Friday, December 19, 2008

2008 Christmas Windows Walking Tour, from

Here’s a wonderful walking tour for photographers who are here for the holiday season. I've done the kind of tour you ask about, but more on the pedicab (for two), rather than a walking tour (for a group). The tours are not offered on, since so few ask for them.
I'm no a pro photographer, but have lots of Flickr photo under the name TourguideStan, which you're welcome to copy, and more than 30 YouTube videos, also under the name TourguideStan. All these have been done on a Nikon Coolpix L14.
If you're here for Christmastime --oops, I mean holiday time -- You ought to take a ride up to Madison and 60th, and start there, taking pictures of Barney's theme windows, "Have a Hippie Holiday." Then walk one block west to Grand Army Plaza, where the world's largest Menorah will be up, topped with railroad lanterns, courtesy of the Lubavitcher community of Brooklyn.
Take pictures of Barney's theme windows, "Have a Hippie Holiday." Then walk one block west to Grand Army Plaza, where the world's largest Menorah will be up, topped with railroad lanterns, courtesy of the Lubavitcher community of Brooklyn.
You'll also see a cluster of lit Christmas trees arranged inside the Pulitzer Fountain, due south, and right out the main entrance of the Plaza Hotel, itself decorated for the season.
Cross Fifth Avenue to the left, to get the big teddy bear and Bobby the living toy soldier, at the front entrance of F.A.O. Schwarz Toy Store. Restrooms, second floor. I don’t recommend going into the store unless you love crowds.
Bergdorf Goodman is next, but which to choose? The Men’s Store on the same side of Fifth as FAO, whose windows feature boxing stuffed polar bears (not kidding!), or the much more decorated Women’s Store, whose theme is the seasons of the year? Somehow, all windows look wintry. I’d go for the women’s side.
…That’s right, Bergdorf’s has two stores.
You’ll want a shot of the Holiday Star over the intersection of 57th and Fifth, held up on guy wires by the four buildings on the corners: Tiffany, Vuitton, van Cleef & Arpel’s, and the building housing Piaget, Mikimoto and another jeweler.
Next to Tiffany is Trump Tower, with its giant wreath over the door. Trump’s TV show The Apprentice was the first that put pedicabs on primetime TV, for which the Donald deserves my thanks. Go inside and warm up. A cafĂ© with many coffees and many sweets, in the basement, is not a Starbucks. You’ll see a three-story feldspar waterfall, and clean restrooms are down there too.
Cross Fifth to get a gander of van Cleef & Arpel’s windows. The goods displayed are in window boxes, but the windows themselves are outlined in silver tinsel with white LEDs, mixed into tiny tree branches, with big, windblown tree limbs painted silver overtop.
Cross 57th to Bendel’s, with its display of crowns and gowns by current dsesigners. And check out the upstairs milk-glass windows. They were by Lalique and are landmarked. Two other hot stores side by side with Bendel’s, but their names escape me.
The next three blocks feature store after store after store, each with its own attractive display. The notable exception here is Abercrombie & Fitch, with its windows of slatted dark wood, like giant-size Venetian blinds--closed. The only noteworthy thing here is the horde of middle-American teens waiting outside for the chance to go in, shop, then proclaim their individuality by dressing just like every other teen.
Saint Thomas Church, Episcopal, comes up at 53rd Street. The church went up in 1916, when Fifth was lined with townhouses of the wealthy, not stores for the wealthy. With that in mind, check out the bridal entrance, closest to the intersection, for its sculptural joke: Over the door is Jesus reading from the Torah. Above him is a sculpture of what ought to be two wedding rings surrounding two trees. But it looks much more like a Dollar $ign.
Continue south on Fifth. At the intersection of Fifth and 52nd, get a diagonal shot of Cartier Mansion. It is wrapped in red LED-laced ribbon, with little sparkles here and there, and a giant bow over a third-floor window. Cartier Mansion was originally the LaPlante family home. They sold in 1919 to Cartier, for a pearl necklace. In 1922, Mikimoto announced to the world that they had been manufacturing “seeded” pearls, which sent the pearl market through the floor, and the LaPlantes sued. They lost.
You’ve been walking uphill ever since 58th Street. At the top of the hill is Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral. The main doors are of bronze. The left door features Saint Patrick who, if you want to get nit-picky, was actually Welsh; Fr. Isaac Jogues, and Kateri Tekakwicha, a converted Mohawk. The right door has St. Joseph and two New Yorkers: Mother Cabrini and Mother Seton. Jesus is, as at St. Thomas, over the door. Those doors remain closed. Enter at the side entrances during the day. Try not to use flash when photographing the interior. Remember, St. Patty’s is a working church, with daily masses.
Before going in, get a shot of Atlas, who is standing guard at the entrance to Rockefeller Center’s International Building.
Go out the south entrance of St. Patrick’s and straight into the side door of Saks & Company. You can cross the block from 50th to 49th by going through here, or brave the thick, slowwww crowd out to see the windows, which feature the life journey of a snowflake named Mike.
At mid-block, turn and gape openmouthed at the lynchpin of all Christmas decorations on Fifth Avenue: straight across the avenue are the British Empire Building and La Maison Francais of Rockefeller Center. Between them is Channel Gardens. “Herald” angels with post horns salute the Rockefeller Center Tree, enwrapped with nearly five miles of LED lighs, and topped by a four-foot Swarovski Star, made of hundreds of Swarovski crystals.
Cross at 48th, 49th, 50th or 51st to go behind the Rock Center buildings and onto the Plaza for Tree viewing. The 49th Street crossing will have the thickest crowds.
Just south of the Rock, watch out for a store with the big GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sign over the door. The sign had said INVENTORY CLEARANCE for the entire time I’ve been a sightseeing guide in New York (since 1995), and it went “out of business” early this year, only to reopen with pretty much the same goods inside, and the “INVENTORY CLEARANCE” sign again. Caveat emptor.
Continue south on Fifth, getting pictures of the New York Public Library’s main branch and, behind it, the wintry decorations and skating rink at Bryant Park. A little farther south on Fifth gets you Lord & Taylor’s animated windows, showing Victorian-era NYC scenes.
Then just walk downhill to the Empire State Building. Actually, cross to the left side of Fifth for the ESB’s better views. When the ESB is in front of you, turn right on 34th Street and walk one block west to Macy’s.
Macy’s windows feature something for everyone. The Broadway side windows are clearly for kids, showing lots of whirly, brightly-colored objects. The 34th Street windows repeat last year’s display of animated scenes from the 1947 classic film, Miracle On 34th Street. I must say, the models in the windows do look remarkably like the actors, right down to Natalie Wood.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

You ought to do two things beside eating in Times Square if you want to see famous people: walk up and down Eighth Avenue between 6 PM and 7 PM and watch the people who walk alone and not very fast. They often are theater people on their way to work. Those who walk in groups are usually people going to the theater, and people walking fast are commuters on their way to the Bus Terminal or Penn Station.
The other thing you should do is go to a Broadway show. Doesn't matter which one. Though, the more serious the show, the greater the probability of actors being in the audience.
Examples: While waiting on my pedicab outside Broadway shows that are letting out I have seen Valerie Bertinelli, David Byrne, Cromwell (forget his first name, the cyclist/actor who just broke his collarbone while biking), and Marisa Tomei.

Get to the show at least 15 minutes early, put something in your seat to mark it as yours, then go down toward the stage and turn around to watch people get to their seats. Famous actors have enough money to go see other people's shows. For, how to better learn the craft of acting, than to go watch other actors?

The more time you spend on the streets of Times Square, the more actors and actresses you meet. While biking on my pedicab I've met Jeffrey Tambour and Richard Salkind, on their bikes. They probably live in Hell's Kitchen, the neighborhood west of Times Square, which is loaded with theater people, or the Upper West Side, a 10-20-minute bike ride away. They both, by the way, wear helmets.
One night in 2004, while giving a pedicab tour of Times Square to two tourist women, one asked if celebs lurk about. We then came upon the actor who played the taxi driver on Mars, in the film, Total Recall. They were delighted. "Hey, man, I got four mouths to feed!"
Katherine O'Hara and Governor Ann Richards have been taken home in my pedicab. I did a promo for Showtime several years ago with Mario Cantone sitting in my pedicab in the middle of Times Square, on the traffic island where the Naked Cowboy usually works during the day.

For actually seeing actors at dinner:
Joe Allen
A cop friend says Brian Dennehy eats at Angus McIndoe (W. 44th) on alternate Friday nights.

For actually seeing theater people and some struggling but fairly-well-known actors at late breakfast or brunch: The Edison Cafe, affectionately known as The Polish Tearoom, in the Edison Hotel's north side (at 47th Street). Take a booth, and look into the ceiling mirrors that allow you to see who's sitting at the counter. Do this on Wednesday, because shows start t 2 PM.

These are not promises. They are hunches based on past experience.