Thursday, May 25th.
So, we safely landed on La Guardia. We took a cab ride from the airport to the hotel. If you drive in North Carolina for a few years, getting into NYC traffic is quite a culture shock. It reminds me of the way people in Belgrade drive: fast and aggressive, yet very confident. While in NC everyone expects everyone to follow the traffic rules, thus keeping everyone safe, in big cities like NYC it's all psychology - people watch each other, communicate with each other using eyes, gestures, turning-lights and horns and, second-by-second negotiate who goes where and who goes there first.
After leaving our bags at the hotel (Rennaissance on Times Square - the one with the big clock: our room was right above the clock - you can click on all images to see them large), we went for a little walk around Times Square and then went to Bryant Park to meet my brother and his wife. We got there a little early and they were running a little late, so we had time to stroll around the park, to admire the building of the New York Public Library and the monument to Gertrude Stein that looks like a female Buddha, to eat a pretzel, and to start soaking in the atmosphere of New York.
It was great seeing my brother again after three years. While he was a grad student in Chicago, he used to come and see us every year. When he moved away to Portland, OR, to teach at Reed college, he became poor so he managed to show up only once. Now that he got a tenure-track position in Edmonton, Alberta, he'll be even farther away, but on the other hand, he'll be less poor, so perhaps we'll get to see him more. He is, after all, my kids' favouritest Uncle.
It was even greater to finally meet his wife! After so much time chatting (and becoming friends) over the phone and over e-mail, it was great to finally meet her in person. She is so precious. My brother did well, very well. They are so cute together.
Why did we decide to meet at Bryant Park? Well, there is certainly significance to that place! As we were frolicking on the lawn there, we were watching a courtship dance of a pair of pigeons. Those birds are likely there because their ancestors, decades ago, were well fed and taken care of by the Genius himself - the great Nikola Tesla. He came to Bryant Park every day and fed the pigeons according to a particular menu that he devised. See the picture of the recipe:
I found this wonderful painting of Tesla and his feathered friends:
This is, in part, what the artist wrote about it:
"These Are My Friends is focused on the curious relationship Tesla shared with the pigeons in the parks that surrounded his home in New York. Later in life, particulary in his mid-sixties and on, he could be found frequently alone on walks feeding the birds and spending time near them. He often took injured birds back to heal at the hotel room in which he lived; when he could keep no more birds there, he recruited a local bird shop to help him in his efforts. Under his care, birds recovered from diseased wings, broken legs, and supposedly at least one of gangrene. When he encountered birds he could not treat himself, he would enlist the help of a physician. If for some reason he was unable to visit the park where he most often fed the birds, he would hire a Western Union messenger to take care of the task for him."The painting has been sold, but if you like it you can still get various paraphernalia, like T-shirts and mugs with this image on them.
The place was not the only significant thing about the meeting - it was also the time. The date - May 25th - used to be refered to as Youth Day back in old Yugoslavia. It was officially Tito's birthday. A Baton of Youth was passed from hand to hand, traversing all around Yugoslavia, finally arriving at the Partisan stadium on the evening of May 25th where it was presented to Tito as a birthday present as a finale of a colorful athletic display by young people in unforms of various colors forming various revolutionary images with thousands of their bodies, all of this followed by huge fireworks. All the batons he received over the decades have been deposited in the Museum of 25th Of May in Belgrade (the same place where the few remaining die-hard followers of Milosevic paid their last respect to him a couple of months ago).
So, this was the time for the last exchange of the baton. This whole trip is in a way a 40th birthday present to me - I told everyone not to give me presents but to donate to the travel fund, which they did and made the trip possible. Thus, the Personality Cult of me, Coturnix, is going strong, years after Tito's died out.