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Spy v Spy in New York City: New KGB Spy Museum is Window into How Spies Impact World Affairs

 

Sergey, a KGB Spy Museum guide, describes the conditions that political prisoners would have suffered in a society where opposition was suppressed by fear © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you really want to be freaked out by the KGB Spy Museum that opened just a few months ago in Manhattan, do what I did: come directly from Spyscape, where you learn about the whole business of being a spy, and be in the middle of reading a book like “The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West,” by Malcolm Vance.

The KGB Museum would be scarier if it were not laid out somewhat like an antique shop (but aren’t all spy centers sequestered behind something innocuous like a tailor shop?). Row by row, there are some 3500 artifacts, all of them real, many on view publicly for the first time. They date from 1910 until 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union when the KGB was replaced by the FSB. But these mundane objects – a lipstick, an umbrella, a pen – were lethal weapons; a tie pin and belt buckle were cameras; a heart reader could seek out a live person hiding even in a refrigerator. Another important tool? A thermometer to determine if a person were truly dead. And if a master key couldn’t unlock an apartment to install a bug? No matter, a transmitter could be aimed at the window from a huge distance to decipher the sound vibrations and eavesdrop anyway. There is even a letter remover which could take out a letter from its envelope, read its contents and replace it back in the envelope, without leaving a mark.

The Patient Chair, used for interrogation, one of some 3500 artifacts on view at the KGB Spy Museum © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

And then there is the “patient chair,” used in a psychiatric hospital, with scary restraints, that were used for interrogations under truth serum or other means.

It turns out that those fantastical gadgets from the James Bond movies, and even the Get Smart spy spoof, were actually based on the real thing. It seems that there is nothing too absurd in the spy world.

The KGB story is really scary though. KGB (КГБ in Cyrillic) stands for “Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti,” which can be translated as the Committee for State Security. The KGB was the main security agency for the Soviet Union, and during the Cold War the KGB was in direct competition with the CIA and other state security agencies around the world for cultural, economic, and military dominance.

Some 3,500 artifacts from the KGB, from 1910 to 1991, many seen publicly for the first time, are on view at the newly opened KGB Spy Museum in Manhattan © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The KGB was born in the Russian Revolution – one of the artifacts is the carpet memorializing Lenin (not his real last name, it turns out) and the beginning of the Revolution in 1917 – and was initially designed to ferret out counter-revolutionaries, or enemies of the Communist state.

One of the world’s largest and most sophisticated intelligence operations, the KGB served a multifaceted role as both a spy agency outside of Soviet Union and a force of secret police within it.

You realize how pervasive and ruthless the KGB was (is), and sense the constant terror that the people must have lived under, as that term “enemies of the state” was broadened to mean any one who criticized or opposed the ruling party, the leadership or policies.

There are real doors from jail cells, and you look through at real video of real prisoners. Those who were placed in solitary were allowed nothing to wear but their underwear; they could sleep only four hours, when the bed would be closed up, and fed only bread and water for 5 to 15 days.

Sergey demonstrates robot hands used to handle dangerousmaterials in a lab © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the world’s largest and most sophisticated intelligence operations, the KGB served a multifaceted role as both a spy agency outside of Soviet Union and a force of secret police within it.

Some of the best engineering and scientific minds were employed to devise gadgets and gizmos – miniaturizing cameras, maximizing surveillance and detection, inventing new ways of transmitting.

“Virtually undetectable, the agency used its state-of-the-art tools and ruthless methods to seamlessly monitor the citizens’ lives and keep them in constant fear of repercussions for any subversive behavior. The investment in the spy technology had a devastating toll on the country’s economy yet it was deemed the most effective and necessary way to keep the state isolated from the rest of the world and keep the Western world out.”

With spies operating in countries all over the world, the KGB had a vast influence on world affairs, which reached its peak during the Cold War. KGB Spy Museum presents a never-before-seen collection of items used in the missions of prominent KGB agents, illuminating the strategies and methods that underlay many of history’s top-secret espionage operations.

In addition to perusing artifacts and learning about the history of the notorious agency, you can read and listen to real stories from spies, witnesses and journalists as well as explore and interact with authentic objects, such as telephone switchboards (most of the operators who connected the calls and then listened in on conversations were KGB), encryption machines, an interrogation chair, designed to extract information from suspects and enemies.

he KGB managed to hide a listening device in this wooden replica of the Great Seal, which hung over the US Ambassador’s desk in Moscow for 7 years before being detected. It took another 1 ½ years to figure out how it worked. The inventor won a Stalin Prize. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the most interesting stories surrounds a wooden Great Seal in one of the cabinets, that was also one of the KGB’s greatest triumphs, that arose out of the famous summit in the Crimea of Stalin, Churchill and FDR. The head of the KGB, Lavrenty Beria, had a replica of the Great Seal made as a gift for Ambassador Averell Harriman, presented most charmingly by cherubic Young Pioneers (like boy scouts) as a “gesture of friendship.” But inside was an ingenious bug that used electromagnetic energy instead of an external power supply. It hung above the Ambassador’s desk in Moscow for seven years before it was exposed in 1952. “The Americans couldn’t figure out how it worked for a year and a half,” my guide, Sergey, says. (The original is in the NSA’s Cryptology Museum in Washington.)

The inventor of the Zlatoust/Receiver LOSS, Lev Sergeyevich Termen, was a physicist and a musician, who began his career by developing previously unseen electronic musical instruments. In 1947 he won the Stalin Prize for Inventions of Listening Devices.

One of the objects that is literally one-of-a-kind, is a record player made expressly for Stalin; there is also a safe, made by the Bernstein company in Berlin, that came from KGB HQ, still containing the currency that would have been enough to buy 30 cars. Both indications of the privilege along with the power amassed by the Communist leadership despite their calls for a equal society.

The one-of-a-kind record player made especially for Stalin © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the rarest objects, which are a point of pride, also seem mundane but were “mechanical masterpieces”:

Tool set КАРОЕД/KAROED (Bark beetle): This is a manual set of special drills and instruments for drilling very narrow holes less than 0.04 inches without any sound in the tree or plastic. Holes were needed to listen to secret conversations with a help of secret microphones. These sharp and pointed drills are specially machined from the very hard metal. The set includes drill extensions, which can be used to drill holes in 3.3 ft and even thicker walls or wooden floors. A special hand-held drill holder had a stopper to drill holes of a certain depth to protect the drill from coming out across the wall by making only a small, hardly visible hole. A special container collects shavings in order not to leave any suspicious marks.

Also very rare: KGB secret drill ИГЛА/IGLA (needle): “It is a unique mechanical masterpiece – the drill IGLA. This very complicated drill reflects the name ‘needle’, because it drills a very thin hole through the concrete. It drills with the help of air compressor with abrasive dust to avoid the sound and vibration. Even the drilling sound was designed by the constructors to simulate that era washing machine Малютка/Maliutka. The person at home thought that a neighbor was probably doing the laundry. The Igla drill had a hole through which the air pressure was inflated according to the manometer readings, and when the drill approached the outside of concrete wall, the air pressure dropped in the drill as the air went out and the drill automatically shut off. The hole was 0.04 inches in size. If the walls were painted or lined with ceramic tiles, the eye did not even see the hole or dust outside. With this drill, the abrasive powder and concrete dust were absorbed by air. Agents who were very patient, slow and responsible were chosen to drill such a hole. In order to drill a 4 inches concrete wall took about 4 hours, and with the preparation – the whole day. Agents, through drilled miniature holes, installed listening or photo devices. After the operation, they applied a hole with the cement mixture and no suspicious marks were left.”

Mundane objects like a belt buckle hid miniature cameras © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

There’s an old fashioned phone where you can “dial” a selection of officials. My guide, Sergey, dials Putin and hands me the phone so I can hear Putin talking (it’s like listening to the LBJ telephone tapes at the LBJ Presidential Museum in Austin). There are also actual phones on display from KGB offices that would have features to disguise the voice at the push of a button.

The two spy experiences – Spyscape and the KGB Museum – have completely different approaches and perspectives, but they complement each other so well, especially when visited one after the other.

Spyscape is modern, state of the art, interactive, pulse-pounding, engaging, immersive experience. KGB is old-school but so relevant today, with the Russian actively hacking elections and using social media to impact US and other elections, policy, and political discourse.

“The KGB Spy Museum aims to present espionage and intelligence operations in an educational and interesting way, emphasizing the importance of human intelligence and setting out a frame of reference for the public to appreciate the great extent to which spies have always influenced world events. The Museum has a policy of presenting the history of espionage without political bias, thus offering visitors a factual and balanced view of the subject. “

The Museum is open daily 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets are available online or in the museum. You need about 1 ½ hours to visit. Tickets are adults (18-64)/$25; Children 7-17, seniors, students, $20; a guided visit, minimum 3 people is $43.99.

KGB Museum, 245 W 14th Street, NY 10011, kgbespionagemuseum.org.

See also: Spy v Spy Has New Addresses in NYC: At Spyscape Find Your Place in World of Espionage

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Spy v Spy Has New Addresses in NYC: At Spyscape Find Your Place in World of Espionage

The most chilling part of Spyscape, New York’s new spy experience, is the up-to-the-minute, torn from the headlines stuff: Here, Anonymous, as seen from two sides © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Are you Bond or Bourne? Once you leave Spyscape, you will learn there are many more roles to play in the complex and ever more ubiquitous world of intelligence. After going through eight “tests” and many stations which do their best to insert you into the realm of espionage and profile you to figure out what job you are best suited to, I would make a sorry spy. I knew from the start I wasn’t either Bond or Bourne. But I found a new calling.

I was expecting a museum, even as museums have become more interactive and engaging and multimedia. But Spyscape, one of the newest attractions in New York City, is not a museum. It is an interactive experience more than anything else, designed to inform you, yes, about the world of espionage and surveillance which, it turns out, is ubiquitous today, but put you in the picture so that you see yourself in the complex enterprise that is intelligence.

Spyscape is modern, state of the art, interactive, pulse-pounding, engaging, immersive experience that lets you peek into the world of espionage, spycraft, intelligence and counterintelligence today from the inside.

You don’t just get taken on a journey through the history of espionage from World War II and on, but become immersed in up-to-the-minute, ripped from the headlines events. Edward Snowdon. Wikileaks. Stuxnet. Black hat hackers.  Anonymous. “You might be persuaded not to vote.”

Pandora has truly been let out of her box.

There is a feeling of intensity from the moment you arrive – intended to give you that sense of tension and excitement that must be omnipresent in espionage, and visitors will enjoy as much as the adrenaline rush of skiing down a double-black trail. But is there a place for me?

I am risk adverse. I’m not a gamer. I don’t do puzzles. I’m frightened of going into small dark rooms when I don’t know what is there. I frighten easily.

As you arrive, you are given a bracelet that identifies you at scanning machines that basically track your progress as you go about the exhibit – you complete a series of tasks and quizzes and at the end, are assessed as to what role you might play in the spy apparatus – it turns out there are many, many different functions.

Your entrée into the world of spycraft is the largest passenger elevator in New York City,  escorted by a very professional person with a clipboard – it turns out that the ride up is also a multi-media orientation (think “Mission Impossible”).

Your mission: What kind of spy will you be? Or put another way: Where do you fit in the pantheon that is the world of espionage.

The experience is constructed as if a job interview, to immerse you and personalize what would otherwise be technical machines and bios. But it turns out that not all spies work for governments – corporations engage in some of the same techniques, so do journalists, and so do hackers and criminals. And it turns out that the profile you wind up with at the end of all the tasks and quizzes is authentic and serious – not tongue-in-cheek or hokey. I can see some young people seeing new career paths in intelligence (most of the CIA are analysts, not cloak-and-dagger operatives) or even outside, since, as is noted, the skills of a spy are broadly applicable.

The layout (Spyscape takes up a massive amount of space) is purposefully cold, grey, institutional, with constant pulsing sounds – sometimes electronic music, sometimes sound effects, sometimes narration.

I am quite unprepared for the experience, expecting a more conventional exhibit, so am put off stride when all of a sudden confronted with quizzes and tasks. It would have been completely different if I were primed and in a game mode.

One of the tasks I find more engaging (once I got the hang of it), was in the room about coding/decoding, the German’s Enigma machine and the Bombe that British mathematician Alan Turing and colleagues at Benchley developed to break the Enigma code. Here the task is to organize a spy’s escape, but you only have 3 minutes before the Germans will cut off communication to her, and you have to convert a message to code and then decode the response. I do this for the “Limping Lady”, who turns out to be a real person (I later realize she is the spy Virginia Hall) and this was a real scenario.

See what it would be like to code a message on a repiclica of the German Enigma that so confounded the Allies in World War II © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

You get personal insights into Alan Turing, the mathematician who developed a program to break the German “Enigma” machine code. (A fascinating artifact is a copy of Turing’s notes, as a teenager, summarizing Einstein’s Theory of Relativity as a gift for his mother). There is also a brief bio of Joan Clark, one of the Enigma codebreakers who rose to become Deputy Head of the Hut eight. You get to type code on a replica Enigma machine.

After one “test”, in which I fail to figure out patterns, I am given these words of encouragement: “You didn’t do too well today, but you are obviously better in other things.”

Another that is sure to delight is a room of laser beams where the timed task is to shut off lights without piercing the beams – very Oceans 11. (This task gauges your agility.)

All through, the exhibits personalize the serious issue being raised – the history, technology, impact on society – with real people, real events and real artifacts. This is serious business after all with real life and death consequences. Double agents have been exposed and executed; moles have exposed agents who were executed. Wars declared or averted, extended or curtailed, won or lost.

As you weave through, taking your own quizzes and tasks, the exhibits tell stories about real spies, double agents, like Robert Hansen and how he was discovered. Hansen’s treachery led to the unmasking of three soviets who spied for the US, two of whom were executed. – how he was discovered and trapped. Would you have detected Hansen’s deceit?

I have all sorts of trepidation about going into a small dark room which turned out to be the test of how well I could detect Deception (I think I do well at that one, probably by accident).

“Gadgets of defiance” describes the devices that British and American operatives used to carry out perilous missions in Nazi-occupied Europe – forged documents to support their cover identifies; one-time encryption pads and miniature radios to communicate with handlers. They supplied downed Allied pilots with escape maps and compasses and targeted the enemy with weapons and explosives.

I learn about Virginia Hall, an American special operations officer who, as a girl, had dreamed of joining the US foreign service and became fluent in foreign languages, but after she lost part of her left leg in an accident, her dream was cut off as well. When Hitler invaded Paris in 1940, Hall was working for a French ambulance service. She made her way to Britain and joined British special operations. She worked as a journalist for the New York Post in occupied France, and the Germans nicknamed Artemis;the Gestapo  considered her “the most dangerous of all Allied spies”. Virginia Hall was the “Limping Lady” of the code scenario.

A spy plane camera from the Cuban Missile Crisis © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I learn about Oleg Penkovsky, known as “HERO” who was a Soviet military intelligence (GRU) colonel who was responsible for informing the United Kingdom about Soviet installing missiles in Cuba. The information he provided helped Kennedy through the Cuban Missile Crisis because he realized that a naval blockade could force the Soviet Union to stand down. Penkovsky, the highest ranking Soviet official to provide intelligence for the UK up until that time, is credited with altering the course of the Cold War. He was executed six months after being arrested.

I learn about the British couple, Ruari and Janet Chisholm, who were his handlers in Moscow. Ruari was Moscow Station Chief for M16, the British secret intelligence service. Janet collected much of Pankovsky’s intelligence. During one “brush contact” he walked casually over to her in a park and offered her children a tin of Vitamin C pills. Janet quickly swapped the tin which contained military secrets for another identical one hidden in her baby stroller. The thought of exposing children like that was chilling. (There’s a photo of Janet with her children on a park bench.)

We meet the real life “Q” gadget wizard, Charles Fraser Smith, who was Ian Fleming’s inspiration for the character he used in James Bond. The new multi-sensory James Bond experience explores the creative process behind the 007 movies while revealing the secrets of James Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5. You get to peek at gadgets in Q’s lab, examine original concept art in Oscar®-winning Production Designer Sir Ken Adam’s studio and look behind the scenes of Skyfall’s explosive finale.

Surveillance. It’s all around you. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

At another section, you go through a dark curtain and find yourself in this dark round room, illuminated only by giant screens,that give you some sense of the state of surveillance (it is all around). This area showcases whistleblower Edward Snowden who exposed the NSA’s surveillance programs and the reporters who have unmasked government secrets – Laura Poitras  and Glenn Greenwald, the journalists who exposed modern day slavery(old school pad and pen, videocamera and computer are the weapons of choice).

This is where you see the message blazing out of a giant screen: “You might be persuaded not to vote.” This is the brave new world of intelligence – not extracting secrets, but in distorting and implanting messages to shape, disrupt or derail society.

Anonymous, the new face of intelligence/counterintelligence; governments no longer have a monopoly..© Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the last stations is actually the most chilling: Hacktivism discusses hacking, hackers – by anarchists, profiteers as well as nation states. Stuxnet, which was used to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program (a centrifuge is on view). After Iran realized what had been done, it called for the hackers to join in an army.

We learn that Stuxnet is now open source, sold on the blck market, and could be used by any number of actors to shut down electric grids, water systems or air traffic control or remotely give instructions to launch a nuclear attack. And no one knows who has it.

Whistleblower Edward Snowdown, at Spyscape © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

And now, I am really to go into my “debrief – encryption, deception, surveillance, special ops, brainpower (7/18), which comes up with my spy role: Agent Handler (I suspect they give that one to all those who don’t measure up as real spies).

But it isn’t done flippantly or tongue-in-cheek. The authentic personal spy profile is based on psychologists and a former Head of Training at British Intelligence, and sounds pretty authentic (as were the short tests for which I was totally unprepared):

“Your Spy Profile is your unique (and ever evolving) combination of attributes. When compared to others, it allows us to determine the Spy Role you are best suited to.”

My profile – “empathetic, inquisitive, composed” – turns out to be fairly accurate and also serious, developed with real psychologists.

At Spyscape’s Debriefing, you learn your role in espionage, based on the profile compiled. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Later in the day, I am sent a comprehensive profile to my email and a Welcome letter. “Your Spy Skills can be valuable in everyday life. We’ve evaluated your Core Attributes and Spy Skills to determine your Spy Profile. Top psychologists and spymasters helped us build our Spy Profile system. We hope the self-knowledge in your Spy Profile will empower you, and inspire you to further develop your Spy Skills.”

The missive gives me more detail about my role as Agent Handler: A manager of agents who provide secret intelligence or operational support, and an insider view from General David Petreus.

In the real life example, I am given the bio of the agent handler for my new spy hero, Oleg Penkovsky (his code name was Hero) and the background that I found so compelling in the exhibit, about his handler, Ruari Chisholm, and an example of a typical operation, procuring cover material for an agent in the Iranian government who wants to provide info on Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons.

(This makes me think of important omissions in Spyscape: Valerie Plame, the CIA undercover agent who was infiltrating the Iran nuclear program until Plame’s identity as covert officer of the CIA working in counter proliferation was leaked to the press by members of George W Bush administration and subsequently made public  as retribution for her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s reveal about the false information that led to the US invasion of Iraq; she also had knowledge to disprove Bush’s contention that the aluminum tubes that Iraq had could be used as centrifuges for nuclear material. Also, how Andrew McCabe, the foremost counter-intelligence expert on Russia, was drummed out of the FBI by Trump to short-circuit the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign and the 2016 election).

Spyscape will excite and thrill as it informs and intrigues. It helps to be prepared in advance for what you will encounter – I think I would have done considerably better and had better attitude.

And like skiing, it is an experience that adults and older children will relish doing together.

There is a continuing relationship – they send you the profile, and follow up with articles, stories, spy challenges, sharing news about factual and fictional worlds of spying and hacking “and helping you develop your own spy skills. We will be adding content from top hackers and spies to spyscape.com/academy so check in regularly to see what’s new.”

I think I’m being groomed. I’m definitely intrigued.

From Spyscape, I walk down to the KGB Museum in Chelsea. It is an interesting Spy v Spy counterpoint that enhances the experience of each one separately.

Visiting:  SPYSCAPE is optimized for adults and teens, but children are welcome. Bringing pre-school-age kids is not recommended. You need about two hours. There is a pleasant café and the gift shop is loaded with spy-related merch.  Open Monday-Friday, 10 am-9 pm and Saturday-Sunday, 9am-9 pm, last entry at 7:30 pm. (Adult, $39; child 3-12 $32).

Spyscape, 928 8th Avenue (entrance on SE corner of 55th Street), 646-585-7012, spyscape.com

Next: Spy v Spy in New York City: New KGB Spy Museum is Window into How Spies Impact World Affairs

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Parade through Chinatown, NYC Welcomes in Year of Pig, Showcases Chinese Heritage

20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate,  goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dragons and dancers paraded through New York City’s Chinatown on Sunday, February 17 to usher in the Year of the Pig in the city with the largest population of Chinese descent outside Asia.

US Senator Charles Schumer at 20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The parade is a colorful pan-Asian procession that incorporates the great variety of Chinese traditions – with a smattering of Brazilian drummers, Hispanic dancers, and Irish bagpipers. Tens of thousands lined the parade route as it wound from Hester Street, Mott, Broadway, and Forsyth to Sara D. Roosevelt Park, with US Senator Charles Schumer and NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio among other elected officials, along with leaders from the Chinese community, leading the way.

US Senator Charles Schumer at 20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In his remarks to the gathering before the parade got underway, Senator Schumer applauded the contributions of “immigrants from all over who made America great.”  

NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio and other officials at 20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With a population estimated between 70,000 and 150,000, Chinatown has been a favored home for Chinese immigrants. Indeed, Lower Manhattan has long been a haven for immigrant communities, from Jews in neighboring Lower East Side (the Tenement Museum), and Italians in Little Italy, and today, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Burmese, Vietnamese, and Filipinos among others add to the multicultural mosaic.

NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio at 20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Lunar New Year is cherished as a time to embrace family and heritage.

“Lunar New Year is the liveliest and most important celebration in Chinese culture and Chinatown is the place to experience it!”

Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019

And the parade is an expression of celebration for Chinese heritage in America – as evidenced by the sheer variety of costumes and traditions on display.

Here are highlights:

Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum of China in the Americas (MOCA) offers a walking tour that takes visitors through Chinatown to learn about holiday traditions and customs observed by Chinese households. Witness how the neighborhood transforms itself in preparation for the New Year and discover the characteristics that make this holiday unique.”

Tours are conducted in English and are led by MoCA docents with personal or family roots in the neighborhood. In case of inclement weather, tours will be held in the galleries. Advance reservations are required. For information and reservations call 212-619-4785 or purchase tickets online, www.mocanyc.org. (Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre Street New York, NY 10013, 855-955-MOCA).

For more information, visit www.chinatown-online.com.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Holiday Lights in New York City: A Walk in Photos

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Crowds flock to Rockefeller Center for its traditional scene of angels lighting the way to the giant Christmas tree © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My favorite activity for the holidays in New York is an evening stroll to see the holiday windows and decorations. My route typically goes from Macy’s (this year’s theme, “Believe in the Wonder of Giving”), up to Fifth Avenue to Saks Fifth Avenue which is directly across from Rockefeller Center (from which you can see the amazing light and sound show that is projected onto Saks building, this year, a “There’s No Business Like Show Business” vibe) and across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral (stop in), up to Bergdorf Goodman (still the most artful, creative windows of them all).  Returning along Sixth Avenue, stop in at the Rockefeller Center skating rink and then to Bryant Park with a fantastic skating rink and holiday market.

Enchanted by Macy’s holiday windows with a whimsical snowy spaceman theme © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My walk this year led me to “The Lifespan of a Fact,” a new (and timely) play at the reincarnated Studio 54. The play, based on what is apparently true events turned into an Essay/Book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal, stars Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale who play (respectively) Jim Fingal, an intern/copy editor, magazine publisher Emily, and prominent, respected writer John D’Agata.  I had been wanting to see it, intrigued by the subject (fact-checking an important essay) and the issues it raised (“What is truth?” “What is poetic (embellished) truth in the service of a greater good?” “What is truth and trust in the scheme of journalism business, liability and viability?”). And so took a chance, and walked up to the box office and bought a ticket. I was so delighted I did: it is smart, intelligent, extremely interesting and thought-provoking and oh-so relevant in light of truthiness, “fake news” and the Rolling Stone Magazine affair.

Seeing the play was a serendipitous and satisfying addition to my holiday stroll regimen, something that is oh so possible in New York.  Broadway and off-Broadway theaters add performances during the holidays, one of the most popular times of the year for theater.

Some of the best places to catch some discount tickets include Broadwaybox.com, Theatermania.com, Stubhub.com, and Tdf.org, and waiting on line at the TKTS counter at Duffy Plaza in Times Square (a happening in itself), with two other locations, at Lincoln Center and South Street Seaport. Some hard-to-get shows, like Aladdin (which we thoroughly enjoyed over Thanksgiving), offer daily lotteries for discounted tickets.

Here are highlights:

Macy’s “Believe” theme and Empire State Building, two iconic images of holidays in New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Salvation Army guy, a familiar sight during the holidays, surprises with a spirited performance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Chestnuts roasting © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Saks Fifth Avenue’s façade becomes the canvas for a dazzling light and sound show for the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Saks Fifth Avenue’s façade becomes the canvas for a dazzling light and sound show for the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
One of the imaginative holiday windows at Bergdorf Goodman © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
57th Street, with its crystal snowflake and Tiffany’s © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For more information regarding the most wonderful time of the year in the five boroughs, find NYC & Company’s official guide to the holidays in New York City at NYCgo.com/holiday.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Holidays in New York, Most Magical Time of the Year

 

The most stupendous float of all at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade carries Santa Claus with his elves and reindeer ushering in Christmas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

The winter holiday season may well be New York City’s most magical time of the year and gets underway with the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, continues with the iconic Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center, and constantly delights with festivals, special events and attractions, and all the dazzle of holiday decorations right through New Year’s Day.

“The holiday season in New York City is a spectacle unlike any other,” said NYC & Company President and CEO Fred Dixon “It is a time when the vibrant energy that makes up the very fabric of our city is magnified through the joy of dozens of multicultural celebrations among New Yorkers and global visitors who make the five boroughs a centerpiece of their annual festivities.”

Highlights include landmark events and first-time New York–style holiday celebrations of a nearly endless variety for travelers to enjoy this winter. Visitors delight in historic and new shopping destinations, world-famous department store window displays (Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue), unrivaled outdoor ice-skating rinks and more scattered all throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. The five-borough-wide season wraps up in a fashion as dazzling as ever with various New Year’s Eve celebrations.

As always, three iconic events bookend the introduction and conclusion of the holiday season in New York City:

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade featuring larger-than-life helium balloons, performances by the casts of Broadway musicals, select marching bands from across the nation and celebrity appearances—kicks off the holiday season on November 22 at 9 am. A staple of the holiday season since 1924, the 92nd edition, the line-up will feature 16 giant character balloons; 43 novelty balloons, heritage balloons, balloonicles, balloonheads and trycaloons; 26 floats; 1,200 cheerleaders and dancers; more than 1,000 clowns; and 12 marching bands (macys.com/parade).

But the event has a pre-quel, The Great Balloon Inflation, that takes place the night before, when the streets around the Museum of Natural History on Central Park West are literally flooded with tens of thousands of people coming to delight in seeing the massive balloons being inflated by hundreds of volunteers.

Tens of thousands come out the night before the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade to watch the Balloon Inflation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, Manhattan, November 28, 2018: A lineup of live performers rivaled by few events all year will help light up New York City’s biggest and brightest home for Santa’s Christmas eve delivery again. The more than seven-story tree will spread holiday cheer to the millions of visitors it welcomes until the lights dim on January 7 (rockefellercenter.com).

New Year’s Eve Times Square Ball Drop, Manhattan, December 31, 2018–January 1,2019: In 1904, the former New York Times owner convinced the City to rename Longacre Square in honor of the world-famous publication. In addition to the name change and the opening of NYC’s first subway line, that year marked the inaugural Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration, and the “Crossroads of the World” has been the historic backdrop of the City’s New Year’s Eve celebration ever since. Approximately 1 million visitors are expected to gather to watch the ball drop in person again this year. This is something that should be on every bucket list to do at least once in a lifetime (timessquarenyc.org).

Angels light the way to the most famous holiday tree, at Rockefeller Center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My favorite activity for the holidays is an evening stroll to see the holiday windows and decorations. My route typically goes from Macy’s (this year’s theme, “Believe in the Wonder of Giving”), up to Fifth Avenue to Saks Fifth Avenue which is directly across from Rockefeller Center (from which you can see the amazing light show that is projected onto Saks building) and across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral (stop in), up to Bergdorf Goodman. Separately, I will take in Bloomingdale’s (a “Grinch” theme this year, connecting with the new movie), and Barney’s downtown on Broadway.

Meanwhile, there are more than a dozen celebratory events to delight this holiday season in NYC.

23 Days of Flatiron Cheer, Manhattan, December 1–23, 2018: The Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership welcomes visitors this December to enjoy contests, performances, free neighborhood walking tours, giveaways from local businesses and an interactive installation in the North Public Plaza. Other unparalleled offerings can be found in the historic 103-block neighborhood stretching from 23rd to 28th Street, bordered by Third and Sixth Avenues (flatirondistrict.nyc).

A Slice of Brooklyn Christmas Lights Tour, Brooklyn, December 1–30, 2018: Every holiday season, more than 100,000 visitors descend on Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights neighborhood to view the most extravagant Christmas displays in the New York City area. This tour, operated by born and raised Brooklynites, stops by the most over-the-top exhibits of the season while telling patrons the story of how “Dyker Lights” came to be nearly 40 years ago (asliceofbrooklyn.com).

Enchanted by the holiday windows © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another popular tour is the holiday edition of The Ride, “a 21st century sleigh ride” aboard patented $1.5 million travelling high-tech theaters with floor-to-ceiling gigantic glass windows featuring side-facing VIP seating making the streets of New York the stage. Original seasonal music, videos and hilarious hosts support the dazzling Holiday performances along the 4.2 mile journey through Midtown Manhattan (http://experiencetheride.com, 212-221-0853).

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Holiday Engagement at New York City Center, Manhattan, November 28–December 30, 2018: City Center’s 75th Anniversary Season will feature a wide range of performances including new productions, annual favorites, live music and Alvin Ailey’s feature performance Revelations. A special show on December 11 celebrates City Center’s opening performance in 1943 (alvinailey.org).

Saks Fifth Avenue becomes a canvas for a holiday lightshow © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

American Museum of Natural History’s Holiday Season, Manhattan, November 20, 2018–January 7, 2019: The museum’s cultural celebrations begin with the decoration of the Origami Holiday Tree—complete with more than 800 hand-folded paper models created by local artists—and continue through the New Year. On December 29, the AMNH will host its 40th annual Kwanzaa celebration. The festival of African-American heritage celebrates the seven core principles of Kwanzaa while exploring the rich history behind its traditions. Family-friendly activities, musical performances and an international marketplace are also included (amnh.org).

Apollo Theater Presents “Kwanzaa Celebration: Regeneration Night,” Manhattan, December 29, 2018: The legendary Harlem theater is celebrating Kwanzaa with visitors for the 12th consecutive year with a night of music and dance that honors the principles of Kwanzaa—family, community and culture (apollotheater.org).

Brooklyn Ballet’s Nutcracker, Brooklyn, December 14, 2018: The hip-hop and ballet infused replication of the holiday classic, reimagined in various Brooklyn neighborhoods, is hosted by the iconic Kings Theatre, in Flatbush, for the first time this year (brooklynballet.org).

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical: Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, December 13–30, 2018: Dr. Seuss’ holiday classic is sure to cause audiences hearts to grow at least three sizes when they watch the story of the true meaning of Christmas come to life in this limited engagement at the world’s most famous arena (msg.com/hulu-theater-at-msg).

Gingerbread Lane at New York Hall of Science, Queens, November 10, 2018–January 21, 2019: Since 2013, the edible village at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, has set the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of gingerbread houses and structures with each new installment. The record is sure to be challenged again this year (nysci.org).

Grand Army Plaza, Largest Menorah Lighting, Brooklyn, December 2–10, 2018: With the help of local synagogues, the Grand Army Plaza, located in Park Slope, Brooklyn, has hosted the nightly lighting of the 32-foot menorah since 1984. Visitors are invited to celebrate the holiday with concerts and gifts for children through each day of the Jewish Festival of Lights (largestmenorah.com).

Holiday Workshop Weekend at Wave Hill, The Bronx, December 8–9, 2018: At this holiday craft fair, in addition to creating the usual wreaths and treasure boxes, families are invited to work on the feature project: the hamsa, or hamesh, the multicultural symbol of an open hand. Guests explore the spiritual side of the holidays as they make the palm-shaped amulets (wavehill.org).

New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show, The Bronx, November 17, 2018–January 21, 2019: The annual exhibition of classical model trains moving through a hand crafted display of New York City’s built environment is back for the 27th year. More than 175 miniature iconic city structures such as Yankee Stadium, The Brooklyn Bridge and The Statue of Liberty are replicated entirely out of plant parts and will coincide with other holiday celebrations such as a cappella performances, Bar Car Nights and more at the New York Botanical Garden (nybg.org).

The New York City Ballet presents George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, one of the most beloved and anticipated holiday classics, November 23–December 30 at Lincoln Center (nycballet.com).

Quite literally, the most magical place to be during this holiday season is at the NYHS. Harry Potter: A History of Magic captures the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories through centuries-old treasures © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New-York Historical Society Presents “Harry Potter: A History of Magic”, Manhattan, through January 27: Quite literally, the most magical place to be during this holiday season is at the NYHS. Harry Potter: A History of Magic captures the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories through centuries-old treasures, including rare books, manuscripts, and magical objects from the collections of the British Library, the New-York Historical Society, and other museums, as well as never before seen material from Harry Potter publisher Scholastic and J.K. Rowling’s own archives. The New York exhibition, showcasing a selection of objects not featured in the London presentation that are on view to the public for the very first time, is sponsored by Audible. There are also a slew of special events and family programming in conjunction with this not-to-be-missed exhibit, which vanishes, poof, after January 27, 2019. The tickets are timed; you can order online. Also visit The DiMenna Children’s History Museum, created for children  8-13, which presents 350 years of New York and American history through character-based pavilions, interactive exhibits and digital games. (New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street), 212-873-3400, nyhistory.org)

New York Philharmonic Presents “Home Alone in Concert, ” Manhattan, December 20–21,2018: The acclaimed New York Philharmonic will perform John Williams’ score live to the classic Christmas film Home Alone, for a 2018–19 holiday season special event—booby traps and lovable bandits not included (nyphil.org).

A carriage ride down Fifth Avenue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex and Store at Grand Central Terminal Holiday Train Show, Manhattan, November 15, 2018–February 3, 2019: A staple of Grand Central Terminal during the holiday season since 2001, the train show features a 34-foot-long track where vintage trains from the museum’s collection travel through a miniature New York City and countryside scene all the way to the North Pole (grandcentralterminal.com).

Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes, Manhattan, November 9, 2018–January 1, 2019: Everyone’s favorite high kickers dance their way from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve and champion the holiday spirit of New York City with their extravagant costumes and breathtaking state-of-the-art production (rockettes.com).

St. Thomas Church which is famous for the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, and its annual performances of Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 4, 6). Also this year, “A Ceremony of Carols” by Benjamin Britten (Dec. 13). (Purchase tickets, www.saintthomaschurch.org/music/concerts); also take a tour of this magnificent edifice, built in 1913 in the French High Gothic style. (5th Avenue and 53rd Street, www.saintthomaschurch.org).

Visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue is also a highlight of the holidays and it is remarkable that you can just walk in and enjoy an inspirational service.

Cathedral of St John the Divine offers inspiring concerts throughout the holiday season, with a Concert for Peace on New Year’s Eve © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I personally love to close out the holiday season on New Year’s Eve at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine which presents the most magnificent annual Concert for Peace, founded by Leonard Bernstein in 1984 with the idea of bringing together New Yorkers and visitors from around the world for an evening filled with uplifting music in a most magnificent setting. Indeed, the cathedral offers a rich calendar of concerts throughout the holiday season, as well as tours of this architectural jewel. Check the website for details.(The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue, at 112th Street, New York, NY 10025, 212-316-7540, info@stjohndivine.org, www.stjohndivine.org)

Favorite Places to Catch the Holiday Spirit

Central Park is magical in any season, but particularly for the holidays. In addition to the Wollman Rink (wollmanskatingrink.com), The Swedish Cottage is an enchanting place that is home to one of the last public marionette companies in the country. The cottage was originally constructed as a model pre-fabricated schoolhouse, and became Sweden’s entry in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. After the exhibit, Central Park’s co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted had it placed in Central Park, where it has been headquarters for the Marionette Theater since 1939 (West Side at 79th Street). Currently playing is “Yet, Set, Snow!”, an original story and production from the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, with performances through the season until Feb. 24, 2019. (Purchase tickets, www.cityparksfoundation.org/arts/swedish-cottage-marionette-theatre)

Other favorite venues to get into the Christmas Spirit: Bryant Park, with its massive Christmas tree, ice skating rink, festive holiday markets, cafes, and carousel (wintervillage.org) has become one of the city’s iconic holiday places. Of course, there is skating right below the magnificent Christmas tree at the Rink at Rockefeller Center (therinkatrockcenter.com). There is also skating and The Rink at Brookfield Place opens November 1 (230 Vesey St., 860-209-3459, gpice.com).

Skating at Bryant Park where there is also a holiday market © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides Bryant Park, there are holiday markets at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Grand Central Terminal.

For a festive place to shop: The Shops at Columbus Circle, a destination within a destination that draws more than 16 million visitors per year to its 50 shops, renowned restaurants, bars and that free priceless view of Central Park (not to mention temperature-controlled and pet-friendly). But there are some spectacular happenings for the holidays:

Broadway Under the Stars is a five-week series of free public performances from today’s hottest Broadway musicals performing on the second floor mezzanine at The Shops at Columbus Circle. Participating shows include: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Chicago, Dear Evan Hansen, Head Over Heels, Kinky Boots, The Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock, Waitress and Wicked (check out theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for schedules). Performances begin Monday, Nov. 12 and take place for five consecutive Mondays through Dec. 10. Shows begin at 5 pm and last approximately 20 minutes.  (Free and open to the public, no reservations or tickets are required.)

The stars are aligned at the Shops at Columbus Circle, in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, a festive shopping, dining and entertainment destination especially at the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Holiday Under the Stars is The Shops at Columbus Circle’s holiday lights display, featuring 12 massive 14-foot stars which hang from the 100-foot-high ceilings. This is claimed to be the largest specialty crafted exhibit of illuminated color display in the world. There is a 5-minute daily musical light show every half hour from 5 pm to 9 pm, through the end of the year.

Culinary Delights:  Among the restaurants are six Michelin Stars: from Chef Masayoshi Takayama’s Masa, the only three-star Michelin Japanese/Sushi restaurant in the U.S., to the gastronomic jewel box that is Thomas Keller’s Per Se). The Bluebird London restaurant in London and Momofuku Noodle Bar are newly opened and join the Landmarc and Porter House restaurants.

Also, from the 150-foot-high panoramic windows,  visitors can take in the breathtaking views of Central Park. It’s one of the few indoor places in Manhattan where you can enjoy this vantage point.

(Visit www.theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for ever-changing list of events and happenings.)

For more information regarding the most wonderful time of the year in the five boroughs, find NYC & Company’s official guide to the holidays in New York City at NYCgo.com/holiday.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Gatsby-esque Jazz Age Lawn Party is Joyful Escape on Governors Island, New York City’s Island Retreat

Dancing to the 1920s Hot Jazz of Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra at the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, David Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Flappers and Dapper Dans packed the ferry to Governors Island for the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party, June 16 and 17. Take heart if you missed the June weekend festival: there is another opportunity to transport yourself back to the Gatsby Era, on August 25 & 26.

The Jazz Age Lawn Party is a chance to push back the clock to a Gatsby-esque Brigadoon of sorts. It is the best of New York and brings out the best of New Yorkers. The music and atmosphere brings out pure joy -– it is one perennial smile.

For an entire afternoon you are transported – quite literally by ferry from the tip of Manhattan and Brooklyn – to the 1920s era of hot jazz. People of all ages, dressed to the nine’s as flappers and gents, bearing wicker picnic baskets (some with tables, tablecloths and candelabra), stream onto the island, with its forts and structures from the Civil War and World War II. It is but a stone’s throw from Manhattan and Brooklyn, and yet a world and an era away.

Dancing to the 1920s Hot Jazz of Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra at the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra create this literal dream, with his meticulously recreated music of the 1920s.

There is impeccable faithful reproduction – even the cocktails are Speakeasy-worthy and if you didn’t have appropriate attire, you could rent or buy vintage at one of the stalls, take a tintype photo or a photo sitting on a blue moon with a vintage camera.

Budding Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers learn to dance The Peabody at the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © 2018 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Over the years, the regulars have returned, now with babies, now with toddlers, now with their little boys in their caps and suspenders, little girls with hair bows, dresses and patent leather shoes who join in the dancing.

Interlude music is provided on vintage vinyl recordings over antique gramophones.

The only thing that bursts the illusion, to jostle your memory of what year it is, are the ubiquitous cell phones.

Michael Arenella leads His Dreamland Orchestra. He launched the Jazz Age Lawn Party 13 years ago; since then, tens of thousands of people have enjoyed this journey back to the 1920s© 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Conductor, composer, musician and crooner Michael Arenella presents a personally transcribed, one-of-a-kind songbook for your listening and dancing pleasure by his Dreamland Orchestra, playing the Hot Jazz of the 1920s.

The Dreamland Follies and Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra at the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island. Many of the dancers are Rockettes © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The entertainment abounds on two stages (and two dancefloors): The Dreamland Follies evoke Ziegfeld-esque grand dance routines; Roddy Caravella and the Canarsie Wobblers is a fun-loving dance troupe that conjures the rebellious and exuberant spirit of Roaring ‘20s; Queen Esther pays tribute to jazz royalty of yore and Peter Mintun takes the moniker of “world’s greatest piano man”; and the Gelber & Manning Band, feuding vaudevillian lovebirds quarrel, coo and make beautiful music together. Also Drew Nugent and the Midnight Society have come from Philadelphia, presents wry, spry, and certifiably Hot Jazz; The Great Dubini (Gregory Dubin), the resident magician in The McKittrick Follies at The Mandeerlay Bar, presents his unique brand of classic magic.

Roddy Caravella and the Canarsie Wobblers at the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are fun activities as well which you can join: the event typically starts with a dance lesson (the Peabody was being taught on Sunday), followed in the afternoon by a Dance Contest; a Bathing Beauties and Beaus Promenade, wearing vintage swimming outfits of the age (for entry email: bluevoon@aol.com), and a Children’s parade.

Bathing Beauties and Beaus in vintage outfits at the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The afternoon starts off with dance lessons in the hottest dance steps of the time, like the Peabody or Charleston. You can immortalize the day in your own Vintage Portraits-You Ought To Be In Pictures, perched on a Paper Moons or in tintypes using the same techniques and chemicals (a mixture of gunpowder and ether) as were used more than a century ago; the ultimate family-friendly event also features Kidland carnival games and prizes for junior Gents and Flapperettes. There’s also a 1920s MotorCar Exhibition, where you can get up close and personal with flivvers and Tin Lizzies, and Antique Gramophones that reanimate original recordings from the 1920s.

Roddy Caravella and Gretchen Fenston demonstrate The Peabody © 2018 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

And what would a Prohibition-era, speakeasy event be without booze? Julie Reiner presents her Clover club Collection cocktails and VieVité, Côtes de Provence Rosé is the official wine sponsor of the Jazz Age Lawn Party. (Take note: you can’t bring in your own alcoholic beverages to Governor’s Island.)

Picnicking at the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The event typically sells out and tickets are only available for purchase in advance. For tickets and information visit, http://jazzagelawnparty.com/. Purchase tickets at http://jazzagelawnparty.ticketfly.com/.

Here are more highlights:

Learning the Peabody at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC with Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra © 2018 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Roddy Caravella and Gretchen Fenston demonstrate The Peabody © 2018 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Picnicking at the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Heidi Rosenau & Joe McGlynn, regulars at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, dance to Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra © 2018 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eden Atencio and Adam Coren of Brooklyn, winners of the Peabody contest, with Roddy Caravella at the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Kids at the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC with Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra transports in time. © 2018 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Peter Mintun, “world’s greatest piano man,” at the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Kate Manning of the Gelber & Manning Band at the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gretchen Fenston and Joe McGlynn dance to the Gelber & Manning Band, “feuding vaudevillian lovebirds quarrel, coo and make beautiful music together” at the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A young flapper at the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Inna Penek of Brooklyn at the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Tanya Fraser, Helene Abiola and Megan Herson of New York City at the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © 2018 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Michael Arenella leads the Children’s Parade at the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Milo Saidl and Michael Mooney of New York City draw a cheering crowd at the 13th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © 2018 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Governors Island

Break away from the music and dancing to explore Governors Island, by bike or foot.

A 712-acre island in the heart of New York Harbor, but 800 yards off Lower Manhattan and even closer to Brooklyn, Governors Island is a sensational getaway destination in its own right – historic sites like Fort Jay and Castle Williams, bicycle paths, playgrounds, art venues, and marvelous festive “happenings.”

Be one of the first guests to stay overnight on NYC’s historic Governors Island with Collective Retreats. With unique accommodations including luxury tents (glamping) and designer modular containers, guests enjoy a full-service hotel-style retreat with unparalleled waterfront views of New York City and the Statue of Liberty (collectiveretreats.com).

You can rent bicycles at Citibikes and at Blazing Saddles (which offers a free hour-long ride weekdays before noon) and delightful surreys.

The Trust for Governors Island, also offers a wide variety of programming on public access days. Visit them at www.govisland.com for more information.

Enjoy a surrey ride around Governors Island with spectacular views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty © 2018 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Access to the island has been greatly improved and time the island open to the public greatly expanded.

This summer, you can stay late on Fridays, when is open until 10 pm (May 25-September 14); you can have cocktails and dinner at the outdoor cafes and bars; outdoor films and other events are scheduled.

Governors Island is open daily May 1-October 31, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, and weekends from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.,  Fridays from May 25-September 14 until 10 p.m.. You can get ferry schedules here (ferries during Late Fridays will run from the Battery Maritime in Lower Manhattan, located at 10 South Street), https://govisland.com/visit-the-island/ferry.

See also:

Governors Island: New York City’s Island Retreat So Near Yet So Far Away, Introduces Glamping

 

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Governors Island: New York City’s Island Retreat So Near Yet So Far Away, Introduces Glamping

Governors Island, reached by ferry from Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, gives you a getaway to faraway destination, chock full of historic attractions like Castle Williams, a fortification built for the War of 1812, used as a prison during the Civil War. Enjoy festivals like the Jazz Age Lawn Party, then tour the island by surrey. You can rent bicycles too and beginning this year, even camp out © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com 

Governors Island, a 712-acre island in the heart of New York Harbor, but a mere 800 yards off Lower Manhattan and even closer to Brooklyn, is a sensational getaway destination in its own right – historic sites like Fort Jay and Castle Williams, bicycle paths, playgrounds, art venues, and marvelous festive “happenings.” You never have had to go so near to be transported so far in time or place.

Arriving by ferry at Governors Island © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Be one of the first guests to stay overnight on NYC’s historic Governors Island with Collective Retreats. With unique accommodations including luxury tents (glamping) and designer modular containers, guests enjoy a full-service hotel-style retreat with unparalleled waterfront views of New York City and the Statue of Liberty (collectiveretreats.com).

Be among the first to experience luxury camping (glamping) on Governors Island; dinner and breakfast are included © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can rent bicycles at Citibikes and at Blazing Saddles (which offers a free hour-long ride weekdays before noon) and delightful surreys.

Governors Island has a fabulous history that goes back to the Native Americans and colonial days of  the Dutch and the British in New York. It has had a military purpose going back to the Revolutionary War. Between 1806 and 1809, the U.S. Army reconstructed Fort Jay and built Castle Williams on a rocky outcropping facing the harbor. During the War of 1812, artillery and infantry troops were concentrated on Governors Island.

Built before the War of 1812, Castle Williams on Governors Island was used to imprison Confederate soldiers during the Civil War © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The island continued to serve an important military function until the 1960s. During the American Civil War, it was used for recruitment and as a prison for captured Confederate soldiers (on one visit, I came upon Civil War reenactors practicing drills, quite a mind-bender from having just come from the 1920s Jazz Age Lawn Party). Throughout World War I and II, the island served as an important supply base for Army ground and air forces (my father was stationed at Fort Jay during the war.)

Civil War reenactors at Fort Jay on Governors Island © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Over the years, Governors Island has served as the backdrop for a number of historic events. In 1986, the island was the setting for the relighting of the newly refurbished Statue of Liberty by President Ronald Reagan. In 1988, President Reagan hosted a U.S.-U.S.S.R. summit with Mikhail Gorbachev on Governors Island, and in 1993, the United Nations sponsored talks on the island to help restore democratic rule in Haiti.

Enjoy stunning views of New York City from Governors Island © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

In April 2010, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson reached an agreement on the future of Governors Island. The City of New York is now responsible for Governors Island and created the Trust for Governors Island, the organization charged with the operations, planning and redevelopment of the Island.

The Island has become known as New York City’s “Playground for the Arts,” hosting cultural events, festivals, concerts, performances throughout the season.

Jazz Age Lawn Party, held 4 times a year, is one of the cultural festivals held on Governors Island © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Trust for Governors Island, also offers a wide variety of programming on public access days. Visit them at www.govisland.com for more information.

Access to the island has been greatly improved.

This summer, you can stay late on Fridays, when is open until 10 pm (May 25-September 14); you can have cocktails and dinner at the outdoor cafes and bars;  outdoor films and other events are scheduled.

Governors Island is open daily May 1-October 31, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, and weekends from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.,  Fridays from May 25-September 14 until 10 p.m.. You can get ferry schedules here (ferries during Late Fridays will run from the Battery Maritime in Lower Manhattan, located at 10 South Street), https://govisland.com/visit-the-island/ferry.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New York Philharmonic Orchestra Brings ‘Priceless’ Music to Free Summer Concert in Prospect Park

New York Philharmonic brought its priceless music, absolutely free to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park as part of the Summer Concerts in the Parks Series Presented by Didi and Oscar Schafer © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Dave E. Leiberman, Laini Miranda
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York Philharmonic’s 2018 Concerts in the Parks, Presented by Didi and Oscar Schafer, provided a stunning introduction to conductor James Gaffigan, a New York native and Brooklynite, leading the orchestra in a program celebrating Laureate Conductor Leonard Bernstein’s centennial, evocative works highlighting the Orchestra’s virtuosity, and compositions by fifth-grade students in the Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers (VYC) program — the first time that VYC works have been performed in the parks concerts.

 

James Gaffigan conducts the New York Philharmonic in Saint-Saens’ Bacchanale from “Samson et Dalila” in Prospect Park, Brooklyn © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The delightful program, perfect for a summer-concert-in-the-parks, featured Saint-Saëns’s Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah; Bernstein’s Three Dance Episodes from On the Town, a love letter to New York City;and Rimsky-Korsakov’s storybook in symphony, Scheherazade. 

James Gaffigan conducts the New York Philharmonic in Prospect Park, Brooklyn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The concert in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park June 15 featured truly remarkable performances of 2018 works by 11-year-old Very Young Composer Jordan Millar’s Boogie Down Uptown; and 10-year-old Very Young Composer Camryn Cowan’s Harlem Shake. 

New York Philharmonic conductor James Gaffigan with young composers Jordan Millar and Camryn Cowan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

James Gaffigan, a proud New Yorker who introduced the concert by asking for applause for public school teachers, showed himself to be the very antithesis of the arrogant orchestra conductor, but rather,  generous of praise, encouragement and exuberant emotion.

James Gaffigan conducts the New York Philharmonic in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade in Prospect Park, Brooklyn © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

He did not use a baton for the Scheherazade. He waved his hands and arms in grand gestures, not so much conducting as dancing, performing, acting the music, bringing his whole body into it more like an opera singer than the orchestra conductor, giving the piece a staccato-like crisp precision. He conveyed an infectious joy of music. After, he congratulated Frank Huang, the brilliant concertmaster for his angelic violin solo, and then walked into the orchestra to congratulate all the solo performers, before taking the collective bow.

James Gaffigan conducts the New York Philharmonic in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade in Prospect Park, Brooklyn © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Conductor James Gaffigan joins applause for New York Philharmonic’s concertmaster Frank Huang © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The summer concert series also featured performances at Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx (June 12); the Great Lawn in Central Park, Manhattan (June 13); and Cunningham Park, Queens (June 14). Musicians from the New York Philharmonic also performed Beethoven’s Wind Sextet, Op. 71; Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence; and the World Premieres of wind sextets by Very Young Composers of New York City — 14-year-old Chi-Chi Ezekwenna’s It’s Almost Summer! and 13-year-old Nicolas Lipman’s Sriracha! — in the Free Indoor Concert in Staten Island at the Music Hall at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden (June 17).

The performances in the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, and Brooklyn concluded with dazzling fireworks.

The New York Philharmonic concert in Prospect Park concludes with dazzling fireworks © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The summer series is an amazing opportunity to bring “priceless music” to new audiences absolutely free. Since 1965, the summer series has brought joy to more than 15 million New Yorkers and Big Apple visitors.

“We want all New Yorkers to love the Philharmonic as much as we do and the concerts in the Parks are a glorious way to share the Philharmonic’s virtuosity and power,” said New York Philharmonic chairman Oscar S. Schafer, who with his wife, Didi, has underwritten the series.

Here are more highlights from the concert in Prospect Park:

James Gaffigan conducts the New York Philharmonic in Prospect Park, Brooklyn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

James Gaffigan conducts the New York Philharmonic in Prospect Park, Brooklyn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Conductor James Gaffigan and Very Young Composer of New York City Jordan Millar (b 2006), “Boogie Down Uptown” (2018) © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Conductor James Gaffigan and Very Young Composer of New York City Camryn Cowan (2007), “Harlem Shake” (2018) © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

James Gaffigan conducts the New York Philharmonic in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade in Prospect Park, Brooklyn © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

James Gaffigan conducts the New York Philharmonic in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade in Prospect Park, Brooklyn © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

James Gaffigan conducts the New York Philharmonic in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade in Prospect Park, Brooklyn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

James Gaffigan conducts the New York Philharmonic in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade in Prospect Park, Brooklyn © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

James Gaffigan conducts the New York Philharmonic in Prospect Park, Brooklyn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

James Gaffigan conducts the New York Philharmonic in Prospect Park, Brooklyn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

James Gaffigan conducts the New York Philharmonic in Prospect Park, Brooklyn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

James Gaffigan conducts the New York Philharmonic in Prospect Park, Brooklyn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

James Gaffigan conducts the New York Philharmonic in Prospect Park, Brooklyn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Founded in 1842, the New York Philharmonic is the oldest symphony orchestra in the United States.

At the New York Philharmonic’s website (www.nyphil.org) you can peruse online archives and exhibits, see the concert calendar, get background on the musicians, and purchase tickets.

The summer concerts also inspire visits to see the orchestra at home at Lincoln Center (David Geffen Hall, 10 Lincoln Center Plaza, 212-875-5656). There are various subscription offers – the Philharmonic was offering an opportunity to choose four or more 2018-19 subscription concerts to get one free (promo code CHOOSE4, by June 22).

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures