Seeing the Pope in the Park

September 25, 2015

Long before the pope’s plane touched down at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Roman Catholic Church officials began meticulously planning every aspect of his two day trip to New York City. At the same time, law enforcement agencies—ranging from the local to federal levels—started coordinating what Police Commissioner Bill Bratton called the “largest security challenge ever.”

Pope Francis arrived late on the afternoon of the 24th and was immediately whisked to St. Patrick’s Cathedral where he led the evening prayer. The next morning he plunged into a whirlwind of activities around Manhattan, going to the East Side to address the United Nations General Assembly, heading downtown to hold a multi-religious service at 9/11 the Memorial and Museum, driving uptown for a visit with students at Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, traveling in a motorcade through Central Park and then down to a Mass at Madison Square Garden.

Admission to all of the events involving the pope was restricted; at no point could someone simply wander over to a school or church to catch a glimpse of the pontiff. Tickets to the religious services were distributed by politicians and priests, while city officials conducted a free lottery for those wishing to view the pope’s procession through Central Park.

On September 10, 40,000 area residents were notified by phone and email that they’d each won a pair of tickets to see the motorcade. The announcements were accompanied by detailed instructions, warnings and restrictions, including a lengthy list of prohibited items:

  • Alcohol
  • Aerosol containers
  • Amplified sound devices
  • Animals other than service and guide animals
  • Balloons
  • Bicycles, scooters and skateboards
  • Blankets
  • Backpacks
  • Chairs
  • Coolers
  • Drones and other unmanned aircraft systems
  • Flags
  • Glass, thermal and metal containers
  • Large bags
  • Laser pointers
  • Mace and pepper spray
  • Musical instruments
  • Posters
  • Selfie sticks
  • Signs and supports for signs and placards
  • Unlicensed vending
  • Umbrellas 
  • Weapons, explosives and ammunition

Those selected in the giveaway were assigned to color-coded park entrances (red, yellow, green) and told to arrive, bearing their tickets, before 3:00 p.m. to ensure that they’d pass through security in time to see the pontiff drive by at 5:30.

The southern end of the Park was enclosed behind high fences while security gates and tents were erected near Columbus Circle. The streets surrounding Central Park were closed to traffic. Thousands of law enforcement officers, both uniformed and in plain clothes, were deployed throughout the area. Although the gates weren’t scheduled to open until 11:00, anxious ticket holders began arriving at the barricades before dawn and patiently waited for hours until they were able to move forward.

The crowd slowly passed through airport-style security checks conducted by Transportation Security Administration agents including X-rays, inspection of electronic devices and sniffs from dogs trained to detect explosives.  Upon entering the Park, the faithful sprinted towards the metal barriers lining the roadways.

People jockeyed for position, trying to get as close to the front as possible, then settled in for the day. At one point, someone in the crowd cried, “Look up!” All heads turned to see that, directly above the path that the pope would take, a tiny rainbow had appeared above.

As observers remarked on the fact that the day had been clear and almost cloudless (“Imagine, a rainbow without rain!”), the colored strip grew wider, longer and bent into an upside down arc. “It looks like a smile,” some said. Others thought that it was a sacred sign, a blessing, a miracle. After a few minutes, the rainbow faded away.

Finally, a rumble was heard in the distance and a fleet of slowly moving vehicles, all of them flashing lights, appeared. A convoy of motorcycles, armored trucks, NYPD vans, limousines rolled past as excitement in the crowd surged. An open bed truck, its rear filled with photographers and camera operators clamoring for shots, was directly in front of the sight all were awaiting: the famed white Popemobile.

Inside stood the pontiff, smiling and waving his hand to the faithful. The vehicle drove slowly through the Park without pausing. Pope Francis and his guards moved up the roadway and drove out of sight, headed south to Madison Square Garden, where he celebrated Mass and delivered a homily that included references to urban life.

Living in a big city is not always easy. A multicultural context presents many complex challenges. Yet big cities are a reminder of the hidden riches present in our world: in the diversity of its cultures, traditions and historical experiences. In the variety of its languages, costumes and cuisine. Big cities bring together all the different ways which we human beings have discovered to express the meaning of life, wherever we may be.

But big cities also conceal the faces of all those people who don’t appear to belong, or are second-class citizens. In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath “the rapid pace of change”, so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no “right” to be there, no right to be part of the city. They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly.

These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity. They become part of an urban landscape which is more and more taken for granted, in our eyes, and especially in our hearts.

Mural overlooking Penn Station

Sign at Pizza Parlor

Banner on deli

Pope marshmallows

Selling vatican flags

Vendor with football pope t-shirts

Pope Ticket
Ticket to the green zone

Posted instructions for ticket holders

Warning sign on the fence

Reminder about banned items

Notice about Secret Service dogs

First arrivals at the barriers

TSA checkpoint tents

Waiting for security inspection

Standing against the barricades

Officer reminding the crowd to be patient

A tiny spectator

Visitors displaying flags and banners

A tiny strip of rainbow appeared directly overhead

The rainbow grew into an upside-down arc bisected by a strip of cloud

He arrived, waved, and drove on

New York City: Pope Francis Visits New York City
Archdiocese of Washington: Walk With FrancisPope Francis Visit
NBC 4: Officials: Upcoming Papal Visit to NYC ‘Largest Security Challenge Ever’ for NYPD
NY Times: Pope Francis, ‘People’s Pope,’ Is Security Teams’ Headache
NY Times: Pope Francis in America
NY Times: After Lottery in New York to See Pope Francis, Some Winners Scalp Tickets Online
Catholic to the Max: Madison Square Garden Mass
National September 11 Memorial & Museum
Madison Square Garden
Our Lady Queen of Angels School

Selling the Bear Necessities

August 17, 2015

PinkyOtto, a women’s clothing store with several locations in New York City, is advertised as “a fun-filled, charming place for stylish girls.”

Their whimsical window displays include mannequins topped with teddy bear heads. These fashion figures are in the Flatiron District store at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street.



Teddy Bears

‘Tis Tartan Day

April 11, 2015

As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

On April 6, 1320, Bernard of Kilwinning wrote a letter to the Pope, proclaiming Scotland as an independent, sovereign state. Bernard was then the head of Arbroath Abbey, a monastery along the coast of the North Sea, and the document, written in Latin and sealed by eight earls and about forty barons, became known as the Declaration of Arbroath.

More than six hundred and fifty years later, a group of New Yorkers chose the date of Bernard’s missive to celebrate their Scottish heritage. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and by 1998 the U.S. Senate recognized Scottish-Americans’ contributions to the nation by declaring April 6 as National Tartan Day.

The Scots-centric festivities have grown and become a yearly event, dubbed Tartan Week, which honors all things related to the land once known as Caledonia. The highlight of the week is the loud and colorful Tartan Day Parade.

In the first New York Tartan Day Parade, a small, loosely organized group marched across the Upper East Side, from the British Consulate to the United Nations, while clad in kilts and playing bagpipes.

Today the 17th annual New York Tartan Day Parade was held on Sixth Avenue. It featured thousands of bagpipers, marchers, dancers, dogs and representatives of organizations from all over the world who strode up the street, delighting all the Scots and “temporary, honorary Scots” who lined the route in Midtown Manhattan.

No Sixth Avenue bus today

Marchers taking a break

Shamrock tattoo

Ready to march

Marching and waving

Bearskin hat

Her first time marching

Temporary, honorary Scot

Carrying a staff

Waving the flag

Pipers chatting before the parade

Bagpipers practicing

Tartan Day Parade bus

Marcher meets officer

The Westie and Scottie Pack

Clan MacLare

Waving flags

Girls leading the pipers

Marching and piping

The Grand Marshal isn’t as interesting as his phone

Playing at 46th Street

West Point Cadet Corps

Seasoned marchers

Pipers and drummers

Best seat in town

Greenwich Pipe Band

Clan Chattan Confederation, Clan McBean, Clan Shaw

Happy marchers

Clan Kincaid

Marching trio

Scotland’s most famous citizen

It’s Nessie!

Clan Munro Association, Thailand

If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap

American Scottish Foundation

Folk dancers

NYC Police Band

University of Strathcylde

Marchers laughing

Tri-County Pipe Band

Dog in a kilt

Atlantic Watch Pipes & Drums

Group wearing thistle t-shirts

Sauntering on the sidewalk after the parade

The National Archives of Scotland: The Declaration of Arbroath
Historic Environment Scotland: Arbroath Abbey
Scotland’s National Tourist Board: Arbroath Abbey
Undiscovered Scotland Bernard of Kilwining
New York Tartan Day Parade
NYC Tartan Week
St. Andrew’s Society of the State of New York
New York Caledonian Club
American-Scottish Foundation

SWAN Day Screening

March 28, 2015

And in remembering a road sign
I am remembering a girl when I was young
And we said, “These songs are true
These days are ours
These tears are free”

— Paul Simon, Obvious Child

This is the eighth anniversary of Support Women Artists Now Day (SWAN Day). Created in 2007 by film critic Jan Lisa Huttner and arts administrator Martha Richards, SWAN Day “helps people imagine what the world might be like if women’s art and perspectives were fully integrated into all of our lives.”

While the official date of SWAN Day is March 28, activities celebrating women in the arts take place throughout this month and the next, following the founders’ statement that, “The spirit of SWAN events is far more important than the exact dates.”

In New York, several groups, including New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT), the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the School of Visual Arts Film department, the Women in Arts and Media Coalition, and HerFlix, organized a special SWAN Day movie event: a special screening of Obvious Child, a critically acclaimed romantic comedy that was produced, directed, and written by women.

The film was followed by a reception and a Q&A session with director Gillian Robespierre and Caren Spruch, a member of the Board of Directors of NYWIFT.

SWAN Day sticker

SVA Theater

Introducing the screening

Q&A with Gillian Robespierre and Caren Spruch

Gillian Robespierre

SWAN Day 2015 Calendar
SWAN Day Screening and Reception
Obvious Child
Wikipedia: Gillian Robespierre
The Dissolve: Gillian Robespierre and Jenny Slate on Finding Obvious Child’s Voice
Paul Simon: Obvious Child
The Straight Dope: Paul Simon’s The Obvious Child –What Does it Mean?
New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT)
Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA)
School of Visual Arts Film Department
Women in Arts and Media Coalition

Upside Down Hello

February 28, 2015

While strolling along East 23rd Street in Manhattan I notice a man coming towards me. He is walking briskly, purposefully, while wordlessly carrying a child upside down.

I look into the child’s eyes and call out, “Hello!”

“Hello!,” comes the reply.

We draw closer. We are nearly abreast.

“Upside down hello!,” I say.

“Upside down hello,” responds the child.

And then we begin to pass each other.

“Upside down goodbye!,” I exclaim.

“Upside down goodbye!,” the child echoes, as he and his silent beast of burden head west and I continue to walk towards the east.


Marathon Meal

October 31, 2014

I get all the exercise I need by jumping to conclusions, climbing the walls, bending over backwards, sticking my neck out, pulling out all the stops, and pushing my luck.

It’s an old joke. And while I don’t avoid all forms of exercise, I am not, by any means, a marathon runner. So when a stranger offered me a VIP ticket to the New York City Marathon Eve Dinner, I didn’t know what to expect.

The dinner, held in an enormous white tent erected inside Central Park, was open only to ticket holders. My VIP ticket meant that I was able to walk past the long line of runners waiting in the chilly night air.

As it turns out, the Marathon Eve Dinner is a beloved tradition of the race that was first organized in 1970 by Fred Lebow and Vincent Chiappetta, co-presidents of the New York Road Runners Club. That year, one hundred and twenty-seven men ran around Central Park and 55 crossed the finish line.

Today, New York’s is the largest marathon in the world, with over 50,000 participants from around the world. The current course goes through all five of the city’s boroughs, where an estimated two million spectators line the streets, highways, and bridges that are closed for the race.

Because authorities say that a large intake of carbohydrate rich foods before a marathon can increase stamina and enhance performance, the night’s menu featured salad, two pasta dishes, and beer—all with unlimited refills.

While they listened to speeches, watched presentations and ate and drank, the polyglot crowd laughed, exchanged tips, recounted past races, and formed friendships. And then, quickly, the beer and spaghetti-filled runners withdrew to their hotel rooms, eager to get some sleep and make it to the starting line early in the morning.

VIP ticket

Inside the tent

Distributing dishes and utensils

Aproned server

Filling dishes

Making their way to tables

Diners in action

The meal

New York Marathon
TCS New York City Marathon Eve Dinner
Runner’s World: How to Carb-Load for Marathon Week

I Shudder to Think …

August 30, 2014

I was walking along 15th Street when something caught my eye — a spot of bright blue that seemed out of place on the sidewalk in front of a toy store.

I stepped closer to investigate. A blue bowl and a basket that were labelled with small paper tags.

However, the words I read gave me pause. I know that orange juice is made from oranges, and apple juice contains nothing but apples.  But what is the stuff in that blue bowl, and how was it made?

I shudder to think.

Kidding Around 2
A spot of blue on the sidewalk

Kidding Around
A closer investigation

Kidding Around 3
What is in that bowl?

Kidding Around


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 176 other followers

%d bloggers like this: