Action Item: Remembering #BringBackOurGirls

Monday’s going to be a busy day for protests and remembrances in NYC.

In addition to the action mentioned below, there’s also a MoMA-organized protest in Times Square for the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, which I’ll be covering.
**
This came into my inbox as a press release and I’m sharing it in full here [typos preserved]:

NYC CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS TO MARK 1-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF BOKO HARAM KIDNAPPING OF 270 NIGERIAN SCHOOLGIRLS
Empire State Building will be lit in purple and red to commemorate kidnapping’s 1-year mark.

NEW YORK, NY – On April 13 at 11:00am Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12), Ambassador of Surinam to the UN Henry MacDonald, Minister of Counter Terrorism of the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations Lawal Mohammed Hamidu, City Councilmember Ben Kallos (District 5), Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright (76AD), human rights leaders and activists, a group of High School students, members of the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development, and the #BringBackOurGirls advocacy organization will gather at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza to commemorate the 1-year anniversary of the kidnapping of more than 270 girls from their school in Chibok, Nigeria by Boko Haram. Although some of the girls managed to escape captivity, roughly 230 of them are still missing. Maloney will also announce that the Empire State building will be lit in purple and red on April 14th in recognition of the need to locate the girls and return them to their families.

Maloney and advocates will call for a vigorous international effort to find the girls, along with a full investigation to determine if some of the girls may have been among those murdered last month by fleeing Boko Haram soldiers.

As a gesture of solidarity with the Chibok Girls, the High School students in attendance will tie 223 ribbons around trees and railings. One ribbon for each of the girls still missing.

What
#BringBackOurGirls Press Conference

When
April 13, 2015 @11:00am

Where
Dag Hammarskjold Plaza
47th Street between 1st Avenue and 2nd Avenue

Now in NYC: Walks of New York

Text & Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo
**

New York Public Library.
New York Public Library.

New York City has no shortage of walking tours. There are history tours, literary tours, art tours, spiritual tours, architecture tours, nature tours (yes, we have nature, folks!), gangster tours, immigrant tours, food tours, and even an entire three-hour tour devoted solely to the pizzas of New York.

But New York being the city it is, there always seems to be room for at least one more entrepreneur in a dense market. And in the walking tour niche, I’m happy to announce that my friend Jeff Dobbins is launching Walks of New York this week. Walks of New York has a well-rounded roster of thematic walks, from some standard neighborhood and food tours to some that are (as far as I know) novel, such as the tour of B&H Photo.

The launch of Walks of New York coincides with National Walking Day, and to honor that synchronicity, the company is offering special rates ($5 per walk!) AND donating proceeds to the American Heart Association.

Full details about launch week and the current walking tours on offer can be found here.

5 Things to Do with Kids in New York City in Winter

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo & Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
No one is more aware than I that spring begins tomorrow; after all, I’ve been quietly counting down the days to the season of daffodils and sunshine all.winter.long. But it is still chilly right now and despite a brief blip in the forecast that will taunt us with the promise of spring, next week’s weather looks like more of the same dreary, damp, windy fare we’ve been served up for the past few months, which basically looks exactly like this:

View from the kitchen window during one of this winter's numerous snow dumps.
View from the kitchen window during one of this winter’s numerous snow dumps.

Earlier today, someone on twitter asked for my recommendations about how–and where–to keep kids entertained during the New York City winter. It’s a topic I’ve developed a bit of expertise in, that’s for sure. When you live in a tiny apartment with your partner and two kids under the age of five, cabin fever comes on faster than it might if you lived in a sprawling house. And since I’ve actually had this post in my draft folder since December 1 and since we are in the midst of New York City’s two-week long Spring Break, I figured maybe it wasn’t too late to share my family’s go-to spots and activities for days that make outdoor play impossible.

1. MoMA’s Art Lab
Francisco and I are art lovers, to be sure, but the real reason we’ve held a MoMA family membership for the past two years is because of the museum’s Art Lab. Admission to the Lab is included in the price of a regular museum ticket, but we go so often that membership becomes more affordable than individual admission tickets (plus, we can bring friends for just $5 a pop).

The lab is organized around a particular theme, which changes once or twice a year; the current theme is movement. This isn’t the tired, predictable crayons-markers-paper art table set-up that’s typical of so many museums. As you enter the lab, you’ll see a high-tech station where kids can make their own stop-motion films using iPhones and iPads and a variety of objects intended to serve as props. Just behind this station is a section where they can make Alexander Calder-esque mobiles, testing concepts such as weight and balance as they add, take away, and move elements. There’s a large, lovely bookshelf full of kid-friendly art books, and several other areas where knee-high visitors can explore other aspects of motion using blocks, wheels, spinning tops, and motion-based optical illusions.

If you want to visit without paying for the price of a MoMA ticket, come on Friday evenings, when museum admission (including access to the Lab) is free.

2. Heimbold Family Children’s Playing and Learning Center at Scandinavia House
I’ve written elsewhere that New York’s many cultural centers are among the city’s true underutilized treasures; organizations like Instituto Cervantes, The Mexican Cultural Institute of New York, Goethe House, and Japan Society are just a few of the dozens of institutes and organizations that offer rich cultural programming open to the public; many of the cultural institutes also have specific programming for families and children.

Scandinavia House (double bonus points for being a very short walk from Grand Central) may trump them all when it comes to offering families relief from winter chill, thanks to its Heimbold Family Children’s Playing and Learning Center. The play and education space is focused on sensory experiences that promote learning about Scandinavian culture, and the Center does an exceptional job of blending opportunities for physical activity (such as a “climbing corner”) with those for quiet or solitary activities, such as reading books or building with Legos.

Entrance isn’t cheap, and if you’re not a member of Scandinavia House, you can’t just show up any day of the week and hope to let your kid burn some energy. But what I like about the Center and the way in which it differs from the city’s many indoor play spaces is that parents can take turns watching and playing with their kids and seeing some of the exhibits or other features and programs of Scandinavia House. For us, that makes the price of admission worthwhile.

3. Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater

Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater in Central Park.
Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater in Central Park.

I’d been living in New York for nearly 15 years before I heard anything about the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater, but earlier this winter, I learned about the theater via Mommy Poppins, and we took our daughter to see its holiday show. The experience could not have been more wonderful; the venue, which looks spacious from the outside, is actually pretty intimate inside, with a maximum capacity of around 100 audience members. We happened to snag seats right near the front and Mariel was enchanted by the marionettes. We were fascinated to learn more about the building’s history, which is detailed on the theater’s website:

“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, Park co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted chose the rustic building for Central Park. After a string of diverse uses, the nature study center for children and an entomological lab… the cottage became headquarters in 1939 for the Parks Department’s Marionette Theater. The marionette company has long been known for its whimsical productions of classics like Peter Pan and Cinderella.”

The cottage is home to one of the last public marionette companies in the country, and after the holiday show run, other productions continue throughout the year. At least one show per day is offered daily, except Mondays.

4. New Victory Theater
Leave it to New York to have a theater where all the programming is devoted to kids. Yes, there are other children’s theaters throughout the country, but I doubt there are any that offer the variety of shows that New Victory has. Performances span the spectrum, from kiddie raves and breakdancing performances, to more “serious” shows that pair music and theater. Culturally, the shows are equally diverse. All in all, the New Vic treats kids as the niche audience they are.

As a parent, I love how much thought theater staff has put into both programming and planning logistics. First, it is the only performing arts place I know about that has shows for babies. At most other venues, creative life–at least as a spectator–doesn’t seem to start until at least two, but New Victory has shows for children as young as four months. Every show has a clear “by age” categorization so you can determine if the show is topically and developmentally appropriate for your kids. And though neither of my kids has special needs, I appreciate that New Victory has shows that are “autism-friendly,” and that they try to keep ticket prices “ridiculously affordable” (their words) compared to neighboring venues.

And finally, while my daughter (to my occasional dismay) loves ballerinas and princesses and Pinkalicious-type protagonists, I’m rather relieved that the New Vic manages to stay away from gender stereotypes and commercially popular characters that get plenty of air and stage-time elsewhere.

5. Bookstores
I realize that all of the preceding suggestions come at considerable cost, and with the winter we’ve had, it would be all too easy to go into hock (especially on the budget of a writer and photographer) if you wanted to keep your kids active outside the home with these activities. We alternate the “special” (read: more expensive) events with free ones and with plenty of less expensive, creative activities enjoyed at home.

Around the city, our go-to free spots are bookstores. A few we find especially kid-friendly are McNally Jackson, with its play house in a designated kids’ section (in addition to baby storytime, the store also has Saturday Storytime for 3-10 year olds and a Spanish Storytime for kids 2-6 each Thursday afternoon; it even has a Tumblr for kids!); the Barnes and Noble stores on Union Square and 86th and Lexington (their children’s and play sections are particularly large); and Scholastic, which has a life-sized version of The Magic Schoolbus where kids can play, read, or watch an episode of the TV show by the same name.

One of Posman's reading nooks.
One of Posman’s reading nooks.

Posman Books inside Chelsea Market also has a nice kids’ section, with a couple of comfy spots where kids can cozy up for a bit and read. Head directly across from Posman for a delicious hot chocolate at Sarabeth’s once they’re done reading; then, walk toward the east entrance of the market and let them throw as many pennies as you can spare into the well across from The Green Table.

We’d love to know what your go-to spots are around the city. Have you seen a show with your kids at Cry Baby Theater or do you have a favorite indoor kid-friendly gym? What museums excel with family-friendly programming? Share your favorites in the comments.

NYC Hotel Week Deals

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photo: Courtesy of Magda Biernat
**
It may seem early to announce this, but hotels fill up fast in NYC any time of the year and travelers are always–ALWAYS–looking for a deal on New York City hotel rooms.

The third annual New York Hotel Week is going to be held January 3-12, 2014. Here’s a list of the participating hotels and their rates.

Gansevoort Park Hotel. Photo courtesy of Magda Biernat.
Gansevoort Park Hotel. Photo courtesy of Magda Biernat.

HOTEL NAME NEIGHBORHOOD RATE* WEBSITE
Ace Hotel Flatiron, Chelsea $200 Book Online or call +1 (212) 679-2222 and mention
Hotel Week

Affinia Manhattan Midtown $100 Go to affinia.com and enter code HTWEEK or call
(866) 246-2203 and mention Hotel Week

Hotel Americano Chelsea $200 Go to hotel-americano.com and enter code Hotel Week

nyma, the new york
manhattan hotel Herald Square $100 Call (800) 567-7720 or (212) 790-2710 and mention
Hotel Week

Ramada New York/Eastside Murray Hill $100 Call (800) 567-7720 or (212) 790-2710 and mention
Hotel Week

The Hotel @ Times Square Times Square $100 Call (800) 567-7720 or (212) 790-2710 and mention
Hotel Week

Hotel Chandler Flatiron $200 Go to www.hotelchandler.com or call (866) 627 7847
or (212) 889 6363 and mention Hotel Week

Cosmopolitan Hotel – TriBeCa Tribeca $100 Go to cosmohotel.com and enter code HOTELWEEK or
call (212) 566-1900
Gansevoort Park Ave Kips Bay, Murray Hill,
Gramercy, Midtown East $200 Book Online or call (212) 317-2900 and mention
Hotel Week
Comfort Inn
Times Square South Times Square $100 Book Online or call (212) 268-3040 and mention
Hotel Week

Quality Inn Midtown West Midtown West,
Hell’s Kitchen $100 Book Online or call (212) 714-6699 and mention
Hotel Week

The GEM Hotel Chelsea Chelsea $100 Book Online or call (212) 675-1911 and mention
Hotel Week

The GEM Hotel Midtown West Midtown West, Hell’s Kitchen $100 Book Online or call (212) 967-7206 and mention
Hotel Week

The GEM Hotel SoHo SoHo, Lower East Side $100 Book online or call (212) 358-8844 and mention
Hotel Week
The Jade Hotel
Greenwich Village Greenwich Village $200 Book Online or call (212) 375-1300 and mention
Hotel Week

The James New York SoHo $300 Go to jameshotels.com/hotelweek or call +(888)
526-3778 and mention Hotel Week
Kitano New York Hotel Murray Hill, Empire State,
Times Square $200 Book Online or call (212) 885-7000 and mention
Hotel Week
Casablanca Hotel Times Square Times Square,
Theatre District $200 Go to casablancahotel.com and enter code HOTELWEEK
or call (212) 869-1212 and mention Hotel Week

Hotel Elysee Midtown East $200 Go to elyseehotel.com and enter code HOTELWEEK or
call (212) 753-1066 and mention Hotel Week

Hotel Giraffe NoMad $200 Go to hotelgiraffe.com and enter code HOTELWEEK or
call (212) 685-7700 and mention Hotel Week

Library Hotel Midtown, Grand Central $200 Go to libraryhotel.com and enter code HOTELWEEK or
call (212) 983-4500 and mention Hotel Week

The Maritime Hotel Chelsea $200 Book Online or call (212) 242-4300 and mention
Hotel Week

Marrakech Hotel on Broadway Upper West Side $100 Book Online or call (212) 222-2954 and mention
Hotel Week

THE OUT NYC** Hell’s Kitchen $200 Book Online or call (646) 527-7918 and mention
Hotel Week
Pod 39 Midtown East, Murray Hill
and Times Square $100 Call (212) 865-5700 and mention Hotel Week

Refinery Hotel New York Fashion District $200 Go to refineryhotelnewyork.com and enter code
HOTELWEEK or call +(646) 664-0310 and mention Hotel
Week

The Roger New York Madison Square Park $200 Call (888) 448-7788 or (212) 448-7000 and mention
Hotel Week NYC 2014 or email
reservations@therogernewyork.com

Sanctuary Hotel NYC Times Square $200 Go to sanctuaryhotelnyc.com and enter code HOTWK or
call (212) 234-7000

Thompson LES Lower East Side $300 Go to thompsonhotels.com and enter code HOTELWEEK
or call (212) 460-5300 and mention Hotel Week

Wolcott Hotel Midtown, NoMad $100 Go to wolcott.com and enter code njw2014 or call
(212) 268-2900 and mention Hotel Week

* taxes not included
** breakfast and 2 cocktails at KTCHN included

What did I know of New York?

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo & Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
In the spring of 1999, I graduated from college and moved to New York City for an internship.

NYC Skyline.
NYC Skyline.

I landed at LaGuardia, took the M60 bus with my long, unwieldy blue duffel bag, and got off on the wrong stop, on the wrong side of Morningside Park on 125th Street, not realizing the street runs east to west, not realizing anything, really, about how Manhattan is laid out.

I lived in intern housing on the ungentrified, gritty side of Columbia’s quad, and what I remember most about that place was the brash, metallic jangle of trucks bouncing down Amsterdam Avenue all night long.

What else do I remember about the summer of ’99?

Well, there were still subway tokens back then, my cell phone still had an antenna (!), I didn’t have a laptop, and people still used the Internet mainly for email and chat rooms (chat rooms!). I remember that I was intrigued by all the homemade signs advertising a hundred objects and services that hung from bus shelters: spent, particle-board furniture of broke college students, dog walking service, cleaning service, rooms for rent, nannies, language lessons. I think I pulled off one of the tabs with someone’s phone number and that’s how I started Mandarin lessons, which, in my memory, were short-lived for some reason.

It’s remarkable how much I don’t remember from that summer.

I know I had suite mates (I think there were two, but were there more?). I don’t know if I cooked or what I ate, other than coffee and a pastry from Sweetheart Bakery on 8th between 13th and 14th Streets. It’s not there anymore, gentrified out of existence, which is a shame. I remember the warm, not-from-New-York friendliness of the man who worked there. I also remember, right around the corner, just before entering the building where I worked, there was an antique shop with a life-sized statue of Jesus Christ, bleeding. That shop isn’t there anymore, either.

Solitariness. Subway.
Solitariness. Subway.
I don’t remember when I finally started taking the subway; initially worried my unfamiliarity with the route would expose me as a city newb (as if it wasn’t obvious, I realize now), I ended up walking the 103 blocks from Columbia to the West Village on my first day of work. I told that story to a friend recently and she laughed and laughed.

I worked a lot, but I don’t remember what I did when I wasn’t working. 1999 was before the days of DSLRs and before one-hour photo developing shops disappeared. Did I bring my point and shoot with me? Do I have any photos of that summer, stored in a box somewhere? I don’t think so.

I don’t remember how I felt overall and I don’t know if I made friends outside of work, though I’m inclined to think I didn’t. I don’t think I did things or went places where I would have made friends (though I do distinctly remember that my cooler suite mate–the one who had thrown herself into all that was New York: clubs, and live music, and weekend brunch– invited me to a bar on Houston one night. I actually went, got to the door and looked in before heading back uptown. I’ve never felt comfortable in bars, and that night was no exception. I likely spent a bookish night alone in my room.)

Three months in the city and that’s all I remember.

**
I don’t get to the Upper West Side often these days. When you live in New York, especially for as long as I have now, it’s easy to move mainly in the orbit you’ve established for yourself; there’s plenty to keep you busy and interested within it.

This weekend, though, Francisco, Mariel, and I explored my old neighborhood, and I was alight with wonder. How had I never walked the few blocks to Riverside Church or the General Grant Memorial, never really noticed the incredible architecture on Claremont Avenue, which, come to think of it, I’d never walked on. I’m pretty sure I never went into Saint John the Divine, though I passed it regularly. And I didn’t even have a cup of coffee at the Hungarian Pastry Shop, though I was aware it was an institution for generations of Columbia students.

Why?

What puzzles me now, almost 13 years later, is what happened to me that summer and, especially, what happened to my natural curiosity. I don’t think it was fear– I’d traveled to Costa Rica and China on my own before I’d landed in New York. I’d made friends easily in both places and I hadn’t let not knowing my environment keep me from being adventurous (in Costa Rica, for example, I remember boarding a bus and traveling halfway across the country just because I wanted to see a beach someone had told me about).

What, after three months, did I actually know of New York?

The answer, it seems: almost nothing.
**

Manhattan from the 20th floor of Riverside Church.
Manhattan from the 20th floor of Riverside Church.
So here I am, a lifetime later, with a husband and a child, having lunch at Ollie’s on Broadway, just across from Columbia’s “Pulitzer” gate. Mariel and I have taken an elevator to the 20th floor of Riverside Church to look out over Manhattan from that great height after sitting in the front pew of the church’s nave after Sunday service. Francisco has descended to the tomb of Grant and his wife, and we’ve chatted with another bicultural, bilingual couple in a park while our kids play. We’ve taken pictures of cherubs on the apartment buildings on Claremont and wandered through Sakura Park, which will be more beautiful in just a few weeks, when the cherry trees begin to blossom.

“You just needed someone to share it with,” Francisco says after I wonder aloud why I didn’t explore any of these places when I lived just a few blocks from them.

His answer isn’t nearly as self-referential as it may sound; he knows that the way I experience and make sense of place most meaningfully is by processing it with someone else– by walking through it and talking about it with another person who is as curious as I am. That person is often Francisco, though not always. He is, however, the best person I have ever experienced place with.

**

New Yorker.
New Yorker.
Maybe he’s right.

What I remember about the summer of ’99 is a prevailing sense of, if not sadness, then solitariness.

And yet, I ended up staying.

The internship turned into a job offer, turned into studies for my MSW, turned into another job. It led, finally, to a life: friends, routines, and, eventually, to a relationship, and a family, and places we experienced together.

Places that became “ours.”