,,,and that's the least of the story!
It began over two years ago, this meeting of the minds. Somehow our paths crossed in the blogosphere and Gillian and I began corresponding and became friends. With her in Canada and me in France, it wasn't easy to arrange a meeting. So when I planned a trip to Philadelphia to see my daughter, I invited Gillian to meet me in New York.
Gillian had been to Cuba and points beyond, but never to New York. I lived in New York for eight years and welcome any chance to visit. Plans were made and at last the day arrived. Gillian had flown from Toronto the day before, to take in a Broadway play. I arrived the next morning, via an early train from Philadelphia. We met later that morning and went to have coffee/tea and decide our course of action. As Gillian didn't have any preferences, I decided to give her a whirlwind tour - on foot.
We went into Grand Central Station, then walked past the public library and up Sixth Avenue, where Gillian stopped to buy "magic" Obama flags. Later, these would prove useful in pointing out landmarks, deterring would-be pickpockets and retrieving a lost camera. We continued on to Radio City Music Hall, then to Rockefeller Center, where preparations were underway for the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony later that evening.
Crossing the street to Saks Fifth Avenue, we took photos of their holiday vitrines. Then we went into St. Patrick's Cathedral and lit candles for those in need. We walked past the Fifth Avenue stores, oohing and aahing and snapping pictures along the way. At Tiffany's, we showed admirable restraint and didn't buy a thing!
We walked past the Museum of Modern Art, to the Henry Darger exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum. We were both captivated by Darger's Outsider art and talked about what he might have witnessed as a child, to have created such vivid images of children in danger. Darger portrayed a group of children on horseback known as "The Vivian Girls" riding to the rescue of the children in peril.
After lunch at the museum - and a camera lost, then found - we walked past Trump Tower, Bergdorf's and the Plaza Hotel, into Central Park. I showed Gillian the Wollman Ice Skating Rink and pointed out a few landmarks, including a giant rock where I once saw Salvador Dali sitting cross-legged, watching the world go by. That's the wonderful thing about New York: you never know what will happen once you step out your front door. Always an adventure! As we were crossing a bridge, we stopped to take photos. I was snapping the above photo of Gillian when I felt a tap on my shouder.
I turned around and a smiling young woman asked if we would mind witnessing a wedding! Well, who could decline such an opportunity? So we were introduced to the bride and groom, Barry and Barbara. They'd been together for 25 years and were celebrating by getting married! It was a romantic ceremony, with Gillian and me trying to suppress happy tears while snapping photos (me with the bride's camera; Gillian with her own).
After the ceremony, we signed papers as witnesses and were chatting, when a Northern European woman came up and told us she watched the ceremony from the end of the bridge. She said she worked for NASA and that it was a very auspicious day, with lots of light and the planets aligned just so - and that the newlyweds should enjoy a long and happy life together. Well who could argue with what seemed obvious?
Barbara and Barry invited us to join them for champagne at the Plaza and of course we accepted! We agreed to meet in 30 minutes and off Gillian and I went to freshen up and explore the maze of shops in the basement level of the Plaza. I was amazed at how much the Plaza has changed, having had a few afternoon teas at the Palm Court and evening drinks at the famous Oak Bar. Unfortunately, the new design has blocked off space that was formerly wide open, making it seem smaller and less grand. What once was an open reception area has had parts of it altered with mirrored walls. I kept walking into them on our way to the Champagne Bar - and I hadn't yet had any champagne!
The charming newlyweds were waiting for us; we were thrilled to toast their happiness. Turns out Barbara and Barry live in Oxford, England, so it is hoped we'll meet during my next trip to Oxford. They were amazed that Gillian and I had never met in person before that day, as we seemed so relaxed and at ease with each other. We agreed that it seemed as though we'd known each other all our lives.
Later, the newlyweds and their driver drove us to my hotel, en route to their wedding dinner at Chelsea Pier. Gillian and I exchanged presents, then cabbed it to one of my favourite restaurants in Soho. We drank more champagne, talked and ate until late. And before we knew it, it was time to go home. Alas!
As for Gillian, she's a true kindred spirit and I adore her. Gillian is everything I expected her to be and more - beautiful, smart, funny, generous, curious, observant and adventurous, with a blithe spirit. She is a treasure! I'm looking forward to our next meeting - wherever that may be!
Photo of Gillian on the bridge where the wedding was performed, Central Park. Read Gill's account of our day out here.