak Swahili.

The apartment is located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, just off Broadway, an area of town known for being home to New York City's liberal cultural and artistic workers, in contrast to the Upper East Side, which is traditionally home to more conservative commercial and business types.

This is a shot down the apartment’s street, facing Broadway…

...and this is of the Broadway intersection itself.

The apartment is located on the top floor of a pre-war (as in World War I) building, constructed in 1891. While the apartment is technically listed as a studio, it has the distinction of being dubbed a “Studio.5,” which is to say it is a studio with an additional small space not quite accurately described as a "room."

WALKING TOURS: A favorite tour of visitors to Brandon and Stephanie’s apartment is the "Complete Walking Tour" (Estimated Time: 45 seconds).

Coming through the front door, there is a long, narrow passageway. Immediately to your right is the bathroom.

HEALTH & HYGIENE: While small, the bathroom feels like something out of a hotel with it’s tiled paneling throughout. The room gets some nice light as the high ceiling opens to a skylight.

Continuing down the hallway, the next opening on the right is the bedroom.

PLACES TO SLEEP (also see RECREATION): To call this a bedroom mocks both beds and rooms. As you can see, the apartment’s bed (Brandon and Stephanie were forced to downsize to a full-size when they moved) is in contact with three of the room’s four walls! When you drop a dresser opposite it, you quite literally have to squeeze in each night. On the upside, it has a ceiling fan and a skylight and when you live in as urban a jungle as Manhattan, hearing the rain drum on the skylight is actually something to savor.

Leaving the bedroom, you will find yourself opposite the built-in closets, which Brandon and Stephanie augment with a large Ikea wardrobe.

Finally, you open up into The Great Room. Starting from the left and working clockwise…

LOCAL BUSINESSES: The apartment’s number one business is the space industry followed closely by its burgeoning film industry. From the desk, Stephanie "talks up space," while Brandon gets relegated to the couch or the kitchen table to tackle his NYU homework.

EDUCATION: To the right of the desk is the living room and library with its three huge bookcases. The couch sits a foot or so off, allowing easy access to the books.

(When the cable installer was here last month, he looked at our wall of unpacked boxes labeled "books" and proclaimed, “You guys aren’t from New York. No New Yorker would own that many books.” It’s not that New Yorkers are dumb, mind you. They are just smart enough not to carry fifty heavy boxes of books up several floors in an elevator-less building. A lifelong New Yorker told us that if you live on the Upper West Side you live in a small apartment dominated by books, but have small closets. If you live on the Upper East Side you have closets bursting at the seams with clothes but only a handful of books. So far, so true.)

FOLIAGE & FAUNA: Note the large plant beneath the window. It is, in fact, not a real plant, but a silk plant housed within a large urn. Have you ever sat on an airplane, thumbing through the SkyMall magazine and wondering who the heck buys the stuff in there? Wonder no more. The urn is a cleverly disguised cat litter box!

WILDLIFE: Hiding amongst the fauna is Cleopatra, or "Cleo," a street urchin Brandon rescued from the back-alleys of Sicily. Do not let this picture fool you--when provoked, she can be a tiger.

In the center of the room, hiding behind the chair and between the two windows is the apartment’s only radiator. Apartments in the city, particularly in the older buildings, are heated with steam. When the radiator comes on, it rattles, hisses and belches to let you know you’re about to warm up. However, other than a pressure valve on the unit itself, there is no thermostat. You can only get as warm as the boiler in the basement allows and if it gets too hot, as it sometimes does, your only alternative is to open the windows wide to the frigid air.

ENTERTAINMENT: To the right of the radiator is the apartment's entertainment center where the natives go to relax and indulge in the wall of DVDs, CD's, XM Radio and the newly discovered and immediately beloved DVR.

PLACES TO EAT: Tourists often flock to the area of the apartment known as "the kitchen" to partake of some of finest food in New York, such as Chicken Divan and Better-Than-Sex Brownies. The kitchen is partitioned off from the rest of the Great Room with an island, giving it the feel of its own space. Note the dishwasher, actually something of an luxury here.

WHEN TO GO: For all of Brandon and Stephanie's friends reading this, consider this a standing invitation to visit. The couch is a pull-out bed and they'd love to host your visit to New York City.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

An Advent Search

Stephanie and I have chosen Advent to begin looking for a permanent church home. With the liturgical calender in it's most extraordinary bloom, we felt that this would be a beautiful and sacred time to visit.

We've been attending Christ Church New York City, where we've felt extraordinarily welcomed and blessed, especially by our new friend Father Justin Moffatt, but as we have been to no churches other than Christ Church, we wanted to explore a few other options before settling down with a particular congregation.

This week, we attended Saint Thomas. Designated a New York landmark, Saint Thomas was built from 1911 to 1913 in the French High Gothic style and is constructed entirely of stone according to medieval construction principles.

Except for its length, Saint Thomas is of cathedral proportions, with a nave vault that rises 95 feet above the floor. The structure has unique acoustical properties associated with churches built during the Middle Ages. Because much of the music presented at Saint Thomas was composed for use in these churches - not in the concert hall - Saint Thomas provides an authentic space in which this music can be heard today.

Following in the Anglican tradition of the all-male choral ensembles, Saint Thomas is home to the Saint Thomas Choir, comprised of men and boys which performs music of the Anglican tradition at worship services. Additionally, they perform concerts throughout the year, and have performed at such illustrious spaces as Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, the Vatican, Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center with such artists as the New York Philharmonic, Placido Domingo and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The boys of the St. Thomas Choir are enrolled at the Saint Thomas Choir School, the only church-affiliated residential choir school in the United States, and one of only four such schools remaining in the world.

The magnificent Gothic interior and Saint Thomas' extraordinary musicians and choristers create a environment of worship that is profound and awe-inspiring and frankly hard to surpass in New York or just about anywhere.

The Great Organ was originally built in 1913 and extensively revised and rebuilt in 1969 and the early 1980s. The case is fumed white oak with pipe shades gilded in 23-karat gold. The cedar case doors, the façade design with its embossed pipes, and the ornamental kiosks are distinctly 16th-century Dutch, a style of organbuilding which would have been familiar to the original settlers of New Amsterdam. The organ includes tonal designs which are characteristic of the organs of Bach’s time. In addition, it is especially notable for its French Romantic colors. Consisting of six divisions, the instrument features a Trompette-en-Chamade under the rose window over the Fifth Avenue entrance. There are four manuals, 138 ranks, and some 9050 pipes!

* * *

The architecture was extraordinary. The singing was ethereal. I found myself driven to my knees in a deep and profound meditative state of worship. It was an extraordinary service.

That said, there were issues that bothered me.

Stephanie and I are being very judicious in our search for a new church home. Given the cataclysmic split in the Episcopal Church right now over sexual ethics, we find ourselves on the more conservative, Anglican side of the divide and are purposely only seeking out those churches which we know to be orthodox in their use of Scripture and preaching.

Which is not to say that all the orthodox churches are without spot or blemish. The sermon was, well, forgettable. While I fully embrace the Anglican ideal that the administration of communion is the center of the service, not the homily, it is, nonetheless, for this evangelically-raised fellow, an intricate and indispensable part of the worship. Sermons about “being nice to each other” and the like, while perhaps true, do not the gospel make.

Additionally, it was announced that the Rector of Saint Thomas has had formal charges filed against him with the Bishop by former members of the congregation. I respected the manner in which the announcement was made, and the fact that the full charges were copied and made available to any who wanted them. They involve some sexual and financial inappropriateness and the mistreatment of a priest who was released because of his homosexuality. This was, I admit, not a great first impression, even if the charges are spiteful and ungrounded as many in the congregation indicated.

I have to admit, while I experienced a magnificent morning of worship, it was not without a large measure of reservation and wariness.

As I’ve told Father Justin and others several times, if it comes down to it, I will gladly take a modern church suffused with wonderful people and God-honoring preaching over choirs and stained-glass any day.

But if I can find a place that has both…

* * *

This last picture, while having nothing to do with Saint Thomas, is of my wife taken shortly after the service concluded. We were wandering around Fifth Avenue, munching on roasted chestnuts and admiring the Christmas decorations when I caught this spontaneous gem. Isn't she beautiful!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Nothing Miserable About This Birthday

Despite the fact that my birthday was November 20th, my wife convinced me that she and I should celebrate it later in the month given the hectic nature of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Turns out, she was just being sneaky.

We began Tuesday night at La Mirabelle, an unstuffy French mainstay on the Upper West Side run by a family of transplanted Bretons. I began with the escargots and had monkfish swaddled in lobster sauce for my main course. My wife had the roasted duckling with plums--crispy, juicy, fatty, and delicious (she let me have a piece). We ended with a chocolate mousse spiked by a tiny candle and presented amid song by our waitress who sounded as if she were channeling the great Edith Piaf.

That we dined at a French bistro was no accident. For following dinner, we caught the Metro to Times Square, where, among other Broadway shows, Les Miserables, now in it's 22nd year, has returned for just six months following it's international tour. My first Broadway show was one of the most wildly beloved. (I've seen Cats and Phantom of the Opera on their tours, but was not prepared for the intimacy and coziness afforded by the small Broadway theatres, not something you imagine when thinking about the fabled Broadway).

The show was, of course, phenomenal. The story of a convict who mends his ways despite being hunted perpetually by his old jailer, Les Miserables is rousing, tragic, inspirational and haunting. I went home that night walking on a cloud of music so thick I doubt my feet actually touched the New York City sidewalks. I haven't stopped singing the score since. There is a reason tourists flock to Broadway when visiting this city--the experience is like nothing else.

Thank you so much my sneaky wife. That was a magnificent birthday. Merci!
Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Deus