Tag Archives: art

My Favourite Things to Do in New York City (Part 2)

In last week’s blog post, I offered a list of my favourite attractions in New York City, but I quickly ran out of space! For that reason, here is part 2 of “My Favourite Things to Do in New York City”:

Feinstein’s/54 Below
Before every trip, I make a point of checking out the event calendar for Feinstein’s/54 Below. Located in the lower level of what was the legendary Studio 54 night club, Feinstein’s/54 Below “offers an unforgettable New York nightlife experience, combining performances by Broadway’s best with world class dining in an elegant setting”. Our first experience at the club was seeing a later performance of the group The Skivvies whose members perform their diverse musical set of pop and Broadway tunes in their undies. It was a brilliantly entertaining show, enjoyed over desserts and drinks, which seemed like a perfect way to end a busy day of sightseeing and entertainment.

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
Once your itinerary has been filled with Broadway shows, if you are still craving more performing arts, Lincoln Center would be your next destination. As their web site explains: “The 16.3-acre Lincoln Center complex, the world’s leading performing arts center, is home to the 11 resident arts organizations that represent the highest standards of excellence in symphony, opera, chamber music, theater, dance, film, and arts education.” The Center’s calendar of events offers a steady rotation of shows and events that are certain to appeal to everyone’s appetite for the arts.

If you have a chance, I would also suggest taking a guided tour of the beautiful campus for a behind-the-scenes look at the magic of this iconic venue.

Bus Tours
When I visited New York for the first time almost twenty years ago, I think we were very smart in incorporating two bus tours into our itinerary, one tour of lower Manhattan and one of upper Manhattan. As a first time visitor with only a limited amount of time, we were able to cover a lot more ground by bus than if we had done it on foot. While the sights were all viewed from the bus window, it still offered us a great appetizer and the opportunity to figure out which sights peaked our curiosity to see up close in the next visits. Ask your hotel’s concierge or front desk team which bus tours they would recommend and to help you pick one that will go by the points of interest that would interest you most.

Mike’s New York City Tours
I have been a fan of Project Runway since the very first episode, and after my first bus tour of NYC breezed through the garment district, I knew I had to go back and have a closer look. In Googling garment district tours, I found “Mike’s New York City Tours”.

Born and raised in New York City, Mike Kaback knows the city inside and out. As Mike’s Web site describes: “With over 35 years in the Garment Center, 10 years in NYC real estate, 17+ years as a tour guide and having lived in many various parts of the city, Mike has an unique perspective on the people, the history and the landscape.” I was delighted with the tour that took us by some of the landmarks associated with Project Runway (like Parsons and Mood) but also offered some historical context to the garment industry’s origins in New York, its evolution and the people who worked there over the years.

Check out his complete list of walking tours as he offers tours of landmarks in several different parts of the city.

Shopping
When it comes to shopping, the possibilities in New York City are endless.
Fans of the movie “Miracle on 34th Street” won’t want to miss a stop at Macy’s flagship department store, also a historic landmark, on (…you guessed it) 34th Street!

For designer labels on a budget, a visit to Century 21 has been on my to-do list for several trips to New York City. Set aside some time and some patience for the careful perusal of the racks of deals!

For a shop ‘til you drop experience, I would recommend a stroll down 5th Avenue. Home to an impressive list of popular department stores, shops, cafés, restaurants and attractions including the Guggenheim Museum, the Empire State Building, the Flatiron Building and Rockefeller Center/Plaza, you could easily plan a whole trip exploring just 5th Avenue, and still not see it all. Wear comfortable shoes!

Museums
If your trip to New York City is hampered by bad weather, what a great opportunity to make the most of your time indoors and check out any of the wonderful museums the city has to offer.
The largest art museum in the United States, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, would be my first stop. With its permanent collection and exhibitions spanning all cultures and time periods over 5000 years, the Met is a great opportunity to discover the beauty of the works on display and of their relevance in understanding that even across time and cultures, we have more in common than what makes us different.

Check out this great link for the “15 Pieces You Have to See at The Met”

On my last visit, I discovered the Whitney Museum of American Art, combining an impressive permanent collection and exhibitions that showcase the beautiful works of 3,000 American artists. Every work of art was like a snapshot from the artists’ lives, whispering their personal stories and perspectives. Touring a museum like the Whitney is a far more subtle way of not just learning about history, but in understanding it on a human level and letting it resonate within my own point of view.

When my partner visited the Tenement Museum and came back with glowing recommendations, I had to check it out! The Museum’s web site describes itself as “We tell the stories of immigrants who started their lives anew on Manhattan’s Lower East Side between the 19th and 21st centuries through the recreated apartment and businesses of real families in our two historic tenement buildings.” After taking in one tour, I was sharing my partner’s enthusiasm for the fascinating recreations that illustrated the diametrically opposing perspectives through which they lived: the hope for a better life but also, the harsh living conditions of their new homes and the difficult working conditions through which they endured on the road to attaining their dreams.

What has been mind-blowing for me has been that after a few trips to New York City and the stories that I picked up along the way through the shows, walking tours and museum visits, everything started fitting together like puzzle pieces. All of these threads of stories started collectively forming the brilliant fabric that makes New York City the unique and inspirational destination that it is.

This magnificent convergence of historical and cultural richness was the epiphany that helped me understand why I love New York so much and why I keep coming back to discover more.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, you can check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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My Lifelong Envy of Artists and Their Sketch Pads

Regular readers of my blog might remember a couple of posts in which I talk about how other artists inspire me as a writer, even when their works of art come from other creative disciplines.

Musicians who can pick up an instrument, anytime, anywhere, and start playing beautiful music are mind-blowing to me. I am also in awe of singers who can not only carry a tune, but bring such depth and complexity to a song by smartly using their “instrument”. It is also a joy to behold when an actor can take a script and breathe such life into a role that I am able to completely suspend judgement and believe in a fictional character.

I especially envy visual artists who can take a pencil and a sheet of paper and produce picture-perfect images worthy of a gallery showing.

In high school, while certain teachers droned on in that Charlie Brown teacher’s voice, I remember looking over at my artist friends during class, pencils blazing over whatever piece of paper (or flat surface) was at their disposal. Blank pages were magically transformed into masterpieces with images of eyes, faces or pets from different angles, and all from the perspective of their mind’s eye.

There was seemingly no struggle to their process. They did not stare at a blank page, think hard about it, draw, erase, draw, erase and start over. It just seemed to flow out of them like they were on auto-pilot. They made it look effortless. Continue reading

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Jeans and the Generation Gap

A couple of years ago, I wrote about my love-hate relationship with my iron in a tribute to my Dad and his crisp office shirts.

In that same train of thought, when growing up in the 1970’s, while in school in the 1980’s, and when launching my career in the 1990’s, the expectation was to have clean, neat and crisp clothes anytime I set foot outside the house, because “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”. Even if we look back at pictures from that era and question the wisdom of some of our fashion choices, neat and tidy clothing were a common denominator.

My parents’ suit-and-tie generation set the bar pretty high, even for a child. Clothes were meant to be worn gently, and maintained carefully to keep looking new as long as possible. The rotation generally went like this: every September, we got me new school clothes and the previous year’s school clothes (if I hadn’t outgrown them yet) became the “play clothes”, for wearing as soon as I got home from school. When a new batch of school clothes came in, a batch of gently-used play clothes would go to charity.

Along the way, a little nick in clothing meant taking out the needle and thread and try to make an invisible repair to restore it to its original beauty. And if invisible mending wasn’t successful, it went into the donation box.

That’s just the way I was brainwashed… I mean, brought up. It wasn’t just my parents’ generation that instilled this way of thinking, but it was my grandparents’ generation too who declared open war on wrinkles and holes long before I was born. And just think of the staff on Downtown Abbey and how many items they’ve darned and mended through their six seasons.

About 10 years ago, I let myself get talked into buying a distressed pair of brand name jeans with a few strategically-placed pulled threads. I can’t tell you what a struggle it was each time to convince myself to wear them and that I supposedly looked like a cool, edgy, fashion-forward 40 year old. I may have looked it, but I certainly didn’t feel it. Continue reading

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Why I Love Nature Photography

PhotographyOn my last day off, I couldn’t have asked for a better day weather-wise. The sun was shining, the sky was a stunning shade of blue, there was a gentle breeze and the temperature was a picture-perfect 20 degrees Celsius.

When deciding how I was going to spend this precious day off, I knew that grabbing the camera and spending an hour or so around a nearby creek was at the top of my list.

Upon my arrival, it took less than five minutes to get completely absorbed into the creative bubble of this enchanted forest, focused on a world of tiny subjects in their intricate detail.

Thoughts of the real world had completely suspended. It was like I had jumped into vacation mode, yet was still just minutes from my house.

On this quiet morning, I appreciated the peace and solitude of the moment, even though I was surrounded by many species of wildlife pursuing their business of the day. I marveled at the soothing effect of just being there, bearing witness to nature’s gentle pace.

I noticed that my usually hurried steps gradually slowed down as if to not disturb nature’s ebb and flow. My breathing slowed as well, as a calming effect took over.

I scanned through the tall grasses and plants surrounding me, looking for my next subject. My senses were fully tuned in, trying to spot those moments that we miss while rushing from commitment to commitment.

Thoughts of my to-do list drifted away as I followed a monarch butterfly floating from plant to plant, posing and preening in the sunshine as if to say “Take my picture, take my picture!” I happily obliged and then thanked her for the opportunity. Continue reading

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Inspired by the Creativity of Others

A few days ago, I attended a concert at the National Arts Centre, here in Ottawa, to see The Tenors perform with the National Arts Centre Orchestra conducted by Jack Everly.

Much like all of the Pops series concerts I have seen in recent years, the concert brought me on a roller coaster of emotions, between goose bump moments of arias and their triumphant crescendos and moments where I felt a tad verklempt, hearing favourite songs performed live in brilliant new arrangements.

Throughout great performances like that, I can’t help but ask myself, “How do they do it?” How much of it is natural aptitude and how much is hard work? How many thousands of hours each performer put into their craft over the years, to become one with their instruments and to make it look so easy? How hard did each one have to work to achieve this level of proficiency, to produce such beauty that can elicit such strong emotions from spectators?

This inner monologue replays in my head again and again whenever I feel deeply inspired, whether it’s at a concert, in a museum, in a theatre, reading a book or watching a great movie. It’s like a vortex of creativity, swirling around, reaching out and stirring up my own artistic momentum to keep doing what I love doing, keep practicing, work hard and don’t let go.

I sometimes pause and wonder if I will ever get to the same degree of skillfulness and versatility in writing as someone who can pick up an instrument and play a song, just like that. Then I think to myself that I have been known to pull a rabbit or two out of a hat on a few occasions.

Whether it’s a blog post that I was able to commit to paper in one sitting in under two hours (it doesn’t happen often, but it does), a blog post that successfully reached out and really struck a chord with readers, or writing a piece at work that was exactly what was requested, offering the right words at the right time, and being able to do so under crazy time constraints. I reassure myself that I am on my way. Continue reading

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How I Need the Internet to Go “Off the Grid”

In keeping with tradition, last month I booked some time off for some rest and relaxation from the office and to take in the festivities of the Eurovision Song Contest, from the comfort of my couch here in Canada. For what seems like ten years now, Eurovision has been the focal point of my version of “spring break”.

The first few days of my time off consisted of jotting down some blog ideas floating around in my grey matter and puttering around the house, getting chores done. With those out of the way, when Eurovision came on, I could truly let myself get swallowed up by my sofa, pillow, blanket and cat, and to completely disconnect from the world.

That is… until I woke up Tuesday morning to find I was already disconnected from the world.

No Internet service!

After a series of attempts over two days to restore my Internet service over the phone, with the assistance of cheerful client service representatives, it finally took a site visit from a technician on Thursday to get everything fixed up.

Once I was on the couch, with pillow, blanket and cat, watching the Eurovision semi-final #2, my cares completely melted away with each passing costume change, wind machine, and key change.
The next day, I watched semi-final #1, and on the Saturday, I watched the finals live with the other 204 million viewers around the world. Everything seemed right with the universe again.
But those few days I was without Internet, I surprised myself at my dependence on it. How do people actually go off-the-grid anymore? Continue reading

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Did Nature Photography Get Me to Enjoy Winter?

In last December’s post, “How Nature Photography Might Get Me to Appreciate Winter”, I wondered if my rediscovery of photography might be able to nudge me out of my usual winter cocoon and spend more time outside.

For those who have never been to Ottawa, let me offer a little bit of context. Yes, we do have an abundance of beautiful winter days that are like a shot out of a Disney movie. However, the Norman Rockwell painting of a perfect suburban Ottawa winter starts fading around the 18th consecutive day of snow, threat of freezing rain, or temperatures so low, even the cat won’t sit by the window and conduct her usual backyard surveillance despite her abundant fur coat. Winters here can be very harsh for long stretches.

When the weather outside is frightful and the sidewalks are covered with snow and ice, it’s not most conducive to a cheerful walk outside at lunch time. When you also factor in a long and slow commute home wondering where the heck the city’s snowplows went and repeatedly mumbling to myself “Why the heck do I pay taxes?” it should come as no surprise if I have to dig deeply to want to spend more time outdoors and risk falling and breaking a hip… the joys of becoming a grumpy old man! (and yes, I know some close friends are now thinking, “what do you mean ‘becoming’?”)

But this winter, I did spend more time outside, thanks to the camera!

While I wouldn’t say it made me a winter lover in one season, nature photography certainly made it more enjoyable by helping me lose track of time while doing something I truly enjoy. I would even go so far as to say this winter didn’t seem to drag on as much as it did in previous years. Continue reading

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