travel

A Tale of Two Breakfasts

Greenwich Village before 9 AM on a Saturday morning was nearly deserted. There were signs of life: a City worker painting a light post, a milk delivery, and a sidewalk-washing. As a lone, out-of-town visitor in a summer dress, I felt alien in what was perhaps the hungover hush of the early morning.

I had gone to the Village on a macaroon run. However, the tea house would not be open until 10 AM. The Doughnut Project, right next door, would be open at 9 AM. Doughnuts it was.

The one on the left was creme brûlée with custard-like filling. The one on the right had a beet (yes, beet) glaze and a cream cheese filling.

I headed towards Washington Square Park where I would devour my doughnuts and tea. One street, I think it was Bleecker, smelled strongly of chlorine. Water flowed beneath the curb even though it had not rained, as far as I knew, and trash was on the sidewalk, placed at such orientations as to suggest deliberatation. All of those anomalies were probably connected, but I didn’t know how, and it made me uneasy.

At one corner of the park, near the Washington Square subway stop, there were a couple benches perpendicular to one another in the garden. There I sat and opened the box, refreshed immediately by the aroma of freshly-fried dough. I was in love. A man in his forties came to sit and eat his breakfast at the next bench. He pulled out of a bag a bottle of blue Gatorade and a styrofoam container with some type of lunch-like food piled up. He looked like he was a having a rough go at things. There was brief eye contact, but no further communication. I concluded that he posed no threat to me. My eyes wandered to a plaque on the ground. Apparently, at this very spot, the tavern that had inspired Eugene O’Neil’s The Iceman Cometh once stood. Well, there I sat at that spot, eating my breakfast in the same space that another person was eating his, but we may as well have been in different worlds.

I liked the beet doughnut better than the other one, but they were both really good.

This John Varvatos is the former site of the CBGB. CBGB, the iconic club where so many famous rock bands got their start, was converted into this upscale men’s clothing store less than a decade ago.

Elvis Costello, above. Ozzy Osbourne on the loo, below. As you can see, these photographs and posters, as well as the grafatti and some other memorabilia, have been preserved and integrated into the clothing store. I spent quite a bit of time taking it all in. I must admit, I was a little disappointed at the lack of Talking Heads, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and Television stuff, as those happen to be my favorite bands that played at CBGB. I suppose it is customary to seek out experiences that validate our identity as people. Customary and a little weird, when you really think about it.

Sometimes, I wonder what it all means. What does it matter that I ate breakfast at a park where some seedy inn used to exist? Or that I wandered through a clothing store that used to be a club?

I must be homesick.

The remainder of the afternoon was mostly uneventful, as I’ve been laying low on account of the expiration of my subway card and an early morning flight on the horizon. For lunch, I had a frankfurter at Katz’s, no ketchup, just deli mustard and sauerkraut, like a pro. I had dinner at MasalaWala, which was a spicy curry chicken that really hit the spot. Spicy foods are essential in my world. Then I walked around the neighborhood just to get some exercise, grabbed a large acai bowl for some reason, and paid my farewells to the City.

I’ve said before (like a hundred times) that you can’t have individualism without self-reliance. And that’s true. You can’t be all FTDubs and then expect people to really care about you and validate you. At least, that’s never worked for me.

So far, I have been cautiously operating under the assumption that this relatively new American way is the right way. And that is a big, glaring assumption.

I don’t believe that gratifying the self is the way to happiness. Nor do I believe that negating the self is the way to happiness. Who actually knows the way to happiness? Besides authors of self-help books?

What’s clear is that there’s a lot that could be better. The polarization is obvious. The lack of genuine community is a gnawing ache that we’ve all felt for some time. And inequality persists.

I don’t know what should be done, really. I was hoping that the City would tell me. But the City doesn’t know, not any more than I do.

Still, it isn’t as if I’ve learned nothing this whole time. The City did have something to say to me. The City told me to stand on my own two feet. The City told me to push on, no matter what, and to get over myself. And for that, if nothing else, I’ll always be grateful.

I know I’ll look back on this trip fondly. But for now, I am excited to see my family, birds, and friends again out on the other coast.

travel

All Tomorrow’s Pickle Martinis

Shortly after turning twenty-one, I treated myself to a bottle of Tanqueray. In the world of spirits, gin was my first, my only true love. Out in the world, I drank beer, tequila, or whatever was convenient or socially appropriate, but in my kitchen, upon returning home late after a long, uninspiring day of work and school, I would sometimes mix a martini.

I took to it with a youthful enthusiasm that made up for my lack of experience and equipment. I didn’t have one of those stainless steel hourglass things to measure, but I did have my trusty Pyrex measuring cup. I’d first pour in about 2.5 ounces of gin. Then 0.5 oz of vermouth. The vermouth was tricky because that measuring cup only had 2 oz increments, so it left something to the imagination. As I quickly discovered, a dry-vermouth-to-gin ratio that is too high will render your cocktail undrinkable. I was really deep down in the trenches. Next, I’d carefully drop in the ice. Let it melt. Sometimes, I would then scoop out the ice and use it to chill the glass (yes, I had martini glasses). Finally, I’d give it a good stir with a spoon, take out the ice if that wasn’t already done, pour it into the glass, and drop in three little green olives.

I had a lot of musings about the whole thing, as you can imagine. For example, I was against using Bombay Sapphire East, which has lemongrass and spices that are not always found in gin, in a dirty martini. So, considering how geeky I was about all this, it’s kind of shocking that now, only a few months later, I’m in New York and I haven’t had a single martini, let alone the famed pickle martini.

I had heard of the beautiful Bowery Hotel, so today I thought I’d have a looksy since it’s not too far from where I’m staying. I’d heard good things about their lobby bar and martinis. I fancied that I might have a drink there if I felt like it. I got a little bit dressed up, but nothing too fancy. I reapplied makeup and headed back out.

First, I needed dinner. I wanted a salad because, let’s face it, there hasn’t been a whole lot of green in my diet of late. And I didn’t want a grocery pre-packaged salad because the last one I’d gotten was gross. I went to a sit-down restaurant not too far from the hotel, alone of course, as one often does while traveling alone. When I went in, the waitress asked how many, and I said “one.” She seemed kind of surprised/saddened by this. This reaction is not uncommon, but usually it is concealed a little better. I always try to just ignore it because, as I have said before, you can’t have individualism without self-reliance. The truth is, life ain’t all slumber parties and picnics. Aloneness happens to the best of us, and it can be embraced rather than glossed over. She thought for a moment and decided to “put me” in the back because the tables in front were taken and the bar was busy. She wasn’t trying to be rude or insulting, but somehow I did feel insulted at that moment. It was dark and lonely back there, except for the waitresses walking by and the busboy coming up the stairs with ice, and I wondered what the hell I was doing in that restaurant and existing on this planet. It was like they put me there because they were afraid that my solitaryness would ruin the vibe of the laughing and chatting people at the bar. During this trip, I have been pretty successful in not indulging in negative feelings, but this was kind of a low point for me. I have been having a good time, I appreciate the opportunity to be here, and I do enjoy having the freedom to do absolutely whatever I fancy. But that doesn’t change the fact that evenings are a little harder than daytime. Luckily, I’ve had this blog to keep me occupied, instead of being out at some bar, feeling out of place and wishing that I had someone to talk to, someone who didn’t just want to sleep with me.

After dinner, which was nourishing if not much fun, I did take a peek at the Bowery. The lobby is very nice. I saw the bar, which was dark and rich, tucked away and empty save for the bartender. Then, I just left.

I don’t regret my days of having a drink or two by myself. Maybe some people don’t understand it, but it seemed like a natural and reasonable thing to do at the time. It just doesn’t anymore. It isn’t even that I care what people think about me, it’s just that I’m never in the right frame of mind to enjoy it. Without any significant distractions, the sensations that I feel as alcohol is first metabolized are overwhelming to me now. I don’t want to wonder how much faster my heart is beating. I envy people who don’t even notice or care about those things, and if you can help it, I’d advise you to take it easy too. I’m not saying that one should throw caution to the wind, but really, life is much too short to be going down some rabbit hole or another every five seconds. Take it from me.

I’d like to think that someday I’ll come back here to New York City, maybe with a good friend or my soulmate, and that we can go to some of the places that I didn’t want to go to alone. And yet, if I don’t, I feel like that’s alright too. Yes, this trip has been even more sober and responsible than I even thought it would be (some of the highlights of my day include geeking out over buildings and eating over a pound of organic seedless grapes), but I’m glad for it. I know that I’m not the quite the same person that I was when I came here, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s only for the better.

Well, enough about that. Let’s discuss Chelsea. I spotted this po-mo-looking building from the Highline. I guess it doesn’t show well in the picture, but the windows are frosted in such a way that when you look at it, you feel that your vision is blurred, maybe from being myopic or maybe from being high on drugs (come to think of it, the two aren’t all that different). The Highline is the site of old railroad tracks far above street level that were converted to a green space in the 90’s.


Reflections of new buildings and construction equipment, ubiquitous in Chelsea today as the charming red brick residences. I must admit, when I saw some “for lease signs” on apartment buildings in Chelsea, I imagined myself moving to Chelsea. Can you believe it? Well, the millennials gentrified and appropriated, but maybe us late 90’s kids will do things differently.

Then again, it is true that these parts of New York are safe now, which is good. People like to point that out. If you just see Chelsea today, you don’t understand why Elvis Costello evidently did not want to go there (anyone remember that song?), but if you imagine Manhattan in the 70’s… heaven above, I would stay the heck away from Chelsea too, and the street where I’ve been staying for the past week.

I don’t think a more adorable take on Noah’s Ark has ever existed.

Some more highlights from my brief, but enlightening, Chelsea art walk.

Chelsea has a kind of no-nonsense, unpretentious working people’s vibe, especially with all the construction going on. That feeling is more pronounced than it is in the Lower East Side. Then again, I didn’t spend that much time in Chelsea so it’s hard for me to compare. As such, one feels out of place, guilty even, for strolling around on a weekday looking at art with an iced matcha latte in hand. Even though there are a bunch of other people doing it too.

One tip I may share: go to Los Tacos No. 1 in the Chelsea Market. Unless you really know your tacos. Even then, I can’t imagine anyone being too disappointed by these juicy, street food style tacos with just the right amount of chopped white onions and guacamole. And a thin layer of some kind of queso sauce, I believe.

This is the Equitable Building. This office building from the early twentieth century was so high compared to the surrounding buildings that it blocked sunlight, and its many office dwellers congested the streets. As such, this single, gorgeous building was actually the catalyst for zoning laws that we know today.

Well, that was quite a trip. From the proverbial Main Street, to Wall Street, to the machinations of my consciousness. I think we’ve seen about as much as we can handle today. Or, at least I have. Who wants a martini?

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.

travel

Architecture and Morality

True to my ways, of course I had to begin this post with a title ripped from an 80’s synth pop record.

My impression of the subway so far is not too favorable. I found the map and the layout confusing. It’s not all that different from the Underground, but I liked the Underground better. I found the Underground slightly more intuitive for my severely directionally challenged mind. There was also less pealing paint. And hell, that “mind the gap” thing was pretty cute too. Everything is better with a British accent.

Mainly, I’m just bitter because I wound up at Yankee Stadium when I was supposed to be heading towards West Village. Really, I have no one to blame but myself for that one.

So, after I got out of there, I decided to just take an Uber. Otherwise, I would have missed the play I was supposed to see, and I’m glad now that I didn’t miss it.

Girls and Boys is a funny play in more ways than one. I did think that its emphasis on male violence was a little heavy-handed. I loved Carey Mulligan’s performance and the rigor and seriousness with which she dealt with the theme of violence and the specific topic of family annihilation. At the same time, I thought that the writing was flawed because it draws rather sweeping conclusions about men in general. While it is generally true that men are more violent than women and that there are serious social problems that need to be addressed, I don’t think that relying on this stereotype is always the right approach. When we couple racial and gender stereotypes, we get bad consequences, as we’ve seen time and time again.

I had to get down on my knees to take this photo of Grand Central Terminal from the stairs leading down to the Dining Concourse. People probably thought I was crazy, but I didn’t care! Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty for a better shot.

More GCT.

The Chrysler Building. I’m a sucker for all things Deco, so NY is clearly my kind of place.

My lunch at the Great Northern Hall, a delish Danish rye porridge!

PS: If you haven’t already, check out Rockwood Music Hall. I heard a band called the Felons and a vocalist named Liana Gabel today and rather enjoyed it.