Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Apologies For the Long Lapse

I see it's been a long time between posts here.   I do apologize for that.   But not much has been happening--'historically-speaking' between now and my awesome visit to New York City in June 2012.   Granted, there's been a major change in my family since then: my twin sister Barbara unexpectedly passed away the Saturday after Thanksgiving, 2012.   And that's been pretty hard to deal with.

Now, I've gone back to a hobby I put aside many years ago: making very fancy Christmas ornaments for family and friends.   Here's an example of some of them, on the left.   It is a project I really enjoy doing.

I'll still add items to this blog, when there's something to post.   For now, I invite you to come visit me at my new blog.   See you there.

An update: I have decided to delete the Trimming My Tree blog, as it wasn't going anywhere.  I've not had much inspiration to continue with it, so I am shutting it down.

However, I am still making these ornaments.   But I've decided to promote them in a different way.   I will post news about them here, and on my Facebook page.  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Big Day, Part Two

To continue with my description of 7 June 2012: the day of the reception at The Morgan Library & Museum for Churchill: The Power of Words.

I had a really good nap in the early afternoon, and my alarm woke me close to 4:30 pm.   After showering and washing my hair, I carefully got dressed in a black shift-dress, with a frilled bolero-style jacket.   For this special occasion, I had decided to get my ears pierced--in my late fifties! Surprisingly, it only took one attempt to get a pair of 'dress earrings' on, to match the necklace and ring I wore.   The challenging part was getting used to the inch-high dress shoes I bought.   Most of the time, I wear flats on my feet, or just socks!

So--dressed and made-up to the nines, I left the hotel around 5:30, for the short walk to The Morgan.   I noticed it had rained while I napped: the sidewalks and streets were damp, and it was a bit humid.   As a precaution, I brought along my 'Flanders Poppy' umbrella I'd bought in Ypres, Belgium, in November 2010.   I walked slowly south along Park Avenue, trying to get used to the 'high' heels, and turned left on 37th Street to Madison Avenue, and entered the Museum.

After 'signing in' at a registration table, I checked my umbrella in at the coat-check desk and walked into the large room behind the lobby, where several tables and chairs were set up.   Nearby was an improvised bar, with various varieties of drinks.   I ordered a glass of sparkling water and moved to one of the tables and sat down to watch the other guests arrive.   For some time, there were only a handful of people in the room, along with the catering staff (a couple of tables for snacks like crackers, cheese and fruit were also on hand), so it was a bit quiet.   But not for long.

Just after 6 pm, the room began to fill up, and the noise level increased too.   I mostly sat and observed; I didn't know anyone else in attendance except my friend Allen Packwood from the Churchill Archives Centre--and he would have been busy chatting with the 'real' V.I.P.'s who were arriving.   No one else sat at my table for some time, until an older couple and a woman and her young son came over.   They asked if I was saving the seats for anyone, and I said 'Be my guest'.   The four of them appeared to know each other, so they chatted amongst themselves while I merely listened.   I'm not much for small-talk and schmoozing.

In the course of the conversation, I learned the young man's name was Jeremiah, and he was a student at Oberlin College in Ohio, majoring in US History and Political Science.   He was a well-spoken and well-mannered young man.   I did introduce myself to him and his mother--and I discovered that Jeremiah was studying about the American Civil War.   His mother had some connections with the University of Cambridge, the Churchill Archives Centre, and Allen.   Unfortunately, I did not catch her name.   But she was very friendly.

The older couple, it turned out, also knew Allen and the University of Cambridge.   But the really bizarre thing about them was....they were from Syracuse, New York.   When I told them I live near Syracuse, they were just as amazed; what were the chances of our meeting, amongst 300-odd other guests at this reception??   The husband, whose name was David,  was a retired Director of the E.S. Bird Library at Syracuse University.   His wife was a university professor and historical researcher.   They split their time between New York City and Syracuse, but the wife said they'd recently sold their NYC townhouse, and would now live in Syracuse full-time.

While we chatted amongst ourselves, we were approached by a distinguished-looking British gentleman, who greeted David and began chatting with him.   This man was the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz; his name was listed on the invitation to the reception!   Jeremiah's mother told me Sir Leszek (whose friends call him "Borys") was born in Wales of Polish-born parents who were doctors, and who joined up with British forces after fleeing with the army of General Wladyslaw Anders, during the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939.   He is also a medical researcher specializing in Immunology, who helped develop the vaccine against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).   But Jeremiah's mother also said 'Borys' is a very down-to-earth man.   And I could see that, from observing the conversation with David.

Around 7 pm or so, the party was called to attention by a Morgan Library staffer, who welcomed us to the reception, and made mention of several special guests--including the British Consul General in New York, London Mayor Boris Johnson, Churchill's granddaughters Edwina and Celia Sandys--and Caroline Kennedy and her husband Edwin Schlossberg.    I recognized Mayor Johnson and Ms. Kennedy as they came in.   It was a strange feeling seeing them 'in-person'.   Before, I'd only seen them on TV or in news stories on the Internet.   If I'd been less shy and nervous, I might have walked up and introduced myself to both them.   But I didn't do that.

During the Library staffer's speech, I noticed Allen had come in, and was standing a couple of tables away, chatting with other people.   I tried not to be real obvious in catching his eye, but he came over to me eventually and welcomed me, asking, 'Enjoying it?"   I responded "Oh yes!"   He then went off to do more schmoozing.

After a short speech given by Sir Leszek, he introduced Mayor Johnson, who would 'officially' open the Churchill exhibition.   I couldn't see him as I was in the back of the room.   But his speech garnered a number of laughs: he claimed that the difference between Churchill and many current-day British politicians was that Churchill was never guilty of 'moral'--i.e., 'sexual'--indiscretions in or out of office.   Mayor Johnson also quoted some of Churchill's most famous speeches along the way--demonstrating his 'power with words': the theme of the exhibition.   After receiving a rousing response, the Mayor 'officially' opened the exhibition.

I did not take any photos of the reception, as it would have felt too 'tourist-like'.   I did, however, see some guests taking photos with their smartphones.   I'd brought along my digital camera, but thought better of taking it out.   I was intimidated enough by the educational caliber of the guests--most of whom were likely college graduates.   I never attended college myself; and I was caught off-guard when questioned by David and his wife: 'And what do you do?"   I hesitated for a bit before saying I was a 'part-time historical researcher', and told them about my findings about the life of Churchill's maternal grandfather, Leonard Jerome.   David and his wife didn't know that Leonard Jerome was born in Pompey Hill, New York!

Soon, it was my turn to view the exhibition.   It was in one of the main galleries off the lobby, and contained many original documents and letters written by, or to, Churchill during his life.   As I entered the room, I noticed Churchill's Nobel Prize for Literature, awarded in 1955.   The display case contained a beautifully-designed bound certificate in English and Swedish, along with the gold Nobel medal.   While I was admiring this display, out of the corner of my eye I saw Caroline Kennedy, her husband, and several other people standing and talking close by.   I could have reached over and touched her shoulder easily!

Just opposite the Nobel Prize display was another award: a proclamation by Caroline Kennedy's father, President John F. Kennedy, awarding Honorary US Citizenship to Winston Churchill in 1963.  The case contained the proclamation, a medal, and a US passport in Churchill's name.   Sadly, Churchill never got to use the passport.   He died two years later, in January 1965.

The exhibition was grouped by different phases of Churchill's life: childhood, young manhood, his political life, and later years.   In each phase were documents relating to that period: letters to his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, begging her to come visit him at school; his headmaster's less-than-enthusiastic assessment of the young Winston, in childhood.   As a soldier serving in India and the 'North West Frontier' (now part of present-day Pakistan), I saw his draft manuscript for one of his earliest books, The Story of the Malakand Field Force--with hand-written scribbles and revisions all over the pages.

Some of the documents were rather sad: a letter from King George VI to Churchill, expressing grief at the sudden death of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt is an example.   But there was one rather amusing note from an American doctor treating Churchill in 1931, after the latter was run over and nearly killed by a New York City taxi driver on Fifth Avenue (Churchill, as a Brit, was looking the 'wrong way'--to the right--before crossing the road).   It was the Prohibition era in the US, but the doctor recommended daily doses of alcohol (probably brandy) to aid in Churchill's recovery!    It never fails to get a laugh....

The creators of the exhibition also put up two interactive display-screens--where visitors can get an up-close look at the documents and learn more details about Churchill's life and work.   And this is where I found my small contribution to the event: a layout of the Jerome family tree, going back to one Timothy Jerome (the first Jerome to settle in the Pompey Hill area) and ending with Leonard Jerome's daughter Jennie--Churchill's mother.   I found this family tree at the Onondaga Historical Association in Syracuse's research library; I tracked the descent from Timothy to Jennie through the male line.   Allen's team did the rest, by putting it into an easily-readable format.   The most embarrassing thing for me to see was my name listed as the source!

While I was standing at this screen, I chatted with two young women (sisters) from Long Island, who had visited Churchill-related sites in the UK.   The elder girl was a law student, and shared her experience of visiting Churchill's gravesite at St Martin's Churchyard in Bladon, Oxfordshire: not far from Blenheim Palace.   I told her how jealous I was of her visit; I didn't get a chance to visit Blenheim Palace or Bladon, in November 2010.   Both young women were impressed with my knowledge of the Jerome family and their connection with Churchill.   I hope I wasn't boasting....

Flanking the two interactive display screens was a small theatre, where one could hear recordings of some of Churchill's most famous speeches, and watch contemporary newsreel footage and still-photos.   I sat down briefly on the one bench in the theatre and listened to Churchill's "Finest Hour" speech.   Great stuff.

Also on display was one of Churchill's oil paintings: a landscape.   It was loaned to the exhibition from his country home in Kent, England: Chartwell.   And near that was a nasty Nazi propaganda poster accusing Churchill of being a 'child-killer', because of the saturation-bombing of German cities during the Second World War.   Quite a contrast.

It took about 45 minutes or so to go through the exhibition.   The crowd had begun to thin out, as the time approached 7:30 pm.   But I didn't really want the evening to end, yet.   So I decided to check out some other parts of the museum: J. Pierpont Morgan's own Study and personal Library.   Even though my feet were aching from the stupid shoes, I was determined to see what I could.   And I was, as the British say, gobsmacked; Morgan's study had deep red wallpaper and a high carved-wood ceiling.   A massive marble fireplace (probably ripped out of a French chateau!) stood at one end of the room, with a large oil painting of Mr Morgan on the wall above.   The walls were covered with original Renaissance-era paintings, and stained-glass windows.

According to the staffer on duty, this was where Morgan did his business deals.   He said that if a visitor was able to sit across from Morgan in front of the fireplace, Morgan would do business with him.   This room was created to impress--and probably intimidate a prospective investor!

Across from the Study was Mr Morgan's personal Library.   The room was stacked floor-to-ceiling with hundreds of leather-bound books; one had to use a ladder to get to the highest shelves.   The shelving was all shining, beautiful wood.   And the ceilings were breath-taking: they were covered with either mosaic or frescoed artwork, in a Renaissance-era style.   I didn't know if it was original work done for the house, or if it was taken from some Renaissance palace in Italy.   But it sure was dazzling!

On display in the Library were some priceless original books that Mr Morgan collected during his lifetime--including one of three Bibles printed by Johann Gutenberg.   The staffer in this room said that most museums in the world would be lucky to acquire one of these rare treasures.   But Morgan owned three!!   This Bible was very large.

My last stop at The Morgan was in a smaller room off the Library, which also contained more leather-bound books (was this Mr Morgan's 'overflow' room?)--and an incredible collection of ancient and medieval coins, small sculptures, and pieces of jewelry, that Morgan also collected.   In front of one of the displays I found a woman scribbling and sketching in a small book.   I asked her what she was doing, and she replied she was taking notes for a novel she was writing.    Her patient husband stood nearby, and we chatted for a bit: he was from Houston, TX, and was a Regional Director for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).   He knows both Allen and Sir Martin Gilbert--this gentleman had raised funds in the US for the Churchill Archives Centre and the University of Cambridge.   And, he said he also helped to fund one of Allen's previous Churchill exhibits in the US.   I enjoyed chatting with him a lot.

By now, it was close to 8 pm, when the reception would end.   I went back to the lobby to get my umbrella from the coat-check--and to find Allen, and thank him for inviting me to the reception.   When I did find him, I made certain to thank him for all the work that was put into the exhibition--which he immediately deflected to his staff back in England.   Some weeks before the event, he'd brought up the subject of a private tour of the exhibition, and I asked him if it was still on.  He said 'yes'; he would lead a small group the following morning--just before I was to catch the train back to Syracuse.   Allen said to come back to The Morgan before 10 am, and he'd let the staff know I was coming along.   With that, we wished each other 'good evening', and I left.

It was still light out, when I emerged from The Morgan.   By now, my feet were absolutely killing me.  In fact, I encountered a reception guest outside, and we chatted briefly about men's and women's fashion.   I commented that men were lucky not to wear bleeping high-heels.  He responded that men were lucky not to be slaves to fashion.   He's totally spot-on!!

Since I didn't eat anything at the reception, I was now rather hungry.   In spite of my sore feet, I made it to the Pret A Manger restaurant on Fifth Avenue at 36th Street, and ordered supper: another chicken Caesar salad with dressing, chocolate cake, and a berry-bar with a lemonade.   Armed with sustenance, I literally limped back to Park Avenue, and the hotel.   There were still many people around, so I didn't fear for my safety.   But when I entered the hotel lobby, I threw my shoes off--to the amusement of the hotel staff--and went to the elevator, and my room,  in my stockinged-feet!   I turned on the TV, ate supper, and started packing up for the trip home the next day.

One thing I didn't want to forget to do: I made sure to write Allen a note, to thank him for allowing me to participate in the exhibition.   I would present it to him before or after the private tour the following day.

And with that, the day--and this amazing experience--was nearly done.   And I didn't want it to be over.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Big Day Is Here, Part One

To continue my New York/Churchill adventure....

I woke between 5 and 6 am on Thursday, 7 June 2012: the 'big day'--that is, the day of the reception at The Morgan Library & Museum, to open the exhibition Churchill: The Power of Words.   It was the culmination day for so many people, who worked so hard to bring this event to pass--the staff at The Morgan, and especially for my friend Allen Packwood, and his team at the Churchill Archives Centre at Churchill College in Cambridge, England.

Before that event occurred, however, I decided to take in a few of New York City's sights (and at the same time not over-exert myself, to be 'fresh' for the evening's festivities).   So after showering and dressing, I headed out to the Pret A Manger restaurant on Fifth Avenue at 40th Street for breakfast: a tomato and mozzarella cheese sandwich, and granola and yogurt.   Thus fortified, I headed south on Fifth Avenue, to the Empire State Building.    Despite my occasional fear of heights, I was determined to get a bird's-eye view of the New York City skyline.

It was a good thing I arrived at the Empire State Building when I did, around 8:30 am; the lines were already forming for admission to ride the elevators to the 88th floor Observation Deck.   I took an escalator to the second floor, where the tour would begin.   I followed the line going to the ticket window: but before one ever gets there, one has to go through a Security Check similar to that for the airport!   I bet it's been in place since the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack.

We had to take off any handbags, backpacks, camera cases--and our belts!--and put them in a tray to go through the x-ray machine, and then walk through a metal-detector.   When my turn came, I told the attendant I wasn't wearing a belt....but I really was wearing one.   When I went through the metal-detector and it went off, I sheepishly went back to the attendant--who was now scowling at me.   She said, "You told me you weren't wearing a belt."   And I replied: "I forgot"--and I unbuckled it, and placed it in the tray.   This time, I didn't set the detector off.   I grabbed my backpack, camera case and belt, and put them on..and tried to find an inconspicuous way to put the belt back on.   What a pain....

After purchasing my ticket, I was directed to stand in front of a blank wall and have a photo taken.  It wasn't for security reasons: it was for an over-priced souvenir (more on that later)!    Then, I joined the throngs waiting for the express elevator trip to the 80th floor, and I crammed inside with about 12-15 people: several Chinese and French-speaking tourists among them.   My ears popped as the elevator smoothly climbed its way up.   We got off at the 80th floor, and waited in yet another line for another express elevator, to go to the 86th floor, and the Observation Deck.   As we emerged from the second elevator, a huge wind-gust hit our faces--which meant we were at our destination.

I have to confess: my knees initially went weak as I stepped out onto the Deck, and looked out over the scene: all of New York City appeared to be at our feet!   To the south: Lower Manhattan and New York Harbor; to the west, the Hudson River.   To the east: the East River and Brooklyn; to the north, Fifth Avenue and Central Park.   It was windy and quite comfortable, as I wandered around the Deck and took lots of photos.

The far skyline had a little bit of smog and haze, but I could still make out the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York Harbor.   And in Lower Manhattan, the 'new' World Trade Center tower (sometimes called the 'Freedom Tower') was really taking shape; most of the lower floors were already done (photo above left).   I watched the ferry and tour boats making their ways along the Hudson and East Rivers, and in the Harbor.   A huge cruise ship lay just beyond Lady Liberty.

On the south side of the Deck, I could make out Central Park and Fifth Avenue, and Rockefeller Center--and a wee bit of St Patrick's Cathedral (photo right).   The Chrysler Building wasn't far away, either.   There's a high fence between you and a 'long way down'--but I still had visions of me losing my grip on my camera, and watching it fall 86 stories to the street (or on someone's head).   So I wrapped the strap around my wrist, and snapped away, like my fellow visitors.   So many languages were heard: Chinese, French, Scandinavian, German and English--people from everywhere and anywhere were taking photos.   I'd venture to say that over a million photos are taken atop the Empire State Building in an average day.   It's amazing....

I think I stayed around an hour or so, just savoring the views.    Eventually, I decided to go back in, and head back down the elevators.   But not before I stopped at the 80th-floor souvenir shop: a place filled with all kinds of Empire State Building tchochkes: from ESB pencil-sharpeners and paperweights, to fridge magnets and key chains and t-shirts....and not to mention the stuffed King Kong toys.   I admit it: I bought a King Kong/ESB fridge magnet, a Wish-You-Were-Here ESB fridge magnet, and a bottle of water.   Later, I couldn't help but think that the bottle of water alone cost $10....   All the Chinese visitors must have felt at home here.   I bet most of these tchochkes were Made In China!!!

 I then left the souvenir store, and headed for the elevator back to the ground floor.   I didn't leave the Empire State Building, however, without one more stop....for the 'souvenir' photo taken earlier.   Turns out that 'empty wall' behind me was really a backdrop of the Empire State Building at night!   When I saw how horribly ugly my photo was, I didn't buy it.   Good thing too; it would have cost me $20!!!!   It got shredded, thank goodness.

Outside the Empire State Building, I headed north along Fifth Avenue to Rockefeller Center (photo left).   Judging from the view from the Observation Deck, I thought it would be a short walk.   I should have known better: it was about six long city blocks away.    The morning was a bit warmer than the day before, around 80 degrees and sunny--so I stopped about half-way, and rested in the plaza of the New York Public Library.   I found a table beneath a shade tree, drank some water and got off my feet for a few minutes.   Good thing there was still a little breeze.    I started back up Fifth Avenue again, and turned west across from St Patrick's--and about half a block away was Rockefeller Plaza.

The plaza was full of locals and visitors going to and fro, or seated on stone benches in the shade.   Rockefeller Center itself soared above my head.   In front of me was the sunken plaza with the statue of the Greek god Prometheus, (who brought fire to mankind from heaven--so the story goes) surrounded by fountains (photo right).   This is where the ice-skating rink is set up during the Christmas season, along with the huge towering Christmas tree.

Rockefeller Center, which is comprised of a series of buildings, is the home of NBC News; I could see the studio where the Today show is done every day.   (NBC's HQ is in the GE Building, which is the main building in the Center.) Flags from many nations fly from poles surrounding the plaza, and it's a great place to see and be seen.   I sat down on a bench in the shade and did some writing, and rested.

Close by were two cool stores: the LEGO Store and the Metropolitan Museum of Art Shop.   Two more contrasting stores couldn't be found anywhere; the LEGO Store is for kids of all ages, filled with kits to build everything from London's iconic Tower Bridge to the latest Star Wars ship!    Two huge walls were on the ground floor, full of colorful LEGO pieces of all sizes and shapes; a customer could fill a bag with them, and build whatever they wanted.

One side of the store held LEGO kits for buildings like royal castles, or cars and such; the other side was full of kits of Star Wars and Harry Potter stuff.   And in the middle of the store was a replica of Rockefeller Center--in LEGO (photo above left).   It was complete with little people, vehicles, the Prometheus sculpture and little flags--AND none other than Darth Vader from Star Wars, standing on Rockefeller Center's roof with some 'storm troopers'! (photo right)   Thankfully, an NYPD helicopter was nearby, to come to the rescue...

In total contrast, the Metropolitan Museum of Art Shop was very elegant and stylish.   You could buy replicas of some of 'the Met'''s artworks on items like silk scarves and stationery, to smaller-scale sculpture works by Auguste Rodin (his The Thinker was on display).   There were also some really beautiful jewelry pieces based on various artworks, or artistic periods represented at the Met; for instance, necklaces and brooches inspired by the Russian Easter eggs created by the jeweler Peter Carl Faberge, for the Romanov Russian Imperial Family in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  And I think there were also posters of some of the artworks too.

Most of this stuff, however, was a bit out of my price range.   Instead, I wandered over to the book tables and music CD displays.   There were some lovely coffee-table sized books for sale--including one that really caught my eye: The French Dog, by a female American photographer whose name escapes me now.   But the photos of dogs in rural and urban France, and the stories behind the photos, were really entertaining.   In the event, I bought this book for my sister Joanne.   It was too sweet to pass up!

And so, armed with my purchases, I headed south on Fifth Avenue to Madison Avenue via 40th Street, for lunch at the Pret A Manger shop on Madison.   I bought another chicken Caesar salad, a chocolate brownie, red grapes and strawberry lemonade.   Stupidly, I forgot to buy salad dressing--and, most important, pick up eating utensils for the salad.   I didn't notice until I got back to my room to eat!   Good thing I didn't get dressing, because I ended up eating lunch with my fingers.   Still, it was awesomely delicious.

I halted my sight-seeing around 1 pm, and went back to my room to eat, and take a nap before the reception that evening.   I left a wake-up call for 4:30 pm at the front desk.   The reception would start at 6 pm at The Morgan Library & Museum, and I wanted to have plenty of time to shower and dress up.   So after lunch, I settled down for a good nap.   Next up: the Churchill reception!

Yes, I Know: It's Been Awhile....

  Yep--it's been some time since I've written in this blog.   I could use all kinds of reasons/excuses/rationalizations: I was too lazy, or it was too hot outside, or whatever.   Enough's enough.   Let's try and describe my trip to New York City, for the opening of Churchill: The Power of Words, at The Morgan Library & Museum  

The Museum's entrance is the photo above left.

This journey all started back in November 2010, during my three-week visit to the UK and Europe.   I spent a wonderful day in Cambridge, at the Churchill Archives Centre at Churchill College, where I met Mr Allen Packwood, the Centre's Director.   I'd emailed him about my initial research into Winston Churchill's American maternal ancestors, the Jeromes--after discovering that Churchill's maternal grandfather, Leonard Jerome, was born in the village of Pompey Hill, New York: a short drive from where I live outside Syracuse.   Allen was in the planning stages for this New York City exhibition about Churchill and his 'way with words', and he asked if I would like to be involved in some way.   And I said, 'Certainly--in whatever way I can help'--or words to that effect.

In the event, I did some research in the Syracuse area, and found a family tree tracing back to the first Jerome to settle in the Pompey Hill area: one Timothy Jerome, who came from the Isle of Wight.   I traced down through the male line, all the way to Leonard Jerome and his middle daughter Jennie, who married Lord Randolph Churchill, the second son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough(That's Jennie's portrait on the left.)  Their firstborn son was Winston Churchill.   I email the information to Allen, and his team created a really great graphic design, for people to see.    I subsequently received an invitation to attend the reception to open the exhibition on 7 June 2012.

I decided to stay in New York for two days, which was all I could afford.   I found a hotel on Park Avenue online, and bought rail tickets from Syracuse to Penn Station in New York (I did NOT want to drive in Manhattan).    The trip took about 5 1/2 hours, and made several stops along the way.   The best part of the journey was the view of the Hudson River; I made sure to get a seat on the right side of the train!   The Hudson was magnificent: I was able to view sites like the US Military Academy at West Point (on the west side of the river), and the wide expanse of the river as we headed south.    There was a lot of wildlife to be found--including a Bald Eagle, perched in a riverside tree.

I arrived at Penn Station just after 1 pm, on Wednesday, 6 June.   The station is situated underneath Madison Square Garden--aka The World's Most Famous Arena, and home to the NHL's  New York Rangers and the NBA's New York Knicks.    I joined the heaving throng out of the station, and into the taxi queue--which was quite orderly for New York.   The driver deftly dodged his way through the midtown Manhattan traffic, and I arrived at my hotel: the 70 Park Avenue.   My room faced the Empire State Building, which was pretty darned cool!

That first day was more of a 'recon' time than anything: I wanted to get my bearings as to where things were.   I hadn't visited New York in many years, and I'd brought along a few Google maps to places I wanted to visit.   And I did a LOT of walking that first day, north along both Madison and Fifth Avenues.   Those 'sidewalks of New York' are VERY VERY long, and always full of people; I felt like a minnow trying to swim upstream!!    And I especially wanted to find my way to The Morgan Library & Museum, and figure out the shortest way to go from the hotel.

My one lingering visit that day was to 'Chartwell Booksellers', at 55 East 52nd Street--and not far from Fifth Avenue (photo right).    Their slogan is The World's Only Winston Churchill Bookshop--and it's as good as its word.   Here, one can find almost any book about Winston Churchill: his political thought, his family--even his 'sartorial style'.   One can also find First Editions of Churchill's own books plus several hardcover editions of the Official Churchill biography by Randolph Churchill (WSC's son) and Sir Martin Gilbert.    One of these hardcover Official biographies was for sale for....$8000!!!   After I gulped at the price, I thought: 'Sure--I've got some loose change in my pocket!"   

Alongside the Churchill books, there were volumes about Britain in the Second World War; general British history; general Second World War history, and books on Architecture and Gardening.    I found a number of books by Sir Martin that were not Churchill-related (I have several of them in my home library).   And it was tempting to buy something at Chartwell Booksellers.   But I managed to resist..although I did take some photos of the shop's window displays; mostly having to do with Churchill Style: a new book about Churchill's clothes and his sartorial style!

I took some time off my feet nearby, before braving the crowds again along Fifth Avenue.   I passed many upscale shops as I headed south, back towards the hotel: Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord and Taylor, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Tiffany & Co.: well, you get the idea.   One could do a whole day's worth of 'window shopping', gazing at high fashion for women or expensive jewelry and leather goods. 

I made a brief stop at St Patrick's Cathedral, which was covered in exterior scaffolding for a major restoration project.   Inside, it was a bit of a madhouse: tourists snapping photos and lighting candles at various shrines flanking the nave, along with a high school graduation ceremony in full swing at the foot of the High Altar.   I don't know how anyone managed to pray in the cathedral, with all the chaos going on; a few people were making a valiant effort to do just that.   And I nearly got run over by a mother pushing her toddler in a stroller!

This day, at least, St Patrick's was more of a tourist attraction, than a 'house of prayer'.   YIKES....!    And I admit it: I acted like a tourist myself, by snapping photos of some of the stained-glass windows.... (photo right). 

 Later on, I couldn't stop thinking about the 'houses of Mammon' that lined Fifth Avenue, in contrast to St Patrick's.

Upon leaving St Patrick's, I noticed a really imposing building on the opposite side of the street: the New York Public Library, with its imposing lion sculptures flanking its entrance (photo left).   The story goes that the sculptures were originally named "Leo Astor' and "Leo Lenox" after the Library's founders John Jacob Astor and James Lenox.   But in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia nicknamed them 'Patience' (on the left as the viewer looks) and 'Fortitude' (on the right); LaGuardia believed those were two attributes that would give New Yorkers the strength and courage to get through those dark days.

There is a little plaza of sorts out front with tables, where one can sit, eat and drink, and just watch the people go by.   And there were a lot of people hanging about, on a very lovely late-spring day.   I took several photos of the Library, and the lion sculptures.

By this time, it was after 3 pm, and I thought I would go look for The Morgan, and see how to get inside for the next evening's reception.   I left Fifth Avenue at 40th Street, turned onto Madison Avenue and there it was.   The Morgan is one of New York's small treasures: part of the Museum comprises the former home of financier J. Pierpont Morgan: one of the richest men in the world.   It is also a world-class art museum, with changing exhibits of paintings, drawings and sculpture.   One of their current exhibitions was one on Renaissance drawing.

As I entered the Museum's modern lobby, I spotted a familiar face: my friend Allen Packwood from Cambridge, who was in a small group of people.   I thought he glanced my way, before disappearing into an exhibit hall on the right with his small group.   While standing around looking lost, I was approached by a museum staffer, who asked what I was doing; I replied it was my first visit to The Morgan, and that I would be attending the next evening's Churchill exhibition reception.   The staffer then allowed me to wander around the 'free' area off the lobby--normally, one would pay $15 to visit the main exhibit areas. 

And that's what I did: I wandered about, and looked at some medieval and Renaissance-era sculptures, religious implements, reliquaries and such, that were part of The Morgan's permanent collection.   There was also a plaster sculpture in a display case of the original 1902 entrance to J. Pierpont Morgan's home, which is on 37th Street.

I was sweating profusely from all the outdoors walking, and hoped I didn't look like a total wet rag.   Soon, Allen emerged from the nearby exhibit hall and came over to me, and greeted me warmly.   We had a few moments to chat, and he told me some writers from The New York Times were in the Churchill exhibition, to write an advanced review.   Allen told me he left them alone because the Times staffers wished to work in peace.   I thought, that makes sense.

During our conversation, Allen told me there would be just over three hundred people in attendance at the reception.   And there would be several 'special guests' invited: London Mayor Boris Johnson, Churchill's granddaughters Edwina and Celia Sandys (daughters of Churchill's eldest child Diana)--and Caroline Kennedy and her husband Edwin Schlossberg.   At that point, Allen wasn't certain Ms. Kennedy would be attending...but at the same time, my mouth literally flew open.   And I thought, what in the WORLD was 'little old me' doing at this reception with so many 'real' V.I.P.'s?!?

Poor Allen: he'd been dashing about New York City ever since his arrival the previous Sunday, making sure everything (and everyone) was in place for this event.   Not just the reception: the whole exhibition, which runs through 23 September 2012.   I don't know how he managed to keep his head together, with all the details and things to take care of.   If it were me, I'd probably be tearing my hair out.....!    So I decided to let him go back to see what the Times people were doing; I bid him 'Good Evening', and said I'd see him at the reception.   I left The Morgan, and headed back to my hotel

By now, it was close to 4:30 or so, and I was VERY hungry.   While planning my trip, I discovered there were several stores of my favorite UK restaurant chain--Pret A Manger--in close proximity to the hotel.   This restaurant makes freshly-prepared food all day: sandwiches, salads, soups, and desserts.  It's all local food and/or organic; and I found 'Pret' by accident in London in November 2010.   I bought an awesome chicken Caesar salad with raspberry vinaigrette dressing; an organic fruit drink; some crunchy red grapes and a chocolate and granola bar, and took it all back to my room.

 As I crashed for the night--with somewhat sore feet--I savored my supper, and reflected on where I'd been, and what I'd seen so far.    And I also tried to get some decent sleep--all the while trying not to get nervous about the upcoming reception at The Morgan.....