An open letter to a goddaughter who is 12, poised on 13:
Dear Robin: So you are going to New York City for the first time this June. Hooray! I was 12 and it was summertime when my parents first took me to that great city of vigor and noise and exaggeration. I was as tall and blonde as you are, but with those skyscrapers I felt short. The Statue of Liberty also brought me down to size.
I returned last night from a few days in Manhattan, where I jotted some notes for you:
Take your favorite pair of tennis shoes. Not that you wouldn't take those shoes anywhere you go, but New York is definitely a walking place, and there are many more miles of sidewalk than in your hometown of Albuquerque.
I wore mine (low ankles, unlike yours) and hiked happily and tirelessly from Park Avenue and 61st Street all the way downtown to SoHo--a maze of art galleries and coffee shops and boutiques that sell offbeat clothing and jewelry from around the world--as well as to Brooklyn.
SoHo means south of Houston (pronounced HOW-ston) Street.
Lots of artists live in high-ceilinged lofts that used to be warehouses. Many of the decorative cast-iron buildings, especially along Spring and Greene streets, are from the mid-1800s. Some buildings are constructed of stone made to look like iron. The only way to be sure is to carry a magnet.
Museum of Holography
Behind a cast-iron facade on Mercer Street is the Museum of Holography, an amazing place of magical images. The three-dimensional holograms are installed at what they consider the "national average height." You and your dad will have to bend a bit for the full effect; your mom will be standing on tiptoe.
Wander into famous hotel lobbies where you can sit and stare, politely, at the people who come and go.
Maybe you'll see a star. If you try hard enough, at least you'll think you did. Adults seem to make that work. Try the Plaza Hotel by Central Park. That's the hotel where Eloise lived and where "Crocodile Dundee" was filmed. Try the Algonquin, if you're in the Broadway theater district.
I'll tell you later all about Dorothy Parker and other writers who used to meet there and talk a lot.
Another wonderful place to rest is the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue at 42nd street. This is the second-largest research library in the United States after the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
There are reading tables and high chairs and computerized card files inside. There are smooth marble steps and landmark lions in front.
Look at the ceilings. Look at the chandeliers. Look at the collections. There are changing exhibits upstairs. You can learn nifty stuff, such as the fact that Truman Capote's name was Truman Persons until he changed it at age 15. (Don't get ideas; I like your name.)
You can find clean public restrooms in libraries, museums, department stores and churches, such as the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, which is way uptown on Amsterdam Avenue and is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. It is still not finished.
What King Kong Saw
For a grand view, go to the Empire State Building, a graceful skyscraper that's the third tallest building in the land, after Sears Roebuck in Chicago and the twin towers of the World Trade Center at the southern end of Manhattan.
The observatory is open every day; check the visibility notice by the ticket office on 34th Street.
On a clear day you can see 50 miles. An express elevator goes to the 80th floor; the ride takes less than a minute.
Another elevator goes to the 86th floor, where there's an open observation platform and a snack bar. If you're still game, there's another elevator to the 102nd floor. If you want to walk down, there are 1,860 steps.
Go to Radio City Music Hall at Rockefeller Center. Michael Jackson was there when I was in town. There is always something happening on that enormous stage, which is home to those precision dancers, the Rockettes.
Backstage tours are fun, as they are at the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center. In the sunken plaza at Rockefeller Center there's a sidewalk cafe in summer. This is where New Yorkers go ice skating in winter.
Art and the Theater
Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Read the newspapers when you get there to see what's going on; it's too big to see everything. Look at the snail-like Frank Lloyd Wright design of the Guggenheim Museum on the other side of Fifth Avenue. The spiral ramp of the main gallery is more than a quarter of a mile long.
Go to a Broadway play. I bet you'd like "Cats," since you live with one named Sam Spayed. Bargain tickets for each day's performance are sold in a booth at Times Square.
Free concerts are one of the joys of summer in Central Park, a huge playground and meadowland that has been spiffed up since you were little.
Take the Circle Line boat tour from Pier 83 on the Hudson River.
It goes around Manhattan, under its wildly arching bridges, and you can see the South Street Seaport, the United Nations headquarters, the Statue of Liberty, the Cloisters Museum of medieval art, the glittering spire of the Chrysler Building and the whole spread of cloud-punching skyline.
I'll write soon about some favorite foods in New York, and places to eat, which I know from our noontime adventures together in New Mexico and California are not unimportant to you. Cheers and much love.