There are days when plans just come together and midway through the day you realize that you’ve constructed one of those perfect NYC days. We had one of those days over the weekend. It ended with a sunset view of the Manhattan skyline that was so incredible, that it couldn’t have been scripted better.
We also explored a small corner of the city that we have never been to before. As big as the city is, we often tend to stick to places familiar to us. It was a good reminder that the city is big and there is so much out there we have yet to see. I had never been to Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens before and when I saw that they were hosting free sculpture workshops every Saturday during the summer with a different artist and theme each week, I made sure to put it on our summer list of things to do.
It’s kind of hard to describe Socrates. At first impression it’s an odd little park that feels a little rough around the edges, but when you dig a little deeper and see all the art that’s happening – on view and in progress – you realize that it has a creative energy that you don’t see very often in public view. Aside from the free weekly art workshops for kids and adults (and outdoor movies in the summer too), there is a network of cargo containers and an open air workshop that make up artist in residency studios that the Park grants to select artists and architects. A small farmer’s market sold local and regional produce just a few meters away from where artists were working on their sculptures, and a dance company was working their way through choreography as part of a week-long residency program for dancers this month.
While we sat there watching the dancers rehearse, I realized that I felt like I was on an art school campus. It had that type of creative energy that we used to be surrounded by when we went to school, but haven’t really been immersed in since. It made me miss that free spirited energy back in college days when all we did was create and make things. In a city where there is so much art to take in, it’s somewhat unusual to have access to view works in progress like this. In the boat making workshop that we participated in last Saturday, it wasn’t just the kids who wanted to build and create; I saw a fair number of parents constructing their own boats alongside their kids. It’s hard to just stand idly by when there are so many fun and tactile materials to play with. It just goes to show…creativity can be contagious.
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Coney Island can be fun, but on a blazing hot day at the height of summer, it’s not exactly my first choice for a good time. I’m not sure why we never thought to go during sunset hours before because let me tell you, that golden hour light makes everything glow with a charm. Kick in a cool ocean breeze and the twinkle of amusement lights that gradually illuminate the boardwalk and the place transforms altogether. We have this thing that we do with the kids sometimes where we won’t tell them where we’re going, but rather keep it as a surprise until they can guess. It’s a little tortuous and they probably get really annoyed at us, but hey, sometimes we take liberties as parents and have some fun (at their expense). Last week we decided quite at the last minute to take a train ride to Coney Island after the day’s plans got totally derailed from that bad mood I had that day. I guess the parental guilt crept in and I wanted to make it up to the girls. They were thrilled, of course, and it was so nice to be out there in the ocean air watching the day transition into night.
When we took the train home after the sun went down, I sat there in the mostly empty subway car remembering how I used to ride the same F train as a teenager in college, coming home from some crazy winter Fun House party in Coney Island, back to the East Village. That one hour ride was long from the end of the line in Brooklyn to 2nd Ave in Manhattan. It seemed even longer still at 2am in the morning, particularly if you were tired and maybe a little, um, messed up from partying.
Coney Island doesn’t look like it did back in those days in the late 80s, but even with all the shiny new rides it still somehow feels like Coney Island, with a little less flavor and a lot less trash. If you’re curious about what it looked like in the 80s, here’s an Air Supply video for you, shot in Coney Island around 1982. People around my age should remember this cheesy song. I mean my god, Air Supply was big around that era, weren’t they? The Solid Gold era as I like to refer to those music years from when I was a kid. If you’re not from my generation then maybe you’ll recognize this song from supermarket shopping or riding elevators.
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The light is already shifting, can you tell? Sundown is creeping earlier, but it wasn’t something I noticed until today. This is the midway point during summer when time seems to accelerate. August is always a blur of a month for us as we try to wrap things up in preparation for our trip. When we get back in early September, we’ll have just a few days to adjust before school starts, and so it always seems like every summer outing, every trip to the beach, the pool, or outdoor performance from this point on will be our last.
We’re having some really spectacular weather lately. The kind of weather that makes you want to stay out long after the sun goes down, that makes sleeping at night with the windows wide open cool enough to pull blankets around you. The kind of weather that reminds you why you liked summer in the first place and makes you wish it would take its time even though it leads into your favorite season (Fall)…
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Another reason to visit Governor’s Island this season is this sculpture called Head in the Clouds, constructed by Studio Klimoski Chang Architects and brought to you by Figment NYC. We actually saw a bit of the construction of this sculpture the first weekend we were at Governor’s Island and were debating what it was going to be. The outside structure, built entirely of white milk jugs, is impressive in its size and ambition itself, but having known nothing about the interior of the piece, we were blown away at what we saw when we entered. I love things that are unexpected upon closer inspection. Clear plastic water bottles filled with varying shades and amounts of blue water create this wonderfully textured topographic landscape that shifts with the filtered light above you. The piece is made up of over 53,000 plastic bottles – the amount of bottles, supposedly, that New Yorkers throw away in an hour. Whoa.
The heat finally broke last weekend and temperatures are back to normal, more humane levels. It was even downright brisk yesterday and we pulled out sweaters and wore jeans for the first time in over a month. It felt weird…like the first day you walk out of the house without a jacket.
During the heatwave, I became that person you see carrying an open umbrella around them for shade. I didn’t do it intentionally at first. We’ve been getting a bunch of days where it will rain totally out of the blue, even getting some sunshowers, so there were days when I had an umbrella with me just in case. It didn’t occur to me to use it for shade though until one day when I couldn’t take the sun anymore. I looked in my bag for something and there it was, the umbrella. Sure, it felt a little silly at first because the only people you really see carrying around an umbrella for shade are old people and Asian ladies, but uh, seeing as I am both, I totally embraced it once I realized how awesome it is to walk under a constant shade source wherever you go. Can’t argue with that, can you?
Sometimes I feel like I’m raising little old ladies. They told me to turn down the music the other day and Mia said that she didn’t like going to concerts because the music was too loud. I was thinking about how I might have to chaperone them to concerts one of these days, but maybe that won’t be happening anytime soon. Maybe I’ve been watching too many Youtube videos of Coachella and Glastonbury performances sorta kinda wishing I could be there. Or maybe not. I don’t know…that ship has probably long sailed, the one where I camp out at music festivals with thousands of other people like I did 24 years ago (ok, now that I type that out it sounds really unappealing), but could you imagine going with your kids? All sorts of potential embarrassment fodder right there. I guess I’m waiting for the day the girls will want to replace their posters of peregrine falcons (no joke, I told you they were bird nerds) with band posters and start fawning over musicians. You know, like we did with Duran Duran when we were 10.
Speaking of music, I’ve been listening to these 2 Australian bands a lot lately, Tame Impala and Pond who both share band members who play multiple instruments and are like 25 years old. I can’t remember the last time I got this obsessively into a new band, maybe since the 90s???
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This right here might be my favorite thing in NYC this summer. Governor’s Island is the first American stop for this rare collection of 19th and 20th century French vintage carnival rides and Fete Paradiso is every bit as charming as it looks. Even the background music of accordions and the mix of occasional cuts from the Amelie soundtrack that’s pumped in through the speakers adds to the atmosphere. I often think that attendants dressed in costume can be overdone (like in the Punk: Chaos to Couture show at the Met), but everything just works here, right down to the roped off pavilion where you can sit under strung lights and chandeliers and order food from the French cafe, Le Gamin.
The vintage rides are truly spectacular and it’s amazing that they’re still functional. You almost have to keep reminding yourself of just how old these rides really are and it seems like a privilege to be able to take a ride on museum quality pieces of art. Maybe the most glaring reminder that these date back to the 19th and 20th century is that the rides don’t have seat belts. The girls rode one dragon ride that went quite fast, backwards and forwards, and as they took off I heard them yell, “but where are the seeeeeatbelts!!!”
Fete Paradiso runs on Governor’s Island until September 29.
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I’m not going to lie. So far the weather this summer has been sort of miserable in that city humidity overload kind of way, so we’ve been spending more time indoors, though there is some relief when the sun goes down. It’s still a bit novel to be out at night with the kids now since they can stay up so much later, so we’ve been doing more things in the evenings. On Wednesday, we went to the South Street Seaport to catch a movie outdoors. The Seaport isn’t a place that we normally go to, but there are some new developments set up this summer called See Change to revitalize the area that includes pop up retail in cargo containers, events like the movie series, and a whole Brooklyn Flea Smorgasbar set up. Plus the branding and signage is really appealing and I’m a sucker for that type of stuff.
First off, Smorgasbar is really great. There are 10 or so booths of food, ample picnic tables, plenty of festive lights, and a super air conditioned restroom trailer that had around 8 stalls (in the women’s side, at least). Locating public restrooms is always on my radar so this was exciting. Mia even remarked that she wanted to stay in there a little longer because the air conditioning was so nice. The movie was set up right adjacent to Smorgasbar on a raised platform of astroturf with rows of reclined chairs. They even passed out blankets for the people up front to sit and lay on, and the bags of popcorn that the staff filled from the popping machine all movie long was also free. The girls and I always debate whether or not anything truly free exists in the world (other than air) and this evening definitely qualified (samples at Costco also qualifies in their book too).
We saw Ice Age that evening and it was a lot of fun. It’s not as big a movie screen or scene as the Bryant Park outdoor movies and quite frankly, who has time to stake out a spot on the lawn hours before sundown anyway. This was smaller and a lot cozier, plus bigger bathrooms and better food. Movie nights are Wednesdays and Saturdays at 8pm and there are a whole bunch of other films that I’d be interested in seeing too (Gigi?? Perhaps my favorite musical of all time? Breaking Away?!). Check out the full event schedule right here.
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