Thursday, September 01, 2022

US Open 2022 - Day 1 - Exploring NY

We're back in NY baby! We're here for our annual pilgrimage to the US Open. After a 45 minute flight and a 45 minute subway ride, we found ourselves sitting down to an amazing lunch at Izzy's Smokehouse. What Izzy's lacked in polish it more than made up for with top notch service and off-the-charts tasting food. My brisket sandwich was delish and Shira's burger was cooked to perfection. We left with full belly's and a to-go bag filled with food to nosh on later in the weekend.

A few days before we headed to NY, while we were still figuring out today's plan, I reserved a clever book at the library: Art Hiding in New York. The premise of the book is that amazing art is on display in the city if you know where to look. An art scavenger hunt sounded like the perfect way to spend a relaxing the day in New York. It would be a combination hike / cultural treasure hunt.

At the last minute I was able to check out the book and found myself frustrated: I didn't have time to carefully make my way through the text and plan a proper day's adventure. Still, Art Hiding in New York planted the idea that if I had my eyes open, NY would deliver.

Given the beautiful weather, we decided we'd explore Roosevelt Island today. We walked off lunch with a 3 mile trek through Central Park that ended at the Roosevelt Island Tram station.

This is now my third stroll through Central Park, so it's beginning to feel familiar. Still, I was surprised when we were walking down East Drive and I noticed a realistic statue of a puma poised to strike. The statue is positioned high on the ledge above and I'd walked by it at least two other times on past trips.

I had finally found Still Hunt, a unique bit of sculpture in the park because it's intentionally positioned out of the way to surprise the viewer. To add to the ambiance, it even forgoes a plaque.

This idea of creating a life-like sculpture that will surprise, unnerve and entertain seems like the work of a modern artist. And yet, this cat was placed here in 1883. Apparently, being sneaky isn't a new trend in the art world.

Arriving at the Roosevelt Tram Station, I was genuinely excited to ride NY's most unusual form of commuting infrastructure. While driving through Manhattan years ago, I'd noticed the massive airborne gondolas and wondered what they were all about. Turns out, they were originally intended as a temporary mode of transportation until a subway station was completed. Thankfully, the tram was so beloved, NY opted to keep it running long past the subway station completion. This is apparently the only commuter cable car in North America, a distinction that has kept riding the tram on my NY Todo List for all these years.

I'm generally terrified of heights and roller coasters, so I wasn't quite sure how I'd do with the tram. But the ride was quite gentle and I spent the 4 1/2 minutes snapping pictures of the amazing scenery. I had no time to get scared.

Shira, for her part, was less than impressed. Why, when Covid is still a thing, were we squeezing into a hot, tiny enclosed space with 123 other strangers? To add insult to injury, we'd been using the OMNY system to pay for the subway, which meant that we could use Google Pay rather than having an old fashion metro card. Alas, the Tram Station doesn't take OMNY (yet), so we had to hurriedly buy a metro card for this experience.

Once on Roosevelt Island we made our way over to a cafe on the Cornell Tech campus to use the bathrooms and get our bearings. From there, we headed to the South End of the Island.

I was impressed by the ruins of the Smallpox Hospital that dates to the 1850's, and snapped countless pics. We then made our way to the very Southern tip of the island which hosts a monument to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 4 Freedoms.

I found this monument to be an odd sort of contrast. On one hand, the massive concrete minimalist presentation gave me a very stark and bureaucratic feeling. Yet, the actual four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of want and freedom of fear are so aspirational and well, human, that the topic itself didn't seem to match the surroundings. Did FDR really think these were achievable goals in his lifetime? If so, I'm impressed by his optimism. I can think of countless countries that are built on the principles of stifling these exact freedoms. Even here in the US, you could easily argue that we miss the mark on providing all four of these to our own citizens.

As we started on our way to the Northern tip of the island I caught a glimpse of another monument to FDR. In this one, it showed him in a wheelchair with a young girl and crutch reaching out to him. I'd found the FDR Hope Memorial and while it took me a few minutes to process the entire scene, I found myself completely swept up by it.

The memorial isn't just the statue of FDR and the girl, it also includes stone markers that form a pathway. This pathway describes both FDR's personal timeline as well as the national fight against polio. As the path reaches FDR and the little girl, one can read about how Polio was eradicated on a world-wide scale (spoiler alert: Polio is back in New York. Ugh).

After fully taking in the FDR Hope Memorial, we walked to the Northern tip of the Island. Along the way, we came across the three sculptures that make up the The Marriage of Money and Real Estate . By putting the piece in the East River, there's a delightful dynamic aspect to the scene. Like the Still Hunt noted above, this all strikes me as being quite sneaky. It was looking like I was going to get my art scavenger hunt, after all.

At the very Northern Tip of the island is the lighthouse Google Maps had promised. While relatively small, the intricate detail of the lighthouse made it a worthy one to visit. Near the lighthouse is another bit of sculpture named The Girl Puzzle. The massive bronze faces and polished spheres sucked me into the artwork. However, it wasn't until I scanned the QR code on display and listened to a 5 minute presentation by the sculpture that I realized what I was looking at.

The Girl Puzzle honors Nelly Bly, a pioneering journalist working in the early 1900's to give voice to those were marginalized. Learning about Bly's life and how the sculpture was built to honor it, was absolutely fascinating. Getting context directly form the sculptor herself was a real treat and I can't recommend this monument highly enough.

After exploring the island, I was hoping that we could take a ferry to the mainland to experience yet another form of New York transportation. But alas, the schedule didn't cooperate. Instead, we opted to walk off the island via the Roosevelt Island Brige. The bridge is a vertical lift bridge, so walking across it was pretty unique. It was a fitting way to close out our Roosevelt Island Experience.

30,700 steps later, we were back in our hotel room and calling it a day. I'd truly enjoyed exploring New York, and was ready to embrace the real reason we'd visited: to watch tennis. Game On!

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