Saturday, December 8, 2012

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree 2012 | Holiday Lights New York City

New York City - Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree 2012

Once again the holiday seasons are upon us. The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is a 80 foot Norway spruce that had survived Hurricane Sandy. This New Jersey native now stands proudly, strutting its full height and blinking its 30,000 multi-colored lights over the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink.

Santa Claus in New York City 2012

All around the city, the avenues are ablaze with dazzling holiday lights. One could even bump into Santa Claus along the way.

Radio City Hall, home of the famous Rockettes dancers -  New York City

Strolling along Park Avenue is another feast for the eyes since Park Avenue is lined with lighted Christmas trees.

Park Avenue - New York City

Park Avenue - New York City

There are now many New York holiday lights tours showcasing some of these holiday illuminations. If the weather is mild, one could travel by foot to observe some of these holiday glitters. The above pictures were taken during a brisk walk from Park Avenue around Fifty Street towards the Rockefeller Center area. Added bonus: the smell of the Christmas trees and chestnuts roasting in the air.

For other holiday lights display, check out Macy's window display.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Notre Dame in Paris | Shakespeare and Company

Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Latin Quarters, Paris

I was contemplating on purchasing Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" at the Shakespeare and Company store in Paris but then I shuddered at the thought of stuffing what looked like a 1000 plus page paperback into my bursting-at-the seam luggage.

The book would have been a memorable souvenir with the "Paris Point Zero" stamp on the front page.

The Shakespeare and Company book store was crowded each time we dropped by in the late afternoon. The store was packed with books from floor to ceiling filling in every nook and cranny. I was too tired to go upstairs to have a peek.

Instead of browsing there, we sat at a nearby cafe taking a break and watching the Parisian flow of human traffic from Notre Dame to Latin Quarters and vice versa.

Notre Dame in Paris

Victor Hugo was one of the instrumental figures in helping to restore Notre Dame to its former glory. The gothic cathedral was badly damaged during the French Revolution. It was here in Notre Dame that Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself as Emperor of France.

Notre Dame in Paris

My earliest memory of Notre Dame was from Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" book. Alas we were not able to walk in all the footsteps of Esmeralda and the Hunchback. We did not have the patience to stand in line to wait for our turn to climb the 387 steps to the bell tower.

Point Zero marker in Paris

We did find the Point Zero plate, a bronze marker in front of Notre Dame whereby all distances from Paris are measured.

Notre Dame is not the oldest church in Paris. The distinction belongs to Saint Germain des Pres which was constructed around the year 1000.

Sitting in these churches gave pause to marveling at the majestic vaulted ceilings, the beautiful stained glass windows and the resourcefulness of men in building these majestic cathedrals with medieval tools. Just like hundreds of years before them, the congregation today continue to worship here, bathing in the sunlight streaming through those stained glass windows and lifting their musical voices to God.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Louvre museum in Paris

Louvre museum - home of Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo

The Louvre museum in Paris has multiple entry points. The glass pyramid is the most popular entry point, often inundated with long lines. If you have the Paris museum pass (good for multiple museums in Paris), you could move to the beginning of the line and then go through the security checkpoint. 

The lines are much shorter in the afternoons especially on days when the Louvre museum is open late (Wednesday and Friday). Waiting on line, there are signs informing the visitors to be beware of pickpockets. That surely bring the euphoria of being in a beautiful city down a couple of notches.

Venus de Milo statue in the Louvre, Paris

I myself still am in awe of the sheer vastness of this place and the treasures it hold despite several visits before. On the most recent trip, I finally get to see the "Venus de Milo" statue - an image that I have seen as a child not knowing what it meant except that the lady was armless. Seeing it in person, it is a marvel that this Greek classic statue was sculptured so perfectly and remained very well preserved over the centuries. 

Louvre sculpture gallery

The Louvre museum has a huge sculpture gallery with wide expanse of marble figures. One would really need days to explore this museum so it is best to take in the Louvre's treasures in small appreciative  doses.

The Eiffel Tower as seen from the Louvre palace grounds in Paris

The Louvre, a former palace, with its pyramid and surroundings are illuminated at night. The glow of the lights cast a really magical spectacle. On the palace grounds, one could also see the Eiffel Tower glowing and sparkling at the top of the hour.

Paris is definitely breathtaking at night !

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ben Stiller | Filming "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" in New York City

 Ben Stiller filming"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" in New York City

It was a pleasant surprise several Sundays ago when we stumbled upon the actual filming of a new movie on Fifth Avenue around 53rd Street in New York City. 

It was an even bigger surprise a few hours later when by chance we came upon the same movie crew filming another scene on Sixth Avenue across from the New York Hilton hotel. There we learned that the movie being filmed was a remake of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". Ben Stiller was one of the stars and he was filming a scene right in front of us. A crowd had gathered to watch the action. Ben Stiller was sequestered in a truck and during the break, he smiled and waved to the crowd. The crowd cheered in approval. 

Filming of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" in New York City

The traffic on Sixth Avenue in the vicinity was stopped for a few minutes when the filming started. We watched as the camera rolled and the actors were transported in their designated vehicles. Two actors were strapped onto the top of a New York City bus. The bus was actually a prop and it was plastered with scenes from the movie. The yellow cab next to it was probably a prop too. 

The bus soon moved uptown with the two actors standing on top of it. After that scene has wrapped up, the regular traffic was allowed to move along again. All in all, it was such a smooth operation !

Monday, May 28, 2012

Vanderbilt Gate at Conservatory Garden | Central Park New York City

Vanderbilt Gate at Central Park, New York City

The Vanderbilt gate serves as a formal entrance to the Conservatory Garden in Central Park at 105th Street and Fifth Avenue.  A fascinating history of this gate can be glanced from this plate:

The beautiful gate was manufactured in Paris.

Entering the Conservatory  Garden is like stepping into another world. In the spring time, colorful tulips abound as seen in the previous post  The garden is a also a popular ground for wedding pictures.

Vanderbilt Gate at Central Park, New York City

This beauty of this garden was recently captured by Tiffany in one of their breathtaking window display using the Vanderbilt gate as a backdrop.

Source: Tiffany

Simply beautiful !

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Conservatory Garden | Central Park, New York City

Tulips in the Conservatory Garden - Central Park, New York City

I visited the Conservatory Garden in Central Park about a month ago when the magnolia trees were in full bloom. I smelled the sweet fragrance of the magnolia bloom even before reaching the garden.

The English Garden is now ablazed with tulips blooming in their glory. I love the "blushing lady" tulips as depicted above. The hues on the petals do look like blushes !

The pictures below speak a thousand words of the splendor and majesty of one of the most beautiful gardens in New York:

Tulips in the Conservatory Garden - Central Park, New York City

Tulips in the Conservatory Garden - Central Park, New York City

Tulips in the Conservatory Garden - Central Park, New York City

Tulips in the Conservatory Garden - Central Park, New York City

Tulips in the Conservatory Garden - Central Park, New York City

Tulips in the Conservatory Garden - Central Park, New York City

A little reading on the history of the garden revealed that this section of the park had been neglected for several decades and it was then "reborn" in the late 80's. I am glad this oasis is here to stay. I can't wait to see the sights in in the coming summer and fall.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice | free Amazon ebook for Kindle

Pride and Prejudice 2005 movie and the novel on Kindle

I am afraid that I've arrived at the Jane Austen's fan party rather late. After embracing the Kindle, I found to my delight that Amazon offers many complimentary classic literature ebooks. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is one of them. This book has been highly recommended to me hence I took advantage of the complimentary offer. The ability to adjust the font size of the words on the pages and the portability of the Kindle has enabled me to finish this book rather quickly.

I was not disappointed. The novel is sprinkled with witty and keen observations of the social mores of Jane Austen's days. The protagonist, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Bennet, was a sharp, spirited and feisty young lady who spoke her own mind. Her mother was eager to marry her five daughters off. The laws of the land required that Mr. Bennet passed his estate to a male relative since he had no sons.

The book focused mainly on the "courtship" between Lizzy and Mr. Darcy, a handsome but proud and brooding young man of very wealthy means and being master of the Pemberley estate. They did not start off on the right foot but somehow Mr. Darcy was enchanted by Lizzy's opinionated spirit and intelligence. He fell hard for her and proposed to her in one of the most romantic declaration of love in literature:

“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

Due to the pride and prejudice intertwined in their social class differences and other misunderstandings, this proposal was in vain.

In time, Mr. Darcy was able to win Lizzie's heart and hand through his transformations into a less haughty and open man. It was also revealed that he had always been a kind and loyal gentleman albeit his haughty countenance. Lizzie also realized that she had been prejudiced in misjudging his character so hastily.

The BBC 1995 series of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy offered quite a faithful dramatization of the book in about five hours. The Pride and Prejudice 2005 movie starring Kiera Knightley was a looser adaptation with many artistic liberties. The movie featured breathtaking cinematography of the British landscape and stately homes.

The book experience has afforded me a better enjoyment of the 2005 movie. Althought it was not a 100% faithful adaptation of the book, the movie still captured the spirited banter and fireworks between Lizzy and Mr. Darcy. To the romantics at heart, a highlight of the film was Darcy's proposal in the rain. Darcy and Lizzie eventually declared their mutual love on a beautiful dawn breaking morning laden with mist accompanied by sweeping music scores.

To gauge how popular Pride and Prejudice is almost 200 years after its publication,  I noted recently that there are at least 2.6  million fans who "liked" this 2005 movie on Facebook ! In addition, the Kindle ebook of Pride and Prejudice is one of the top 50 free best sellers on Amazon.

This novel is still relevant to young readers in other ways too. I came upon the word "obsequious" in the book and looked up its meaning in the dictionary on the Kindle. I later found out from a high school student that this word  has just appeared in the most recent SAT exam.

Pride and Prejudice is a love story for the ages and I have became a Jane Austen fan.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Carniege Hall | New York Giants won 46th SuperBowl

Joan and Sanford Weill recital hall, Carnegie Hall

Many years ago, we attended a piano recital at the Joan and Sanford Weill recital hall at Carnegie Hall in New York. I was surprised to find out that it is not a big hall since its capacity is about 250 seats. However, the acoustics were excellent and did justice to the majestic black Steinway baby grand piano occupying the stage.  Even though we were not seated near the front, we could still see and hear the performers well. The mellifluous music floated from the Steinway grand piano and bounced off the huge cascade of chandeliers on the ceiling without any diminished sound quality.

On SuperBowl Sunday, we were invited to a music recital at the same venue again. The recital consisted of piano, vocal and stringed instruments performances. The talented performers as individual or in groups excelled in their presentations. Their dedicated practices definitely paid off and congratulations were in high order for their successful debut at this prestigious music venue.

I supposed that one should not be surprised by unexpected interruptions during music recitals these days. During the second half of the show, somebody's cell phone ring tone cut through the melodic air.
Fortunately, the owner of the phone turned it off quickly. Then around us, some restless kids were playing with the velcro on their shoes and tapping their feet to the music. Their parents put a stop to that quickly.

After the show ended, our party gathered for a celebratory meal at a nearby restaurant. Aromas from one hundred layered lasagna, scrumptious lobster with manila clams pasta, veal and lamb dishes soon filled the room.

The Sunday night was capped off by the New York Giants winning the 46th Super Bowl over the New England Patriots. Good music, good food and good game - all made for a beautiful Sunday.


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