Tag Archives: New York City

America’s Lost Treasures: The Plains Indians

Buffalo picture of tipi of Never Got Shot. Photo credit: Claudia Santino

Buffalo picture on teepee. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

“The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art transports you to another place and time. For anyone who’s been itching to pay New York City a visit, it’s a perfect reason. But it’s got a short run and will close on May 10, 2015, so start planning.

You don’t need to be an art critic to understand the value of this exhibit. It’s easy to fall under the spell and spirit of what the Plains Indians were all about. Some of the artistic forms on display go as far back as 2,000 years when migrating peoples contributed items into Plains Indian culture.   The bounty at the Met represents pieces from many Native American nations.

Man's vest, Oglala/Lakota. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Man’s vest, Oglala/Lakota. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

The Great Plains of North America was once a vast open landscape of earth and sky, running from the base of Texas and heading north across the mid-west and into Canada. That idea alone made it easy to immerse myself in understanding how the moving canvas of their environment influenced Native American Indians.

We lost the treasures of our country’s earliest artists  a long time ago. The 130 items in this exhibit are on loan from museums in Europe and North America. This treasure chest of Native American art was tossed across the ocean ages ago when soldiers and other opportunistic eyes recognized their value and traded then off.

Horse sculpture by Lakota artist.  (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Horse sculpture by Lakota artist. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Animal power and a reverence for nature was central to Native American culture and that relationship is on full display here in almost every piece. The pipe is also a significant item in the exhibit. It served as a sacred instrument used in prayer and other rituals. A symbol of friendship and trust, the peace pipe helped seal the pact.

For the Plains Indians these items served more than one purpose.  They were more than form and function. They were part and parcel to their way of life. A war club made of walnut wood is smooth and glossy and engraved with a constellation of four-pointed stars.

War club with constellations. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

War club with constellations. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

The arrival of Europeans in the mid-1500s and onward had a significant impact on the Plains Indians, for good and bad. The goods they acquired from these new settlers entered into their artistic expression, with glass beads from Venice, cowrie shells from the Pacific Ocean, and brass buttons from England adorning their clothing and other materials. Battle gear, blankets, dresses, moccasins, shirts and headdresses, mix the natural and the New World and the items on display are a wonder. One very cool looking man’s coat of native tanned leather, porcupine quills, brilliant embroidery and metal hooks and eye fasteners was handcrafted by a Sioux-Metis woman, yet looks like something you’d see on London’s Carnaby Street.

Handcrafted man's coat. (Photo credit:  Claudia Santino)

Handcrafted man’s coat. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Traveling north from Mexico, the Spaniards introduced the horse. Native American Indians quickly harnessed its power, joining the spirit of this animal into their way of life and swiftly adapting to a more nomadic existence. If they were one with nature before, now they could ride alongside her changing seasons. They could hunt better and find the food and shelter necessary to sustain their way of life. Now on the move, they couldn’t afford to be materialistic. The creativity and craftsmanship around their evolving lifestyle is brilliant and inspiring.

The horse transferred the beast into an animal with sacred powers.

The mask transferred sacred powers. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

A saddle blanket made of leather, glass beads and wool cloth was used for resting beneath a woman’s saddle and used on social occasions to convey wealth and power. A horse mask transferred this animal into one with sacred powers in warfare or during ritual. A crupper, a strap that secures a horse’s saddle, is beautifully crafted from rawhide, native tanned leather, wool cloth, silk, glass beads, porcupine quills and metal cones. A riding dress with a Morning Star motif signals the four cardinal directions.

Photo by Claudia Santino

A crupper. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

There are many standout items on display. One of them is a cradleboard. Passed down as family heirlooms, these baby carriers worn on the back were crafted by a woman’s family and featured elaborate designs. Thunderbirds accented this one, mythical creatures recognized as powerful guardian spirits. Tiny metal cones hang around the top of a framed strap, creating a tinkling sound to soothe a baby. The thoughtfulness of which stayed with me.

A cradleboard. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

A cradleboard.  (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Something called the parfleche envelope blew me away. It was the Ziploc bag of its time, only a lot better and, clearly, a work of art. Made from buffalo rawhide by Great Plains women, this painted envelope functioned as a beautiful weather resistant container. Central to life on horseback, it was expandable, lightweight and unbreakable. I may only ride the iron horse to work every day but I like the idea of having one.

Headdresses made from raven feathers and other bird feathers and beads are majestic. Porcupine quillwork, an art form unique to Native American Indians, features strongly in their clothing and other adornments. Painted hides depict ceremonial battles, mythic birds and other forms of life and spirit, using every bit of canvas. They wasted nothing.

Oglala feather headdress worn by Chief Red Cloud. (Photo by author)

Oglala feather headdress worn by Chief Red Cloud. (Photo by author)

The Plains Indians spun materials from the natural world to evoke spiritual powers of animals and celebrate creation. A shield with a painted buffalo bull was passed down through five generations. A Cheyenne shield was used in war for almost 100 years. The animal depicted on their battle armor was the owner’s guardian spirit. The belief was that it was the image that would protect the warrior, not the shield.

Buffalo spirit shield. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Buffalo spirit shield. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Sadly, in the end nothing could protect these Native Americans. Frontier settlers and the US government stripped them of their land and devastated the natural resources, mainly buffalo, that the Indians relied upon to sustain their way of life. The artwork here, from pre contact peoples to contemporary artists, are all of the elements used in their life which serves as a canvas to tell their story. In essence, they are America’s earliest experiential travelers and storytellers.

There’s a lot to marvel over in this collection. These in between days of spring when the weather toys with us are a good excuse to call in a mental health day or take vacation and play tourist for a day or two at one the city’s greatest cultural playgrounds. A chance to see what the Plains Indians contributed to American culture.

Come see this beautiful sight before it leaves town.

Get Smart, Visit the World Science Festival 2014.

WSFMadness

There’s something about to happen in New York City at the end of May that can truly be considered a backyard bonanza for those of us who live here. For anyone looking to start their spring to summer getaways, then it’s a brilliant reason to come and visit the Big Apple. (Ground Control to travel agents—it could win you major points among your customers for recommending this trip.)

The World Science Festival 2014, May 28-June 1, is an extraordinary and fantastic celebration of science held in and around New York City. Its mission: to make science compelling and accessible to everyone. It does this by taking science out of the laboratory and bringing it to life on a local level in unique and creative ways by some of the world’s leading scientific and artistic minds.  For fans of Breaking Bad, this may just be the place to get your rocks off. The World Science Festival blows the lid off science being out of reach for us lesser earthlings by holding intimate to large-scale festival events in museums, kitchens, theatres, parks, and in the streets. Last year, the five-day festival drew over 200,000 visitors and to date has attracted over 1 million attendees.

I’ve never considered myself much of science geek but with an offering like:  Alien Life: Will We Know It When We See It? , count me among the converted! For anyone else who might think science isn’t your thing, the World Science Festival may just change your mind, too. The program features day and evening events, from a MOTH science-themed StorySLAM in a nightclub, to urban stargazing and music with astronomers and physicists. The Scientific Kitchen Series cooks up workshops on the science behind such yummy stuff from beer, to butter, to pie, to…did someone say, chocolate? Mast Brothers, artisanal Brooklyn chocolatiers, will take you behind the scenes and inspire an altogether different passion when you discover the scientific process that goes into producing a bar of your favorite dark matter.

Speaking of addictions, ever wonder why some folks can have one drink and never touch the stuff again, while others can’t stop coming back for more? The Craving Brain: The Science of Uncontrollable Urges features a panel of leading researchers whose work focuses on how addiction changes the fabric of the brain and new breakthroughs that may one day change all that. Extracting DNA from your own spit, a debate on the latest discoveries of the big bang, a theatrical exploration of Einstein’s life, an Ultimate Science Street Fair in Washington Square Park…these are just a few events that will blow your curious mind. Oh, I forgot to mention robots—they’ll be there as well.

Genetics looms large throughout the Festival and the article Scientists Add Letters to DNA’s Alphabet, Raising Hope and Fear in today’s The New York Times, is a timely lead up.  One of its signature events is On The Shoulders of Giants, which features a leading figure in the science community. This year, geneticist and humanitarian Dr. Mary-Claire King, who discovered the breast cancer gene BRCA1, will give the special address.

With such an imaginative and incredible sampling of events, there’s not a smarter reason to visit New York City right now.  Click here for the full Festival lineup and ticket info.

[youtube+https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQY43_3tvCA]

 

Ice-Skating The Winter Blues Away.

Zipping around Lake Louise.

Zipping around Lake Louise.

“If I could fire Mother Nature, I would.”

Those were the latest words from a friend who owns a construction business in New York City. The winter weather has wreaked havoc on his projects, stalling them one way or another. This, in turn, does a number on his mood.

He’s not alone. There are plenty others who’ve had it up to here with the winter of 2014. Spring may be one month away but I don’t think even a betting man would put money on it. Cabin fever is at an all time high and crankiness, moodiness, over-eating, and a general malaise are some of its main symptoms.

So if you’re not among the fortunate who planned a winter getaway, there’s only one way to beat the winter blues. Instead of trying to dodge the season, why not get up, get out, and make the most of it.

Anyone watching the Winter Olympics may already feel a bit inspired to bend their lazy bones. Sure, those athletes make it look so easy but for those of us who may be a bit skittish about taking to the slopes, especially if you haven’t dropped into a fast run for quite awhile, there’s another activity that’s pretty low maintenance, affordable, and depending on where you live, super easy on the eyes.

Ice-skating.

Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa.  (Photo credit: Ottawa Tourism)

Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa. (Photo credit: Ottawa Tourism)

Before you say no way, take a look at the prettiest 10 ice-skating rinks with a view. You may discover they’re in your own backyard. If you, or anyone you know is traveling in their vicinity, give them a tip and tell them to visit. Whether or not they like to strap on a pair of skates, the spectacular views alone will captivate them.

Central Park's Wollman Rink.

Central Park’s Wollman Rink.

From skating in Central Park with the New York City skyline twinkling all around, or zipping around an ocean side rink in cut-off shorts down in San Diego, to cutting figure eights at Somerset House in London where champagne and chocolate indulgences await you, these rinks offer a unique perspective, and experience, on sightseeing.

If you can’t make it to any of the rinks listed, chances are there’s one in your town with a cool view, and a hot cocoa, that’ll suit you just fine.

Concierges—The Keys To The City.

230 Fifth boasts the largest rooftop bar in NYC.

230 Fifth boasts the largest rooftop bar in NYC.

This week, I had the incredible opportunity to work with some of the best concierges in New York City.

While I’ve often had the occasion to work with concierges while managing events programs in hotels, as an individual traveler I recommend using their service to help acclimate yourself to any new, or familiar, destination you may visit. We may live in the “just Google it” era, but there’s no substitute for the human touch.

“The thing with us is, yes, it is the Internet age but you have guests that come to you with piles of paper from their online research that you have to sort through to put them on the right track,” says Domenic Alfonzetti, chef (French for lead or head) concierge for the InterContinental Barclay. “You booked the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, it’s not a time ticket. Now you’re stuck queuing for 90 minutes or 2 hours before you can go through the security check and board the ferry. To boot, you didn’t check the weather, it’s raining, and it’s 32 degrees, or there’s too much ice on the Hudson and the boats aren’t going out! It’s always best to check with us first before you do these things,” he said.The Statue of Liberty and the circle line Ferry

Similar to travel agents, concierges will often get you the best rates and save you time as well. They’ll give you the lay of the land, east side, west side, all around the town. Their role as hotel ambassadors isn’t just about recommendations. Speaking with guests and establishing relationships helps concierges glean information and get regular feedback on restaurants, shows, or experiences they can’t get to themselves. They count on guest feedback to get a feel for whether or not to promote these places.

Beyond these doors...

Beyond these doors…

Concierges are also tapped by other sources, like travel agents, for their expertise in sourcing the best experiences within a destination. “There’s a lot of hype in New York City tourism and the concierge is all about substance, about making the discerning choice for our guests,” said Rafael Susana, concierge with London NYC.

A pretty swank dinner awaits you.

A pretty swank dinner awaits you.

If you’re wondering if millennials use concierge services, they do…in addition to their smartphone. “A lot of young people come down for recommendations and then double check it online” said David Rahner, concierge for JW Marriott Essex House New York. “Or they might have found what they want online but had they not stopped by, they may not get that extra bit of info that they’ll need to know about location, traffic, or the best time of day to reach a destination to avoid rush hour, construction, or some other issue that’ll ruin their plans.”

Another similarity they share with travel agents is that they experience and live the information they deliver.

Nicole Longchamp, concierge for the W New York Downtown said, “It’s about providing service. For me, it’s not work. I’m a natural explorer and when I see things and enjoy them, I share them with people. I notice things that most people don’t notice and see their importance as places of interest—from hole in the wall restaurants to the hardest table to get. My life is my work.”

“The best part is when guests come back smiling and purposefully stop by my desk and give me a report back of how great their day or night was—that’s what makes it so rewarding,” says Rahner.

Ela Orosova, concierge for Loews Regency, will happily share how her service extends beyond the desk. “Many times, we deal with helping guests recover lost items, like passports, iPhones, or other valuables. Often, it’s only through the determination and follow-up of concierges that guests are reunited with their items,” she said. Orosova knows that part of her job is to ensure that a guest isn’t worrying but rather enjoying their trip.

Cold Spring, an inside day trip tip on getting outside of the city limits.  Car not required.

Cold Spring, an inside day trip tip on getting outside of the city limits. Car not required.

Alfonzetti recently taught hospitality classes for over 2,000 Super Bowl volunteers. He said he had a great time teaching, and with his warm personality, approachable manner, and killer smile, he’s a natural for this line of work. Afterward, he went on to represent the New York Concierge Association at the Super Bowl Host Committee media lounge at the Sheraton Times Square this week, where he worked with 52 fellow concierges from around the city. “Assisting the media and other guests who needed info on how to get the most out of this town has provided us a great opportunity to learn from one another and be ambassadors for the city and the state. It’s encouraging other host committees to use the untapped power of the Les Clef d’Or, the national organization, as well as the local organization of concierges.

All of the concierges I met this week have hospitality in their bones and it was a great pleasure to work and learn from them. In fact, whether you’re a traveler or a travel agent, the next time you’re staying in a hotel, if it’s not a regular practice for you, take the time to introduce yourself and ask for their assistance in turning you on to something you don’t have on your itinerary.

In the meantime, here’s an opportunity to meet Domenic Alfonzetti and hear about some of the sweet things he has in store for visitors to New York City (YouTube clips are sometimes temperamental, so if you have any issues viewing the video then just click here):

Game Plan For Super Bowl Sunday.

Aire Ancient Baths in NYC

Aire Ancient Baths in NYC.

While New York City has more than its fair share of football lovers, culturally we’re not a football town. I mean, when you think New York City, football isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

That’s about to change when football fever descends here next week in anticipation of Super Bowl XLVIII, co-hosted by New York and New Jersey.

From a tourism perspective, it’s great news. And while I certainly appreciate getting excited over a sport, when it comes to football I’d rather watch paint dry.

I’m not alone here, there are plenty of men—yes, men—and women who share my disinterest. There’s no shame in it, but it’s going to be a little hard to avoid all of the madness when it comes to town.

But there’s no need to lay low. Since the fans will either be on their couch, or in a bar, or tailgating in the winds of another polar vortex gearing up with pre-game anticipation, it’s the perfect excuse to enjoy some alone time or take advantage of the lull that’ll blanket the city on game day.

Count me out.

Count me out.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for anyone in or around NYC looking to avoid any football festivities or criticism over giving the game a cold shoulder.

Eat & Shop
Let’s face it; one of the best things about living or visiting NYC and its surrounding boroughs is the exposure to some of tastiest food and shopping on the planet. Life gets even better when you can get it all under a warm roof and that’s what you’ll find when you visit Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg. Known as a fortress of food, fashion, antiques, art and lots of other cool stuff, this weekend market has become a top attraction for locals and visitors, offering a unique alternative to the boring, big-box retail store experience.

Show Time
For anyone who still enjoys the experience of sitting in a movie theatre with a bucket of popcorn, here’s your chance. With the Oscars just around the corner, it’s the perfect opportunity to catch up on any films you might have missed without the crowds.

Pamper Yourself
Who doesn’t love a massage? Take advantage of the desire to escape by indulging yourself in a body or facial treatment.  Better yet, get a gang together.  Depending on where you live, I bet there’s a spa in your neighborhood or at a fancy hotel that’ll have what you’re looking for and without a TV screen in sight.

An easy place to while away the day.

Looks like a good plan to me.

Weekend Getaway
With everyone either heading towards New Jersey, this is the perfect weekend to travel in another direction. And with the recent snowfall, you couldn’t ask for a better time to hit the slopes. If being active isn’t your thing, no sweat. The arctic chill is the perfect excuse to hole up by a roaring fire with the Sunday paper or that book you’ve been meaning to read. The best part is, with some of the great options for winter getaway transportation you don’t have to worry about driving.

Go Downhill
The word on the street is that from next Wednesday until Saturday, Broadway from 34th to 47th streets will be transformed into Super Bowl Boulevard. With businesses in full swing, this already crazy and busy stretch of Manhattan will morph into a 14 block, open-air football festival. Yes, it will showcase all things NFL but it will also have a 180-foot toboggan run. Any excuse to hop a sled works for me, so I may have to suck it up and check it out.

A rendering of Super Bowl Boulevard.

A rendering of Super Bowl Boulevard.

There may be those who succumb to the fever and just need to grab a pitcher and a chicken wing. So on game day, for anyone whose idea of a good time is not sitting in the stands and freezing your butt off, there are plenty of bars that have a warm seat waiting for you. If your goal is to stay cozy and be part of the festivities, the NFL Host Committee has done a nice job of laying out Fan Favorite Sports Bars in NJ and NY. Although since pretty much any bar worth its margarita salt will be showing the game, I’d say you’re covered.

As for me, I intend to huddle up in my cozy apartment, read, bake, eat and enjoy my own pre-show festivities in anticipation of the next episode of True Detective.

Whatever you’re doing, stay warm and enjoy.

Happy 2014! Dive Right In, The Water’s Fine.

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge, New Year's Day 2014, Coney Island, Brooklyn, winter swimming,

I’m certified! Post swim at Coney Island.

Happy New Year! I hope it’s off to an incredible start.

After writing my last post of 2013, I thought—what the hell, why watch from the sidelines of life? So I threw myself into the frigid waters of Coney Island with the Polar Bear Club and the rest of the freaky folks who greet the New Year boldly with a running leap.

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge 2014, New Year's Day 2014, Coney Island, Brooklyn

Brrrrr.

And you know what? It wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was downright exhilarating and it’s going down in my book as the best New Year’s Day ever. After a shot of Jameson at Ruby’s, I met a bunch of folks on the boardwalk and we warmed our bones by dancing the afternoon away.

Boardwalk at Stillwell Ave, Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge 2014, New Year's Day 2014, Coney Island

Metrocard Man had unlimited dance moves.

So I started a new tradition and have set my sights on living bravely in 2014. I’m adding new travel destinations and experiences to my list and I hope you are too.  But what was really great is that in taking part in the Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge, I raised money for charity and started the year off doing two great things.

Do you have any New Year traditions or travel any place special? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

Autumn In New York, We’ve Got You Covered.

A bird’s eye view of the Cloisters Museum & Garden in New York City.

October’s the time of year when New York’s Hudson Valley is teeming with weekend visitors who leave their urban boundaries to witness one of nature’s greatest displays, fall foliage. For anyone who can enjoy this scenery on off hours, good for them. For others, it’s often a painstaking experience as they sit in traffic along the highways and byways that lead them to this glory.

For those of us who can’t get away, or for anyone visiting the New York metro area, we’ve got some pretty nice displays of our own on tap. Some natural, some manmade, but all of which are pleasing to the senses. So if you’re local and feeling at all guilty about not heading north, don’t feel so bad. There’s plenty of good stuff right here.

Anyone bent on appreciating the jewel tones of fall need only to spend some time strolling through Central Park or Inwood Park in Manhattan, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, or Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx to get their fix. There are also loads of smaller parks throughout the boroughs with showy displays where you can walk, contemplate life and check out the local neighborhoods.

One of them is Fort Tryon Park where the Cloisters Museum and Gardens is one of the city’s most unique treasures. Spending the day among its medieval art, architecture and gardens is like being transported to another place and time. A branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, they offer events, talks, tours and exhibits that cater to all age groups. Sights & Scents at the Cloisters is a specially designed gallery program for visitors with dementia and their care partners. A current exhibit, The Forty Part Motet is a sound installation set in the Fuentiduena Chapel where visitors can experience an 11-minute immersion of Renaissance music. It closes on December 8th but I’m heading there tomorrow and can’t wait to experience it.

Fuentiduena Chapel houses the Forty Part Motet.

The Fuentiduena Chapel houses the Forty Part Motet.

The Raven, The Bells, Annabel Lee. These haunting pieces of literature make for great reading, but why not enjoy them by surrounding yourself with the works of the macabre master himself? Edgar Allen Poe: Terror of the Soul is the Morgan Library & Museum’s newest exhibit and explores the writer’s fiction, poetry and influence on his contemporaries. Located on Madison Avenue and 36th Street, you can easily pair a visit to the museum, followed by a walk down to Madison Square Park at 23rd street where you’ll find a delicious assortment of culinary pop-up food vendors that await your selection.

A tech talk at See/Change at the South Street Seaport.

A tech talk at See/Change at the South Street Seaport.

With the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy fast approaching, there’s been a lot happening on a local level in and around New York City. I don’t typically spend time around the South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan but I recently passed through it. The last time I was in that area, all the restaurants, shops and businesses were shuttered because of storm damage. It was basically a ghost town. No more.

As of May, a group of like-minded folks from different walks of urban life saw the opportunity within a bad situation to improve the area for its residents, businesses, tourists, and the city. The result is See/Change and it has created a rebirth in this area and it’s a nice thing to behold. The October Fall Fest of events features music, a farmer’s market and pumpkin carving demos. Landbrot is partnering with the Seaport to celebrate Oktoberfest with their beer, brats and pretzels…yum. It’s the perfect way to spend a sunny weekend in the city. You’re out, you’re about, and even better you’re near the water.

So those are just a few things off the top of my head that are within an easy walk, train or bus ride throughout the boroughs.  If you can get away great but if not, we’ve got you covered.

Friday Night Lights.

Ride it if you dare! (Photo by author.)

Ride it if you dare! (Photo by author.)

As summer winds down, New York City still has some good—and free—stuff left in its back pocket for visitors and locals. If you’re in any of the boroughs this week, you might want to make your way to Coney Island. This historic salty dog defender of American popular culture hosts one of my favorite summer treats every Friday night.

Sadly, tomorrow is the last one of the season but the forecast calls for a sunny day, which will make for a lingering sunset and a clear night. For anyone who wants to dig in and enjoy a full day of sun and sea, then suit up, pack a beach bag with a sweatshirt (you’ll need it later) reading materials, toys, whatever floats your boat, and take the D, F, N or Q Subway train to the West 8th Street-NY Aquarium or the Stillwell Avenue stations in Coney Island. Once you’re on the beach, set up camp close to the shoreline and suck it all in.

An on old merman on the boardwalk with his poodle and his parrot.  (Photo by author.)

An on old merman on the boardwalk with his poodle and his parrot. (Photo by author.)

Coney Island is one of the craziest places on the planet. It’s New Orleans meets Nice, but with lots of wackiness thrown in. It’s where old European women still rock bikinis in their 60’s, 70, 80s, and…seriously. Where Colombians, Ecuadorians, and Mexicans peddle homemade empanadas, tacos, and pastilles, and home boys weave around blankets like roving bartenders hawking Nutcrackers, a cocktail created in Harlem. Where you can swim until your heart’s content and not have to sit in traffic to get home because the subway system makes it so easy.

Old timers tango under a gazebo. (Photo by author.)

Old timers tango under a gazebo. (Photo by author.)

The culture of Coney is a sideshow unto itself. New Yorkers who hang at this beach and boardwalk on a regular basis are salt of the earth people. Some have come since they were kids, others since they came to this country. There’s something about Coney that puts a tattoo on your heart. Like your first love, it’ll never go away.

But let’s get back to Friday. Whether you get to enjoy a full day, arrive for a sunset swim, or hit the beach at twilight—it’s time to get comfy. Relax on your blanket, or walk the boardwalk, and enjoy the night sky as the sun fades out around the Parachute Jump, Deno’s Wonder Wheel, The Cyclone Roller Coaster and the rest of the rides in Luna Park. Then wait for the show to begin somewhere around 9:45pm, although they don’t stand on ceremony at Coney.

Greatest show on earth.  (Photo credit:  Steven Kelly.)

Greatest show on earth. (Photo credit: Steven Kelly.)

At this point, lots of sailboats have come in and bob close to shore. A dull shot followed by a long whistle will ring through the air, and at the same time you’ll feel a BOOM under your blanket as the first rocket sails into the night. From there lay back and enjoy one of the most incredible firework displays. The closer you get, the better.

Coney's smokin' on Friday summer nights.  (Photo credit:  Reid Dodson.)

Coney’s smokin’ on Friday summer nights. (Photo credit: Reid Dodson.)

The grand finale sends it all up in a blaze of glory. The breeze carries the smoky residue from all that dynamite, like a hundred octopus tentacles creeping slowly across the beach as it hangs it in the air. In unison the boats blow their horns, start their engines, and toot back out to sea.

Summer’s almost gone. Coney Island’s a playground for the world, go there and have a blast.

Gimme Shelter.

Shelter Island jewels. (Photo by author)

Shelter Island jewels. (Photo by author)

Anyone who’s visited the beaches of Long Island knows how lovely they are. Over the years I’ve clocked time in the gorgeous towns of East and South Hampton, the hamlet of Amagansett, and one of my favorite places in the world, Montauk, affectionately known as The End. But in all that time, I’d never been to Shelter Island. Always passed on the way out to the eastern end of Long Island, I’d look at the ferry sign and think that one day I’d visit. Anyone I know who’s been always spoke of how gorgeous it is. This past weekend I got to see its beauty.

I’m leaving on a…quick ferry ride. (Photo credit: Tim Kelly)

Nestled between the North and South Forks of Long Island, the island really is sheltered. I was heading there for a wedding, and took the first morning train on the Long Island Railroad out to Greenport. The three-hour journey is the first step in getting that “away” feeling and gives you time to read, nap, or catch up on whatever needs catching up. By the time the train arrives, decompression is nicely underway. A few steps later you’re at the ferry, excited with the anticipation of being so close to your destination. It’s a quick seven-minute zip across Shelter Island Sound but enough time to make me feel like I was a million miles from New York City.
Visiting Shelter Island is like being in a time capsule. With its lack of noise and overall hustle and bustle, white picket fences, gabled homes, wrap around porches, rolling hills, boats bobbing in the harbor, and lush land, it feels like Mayberry RFD. Its natural beauty is startling. Just to give you an idea, The Nature Conservancy owns one-third of the island. This keeps it real and keeps it wild. No one was walking around with head’s down staring at their cell phone; in fact I didn’t see one person on their phone the entire time I was there.

Dering Harbor.

Dering Harbor.

There’s no such thing as perfect but to this visitor the pristine beauty of Shelter Island was almost overwhelming. To boot, the weather was bright sunshine, no humidity and clear skies. From the moment I checked into the Chequit Inn, the wedding couple spoiled me (and all their other guests) rotten with goodies and meals. Sure, I was there to celebrate their union but being there gave me—and the rest of the crowd—an opportunity for a little vacation. A mode that everyone seemed to take to immediately.

The added bonus was reuniting with friends who don’t live in the US anymore, and making new ones. A gang of us rented bikes and spent Saturday exploring. It’s probably the best way to see Shelter Island, you can stop and start back up when you like. We rolled through the roads of Dering Harbor and gaped at the off the hook homes that look like something out of The Great Gatsby. We made a pit stop on a wide-arced, sandy white beach, empty except for a sole person in a deck chair reading; a turquoise umbrella sheltered her. Aside from the gentle lapping of water on the shoreline, all was quiet. She had the world at her feet and heaven around her.

A sweet ride.

A sweet ride.

We swam in Coecles Harbor, near the Ram’s Head Inn, where I found my new favorite sport—paddle boarding. We could have lolled seaside all day but we had to head back to our hotel to get spiffed up for the night’s festivities. Cycling home along the shoreline the breeze carried the sweet smell of grass and clover mixed with salty air, creating the sort of moment that only summer can bring. The sort of feeling you had as kid, when you didn’t have a care in the world. When a minute seemed like an hour, and before sound became noise. The feeling that you didn’t want the day to end, wishing you could capture it forever. Magic.

Sunset ceremony sky over Coecles Harbor.  (Photo credit:  Lawrence J. Winston)

Sunset ceremony sky over Coecles Harbor. (Photo credit: Lawrence J. Winston)

We returned to the Ram’s Head for the outdoor wedding ceremony during that golden hour where the sun blazed over the rolling lawn that overlooks the harbor. As it set, it cast a lingering gift of neon orange glow over the dinner party. Then this brilliant fireball slowly dipped into the sea. Delicious food, good times, no one wanted the glamorous night to end but we eventually had to call it quits.

Show me to my table.  (Photo credit:  D. Powell)

Show me to my table. (Photo credit: D. Powell)

The following day the celebration continued with lunch on a secluded private beach. More food, more drink, more laughs, more swimming. We combed for seashells and found a treasure of mermaid’s toenails, scallop, spindle and snail shells. My sun hat became a bucket for my bounty. So many shells, so much sunshine, so much summer.

Someone asked me what time I was leaving, I said never.

Happy As A High Tide Clam.

Ahoy matey, see you at the Wall.

Ahoy matey, see you at the Wall. (Photo credit: sailmanhattan.com)

Any plans to visit New York City anytime between now and October? If so, then you might want to think about fitting this into your itinerary. This goes for any locals who haven’t taken advantage of what’s bobbing in their own backyard.

The Honorable William Wall is a floating clubhouse in the midst of New York Harbor, courtesy of the Manhattan Sailing Club. For anyone who can’t get enough of the city skyline, or just any opportunity to be on the water, it’s a must.

Are we there yet? (Photo credit: Peter Vincent Acken)

Are we there yet? (Photo credit: Peter Vincent Acken)

Anchored from May through October, the clubhouse is open Tuesday through Saturday and getting there is a breeze. Just head to the North Cove Marina in Battery Park City and hop aboard the Admiral’s Launch. Club members sail for free, otherwise it’s $18 round-trip and worth every penny. Reservations get priority boarding so if you’re set on sailing, book an advance ticket.

Some folks visit this watering hole for the chance to see evening sailboat races, while most others probably head there to sip a few while the sun starts its slow dip and lights up the city’s skyline. With 360-degree views that include Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, Jersey City, and Governors Island, there’s not a bad seat on this barge.

Not a bad sight.  (Photo credit: sailmanhattan.com)

Not a bad sight. (Photo credit: sailmanhattan.com)

Some friends and I visited this past Saturday. The sun was blazing and the weather was perfect as we bounced across the choppy water. About fifteen minutes later we disembarked, I looked up and a sign read “Welcome Aboard! Today’s special is “Bloody Floatin’ Mary’s.” My kind of place.

It was a Dark & Stormy night.  (Photo credit: Peter Vincent Acken)

It was a Dark & Stormy night. (Photo credit: Peter Vincent Acken)

The open-air, full service bar on the upper deck was bustling, and customers were ordering Dark and Stormy cocktails faster than the bartenders could mix them. There were smiles all around and everyone looked blissful in a way that only comes from being on the water. All of the tables and chairs were taken so we made our way to the lower deck and pitched our picnic atop a storage unit, unpacked some homemade snacks, made a toast, and enjoyed the view. On the tender back, the moon was rising.

The William Wall owes its sea legs to a Civil War congressman who was an ancestor of the club’s commodore, who runs this floating roadhouse. One of the draws is that you can bring your own grub. The clubhouse has some basic bar food, and you can even cater to the barge from an outside vendor, but all drinks must be ordered from the house. Not a bad deal in my book.

Far away, so close.  (Photo credit: Peter Vincent Acken)

Far away, so close. (Photo credit: Peter Vincent Acken)

These days it’s harder and harder to find a best kept secret in NYC but most folks I know haven’t heard of the Willy Wall. As far as new favorite things go, it’s made the list. I don’t have to travel far, get to be on the water, meet people, and appreciate my city from a different point of view.

Come visit. I’ll see you at the Wall!