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It's A Wrap

By Barbara Keer, Travel Editor, Chicago Splash

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The lure of NY “all dressed up” and the long President”s Day weekend was too much to resist.  So off we went past the airport gates where people were heading for warm places, like Aruba and found ourselves instead in cold, windy but sunny New York, to see Christo”s The Gates.

 This project is very controversial. Some believe that the money spent could have gone elsewhere to better purpose, others are captured by a sense of whimsy, the uniqueness of the event, the fact that after so long, it happened and just the fun of being a part of this interactive temporary art experience. Christo and Jeanne Claude say their works “are temporary in order to endow the works of art with a feeling of urgency to be seen, and the love and tenderness brought by the fact that they will not last.”

We were asked, “Is it beautiful”“  I don”t feel that they are.  Is the experience powerful” Yes.  Is it meaningful” Yes.  Is it memorable” Yes.  Are you glad you were there” Yes

         

To be there, to experience the people, the changing light, the movement, the different parts of the park, the sun, the cold, the wind, the gates” and they are very orange and very energetic.  To see them from a helicopter, a balcony, a roof, etc a horse and carriage, a bus, etc isn”t really to see them.  To “see” them is to interact with them.

         

When asked why it was so important that the work be in Central Park, Christo and Jeanne Claude state,” When our son was a little boy, we used to take him to Central Park every day-he loved to climb the beautiful rocks.  Central Park was a part of our life.”

Central Park is nestled in the center of the city.  It is 843 acres with its 6-mile perimeter extending from Central Park West to Fifth Avenue, and 59th to 110th Streets.  It is the first major landscaped public park in the USA and was the beginning of landscape architecture with Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux winning a competition to design the park.  The Manhattan rock outcrops in the park are approximately 450 million years old. Central Park”s landscapes were created from barren swampland and it took 16 years and $14 million to build it.

Christo and Jeanne Claude first proposed this project in 1971.  They were inspired by observing the vast flow of people walking through the streets and wanted a project directly related to the human scale.

         

Entering Central Park at 59th and 5th, we were immediately aware of being a part of The Gates.  There are 7,500 gates, 16 feet high with a width varying from 5 feet 6 inches to 18 feet lining 23 miles of footpaths in the park.  The free-hanging “saffron-colored” (orange) fabric panels hang down to 7 feet above the ground.  They beg to be touched.


And children on parents shoulder, tall people, short people who can jump do reach up and touch the bottom of the fabric and I did.  It was planned that The Gates would create a visual golden river appearing and disappearing through the bare branches of the trees, highlighting the shapes of the footpaths. Walking toward the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we were very aware of how the people walking through really become a part of the piece, how The Gates force you to notice everything else, the way the sun changes the color when it reflects on The Gates.   Climbing five flights of stairs, we reached our goal, the balcony at the Metropolitan Museum and looked over the balcony to see The Gates but were disappointed.  The interactive quality we experienced through the park just wasn”t there looking down.

         

On our second day we explored the park with Richard Brounstein who moved to NY from LA eight years ago and loves the city. He jogs through the park most days and knows it well.  He watched the gates rise suddenly out of what seemed like nowhere and found them a wonderful contrast to the bleak park in winter.  He enjoys them and hates to see them go.  We met at Columbus Circle, near the large gold statue of Christopher Columbus.  Passing through The Gates, looking at The Gates, listening to people from everywhere, laughing, talking, enjoying, we moved through the park past the playground, the Carousel, the Mall, where statues of artists like Beethoven and Bach lined our path.  As we walked along, we noticed a number of young people carrying long poles topped with tennis balls.  Is this a new sport, we wondered and asked one of the young people, Josh, the purpose of these unusual objects.  He told us that if the fabric should wrap itself around the top part of the structure, the pole is used to reach up and unravel it.   Further on we passed the small amphitheatre.  We looked down onto the lake, and saw The Gates reflected.  Walking through "Strawberry Fields", we observed the memorial to, John Lennon, a beautiful mosaic with “Imagine” in it.

         

John Lennon Memorial

The day was sunny but quite cold and a warm drink seemed a good idea.  Walking along 72nd street to Columbus Ave. took us past the Dakota, the building where John Lennon and Leonard Bernstein had lived.  We tried to find a coffee shop, a restaurant, a place to sit and talk a while but although these kinds of places were everywhere along the street, crowds were spilling out and one tea shop told us the wait would be an hour and a half.  There was an expectation that The Gates would generate $80 million of economic impact including an increase of 100,000 hotel room nights. We could believe this with crowds everywhere.  Good old Starbucks was not really our plan, but it was there and the line was short and we finally found a tiny table and shared chairs and visited happily.

         

Warmed and cheered we returned to see the Belvedere Castle, completed in 1872 and the Great Lawn.  We then explored the Shakespeare Gardens, though not in bloom, and the Obelisk (Cleopatra”s Needle) which is 3000 years old. The sun was lowering on the horizon and it was time to leave Central Park and The Gates.

Feeling the life and energy of the park with its decoration, with its visitors from everywhere laughing, talking, enjoying one another, the spectacle of being there, one wonders how it will be when the gates are dismantled and the park returns to its old self again.  When it is removed, most of the materials will be recycled. Somehow, it feels that the energy generated by The Gates will remain in some way after they are gone.

New York, of course, is not only The Gates.  It is theatre, restaurants, museums, shopping, the Subway (crowded), buses (slow) and much more if time allows.

         

Moni Yakim & Charles Gerber


Fortunately, we were able to enjoy the opening night performance of THE WORKROOM, presented by the “Unbound Theatre”.  It opened on February 19 and will run through March 12 at the Manhattan Theatre Source, 177 MacDougal Street, NYC   The play was written by French playwright, Jean-Claude Grumberg with American version by Daniel A. Stein with Sara O”Connor and is directed by Moni Yakim, Grumberg will be known to American audiences as the co-writer with Francois Truffaut of “The Last Metro”, while Moni Yakim directed the original production of “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris”.

         

The Workroom

Anna Guttormsgaard who is one of the founders and artistic directors of the Unbound Theatre Company, as well as one of the actresses in the show discussed the reason this play is being performed now.  Moni Yakim knows the author and brought the play to the attention of the theatre group.  The play is full of humor, depth and human understanding and brings to the surface important issues for our time.

THE WORKROOM takes place after WWII in Paris from 1945 to 1952.  When the war ended and the shouts of victory faded, the survivors were left to salvage what they could of their lives.  In THE WORKROOM, these lives play out.  There are six women and two men laboring desperately in a cramped and airless tailor”s workroom, attempting to repair their shattered lives.   They are Simone (Anna Guttormsgaard), Helene (Jody Hegarty), Gisele (Carla Matero), Marie (Kristen Cerelli) Mme. Laurence (Jill Van Note), Mimi (Emily Gunyou), Leon (Kevin Orton), First presser (John Grimball), Jean (Rick Gifford), Max (Charles E. Gerber) and the boy (Max Damashek). This drama explores prejudice, anti-semetism and the devastating consequences of war.

This was a powerful play, well acted exploring complex issues that are relevant in our day.  The varied personalities were portrayed convincingly by a strong cast.  Mimi delivered most of the caustic, funny lines with deft timing. The direction was clearly strong because the more than two -hour play was so compelling that the time went by in a flash.  Call 212-868-4444 for your $15.00 seats (all excellent) and have a great night.

Our party of ten enjoyed a wonderful restaurant, "Café ¬Ćoup" at 105 w.13th St. Members of our group had come from Denver, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Indianapolis.  Three were transplanted New Yorkers. We found the food, location, service and price to our liking.

Our last day was President”s Day.  What more appropriate time to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island”  The only problem was that it had snowed significantly the night before and the ground was sloppy, slippery and quite wet. But we proceeded to Battery Park with the goal of getting onto the first ferry and then getting off the ferry at Liberty Island so that we could get to the front of the line and get into the Statue of Liberty.  Exiting the subway and searching for the departure point for the ferry, we were kindly directed by a very nice young man named Morgan.  Morgan turned out to be a park ranger on Liberty Island.  He came to New York from Atlanta on September 3, 2001 and was living on the upper West side when he became aware of 9/11.   But he stayed and really likes living in New York. 

         

The snow delayed our ferry”s departure but we did leave and barely saw “Liberty”  as she was enclosed in fog and mist.  Once we were in the lobby outside of the Museum of the Statue of Liberty, we were told the elevator was out of service that day but we could walk the ten flights to the observatory.  Among many fascinating bits of information in the Liberty Exhibit telling how the Statue of Liberty came to be and to be where she is, we learned that the interior support critical to so large a statue was developed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel in Paris three years before his Eiffel Tower was put in place.  When we had walked the ten flights up, we could see the interior of the Statue and the narrow winding staircase that leads to the Crown.  This was used for the last time on September 10, 2001 and probably will not be used again because there is no fast exit in an emergency situation.  It would seem that all complicated arrangements from conception to completion of the Statue of Liberty took a shorter time to complete than The Gates. She remains amazing and inspiring to all the world.

         

Photo of Ellis Island

On our ferry ride to Ellis Island, we spoke to visitors from Manchester, England and from Denmark and there were visitors from China and Japan and all over the country.  Ellis Island has had a checkered career.  In 1808, a fort was built for coastal defense.  In 1855 the Castle Garden served as an immigration station.  In 1897 the original wooden immigration station was destroyed in a fire.  From 1901 to 1910 six million immigrants were processed at Ellis and 860,000 in 1907.   From 1939-45 WW11 Japanese, Italian, and Germans were interned at Ellis.  From 1954 when it closed to 1990 when its main building was opened as an immigration museum, it fell into disrepair.   A number of photographers came through and captured the remains of what had been.  Each of these reported a sense of the spirits of the people who had once been there.  The stories, pictures, and histories of the individuals immigrating to the USA are told in a compelling manner.  If possible, we would have remained here for the entire day.  But alas, we had to take the train to the Newark Airport and return home.

To Learn more about the Gates go to http://www.christojeanneclaude.net/tg.html

 

Published on Feb 26, 2005

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