‘In 1905 what did Mr Frick say to Mrs Frick’ or ‘from Steel Magnate to Art Collector’

“Well Adelaide, the railroads are laid, the unions are giving me grief. Let’s hit New York!”  So together they uprooted themselves from the steel industry in Pittsburgh and went house hunting on the fashionable upper east side of New York.

Like me, Henry and Adelaide loved the area bordering Central Park.  Unlike me they had an art collection in tow and several million in the bank.   They hung out with the Vanderbilts who leased their mansion to the Fricks. Eventually Mr and Mrs Frick built their own mansion just around the corner at the most prestigious address in New York.

Their amassed works of art had already been freighted across the country and with more acquisitions they built their own home.  No ordinary home mind you.  They composed a beautiful outdoor atrium from which all 6 galleries led.  At the centre of their mansion this space held an enormous fountain, palm trees and exotic orchids.  The floor was paved in marble.  By the time Henry had his art collection laid out he realized he’d begun to develop a priceless legacy but with no children of his own he documented that Adelaide and her daughter could remain in residence until his wife’s death.  On Adelaide’s death the house and art would become a public museum.

Turners are hung alongside Rembrandts.  Monets are peacefully settled among Gainsborough and Stubbs.  Holbein’s peasants prepare feasts opposite Vemeer’s studies of man and his best friend.  There is no hint of art school curated fine arts here.  And yet it is far away from an incoherent jumble of misplaced works of art.   It is told how Frick hung the paintings in a system that pleased his eye, one gallery leading into another connected by a mixture of the old masters that pleased him.  After dinner in the evenings he would stroll through the galleries and one imagines with a glass of fine brandy held at his lips.



So here I was, overwhelmed in this impossible city. Any preconceptions I held of New York were only a hundredth of the actuality of standing in its heart.  Our hotel was just off Broadway and we were on the fifteenth floor buried by buildings soaring way above us.  The corner suite we bagged was pretty spectacular; quirky to be more exact.  What must have been an old building lay across the street from us and we could look over to its rooftop.  Each day around 5pm waiters dressed in black, would bring out canapes and trays of drink.  Every afternoon an event was laid out – a wedding, formal parties, a book launch perhaps?  Goodness knows.  All these would take place under lengthening shadows cast by the myriad of skyscrapers soaring above.   Lying on the bed in the early evening and watching the lights come up I’d try to figure out if someone was working late or perhaps it was an apartment and people had just come home.

This restful time came after a day of walking, usually miles exploring the mid town area and shopping of course; hopping on busses, exploring Harlem and Brooklyn. Unfortunately getting anywhere required battling through congested, smoke filled streets which became a bit of a bore.  The previous day a bus tour had failed to pick us up after a hop-off in Harlem and as it began to grow dark we began to feel extremely vulnerable on the street.  Consequently on our third day we decided to drift up toward Columbus Circle that lead us into a more salubrious area.

After just a few blocks we discovered an oasis of calm, serenity and beauty right here in the middle of New York; Central Park.

It is magnificent. It’s history alone fills volumes.  Designed by an Englishman for the people of New York over a century ago.   THIS IS A NON SMOKING PARK a sign declared at the entrance. Well you couldn’t get me in there fast enough.

The Tavern on the Green is a very English restaurant with wonderful food and old-fashioned style.  The waitresses and lone waiter are young, beautiful people; immaculately dressed and coiffed.  Several did look as if they were sucking sour plums, but that’s the cat-walk style I guess.  It was where ‘ladies did lunch’.  The only people here wearing shorts and tee shirts were tourists and shown a table outside.  However it wasn’t outrageously expensive, and not a television in sight!

I did see an Asian gentleman though sitting on a bench smoking.  I approached him and told him smoking was not permitted in the park.  He didn’t understand so I resorted to hand signals and made it very clear he was breaking the law and in for a big fine if he didn’t extinguish the dirty filthy fag immediately.  He complied without hesitation and I sauntered off leaving him wondering who I was – the smoking police in plain clothes?

Anyone out there travelling to New York; once the initial awe and wonder has worn off and you’ve hit the tourist spots with a million other tourists, to save your sanity take in Central Park and BREATHE.



Central Park

Central Park


I’ll get back to the Oasis, but in the meantime: ’57 channels with Nothing On.’

Bruce Springsteen sang the song in the late 1980s.  Remember it?  I do.  Brought up in New Zealand with Channels 1, 2 & 3 in those days, I had no idea what the lyrics were getting at.  Now it’s 2014 and a proliferation of television channels that Bruce wouldn’t have dreamed of 30+ years ago is now available in every New York dining space.  It’s frenetic.  A small space will have no fewer than 3,  50″ screens flickering over the diners.  Two sports channels usually showing baseball and basketball run simultaneous to  different channel’s news broadcasts dealing in 5 second soundbites as visual snatches run beneath.  The only way around this is to go and eat in very expensive restaurants.

I swear television is being used as a brainwashing tool of the masses.  I tried to keep up with the ebola news as it broke. The only way was to buy a newspaper or Time magazine.   Once we stop travelling for a bit I’ll take time out to some research the best source for news here and abroad.