Safari in the City

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Most people do not perceive New York City to be haven for nature.  It is assumed that if you are talking about “wildlife” you are referring to one’s after work evening activities, and not the kind walking around on all fours.

Meanwhile, walking for example on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, one might observe that animals are often placed above people.  And not just in politics.

At any given time you will see a number of people out walking with their dogs.  When their masters have discerned a worthy place to deposit their relics, the humans bend over with a baggie to collect it from the sidewalk.  Presumably they throw it out. Once in a wine store, however, I saw a lady on line carrying a full day’s worth.

You will see pets wearing Prada, bows and designer sweaters.  You will see them carried in couture handbags and Baby Bjorns, and when you see a nanny pushing a stroller, check before you compliment her baby.  It may bark at you.

More than once I saw a woman walking her parrot.  She held her arm out rod straight to one side with the parrot perched contentedly on it as though on a branch.

And once in Central Park I was chatting with a nanny whose responsibility it was to orchestrate play dates—for the dogs.

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Nevertheless, as someone raised in the country wilds of “Upstate New York” (the boundaries of which according to native NYC-ers, begin about twenty minutes outside of the city, in Yonkers) I sometimes long to see a more natural version of nature.  And so I pack my camera in my carry-on and fly to where I can hear something other than the subway roar.

The key of course is to come back with a picture proving the “sighting.”  It is not enough to just tell others that you saw such-and-such, you need to show it.

For example, this photo:

Grizzly Resized

The miniature brown dot just left of center is in fact a seven-hundred pound Grizzly Bear, spotted in Yellowstone circa 2011.  He looked slightly larger in real life.


Tourists also come to NYC for sightings, not of animals, but of celebrities.  Only in this case, showing interest is considered gauche and taking pictures even more so; the goal is only to be able to tell about how you saw so-and-so and then point to their picture in People magazine.

Example: Celebrity X walks by.  You act like a native NYC-er and pretend not to notice.  Once he/she has moved by, you turn casually to your companion.

“Do you know who that was?!?”

“Wow, that was X.  She must be in town working on her new show that I just read about in People magazine. She looks so much smaller in real life!”


If I were the name-dropping type, I could mention a few celebrities that I have spotted over the years: how I sold a bottle of wine to Sigourney Weaver on First Avenue, or jogged past Katie Couric in Central Park, or watched Matt Damon and Jim Caviezel filming (separate shows, separate scenes) not far from my apartment.  Or that Richard Gere (first a look-a-like then the real guy) filmed a scene from Arbitrage in the café directly across from my office, or how Madonna lives just a few doors down from that same office, and once I saw her leaning out the window.

Through work, I have met many more, and even chatted casually with royalty—both the Hollywood and the true blue-blood kind.  To be fair, the casualness of our conversation was owing less to my keeping cool and more to my not keeping a television.

Friend: “Do you know who that was?!?”

Me: “Sure, that’s little X’s mom.  She is very nice.”

Friend: “That is X.  As in the X.  I can’t believe she just asked you where the bathroom was!!!  That is just so cool.”


But even I am sometimes swept off my feet and tempted to gawk like a tourist.  Such was the case last week when I passed this guy on the street.

I am too old to have crushes on anyone.  But I were to have a crush, and if that crush were to be a celebrity crush, it would be on him.

I might even be the sort to follow him on Facebook (along with 13.1 million other people) and tenuously link all sorts of random things in order to create a blog post just around seeing him.

Maybe.  He is just that cool.

But I didn’t stop to tie my shoelace and stare, or take out my phone to take a selfie with him in the background.  Instead, I ran to the restaurant where I was meeting my friends for dinner.  “Do you know who it was I just saw?” I asked casually.


Seriously, if you don’t follow Humans of New York (in the Facebook, not the real life stalking sense) you are missing out.  Best photos, best stories, and by miles, best comments.  (Not only will any given post generate half a million likes, even the comments on the post may get 9,811 likes).


A year ago March I went on a real safari in South Africa.  The kind in which you sign a waiver in case you get eaten alive walking about camp, and ride out at unholy hours of the morning in an uncovered jeep to spot rhinoceros and hippos and lions and such.  It was incredible, and to prove it I’ve posted a few pictures below.

At the close of our trip, we spent a final evening back in Capetown, and decided on a “sunset cruise around the cape” which included free champagne.  It sounded elegant and classy and a nice way to enjoy our final views of Africa before flying home in the morning.

In fact, the “cruise” consisted of a small boat and a large contingent of college students who knew that in fact the free champagne was unlimited and took full advantage of that fact; my friend and I; and a pair of gentlemen.  The two gentlemen differed greatly in age and seemed an odd match, but since my friend Alexandra and I had (wrongly) been assumed to be a couple for a good portion of the trip, I tried not to judge.

Eventually we struck up a conversation, as they were the only other sober people on the boat, and were quite friendly (despite being Yankees fans).  They were not of course from New York (despite wearing Yankees hats), but from a country in Latin America.

In fact, said the younger of the two re the older, “He used to be President.”  I began to rethink my sobriety analysis but smiled politely.  The younger man noted my skepticism and persisted, explaining that he was in fact the older gentleman’s bodyguard.  We were invited to come down and visit in style should we ever visit said Latin American country.

A short while later we waved goodbye and tucked his business card away.  Then, a few hours later, on a whim, we googled the name on it.

Sure enough, he was X, former President.  As in the X, who not only ruled the entire country but in doing so made the Top Ten List—of Most Corrupt World Leaders.

True Story.

As promised, a few pictures from safari.  More pics in this post and this one.


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bigger giraffecjlittle lion cub

Alex and Wharthog

For more of Seven Quick Takes, visit Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum.

If you are visiting, welcome! Feel free to leave a comment or email me at gracefedandfreerange at gmail dot com. :-)



3 thoughts on “Safari in the City

  1. I love hearing about all of your adventures! Meeting celebrities and traveling to Africa seem to be part of your daily living. For me, the closest I get to hanging out with celebrities is just hanging out with my kids. Baby Matthew pointed to the baby model on the Pampers box the other day and said very matter-of-factly, “That’s me!”

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