Week 8: 31st May to 6 June

Having had a great recommendation from Eve and Catherine, I decided to make the journey to Untermeyer Gardens in Yonkers!




Free to visit, it is very accurately described as “A 43-acre public garden, created in 1917, combining exceptional horticulture, monumental architecture, and multicultural design in a majestic natural setting overlooking the Hudson River.”

The journey involved taking the 1 up to 242nd street from 116th, walking 50 feet to the 2 bus in Yonkers and going to the end of the line.

It was a very sunny day, which showed the gardens at their best. It is truly one of the most beautiful organised gardens I have ever visited. I felt Alfie enjoying the gardens with me and I visited most of it in the 4 hours spent there!

I had had an alert that Village Preservation was unveiling a plaque for the legendary Charles Mingus at 5 Great Jones Street in Greenwich Village (where he lived in 1966 before he was ejected) and scooting back via bus and subway I just made it in time. It was lovely to hear some of the stories about him and to listen to Mike Richmond (amazing Bassist), Frank Lacy (trombone) and Scott Robinson (sax) – all former members of the posthumous Mingus Band.

Mike Richmond, who played with him in the 60s, explained the innovative ways that Mingus had improved bass playing. It was fascinating. He explained how bassists before were playing 1/4 beat so Mingus played off this quarter note, as well as playing triplets and counterpoints. In order to play two notes at once he played the bow underneath the strings.

I returned home via Central Park where, as usual, I bumped into some lovely dogs – including a very sweet rescue collie.

On Thursday morning we received a large order from “Fresh Direct” full of yummy things. I then helped Debbie’s neighbour, Mary Gordon – a well-known author in the US – take a load of stuff to “Housing Works” in her car (the local charity shop, or ‘thrift store” as they call them).

She is sub-letting her apartment for 6 months while she goes to her home in Rhode Island. She told me the premis of her next book and then we had an irreverent laugh about life the universe and so on… while driving around: we are more or less the same vintage…

Walking past my appartment was the sweetest tiny dog with a wheelchair. His owner said he is now 16 and has had problems with his back legs for years. Bless.

Having made a picnic, I took Debbie down to Bryant Park, acquiring 3 of their blankets and finding somewhere to sit and wait for Dana, who also brought picnic stuff, we settled on the grass to watch/listen to the New York City Opera singing “La Boheme” – such a wonderful treat.

Dana (now in Portland but lived in NYC) and I met when I spoke at a Meet-Up she organised for people who had been preyed on by narcissists. She stayed the night with us and we had a girlie get-together at breakfast the next day.

Nancy and Vince (our upstairs neighbours) had recommended and insisted that I visit Claude’s Patisserie in Greenwich Village. Dana enjoyed chocolate patisseries while I had a pain au raisin. It is now run by 3 people from the Dominican Republic – one of whom worked for many years with Claude. Their cakes are divine!

On the way there, we saw they were having a Pride celebration in Christopher Park – part of the Stonewall National Monument,  so I went back for a while to join in the celebration and listened to some life stories – notably from 85 year old Randy Wicker, witness to the Stonewall uprising and Michelle Lopez who in 1990 lobbied for access to HIV drugs for women. Finally, Felipe Rose – the original “Indian” (he is part Native American Lakota Sioux) from 1970s “Village People”.

I have attended a lot of events in NYC and I am struck, and pleased, by the acknowledgement announcers now give to the original occupants of the land upon which we are sitting. The idiots who support the Orange Monster seem to think that the rightful occupants of the land are white Americans who in fact are ALL from immigrant settlers.

We had massive thunder, lightening and rain that prevented the 13-piece jazz orchestra from performing in Bryant Park. After sitting under a large umbrella watching the rain fall, I decided to walk uptown into Central Park – so fresh from the rain and to David Geffen Hall to watch, on the big screen in the lobby, a concert of Julia Wolfe’s “Unearth” involving 2 choirs and an orchestra. Dana turned up to have the picnic we meant to have in Bryant Park as we watched the concert

New York City’s Community Open Gardens days took place over Saturday and Sunday. There are 52 community gardens in the Lower East Side – an area I really like. It therefore has the greatest density of community gardens in the country!

The reason for this stems from the city’s dysfunction in the 1960s and 70s, when the area was abandoned and buildings were allowed to fall into disrepair and burn.

The residents lovingly turned these vacant lots into community gardens. All of which are operated by volunteers. They vary in size although most of them are relatively small and each one has their own quirky features, from a treehouse to artwork, ponds to gazebos.

‘LUNGS’ (Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens) was founded in 2011 as a way of keeping these gardens out of the hands of greedy developers and preserve and protect open public space for the health of all people.

I visited a fair number of them!

After which, I went to the “Soldiers and Sailors” Monument 89th Street and Riverside Drive and down into the park where the Hudson Classical Theatre Company Performed “The Importance of Being Earnest”

Returning to the Lower East Side on Sunday, I attended the 2nd Annual LUNGS Theater Festival on Sunday in 6B Garden – Avenue B and 6th Street, written and performed by Lower East Side artists!

There were 6 half-hour performances – varying from a Czechoslovak puppeteer to a Mexican tale and a random Shakespearean improvisation troop who hauled me up on stage to ask me 3 things about myself and then create a sonnet between the 3 of them – all good fun!

I popped into a local cafe (there are loads) called Thanos and chatted to 2 sweet young guys while I enjoyed my coffee.

I then went to Pier 70i for salsa and bachata classes and general dancing – It was great dancing as night fell.

On Monday my lovely friend Rudy picked me up from Debbie’s at 11.15 and we drove, chatting and catching up the whole way, to the New Jersey shore as I had told him I wanted to visit the ocean.

We drove via Asbury park and arrived in Ocean Grove where we paddled in the sea for a while before having great sandwiches with French fries on the outside terrace of The Rum Runner in Sea Bright.

Then it was time to swim so we went through the paying gate onto the peninsula  of Sandy Hook and drove around before parking next to the beach where I went for a dip in the sea – it was too cold for Rudy but for me the ambient and sea temperatures felt just like a typical UK summer!

From the beach you can see the long silhouette of Manhattan – which was pretty cool…

Finally, we went to Cranford where Rudy and Donna live, having a Starbucks coffee in the town and then visiting his house and garden with lovely trees and seeing his recording studio with so many wires I wouldn’t know what to do with them. Donna is a member of the Green Party and committed to planting as many trees in her town as possible. They are also into Tibetan Buddhism and have a lovely property in Vermont.

On Tuesday, what the local free rag titled “Air-Pocalypse Now” commenced: Serious fires burning in Canada sent toxic plumes of smoke over New York. Initially, it didn’t feel so bad when I went to the nearby Miller Theatre for a ‘Pop Up’ concert with Brian Marcella (piano/composer) and Sae Hashimoto (vibraphone). The music was delightful and – as I often do – I met some really interesting women.

Coming out of the concert was a different matter: you were immediately hit with the smell of bonfire smoke and the sky had gone an eerie yellow colour. I stuck my mask on (I always carry masks in NYC and never use the subway without one) and hurried the 2 minutes down 116th to Debbie’s apartment, closed all of her windows and stuck the air purifier on.

In the following days it was to get worse – and that will be reported in my final blog from this visit, Blog 9

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