Monday, April 21, 2008

Vacation Slides

Now see here, readers: don't say you weren't warned. There follow nearly sixty pictures from my recent short trip to New York City, accompanied by suitably tedious narrative. Blogs are, by their nature, self-indulgent, and every blog post is a form of wankery, but this one is more so. I am my own audience here, so if you want to whinge about how dull this post is, have to, but don't say I didn't tell you so.

We decided to take the bus to New York this time. In the past, we'd always driven most of the way up, parked at some place in New Jersey, and then taken a New Jersey Transit train into the city. But one of the bus services that's popped up recently has a stop right across the street from my office building, so we can park in my building's garage and take the bus all the way to Penn Station. The picture above is the Post Office on 8th Avenue. I took it from outside Penn Station, on my way to the hotel. Because b&c is a) a creature of habit and b) really, really cheap, we almost always stay at the Ramada New Yorker, on the corner of 34th and 8th. It's undergoing renovations.

In fact, it's been undergoing renovations for the past three years, but we always seem to end up on a floor (the 20th this time; the good thing about being on the 20th floor is that you can take either the 1-20 or the 20-40 elevators) with ugly green carpeting that looks like it's older than Eustace Tilley. Our bed was especially uncomfortable this year, but the room is clean, the shower has power, and the location is great. Having a subway stop on the corner helps you overlook the absence of a comfortable place to sit in the lobby.

We checked in around 3, and we didn't have to be at Lincoln Center until 8, so when b&c asked what I felt like doing, I said that I'd like to go down to Canal Street and see how much of an impact the recent raids had had on counterfeit commerce. It's one of the great disappointments of my life that I've been to New York multiple times, and no one has ever offered to sell me a counterfeit Rolex. Sure, I have the one I got in Italy, but it's not really the same, is it?

Anyway, the last time I was on Canal Street was probably fifteen years ago, so I don't really have much of a comparison point, but I am still sans Rolex. There were plenty of shops with gaudy watches on display, but no guys in trench coats or small Asian women offering to sell me a watch. Do you think it's because I look cheap? I'm not cheap! Heck, I'm willing to go as high as $20 for a fake Rolex. Maybe $40 if it says ROLECKS. Anyway, we wandered around Chinatown and the intersection of Chinatown and Little Italy, and we ate on the sidewalk of some nondescript Italian place that was still serving its lunch special at 4:30. The glass of Chianti was fairly generous, I thought, and my cannoli was tasty.

I did a little shopping for YFU, and we walked around some more. We always spend a lot of time walking around when we're in New York. B&c is mostly, I think, looking at the architecture, and I am mostly looking at the restaurants, bakeries, and food markets. (We both ogle the men.) I was particularly intrigued by the dried oysters in Chinatown, but I didn't buy any.

After a stop back at the hotel to shower and change, we took the subway up to Columbus Circle, where I was once again confronted with my aesthetic failings. I kept looking at the taxicabs and trying to work up some indignation about the change of design, but I truthfully don't mind the new design. I apologize to all the New Yorkers who were traumatized by it, but I just don't see the big deal. They look like taxis to me.

Anyway, b&c headed up to the box office to retrieve our tickets, and, after enduring the line at Starbucks, I joined him. Lincoln Center is having its own renovations. Apparently, the big deal at the Met now is the Met debut of a Philip Glass opera.

We, however, were seeing something by Verdi. Going to the opera, especially in New York, is my version of taking one for the team. I like opera, but I don't especially like going to the opera, especially at the Met. Un Ballo in Maschera is a perfectly pleasant, tightly paced opera that the Met manages to stretch into a three-and-one-half hour ordeal by inserting two thirty-five minute intermissions to allow them to sell drinks. During the first intermission, I shared an elevator with a priest. He argued that the booze was watered down, and I argued that it was overpriced, but we decided that we were both right.

Anyway, the production was very well done, and all of the singers were in very good voice. The tenor was perhaps not able to fully articulate all of the speedier passages, but he had a good tone, and so did everyone else, especially the baritone (Dmitri Hvorostovsky). It is very tedious to go to the opera and be confronted with a principal singer who does not have a lovely voice, and I was spared that. Of course, the flip side to beautiful singing late on a Wednesday evening in April is that it's easy to fall asleep, and I confess to nodding off during the death scene. I mostly blame the Met and the length of the evening for that, but I also think it's funny to have such a well paced opera end with such a loooooong death scene. Shut up and die already, tenor.

When the opera was (finally) over, we were both exhausted, and it was already clear that b&c wasn't feeling well, so we headed back to the hotel and went to sleep. I had wanted to get a relatively early start the next day, but b&c was slow getting going. After breakfast (I have got to stop having big breakfasts when I'm traveling: it cuts down on how much street food I can eat later, and that's a bad, bad thing), we got on the subway, changed lines, and then totally missed our stop, which we somehow thought had a different name because neither of us can, it seems, read a map. Anyway, after getting off the train, taking a train back, walking semi-aimlessly around, and asking a policeman, we finally ended up at the pedestrian entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.

And, you know, NYC has Broadway and the Village and fantastic shopping and lots and lots of gay bars, but if you're there on a glorious day in the spring, there's just really nothing to beat a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

There were a lot of fine looking New Yorkers and tourists crossing the bridge. I was particularly taken with this German lad who appeared to be traveling with his parents and sister. I don't usually lust after tall and youthful Teutons, but I'm pretty sure this guy was over twenty, so why not?

Of course, even after the Giuliani years, there is still a lot of crime in New York, and even on the Brooklyn Bridge, you're likely to stumble across a crime scene.

In this case, the perps were still at the scene of the crime, unrepentant and ready to repeat. It was almost like it was just a job to them.

We got off the bridge and started our trek through Brooklyn. And, hey, it's true: a tree grows there.

B&c had originally suggested that we spend some time in Brooklyn. Of course, he didn't think of any details, it was just, "Let's go to Brooklyn." It was up to me to do some research, so I came up with the idea of walking across the bridge, and -- since he had no specifics in mind -- I came up with a list of places I'd like to visit. They were, unsurprisingly, mostly food places, beginning with Jacques Torres Chocolate.

That's the great thing (one of the great things) about New York: you can walk around for hours for free and then drop major bucks in moments. I didn't, though, drop major bucks at JTC. The little chocolates were $1.25 each, and I only bought four. The fillings were passion fruit ganache, Mexican spice, port wine, and coconut, and they were amazing. They make all the chocolates in the shop, and if you're there at the right time, I reckon you can watch. I could see all the equipment, but it wasn't being used just then.

There was some sort of work being done, so when we got to the gate to the Fulton Ferry State Park, we couldn't enter there.

So we doubled back and used the Main Street entrance. It's a very nice place, and we were there at lunchtime, so a lot of people were wandering in with their lunches to eat and enjoy the sunshine.

Despite my four (tiny) chocolates, I was ready for lunch, or at least a snack, so we walked to the next place on my list, Grimaldi's.

But there was a line, and a sign that said "NO SLICES," and, well, if you can't sell me a slice in Brooklyn, then I can't be bothered to patronize you. We walked in the other direction, towards the ice cream store, and I got a Diet Coke and sat on the deck to drink it. Nice view.

We climbed the hill next to all the Watchtower buildings (apparently, Brooklyn is the world headquarters for the HoJos) to get to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. B&c wanted to take a brief detour through the neighborhood to check out the architecture. I took this next picture at the corner of Willow and Cranberry streets, where there were neither willows nor cranberries.

I whistled "Zombie" for a while, in an attempt to compensate. Then we promenaded.

I sat down on a bench that was already occupied.

B&c was clearly fading by this point, but he kept insisting that he could carry on. So we walked along Remsen Street.

And then down Hicks. For some reason, the fine for honking your horn in most of New York appears to be $350, but here it's a relative bargain at %125.

I still heard more than my fair share of honking, though. I considered making a citizen's arrest, but I wasn't sure I'd get a commission, and, really, 10% of $125 won't buy a lot in New York. Though I suppose I could have gotten another ten chocolates.

We walked down Atlantic Avenue, where I stopped in at Sahadi's.

B&c didn't want to come in, and I could tell he wasn't feeling so well. That was too bad because I'd hoped to buy some provisions here and then picnic in Prospect Park, but it was clear he couldn't hold out, so I didn't take a number. I didn't even buy any spices. B&c did say that he'd like to sit down and get something to drink, and he insisted that he could keep walking for a while, so we walked along the Fulton Street Mall, down to DeKalb St. and Junior's.

I know that Devil's Food Cheesecake is a bad, bad idea, but a lot of bad, bad ideas are both irresistible and fun. B&c had the plain cheesecake, which was probably a better choice. Junior's cheesecake and devil's food cake are both wonderful things, but chocolate and cheesecake really don't belong together. I kept telling myself that as I couldn't stop eating it. Then it was back to the subway. We took the Sixth Avenue line to 34th street and walked back to the hotel. I thought about stopping in at the bar and asking for Cooper.

But I figured he was too busy studying for exams. Besides, his loathing of tourists is well documented, and I didn't want to arouse his wrath. B&c was pretty out of it, so he went to bed for a couple of hours. I checked my email and read for a while, then I took a short nap. Then we showered and dressed. It was still early, and we were hungry, so we took the train down to the Village and had some cheap eats at Risotteria. It was cheaper than usual because b&c wasn't up to sharing a bottle of wine. I don't like to drink alone, and now that I'm an atheist, God no longer counts, so I had some iced tea to go along with my calimari, roasted red pepper, and black olive risotto.

It was delicious. Then it was back in the train to see Avenue Q. I'm probably among the last people to see it, but in case anyone cares, I did think it was a lot of fun. Not so much fun that I didn't notice that there was no there there, but enough fun that I didn't much care. Besides, the actor playing Princeton and Rod was hella cute. All of the actors were terrific. It didn't seem to me that the score was terribly inventive, but the lyrics were fun. Anyway, if you want to know one of the reasons why I don't go to New York more often it's because most of my friends would consider Avenue Q edgy. Over the past few years I've feigned reluctance as I turned down chances to go see The Lion King, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Mamma Mia.

It was back to the hotel and an early night after Avenue Q. I knew that b&c was in bad shape because he wanted to take the subway from 42nd Street to 34th Street. Normally, I have to threaten him to get him on the subway to go from 34th to 59th. The next morning, he said he'd try breakfast, so we went down and ate at the diner next to the restaurant, but then he said he needed to go back to bed. I was so surprised that I headed out without my sunglasses or a plan. I headed back to Brooklyn (which, in case you don't know, is a big, big place), intending to walk around Prospect Park, but I got sidetracked by the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.

And it was such a gorgeous day and such a beautiful place that I spent half the afternoon there.

I enjoy my own company, and there was plenty to look at.

I did eventually leave the Botanic Gardens and head over to the park.

It was very nice there, but I thought it could have used more runners and fewer shirts. After forty-five minutes or so, I was ready to move on. As I was leaving, I saw the John Hus Moravian church. I initially read the sign as "John Husmor Avian Church," which led to some confusion. But, hey, I mostly think religion is for the birds, so why not?

I got back to the hotel at about 4, and b&c was still out of it, so I went downstairs for a salad. Then I decided to walk across town to Kalustyan's.

I should have gone earlier so that I could have spent more time wandering the aisles. I could spend hours there. Anyway, I picked up some spices and some lentils of a variety that I can't get at home.

Then I headed back to the hotel. Along the way, I was struck by some statuary at the Church of the Transfiguration.

Another church had a memorial to the fallen soldiers in Iraq. They're all so young.

B&c managed to get up and dressed so that we could go down to the Village where we had tickets to see the current production of Edward Albee's The American Dream and The Sandbox. Albee recently turned 80 and directed the productions himself. When I heard about them on NPR, I immediately checked to see whether they'd still be running and suggested we get tickets to them. I've wanted to see a production of The American Dream since I read it as a junior in high school, and I was not disappointed. I'd never read The Sandbox, and it was even better. It was really what I most wanted to see in New York.

We'd planned to have dinner after the plays, but b&c was really feeling poorly, so we headed back. I suggested, given his illness, that we take a cab, but even when he seemed like he could barely walk, he was too stubborn to spend an extra five bucks. Oh well.

We were supposed to check out at noon on Saturday. Our bus home wasn't until 4:30, so we normally check our luggage. But b&c was feeling so poorly at breakfast that I told him to ask the desk if they'd let him have the room for another couple hours, and they gave us until 2. So he went to sleep, and I went to Central Park.

I took the wrong train, so I didn't get to spend as long there as I'd have liked, but even ninety minutes in the Park is a treat. I sat by the reservoir for half an hour or so. During that time, I only saw two people who were running clockwise. There's a sign that tells you to run counterclockwise, but I guess they didn't see it. You'd think they'd have noticed that everyone was going the other way, but perhaps they were rugged individualists. One of the two was the guy in the red shirt above. You can determine for yourself whether he looks like a rugged individualist.

Central Park is, of course, huge, and because we generally approach it from the south, I usually only see the lower portion of it. So this time, I entered at 96th street and meandered southwards. Despite my lengthy sit at the reservoir, the next time I came to an exit, I was at 80th street, so I figured I'd just keep going down to 72nd and catch a train back to the hotel there. This was a fine plan, but I reckon I got too caught up looking at all the sunbathers, and when I approached what I thought must be 72nd on Central Park West, I found that I was actually on Fifth Avenue. Oops. But I figured I still had plenty of time, so I started walking south only to find police barricades five or six blocks later. I think they must have been for the Pope. They weren't allowing pedestrians, so I walked back up to 72nd and crossed the park. I was now running late, but I still had time to get the uber touristy shot of the fountain.

I made it back to the hotel at about 1:50. B&c was anxiously waiting. I'd already packed, so I sent him downstairs to check out while I washed up a bit and collected my last things from the room. Then we sat in the downstairs cafe for the next couple of hours. I read some more and catalogued my pictures, and then we headed back to the bus.

Five hours later, we were home. It was a good trip for me, anyway. I feel bad that b&c spent so much of it in bed, but he goes there a lot, and he'll probaby be back there by himself in a month or two. I may have to go for a weekend without him sometime, perhaps if he goes to Jordan for a month later this spring or summer, as he may do. Being in New York doesn't really make me want to live in the city, but it does make me not want to live in the suburbs. It makes me want to live in the country and visit the city on occasion. The country is all about being self-sufficient and having wide open spaces. The city is all about having everything brought in and available within an easy distance. The suburbs attempt to give you both but end up giving you neither. When all is said and done, I'd rather be raising my own vegetables and gathering eggs from my own henhouse than able to walk to a bar or restaurants or, even, Kalustyan's. But the fact that so many people can do neither is very sad and probably unsustainable.


tornwordo said...

Hooray for self indulgence. Looks like you had the perfect weather for the junket too.

Cooper said...

Wow, I can't believe you came to NYC without meeting me, even when you were walking solo in my neighborhood in Bkln! Next time you are without a date, let me know!

Glad you had fun. :)