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.


As the first post of my new blog I'm going to keep it simple. I just moved here from San Francisco to start a two year MFA program at The New School. I'll be writing frequently. About what I see, what I hear, what I like, what I don't like, what I'm learning and what I hope to learn. I hope you enjoy it.