Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Wonderful Time In New York

We had a wonderful time in New York, and it was too bad that our visit only lasted three days.

I continue to be amazed how quickly my nephew grows. He has grown noticeably since the last time we saw him, which was just over six weeks ago.

He eats more and he talks more than he did over the Christmas and New Year holidays. He makes lots of "eek"-like sounds when he is having fun--playing with his toys, for instance--and when he wants more food. He also gestures more, pointing at things and pointing at people.

He was in bed for the night when we arrived on Friday evening, so we really did not get to see him until early Saturday morning. Although we all looked into his bedroom to watch him sleeping, it was only on Saturday morning that we were able to hold him and feed him and play with him.

My brother and my sister-in-law had told him that we were coming, but they did not know whether he understood this or not. I do not think that he did understand. My middle brother and Joshua and I rose at 7:15 a.m. on Saturday morning in order to be ready for him when he woke up (my nephew wakes up at 7:30 a.m.). We went into his bedroom at 7:30 a.m., and he was standing in his crib, waiting, and he seemed to be very excited to see us, but also very surprised. He held out his arms, and my brother picked him up and we took him into the kitchen to get him ready for his breakfast.

My parents rose shortly thereafter, and we all gave him his breakfast and held him and played with him while his parents slept in.

He is eating more and more different food types, and it is fun to watch him eat. He picks up peas from his plate, one by one, and puts them into his mouth. He does the same with tiny pieces of boiled chicken. He can hold a very thin and quartered grilled cheese sandwich and take bites from it.

He loves homemade chicken noodle soup and homemade tomato-cream soup. He loves whipped sweet potatoes, sweetened with a touch of pineapple juice. He loves crushed carrots, sweetened with a touch of maple syrup. He likes gingerbread now. My mother made homemade butter noodles for him (and for everyone else, too), and he loved them.

He loves fresh poached pears, warm, which he often gets in the afternoons after his nap. He still loves crushed bananas and poached and pureed apricots and peaches.

He eats lima beans now, and tiny pieces of fresh apple. Of course, he still loves mashed potatoes and macaroni-and-cheese. Everything he eats is fresh--my sister-in-law has more or less abandoned jars of Gerber, which she was never high on--and although he still is restricted to easily-digestible fare, he gets to eat well.

Meat is one of the foods that he gets very little of--he still generally eats boiled chicken, and nothing more--but he has been served a very bland tuna salad a few times, and he liked it. He also eats a very bland and very finely-ground hot chicken salad, a recipe of my mother, and he likes that, too.

My nephew is also capable of doing more and more things by himself now.

For instance, he walks quite well now, and he generally does not need the support and assistance of furniture to make his way around his parents' apartment. He walks around the large living room at will, and he walks around the kitchen.

He can retrieve his toys from his toy box without assistance now--the toy box is not tall, and it has no lid--and he takes out his things and puts them on the floor and plays with them. He drags his large stuffed dog around the living room and places it next to him on the floor, and he tries to talk to the stuffed dog and he tries to get the stuffed dog to play with his toys. This tells me that he thinks of his stuffed dog as a real, live creature. He can ride around the living room now in his fire truck, which he loves to do, but he cannot get into it and out of it by himself. For that, he requires assistance.

He watches everyone much of the time now, and he makes noises and gestures as he looks at people, as if he is trying to talk to them. He sometimes glances at the television for a few seconds at a time if he hears an interesting sound coming from the television.

He still loves it when others sit on the floor and play with him and his toys.

He still loves to be held and talked to, and he loves to be held by everyone. He loves it when his parents hold him, he loves it when my parents hold him, and he loves it when my middle brother or Josh or I hold him.

His normal daily routine is to be held by his father for fifteen minutes first thing every morning, after which my brother goes to work. Then he gets his breakfast and his bath, and he spends the rest of the morning playing with his toys and watching his mother and being held by his mother.

If my sister-in-law has errands to run, she does them in the morning and she takes him with her in a stroller. When he goes out, he does not know yet what to make of the outside world. He sometimes looks at things, and then quickly tries to search for his mother. If he cannot locate his mother almost instantly, he becomes distressed and goes into a near panic and starts to cry. As soon as he sees that his mother is next to him, he is pacified. Often he goes to sleep in his stroller during my sister-in-law's morning errands. Sometimes, when he spends the entire morning at home, he sleeps for an hour or so before his lunch.

He does not like strangers. He does not, for instance, like his doctor, and he cries when his doctor touches him or holds him.

I always worry that he will forget about my parents and my middle brother and Josh and me between visits. Happily, this has never happened. Apparently we have always spent enough time with him so that he has always recognized us and been comfortable with us.

My sister-in-law's own parents were not so lucky. Her parents have only seen my nephew once, during a three-week visit last August, when they flew from London to New York to stay with my brother and my sister-in-law. My nephew was almost ten months old at the time, and it took him five days to become accustomed to his other set of grandparents. He will not see that set of grandparents again until this coming August, and it is very likely that he will not remember them after a year and, once again, have to start from scratch.

This has to be heartbreaking for my sister-in-law's parents. However, they can only travel when Parliament is on extended break, because my sister-in-law's father is a civil service employee whose career is in the administration of the Houses Of Parliament. (This has its advantages, however--my sister-in-law's father escorted my middle brother and me through the entire Palace Of Westminster when my brother and I were on vacation in London in 2004, and he showed us practically every nook and cranny in the building, including the many historical portions of the building never open to the public. My brother and I were in heaven. He also arranged for us to visit Marlborough House and Clarence House and Lancaster House, all of which are generally closed to the public, and my brother and I were given private guided tours of those venues. In 2005, during another trip to London, he even arranged for my brother and me to see things at the Imperial War Museum not then on public display. He extended to us every possible consideration and courtesy.)

My sister-in-law has never left my nephew with a sitter. She finds the very idea inconceivable, and this has nothing to do with the fact that my nephew dislikes strangers. She has left him with his father, of course, and she has left him with my parents, and she has left him with my middle brother, and she has left him with me, but no one outside the family has ever been permitted to care for my nephew. My sister-in-law is a loving and nurturing and dedicated mother, and she zealously watches over my nephew all the time.

I have always adored my sister-in-law, since the first time I met her in London, and she and I have always been close and able to talk to each other, openly and seriously, from the day we met.

I have often asked her whether she regrets not working in her chosen field, psychiatry, and she has always told me that she would only be interested in working if she had to do so in order to support herself. She has told me, often, that she appreciates the education she received, and that it taught her a great deal about a great many things, but that her years of study were only a means to an end--being able to support herself in an interesting and challenging field--and that, otherwise, she has no interest in pursuing a demanding, full-time career.

My sister-in-law likes being home alone all day with her son. After she spends the morning with him and gives him his lunch, he takes a long nap, and for two or three hours my sister-in-law has time to herself, the only such time she gets all day. She generally reads during this time, or sends email messages, or takes a nap herself.

When my nephew wakes from his nap, he gets a snack, after which his mother keeps him in the kitchen as she begins to prepare dinner. Around 5:30 p.m., my nephew starts to get excited, because he knows that my brother will be home from work soon. When my brother arrives home, he holds and plays with my nephew for an hour in the kitchen, after which they all have dinner.

After dinner, they all adjourn to the living room, and my nephew plays with his toys and sits with his parents. For the final fifteen minutes before he goes to bed, he always wants to sit on his father's lap--only then is he ready to go to sleep for the night.

Having us there this past weekend did not much alter my nephew's daily routine--he simply had more people to play with and to hold him and to make a fuss over him. He had a ball, and so did everyone else.

My father and my brothers and Josh and I would all sit on the living room floor, amongst all the toys, and play with my nephew for two hours at a time. My nephew would go back and forth between toys every few minutes and, when he got bored with his toys, we would push him around the room in his fire truck and we would carry him around the room and carefully swing him through the air, and we would give him horseback rides, always with someone holding him while he sat on one of us. It was a beautiful time, and a beautiful weekend.

My nephew has a very sweet disposition, and he is very good-natured, probably because he has been shown nothing but love and affection since the day he was born.

My nephew is very curious about things. For instance, early on Saturday morning, and again early on Sunday and Monday mornings, he was very curious and noticeably puzzled why both sofas in the living room had been pulled out and transformed into beds (my middle brother slept on one while Josh and I slept on the other; my parents, naturally, occupied the guest room). The living room, of course, is my nephew's main play area, and he knows it well. Inevitably, he could not understand why it had been altered overnight.

My brother and Josh and I tried to explain to him that we had slept there, but I do not think that my nephew was able to comprehend our explanations. We tried to demonstrate to him by sitting and lying on the beds, and then by putting the beds back into their natural states as sofas, but I do not think that we were successful in making him understand why the sofas had been changed into beds and back again. However, we showed him, over and over, how the sofas were pulled out and extended into beds, and then pushed back into sofas again, and he loved watching this process again and again.

My nephew is also very curious about people. When he is in the kitchen, he prefers to sit in his high chair so that he can see what is going on, which he cannot do if he is standing on the kitchen floor. However, in the living room, he prefers to stand or sit on the floor, because he can keep an eye on everyone from the floor in the living room.

Whenever he sees people leave a room, he follows them with his eyes, and then he looks at his mother for an explanation. Generally, she says "They will be right back", and he accepts this explanation and goes back to whatever he was doing. Sometimes, however, he follows the persons leaving the room in order to see what they are up to. This is especially so if he sees them going into the kitchen, which he obviously associates with food and meal times.

On Saturday, Sunday and Monday mornings, my brothers and my father and Josh and I went out for morning walks shortly after breakfast. Each morning we left while my nephew was having his bath, and we did this deliberately so that my nephew would not see his father leave. While my nephew never fusses when his father heads to work each weekday morning at 7:45 a.m., he DOES fuss at other times that my brother leaves the apartment.

On Monday evening, when it was time for us to leave, my nephew probably did not realize that we were leaving him. He just smiled as we held him and kissed him. We, however, were all in pain, knowing that the visit had come to an end and that we would not be seeing my nephew and his parents again until Easter weekend. When we said "Good-Bye" to my brother and sister-in-law and nephew, it was all we could do to keep from crying, because we will miss them so very much between now and Easter. However, my nephew just smiled at us as we departed. Today, he has probably already forgotten that we were there at all.

But I have not forgotten, and neither has anyone else. We were glad that we had the chance to see him and his parents again, and to spend precious time with them, and to enjoy their company and hospitality, and to give them our love.


  1. I am a stranger to you, but a few months ago I read your blog, and I read all about your family trip to Hamburg, Germany. It inspired me to go there and see the same things you wrote about.

    Well, let me tell you, my experience was totally different from yours.

    I hated Hamburg. It was the worst city I have ever visited. The people were nasty, the hotels were poor, the food stunk, and the tourist attractions were all mediocre, if not actually worse than mediocre.

    I hated the churches you talked about. I thought the churches were among the least attractive churches I have seen anywhere.

    I thought that the Kunsthalle, which you raved about, was just about the worst major museum I have ever visited. The permanent collection was awful, one of the worst permanent collections to be seen anywhere. Yes, the Caspar David Friedrich exhibition was outstanding. It was the only thing about the trip I liked in the least. Fourteen giant rooms of works by this great artist, covering all genres and periods . . .Well, that will never happen again, so I am glad I went.

    However, the rest of that museum was bad. I thought all that German Medieval art was not impressive, and I did not think that most of the 19th Century German paintings were special, either.

    The Museum Of Arts And Crafts was awful. It was ten times worse than the Kunsthalle, and I cannot believe I wasted time there.

    That Cleopatra exhibition at the Bucerius Kunst Forum was a joke! I never saw such a pathetic exhibition in my life.

    Baltimore is a better museum city than Hamburg, for Christ's sake.

  2. I agree with you, however, that the Musikhalle is a lovely building and that the opera house has a nice auditorium.

    I went to a Julia Fischer recital and an NDR Symphony Orchestra concert at the Musikhalle. Fischer was OK. I thought that the NDR Orchestra was better than you did. The conductor was Alan Gilbert, and he conducted Smetana, Schumann and Martinu, a composer I see you like very much. He programmed Martinu's Third Symphony.

    I went to a performance of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra at the opera house, and it was the worst performance I have ever seen or heard. The staging was so awful it had to be intentional, and the singing was not good, except for the fellow who sang Boccanegra. I think his name was Albert Dohmel or something like that.

    I also attended a John Neumeier ballet at the opera house. The ballet was "Fenster Zu Mozart", a three-hour examination of Mozart's genius. It was the biggest piece of crap I have ever seen. Even the principal dancers would fail to qualify for the corps in New York.

  3. I also tried the church concerts and organ concerts you talked about, and I did not enjoy them much. They kept interrupting them to read from the bible in German. Also, the people who work at that Saint Michael church are nasty! The way they treat visitors is a disgrace.

    I tried eating at Portuguese restaurants, like you did, and I found them to be very poor.

    Unlike you, I found the bakeries to be poor, too.

    I thought that the Rathaus was not worth a visit, and I also thought that the Museum Of Hamburg History was not worth a visit. How could you possibly have enjoyed those?

    The historical ships and the Russian submarine were not too bad, however, but that Bismarck Denkmal you wrote about was terrible.

    I tried to visit the hotel you stayed at and raved about, and I had to go through security just to get on the elevator to go up to the hotel. Then, upstairs in the hotel, I had to go through security again. Jesus! It was just like an airport.

    I wanted to tell you that I thought Hamburg was a bust, and I will surely not be going back there.

    I just do not understand how you liked it so much.

    I would have posted this back on your Hamburg posts, but it was easier just to post at the beginning of your blog.

    I want to warn people off Hamburg!

    Was that really Ricky Ian Gordon who posted comments on your blog? I have to ask.

  4. Sorry about your trip but, in writing about Hamburg, I was only relating our own experiences there, which were largely positive--and made more enjoyable, no doubt, by the fact that we were traveling together and had lots of enjoyable company.

    Hamburg is no London or Paris or Rome, but it is a beautiful city, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited, because it has so many canals and bridges and parks and excellent buildings. I think that Hamburg must be the Chicago of Europe, because its standard of architecture, from all eras, is so high. It has excellent Medieval buildings, excellent neo-Renaissance buildings, excellent Baroque buildings, excellent neo-Gothic buildings, excellent 19th-Century buildings, and excellent 20th-Century buildings. Much of Hamburg's architecture is in a unique "Hanseatic" style, and I liked that particular architectural style very much.

    I agree with you that the Cleopatra exhibition was nothing special, and I agree with you that the Museum For Arts And Crafts was not particularly good. However, we only visited those venues once, and I DID think that the Museum For Arts And Crafts had a good selection of antiquities from Greece and a superb collection of musical instruments, keyboards and otherwise.

    The permanent collection at the Kunsthalle was not, I thought, well-displayed. Personally, I believe that the permanent collection should be completely rehung. However, I enjoyed the German Medieval art--the Master Bertram works were quite an achievement for their time, and the Master Franck panels were on a very high artistic level, or so I thought. Lots of the great German 19th-Century paintings were in storage or on loan at the time of our visit, but this was because the Friedrich exhibition occupied space usually devoted to the permanent collection. The Kunsthalle had to part with some of its most prized paintings in order itself to be loaned Friedrich works. For example, the Kunsthalle had to send Manet's "Nana" to the Oskar Reinhart Foundation at Winterthur in exchange for Friedrich's "Chalk Cliffs Of Rogen", which was loaned for the very first time ever. Still, there were several rooms of interesting German paintings from the 19th Century, and I especially admired the very famous Leibl painting and the room of works by Liebermann. Personally, I was disappointed that the Kunsthalle only had three works by Edvard Munch on display, since the Kunsthalle owns more Munch works than any other museum in the world. However, we very much enjoyed our time there.

    In visiting churches, we were often lucky. We visited Saint Katharinen and Saint Jacobi and Saint Petri while the buildings were entirely empty, and in each case docents generously showed us around the churches and pointed out all sorts of things to us. We were dumbfounded, for instance, at how much great art resided at Saint Petri: Sassferato, Hugo Van Goes, Hermann Schubert, and other fine artists whose names now escape me. None of this was mentioned in the guidebooks we consulted before our trip. Saint Michaelis was sort of a disappointment because its interior was so plain, but visitors need to keep in mind that these were Protestant churches, with fairly simple interiors, in accordance with the Reformation.

    I did not think that the people in Hamburg were very nice, either. I saw a man in his sixties misbehave, horribly, at the Staatsoper, and I saw a woman in her sixties misbehave, horribly, at the Musikhalle. In both cases, they were berating fellow music-lovers. They reminded me of Nazis.

  5. Sassoferrato, not Sassferato. Hugo Van Der Goes, not Hugo Van Goes. I need to learn to spell!

    I have no idea whether that was really Ricky Ian Gordon. The article from Musical America, in the second comment, was forwarded from an account in the name of one "Jane Moss". I think that someone named Jane Moss is or used to be in charge of guest programming at Avery Fisher Hall, but I may be wrong about that. In any case, whoever it was that commented, I certainly riled him or her up.

  6. At the Kunsthalle, the Italian paintings stunk, the French paintings stunk, the Flemish paintings stunk, the Dutch paintings stunk, and the German paintings stunk.

    Leibl and Liebermann were very, very minor painters, and the room devoted to Liebermann merely reinforced this point.

    There were not five important paintings in all of the Kunsthalle's permanent collection.