Sunday, February 15, 2015

New York (Days 4, 5, 6)

Our Room... "Bright but Messy" Just like Me ;)
Many of you know the reason Leora and I are in New York. But, for the benefit of those I don't talk to regularly, Let me 'splain…No, there is too much. Let me sum up. Buttercup is marry' Humperdinck in a little less--

Sorry, got carried away there...

Wendy and I take our job of parenting very seriously and have always done everything we can to make sure the girls are prepared for life (as much as possible). I think we have covered the basics, but one of the things we decided we could do a few years back was to give them a sense of the world they are in. We want them to make informed decisions about who, where and what they will be and it seems like that would be more easily achieved with context. So, we promised each of the girls a high school trip anywhere in the world with their dad.

There is garbage and scaffolding everywhere. Both seem permanent
Whether such a scheme is up to the job of providing context or perspective is a question that they may be able to answer in 5 or 10 years. I'll let you know how that turns out ;)

Why isn't Wendy going? If you find yourself asking this question, you don't know Wendy and are probably reading the wrong blog. Wendy doesn't like travel. Which kind of helps with the other limiting factor... we don't have a lot of money. Sort of a two birds, one stone thing. Also, we want the girls to take some responsibility for the journey and she has difficulty not being responsible. So, three birds, I guess.

Anwyn's trip is coming up in the next year or two (we have to start saving yesterday) and she already knows where she wants to go. I'm not going to tell you. That's for later.

Leora, on the other hand, was having trouble deciding where she wanted to go. Someone I was talking to--don't remember who--suggested New York. Perfect. Leo loves musical theatre and performance and food and cooking and she is at least partially interested in fashion and design. Suddenly, it seemed like the obvious and perfect choice.

--Segue's are hard--

Day 4

New York hasn't been working for us yet. I know it isn't anything wrong with New York. Not anything that will change. I mean, it's New York. It is what it is. It doesn't bend for you. It doesn't compromise. I am trying to figure it out.

What I have learned thus far:

The only rat I've seen in New York (#3)
  1. New Yorkers are very nice when at rest. 
  2. Catch 'em on the move and you might want to get out the way, fast.
  3. It's someone else's problem.
  4. Traffic lights are not to let drivers know when to go. No, no, no. You can drive anytime. The lights are to let drivers know when they might be ticketed for hitting a pedestrian. It's a financial thing, really.
  5. If you can see the intersection when the light changes, you still have time to race the light. So do the 3 cars behind you.
  6. Cafes sell more than coffee and sandwiches. Sometimes toothpaste and tampons. Often headache medication.
  7. Artisanal Cafes sell the nicest tampons.
  8. Markets sell... EVERYTHING. But, very few fresh breads or vegetables, as a rule.
  9. Subways riders make a great captive audience for break-dancing, saxophoning, drumming and preaching about God in his many, many forms.
  10. Subways smell like pee.
  11. While popular opinion holds that snow flakes can be warded off with a good umbrella, children's play equipment and public parks are extremely vulnerable and should be immediately and indefinitely closed off.
With the help of this accumulation of knowledge, Leora and I have begun to hit our stride.

We took another run at visiting the High Line Park. Since it snowed today, I'm sure it is now closed again, but that is someone else's problem (#s 11 and 3)
The High Line (#s 1&2)
It really was very nice. It's winter so there wasn't a lot in bloom, but it was nice not to have to worry about #4 for a while. Also, quite a bit quieter up there.
Some of you think I'm exaggerating with my 11 rules up there. I give you this:
It's not the best photo. I agree. I looked inside, though, and I could't see coffee anywhere. There was beer though. And fan belts.

We visited the Museum of Modern Art later in the afternoon. Mostly they allowed photography, so naturally, that took all the fun out of taking photos. You can visit some of the galleries online via the Google Art Project, though none of my favourites are there :(

Day 5 -- exploring Brooklyn

Being a pedestrian in Brooklyn is way nicer than in Manhattan. The crowds are way smaller and the lights don't conspire to stop you at every single intersection. You still have to be careful. With reduced congestion cars can actually approach--even occasionally exceed--the speed limit (which there are no signs for, BTW).
Prospect Park is about 3km from where we are staying in Brooklyn. It is younger and more natural feeling than Central Park. Wendy would like it much better. At 5/8 the size of Central Park, it is still plenty big.
Looks fun, but #11
Brooklyn Botanical Garden is tucked into one corner of Prospect park. It was cold today and made for lovely respite from the cold. I hauled my camera around all day, but forgot to put the memory card back in. Had to take pictures with my iPhone (exception to rule #3) I might not even have bothered, but these are the photos Wendy is most likely to appreciate.
There was a whole room of Bonsai
Desert Biome
Afterwards we found an amazing doughnut place and awesome pizza. Pretty much heaven.

In the evening we saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Wow. Powerful, emotional, freaky and fun. That's my review.

It was transformative day. Between the food and music and people, I think Leora is beginning to realized why a place like NYC might be for someone like her.

Day 6 --in the zone

Valentine's Day is a pretty big thing here. Much bigger than in Canada. I think. Other than taking in 2 shows and having some crazy good pizza, Leora and I plan to lay low. She has a speech planned out for if we are asked how long we have been a couple (which has happened before). So far, today, it hasn't come to that.

Les Miserables was good, but not as good as it could/should have been. The female parts were weak compared to the men... who were only really good. The man who played Val Jean, though, was incredible. He made me cry inside 10 minutes and repeatedly, thereafter.

In the evening we went to Disgraced, a complicated Pulitzer winning play. If it were a bad joke, it might begin: An Arab, a Jew, an Afro-American and a White Girl walk into a bar... Only, it wasn't a bad joke, at all. It was a thorough look at identity and the racism seething below the surface of post 9/11 America. Started a little slow, but made up for it in the end.

Very late. Sleeeeeep...

Friday, February 13, 2015

New York, 2015 (Day 3)

One World Trade Center and Friends

Day 3

We are sleeping in. Yesterday was crazy and unsustainable. We had a great time, but were both exhausted. We lounged around in bed and ate a late breakfast. Headed out into the city about 11:30am

The plan is to walk to Central Park and explore a bit. No mean feat. Google maps tells me it will take 2.5 hrs to walk there, but we are nothing if not determined. It's still cool here, but it is the first legitimately sunny day since we arrived.

Leora loves to walk through the crowed fish/spice/junk market that is China Town. We spend an hour just looking at the various shops and testing her skill at deciphering some of the signs. The best she can really do is tell if the word "food" or "eyes" is featured. It's a good distinction to make, when you think about it.

On the long stroll North, we switch between walking on Park, Madison, and 5th Ave. These are some of the most prominent streets that exist in the modern mythology that is the New York of my mind. After only ten blocks I can almost forget about the seedy markets of China Town. Now, the sidewalks are 4 times wider and people are wearing business suits and carrying Gucci bags. Mixed in with the cabs are now Lexus and Mercedes, rather than Isuzu and Mack Trucks. The buildings look similar, but are taller than in Little Italy and lack the once omnipresent fire escapes and bi-block piles of garbage bags and scrap brick.

After my rant of yesterday, I have to admit that I finally found a great cup of coffee (and some awesome sandwiches). I highly recommend Think Coffee on 4th Ave, near Union Square.

We pass the Empire State Building and the New York Public Library. Indoor public space is very rare. We take advantage of the opportunity to just sit for a while and rest our feet. Onward, we pass The Rockefeller Center, Tiffany, Versace, Ralph Lauren--the list seems endless. As far as modern fashion is concerned EVERYTHING IS HERE. We don't go into any of the stores. High fashion isn't Leo's thing and she is a little intimidated by staff wearing Tuxedos or white suits and kid gloves.
5th Avenue as seen from the entrance to Central Park

When we reach Trump Tower, I make her go in, just so I can say I was inside. The elevator operators are wearing Tux 'n' Tails. The opulence is both wonderful and horrific at the same time. It's almost the same way I "enjoy" the look of a condemned building. The decay is both beautiful and terrible. I don't know how else to describe it.

By the time we get to Central Park, we are a bit tired and my eyes feel like they are peeling back into my skull from staring at... at--everything. It all feels a bit surreal. My senses are overwhelmed.

I'm ready for the park, but it's not quite what I had hoped. I think Central Park would be better in the summer. There are no leaves on the trees and hence no sense of seclusion. The city is still audible AND visible. Also, the children's play equipment is all locked up because of snow and ice. I wonder what New York children do when all their parks close at the fist sign of snow?
Pretty Sure is is neither too HOT nor too much SNOW
On the other hand, there is a squirrel on a nearby tree. Leora is tempted to try and coax it near with some bread. As she rustles in her backpack, a half dozen of the critters come racing out of every hole in the tree with such speed that it takes a moment for my heart to settle down. I am actually a bit scared that we will be swarmed by a horde of squirrels. I wonder if that ever happens?
Wendy would have loved this Gazebo
We realize at this point that we are both pretty burned out (in a beautiful and terrible way, I suppose) and decide that discretion is the better part of valour. We hop on the subway and spend the evening at home. Leora devours a novel over the course of 4 hours and I spend the evening editing pictures and trying to make sense of what is happening here. We are recharging our batteries and I miss the creature comforts of home.

Tomorrow, New York will still be here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

New York, 2015 (Day 2)

This is a long one, so buckle up, Dorothy...
I always said she was a Demon-Child
We ate breakfast around 8am (granola, yogurt, fruit salad, coffee) and were revved up for our first full day in the city. Our plan was to walk to the High Line Park. Walk along the High Line Park. Then, do some exploring in Hell's Kitchen. Even the plans of wise wizards go astray... Here is what happened.

Last night I stayed up late editing photos, and making a blog entry for you to read. Leora was really keen about the walking we did on Monday, so we decided to walk into Manhattan again. I did a Google search and came up with this Frommer's article on the 5 best walks in NYC. 3 of them happened to work with our route on the way to the High Line Park, so there was our morning.
The best parts of the Manhattan Bridge look like this.
The Manhattan Bridge is less attractive than the Brooklyn Bridge, which we crossed yesterday. It isn't apparent from a distance, but up close it is obvious to pedestrians. Rather than a lovely promenade up above the traffic, pedestrians are relegated to one side (bikes on the other). It would have a better view of the Manhattan skyline, if only there were not chain link fencing running the entire length. To add insult to injury, it is VERY loud with 4 metro lines running the length of it. A train seems to pass every 3-5 minutes. There are also 2 layers of vehicle traffic (7 lanes worth). The whole thing vibrates pretty much constantly. I found it gritty--in a beautiful and tragic way.
As it turns out... not as long as you'd think ;)
I was looking over at the Brooklyn Bridge and thinking how lovely it would be if I could snap a great picture of it. After trying, unsuccessfully, to get a good picture through the chainlink and under the rail, I was seriously contemplating climbing up and having Leora pass me my camera when the most marvellous thing occurred. A hole appeared in the fence. Right where I would have put it.
The picture I got through the fence
The view I would have had. Thanks Shutter Cutter :)
Now, some of you may be thinking, "OMG! Mike is going to be arrested for cutting a hole in the Manhattan Bridge!" Remain calm. In the immortal words of Bart Simpson, "I didn't do it!" But, some one did and I'm pretty certain it was a photographer (or perhaps several). After the 3rd such opening (at just the right spot, I might add), Leora dubbed our mysterious Ur-Photographer "The Shutter Cutter" and we have become watchful for his vigilante work throughout the city.
"You buy? Cheap cheap--one dolla"
Not so cheap. Pretty commonly $14000 dollars
Leora has always had a fascination for East Asian culture. After our peek at China Town yesterday, she was determined to go again today. It really is a marvel. Sort of like New York's version of Portobello Road. Only, instead of a treasure trove of antiques, there are lots of mandarin oranges, sketchy glass jars full of bits of fish and ginseng and stores specializing in lamp shades, restaurant chairs, or gaudy chandeliers.
We made our way up Bowery to Prince Street. Prince is the first of the recommended walks on our path. There were many Pretty buildings, Lots of XXX shops and a crazy, unmanned music store. Further along I discovered that Apple and Lululemon stores are pretty much the same everywhere--full of things I can't buy.

We had lunch at an artisanal sandwich shop, Chalait. Great food. Average coffee. What is with that? In Italy and Honduras, homeless urchins could make a fantastic cup of espresso with nothing more than a rusty can and a blow torch. Yet, Americans, so full of bootstrapping ingenuity, really seem to have immense trouble coaxing flavour out of a toasted bean. I don't get it. I'm starting to think that (à la Hudson Hawk) I'll need to save the world and keep the secrets of DaVinci safe before I can get my cup of coffee.

Some time after lunch, we arrived at the park entrance. Closed--just the day before, as it happens--due to icy conditions :(
No. Shut them all down! Hurry!
Sigh! If I had been a genius and followed them on Twitter, I would have seen that they opened up a chunk of the park later in the day after clearing ice. But, really... it's winter. Do they not expect ice? I could have handled it. Sad, sad, me. Perhaps I will console myself by re-watching this documentary, narrated by Susan Sarandon

So, rather than walking along the High Line, we walked beside and beneath and dejectedly away from the High Line. I did get to see some "cool" buildings. Iceberg cool... see what I did there?
Ice-berg Buildings
We spent about an hour at the Chelsea market. Specifically, Artists and Fleas. Lots of handmade jewelry and clothing. With our budget, or lack thereof, it was a real trial to see so many beautiful things we couldn't have.

We walked over top of Penn Station and past Madison Square Garden and then on to Time Square. Up until this point, I had seen a fair amount of traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian. I was thinking, this isn't so busy. As we approached the hub of Western consumerism, I stopped wondering where all the people were. They were here. I'm sure it is far worse in the summer, but even in New York's coldest month, it was pretty busy.
42nd St. The Beginning of Time Square
On 42nd St. we ducked into Madam Tussaud's. We didn't have to wait in line, but we did have to part with $40 USD each. I'm not going to complain... much. After all, The Spice Girls did invite me up on stage to sing with them ;)
Now it was getting close to supper and we were both exhausted with about 25km of walking under our feet. We grabbed some fantastic bread from Amy's Bread and took the Q home so we could grab an hour's rest in our room.

After a quick supper of olive bread, blue corn chips and guacamole with carrots and fruit we went to the Ambassador Theatre to watch our first Broadway musical, Chicago. I'm not going to bore you with a full review or anything. Suffice to say, it was really good. Some of the personalities worked better for me than others, but the dancing was terrific and the music was stellar!

I wanted to fall into bed after a day of 30000 steps. But, there won't be many clear nights while I'm here and I heard there was a decent view from the roof of our building. Here you go. Thanks for staying with me :)

I'm working pretty hard to keep the pictures under control on this trip. The growing album can be found on G+, as usual, arranged oldest to newest.

New York, 2015 (Day 1)

I'm so excited to be here.

At the moment, 'here' is 257 Gold Ave, Brooklyn, New York City.

Leora and I arrived yesterday, mid-afternoon. We took a cab from LaGuardia Airport around to Brooklyn. We are staying at a small apartment we booked through AirBnb. It was much cheaper staying here rather than Manhattan, and so far I am very pleased. Our host, Kimiko, is very relaxed and friendly. Her two cats make us feel right at home. She is in and out doing things with her friends, but has been quite solicitous.

****EDIT 2015-Feb-11****
Here is what the Airbnb listing looks like:

Guest bed w/terrace and sep bath in Brooklyn

Apartment in Brooklyn, United States. This one bedroom in a two bedroom apartment comes with all of the amenities - - a private bathroom, terrace, great kitchen and two awesome cats. The location is fantastic, walking distance to the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges and the A, C, F, Q... View all listings in Brooklyn
It's worth noting that I paid a little less than the listing suggests per night ($91 not $97), although there is a $77 dollar service fee that Airbnb added. Seems like some listings have a variance based on the season, so it is worth clicking a ways through the reservation process to see if the numbers change a bit.

After a quick unpacking, we still had time to explore, so we walked from Brooklyn to Manhattan. That takes about 35-40 minutes and even though the temperature was -1C and I am from Saskatchewan (where it currently -20C), the wind managed to make it feel pretty cold. Perhaps it was because I foolishly went out onto the East River without a jacket, gloves or hat. Perhaps ;)
Leo on the Brooklyn Bridge
On the bridge, we caught sight of Staten Island, the Statue of Liberty and One World Trade Center. I'm sure I was staring at 30 iconic buildings, but honestly, I couldn't identify any off the top of my head.
We did some two hours of exploration in Little Italy and China Town. We were both really charmed by the immense amount of character that the neighbourhoods display while being right next to each other. My ears were strained trying to sort out the bombardment of Spanish, Italian and Mandarin as we walked along Mulberry Street.

When we were cold enough, we came home via the F-Train with some fresh produce and imported pasta and smoked mozzarella with which to make supper.
Disappointed. I think the carbonated coffee would have been better if it wasn't diet. 
I didn't really take too many photos today. The cold wind really had me keep my hands in my pocketses.

Now, I'm extremely tired. Leo made me stay up late once we got back to our apartment because we had access to US Netflix. From her perspective, the flight was totally worth it, just for that. Going to bed.