Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why is the day before a trip always so busy? I try my best to get the errands out of the way earlier in the week, but no matter how hard I try, there's my to-do list, bigger than a post-it.

Curious about the things I did today? I give you...the minutia of my day:

8:45am: wake up
8:46: bathroom
8:47: turn on NPR
8:48: lay in bed, check phone for emails
8:56: look in mirror, wrinkle on right cheek from sleeping on my stomach
9:01: try to motivate
9:15: get dressed
9:16: stuff dirty clothes in bag to take to laundromat
9:20: walk out front door
9:25: put clothes into washer
9:30: walk to D'Espresso, not the greatest coffee but its the best I can do in a 4 block radius
9:34: walk back to laundromat
9:35: sit in laundromat and wait, that show Doctors is on the air, try to watch
9:55: put clothes from washer into dryer, except a pair jeans and wool socks that can't tumble dry, set them on shelf
9:57: walk to library to return books
10:05: wait out front of library with at least 20 other people, even though it's supposed to be open at 10am
10:07: librarian shows up, she's smoking
10:09: walk back over to laundromat
10:10: realize on walk over that the detergent has been leaking and now have it all over purse and sweater
10:11: everything in purse is sticky and smells like laundry
10:12: fold clothes at laundromat
10:15: walk home to drop clothes off
10:16: bathroom
10:17: deal with purse and sweater situation
10:30: go online, send emails, go on Facebook, putter
10:50: decide to work out at lunch, sign up for class online
11:00: check in for flight, print out boarding pass
11:40: head to Bar Method class
11:55: shop for gifts at a bike shop on Lafayette
12:05pm: wander around Banana Republic to try and use birthday coupons, don't find anything
12:20: change into work out clothes
12:30-1:30: Bar Method class, lots of small painful movements called exercise
1:31: stretch
1:35: get changed back into street clothes
1:45: walk over to the Frye store to look at some shoes I've been wanting
1:50: try on boots and sneakers, decide neither are amazing and leave
1:58: walk over to 'Snice on Thompson Street for a lunch
2:10: have a bowl of Gumbo and a small coffee
2:30: walk over to UPS pick-up to get a package that I missed, it's freezing out, try to cover up all skin that is showing
2:45: take 1 train up to 14th Street
2:55: go to O Cafe to get another coffee, which I don't need but I have time to kill
3:30: go to eyebrow appointment
3:55: bathroom
4:00: take F-train downtown to Delancey
4:15: walk over to vegan bakery, Babycakes, to buy gifts
4:20: stop into vintage shop, wander
4:30: stop into another vintage shop, wander
4:55: walk over to laundromat to pick up jeans and socks that I left there this morning
5:00: walk home
5:01: bathroom
5:02: turn on NPR
5:03: wander aimlessly around apartment trying to decide what to do
5:04: realize blood sugar is a little low, eat randomly until it's better: 3 prunes, 1/2 piece matzoh, cottage cheese, cucumber
5:08: go online and purchase Louis C.K. special on his site, it's $5, which is like, nothing, download to watch later
5:10: put laundry away
5:15: put clean sheets on bed
5:20: pack
6:00: talk to my friend Holli who lives in Long Beach
6:45: make lunch to take on plane tomorrow, I never buy food on the plane, never
6:56: bathroom
6:57: take out trash
7:05: take plants upstairs for neighbor to watch while I am away, by watch I mean water
7:20: more packing
8:00: make dinner: tomato soup, salad, toast with goat cheese
8:10: eat dinner and watch Louis C.K. special
8:15: think about best places to run into Louis C.K.
8:20: think about what it would be like to meet Louis C.K.
8:25: wonder how I can work for Louis C.K.
8:30: re-focus, put away Louis C.K. pipe dream
8:50: eat an apple for dessert
9:30: decide to do this blog post

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On the surface.

Buildings aren’t nominated for Emmy awards, but at the corner of Bedford and Grove, in the West Village, there’s one getting so much attention you’d think it has already won. The five-story, brick building is steady and solid with big, pleasant, curving windows. On one side is the quintessential fire-escape, making it quintessentially photogenic. You’ll find it alongside quiet one-way streets, near a school where you can hear kids playing. If you had a bike and were afraid to ride in New York, you would enjoy riding it here.

A week ago I had been across the street, waiting for a leasing agent to arrive. Three months ago I had moved to New York and, still looking for my new home, I was hoping this tree-lined block would be the one. (Looking for real estate in New York involves a lot of crossed fingers.) While waiting for the agent I noticed a steady stream of visitors to the opposite corner. They’d walk up, look around, snap a picture and walk off. Odd I thought. When the agent arrived I asked if he knew what it was. “Oh, yeah, I don’t know. I think it’s where Bob Dylan lived, or something.” His answer seemed iffy, so I pulled out my phone and typed in 90 Bedford Street. There in front of my eyes was the reason: Friends, and a link to Wikipedia. We were standing in front of the exterior location shot of the long-time hit show of the same name. You know the one, I need only say their names to make it all come flooding back: Monica, Ross, Chandler, Rachel, Phoebe and Joey.

The apartment he showed me was as uncharming as Friends was charming. Too dark, too small, too depressing (it was in the basement) and it could be mine for only two thousand dollars. I walked away from the agent with a frown but, still feeling a bit like a tourist myself, my interest was piqued and a week later I went back.

Barreling down the sidewalk, past the corner, came a family, a four top. Speaking rapidly in French, wearing red backpacks and pointing, they craned their necks up and looked around. The father held a giant SLR camera in his hands and, if my High School level French served me right, the mother mentioned she was hungry. Their angular kids shrugged their skinny shoulders. I couldn’t tell if anyone was excited to be there. But then again, non-excitement is the French form of excitement. They wandered back and forth and corner to corner as if in a real world version of Pac-Man. Quick and darting movements. Is that it? Or is that it? I could see them, eyebrows thrown up in question marks. When I glanced over I noticed they were taking pictures of the wrong building.

Sitting on my bench outside The Little Owl, the restaurant that has occupied the ground level at 90 Bedford for the last five years, I watched this same scene unfold ten times in one hour. Couples, families, and tour groups alike. They came to pay homage to their version of television mecca. It’s been seven years since the show last aired but, if one goes by the languages spoken on that corner, the show has hit its syndication stride in France, Germany, Italy and Spain. As the Euros fanned out to their respective corners to take pictures they pointed their cameras up the building, down the block and then they stood in front to capture the moment in a digital memento to take back home; to show around to their real friends.

Friends first aired in 1994 and, over the course of ten years, produced a total of 236 episodes. If we track just one relationship of the group we see it come full circle: Ross wants Rachel. Ross and Rachel date. Ross and Rachel break up. Ross wants Rachel. Ross and Rachel date. And there they’ll remain, frozen in a prehistoric TV stratum for all eternity.

According to an article in The New York Times, the foreign interest in American entertainment has been particularly pronounced in the television industry. In many countries, particularly in Europe, American television shows, once relegated to late night, are being shown in prime time. With this shift in programming has come an increase in the number of hours given over to American programming on the European networks and this number has been increasing year over year, with no signs of downshifting. Sitting here on my corner, I could tell they loved America for our TV, but did it go any deeper?

Out of nowhere a stealth German group walked up, lead by a tour guide wearing a headset, the kind worn by a big pop star singing in a big pop arena. He lead a group of about 25 people that brought to mind a submarine suddenly surfacing for some much-needed air. I tried to follow, hoping to catch an occasional word in English, but it was too fast and too German. They made quick work of this tourist hotspot. They snapped pictures, they moved along.

“Excuse me,” I said to the woman walking past me into the restaurant. Tall and round with ruddy cheeks, she smiled but kept one hand on the opened door, striking a pose that said, don’t take too much of my time. She was wearing clogs so I presumed she was the chef. So, what’s it like to work at this location? “Well, it’s all part of the neighborhood charm, ya know.” So, it doesn’t get old? She repeated that it was fine but when I asked again, with slightly different wording, she gave in to my line of questioning. “Well, yeah, it can get a little boring.” One can’t miss all the cameras pointed at the restaurant, so I asked if she’d ever looked for the photos online. “Nope,” she said. Ok. Thanks. I guess I was also getting a little boring, so I thanked her for her time and promised to come back for dinner.

Despite the prominent New York backdrop the show never filmed in New York. The producers felt that shooting outside made the episodes less funny and so, not a single “Friend” left the sound stages of sunny Los Angeles for the urban grit of New York. Yet somehow, what’s made it into seemingly every European guidebook, is this building, used only for it’s exterior, in the opening scene. Once. Our biggest export of Friends is to entice world travelers to visit New York, to see the outside of a building, a building as meaningless as a square of cement with a stars handprint in it.

The Levin Institute says that many complain that this form of globalization should actually be called Americanization, since the United States is by far the biggest producer of popular culture goods. They go on to say that the U.S. entertainment industry generates more revenue from overseas sales than any other industry. In a world where a show like Friends earns us more money than hard goods, is it any surprise that we still don’t have enough jobs to go around?

Hearing Spanish I jumped up from my wooden bench to chat with a couple from Madrid. I asked them why they had come to see this building. “Ah, well, because we both watch the Friends.” But do you still watch the show? I asked. “Ah, yes, we watch again,” the husband said with the obligatory large camera held aloft in his palm. “We enjoy doing together,” his cute wife added, sportily clad in yellow jeans, navy puffy jacket and scarf. They asked me questions, my being “from New York” I instantly became the local expert. I pointed up to the top of the building mentioning that it was just used for the exterior. “Ah,” they said. “So, just uh, façade?” the husband added moving one flattened hand up and down. Yes, I said. The façade. Are you visiting any other locations? Places like this? I asked. “Ah, yes, we go to Tiffanys,” replied the wife, looking at me with that blue box glow in her eyes, “And to see Marilyn,” she said billowing her hands like a pretend skirt blowing up and out from her hips, “At Times Square. You know?” Oh yes, I know.

We stood there smiling for a second longer. I had run out of Friends trivia and they had run out of English. I wondered if they felt about Friends like I did, like they were family. I was 23 when the show first aired, it was almost like we had grown up together. But what did it mean to the Europeans? Was it a show about New York? These were questions I didn’t know how to ask. Before we said adios they asked me to take their picture. I crossed the street to another corner so I could get far enough away, panned up so that the whole building fit in the frame and said quietly to myself, Cheese.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Winter reading list.

I have one whole month to read anything I want which gives me a strange sense of freedom. Here's the list of books I'm hoping to get to:

1. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano
2. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
3. The Master by Colm Toibin
4. The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
5. Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan
6. The latest issues of GrantaPloughshares

I'm only missing two of the books, thanks to the awesome street vendors on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. Hopefully the library will come through with the other two. Like to read? Let's connect on Goodreads.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Breaking into Etsy.

Last week I lamented to a few friends about how I wasn't invited to any holiday parties. No real job means no company holiday parties to dress up for, and I guess I'm still settling in to a whole new city and making new friends. I know, cry me a river, it's not exactly a big problem to complain about.

But then there was Thursday. I started the evening at the 42nd Street library, with Wells Tower and John Jeremiah Sullivan, to talk about Pulphead, Sullivan's new collection of essays. The room was packed with hipsters in heavy plastic framed eyeglasses, beards and cardigans. As Sullivan sipped on a small glass of whiskey the two authors, who had never met, even though they live in the same city, quickly dispensed with small talk. Wells started by saying something very funny like, when I read the galleys to your book I wanted to throw up with jealousy. I loved hearing such an admission from an author I admire, even more satisfying to know that writers of all levels feel the same type of envy slash insecurity. In an answer about how he puts together his profiles, Sullivan replied that when he gets home from a long reporting trip he tries to re-inhabit the experience, saying that he can't just look at his notes, "my notebook is full, but I'm distanced from it." I was grateful to Wells for digging into questions about the nuts and bolts of Sullivans craft. You'd think a well-respected writer wouldn't ask such touristy questions. They even talked about John McPhee, a long time favorite of mine, turns out he's also a favorite of Sullivans. He mentioned an interview he read of McPhee's, about how the writer organizes the immense amount of research he pulls together to write his stories. I can't find it online, but looks like you can order it here.

As the interview came to a close, I turned to Blyth to ask what we should do for dinner, slightly daunted by the thought of another restaurant quest in Midtown. "Well, we can go to the Etsy holiday party." Did she just say holiday party? And off we went, taking the F train from Bryant Park to York Street in Dumbo. Seeya Midtown.

Taking the elevator up to the 5th floor we were silent. I wondered if the party would be fun. If there would be food. If there would be any single guys. Walking into the unlocked office we saw a smattering of folks dressed up in cocktail attire. In the kitchen there were a few empty bags of pretzels and plastic tubs of red vines. No music, just some talking. "This can't be it," I said to Blyth. "Yeah, no way this is it," she replied. Making our way back out the doors we walked towards two people entering a freight elevator. "Hey, where's the party?" we said. "Follow us," they said. I felt a little Alice in Wonderlandish following them into the big rectangular box.

The elevator doors opened onto a cavernous, bare, cement room. No furniture, just candy-colored dresses, boys in argyle, a photo booth and a tall tree with wrapped presents piled underneath. We threw our coats onto chairs in a darkened corner and made a straight line for the food. The Brooklyn meets Etsy menu did not disappoint: fancy hot dogs, wasabi potato salad (tangy with a nice crunch of celery), purple cabbage cole slaw, mini cupcakes and cheap wine. Thankfully after "dinner" we ran into the friends that had invited Blyth and we no longer looked like party crashers.

The music was so loud we almost couldn't talk, but it was good. The DJ was spinning perfect shake your booty hits: the kind of music that seduces you onto the dance floor. Poison came on, by Bel Biv DeVo, and we took one look at each other, "Should we go dance?" Blyth asked. "Yes." Dropping our purses we moved to the edge of the dance floor and began to bend, shake and move. The holiday party photographer took our picture and I wondered if I could get a copy.

As the night progressed, faces becoming more familiar, sweat covered brows becoming more normal and a dance circle formed (the sign of all good parties). Blyth turned and handed me a paperback she had picked up off a table. It was a biography of Dennis Quaid published in 1988. (You can find it on Amazon, there's one new copy for $256 or several used for .42 cents.) The cover claims that it's "the first inside look at America's Newest Hearthrob." Smiling at the find I stuffed it into my back pocket and kept dancing.

When the DJ threw on the song Shout I knew it was time to go and, saying our sweaty goodbyes, we wandered out of the circle. It was definitely one of the best holiday parties I've been to (thank you Etsy), and it was a perfect way to get rid of my holiday blues. Blyth walked with me over to the York Street station, we hugged goodbye and me and my new book about Dennis Quaid took the F train home.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Celebs, they're just like (us) me.

<Superficial blog post alert>
I've been meaning to start a list of all of my celeb sightings, before I forget them! Here goes:

Chuck Close, on W. 12th Street (with his wife, I think and their dog).
Naomi Watts, with her two very blond kids, in the park on Spring Street in Soho.
Gary Shteyngart, sitting next to me on a bench in Tomkins Square.
Morgan Freeman, in a car on Rivington Street, filming a movie.
Alan Rickman, walking on Broadway in Soho. I heard his voice first, of course, then confirmed with a glance followed by a double take.
Thurston Moore, at La Colombe in Soho
Andrew Shue (Melrose Place!) walking on Spring Street
Daniel Day Lewis, walking in SoHo on Prince Street
Kyra Sedgewick, in my Bar Method class
Blake Lively, Penn Badgley & Chase Crawford, filming an episode of Gossip Girl, one block from my apartment!
Dylan McDermott, in Soho at midnight
Lisa Bonet, on Prince Street in Soho (Wearing silver lipstick, a jingle jangley vest and walking with a tall, gorgeous man I wanted to steal.)
David Byrne, sitting in front of me at a show at the NYPL
Gabriel Byrne, walking & smoking, late at night in Soho on West Broadway
Elvis Costello, maybe–I'm 70% sure, getting soup at the Whole Food on Houston
Josh Charles (The Good Wife) buying household whathaveyou at Bed, Bath & Beyond on 6th Ave
Katie Couric, in the bathroom at Jean Georges
Hope Davis, walking in Soho
John Malkovich, walking in Soho
Matthew Modine, in the audience at a Times Talk interview with Gary Oldman
Parker Posey, with her fluffy white dog at O Cafe, 6th Ave and W 12th
Roseanna Arquette, in my Bar Method class

Have I forgotten anyone?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A little slice of Japan. In Midtown.

Tuesday evening I attended Live at the NYPL to hear three musicians turned novelists: Steve Earle, Josh Ritter and Wesley Stace, better known as John Wesley Harding. Sitting in the second row I was close enough to see what their shoes looked like and what they were drinking. Josh drank water. Wesley drank wine and Steve alternated between a Diet Coke and water. The three men are as different musically as their writing is, or rather seems to be. I haven't read any of their novels yet, maybe over Winter break? I'm always interested in how people write, how they actually tackle a daunting task like stringing together enough words to fill up a novel. They talked about their transition from writing songs to writing books, which I hadn't really thought about till that night. A song, they all concurred, was a bit like a mini-novel. These guys just decided it was time to take a song a little further.

Are you ready for the reading list?
Steve Earle I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive
Wesley Stace Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer
Josh Ritter's Bright's Passage

After the event my friend Blyth and I went off in search of dinner possibilities. In Midtown Manhattan that's no easy feat. You have to be sure to avoid Times Square, steer clear of tourist traps and sidestep the trashy happy hour bar scenes. What are two healthy, downward dog leaning girls from California supposed to do? One push of an app and I found dozens of Japanese restaurants nearby. Pointing to my top choice I showed the screen to Blyth. "Um, that's like the most expensive Japanese restaurant in the city," she said. With a crinkle of my nose and a "Hmmm," she followed it up with this little tidbit, "They actually measure the inside of your mouth to determine how big to make the sushi." Measuring my mouth? When can we go?

Wandering in the rain, up Park Avenue, down Madison, over 46th, down 45th, no luck hooking the first fish. Moving to the next one on the list we made our way, successfully, over to Hatsuhana on East 48th Street. Walking in the door we were greeted by an Asian man with a walkee-talkee. "Two for dinner," I said. With a radio message up to an invisible man, we were quickly escorted upstairs and shown to a table, not too far from a long, nice looking sushi counter.

You ever look at a menu and wish that you were still a kid and someone else would order for you? I do. All the time. Sadly I would have to work my way through the six pages of plastic, hoping for the best. Ten minutes later, Blyth and I were still turning the pages back and forth, weighing the options of getting a mysterious "chef's choice" dinner or going out on our own. Finally, orders in, wine in front of us, we could relax.

Twisting around in my chair I took a closer look at the chefs. There were five men behind the sushi desk, all eager to be put to work cupping rice and slicing fish. The man closest to me had a headband on along with Dad glasses. You know the kind: black plastic frames–oblong ovally things that looked more at home in a polaroid. He wore his glasses connected to his head, with a Croakie which made me imagine them playing basketball, in some king of Harlem Globetrotters vs Men of Sushi face-off. If only.

The food arrived and it was delicious. Nothing earth shattering, just very good. Fresh fish, nice portions and well put together. My only complaint was their hand roll. It looked like a lost roll from someone else's plate. Not the hand rolls I'm used to in Califonia. But that's ok, I can handle change.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Shame: An exercise in voyeurism.

Sitting in the dark movie theatre, watching the overly easy on the eyes actor, Michael Fassbender, I felt a bit like I had accidentally entered an art-house porn, if such a thing exists. The movie Shame, starts with Fassbender in bed, getting out of bed (nude), going to the bathroom, peeing (we see him from behind), hiring a call girl, paying her, getting back into bed and then noises of them having sex. The movie continues in this unrelenting pursuit of sex and watching sex with brief periods of wearing clothes, sitting on the subway (staring at women) and going into an office to do some unnamed high-tech work that doesn't involve a computer. A third of the way into the film we meet Sissy, naked in the shower. Played by Carey Mulligan, Sissy is his self-abusive, messed up little sister. She doesn't lighten the mood one bit and by the end you're just begging to get out of there. To get out of their destructive world. To not watch those two interact for one more second.

There were two things I liked about this movie: the first I've already mentioned. Fassbender is extremely attractive, with a body that could have inspired Michelangelo's David. The second thing is the moody and sultry New York, as directed by artist Steve McQueen. I can watch both of these subjects for hours. What I didn't like was the lack of story. We started in one place and, for the most part, ended up in that same place two hours later. Perhaps we didn't, maybe I'm staying too on the surface here, but since all the dialogue was trapped in Fassbender's head we'll never know.

Leaving the theatre, I overheard several conversations along these lines:
"Wow, I didn't expect it to be, like, all about sex."
"Yeah, I know. It's the only thing that happened."
"It was kind of uncomfortable watching all that sex."
"Um, so did anything happen in there?"

Next time I think I'll go see The Muppets.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Things I Wish I Had Packed.

When I closed up my San Francisco apartment I had five years of stuff to collate. I had to decide what to bring with me for two years in New York and I had to decide what to put into storage. An unenviable task for sure. Now, four and a half months later, I think I have a good idea of where I want wrong. So, here goes, a list of things I wish I had brought with me:

1. All of my cooking spices (my apartment has none). I brought with me one single jar of seasoning, my favorite salt, I call it bacon salt. There's no real bacon inside but the smokey flavor makes you think it's there. I've since bought cayenne and salt but man, those little shakers are missed.

2. My red Le Creuset teapot (my apartment has none). I'm tired of heating up water, one mug at a time.

3. My blankets and sheets. Oh how I miss my high-thread count sheets from Frette. The selection at Bed, Bath & Beyond does not compare.

4. My plants. I know I couldn't have brought them, but I miss them. I wonder if they miss me?

5. A plastic kitchen thing that chops up a hard-boiled egg perfectly for egg salad. The fork and knife method is nowhere near as fun.

Five things I wish I had brought. Not too bad. Stay tuned for more.

Celebrating Poet Paul Violi.

I walked into the medium-sized room, with dozens of red chairs facing West 13th Street. Looking around, I wondered who I might see. Fellow students but more importantly poets. Real live I-get-paid-to-write poets. We were here for a tribute to Paul Violi, poet and professor at The New School. Until that night I was unfamiliar with his work. But after two hours of listening to his poems, read by big names in the poetry world, I was smitten. Smitten with his laugh out loud humor and dexterity with language. How many poets can get you to laugh out loud? He certainly had a way with the mundane, twisting and turning it, into something else.

Sitting in that room, listening to the voices of writers I had only read, I felt like I was invited into the inner circle of a writers club. It was a heady club: Poet Laureate Billy Collins, Charles North, novelist Paul Auster, Star Black, Ron Padgett, David Lehman, Robert Polito, George Green, David Shapiro, Robert Hershon and on and on and on. (Take time to go through those names, they all link to a bit of their work.)

What a night.
What a tribute.
Here's a link to the NY Times story.

I'll end with a poem:

Appeal to the Grammarians
by Paul Violi

We, the naturally hopeful,
Need a simple sign
For the myriad ways we're capsized.
We who love precise language
Need a finer way to convey
Disappointment and perplexity.
For speechlessness and all its inflections,
For up-ended expectations,
For every time we're ambushed
By trivial or stupefying irony,
For pure incredulity, we need
The inverted exclamation point.
For the dropped smile, the limp handshake,
For whoever has just unwrapped a dumb gift
Or taken the first sip of a flat beer,
Or felt love or pond ice
Give way underfoot, we deserve it.
We need it for the air pocket, the scratch shot,
The child whose ball doesn't bounce back,
The flat tire at journey's outset,
The odyssey that ends up in Weehawken.
But mainly because I need it—here and now
As I sit outside the Caffe Reggio
Staring at my espresso and cannoli
After this middle-aged couple
Came strolling by and he suddenly
Veered and sneezed all over my table
And she said to him, "See, that's why
I don't like to eat outside."

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Critic as Artist.

Surrounded by black sweatered people, wild haired with thick framed glasses, a sea of New York critics, I made my way to the front of Tishman Auditorium. Hosted by the International Association of Art Critics, we were there to hear Peter Schjeldahl, the art critic for The New Yorker, lecture on the job of an art critic. I've been reading Schjeldahl since he began at The New Yorker, of course, I'm paying much more attention to his writing now that we share a hometown. Schjeldahl puts together sentences worth underlining. What I didn't expect, I mean, far, far from expect, was his dry, funny sense of humor. He made me want to spend time with him, smoking, even though I don't smoke, over a glass of whisky and talking about art and writing. He began his talk by saying he would keep it short, or as he said, "in the words of an old preacher, no soul saved after twenty minutes." Moving quickly through his promised short lecture, I jotted down as many things as I could. I don't think I can string them together into a clear piece, so I'll just include a few of the things he said that made me smile, or just hit home.

About reading a critics work:
"They operate in the flashing presence and when in the past read as outdated." I've actually been reading quite a bit of historical criticism, Pauline Kael, Leslie Fiedler, etc. and this definitely rings true.

On his job as a staff writer for The New Yorker:
"To hear me complain (about working for The New Yorker), you would have to have the ears of Superman and to concentrate. Until you die." Who doesn't want to work for The New Yorker, okay, maybe not everyone, but if there was a line to get a job at the magazine, and there was one of those deli ticket machines, I would be in the front grabbing every single number I could stuff in my hands.

On the craft of writing:
It takes me three days to get a sentence I like. The first paragraph is rewritten thirty times and the last paragraph is written once.

On what to do with your life, how to pick a career:
"Jasper Johns once said, find out what people like about you and exaggerate it."

On his education:
"Everything learned about art I learned on deadline."

Sitting in the audience I looked up towards Schjeldahl and thought, damn you have it good. And, I also thought, damn, you deserve it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Parsley Principle.

I spent Wednesday evening with Nigella Lawson and Adam Gopnick. It wasn't just the three of us. It was the three of us, and another couple hundred at the 92Y. There to talk about woman and food (um, hello?) I got the pleasure of hearing the two in conversation. More Nigella than Adam it was a fun, if not fully fulfilling conversation. One of the highlights was something called the Parsley Principle. Adam Gopnick mentioned this in talking about one of Nigella's latest books, a book where she had to state *exactly how much parsley was required for a recipe. As an aside, this specificity was only required for the American version. God we are nitpicky. Anyways, Adam then brought up how we're always forced to buy FAR more parsley then we can ever use and that this was how big business is made, making us buy more than we need. I thought I would take five minutes to see if I could come up with more things just like this. Here goes:

1. Shampoo (Why must these always be gigantic?)
2. Cable TV (You can't *just get HBO.)
3. Gym Memberships (You can't just go for one month.)
4. Spices
5. Nail Polish Remover

Well, that's as far as I got, I'm sure there are more. I'll come back to this list later.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A New Station.

I recently moved. Along with the pains and sufferings of moving away from my favorite coffee place, it also meant a change to my subway station. No big deal I thought. I've got these trains down. Little did I know. Little do I know. My new station, Delancey, home of the F, M, J and Z, is convoluted, crowded and cruddy. I don't like it. I have yet to clearly know which track is which. Which direction, which train is running, where the heck is Jamaica? There's one level for the J, M and Z and one track below that is the F. I take the F most of the time so it shouldn't really be a problem. But it is. I still find myself down there waiting for a train–in the wrong direction. My body falls into patterns and my brain forgets to overrule these patterns. I stand there, my body thinks it's going to school so I'm waiting for an Uptown train. I don't figure out I'm headed in the wrong direction until I hear the driver announce the next stop. That's when my brain kicks in and hurls me off the train and I scurry up and over to the Brooklyn side. Unless of course I need to go Uptown, in which case, everything is ok.

Getting on the right car (in the right train) is a whole nother bowl of difficult. In New York trains are so long that if you're not careful you'll get off at 17th Street when you really just need to be at 14th Street. I want to be in the right car but it means I need to know which way is the front. As a subway newbie, perhaps getting in the right car is an added layer of complexity that I don't need.

In addition to wanting to be in the right car for  my destination, I also like to exit the station so I'm closest to my house. This I have yet to accomplish. Why? Because when I go underground from the spot I'd like to come back up at, I'm taken down to the J, M, Z track. Once in I have to walk from one platform then down another level to take the F. So how do I get back up in that same way? I look at the signs, try to fix it in my brain but I haven't figured it out yet. I know my problems are in large part due to the cryptic signage that the MTA has posted around the station. Their inconsistent use of Downtown Brooklyn and Uptown leads me to be just as inconsistent with how I exit the station. It's my own little version of No Exit.

I have faith I'll figure it out, maybe in another three months?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Jean Georges (with a side of Katie Couric).

Tuna tartare at Nougatine. Spoiled from all future dishes of the same name.

Let me set the stage. Trump tower, gleaming gold high rise at 1 Central Park West. I'm in the bathroom washing up before I go to lunch with my friend Tory. The bathroom is far from what you might expect, either in this towering tower, in something owned by "the Trump" or, last but not least, the only Ladies room for a restaurant with three Michelin stars. Ok. So I'm in the bathroom. And so is Tory, along with one other woman who has just scooted into the one and only stall. We're moving around slowly and carefully like goldfish in the tiniest of glass bowls. The door opens and in comes a small, well-dressed woman. She asks us if we're in line, a totally logical question on entry to a bathroom. Eyes downcast, like all good New Yorkers who have seen everything, Tory says something along the lines of no and she exits the room. At that point I take a close look at the woman who's just joined me in this tiny closet. It's Katie Couric. She smiles at me, her eyes simultaneously crinkling and twinkling. Her chestnut hair has that just blown flip. We trade positions and I grab my coat and jacket and as Katie (excuse me, you don't mind the first name do you?), Katie tries the door handle to the stall. I'm standing like two inches from her and say the only possible response, "There's someone in there." "Oh," Katie says, looking right at me, dazzling me with her "I'm on TV everyday" star persona, "Thank you for letting me know." We smile and I turn and leave.

Now, how can a lunch following on the heels of Katie, a meal at Jean Georges' restaurant Nougatine, how could it possibly be bad? Granted we had a slightly rocky start with our service (as in, we had none for the first ten minutes) but after that, it was phenomenal. I had Tuna Tartare (shown above), a pan roasted skate on cauliflower and the warm chocolate cake (shown below). It's a $32 prix fix that will blow you away. Sure it's been around for years, sure we were surrounded by a businessy Upper West Sidey clientele, but the food was delicious and I savored every bite. Wrapping up the meal, sorry to see my third course come to its finale, I glanced out the windows. On that unseasonably warm day I could see Central Park, the trees changing colors, leaves gliding down to the sidewalk. I could feel New York welcoming me with all its might. Katie, I'll be back. Will you?

Obligatory chocolate dessert. I wished I had ordered the other, but yeah, this was really good.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jim Henson's Fantastic World.

I went out to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens on Sunday to see a childhood hero of mine: Jim Henson. I knew, when I first read about the show, that I wanted to see it but I don't think I quite realized how much I would remember, how many memories would come flooding back or how big I would smile. Fifteen of his iconic puppets are on display: Kermit, Miss Piggy, Bert & Ernie, Big Bird, the whole gang is there as well as countless drawings from Hensons career, vintage commercials he did, pre-Muppets sketches, you name it. The only missing piece would be if we could have rubbed their fleecy fur and hold their hands. Who doesn't want to take a picture sitting next to Kermit on that log? The crowd, no surprise, was mostly adults but I saw one little girl walking around with her own Kermit from home, her hand inside his body, just like Jim Henson did to operate Kermits features. Walking among the fuzzy and furry characters took me back in time. I could have sat for hours in those bright colored mini beanbags watching old clips of The Muppets, Fraggle Rock and Sesame Street. Thanks Jim.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Apartment hunting.

The view from my new apartment. Move in Nov 1st!

I've been in Manhattan for three months and in that time I've lived in two places, soon to be three. I started off on a friends couch in Brooklyn Heights. An adorable, easy, pretty neighborhood that almost made me want to stay put. But I wanted to live in Manhattan so I hit Craigslist and I hit the streets. After seeing 13 apartments all over downtown I settled on a place in the Lower East Side. It was a 2-bedroom apartment I would be sharing with an actress. I loved the apartment and my new roommate, my first roommate in over five years. Could I live with someone again? I hoped so. I had a view from my room. I had sun. I had space. I felt lucky and blessed.

This feeling only lasted two months. Sadly I have to move. On October 1st I found out I had to either pay more rent or move. So, I've spent the last three weeks pounding the pavement and trolling Craiglist. I ran from neighborhood to neighborhood. I was on time and I was late. I was depressed, angry, sad and most of all, anxious. Would I find something I liked just as much? Would I find something with as much space? Would I find anything at all? Would I be homeless? Well, after seeing 12 apartments I'm happy to report that I found just the right place (view above). On November 1st I will be moving to a new home. My new home for the next year. No roommates! (insert image of me jumping up for joy.)

Learning new things.

In New York City, with a population of 8,175,133 people, it's no surprise that I'm learning a few new tricks. These have come from people I know, strangers on subway platforms and new friends. Here are just a few of the 'how to survive in NYC' facts I've learned:

1. On even Avenues the traffic is going Uptown. This is only true on the West side-fyi. Conversely the odd streets are going downtown. I just learned this last week. A very helpful little factoid when you're trying to get a cab going the right way.

2. On even Streets the traffic goes East. Conversely the odd streets go West. The grid system was put into place in 1811, to unite regularity and order, and has undergone very little change since that original plan. There's more to learn here, maybe this book?

3. I hop on the F-train at the East Broadway station most days and it was just pointed out to me that the Uptown train, when it's about to arrive, is preceded by wind. I always noticed the wind but what I didn't realize was that the Brooklyn bound track side doesn't have the wind, it's preceded by a screechy sound. Total truth.

4. Yesterday I was wondering what people do with their A/C units in the winter. Leave em in. Take em out. No idea. Well, apparently there are companies who will come to your house, yank the unit, take it back to their shop, refurbish it, store it for the winter and then, when you're ready, come on out with it and pop it back in. Can you believe it? I can. And I can't. You gotta love New York.

5. When your Metro card is low the turnstile makes a beeping sound, a different beep than when it's just confirming that it's subtracting your fare. I never would have picked this up.

6. I have been dropping my clothes off at the Chinese laundromat down the street. What I didn't know is that once they get to know you you can call and have them pick up. And deliver. Wow.

Well, these are just a start. I've only been here three months, let's see what I find out in the next three.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Author's Eating.

Walking into Superfine I was disoriented and thrown off balance. Perhaps it was the change in sounds. I had just been sitting underneath the Manhattan Bridge, with its subway-car clanging cacophony to inside the Muzak filled restaurant. Only it's not Muzak. It's Beck. Early Beck. "What's with the early 90's music," Mike asked. "I know, it's like I'm in a hipster version of TGIFridays." To add to my disorientation the restaurant had seemingly endless levels and ramps, a multitude of tables to sit at, each with a different set of chairs and an empty fullness that reminded me of the bleachers at a friday night basketball game at my losing high school. The waiter pointed out at least six different tables we could sit at, none of them looked just right and when I asked to sit at one I do like he said, "No, not that one."

Sitting across from the seminal* writer, Mike S., I was a bit tongue tied. I didn't know where to start, what to say first, what to share, or in my case, overshare. We hadn't seen each other in a few years and we hadn't lived in the same town in at least ten years, probably more. I'm getting to an age where years fly by like minutes and keeping track of them is a losing battle so I'm going to let the accounting sit at ten years.

Before we rushed to fill the void with catch up banter we decided to look at the menu and get our order in. In further TGIFridayness the menu is done on a white dry-erase board with the days specials, about twelve choices in total--they read like an outdated cafe menu in a small midwest town. You know what I'm talking' about: chicken panini, portobello sandwich (for the vegetarian of course), grilled steak sandwich, fusili pasta and a garden salad. In a city dense with 5-star restaurants Zagat'd, Yelp'd and Michelen'd up the ying yang it's a wonder this place even exists: a comfortable place with semi-decent bar food in a hipster Brooklyn enclave underneath two bridges.

I'm here to see Mike--first up in my "Author's Eating" series (Thank you Mike) where I break bread with a writer, ask some questions and learn a little something about them. It's a writer meets food meltdown. Mike requested not to be featured as my first sandwich, claiming that he's not actually "published" but I say phooey to that flim-flam. But to honor his request, let's consider this a beta edible post.

Reminiscing about old friends, past apartments and new jobs we quickly lost track of time. When our lunches showed up we took a moment to lift food to mouth. Mike's plate had a tangled mound of softly browned, long skinny fries sitting next to a chicken sandwich--chicken nestled into a plain white italian roll. I hoped there was something else between those slices but my critical eye forgot to tell my sarcastic mouth to ask.

Looking down I noticed my tomato soup and garden salad. The soup looked good--I tasted it. It was vegan, almost, which meant it was boring, almost. Almost save for a raft of gorgonzola floating on the top. It tasted like fresh tomato sauce. From a can. The salad fared better to my taste buds. I quickly forked up a bite of the farm fresh greens and was greeted with just the right touch of lemon, olive oil and s & p. It was so good but so small, I wanted to order three more plates.

And we're back to Mike. He's telling me about his eighteen-month son Cole. It's a not so complicated, adorable story whose punchline is that now Cole points to a darkened TV and asks "Tennis?" along with a hand motion Mike taught him, as if he's batting a ball back and forth and a soft little "Pshew" escaping his little kid lips.

"So, tell me about your biggest tagline," I asked Mike, who works for a fancy nameless agency nearby. "Oh, well, that was something I did with my favorite Brazilian Creative Director. A tag that included absolutely no copy. Just a heart. An equals sign. And a soccer ball. It was for Puma during World Cup. "I like," I said.

Trying hard to eat my lunch slow, one leaf at a time, I tried to stretch out my meal, but soon I'm done while Mike delicately finished his sandwich, squeezing it gently, lest the chicken slide out, between thumb and forefingers, pinky finger up. Looking at him, looking at his plate, he spins the plate so the fries point towards me. "Want some?" Of course I do. They're not good but I'm still hungry and they're fries. You don't argue with fries.

Wrapping up our lunch I'd like to close out this beta issue of Author's Eating with my ratings:
Conversation: 9
Company: 10
Food: 4.5
Atmosphere: 5
Writers Craft: 2 (I need to ask more questions next time)

Thanks for joining me Mike.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Friday art walk.

Art filled day: Daphne Guiness at FIT, Richard Serra steel and translucent architectural models.

Last friday I had a much needed art day with a good friend visiting from San Francisco. Our first stop was for sustenance, aka a big fat breakfast. We shared the blueberry pancakes and farmers eggs with roasted tomatoes at Clinton Street Bakery. The sun-filled restaurant was a wonderful way to start the day. And yeah, those pancakes were pretty damn good. Light and fluffy, not dense, covered and filled with blueberries. I almost couldn't stop myself from finishing them. Their baked goods looked amazing, worth a trip back I'm sure.

Filled up and happy we walked over to FIT to see the Daphne Guinness show. Selected for her status as a both a muse and a fashion icon, FIT displayed her clothes in a museum setting, arranging her collection into several thematic ranges: dandyism, armor, chic, exoticism, and sparkly. The show didn't wow me like the Alexander McQueen show at the Met, but it certainly was nice to wander around and get close to the clothes without throngs of other people jostling me for position. One nice element was that you could walk all the way around the mannequins, so you could see the backs of the dresses, albeit through a scrim. I always hope for more content from a museum exhibition: when was the dress purchased, what did it cost, where did Guinness wear it, etc. In the end, I walked away having pretend shopped through her wardrobe but not really getting much sense for who Guinness is and why she selects and wears what she does. Anyway, the show is free and definitely worth an hour of your time.

From there we headed to Chelsea to see two more shows: Richard Serra at Gagosian and Do Ho Suh at Lehmann Maupin. I can't really say much about Richard Serra that you don't already know. His art takes over a room, it could take over a field. I like looking at his sculptures, I like sneaking my hand to brush the metal when I walk past it. I like the color, the warm and glowing rusty orange, glowing like fire but cool to the touch. In this show you can walk in and around, out and about, a series of arcs that have inner walkways that you can lose yourself in. I stumbled on an art student (probably) sitting on the floor and sketching with charcoal. I wouldn't have minded a little picnic down there between the metal sheets.

From Gagosian we headed over to see an exhibit of Korean sculptor, Do Ho Suh, at Lehmann Maupin Gallery. His work is about home and identity, a confusing state for a Korean living in Providence. One piece, Home Within Home, shows his house from Korea dropped in by a parachute and rammed into his home in Providence. Both homes have been replicated in exacting detail. They aren't miniatures, maybe one step up from that, mediumtures. The refrigerator is sliced on the diagonal and shown, split open, with half of everything. Half a lettuce, half a bottle of wine, half a turkey.

Also on display is another version of Home Within Home, this time made from translucent resin. The two homes have been merged together, formed and then split into four quadrants (as shown in the picture above). My favorite show of the three, it's closing on October 22nd, blink and it will be gone.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The wallpaper of my youth.

Growing up I lived in a stucco-covered townhouse in the San Fernando Valley. It was a two-story condo that I lived in with my older bother and my sometimes single Mom. It had three bedrooms upstairs. Mine was in the corner, right next to my Moms room. My brothers room was smaller and darker. I don't remember how I lucked into the better room but I never pointed out the disparity. My bedroom had one window that looked out at another condo and looked down at a cement walkway edged by dark green ferns. My room was big, a long rectangle that could fit two twin beds, a large table and a long dresser. The walls of my room were covered in Duran Duran posters, fashion models and a flowered wallpaper that was girly and graphic at the same time. I picked it out, along with my Mom, after much deliberation at the local wallpaper store. My first choice had been sold out, a crushing blow to a teenager who rarely gets to make such big decisions. Sold out. Trying not to tear up over such a small thing; yet I can remember what a big decision it seemed in my mind. Huge. I couldn't imagine how I could land on a choice and actually be happy with the outcome. The store had rows and rows of choices in every color and pattern. Up, down, over and across. I kept looking for the one, finally settling on a pink floral pattern that had a black and white grid underneath it. Even back then I was strong and opinionated but I also aspired to be feminine and soft, just like the wallpaper. A fine line no one was helping me learn. "Are you sure?" my Mom probably asked. It seemed very me, and, knowing me, I was probably very definitive. My parents put it up one weekend, I think I helped a little. Carrying long strips from the hallway into the room, standing there while my short stepdad, standing on his small step stool placed it up high and then scraped downward with a squeegee to make sure it had no bubbles. Looking up, as he attempted to line up the grid, It was only then that I realized I had picked a complicated pattern. Maybe that's when I first began to hone my critical eye. When we were finally done I was happy. Excited to have something to stare at while lying in bed. Thinking back on that time I surprise my now self. Surprised I didn't hate it in one week. Surprised that, even now, I still remember it so fondly.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Things I don't get.

So I've been here a few months and I've started compiling a list of things that I just don't get. Or things I just don't understand why someone hasn't come up with a better solution. Here goes:

1. For the love of A/C. Why must air conditioners drip water when they're in use? Invariably they're above a door, namely my front door and other front doors. Hasn't someone figured out a better way for the A/C to cool us off?

2. Parks and recreation. Why is every park gate locked save for the one that is farthest from me. Why are all the entrances locked up? Why do we all have to go in through one little gate when there are lots of gates to open up?

3. Trash Bins. When I first got here I kept noticing all the trash bags just thrown onto the sidewalk. I finally got it, that that was how they picked it up, but why? Can't someone come up with a better way? It's so dirty here and no one seems to care, or maybe it's that people don't notice. Why aren't there more recycling bins around? Even the streets are dirty. Whywhywhy.

4. Men. How come the workers (and men) on the streets are always complimenting me but the guys I go on dates with aren't. Well, one gave me one compliment, once.

5. Subways. Why are there letters *and numbers? Why aren't the Express trains just labeled with an E or even an Ex after the number? Why must it be so complicated?

Well, that's all for now, keep checking my list, it's bound to grow.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Apple of my eye.

Apple picking: Jonagold, Empire, Golden Delicious!

I ventured up to Hudson Valley this past weekend with my cousins and on Saturday we went apple picking. I didn't really know what to expect: Do I have the right shoes on? What should I wear? Do I need to bring any special equipment, like maybe I need to climb the tree? Turns out all I needed was a bag and the willingness to bite into a lot of apples.

Driving up to Phillips Orchards with my cousin I was excited to bite into my very first Upstate New York apple (as in, not an apple I bought in California that had travelled three thousand miles to get to me). Pulling up to the farm a nice woman handed us a sheet of paper that showed us where to find the ripe apples. It was a hand drawn apple picking treasure map. She opened her mouth to ask us some questions but before she could do that my cousin hollered out, "Yeah, we got bags," she assured the woman, "Yep, we know where we're going," and we were off.

Driving slowly down the muddy roads I studied the map of the farm and pointed us in the direction of the Empires. Pulling over, askew to a large non-apple bearing tree, along with several other cars, we hopped out, collected our bags and headed to a row of trees. The first thing I noticed was how hot it was. It had been muggy and humid all day but somehow it had compressed even further into an oppressive boggy hotness that pressed into every pore. And there were bugs. Mosquitos buzzing at me from every angle so that, as I approached the tree, I was also waving my hands madly back and forth in front of my face. I was actually glad to be wearing pants at that moment.

The first thing I learned about apple picking was to TRY the apple first. I mean, you don't want to end up back home with bleh apples. The Empires were solid. Red and smallish, perfect size for a snack. They were nice and tart with crisp flesh. Done. Then we walked over to the Golden Delicious. I know, a pedestrian apple, you've seen it a million times before, but they were good, a bit bigger then the Empires, they would be perfect in a pie or the crumble which I planned to make later that evening. There were some misses, the Jonathons had flesh that had a bit of sag when you bit into it and the Ida Red had crunch but no flavor. I'd take a bite, regret it and then toss it down near the trunk. I felt bad. A little guilty for not liking this or that apple. I felt bad when I tugged an apple off a branch and two fell to the ground with it. Appley flavored Jewish guilt. I'm sorry apples, I can't take you all home with me, I thought.

The last row of apples we came to were the Jonagolds, which were perfect. My favorite actually. My bag was already heavy with fruit but I kept going, biting into one, picking others and madly batting at mosquitos. And then the bugs just became too much. I also had a bag buckling from the weight of more apples than one person could ever eat. So we hopped back in the car, bugs following us inside, and us, desperately lowering the windows and, with our hands, escorting them out with a "Shoo!"

As we stopped back at the front entrance I lowered my window and smiled at the woman as she asked "How many bags?" I looked over at my cousin, "Don't they need to see them?" and looked back at the woman, "One." One bag chock full of apples, countless mosquito bites, all for the low, low price of $12.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Room to read.

Now that I'm in grad school I have a lot of reading. Between the reading I want to do, the reading I need to do and the reading I wish I could do, I am lost in a swirl of wordly to-dos. I can't even begin to keep up with my New Yorkers, my New York Magazine or even my Sunday Times. When I read for school I either need to do it in bed, early in the morning, or I need to do it outside, away from distractions like the internet, cable or the kitchen.

And so, getting to know New York and exploring like I am known to do, I have started to put together a list of my favorite places to read:

1. A bench in Soho. Loosely this bench is on Thompson street between Prince and Spring. This bench is my absolute, hands down number one spot. The bench is under some trees so it's never under a hot sun, it's on a semi-quiet street so I'm not distracted by blaring horns. There are people walking by but not too many. If I sound like goldilocks well, you've got my number. The last element to making this particular bench perfect is that my feet easily hit the ground and not only that, but it's at a height that gives me a nice bend in my legs, many benches, and you may not know this, but many benches are pretty high up off the ground, which means my legs hang a bit or I have to stretch or I can't cross my legs comfortably. This bench, this bench I love.

2. A bench outside of The Little Cupcake Bake Shop on Prince Street. This bench is a nice place to stop and have coffee and sit and read but, it can also be very distracting. It's got great people watching potential. During Fashion Week it was fabulous. Shoes, outfits, you name it. I didn't get much reading done. So, this is a good spot but I have to stay focused.

3. La Columbe, see my post. The best cup of coffee, if made by the right person, and a good place to sit, although like above I can easily get lost in people watching or conversation listening.

4. A bench outside of Grumpy's Cafe in the Lower East Side. Great cup of coffee, comfortable bench and only a bit of distractions: Chinese men yelling, or maybe they're just talking but to me all of their talking sounds like arguing. And only a sprinkling of hipsters walking back and forth. Their baked goods are by far the best on this list. Which, may not be a good thing. I'm actually still thinking about their almond cake.

5. Inside the cafe at McNally Jackson bookstore. I stopped in here one day last week to step out of the rain and pick up a book. The rain continued so I sat down awhile to read. They have small nooks next to the wall with a one person shelf perfect for a cup of coffee and an elbow to lean. It turned out to be a good place to read because I could occasionally look up, out the window or at the people around me.

I know winter is coming so look out for the next list, more warm places, less outdoor benches.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book lovin' in Brooklyn.

I don't want to start this post with a diatribe about the state of newspapers, book stores, book publishers, e-books or the internet. What I do want to talk about is how I went to the Brooklyn Book Festival and it was crowded, packed, and mobbed! How I tried to get tickets to see Jonathan Safren Foer and Jennifer Egan and it was sold out! Who cares that the business of writing doesn't seem to know what to do next, we did and we were here to celebrate and give writers their fleeting moment of in-person "I love you's".

I'd never been to a book festival, so I didn't really know what to expect. I woke up early on Sunday, excited like I was going to a rock concert. I got ready and packed my bag for the long day out. Before hopping on the subway I stopped at the sometimes appropriately named Grumpy's Coffee. Americano in hand I hurried over to the train.

First up on my schedule was poet Mary Karr and music journalist Nelson George discussing the role that music plays in their creative process. Ticket in hand I ran up the Borough Hall courtroom steps, up one more level and down the hall into none other than a regal courtroom. Decked out with velvet curtains, an opulent chandelier in the center of the ceiling and large classic oil paintings of patriarchal white men. The authors sat in the front at a low table in front of microphones and name cards.

Once introduced the two pleasantly sparred like Sam & Diane in Cheers, before they'd slept together. Karr, also an essayist, and memoirist, is finishing up a country album. Nelson mentioned she had a "whiskey sound to her writing" even though she wasn't drinking anymore. She told us about some of the singers she was working with on her CD, like Norah Jones and Lucinda Williams. Turns out Williams showed up four hours late, to which Karr muttered under her breath "bitch", which we loved hearing: her pointed honesty and her funny way of saying exactly what we were thinking. She went on to tell us that Williams promptly sat down in the studio and sang her song in one take leaving everyone in tears. As country songs are want to be, it was a sad song. To which Karr then said, "Well, she can be four hours late any ole time." I hope to be a writer like her one day.

The rest of my day was full up. I saw music journalist Chuck Klosterman who has a new book coming out about the Invisible Man, told from the voice of his therapist. Also Sam Lipsyte (funny), Director and author John Sayles (hot), Marlon James (great comic timing plus a great accent) and last but not least Larry McMurtry who most recently won an oscar for Brokeback Mountain. He sat far from the mic and talked without his lips moving, like a ventriloquist maybe. The man was difficult to hear but leaning forward and staying perfectly still I heard what he had to say. He talked about how hard it is to make movies and about the good luck he had. I hope I get lucky like that and I hope he puts together a memoir before it's too late.

Looking up.

Waiting for the rain. Perhaps.

The first thing I noticed in New York were the clouds. Not the supermodels or the grit or the heat. Walking along streets filled with high rises I had never seen I couldn’t stop craning my neck to look up. Looking up I couldn’t help but fall in love with the big, curvy, luscious clouds. If ever a cloud looked heavenly these were them. They were brilliant white cut outs set sharply against a bright blue sky. San Francisco didn’t have clouds. We had fog, we had wind, we had cold blustery breezes. We never had air still enough or hot enough to create those heavenly creatures. The second thing I noticed were the planes. Everywhere I looked there was a plane flying somewhere. I imagined its destination and its passengers. Were they going somewhere far? I have to admit, it also brought to mind 9/11. The fact that seeing planes in the sky was an everyday event for New Yorkers and that the people who saw those fated planes may have, for just a brief moment, thought everything was just ok. I missed those two twin buildings. I missed them for their grounding nature. I missed them for their place South in the city. I had been to the very top a few years before 9/11. Knowing I had been on that roof made me know those buildings in a way I knew few others.

Recently a friend, a new friend, mentioned how blue the sky looked on that morning. And knowing other people noticed how blue the sky could be made me think that it should be a blue all it's own. A new color memorialized into a crayola box, a way for us to remember in a whole new way. This post wasn't supposed to be about 9/11, it was supposed to be about my first impressions of New York. But here I am...seeing and remembering, possibly for the first time.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Spicy & Tasty.

Cold jelly noodles Chengdu style

A few weeks ago I journeyed out to Arthur Ashe Stadium for day two of the US Open. But that's not what I really want to write about today. What I want to write about is a restaurant in Flushing called Spicy & Tasty. It may as well be called Great & Awesome or Amazing & Incredible. Really.

After a long day of sitting in the sun, my eyes shot from watching furry yellow balls fly to and fro, I was extremely ready to sit in a cool restaurant, drink a cold beer and eat some spicy food. Taking the 7 one stop further east, deeper into the heart of Flushing I was looking forward to the unknown. I think the unknown is actually my favorite part of going to a Chinese restaurant that isn't for English speakers. Part of the fun was not really knowing what I was going to get.

As we walked in I glanced at the glass food display case on my right. There was a man standing there, we looked at each other, and I looked at my friend who I was with, thankfully a Chinese friend. I hoped she lent us a bit of "we know that of which we eat" cred. The display case confused me, I worried that it was only a take-out place. I wanted to sit, I wanted to be served. Possibly a bit of sunstroke talking here. That and I didn't want to ride the subway an hour home, looking at my plastic bags, and not getting to eat what was in the bags. Thankfully, continuing my survey of the room, I saw dozens of tables to sit at.

As we were led to our table I did my best to look at what everyone else had, for me this is the best way to pick out something I might want. Since the descriptions in Chinese menus are rather, um, opaque. I much prefer finding something at another table, asking about it and ordering it that way. It's even more fun than using the plastic food sitting outside a Japanese restaurant.

The first dish we ordered, spied at someone else's table, were the cold jelly Chengdu style noodles, shown above. When we pointed to it the waitress said "Jelly noodles", in a heavy Mandarin accent. Jelly to me can only sound sweet and grape. She said it again, "Cold jelly". Again, this didn't do me any better. Something cold and something jelly sounds so unappealing it repels. But, I looked over at my friend Tara, with my huge trusting eyes, the eyes that said, Yes, I can eat anything, once. And we ordered it.

The dish turned out to be the most unique thing I've eaten in years. Covered in spicy oil, coated in spicy peppercorns, bathed in heat, with a sprinkling of green onions and peanuts, the noodles look like no noodle you have ever seen. Misshapen and white, kind of clear but kind of not, long, medium and short. They nestled in a bowl filled with chilis, soy sauce and lord knows what else. Too impatient to serve from the bowl to my plate, I snatched up a bite and put it right in my mouth. At that moment I felt everything. Tang from acids, heat from chills and tingle from peppercorns. It was cold, savory, spicy and delicious. I kept eating more until the tingling sensation said to stop. That's when we raised our hands up for beer.

We shared three other dishes: spicy lamb, sweet and sour cabbage and a tofu dish. The tofu and the sweet and sour cabbage were the other two highlights. The lamb lost a little for me because it was too fatty. But the sweet and sour cabbage dish was wonderful, it was a really nice compliment to the other main dishes, crunchy and soft at the same time. As I ate it I tried to dissect what the flavors were: vinegar, sugar, peanut oil, salt, pepper...I knew there was more, but what? "Lots of frying in Sichuan food," Tara said. Oh yeah, that.

We ended the meal with a little bit left of all four dishes and, since we both desperately wanted leftovers, we attempted a point and gesture conversation with no less than two waitresses and one waiter in hopes that they would bring plastic to-go containers and let us do the divvying up. It took a good ten minutes of back and forth before we got where we wanted but in the end we both happily walked out of the restaurant with our own plastic bag full of Spicy & Tasty.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My first slice.

Dinner at Grimaldi's: my first official NY pizza!

Stepping out from the High Street subway stop I looked up and saw the Brooklyn Bridge, a bridge as impressive up close as well as it is from afar. I loved being close up to the bridge, no matter the din. So big and classic, it reminded me of the Golden Gate Bridge back home. I felt like it was a protector of New York and I was happy to be one of its citizens.

I'd been to DUMBO before but never to this stretch of Old Fulton Road. It was adorable. I could see the East River, the financial district skyline, and a stretch of shops that looked like they belonged in the Iowa. Small town quaint. Tonight I was heading to the most famous location on that stretch: Grimaldi's. I'd been in New York for almost two months and the only time I'd had pizza it was bad. As in don't-finish-it-toss-it-in-the-trash bad. I needed to rectify the "Pizza Situation" asap. So I joined my friend Meg for a virginal trip to Grimaldi's. As an experienced New Yorker, Meg said we should get there before 6pm. After that she mentioned something about crazy long lines. No problem.

I made sure to eat light that day so I would be ready to split a whole pizza. And, before I left my apartment, I made sure to turn my I'm-on-a-diet button off. One of the few days it was off, I was going to dive in with my whole stomach. No sooner had I walked up and hugged Meg but a gentle looking white-haired man walked out and asked me where I'd been all this time. Grabbing my hand he pulled me in, shook it and held onto it for a second longer, I felt like a regular, like a favorite customer. I loved it. He pointed us to a red-checked table, "Take the deuce over there".

As we settled in I was excited to catch up with Meg and you know, to eat pizza. We quickly put in our order and then, because of the timing, oven cleaning or something like that, we would have to wait about 25 minutes. We opted for a bottle of Valpolicella, a nice italian red, to while away the time. As I looked around, taking it all in, hearing the music and seeing other tourists, I noticed the kitchen. I leapt up, phone in hand, to grab some pictures. Standing by the worktable, I asked the expeditor if he minded, "Nope".

From the looks of it the cooks were all Latino. These guys made it look easy and fun. They wouldn't look me in the eye, just kept their focus and grabbed dough, stretched and flattened it out with their hands, throwing tomato sauce, cheese, basil, all kinds of toppings on it. There was one guy who was clearly in charge of the pizza oven. When he opened it up I could see the flames coming out, orangey and purple, like the flames on a duraflame log. The oven was so deep he needed a pizza paddle with a four foot long extension. When he threw the pizzas in they went all the way to the back. I wanted to get in there, throw on an apron and help out. No chance of that I'm sure.

Back to the table to wait for the pie. Ours came with ricotta, black cured olives, italian sausage and red pepper. When it arrived, steaming from the oven, I just smiled. And I took the picture up top. Had to. The pizza is thin but not too thin, crunchy. The dough has a nice tang to it and a nice bite, a little tough. If pizza could be al dente, this was it. The ricotta added a nice rich texture to the mozzarella and the black cured olives added the perfect salty pucker. I won't tell you how much I ate, I'm a little embarrassed. But, let's just say I went for a run this morning. You can see more pics here.

Grimaldi's, the pizza oven

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sprouts in September.

Unconventional grown produce at the union square farmers market.

Years of living in San Francisco, decades of eating produce planted and picked in the fertile ground of California, well, you can imagine how I was going through a bit of a transition moving all the way to the other side of the country. I'd seen what Chinatown had to offer, giant tasteless Fuji apples, limp cabbage and dull oranges. I'd been to Whole Foods, and yes, it's a completely reasonable place to shop organic. But, I am a California girl who loves her produce and I wanted to meet the people who worked the farms.

Yesterday I made it over to the Union Square Farmers Market. And it was wonderful. I sampled beer bread, just picked apples, goat cheese, sprouts, kale salad, ginger tea, and watermelon. There was no shortage of variety. Walking up the crowded main isle of the market I felt a few different things: like I was in a movie set, that I was lucky to live here and relishing all that was new. Smiling and happy I zigzagged left and right making sure I hit every stand. It started to rain and I didn't have an umbrella and I didn't care. I loved the people watching, the sampling, the browsing. Wandering slowly, sample in my hand, chatting with my friend, the rain felt cool and refreshing.

One of my favorite stops was at the Unconventional Produce Stand also known as Windfall Farms. The stand was full of bins with every kind of sprout imaginable: sunflower, daikon, radish, adzuki and more. They had lettuce that looked like an artist had painted each leaf by hand, in green hues that existed outside of nature, unimaginable colors, not even known by Crayola.

The most unusual thing I found was a bin full of green bullet shaped something or others. Flecked green, it looked like what you'd get if you mated a watermelon with a midget cucumber. Tiny and adorable, about an inch long, it looked like the worlds smallest watermelon. I bit into it. It had a soft crunch to it, a tangy taste and a gel like coating around its interior seeds. I was smitten but at a loss as to what I might do with it. Other than tossing it in the air. Standing next to a tall, thin, tattooed man who was shoveling them into a bag by the dozens I asked him what he was planning to do with them. "They're in a recipe on our menu tonight." "Oh really? Where do you cook?" I asked. "Eleven Madison West," he replied. I had never heard of it and I didn't know what to say next. Ok, and he was cute. Ok, and I was tongue tied. After a little online research I found an article that called them a sour mexican gherkin. I wonder if I can lobby for a better name. In fact if there was a job to be a person in charge of naming things, I would apply. But I digress.

I didn't end up buying any 'gherkins', but maybe I should pop by that cute chefs restaurant? In the meantime I did buy some fancy lettuce and a handful of gorgeous purple wax beans. It cost me $10.75, which made me pause in reaching for my wallet but really, what was I going to do? Put it back?

At the end of day I walked home with a huge bag full of New Yorks finest. A bounty I had been skeptical I could find: kale, apples, fresh eggs, mixed greens, sprouts and purple beans. I walked home with a skip. Excited to make a kale salad, scramble some eggs and, most of all, to get back there next Saturday.


Friday, September 9, 2011

A Cook's Tour of Chinatown.


Walking up to the intersection of Grand and Elizabeth I surveyed the group. They were mostly older, wearing rain jackets and clutching paper and pens. One woman, standing quietly off to the side was Chinese, wearing a big floppy white hat and wearing enough concealer she looked like a mime. I wondered if she was hiding from friends, too ashamed to admit to them she didn't know where to get ginseng or maybe just hiding from the sun. Even though it was going to rain. One couple was visiting from Australia, the husband wore a hat with a spinny propeller on it and a shirt that said Santa Cruz. I thought, well, maybe he'll be fun. It was 10am on a Thursday, so the random group was not a surprise. Standing there we passed around a bag of sweet buns from a local bakery, buns I had never tried. They were round like a dinner roll. and the top was crusty with yellow crackly stuff. Knowing the Chinese put pork in everything I was a little hesitant. I sniffed it and looked up at the lady with the bag. "Think there's pork in them?" She shrugged, "Don't know." I gambled and, thankfully, pork free.

"Hey everyone. Thanks for coming," Ross said, introducing himself as the head chef for the 92Y, "I'm not an expert on Chinatown. I certainly can't tell you about everything we're going to see but I come here often and can show you the things I like. I mean," he continued in further evidence of his non-expertness, "I have friends who are Chinese and we cook together sometimes." Sometimes. His intro was so bad I wanted to step forward and say, "Hey guys, I've lived near Chinatown for the last 4 weeks and I have never eaten here, but I used to work near Chinatown in San Francisco, how 'bout I show you around." I resisted my urge to give him a few helpful pointers and have him start again.

A few weeks ago, in a flurry of making new-in-New York plans, I booked a tour with the Tribeca 92Y to walk around Chinatown with a chef and had been looking forward to it all week. I expected the motley group of older people, but, I hate to even admit it, I also had an eensy hope that the chef would be some cool, hot guy I could flirt with. This guy was a mix of my dad and Louis CK. Not exactly what I was looking for.

As we set off I quickly sidestepped the old ladies with carts and did my best to keep up with Ross. He pointed out places we could buy tofu, Chinese sausage, dried mushrooms and ginseng. All individual store fronts that specialized in one thing. That's what I love about Chinatown, small stores with the expertise of just one thing. I had been looking for a tofu shop and quickly jotted down it's location so I could make it back there. Then we walked over to a jerky place. We went inside and Ross told us a little bit about how they made jerky. Apparently it's ground up (whatever different "it" type meats that is) like sausage, then pounded out flat. They add sugar, spices and something that makes it bright pinkish orangeish plus a dash of something chemical sounding that's supposed to ensure we don't get sick. I can't wait. It was a spectacularly non-meat, non-nature occurring pink color. Ross bought some, had her heat them up over a grill and we dug in. It was good. Chewy and sticky with a hint of a rubbery meat feel to it. Hot doggy. If I knew what Spam tasted like I might say it tasted like that.

Eventually we made our way into a huge supermarket. Walking around Ross pointed out the different greens and vegetables and how we could work with them. "This is Kabocha," Ross said, picking up a large dark green squash, "what I like to do is peel it and steam it till it's soft, then I mash it between my fingers, put it into a mold. Then you chill it for several hours and later, slice it and serve it for dessert. It's really delicious. We would do this in Japan." A fan of all things Kabocha, I couldn't wait to try it.

The array of sauces, noodles, fish stuff and green things was overwhelming. I got antsy to leave. Before we walked out of the market Ross bought some salted squid for us to try. When we get out to the sidewalk we broke into the bag. It tasted like cardboard that had been wet, liberally coated in kosher salt, and doused with a splash of chili peppers and fish sauce. Normally these are all things I like, but I couldn't get beyond the feeling that I was eating a salty box.

Moving along we explored a once mysterious set of tunnels off Doyers Street. Underground is a small enclave of business offices: a dentist, an acupuncturist, a tour operator, a chiropractor, and so on. What would it be like to work somewhere with no natural light? I tried to imagine coming down here for work in the morning. There's not enough coffee in the world that could get me through that mental image. And, just as quickly, we were back up to Mott Street, right back to where we started.

At the end of the tour Ross bid us farewell and the group just as quickly dissolved into thin air. I, of course, wanted to have lunch. I tapped the Australians on the shoulder, "Hey, I'm going to go for lunch at Great NY Noodletown. Want to join?" The husband looked at me like he didn't speak English and mumbled something about wanting to go to the courthouse. This made no sense and he didn't offer an explanation so I said goodbye feeling weirdly embarrassed for being friendly. Before I could wander off, the wife quickly said she'd like to join me and later she explained that her husband used to practice law and he liked to go into the courthouse and watch trials. Ah-hah. And off we went, in search of our next meal.

Great NY Noodletown on Bowery

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The future of criticism.

Each day we get up, we decide what to wear, where to get our morning coffee, we decide how to walk to work, which way to drive, what bus to take. We decide what work to do first, what emails to answer, who to call back. We decide what to eat for lunch. Healthy or the burger? We wonder, should I work out? We make plans later with friends, where should we go, what should we eat, what time. Then we do some more work, make some more decisions, write some more emails. Our lives are full of choice. We have become a society used to having things exactly the way we want. And so, because we want this choice we are forced to constantly making decisions, from the small ones to the biggies.

We have so many places to get an opinion to inform our choices and I'm curious, who do you listen to? Who do you take the time to read? Is it the New York Times, is it a blog, is it a friend on Facebook or Twitter? How do you keep up with the hundreds of places you can look for a review or an opinion? I know I need help navigating my daily decisions, but how do we filter and choose?

Last night I attended the Riggio Forum at The New School. The series is curated by Greil Marcus and last night he was in conversation with A. O. Scott, the chief film critic for the New York Times. Scott is working on a book about criticism as a vocation. He spent most of the hour talking about the crisis in todays print culture and whether our society still has a need for professional criticism. I think it's pretty clear that we're all wondering what our newspaper of the future is going to look like. At least I am, but I hadn't given the topic much thought until hearing his dialogue. Today, as the conversation simmers in my head, it's potential impact is larger than I want to admit.

A few weeks ago I read an essay in the Sunday Times about decision fatigue. Bear with me because I think they're connected. We have so many hundreds of decisions to make every day, and as the day goes by our minds quickly lose their ability to make well considered choices and we start taking short cuts. Knowing this, wouldn't we want some help? These critics, opinion makers with big and small names, help us make decisions. Even if it's just to help us pick a movie. Have you looked at how many possible films we could see? There's going to an actual theatre, there's Netflix, Hulu, Cable, On Demand, and so on and so on, we've gotten to a place where almost everything is available to us at any time, how could we possibly be able to know it all.

The night ended in part on a conversation about A. O. Scott hypothetically reviewing The Smurfs movie. And let's say he didn't like it, but I did. And, whose opinion was more important. Well, that's what's so great about our new non-print print culture. Online we can have that dialogue and we can spar about the validity of the movie. There's a place for all of us. I hope when we get to that nebulous future we've figured out a way to reward well written blogs as well as supporting local papers enough so they can thrive. I'd love to see them all succeed.

I'm not sure how hard he's working on his new book, but for a man that does professional criticism for a living I'm sure it's taking up a lot of headspace if not necessarily word count.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hello Coney.


Friends visiting means I get to go to places I've never been. Like Coney Island. Steph and I met in the darkroom at UCSD and going on photo safaris was always something we enjoyed doing together. Everything I read online about Coney Island said to ride the Cyclone, eat a hotdog and avoid the bathrooms. (Foreshadowing: I only managed doing one of those things.) I surfed online trying to find the hidden gems we could eat at. I thought there was a rule: all towns have at least ONE hidden gem. I guess that's a no. We settled on leaving early thinking we'd get some beautiful early morning skies for our photos.

We walked out the door at 8:30am on Sunday, making a few key stops: coffee from the Roasting Plant and the Sunday Times. Integral items for a happy journey. Hopping on the D-train at Grand Street I was all ready for the 45-minute ride. While Steph read the NYT I focused on slogging my way through The Metamorphoses by Ovid, a little 'light' reading for grad school. The train was slow and quiet, it actually went along nicely with my Greek mythology.

Arriving at Coney Island at 9:30am we were greeted by locals doing their early morning walks, closed hot dog stands and an already blistering sun. Rarely have I been to a beach where I wasn't drawn to the coastline, this will have to stand out as the lone example. We walked up and down the wooden slatted boardwalk. I could smell the history of the place, I could feel the fact that my Grandma had told me she used to come here and that she met my Grandfather here. I noticed there was no shade and I worried I would get tan. Funny how these days I worry about things like that.

Dozens of older men walked past us in pairs. Mostly shirtless and speaking Russian. They walked by, heads bent down in serious conversation. I couldn't help but wonder what they were conniving about. After noticing the men I noticed the women. Older, wider women using beach towels to squeeze and shimmy out of their bathing suits. They were adorable. I wonder why I thought the men were up to something sneaky but the women were cute and simple. There were lots of bikers out, even one guy on a bike that was a half rowing machine, half bicycle. It was like seeing something from my book: part man, part machine, a 21st century version of Pan. My mouth dropped open and I stared.

We finally made it over to Nathan's for the obligatory hotdog and lemonade. There was nowhere to sit so we promised Ruby's, the stand next door, that we would buy something from them if we could please just sit. So, because I prefer sitting to standing, french fries rounded out our lunch. They were all good, but not something I need (again) anytime soon. After the bad nutrition and the omnipresent sun we slowed down to a snails pace. It was like we had aged enough to join the surrounding demographic. We walked by the rides and glanced over, shrugged our shoulders and kept on moving. "Yeah, I think I'm done," Steph said. "Yep, me too."

Slowly we made our way back to the subway station and settled into the train for the ride home. Opening my book I tried to focus on the Greek gods but instead I heard the babies screaming and the men speaking loudly in Chinese. Using my finger as a bookmark and the seat pole as a headrest I closed my eyes. Tired from the Coney Island adventure I leaned back and fell asleep.

Water fountains

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

For the love of coffee.

La Columbe

My search for good coffee is like my quest for the perfect avocado. Picking them up one by one, turning them over in my hand, is it soft enough but not too soft, are there any worrisome squishy areas? The gamble we take on produce that we we can't actually try first always gives me pause. It makes me miss my favorite market back in San Francisco, BiRite, where they had samples out of everything. Today found me on my quest for great coffee which lead me to La Columbe. Located in Soho, it's just far enough away to get my brain working to figure out the logistics of how I can plan a days route to take me by it. In actuality it's only .9 miles away from my apartment. In New York walking a mile is like breathing. I walked by it today, it was raining and I had lots of reading to do for school. A match made in heaven.

The baristas looked like bike messengers, even the girls. Hats cocked to the side just so, headbands, tough attitudes and coffee lingo make me feel like a tourist. Of course I was wearing my workout gear. For some reason wearing my running shoes always made me feel a bit like a tourist. My coffee came up quick, I had to ask for a lid, which she gave me with that look, as she pinched it between two fingers. The look that said I don't quite belong. I get over the look and notice the cream is served in a tiny floral pitcher, so delicate against the hard concrete setting. It softened things up.

I took my coffee and sat down at their industrial tables. Natural wood and  metal tables fixed to the ground along with long matching wooden benches. Very nice. The ceilings were super tall and there were two ceiling fans which were, unfortunately for me, on and making it gusty and cool. Not ideal on a cool rainy day but I can see how sometimes it would be a good thing.

The coffee itself was perfection. Dark, smoky and rich, I could taste the layers of freshly roasted coffee beans. I loved this cup of coffee. As I settled in to read my book and slowly savor my coffee I couldn't help taking in the different people. Somehow this place felt neighborhoody. In an unlikely area of Soho, full of out of town shoppers, that was nice to see. People came in and slapped hands with the workers, tilted up their chin in hellos. Friends met to catch up. I liked it.

At times the noise level was too much for reading: cups and saucers banging against each other like wind-chimes in a storm. Coffee grinders zzz, zzz, zzzing, along with conversations and music, but it was still a place I could hang around in. And, as I looked outside, rain coming down in sheets, I settled in and turned the page.