Winnie the Pooh at the Charging Bull

The office building I work in is at Bowling Green. According to the New York City Parks website, “Bowling Green is New York City’s oldest park. According to tradition, this spot served as the council ground for Native American tribes and was the site of the legendary sale of Manhattan to Peter Minuit in 1626.” So, the area is a popular tourist attraction. The Smithsonian’s Native American museum also faces this park.

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The most popular attraction in the park seems to be the Charging Bull rather than the museum. Every day there are people crowding around this bronze statue to have their pictures taken with both its face and its balls. The balls seem to be more popular. I suppose that’s not surprising. The bull is supposed to represent the power and unpredictability of market forces and represents Wall Street and the Financial District.

Winnie the Pooh Costume Scammer

Winnie the Pooh Costume Scammer

This week I spotted a new arrival: a Christmas themed Winnie the Pooh and accompanying muscle, presumably to strong-arm tourists into giving up money after taking a photo with the costumed person. This is a pretty common thing in the Times Square area and became a point of public conversation during the debate over topless women posing for photos in Times Square in exchange for cash. I’d never seen them in the Bowling Green area, though, and after that one time I never saw them again. I wonder if they were driven out by the police, by crowds of tourists telling them to get out of the way so they could take photos with the Bull, or by the police, or some combination of those three?

Regardless, I’m glad to see those two assholes gone. The crowds of tourists around the office building can be aggravating, because they obviously aren’t in a hurry during my lunch break and they sometimes block the sidewalk, but it’s understandable and I can’t be mad at them for coming to this city and having a good time. These people that dress in costumes and strong-arm people into taking photos with them and giving them cash afterwards, though? They’re parasites and they’re disgusting. It’s better than outright robbery, but not by much. I hope they stay gone.

Guyon-Lake-Tysen House c. 1740 with kitchen addition in 1820s.

Visiting Historic Richmond Town on Staten Island

Before this month I’d never heard of Historic Richmond Town on Staten Island. The place isn’t heavily advertised and the carpenter in the recreated shop there told us that he wasn’t surprised, because a lot of people that live there in Staten Island have never heard of the place either. You almost wouldn’t know it was there if you rode by on the bus or in in a car. Maybe that says more about the quality of buildings on Staten Island in general than it does about the site, though, that it’s hard to tell buildings that are almost 300 years old apart from the rest of what Staten Island has to offer.

Getting to Richmond Town from Upper Manhattan was a little bit of a struggle. The A train kept stopping in the tunnel and then went local below 59th Street. I know they’ve been doing some construction on the tunnels during the week, at night, but it would be nice if the city could keep the trains running on time when they’re not doing work on the tracks, otherwise what’s the point of the new construction schedule the city pushed? The ferry ride was nice, at least. I always enjoy the views of the city from the boat. The bus ride from the ferry to the town was about 25 minutes, which isn’t too bad.

When we got to Richmond Town we were afraid it was closed because the place was so quiet and empty. I guessed that it was because this is Memorial Day weekend and most people probably stayed home to relax or went out of town for barbecues. When we got to the ticket counter in the gift shop, the clerk there said that Memorial Day weekend is usually really quiet and cited the same reasons I suggested. I didn’t really care that the place was empty of people. Getting away from the crowds in New York City, seeing some trees, grass, fresh air and open spaces was just fine with me.

The fact that most of the buildings were closed was a problem, though. No one there was in costume. When we went on the 3:30 tour, our guide used a set of keys to open up each building we went into and had to take time to open the shutters so there would be light inside. She kept mentioning that the buildings saw regular, period-style use during the week. I wonder who has time to go out there during the week? I’m going to have to do some research and make some phone calls to find out if we can go back on another weekend and see the place completely up and running.

That being said, the tour was really good and our guide knew quite a bit about the houses she was showing us. She was also ready to answer random questions about the facilities and other buildings we were walking by. I was not disappointed at all. It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Here are some of my favorite photos from the place:

Better quality images and more details can be found in my Historic Richmond Town Flickr gallery.

Mostly Naked People and Huge Crowds at Times Square

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Last Thursday night my wife and I went downtown to meet up with an old friend who was in town for the week and we decided to walk through Times Square to take some photos. You know, the tourist thing. I even bought a few “I Love NY” magnets at a souvenir shop.

Times Square is always packed but with the weather being so mild, it seemed like there were even more people out than usual. Besides the crowds, it seemed like the number of panhandlers had increased as well. We saw a few “acts”, but in Times Square, you mostly find people who are dressed up in unusual ways that try to get you to pay them for having your photograph taken together with them.

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The last time we were there, there were only a handful of people dressed up as animated characters. Now, there are dozens, sometimes with two or three of the same character standing right next to each other. Sort of takes the magic out of it, if you ask me. Not that there was much to start with, but if a kid sees three Iron Mans standing next to each other, how is he supposed to feel excited about having his photo taken? You have to at least let the kid pretend you might be the real deal, right?

There were also people dressed up in costumes to bait adults into paying for photos. A few years ago, there was only one naked cowboy; now there are two naked cowboys, a naked Indian, and some naked women as well. Well, not completely naked, but mostly naked, stripped down to their underwear and, in one case, panties and pasties.

It was fascinating watching my wife’s friend’s reaction to all this. She seemed shocked. I asked her if she wanted her photo taken with the half naked cowboys, with their junk hanging out, and she seemed really disturbed. She had earlier described the hoochie shorts women in America wear, that leave the bottom half of their butts hanging out of their shorts, as scandalous. She probably thought the mostly naked people in Times Square were scandalous too. I suppose it is. People wear less at the beach, but maybe it’s more about wearing clothes appropriate to the situation. And I suppose that’s the point of those people showing up there half dressed. They’re counting on the shock value to pay off in real money that people will shell out to have their photos taken with “crazy people” who are almost naked in Times Square.

We wound up staying in Times Square until around 11 PM. I don’t think we’d ever been there that late before. I was surprised by how bright the area still was at that time of night. Because of all of the electric billboards, it might as well have been noon on an overcast day.

Trekking Across the George Washington Bridge Into New Jersey

Lower Manhattan and Hoboken (I think), New Jersey as seen from the George Washington Bridge

Lower Manhattan and Hoboken (I think), New Jersey as seen from the George Washington Bridge

When I was in the Army, there was a running cadence that went something like this:

I can run to Jersey just like this,

All the way to Jersey and never quit.

I can run to New York just like this,

All the way to New York and never quit,

Because I’m hardcore,

Motivated,

Dedicated,

etc. etc. (The cadence changes here depending on the unit type)

Well, when I crossed the bridge on foot yesterday, I wasn’t running, but this cadence was rattling around in my head. I was thinking that, of all the times I responded to or called that cadence when I was in the Army, I never actually crossed any state lines during PT (physical training). But, yesterday, I started a walk in Manhattan and ended up in the Fort Lee Historic Park across the river in New Jersey, and then came back again. Maybe in a few months I will go back and run that route, but for now I’m trying to take it easy and just enjoy myself.

The bridge’s walkway is pretty popular. I saw a lot of tourists with name tapes stuck to their shirts as well as families walking across, or hanging out on the bridge. Just as a side note, I noticed a lot of Jewish people hanging out up there. I was reminded of how many Jewish people I saw in the Bronx Zoo last June. I don’t say that to be racist or anything. I’m just wondering if I’m stumbling across popular hangout spots for Orthodox Jewish families, because I don’t recall seeing that many Jewish people hanging around lower Manhattan, the Natural History Museum or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Or it could be that I just never noticed?

Anyway, the views going across the bridge are stunning. My iPhone photos aren’t going to do it justice. I’d like to go back with a real camera to try to get some better shots, and I will definitely have the opportunity, because even if I don’t run across the bridge one day, I’ll definitely be walking all the way back to Jersey.

Also, just as a side-note: In my last blog post I wrote about walking up the Hudson River Greenway underneath the George Washington Bridge and I noted that it seemed like the bushes along some parts of the trail were hollowed out, like people live there. Well, it seems like there are some homeless people living in the park, after all. When I was on the bridge, looking down, I saw a homeless guy through an opening in the trees trying to get comfortable. You can barely see him in this image, but he’s resting his legs on that blue box:

A homeless man getting comfortable in the bushes off the path in Fort Washington Park along the Hudson River Greenway.

A homeless man getting comfortable in the bushes off the path in Fort Washington Park along the Hudson River Greenway.

The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (AKA Manila Cathedral)

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That’s a pretty big mouthful, but basically what I’m talking about here is the church that’s designated as the command center for the Archbishops of Manila.  To be precise, these esteemed gentlemen:

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A few posts ago I showed some photos of the cathedral in in Antipolo.  It’s pretty nice, but the Manila cathedral was designated as a Minor Basilica for a reason.  It’s got great architecture and a LOT of history, as you can see from the picture above, which shows archibishops dating back to 1573.  We went through it rather quickly, because it was as hot as an oven in there, but on a cool day we could go back and spend a few hours reading all of the information that’s put out on display.  A quick history is that this church was originally established by the Spanish during the colonial period.  It originally fell under the diocese of Mexico, but eventually gained its own authority and power structure.  The building itself has, in part, survived multiple wars, a massive fire and an earthquake.  It’s been rebuilt a few times.

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The exterior and interior of the building are in pretty good shape.  There was some quiet renovation work going on while we were there, but it didn’t detract from the overall experience.  I’m not Catholic, but it was still inspiring to be in such a sacred place with over 400 years of history, so we took a few moments to offer up prayers before leaving to continue our self-guided tour of the Intramuros area.

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This is a view of the cathedral from the main entrance towards the chancel.  It’s a pretty big area.

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If you walk to the front and then turn and look above the entrance, you’ll see the pipe organ.  A plaque I read said that the first Catholic missionaries to the Philippines brought musical instruments with them, including a portable box organ which was probably destroyed in a major Manila fire in the 1500s.  It didn’t say exactly when the pipe organ was put in place, but it said that for almost all of the cathedral’s history, there’s been a Master Chantre, some of which were specifically named as organists.

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Just after taking this photo, a young guy walked in, embraced this cross and began to pray silently.  I’ve noticed that Catholics place a lot of importance on symbols, images and things as objects or focal points of prayer.  It seems bizarre to me, because there shouldn’t be an object between yourself and God.  On the other hand, I suppose something that inspires (properly placed) devotion can’t be all that bad.  Being in the cathedral was a strong reminder and incentive for me reflect as well.

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This is the “La Pieta”.  I didn’t read the plaque, so I don’t understand the symbolism behind the statue, but it’s well made.

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This is an image of Our Lady of the Philippines located in the Manila Cathedral.

I’m looking forward to visiting this cathedral again.  We were a bit short on time and just happened to see it while on our way to Fort Santiago so we rushed through.  I may create an additional post about this cathedral in the future, since it’s such a wonderful and rich landmark in Manila.