travel

Reference Point

It’s astounding how often people ask me for directions here. Apparently, wearing a satchel and looking bored on the subway makes me pass for a local, or at least someone who knows uptown from downtown. If only they knew.

In the morning, I finally gathered up the courage to go to Russ and Daughters, which is a pretty famous deli type place in the Lower East Side. I don’t know that it’s downright intimidating, but it’s not the type of place that panders to clueless tourists, that’s for sure. I stood around for a while trying to catch someone’s eye so I could order. That was also the approach I took at the boulangerie in France. It did not work at the boulangerie, and I finally had to make myself known vocally to get my tarte aux pommes. Finally, someone from behind the counter spoke to me, and I blurted out what I wanted.

“I’m helping someone else. Did you take a number?”

As a matter of fact, I did not even realize that there were numbers. I hadn’t heard any numbers. My eyes darted around, looking for the number wheel. Someone was kind enough to point to it. I was so embarrassed. A few minutes later, another guy behind the counter asked me if it was my first visit. I just smiled shyly and nodded like a five-year-old girl. What an idiot I am sometimes.

I finally got my lox and coffee, and it was well worth the awkwardness. I had a toasted onion bagel with dill and horseradish cream cheese, topped with salt-cured lox. The salmon was like nothing I’d ever experienced in my life. It was thinly sliced, positively melting in my mouth, with a kind of sweetness that I could detect even through all the salt. The only problem was that it was very salty. I should have seen it coming, considering that salt-cured was part of the description. In the end, I had to throw some away. I knew it was a sin, but what could I do? I didn’t want to get dehydration palpitations on my way to Central Park.

I went back to the hotel to get more water. As I walked, a homeless man sitting against the wall by an abandoned storefront shouted at me: “hey I have the same thermos as you!” I looked back, feeling myself smile. “No way!” was probably what I said. He held up his bottle, which was a different color and a different design, but the same manufacturer. I gave him a kind of thumbs up, but in the uncertainty of the moment, my hand likely took on an odd, crumply shape. What a mess I am. When I walked back that way later, he sort of waved his sign around. I did not give him anything, although I had thought about giving him the gummy bears I’d put in my purse that morning, but that bag was already opened, and homeless people can be more particular than you might think. After I had already passed him, he shouted, “Miss, I really need something to eat.” I smiled at his bizarre timing. Then, I felt bad that I had not given him anything and that I had made fun of him in my head. Maybe I would have if he had asked the question right to my face. I can’t help but think about the beautiful little piece of smoked fish that I had thrown away and the food that I never gave to that man. The collateral damage of my existence?

Being in New York is negotiating. Even if you’re not hustling here for real, every day you’re analyzing situations and people and cars, defending your place on the sidewalk. You learn the rules, which are different from the rules that I have always known. Like the take-a-number thing at Russ and Daughters.

The homeless man had tried to be nice to me so that I would help him. He was haggling in his own way. It almost worked, but he obviously did not know the rules about how to interact with me. And how could he? Who actually does?

I nearly went blind for this one, but it was worth it. It’s a statute commemorating a 19th Century war hero.

I got this shot of the Plaza before heading off to rent a bike. I was actually terrified to ride a bike around Central Park. I’ve hardly touched a bike since I was a kid. It’s true that you never forget, but boy, you get pretty terrible at it if you don’t practice. I’m just glad I didn’t hit anything or fall off during the two hours I had the thing.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I almost got a cool shot of the Atlas statute, pictured below, reflected in the glass of the Cathedral. That would have been some great symbolism. But I got all anal about focal points (what am I, a photographer?!) and missed it because a big bus got in the way. I could have waited for the light to turn green, but then other cars would have been whizzing past. So, I missed the opportunity to be all cynical about Catholicism, and perhaps religion generally. Well, maybe we all need a break from the numbing irreverence of everything.

The two pictures above were taken in a building in Rockefeller Center.

Well, that’s self-explanatory.

I believe the figure on top is Mercury. The four figures on the bottom represent the four races. I read that somewhere. It’s kind of a gush about international trade and industry and blah blah blah. Oh, Art Deco, how I love your style. But how outmoded is your philosophy to us wary 21st Century folks.

This is the best pizza I have ever had. It was nothing but pistachio pesto (lots of little pistachio pieces, not very basil-forward at all, and I couldn’t even tell if there was basil), fresh sausage, lots of good olive oil, and mozzarella cheese. I was in pizza nirvana.

This couple sitting near me was talking to one of the waitresses. The fellow said that the pizza was great, but it just wasn’t the same as pizza in Rome, and they all seemed to agree on that. At least two of the waitresses seemed like they were from Italy, judging from the accents.

I don’t know if I could handle a good Italian pizza. My brain might explode with pleasure.

Don Antonio is definitely a place to go for great value and authenticity.

At Katz’s, you also take a number, but they don’t call your number. Rather, you get in line, and they write your total on the ticket and you pay as you’re leaving out the door. See, more rules. Also, you don’t sit at the tables closest to the wall unless you have waiter service. Learned all this the hard way by actually going there and trying to get my bearings.

I have to say, I’m not a big fan of the egg cream. Yes, it’s a refreshing drink and yes, it has a nice, rich kind of chocolate aftertaste. I tended to perceive the chocolate the most after swallowing. In short, it’s nice, but it didn’t change my life. Still, I think I kind of understand why some people like it so much. It’s the same reason that I and many other grown Californians go to Inn and Out to have an ice cream shake. It reminds you of your childhood and so many happy times.

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