Ghost in Grand Central

We paid to be a part of a ghost tour at the Grand Central terminal on 42nd street, almost a decade ago.
The tour host welcomed us, maintaining an eerie voice, as he not only briefed us about the haunted areas in New York City but cautioned us; this appeared more gimmicky to market his tours than the possibility that a ghost would reveal itself.
But, every time he said many places in Manhattan, including Wall Street and Canal Street, remained haunted and that people had heard native Indian death chants, about twenty of us thrill-seeking strangers peeked at one another, ticking each one off, ensuring there was no zombie in disguise. Worse, when he blurted that the Grand Central itself was haunted, we braved a quick 360-degree whirl. It didn’t help that it was raining outside in the month of December and we were at the terminal in an off-peak hour. It helped though that in the first fifteen minutes of the tour, we didn’t experience any paranormal kicks or slaps.
The host informed us that the terminal had been constructed for the wealthy; that Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built and owned the station, had once ferried people from Staten Island to Manhattan, charging 18 cents per person; that his ambitious vision had driven him to build railroads.
If one noticed the sloping ramps in the terminal, the system was built to provide an efficient flow of passengers to and from trains.
Twisted yet beautiful

The mural painting in the vaulted ceilings was based on the designs of constellations. History: after the layout image was designed, it was projected onto the ceiling for painting. But it was erroneously projected upwards, reversing the image. Responding to critics, Vanderbilt suggested that the design be looked at as a new concept. Then, at one point, the whole ceiling was black from cigarette smoke; and though it was cleaned, a black spot in a corner was left untouched for souvenir-sake, if you will.

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Archaic and haunted

John Campbell, another rich man, and Vanderbilt’s friend, had requested the latter to rent him a room. Hence, there is a Campbell apartment within the complex where you’d see a locker. Legend has it that Campbell’s ghost lives there. Besides, there’s an oyster bar in the terminal where customers have reported hearing strange voices and sounds of breaking plates.

There’s a safe passage from under Grand Central station to the Astoria hotel, which VVIPs like the President of the USA take in case of emergency.

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Any beautiful city in the world has a mysterious past, or present, to it. How’s New York City an exception?

One World Observatory, The Freedom Tower

I have written two posts earlier about the views from our apartment. Please see Beginning and The Tallest Building.

When we moved into our apartment a decade ago, there was no Freedom Tower. Memories of 9/11 still fresh.

Over the years, One World Trade Center or the Freedom Tower has become what you see below. We have seen it evolve while witnessing our own evolution. And last weekend, we visited One World Observatory at One World Trade Center.

The tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, fourth tallest in the world. A symbol of resilience, rising from the ashes. The apartment view.
That’s our apartment building. Witnessing the witnesser of the past ten years from the 102nd floor of One World Observatory.
Zoomed-in view from the ground
As expected, there were airport-like security checks.
The tunnel, en route to the Sky Pod elevator, has mock displays of the natural rock foundations of the building. The bedrock of New York City: how an ancient mountain range made its skyscrapers possible.

Sky Pod elevators. We reached the 102nd floor in 47 seconds. Inside, on our rocket ride, we experienced a three-dimensional time-lapse panorama of NYC history unfolding on three walls of the elevator cab. (Warning: The elevator ride you are about to experience utilizes large format media displays to create the illusion of dynamic motion and viewing beyond the elevator cab walls. Individuals who are sensitive to simulation experiences, or suffer from fear of heights or motion sickness are advised to either close their eyes or face the elevator doors to avoid discomfort.)
See Forever Theater. After you disembark the elevator, you walk up to a big rectangular screen where you’ll see a multi-media presentation highlighting the NYC timeline, introducing you to the observatory.

360-degree views:

East River, Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge
Financial District, Governors Island, Brooklyn
Midtown and Uptown Manhattan
The iconic Hudson River separating New Jersey from New York City.
The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Staten Island, and Jersey City in New Jersey.
At One Dine, One World, celebrating our son’s birthday.
Exploring the Sky Portal: a real-time perspective from HD cameras affixed to the tower’s spire, projected right at the feet.
The Buzz gives all the information you need about NYC.
Calatrava’s Bird in Flight, the WTC transportation hub that cost $4 billion.
The Oculus, the transportation hub
The West Concourse

It starts with Lines (Photo Challenge). It starts with Rivulet, too (Daily Prompt).

The Getty Center, Los Angeles

When we were in Los Angeles, we didn’t miss the opportunity to visit the Getty Center.

The J.Paul Getty Museum turned out to be one of the best museums we ever visited: the sculptures, decorative arts, drawings, pre-20th century European paintings, to name a few.

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Museum entrance
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The cable-pulled tram took us from the parking garage at the bottom of the hill to the museum at the top of the hill.  The museum has a 7-story deep underground parking garage.
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One of the outdoor sculptures

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Inner courtyard
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Los Angeles, seen from the top of the Getty Center. 405 San Diego Freeway lines the middle.
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Bust of an African woman (in marble) by Henry Weekes
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Bust of Christ (in bronze) by Constantin Meunier
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Head of Saint John the Baptist (in bronze) by Jean-Baptiste Chatigny
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Self-Portrait as Midas (in patinated plaster) by Jean-Joseph Carries. Midas, the mythological king of Phrygia, was known for his foolishness. Apollo, punishing Midas for having favored the satyr Marsyas over himself in a musical contest, gave the king the ears of an ass.

 

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Mischief and Repose (oil on canvas) by John Godward
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The Ransom (oil on canvas) by John Millais. Millais’ praise of medieval chivalry is at the same time a lament for its absence in contemporary life

 

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A Young Girl Defending Herself against Eros (oil on canvas) by William Bouguereau. A young girl playfully struggles with Eros (Cupid) to avoid love’s arrow.
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The Fright of Astyanax (by pen and brown ink) by Benjamin West. As the Trojan hero Hector bids farewell to his family, his son Astyanax is frightened by his father’s helmet and runs to the nurse.
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The Holy Family (oil on canvas) by Joseph Paelinck. Here the Virgin Mary and her mother, Anne, hold the Christ child, while Mary’s husband, Joseph, and her father Joachim, quietly observe.
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Herm of a Vestal Virgin (in marble) by Antonio Canova
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Apollo Crowning Himself (in marble) by Antonio Canova. Apollo’s idealized body and balanced pose recall ancient representations of nude male figures
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Juno (in marble) by Joseph Nollekens
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Venus (in marble) by Joseph Nollekens

 

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The Elements Paying Tribute to Friendship (in marble) by Louis-Simon Boizot. The four elements (Earth, Water, Fire and Air) in the guise of ancient gods pay homage to Friendship who’s standing on the pedestal. (Love this one!)
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Dancer (in bronze) by Paolo Troubetzkoy. Countess Tamara performed throughout Europe and the United States.

More sculptures:

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This visit made me smile (Photo Challenge). While it was breezy, it wasn’t frigid (Daily Prompt).

Breathing Well: In And Out

Prostitution is illegal in the US, except in some rural counties of Nevada state. But it thrives in the alleys of the online world.

Websites like Craigslist and Backpage do what brothels and infamous streets once did. A large percentage of the women – that you see on these websites in New York City – are not locals, and might have exceeded the duration of their tourist visa. Since you can’t solicit in strip clubs, strippers too sign up with these sites.

The advertisement is carefully drafted to avoid direct mention of the offer of sex. But most would assert how much they expect to be paid using the word “donation” for the time spent with them. As long as the girl or the john is not from law enforcement, it’s a happy ending; but, if either is, it has to be established that sex was offered and money had exchanged hands to initiate an arrest.

The fear of getting caught always exists, but the carnal desires potentially overtake these fears. The fewer the arrests, the more the web profiles, the more the discreet hours paid for as donation.

This is a big, treacherous well that nobody should fall into:

One: Anything illegal can’t be legal no matter how conspicuous it is in their vibrant presence. There might be johns who respond to these ads and are lucky to have never been caught, but there might be a first timer, too, who’d arranged a meeting with a police officer in disguise.

Two: The johns and the women should know that condoms, if they even use them, can only guarantee 85% protection. Though latex rubber acts as a brilliant barrier against STDs, including HIV, the 15% possibility that it might break or slip off could be catastrophic if either has STD.

Three (most horrid): You are encouraging trafficking by employing these women (and men) for your eleven minutes of pleasure. Behind the lure of the tempting flesh is a world filled with pain and suffering.

A friend’s friend who I’d never met had signed up with a dating website. He had previously responded to ads on Craigslist and Backpage and when his brother found this out, he’d taken a pledge that he wouldn’t surf those sites to avoid detention and disease. With the dating website, he’d hoped that he’d find someone special; he wanted to get married.

Months later, he informed my friend that though there were intelligent and good-looking women on the site, none responded to his courteous messages. Those – including men – who’d responded, wanted to know if he had fetishes. The more time he’d spent on the site, the better it dawned on him that half of the women and some men were only the upgraded versions of those infamous websites. They’d promised him fun and secrecy, essentially looking for No Strings Attached “sugar daddies” who could pamper, spoil, and give them five-star treats. Dignifying prostitution, if you will.

The last I heard, he’d signed up with a meditation school and was happy to share that he was breathing well – both in and out

Ascend the soul (Photo Challenge). A Miraculous escape from detention and disease (Daily Prompt).

When The Restroom Is Not For Customers

While I was waiting for my prescription drugs, scanning the aisles and passing my time, I heard a commotion. I could figure out from the distance that a pharmacist was in a verbal duel with a customer. I walked toward the pharmacy counter and paused at the edge of an aisle, which was a strategic spot where I could do this reporting.

It was windy outside and my drug pick-up still ten minutes away, and since I was in search of a topic to write on, I listened in to the argument.

The pharmacist and the store manager appeared relaxed on the other side of the counter; the lady customer stood across from them, a few feet away from me. Her voice was shaky as she chastised the pharmacist, asking him to be more sensitive, and that Duane Reade’s reputation might be at stake if he failed to tend to its customers.

Fifteen minutes earlier:

The lady wanted to use the restroom. (Having lived in Newport for years, I knew that the restroom in this Duane Reade wasn’t for customers.) When she’d asked the pharmacist if she could use it, he responded in the negative. When she insisted citing abdominal pain, he said he’d check with the store manager. Ten minutes passed before the manager arrived and who replied in the affirmative, giving the lady the keys.

After using the restroom, she came out and began to reason with the pharmacist.fight-breaking-up-stopping-stop-break.png

Still standing at the edge of the aisle, my eyes saw Tylenol, my nose smelled VapoRub.

She complained that he’d taken a long time to allow her access; that she was an insulin-dependent diabetic who lived 45 minutes away from the pharmacy. The pharmacist, who was relieved that she’d relieved herself, repeated that the restroom wasn’t for customers (his vocal clarity now bathing in confidence). But, her argument as to why the manager had permitted her silenced him. Refusing to surrender, however, the man yelled, at times, which looked fair given the lady was shrieking throughout this conversation.

The aisle that I’d made my corner was suddenly buzzing with customers. The narratives in their murmurs were mostly divided.

Upping the ante, the lady protested that if she had fainted in the pharmacy during those ten minutes; if an ambulance had to be called in and she’d died en route to the hospital (her choking voice surgically removing any melodramatic pretentiousness); if the law enforcement then questioned the pharmacist, could he justify his decision to deny an insulin-dependent diabetic restroom access?

This terror of a hypothesis whacked a reluctant apology out of him. However, to be fair to the man, most narratives from the aisle agreed that he was not aware of her diabetes.

Now:

Who was right? Who was wrong? Restroom policy? Exception? Who deserved the exception?

I believed the lady. Imagine she’d fought with him for 30 minutes. She looked educated? Yes, she was howling.

Had she shared her insulin-dependency fact at the start, he might have responded differently. But her illness was private knowledge, rightly, or should she have revealed it?

He was following the store policy, and might be more upset with the manager than with the lady. Would the manager have patted his back had he been considerate to the lady?

A pharmacy may look like an extension to a hospital – where one can access restrooms – but it isn’t. It’s a pharmaceutical corporate from whom the lady expected a little humility.

Trademark is Duane Reade (Daily Prompt). Glow of the store (Photo Challenge).

Window To Man’s Soul

There’s something about windows. In the words of Quentin Blake: You see, I don’t draw from life at all, but I do look out of my window a lot.

A window is alluring as it gives us a view. What we access through it may have varied overtones: a life away from life, the blossomings beyond our reach, frightening us as much, the high altitudes.

Here, I captured the little dragons through the window of their Taekwondo class.

 

Racing upwards at 14 miles per hour in a glass-fronted elevator, it took us 59 seconds to reach the observation deck (116th floor) of the CN Tower. For more CN Tower posts, visit CN Tower defies gravity and CN Tower in Toronto.

 

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From atop the CN Tower, and as the sun peeked through the clouds, Billy Bishop Toronto city airport (center-right) looked abandoned.

 

I’ve said this several times, and am saying it again, that we are lucky to be living in this apartment. For almost a decade now. What you see here: Freedom Tower in downtown Manhattan, the Hudson River, Brooklyn, Marina yacht club in Jersey City. -It was early morning Sunday. The Norwegian Cruise Line ship was returning to Manhattan from the Bahamas. We’d taken this ship for our Bahamas and Florida tour some years prior. See Life on board the Norwegian Gem and Great Stirrup Cay in Bahamas.

 

The window that gave us the utmost happiness also worsened our fears during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The effects were severe in NJ and NY: businesses lost billions of dollars, half a million homes were destroyed, around 50 people were killed. I took this picture around 9 pm. Storm surge/strong wind pounded Newport, flooding the walkway up to ten feet. Sustained wind speed: 75 mph. We’d taken this advisory from our building management seriously: “…all windows in the apartment are maintained closed, locked and the blinds in the lowered position…that the wind is not permitted any opening, which if allowed, can potentially result in the further opening of window or, worse yet, ripping out the entire window.” Though we’d lost electricity and the fire alarm beeped all night, we survived unhurt.   -Strange that I remember what Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said: Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to preserve it. Has it ever been said that a man who throws himself out the window to escape from a fire is guilty of suicide?

 

We had fun riding this tramway that spanned the East River and connected the Upper East Side to Roosevelt Island. Midway to the island and at the tram’s highest elevation of 250 feet, we saw another tramway journey back to Manhattan. The window overlooked East River, the Queensboro Bridge and Roosevelt Island.

 

As we approached the Toronto-Pearson International airport in Canada, the pilot’s reminder that we fasten our seat belts matched these bumpy clouds we saw through the window.

 

At Mount-Pleasant station in Brampton, Ontario, the windows of this moving bus reflected the not-so-clear activities behind me. Billy Wilder had said: An actor entering through the door, you’ve got nothing. But if he enters through the window, you’ve got a situation.

 

Mail trucks do not use window doors in summer. Here I see the driver’s seat and its blurry ambiguity.

Windows to a soul (Photo Challenge). Witty with attitude (Daily Prompt).

All About Downtown Street Fair At Grove Street

I was not keen on attending the Annual All About Downtown Street Fair, but my wife insisted, and we did. It was a good decision. Wife’s always right?

On September 16, 2017 – between 12 noon and 8 pm – the street fair returned for its seventh year.

Featuring over a hundred vendors, the fair sold all kinds of products: handmade jewelry, exclusive art works, specialty cuisines from more than a dozen top food trucks in the tri-state area; there were band performances and fun rides for children. It was reported that in the year 2015, this event brought over 30,000 into Downtown Jersey City. Hope it has crossed that number this time.

When we entered the fair around the evening, the crowd was beginning to swell.
A mural depicting rough waves, the Statue of Liberty unaffected. Murals and graffiti have come to define Grove Street, bringing the urban city back to life.
Stained glass studio stall – they do stained glass installation, custom fabrication, and restoration. A smiling Bob Marley wants you to know this.
Books, and more books. Do you see Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened
Curious eyes scanning the stalls. No running out of options or varieties here…
Except for this, and how rare. A banana pudding sold-out stall.
Orale Mexican kitchen where…
I bought a corn with cheese and mayonnaise.
Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan waited to be picked.
White Birch Candle offered products that are hand poured, 100% soy wax, and dye free; they burn clean (no soot), have 150+ burn time, and always burn even. Ta-da!
Face painting for kids stall, hosted by Jersey City Pediatric Dentistry.
Time to pause and experience some Latino beat.
The men in white entertained
The best part of the fair owned the biggest ad.
At the crack of dusk, the crowd size increased.
Highlight of the evening: Guatemalan street dance with heavy costumes, drums, and ropes.

Any fair we attend, a plate of funnel cake is a must.
One of the rides we did: the three of us sat in a teacup with a wheel in the middle that we could steer 360 degrees, while the tray carrying all of the cups rotated; whirl within a whirl.
This mural invites your interpretation.
As night approached, this band performed soft melodies.
We ended the fair with a banana boat ice cream with chocolate, strawberry, pineapple, and walnuts.
This was it.

Pamper yourself (Daily Prompt). Layered is the culture (Photo Challenge).

Build A Door

We see doors everywhere, and I’ve seen some interesting doors in my lifetime. For this particular week, I’m uploading door photos that I’ve found in my folder. Going forward, though, I’ll try to capture as many doors as possible. After all, I like what Milton Berle once said If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. And here, I replace ‘build’ with ‘capture.’

Central Park is an oasis in New York City and the Zoo is its integral part. We saw this glass door entrance to a gift shop. The painted image of a penguin, the door reflections, the patches of shade outside.

 

This black door of Rev. Dr. Ercel F. Webb School in Jersey City has an arch with designs on top. Wide concrete steps, a weary window on the left with tied curtains, and a message on the wall from Tupac Shakur: “The rose that grew from concrete – did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete – proving nature’s law is wrong – it learned to walk without having feet.”

 

The blue majestic door with waffle designs – on 23rd Street/6th Avenue, New York City – appeared to be permanent-shut. The sunlight spared most of the door. The little man totally owned the facade.

Want to see more doors or to join in on the challenge, click here where Manja Mexi Movie is hosting for Norm 2.0.

In The New America People Get Slapped For Doing This

In July last year, I was feeling groggy from Cyclobenzaprine and Naproxen that I’d taken to treat my neck spasm. The muscle-relaxant and anti-inflammatory pills often helped except for the drowsiness that accompanied them. Although my wife had suggested that I avoid grocery shopping fearing the weariness might get too overwhelming, I followed on with my decision for there would not be time the rest of the week. I knew I’d be somnolent only if my body went into inactive mode. So, I was alert for the entire duration: the train ride to the store, grocery shopping, then back to the station with the cart.

I’d found a seat near the door when the train left the Square station. My destination was Port Station with Grove in between. The total travel time wouldn’t exceed ten minutes. Though my eyes were shutting from the drowsiness, I heard the sounds of the door slamming shut, footsteps of people as they moved between train cars, when an old man flipped the pages of his book, and the constant clickety-clack of the train wheels. I was aware that I coughed softly a few times.

Though I was too dozy to cover my mouth, I was certain that my mouth wasn’t open while coughing. (Wish I was alert enough to use my hands.)

At the Grove station, a group of people boarded the train, followed by a middle-aged man. The train wasn’t crowded, but all of the seats were taken, and the man was left standing. He was wearing a green shirt and black trousers. I closed my eyes and let out a couple of soft coughs, my mouth still closed. Within seconds, I heard a sound barreling toward me from my right where the man was standing. “This is sick. You should cover your mouth when coughing.”

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I turned my head to glance at him. He was a short man whose face turned a tinge of red that I thought meant intense dislike for me. I told him, as my eyes were shutting again, that my mouth wasn’t open and that I was drowsy from a muscle relaxant. This explanation – that I hadn’t needed to give – didn’t satisfy him, and he came at me more aggressively. “This is America. You’ve no idea what you’re doing.”

None of the people who were sitting across from me uttered a word, which sort of vindicated me because they could see that my mouth wasn’t open. I told him again that my mouth was closed throughout.

He said, “I’m so sick myself and don’t want any sickness from you.”

Now: he looked sick.

I was not sick.

My discreet coughs were perhaps from a can of chilled coconut water I’d drunk at the grocery.

I said, “I should be more concerned about catching something from you.”

“In the new America, people get slapped for coughing like that on public transport,” he retorted.

I grinned at him – my eyes won’t close for a while now – as I stood up to exit at Port. My 6’1 frame, as I walked by him, perhaps forced his mouth shut. Only silence thereon.

What I figured out later was that he was livid that even a grocery cart had found a space near the seat. He wanted to take his anger out on someone, and I happened to be the non-white guy he found a punching bag in? If he’d asked me, I would’ve given him my seat (I always offer my seat.)

In more than a decade of my life in the US, this was the first experience of its kind.

I am apolitical, but was as much against Hillary Clinton’s alleged deleting of thousands of emails as I’ve been against President Trump’s fear-mongering rhetoric. The day James Comey testified before the Senate that the President had asked for his loyalty, the following happened in the Union Square on 14th Street in Manhattan.

Blocks of dry ice emitted fog that drifted away.

I was a mere witness and didn’t know what to make of this. For some, it meant Trump’s ephemeral longevity; for others, it was a protest against his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.

But, let’s not forget that Donald Trump became a president because he had the required electoral votes, although the FBI investigation into Russia’s meddling in America’s election is ongoing.

In the new America – yes – anything can happen. Since the new president took office, we’ve heard a few incidents where non-whites, especially Indians, were targeted, resulting in deaths, too. So, I decided to go back to my kickboxing routine.  For self-defense. And if the man walked the talk next time, I should be ready.

But, my punching bag will remain a punching bag. I’m non-violence personified.

 

Central Park Zoo

On Sunday, we visited the Central Park Zoo in New York City.

This was our second visit in the last year and the tickets were paid for. Reason: Last year, during our first visit, the zoo was closed due to an explosion nearby. It was very unfortunate that a teenager tourist lost his foot in the blast. The visitors who’d purchased the tickets were given complimentary tickets, valid for a year, since most of us couldn’t see all the attractions. I remember we were on our way to watch a 4D movie when the blast had led the zoo authorities to initiate an early shutdown.

The complimentary tickets were to expire in July this year, so the last Sunday had to be the day.

The Central Park Zoo began as a menagerie in the post mid-19th century. The place has since seen several modifications, making it the modern zoological garden, now home to an indoor rainforest.

You enter the zoo with a sizable crowd before disappearing down the trellised walkway. It might look like a conflict zone if you believed the fear-mongering of some, but multiculturalism thrives, and it works toward a peaceful co-existence. The vine-clad purity, the breath of fresh green, the brick trimmed with granite.

Since we missed the 4D movie last time, we began this tour with a movie: Ice Age – No time for Nuts.

How a saber-toothed squirrel on a chase after his acorn, which a time machine dispatches into different time periods, makes for a fun viewing experience.

Our 4D glasses on; son thoroughly enjoyed the film.

We avoid fast food but have to make do with it when options are scarce. The monopoly of a lone restaurant in the zoo can drain your wallet: $14 for a cheeseburger. I ate half of my burger in disapproval. The street vendor right outside the zoo would charge more or less the same, charging $3 for a 700 ml water bottle, for example. In other places, the same bottle costs $1.50. Uniformity in prices kicks competition out. But, french fries tasted better after a while.

Right outside Tisch Children’s Zoo which was to be our next stop, this brilliant musician played Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round on his saxophone.

At the Children’s Zoo, we waited to feed the goats

Alpaca, which resembles Llama, is a domesticated species of South American camelid.

Feeding the Alpaca. (Look out – Alpacas can spit.)

Spider web play area

White-naped Crane needs shallow wetlands and grassy marshes to forage, nest, and raise their chicks. 70% of these cranes breed in Mongolia which provides perfect habitats.

Ducks’ feeding time

 

Cavies come from the same family as guinea pigs. A family of rodents native to South America.

Intelligence garden (in the Temperate zone) is an idea borrowed from a Chinese emperor who believed that the best way to develop intelligence was to observe animals in their natural state. 

Where next?

Walking toward the Tropic zone. Glass-roofed pergolas add to the beauty.

A grizzly bear stands 3 to 4 feet tall on all fours, but can reach 6 to 7 feet tall when standing up straight.

The bear’s private pool

California Sea Lion can dive hundreds of feet deep and stay underwater for up to 10 minutes.

Flora that lends beauty…

It was zero degree Fahrenheit…descending from the pass were the marks of the Snow Leopard; they can venture as high as 19,000 feet. Watch its eyes at your own risk.

Red panda – found in the Himalayan foothills, this flame-colored animal shares both territory and a name with the giant panda, but not genetics. Red panda is actually related to Raccoon.

The Victoria-crowned pigeon is a large, bluish-grey pigeon; has elegant blue lace-like crests, maroon breast, and red irises.

Blue-headed Macaw Parrot. Pointed tail, large bill.

Amazon Tree Boa is non-venomous, found in South America.

Banded Mongoose – females give birth within a few days of each other and everyone cares for the babies.

Texas Tortoise thrives in exposed dry scrub and grasslands; forages on cactuses.

Slender-tail Cloud Rat – one of the largest rats in the world. Guess its weight when fully grown? Around five pounds. Its penetrating look as if it knows what we’re thinking.

Penguins in the Polar zone. Just chill.

CN Tower Defies Gravity

My legs shivered. I feared that the glass would break.

But a note that was written on the wall in bold letters THIS GLASS FLOOR CAN WITHSTAND THE WEIGHT OF 14 LARGE HIPPOS redbulled my limbs. A dozen-plus hippos might not be heavy after all, and tragedy could happen – went the thought in my head. My moist palms.

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It was sunny that morning, but Toronto trembled in the December chill. The observation deck of CN Tower with this straight down view could terrify even those without acrophobia. The glass floor was 1,122 feet above the ground.

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I walked baby steps, but some children ran the length of the floor. I stepped on to a side, and squatted, placing my hand on the glass. My sweaty palm left cold trails on the glass.

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You are safe: 256 square feet of solid glass – five times stronger than the standard required weight – should be the only thought in your head.

The Empire State Building

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Clouds may gather, dusk may approach, people may whisper – the Empire stays true to its name.

For Day 4 of my B/W Photo Challenge, I show you the 360-degree views from the observation deck of the Empire State Building.

Seeking happiness among the concrete?

South view: downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Hudson River, New Jersey. The Freedom Tower stands tall.IMG_3046

North view: midtown, uptown, Central Park (oasis among the concrete).IMG_3078

East view: East River, Queens, Brooklyn.IMG_3148

West view: New Jersey, the Hudson River (a beautiful river separating Manhattan from New Jersey).IMG_3066

A panoramic view encompassing East River, downtown Manhattan, the Hudson River, New Jersey, and a slice of the observation deck itself.IMG_3051

I link Sabiscuit for this challenge. Sabiscuit is an impressive blog.

Spiritual Dessert At Santo Domingo And Amsterdam

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A calming, bluish dusk at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Labeling a quiet place as serene is interesting, but the one who’s labeling it might be miles away from serenity. The moment we’re out of a serene location, which certainly pumped us up, our psychological dominance if you will, might crush under the weight of life’s routine chaos.

It’s a given that all of us cannot visit serene locations all the time; at best, once a year. We should, therefore, enjoy find-serenity-wherever-you-are spiritual dessert.

This dessert might taste bitter. Our tasks would be uphill. Clock’s ticking.

Hence, we must either develop the will to bludgeon the issues or, seek peace while issues bludgeon us. Playing a victim is weakness and dumb, given life will come at us hard, every time.

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As time approached sunset, Vondel Park in Amsterdam was quieter

 

Breathing Halloween Skeletons

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We met this bunch of suave guitar-holding skeletons at a Halloween party for children, which our toddler son thoroughly enjoyed.

My first reaction looking at them was that although they were barren, their presence was paramount; shrouding the rest of us in the hall. They gave vibes of joy, and were unlike other blood-curdling, spine-tingling skeletons.

Their smile was endearing, but their eyes cautioned that they’d long been dead. Stare at the eyes and you’ll know.

How different are we from them? Are we too dead and insensitive? In flesh and blood we certainly are breathing, but we are worse shadows.

The Spirit House At Royal Ontario

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I captured this image of the Spirit House, which was a hall of intrigue with myriad story possibilities, at Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.

Daniel Libeskind, the architect of the Freedom Tower in New York City, designed Lee-Chin Crystal; also designing some of the chairs in the Spirit House.

The stainless steel chairs synced well with the crystalline surrounding. From the center of the house, one could see in the arch above an interwoven pattern of concrete, which linked exhibit spaces with elevators, speaking of conflicts in stories.

In The Present At Central Park

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In a Central Park pond, three male mallard ducks circled a female mallard. The reflections of the wispy aquatic plants were hues of green and straw in the quiet pond, which a gentle wind often ruffled to create ripples.

Ripples decimated the trails the moving ducks left, but when breeze stopped and ducks paused, stillness prevailed. That’s when nature offered me a moment to reflect, and I felt my presence.

Imperfect Shadows At White River State Park

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Isn’t this shadow a sign that all is well? At White River State Park in Indianapolis.

Sad folks may not like their shadows though some might seek perspective in them. Happy folks, however, may brag about their shadows, and some may take pictures.

If a shadow, which is immune to being judged, looks imperfect, it’s normal. What is not normal is when imperfection in some makes the rest think they are bigger or stronger than they really are.

Drama At Balzac’s

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This nighttime picture of Balzac’s, which is a sought-after coffeehouse in the Distillery District in Toronto, shows faded brick walls, a stylish chandelier, high ceilings, and a lit window. But what transpires below on the first level among a crowd of people, who’re chin-wagging and tittle-tattling while sipping the in-house roasted coffee, may be hard like the brick, classy like the chandelier, empty like the ceiling, and bright like the window.

You, a bitter reflection of your past acts, now realize how your egotism scared your friends away; how you were unsurprisingly certain that one day, you’d sit here to sip alone with no one to talk to. The lonely you glances up, hoping that someday things might change.

Endurance On The Venice Beach

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He strummed tune after tune on the Venice beach boardwalk in Los Angeles.

His shabby attire belied the soulful melodies of his performance. He endured, plucking the strings, reaching the broken hearts with “Careless Whispers” and the confused minds with “Make me Pure.”

I saw a liplocked couple standing by a restroom, never wanting to unlock; and a marijuana addict who smoked another joint with teary eyes.

The performer was a homeless marijuana addict himself and he, after hours of non-stop plucking, hollered, “I haven’t eaten for days,” and went back to strumming.

 

Humanity Outside The Museum Of Royal Houses

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Outside the Museum of Royal Houses in Santo Domingo, though this ice cream vendor was eating his lunch, he was ready to sell his cones and bars as he stood up at the sight of the oncoming steps. He was taking another bite when he heard the click of my camera snapping this photo. He scanned my body language hoping that my steps would lead to him, which they did. I bought a vanilla cone.

Since his food depended on those sales, I asked him if he’d ever eaten his meals in peace. He said, “Sales give peace. One cone, more? please.”

The National Pantheon Contrasts

This shot was captured from the inside of the National Pantheon of the Dominican Republic. The National Pantheon was originally a church; today it serves as the final resting place for the nation’s honored citizens.

The guards and the flags were in the resting place; colors dim, painfully quiet. The heat of the summer outside painted the walls white; it was loud.

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The Caribbean Sea Conundrum

In the fading twilight, as the Caribbean Sea lends quietude to a noisy park in Malecon, these musicians showcase their skills; their objective is to earn some Dominican Peso so they buy dinner for their family in this poverty-stricken Caribbean nation.

Three ladies, a gentleman, and a child appear to be a family. Though the ladies may love some music, spending pesos is hard given their expenses and there’s a child, too. So the gentleman on the left initiates a look-elsewhere strategy triggering a look-elsewhere response from the rest.

The performer wearing the brim hat looks elsewhere too; he’s begun to understand the futility of their collective tune.

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Sinterklaas In Amsterdam

We were out in the evening and I saw people swarm a corner circling a god-like figure. The figure had white hair and beard, wore a red chasuble and a red miter.

He was Sinterklaas. This was in Amsterdam more than a decade ago.

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Though Sinterklaas looks like Santa Claus, he’s Saint Nicholas: a Dutch character. Legend has it that Sinterklaas originally hailed from Turkey and was a well respected and loved man. The feast of Sinterklaas is on December 6, but the evening of December 5 is when loved ones get their gifts.

 

Twists In MIT

It’s odd if there’s no oddity from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): a producer of great minds.

The Intellectuals’ Circle. 16 people can sit here. Half facing in, half facing out. Whose brains will seal the first deal?  

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Pivoting Garden Bench. Who will pivot here? Someone with nothing better to do? Then don’t wait. Image

Backless bench. For minds and spines. No old professors, with due respect. Image

 

The Honor To See, 24/7, The Tallest Building In The Western Hemisphere

I’ve had quite a journey with the World Trade Center in New York City.

When the dastardly act of 9/11 happened, I was on vacation in a remote village in South India. When the news spread in the US, it was evening in India, and since we’d been out all day and were exhausted, I’d retired to bed without watching television. Next morning, my grandfather woke me up to tell me the news, and I’d spent the rest of the day in front of the television. It was hard to believe.

In late 2002, I had an opportunity to visit Washington, DC and New York City, but couldn’t travel due to personal reasons. In 2008, my wife and I moved to the US, renting an apartment that gave us the downtown Manhattan view.

Of the four towers being built in downtown today, the Freedom Tower is almost complete and will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and fourth tallest in the world. We’ve been witnessing its growth from our apartment; the incredible progression from infancy to adulthood has been a stupendous feat; the skills, the workmanship, the will, and the conviction to regain what was lost.

Never taking the apartment view for granted, we’ve been awestruck – mornings and evenings, days and nights, weeks and months – by its evolution, majestic presence, and symbolism of hope and freedom.

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This is how it looks now from the living room.
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2008: When we moved to the US and into this apartment, there was no Freedom Tower in view, and though construction had begun, the project was taking longer due to disputes among business leaders, real estate lobby, and civic organizations. We loved the moon in the picture.
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2009: Here, we spotted the building for the first time; cranes promising speedy work.
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2010: It appeared the tower announced its arrival: start noticing me.
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2011: The structure looked tall, standing out in the twilight. Seventy floors up.
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2012: The Tribute in Light gave us hope, year after year, in the autumn. Here, the Freedom Tower is making its presence felt. Ninety floors up.
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2013: The day after the 408-foot spire was installed on top of the structure, giving the tower its 1776 feet, and 104 floors. Apparently, 1776 was when the US got its independence.
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2014: With the winter leaving us, the dawn gave this view a golden hue. Yachts were back.
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The night view

Sister Oracle At Quincy Market

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She became a work of art herself standing there hours on end, which required a lot of strength and resoluteness. This was in the summer of 2011 in Boston.

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She moved only when she had to give chits.

Place a dollar in the column and receive a fortune. Though we didn’t place the bill, the ones who did were given chits. She kept her expression intact as she picked the chit from her funnel bag, her movement graceful.

She’s Sister Oracle. Oracles are like the portals of heaven through which gods communicate directly with people.

 

Nudity

Anyone who reads this may blush or giggle, get excited or even scandalized.

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Never been a fan of public nudity but I still visited Gunnison Beach, Sandy Hook, New Jersey. How humans looked strange!

Gunnison Beach is legal and attracts huge crowds in summer. There’s a group called Friends of Gunnison where hundreds of its members are friends in real life. Meaning: they live their city lives and meet socially fully-clothed; and when they hit the beach they’ll sit across from each other – discuss life, family and politics – without a shred of clothing on them.

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