Monthly Archives: February 2012

Fake It Till You Make It: Anglophilia in Manhattan (New York Adventures #6)

It may not be the most original thought, but the beauty of New York City is that you can go anywhere in the world without leaving the five boroughs. Being an unabashed Anglophile, I have been dreaming a lot about London lately. So I decided to pretend I was British for a day.

A friend and I have been talking about going to afternoon tea at the Plaza for a long time, but I discovered a cheaper option at Tea and Sympathy, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Greenwich Village, staffed by a lovely group of Brits. For $35, you get a full pot of your choice of tea (blackcurrant is delicious, sweet and creamy with a little milk), and a multi-tiered tray of more food than one person could possibly eat – and I generally do not have trouble consuming food. Finger sandwiches (Dear British people, why are you so enamored with mayonnaise?), scones, a slice of a strawberry shortcake type concoction, and a cupcake.

You had me at clotted cream.

Setting Mumford and Sons on my iPod and  A Room with a View on my Kindle (English people in Florence! Oh what a glorious combination!), I had a gorgeous hour lost in a European fantasy-haze. My level of sophistication may only rise to that of Stacy in The Babysitters Club, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

yes and yes and yes and yes

I stopped in at the Tea and Sympathy shop next door to see if I could get some of the blackcurrant tea to bring home, and was blinded by the adorable staff of British boys working the counter. I spent an obscene amount of money on tea in order to spend a few minutes flirting with them. Worth it. And now I know where the cute British population of NYC hangs out.

I took a stroll over a few streets to Myers of Keswick, a legitimate British grocery, but couldn’t bring myself to go inside – I didn’t want to look at food after glutting myself on sweetness. But it’s good to know it’s there, in case I ever want a meat pie or something (seriously, Englishmen, what is up with your cuisine? Don’t get me started on beans for breakfast.)

Next I headed uptown to Grand Central Station, to the New York Transit Museum Annex, which is currently featuring an exhibit of posters from the London Underground. Reading about the London Transport Authority’s mission to brighten the Tube with real (and informative) art, I was amazed at the beauty and humor of the poster designs. My Anglophilia knows no bounds and I was tempted to buy the accompanying coffee table book about the exhibit (art + London = ecstasy) but I managed to escape without further damaging my wallet – the exhibit itself is free, and definitely worth the effort to check out.

st. christopher, patron saint of travelers, in london

encouraging passengers not to travel during rush hour

After taking a break to watch the ice skaters in Bryant Park, I continued west along 42nd Street to the subway station, to catch a performance by The Meetles, a Beatles tribute band that performs around the subway as part of Music Under New York, an MTA sponsored program to bring entertainment to commuters. I have walked through Times Square Station ten thousand times, enraged by the gaggle of tourists forming a circle around whatever street performers were clogging the arteries, cursing them for getting in my way and making me just miss my train.

Now I was one of them.

Having spent six months on a ship with a Beatles tribute band straight out of Liverpool, complete with verisimilitude-inducing wigs and costumes, I was curious about what NYC had to offer. The Meetles, unfortunately, look like a random assortment of homeless people. Six members, including two women, rumbled jeans, pot-bellies, and balding heads, they aren’t much to look at. And I can’t say they SOUND particularly like the Beatles. But they are more than competent musicians, and honestly, taking the time to stand and watch the crowd instead of plowing through it in irritation, I have never seen so many people smiling in a subway station. The spectators danced and sang along, and there was just a general good vibe. The music of the Beatles seems to unite people, even awkwardly.

The Meetles

These two did not come together, but they sure are enjoying the show

Bless them, the Meetles perform for five hours in a freezing subway station, but after an hour and a half I was numb and exhausted, so I headed down to take the train back to Queens. On the downtown platform I heard someone playing “Yesterday” on a saw. Seemed like an appropriate end to my British day. I returned home to watch An Idiot Abroad, my current favorite UK import, and laughed at the misadventures of poor Karl Pilkington.

Sometimes I’m embarrassed by m obsession with all things English. Maybe I should focus my energy on a more exotic, foreign culture. But I can’t help it: I love Jane Austen, Eddie Izzard, Muse, Stephen Merchant, Shakespeare, Notting Hill, Mumford and Sons, Davy Jones from The Monkees, The Office, Spike from Buffy, and…the accents. I love it unashamedly. And when I don’t have the means to travel, it’s nice to know I can get a taste of my favorite fetishized culture at home.

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Categories: New York City, Travel Musings | 3 Comments

I Just Want To Get Home

One of my favorite things about living in the city is traveling by subway. I’ve never been a fan of driving, so I love handing off the challenge of getting me where I need to go to someone else while I nap or read. To visit a friend in Park Slope from Astoria means a full hour uninterrupted book time, guilt-free – it’s not like I could be productive in some other way.

Of course, one of my least favorite things about living in the city is traveling by subway. It’s smelly, it’s unreliable, and at 2am, you don’t want to be forced off your current train to wait for another because of construction.

What I hate most is the soliciting, which I’m pretty sure is illegal but that doesn’t stop anyone. I’m just trying to get to work, or home after a long day, and I don’t want to feel bad about myself because a homeless person wants my money and I just want to read my book. I once was in a subway car that had three consecutive beggars: one got off and the next got on, announcing his or her sob story.

How do you decide who is the most worthy? If you give to one, how do you not give to the next? If it is in fact illegal, are you just making the situation worse by giving? Yes, sometimes I have an apple in my bag. But it’s for my lunch. If I give it to you, what will I eat? I’m living on a budget too, I can’t afford to eat out all the time. But clearly I’m better off than you, so am I selfish for hoarding my apple?

Riding the train is like Dante constantly taunting you: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.”

And yet, I don’t give money to the mother with multiple sclerosis, the kids selling candy bars to keep themselves “off the streets,” the old men who mumble such that I can’t even understand their pleas for help. There are so many, and I’m just one person – without a job myself – and it’s just incredibly overwhelming. It’s so much easier to shut down, turn up your iPod, and bury your head in your book.

I paid for my ticket. Can’t I just get home in peace?

Better or worse? That’s the question when it comes to the “entertainers” who bombard you on the subway. The DoWoppers, the Mariachi bands, the acrobats, the one-man traveling bands complete with sound system. I appreciate that they are at least trying to offer some service in return for my money, but – I didn’t ask to be entertained. I have a Blackberry and an iPod. I don’t need my ears blown out or my head kicked in by breakdancers who shouldn’t be bouncing around upside down in a crowded subway car.

I like buskers in general. I like them in subway stations, in parks. I like when they stand still and I get to approach them if I’m interested in listening, chatting, or giving money. I can still remember a night two years ago standing on the 59th Street platform waiting for a train and listening to a classical guitarist named Matt Nichols pluck the melancholy strings of my little beat-up soul. It was lovely. Magical even.

Of course, I didn’t give him money either. I would have bought his CD, but my train came. I probably didn’t have any cash on me at the time anyway. It’s actually one of the main reasons I try not to have cash in New York. So then I’m not lying if someone asks if I have any spare change.

Excuses, excuses. Maybe I am just a bad person.

I was recently on a subway car when a man starting proselytizing about issues like fracking, nuclear power, and the Occupy Wall Street movement. He wasn’t asking for money, just trying to raise awareness. He had pamphlets with information on these topics and how to get involved. I was appreciative that he was so passionate about improving our country. I was contemplating taking a pamphlet, but as he approached me so few people had even looked at him that he spoke the kiss of death: “I’m amazed by the apathy and the isolation.”

And I went back to reading my book. Someone should tell him this is a terrible public relations strategy. Be careful when unleashing your self-righteous rage. I might agree with you, but don’t think I’m going to support your cause when you insult me. When you interrupt my commute by yelling at me. Don’t try to shame me into being a better person. I have my own problems, mister.

I just want to get home.

My question is: once someone makes you aware of their need, are you morally obligated to try to fix it, if you have any means to do so? Am I fating myself to a sunburn of eternal proportions by avoiding eye contact with the less fortunate? Does my right to a safe and peaceful trip home end at someone else’s right to try to feed themselves? Do I erode my soul every time I fail to give?

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, New York City | 4 Comments

New York Adventures (#5): Making Valentine’s Day Not Suck

I was ready, dear reader, to use this blog to rail against Valentine’s Day. I was going to remind you that it’s just another pagan holiday usurped by the Catholic Church to ease the transition to Christianity; that there is no historical evidence of a St. Valentine involved in anything related to romantic love. The stories about Valentine marrying soldiers against the emperor’s orders, or falling in love with his jailer’s daughter – it’s all a lie, dear reader. This truly is a consumerist day of pseudo-loving one-ups-man-ship that equates to bank for Hallmark.  Why do we fall for such gross displays of capitalist greed? What is romantic about a dozen red roses, the gift that says, “I put zero thought into you as an individual”? Valentine’s Day is bullshit.

Still that doesn’t mean February 14th can’t be a nice day.

Here are Seven Simple Steps to Making Valentine’s Day Not Suck. I have no doubt Cosmo will want to publish this next year for all the lonely ladies out there.

1. Plan a romantic date. Then invite a good friend. This step might require the Intervention of Fate. For example, your good friend might have been out of town since 2012 began, but you know she’ll be in the city for a single day between trips this week. When you suggest hanging out for the minute she’s home, it’s dumb luck that it’s Valentine’s Day. Though you were planning to spend this day drunk, crying, and watching a Buffy marathon on Chiller, this other plan is much better. Good luck wrangling those stars to align, it doesn’t usually work out so rom-com cute for you. Tip: choose a friend who bakes and will bring you a brownie baked around two Oreos layered in peanut butter. This unexpected surprise will make your day infinitely better.

All I ever wanted, all I ever needed, is here, in my arms...

2. Start the day with a margarita. From Chipotle. At 11:30am. Because your life is about embracing new experiences and expanding your horizons, and despite thousands of Chipolte burrito bowls, you’ve never had a Chipotle margarita. Besides, won’t ice skating be more interesting if you’re drunk? Bonus: you’ll have an excuse for falling down.

3. Go ice skating in Central Park.  Profess to hate clichés but secretly desperately want them? Just do it. Ice skating in Central Park sounds like the cheesiest romantic activity possible, so own it, live it, love it, even if you are there with a girl and will not make slow circles around the rink holding hands and looking deeply into each other’s eyes. Glide with giddiness. Push yourself faster and pretend you’re flying. Let your heart break watching a father catch his tiny daughter over and over as she flails backwards into his patient arms. Make decisions about taking breaks based on the goodness of the rink’s playlist. Fall only once, ten minutes before you’re finished skating for the day, to maintain your clumsy street cred. Tip: bang your knee so hard you have an excuse to avoid the gym for a few days.

Not falling!

4. Go to Serendipity 3 for frozen hot chocolate. You’ve heard endlessly about this restaurant and its special treat on 6oth Street. Why not take this romantic opportunity to finally experience it for yourself? The frozen MINT hot chocolate will be the size of your head. It will be everything you heard it would be. You will drink it all, no matter how ill it makes you feel. Because Valentine’s Day is all about the over-consumption of chocolate and you are living the dream. (Also, eat the blue corn chips with goat cheese. Don’t get the weird fishy dim sum with honey mustard sauce. They’re gross.)

A veritable volcano of chocolatey goodness

Serendipity 3: quirky decor

5. Go to Strawberry Fields. Because meandering through the park is another romantic activity you can reclaim as your own. Because you’ve been coming to New York for three decades and have somehow never been here. Because your recently inflamed Beatles obsession is starting to get…obsessive. Tip: laugh inappropriately about whether the guy who shot John Lennon did it for Jodie Foster, or if that’s the guy who shot the pope. Tip within a tip: Amid your sacrilegious giggling, file away for later contemplation the woman crying over what isn’t even Lennon’s grave, 30 years after he died.

6. Get lost in Harlem. Just a smidge lost. Before it’s actually dark out. Because once again, it’s your mission to explore New York and all its corners, so…do that. While also creating a very silly memory with your lovely friend.

7. Spend the evening at home doing things that make you want to hug YOURSELF. After a long day out, it’s okay to spend the night alone. Who needs a man to snuggle with when you have Once, which is basically a hug on film? Who needs any man but David Sedaris to cuddle under the covers with? There is no better way to end a day dedicated to love than with things you feel passionate about.

BONUS ADVICE: Wear your sexy lacy black underwear. Even though you know no men will see it, do it for you. Do it to feel sexy and fun-loving and fully content with your single, silly self. Not just because you have four weeks worth of laundry to do and don’t have any other clean underwear.

So that’s it. You want a romantic, cliché-ridden Valentine’s? Do it for yourself. Chocolate is easy enough to come by (and brownie/oreo/peanut butter concoctions are sure to give you an erotic jolt), ice skating while holding hands is dangerous anyway (twice the opportunity to fall!), and the two straws in your giant frozen hot chocolate mean that you can still suck it down even if one gets sprinkle-clogged. Real life laughter with a good friend is far better than a pre-printed, saccharine card. And you can print that in your cards, Hallmark, and…..read it.

Categories: New York City | 1 Comment

New York Adventures (#4): Let’s Talk About Sex, and Other Things That Turn Me On

This week’s adventure: The Flatiron District.

Let’s forgo a discussion of the Freudian implications of eating a hot dog before going to the Museum of Sex. I wanted something cheap, I haven’t had a hot dog since July, and the restaurant is called Dogmatic, the best name ever for a hot dog joint.

Dogmatic, on 17th Street right off Union Square, is a gourmet hot dog joint that started as a gourmet hot dog truck. Gotta love New York. You can get any kind of hot dog imaginable: beef, pork, turkey, chicken, lamb, all organic and grass-fed, and for veggies they grill asparagus. The sausages come with a variety of fancy sauces, and are sheathed in artisan buns. I had a beef frank, with horseradish mustard, and a side of macaroni and cheese with truffle gruyere. Oh yes, it was delicious. I will one day eat them all.

My Blackberry camera clearly didn't understand that this is gourmet food.

I headed up Fifth Avenue to the Museum of Sex, which I didn’t even know existed until about a year ago when a friend stayed at a hotel next door. I was intrigued – is sex so dead we need to memorialize and study it like archaeologists and historians?

The lobby is a high-end sex shop, selling toys, accessories, books, and kinky kitsch. I wondered if the whole place was a glorified peep show, swept indoors after Times Square was cleaned up. Maybe it would all be a gaudy tourist trap of sexual consumerism, like Amsterdam’s Red Light District, cheaply titillating, pushing goofy smut to a giggling, prudishly embarrassed crowd. I mean, there’s a bar in the basement. The OralFix Aphrodisiac Café offers overpriced cocktails like “New Orleans Brothel” and “The Queen’s Knickers.” How classy a place is this?

Then again, who doesn’t like getting drunk at 2pm?

Once inside the actual museum, I was surprised by its studiousness. The first floor is dedicated to the history of sex on film, from the comic innuendo of silent films through celebrity sex tapes. It’s difficult to stand around watching porn intellectually. It’s so meta to contemplate the human inclination for voyeurism while actually being a voyeur. You fear standing at any screen for too long: you don’t want to look…pervy. That’s probably the point. Why are we so uncomfortable with frank displays of human sexuality? The museum forces you to face your own inhibitions and why they exist.

The second floor delves into the history of societal taboos, featuring nineteenth century erotic photography and BDSM. There is a fascinating display on the nineteenth century medical phenomenon “female hysteria.” (the word hysteria has its Greek roots in the same word as “uterus” – down, feminist rage, down.) The doctor’s cure for an overly nervous woman? Manual stimulation of the genitals until hysterical paroxysm was achieved. That means orgasm. And all this massaging was too much work for doctors, so ta-da! Vibrators were invented. This is stuff everyone needs to know.

I’m serious.

The third floor features animals. It points out that any claims that “natural” sex in the “natural” world is solely procreative between males and females are entirely incorrect. Many species of animals engage in same-sex intercourse, group sex, and genital stimulation, just because, you know, it feels good. There is no single, correct way to enjoy sex, for animals, as well as people.

The entire mission of the Museum of Sex is to demonstrate that sex, in all its forms, is natural and beautiful, and not something we should feel ashamed of. It’s a sex-positive message, and presented with academic rigor and compassion. There is nothing tawdry or scandalous. The museum isn’t merely hawking whips and lubricant. They want you to feel good about sex, not just in that climatic moment you’re having it, but all the time. It’s a normal, ordinary part of life that shouldn’t be viewed with an eye toward forgiveness.

It made me think about an Etruscan town in Italy called Tarquinia. Established long before the Roman empire, Tarquinia is famous for its necropolis, a series of tombs decorated as houses for the dead. These people built homes to keep their loved ones comfortable in the afterlife, and some of the aesthetics are surprising choices for eternal company-keeping. For example, the Tomba delle Fustigazione features a man whipping a woman in erotic S&M play. The Tomb of the Bulls is decorated with all kinds of sex, hetero and homosexual.

So somebody died, and somebody close to them decided that the best way to please them in the afterlife was to paint their chambers with salacious pictures. This was perfectly acceptable to everyone. The Museo Nationale Tarquiniese displays ancient Etruscan plates and bowls and vases decorated with couples having sex in a variety of positions. It’s like a Pottery Barn sex manual.  For the Etruscans sex was just a part of daily life in those pre-Christ days.

I wish the Museum of Sex dug deeper into historical attitudes toward sex. The Etruscans were clearly cool with it, as I’m sure many ancient cultures were.  When exactly did it become sinful? And why? And in the year 2012, why do we need a museum to tell us it’s okay to use our bodies as they were intended?

Let’s not kid around, I was hot and bothered when I left the museum, but rather than let myself decompress I headed directly to another Flatiron destination that would leave me with an itch I couldn’t scratch: Idlewild Bookshop on 19th Street. Yes, I have a deep passion for books, but this particular bookshop is dedicated to something that turns me on as much as sex: travel.  A whole store filled with travel guides, globes, and international fiction and memoirs. It’s so chock full of global intrigue it’s cramped and creaky, and I loved every inch of it. Though I can’t afford books right now, I wandered lustfully, reading jackets and making a list of twenty-three books to read.

Oh, the smell of paper, the allure of fingering spines and flipping pages.

A day of overstimulation in the Flatiron District. Joyful and melancholy, thought-provoking and sexy. I recommend it all to you.

Categories: New York City, Travel Musings | 2 Comments

New York Adventures (#3): Astoria/Long Island City

I guess I’ve always had a secret snobby attitude towards Queens. I’ve always felt it’s barely a step above Staten Island, without the hardcore street cred of the Bronx.

But here I am: Astoria resident. My time here has an expiration date, so I might as well explore.

I started with a walk straight down Broadway, sixteen blocks from my apartment into Long Island City to the Noguchi Museum. Though I got confused by the museum website’s directions, and momentarily panicked that I was lost and would have to apprentice myself to one of the automotive shops toppling over each other in the area, I finally found the Noguchi tucked away on a side street. First Fridays of the month are pay-what-you-can. Score.

I had stumbled on the Noguchi as I researched Astoria/LIC, and all I knew was that it was dedicated to one artist’s abstract sculpture. I’m always up for something that expands my definition of art.

Perhaps I have too many museum expectations due to my extreme exposure and faux-pretentiousness. At first I had a problem with the Noguchi. No audioguides to explain what the heck these honking slabs of rock meant? Okay, fine, it’s a tiny museum in LIC. I imagine most artists would be loathe to have their work explained in two minute soundbytes anyway.

But…

Is it necessary to send patrons on a scavenger hunt to determine even the sculptures’ titles? Each room had a box of laminated cards naming each piece, but there was no marker on the work to align them easily. You literally had to study the card (line drawings of these three dimensional stone and steel behemoths) then circumnavigate the work to match up an angle with a picture.

That’s a lot of work. And once you found the proper title, it didn’t often illuminate much about its creator’s intentions (The Seeker Sought? Brilliance? And the recurring, Untitled?)

This one is called "Resonance." My favorite word, but it didn't, for me.

This one is "Venus." Really?

Eventually, I let go of expectations and allowed myself a visceral reaction to the work. Sculpture is still fairly unexplored territory for me, but my encounters with Bernini and Michelangelo had an impact. At the Noguchi you can get up close and personal to the sculptures, existing fully in their space, separated by neither ropes nor high pedestals. You experience their full three dimensionality – and isn’t that the point and beauty of sculpture?

It may have been a perverse reaction to all the “Please Do Not Touch the Sculptures” signage, or the sheer puzzle of complicated textures, but I really, REALLY wanted to touch the work. I didn’t react emotionally to the shapes, their impersonal, intellectual blobishness. But there is something fascinating about marble, so perfectly smooth yet so heartlessly cold.  (I think the marble shifted my feelings on Noguchi. Though abstract, I could relate them to Renaissance Italy and given them a context.) Some sculptures were basalt, or granite, some buffed to a shiny polish, while others were rawer, more natural. Most were a combination of finished and rough. I found it hard to resist feeling for myself the competing textures that existed within a single piece of rock.

I’m a fan of art so alive you want to touch it.

I often wonder how prepared one needs to be to appreciate art. Should one study an artist’s biography? Should one be able to place the work within a movement? Is knowledge power? Would you like the art better if you understood where it was coming from? Or is your gut reaction, positive or negative, enough to evaluate a life’s work?

These are questions I struggle with. Modern art is opaque to me, and I wish I understood – or even felt – it better.

Soothing space

Still, the open rooms, blank walls, and freestanding, inscrutable sculptures – free even of explanations – had a zen feeling. I don’t know if Noguchi was influenced by Buddhism, but I left feeling provoked but serene, as if the whole world, even in its abstraction, even if I don’t understand it, just might be beautiful.

I headed back up Broadway and crossed the invisible line into Astoria to meet a friend at a local hole-in-the-wall coffee shop called NYC Love Street Coffee. The coffee was quite good (much better than Starbucks’ charriness) and I had a goat cheese panini that was delicious and cheap. It’s subway and apartment convenient. Sweet.

We walked to the Museum of the Moving Image, free after 4pm on Fridays – wheeee! We studied the Jim Henson exhibit, which was great, although, my inner museum snob thinks it could have been better.  For a guy who worked with three dimensional puppets and on TV and film, the exhibit could have been a little more interactive, a little less flat drawings, and a little more informative (they don’t explain where the word “Muppet” originated, or how Henson actually started making his puppets.)

I’m nit-picking.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Who doesn’t love Muppet lore? It’s like a museum hug. By this point in the day I was exhausted so we simply wandered the exhibits. I believe I will frequent it…frequently, given its proximity to my apartment and my gaping, unsophisticated love of movie magic.

The best part of living in New York City? Whatever you’re craving can be delivered to your door in thirty minutes. I had heard good things about Euro Delights on Broadway, a restaurant that specializes in crepes. After a busy day I didn’t feel like eating out, so I went home and ordered online. Being indecisive, I couldn’t choose between a sweet or savory crepe…so I got both (well-balanced, kids, that’s what I am.) I got the Euro Delights Special: cheese, mushrooms, spinach, peppers, tomatoes, and caramelized onions; and La Promenada: Nutella and peanut butter.

yummy.

Crepes are just stuffed pancakes, and there’s nothing I love more than pancakes. I want to try everything on the Euro Delights menu, and anticipate many happy returns eating there.

I can’t wait to eat my way through Astoria and explore what’s within walking distance of my apartment. Sometimes laziness backflips into the joy of discovering local treasures.

Categories: New York City, Travel Musings | 1 Comment

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