Friday, September 25, 2015

Day Two New York

The view from our doorway on East 73rd Street
Today was Pope Francis' only full day in New York and it was very full indeed, including:  a speech to the UN General Assembly, a visit to the September 11th Memorial and Museum, a visit to a Catholic school in East Harlem, a "procession" through Central Park and Mass in Madison Square Garden.

For me, his temporary neighbor, today was pretty much a repeat of yesterday.  There were police cars and "black cars" (possibly Secret Service) parked up to the door, lots of barricades and lots of walking.
East 73rd Street looking west toward Madison

Today was my usual day to work as a volunteer in the Metropolitan Museum's Visitor Services department.  I left the house extra early so as to allow time to walk up to the museum and to allow for any obstacles on the route.  Surprisingly, the walk was very clear and I arrived extra early. Also surprisingly Madison Avenue was open to traffic and to pedestrians, at least on the eastern side.
Madison Avenue and 73rd Street looking South toward
72nd Street around 2 PM.  The Pope had just returned
from his visits to the UN and September 11th
Memorial and Museum

The museum seemed somewhat empty, but my experience over the next few hours suggested that this was more the effect of the easing off of the summer tourism crush than anything to do with our distinguished visitor.  I was pretty steadily busy all afternoon, without the thumb twiddling periods of idleness my first impression suggested.  We had a steady stream of visitors, including many from Australia, with a few Europeans as well, plus the constant number of American visitors.  The subject of the papal visit came up occasionally, mostly when the visitor asked about travel to the West Side or about Central Park.  We don't just get questions about the museum contents and exhibitions, bathrooms and restaurants.  I've been asked for directions to various points in the city, where to find the subways, how to use the buses and even for recommendations on where to eat near Grand Central Station.  This afternoon one young man wanted guidance on where to find bodies of water in Central Park that weren't off limits.  The small lake near 59th Street, the Conservatory Pond and the main Lake were all off limits today.   The answer:  enter the park at 85th Street, which will give you access to the Turtle Pond to the South (which may or may not be off limits) and the Reservoir to the North (definitely not off limits).  

Returning home from a meeting that took place after my shift ended I found things much the same as last night, although there were even more police cars parked on the block.  Things are very quiet as they were last night too.  I hope that the Holy Father will have a restful night before his departure early tomorrow for Philadelphia.  He has surely earned it.  
East 73rd Street looking west toward Madison Avenue

Adios Santo Padre!  Dios te bendiga!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Day One New York

East 73rd Street this afternoon looking toward Madison Avenue

So, today was the first day in the city for my new neighbor, Pope Francis.  And boy, oh boy is he being protected!

I can't say that I have yet seen video of the events of the day here in the Big Apple.  His arrival coincided with my departure from my apartment and I have only just returned home from two events (more about them later).

When I left my apartment I stepped off the elevator and out the door to find the entire block filled with parked police vehicles.

East 73rd Street looking toward Park Avenue
They were parked mostly on the sidewalk, perpendicular to the street, so that they could make a quick exit, but leaving little room for pedestrians. That was pretty amazing.

My way led to Madison Avenue which was still open to traffic, though with lots of barricades.

Madison Avenue and 73rd Street looking south circa 6 PM
Returning home I found that the street has been blocked at both ends by heavy Sanitation trucks.

Park Avenue at East 73rd Street circa 9 PM

Before entering my block I strolled down Park Avenue to 72nd Street and found that street even more heavily blockaded and very brightly lit.  In addition, the sidewalks were completely closed by barricades.

East 72nd Street looking west from Park Avenue
There was no possibility of a group forming across from the residence to serenade the Pope as happened with Pope Benedict in 2008.  In that famous New York phrase, fu-ged-a-bow-dit!

East 72nd Street sidewalk looking west from Park Avenue
Returning to my own block I walked to the Madison Avenue end and found the avenue as completely off limits as 72nd Street was.  I wonder if the stores, galleries and restaurant on that and the blocks on the other side of 72nd Street will even bother to open tomorrow.  There seems little point.

Madison Avenue at 73rd Street looking south at 9 PM
And, on a lighter note, the bobble head Pope Francis has been moved to a seat on one of the stools in the antique store window.
L'Antiquaire window

My activities of the evening were all within walking distance.  The first was a lecture on Iconoclasm in Spain during the Spanish Civil War.  An astonishing number of religious works of art were destroyed, and I do mean destroyed, by the Republicans, according to the scholar presenting the talk.  They included an early Michelangelo statue, a Crucifixion by Francisco de Mena and numerous paintings by El Greco, Zurbaran and others.  There was some destruction by the Fascists, as well, though this was apparently more in the nature of collateral damage than deliberate destruction such as occurred on the other side.  It is interesting that in all periods and places in which iconoclasm occurs it is religious images and especially the faces of the images that are most vehemently attacked.  I may make further comments on this in a subsequent post.

After the lecture I went to a concert.  This was a performance of Karl Jenkins' "Mass for Peace, the Armed Man".  The name derives from the Renaissance motet, "L'Homme Armé", which forms the base for the first piece in the current work.  Tonight's performance, by the Amor Artis Chorus and the New York Camerata Orchestra was certainly powerful, blisteringly so in fact.  It was accompanied by the projection of video, obviously put together by persons working with the composer, using images of war and peace from nearly ever period of history from the Roman Empire to today.   I had some reservations about some of the images, partly because they were definitely British in tone, partly because they seemed distinctly Euro-centric and partly because they used footage of the attack on the World Trade Center, including the moment of attack on the south tower and of that tower's fall.  I was concerned that there could be people in the audience who may have lost family or friends in that event, especially as its appearance was unexpected.  Still, the concert definitely had something important to say about war and peace, if only that peace is generally better than war.  However, we do need to remember that there may at times be things worth fighting for, we just need to be sure that we know the difference.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Papal Prep Ends -- Tomorrow is P-Day!

An empty East 73rd Street between Madison and Park Avenues
Well, here we are at last.  It's the evening before the Pope arrives and things are clearly ramping up here in New York.

This afternoon I was once again required to get down to midtown.  I left my apartment at 73rd Street between Park and Madison Avenues around 1:30 for a 2:15 appointment at 53rd Street, taking one of the Fifth Avenue bus routes to get there.  After my appointment and a snack I walked home up Fifth Avenue and through Central Park to 72nd Street, so I covered quite a lot of the areas that will see the Pope tomorrow and Friday.  And here is what I saw along my way.

At 1:30 my street was completely void of parked cars, although traffic could still drive through.

East 72nd Street between Madison and Fifth Avnues
At 1:30 East 72nd Street between Madison and Fifth Avenue was still pretty much as it has been since the weekend.  However, metal barricades have been placed along the opposite side of the street.  There are also metal barricades that are in place to restrict access to the opposite sidewalk from the avenue and many more barricades were waiting to be put in place.

The same barricades were piled up along Fifth Avenue in the 50s, waiting to be positioned (probably overnight).
Fifth Avenue at 53rd Street with steel barricades ready to be positioned
The thought flashed through my mind that whoever makes these things must have really made a lot of money lately.

One of the stranger sights I saw all day occurred after my appointment, when I walked down Madison Avenue to a favorite snack site.  As I walked past the Madison Avenue side of the Palace Hotel I noticed a group of young men in clerical dress exiting the Archbishop's residence at 50th Street.  As I approached and they crossed the street I realized that they were carrying liturgical stuff.
Group of young priests or seminarians with liturgical items
One had a green chausable on a hanger, another had a black bag that probably contained a chalice and paten, a third had what looked suspiciously like the silver cross that was carried by Pope St. John Paul II and frequently used by Pope Francis and a fourth had what looked like the stand for the cross. They continued to head east along 50th Street.  I couldn't help but wonder where they were going.

After my snack I headed for Fifth Avenue and began my northward journey.  Passing St. Patrick's Cathedral I saw the usual flocks of tourists taking pictures and streaming in and out.  But there was also a TV crew hanging out at the 50th Street side and a row of portable toilets at the 51st Street side, both things you don't see there every day.

St. Patrick's Cathedral, 50th Street and Fifth Avenue

St. Patrick's Cathedral, 51st Street and Fifth Avenue (the portable toilets are the small structures with the white roofs)

However, there were a few things that made me laugh, especially the use being made by a tourist couple of the concrete blocks positioned in front of Tiffany on 57th Street and Fifth.
In front of Tiffany's

At the Plaza entrance to Central Park (where General Sherman, who was a Catholic, has appeared again from underneath the wrappings he's been wearing recently, but where the scaffolding surrounding his portion of the Plaza is still standing) there was an obvious police presence, with a mobile command truck in place.
Entrance to Central Park, Fifth Avenue at 59th Street

After a leisurely stroll through the zoo, where I joined a group of small children who were squealing with delight as they watched the sea lions doing some after hours cavorting in their pool, I exited around 6:20 at 72nd Street and Fifth to a decidedly more active scene than the one I had left about five hours before.
Fifth Avenue at 72nd Street

Police were hard at work moving the previously piled up concrete blocks into the road (using a fork lift). Farther down the block I could see that a police guard has been added in front of the residence of the papal nuncio and that the street was now filled with various kinds of police vehicles.

The south side of  72nd Street and Madison Avenue showing from left to right:  the former Rhinelander Mansion, now Ralph Lauren; the new Ralph Lauren store (it was under construction when Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2008, but looks like it was actually built in 1908); a private house and the papal residence, now under police guard.

At the Madison Avenue corner all had changed.  Steel gates (that apparently drop to allow entry to cars) and a guard box have been positioned and the concrete blocks had already been placed.
Corner of Madison and 72nd Street with the blocks, gates and guard box in position.

Back on my own block all was peaceful, but there had been one small addition.  There is a small antique store across the street from my building.  A Pope Francis bobble head statue has been added to the shop window.

Pope Francis bobble head in the window
of L'Antiquaire shop

Finally, a message from building management had been posted in the mail room.  It advised tenants to bring photo ID with them for the next few days.  I have photo ID and official mail all ready to carry with me to prove my identity and residence.

I probably won't be able to do much about seeing the Pope this time around.  I don't have tickets for any event or for the park or the streets and I need to be elsewhere most of the time anyway.  I will be at a concert tomorrow evening at my parish.

It is a performance of contemporary Welsh composer, Karl Jenkins, Mass for Peace "The Armed Man" being presented by the Amor Artis Chorus and the Camerata New York Orchestra in honor of Pope Francis' visit.  Prior to that I will be attending a lecture at the Institute of Fine Arts on iconoclasm in Spain during the 1930s.  And on Friday I will be working at my volunteer position at the Metropolitan Museum, followed by a meeting of the Blessed Sacraments Associates of which I am an as yet a trainee member.  So, each evening I will be coming back later than usual.  But if I see anything of interest I will note it.  At least all these events are in the immediate neighborhood, so I can walk to all.

So, welcome to New York, Pope Francis.  We're ready for you!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Papal prep update

It's not the Pope, but it is a Cardinal and I saw several of them
(and their pretty mates) on my two Central Park birdwalks today.
I spent most of today birding in Central Park with two organized groups, the first from the American Museum of Natural History and the second from the New York City branch of the Audubon Society, so I didn't have as much exposure to the papal preparations as on other days.  But I did observe a few things:

1.  Parked cars were indeed missing from my block and from the blocks around me.  However, they were replaced by limousines that were "standing" (i.e., their drivers were sitting in the cars).  I guess the drivers of the many other dignitaries that are in the city for the UN General Assembly are taking advantage of the open spaces!  But coming home after dark I observed not one single car anywhere, so the signs are being respected.
2.  Central Park West has been cleared of parked cars above 72nd Street.  Apparently, all the blocks from Columbus Circle to West 81st Street have been cleared.
3.  The park will be closed from 81st Street south to 59th Street all the way across from Fifth Avenue to Central Park West on Friday.  So, no jogging, no walking the dog, no birding, no nothing except for those who have the tickets for what is being called a "procession" through the park.  The birding group leader from the Museum of Natural History said he has just cancelled his early morning Friday birdwalk.  Otherwise, he would have to take the participants up to the North Woods (northern end of Central Park) and be late for work.

So, that's New York with just two days to go.  And, because Yom Kippur began this evening, I wish an easy fast to all my Jewish friends .  Security for their synagogues and temples is another thing that the NYPD has to be concerned about this week.  As they say, it never rains but it pours!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Still More Papal Prep

Channel 7 news truck parked near the Vatican Mission Residence on Monday afternoon
Things are really heating up in New York as the big week begins.  With the General Assembly already in session and heads of state arriving traffic in mid-town was already getting nasty.  On Monday I had to be in mid-town for several reasons (and will be there again on Wednesday).  Traffic down Park Avenue was not bad till my cab passed 57th Street.  Then we stopped almost completely.  The next two blocks were a creeping crawl, with minutes of just standing still.  Since I had to be somewhere at 11 I ended up paying the fare and getting out and walking the rest of the way.

I followed my meeting with the Noon Mass at St. Patrick's.  I haven't seen the interior of the cathedral since attending the Vigil Mass the evening before the funeral of Cardinal Egan in March.  At that time there was still a great deal of scaffolding still in place, so it was very nice to see the newly cleaned interior all fresh and shining in anticipation of Thursday evening's Vesper service with the Pope.  Even so, it was obvious that some final details are still being worked on.  But there was one big negative impression.  From where I sat (on the 51st Street side, near the transept door) I could hear almost nothing said by the woman lector or the presiding priest, who seemed to be visiting from the diocese of Metuchen (at least that's what I think he said) when they stood at the lectern for the readings and homilette.  Sound was fine once the priest and concelebrants moved to the altar.  So, clearly it wasn't my ears that failed.  I certainly hope that those who will be sitting in that same location Thursday evening will have an easier time hearing than I did.

As one might expect, the area around the cathedral clearly shows the effect of planning for security.  The same large concrete blocks have been placed along 51st Street (which is how I approached and left the cathedral) as are located in my neighborhood.

Returning home in mid-afternoon I discovered that the trees and streetlights of my own block have been covered with the same signs I saw on 72nd Street last Friday.  So, as of Tuesday morning at 1 AM there will be no parking permitted on the block till Saturday evening at 8 PM.   I knew the block would be closed to traffic during the overnight hours both Thursday and Friday, but having the no parking effort applied so soon here too was a bit of a surprise.

A late afternoon errand took me across Central Park to the West Side and the tale is the same.  Central Park West will also be off limits for parking (on both sides) starting Tuesday morning and ending Saturday evening.  In fact, south of 72nd Street the west side of CPW (with the buildings) has already been barricaded by the police as far down as Columbus Circle.  I'll be over there again tomorrow and will see if the barricading will have spread north of 72nd Street.  

Returning home again in the early evening I found our evening doorman, whose shift ends at midnight, wondering out loud where he can park his car these next few days.  I'm sure there are quite a few folks in Manhattan wondering the same thing tonight.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

More Papal Prep

The center of it all -- the residence of the Papal Ambassador to the United Nations (middle building of the three)

Things continue to get interesting around the corner from me.  As I walked to Central Park this afternoon I passed new evidence of preparations for next week's stay by Pope Francis.

Apparently the street will be completely closed to parking beginning early Tuesday morning (two days before his scheduled arrival).
Newly posted No Parking signs adorn the block
Meanwhile, at the Fifth Avenue end of the block steel gates and a police sentry box have been delivered and are awaiting placement.

Steel gates awaiting placement at Fifth Avenue

The police sentry box awaiting placement

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Papal Prep

Notice of the reopening of the Breuer Building as an arm of
the Metropolitan have replaced the "We've Moved!" sign 
at the former Whitney Museum building
Almost two years ago I moved for the first time in nearly 40 years.  I left the apartment into which I had moved, with my mother, when I was a young graduate student and went about ten blocks away, to a building designed specifically for people over 55.  It was a move that could not have come at a worse time in my life.  I accepted the apartment about two weeks before I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Preparing for the move took place at the same time as preparations for a mastectomy and continued during painful complications from the surgery and the opening rounds of chemotherapy.  That it was accomplished at all is due to the love and support and material help from friends who gave me their time, their energy, their sweat and even their money.  I can never repay any of them for their generosity, except with my prayers.

Even though in the same general area of Manhattan as my old home (i.e., the Upper East Side) my new one is in what is sometimes referred to as "west of Third Avenue" (i.e., the more expensive half of the UES, between Third and Fifth Avenues). And some of my new neighbors are indeed exalted.  There are cultural institutions like the Frick or the former Whitney (soon to be the Met Breuer) museums.  Eleanor Roosevelt died around the corner.  The French embassy is two blocks away.  Prince William and Princess Kate could have waved to me from the windows of the Carlyle Hotel. And next week Pope Francis will be sleeping around the corner.

Blocks piled at 71st and Fifth
While the opening week of the United Nations General Assembly every year always brings Manhattan to a virtual halt, throwing the Pope into the mix compounds the chaos exponentially.  And the security plans for this papal visit seem rather outrageously overdone.  Possibly because Francis does not want to use the popemobile security concerns have resulted in the issuance of tickets (tickets!) that will be required just to stand on the street or in Central Park to watch him drive by.  That's insane!

Blocks at 72nd and Fifth
I remember the first papal visit, by Pope Paul VI, in 1966.  I went with my mother to Central Park to watch him drive by.  No one needed tickets for it, you just showed up.  It was the same with the two visits by Pope St. John Paul II.  On his first visit in 1979 he drove down the block I was working on (East 49th Street) and we all went downstairs to see him.  Later the same day he drove up Madison Avenue and I caught another glimpse of him as I walked home.  No tickets required.  My cousin staked herself out in front of the papal mission for the entire day.  It was the slow death process of that same cousin that prevented me from attempting to catch a glimpse on his second visit in 1995.  But on a trip to Rome in 1988 I was lucky enough to attend a beatification ceremony at St. Peter's, which more than made up for that.
Blocks piled mid-block between Fifth and Madison Avenues
For Pope Benedict's visit in 2008 I caught glimpses on Park Avenue and on Fifth without a ticket.  I did have a ticket for Mass at Yankee Stadium, the only time I've ever tried to get a ticket for one of the actual papal events in New York.  None of this will be possible this time around, all due to security concerns.

Already preparations are underway.  In the last few days the police department has begun delivering huge concrete blocks to the corners of 72nd Street (where the residence of the papal mission to the UN is located).  See some of the piles of blocks in the accompanying photos.
Blocks at 72nd and Madison Avenue
Streets will be blocked off, including my street.  I wonder if I will have to show proof of residence just to get back home next Thursday and Friday, something I never had to worry about on my old block.

Sometimes living near the scene of the action can be one big headache.