Tuesday, June 18, 2013

NYC & Me

If cities in which I've lived were lovers, then I admit to a few these past twenty years. Of these, perhaps the most intense and enduring has been New York City. Our courtship has been a long one. We first met about seventeen years ago while I was in a relationship with San Diego, a calm and laid-back kind of lover. The contrasting energy of New York seemed to emanate from the pavement and was like electricity running through my body. Despite the attraction, NYCs fiery nature was also intimidating. Several years later we met again, when I was back together with San Diego after an intervening relationship with San Francisco. I almost committed then, but was lured by a perceived stability of several relationships with Texas cities. Then five years ago, I moved closer, to Long Island, which allowed NYC and me to see each other more frequently. Three years later the commitment was sealed when I moved to Brooklyn.

These years together we have danced together as only passionate lovers could, as I learned its history,
strengths, and weaknesses. Although there are few streets I have not walked, it continued to delight me with something new. When I have sought the beauty, it has been there: a beautiful sunset as the city lights come alive; a rose garden in the middle of downtown; the hues of autumn; and the purity of snow on the grayest concrete. When I have sought the ugliness, that, too, was apparent in the smells, the noise, the crowds, the poverty and despair. The moments of tested patience were tempered with the delight of something unexpected. Nothing that shines so bright can do so without its shadow. Regardless of my perceived mood, NYC never ceased to entertain me, on a subway or on the street, with buskers, brilliant dancers and musicians, and its people with outlandish clothing, behavior, and scams. The senses never rest and the wonder never ceases.

Yet something so dynamic and energetic has its secrets, and so often in relationship, one discovers herself in the reflection of the whole. How can something appearing so congenial and crowded feel so lonely and isolated? I have seen naked cowboys strumming guitars in Times Square and traveled every nation linguistically on a single subway ride. If I wanted a haircut at midnight or to shop for clothes after hours, if I wanted something delivered, or anything to satisfy my every need and appetite, it was readily available. When I was frustrated and lost, I saw a half-headless Cookie Monster taking a smoke break, and the absurdity of it all seemed to make sense at that point.

NYC is alive so I felt alive, by extension but not as myself. The overstimulation and assault on the
senses, so far from my self, started to take a toll. One learns and grows in a relationship, sensing, too, when the time has come to move on before the darkness settles in and hardens the heart. Perhaps I have been too spoiled, too satiated, and too stimulated, or perhaps the time is ripe for something new. Boredom rarely moves one to change as much as the heart's desire for peace. And so it goes, for now and not necessarily forever, with me and NYC. Our hearts and souls are full of love and memories.

Thank you all for reading these memories through the blog posts. Stay tuned for more adventures soon....

You'll Want What She's Having: Lower East Side Foodie Walk

In just a few hours in a short block of East Houston, you can experience the taste and tradition of New York.
In the famous scene from "When Harry Met Sally," Sally fakes the Big O in Katz's Delicatessen, prompting the nearby diner to declare that she'll have the same. On a rainy weekday lunch hour, you can experience a few pleasurable eateries on East Houston, starting at Katz's.  Katz's has been around since 1888, and although it serves your typical monochromatic deli food, seasoned veterans will urge you not to order anything but pastrami, corned beef, and pickles for your first visit. Obviously this is not the place for those with cholesterol concerns, but the ambiance alone is worth the trip. Amidst the crowded tables are signs designating where Sally and Harry sat hang alongside signs urging you to "Send a Salami to your boy in the Army."  Every person who enters the deli gets a ticket. 

Even if you don't order, if you don't have a ticket when you leave, you have to pay $50. Rules
are rules, and you can see why Larry David never lacked material for Seinfeld.  I recommend dining with a group and sharing a couple of sandwiches, pickles [worth the visit alone], and celery soda [helps with digestions, and you will need it].  

Although you will be stuffed at this point, to continue on your Foodie Walk, exit Katz's and go a few doors down to Russ & Daughters, which has been a New York institution since 1914. This small place becomes incredibly crowded on the weekends, so if you lack patience and tolerance, go during the week.  R&D will supply the ingredients for your NY-styled breakfast of bagels, schmear, and lox.  Here you can get smoked salmon, lox, and gravlax, along with smoked fish spread, pickled herring, rollmops, and other types of smoked or pickled fish. They also have different types of cream cheese to complete your breakfast smorgasbord.  

By now you are probably wondering why we did not get knish at Katz's to complete the Eastern European food theme on the tour. Katz's has fried knishes, which some people might prefer. However, to give your digestion a rest and tastebuds a treat, travel a few doors down from R&D to Yonah Shimmel Knishery.  Yonah Shimmel started in 1910 and has quite the eclectic array of baked knish, including sweet potato, mushroom and spinach, cherry and cheese, kasha, and BBQ for the summer. 

All three places have old photos depicting the history of the establishment and New York, which adds to the flavor and tradition.  

NYC Freedom: Roosevelt Island & The 9/11 Memorial

The East River from RI Tram
New York can feel incredibly overpopulated while commuting, walking around, or eating out, yet surprisingly, a few places exist where it feels like a serene urban oasis. For example, the cultural centers Goethe House and the Scandinavia House often have free exhibits, lectures, or movies with relatively few, if any, visitors, especially during the week. Some of the smaller museums or institutes also have interesting exhibits,  such as the Paley Center for Media, where I recently saw a Rolling Stones 50th anniversary tribute, or the International Center for Photography, which was practically empty on a recent Sunday.  

Underpopulated outdoor venues also exist.  In another blog I wrote about Governor's Island, open during the summer months with complimentary ferry service and spectacular views. Recently, I added another spectacular island to my list: Roosevelt Island.

Roosevelt Island 

Roosevelt Island, at about two miles long and 800 feet wide, lies in the East River and is
Roosevelt Island lighthouse
accessible by cable car or subway. This beautiful stretch of real estate has had a few aliases over the years. Native Americans called it Minnahononck, and as it changed hands between the Dutch and the English, it became Hog's Island, Manning's Island, Flynn's Island, Blackwell's Island, and Welfare Island before becoming Roosevelt Island in 1973.  Developers decided that a name like Welfare Island may not be attractive to residents, so a name change and a memorial to FDR were planned. The name change took place, but the untimely death of the architect for the memorial put the installation on hold until March 29, 2010, when construction commenced.

Taking the Tramway from 59th street is a visual treat on a clear day. Apparently the
Former smallpox hospital
Tramway had some unfortunate hiccups in reliability that required a complete upgrade. Now, though, you can scoot across the East River in a matter of minutes, exit and take off walking north or south. To the north I saw very few people, and most of them were patients of the hospital convalescing in the sun. Historically, this island has housed a penitentiary, workhouse, lunatic asylum, various almshouses, and hospitals, including one for victims of polio and other chronic diseases and one for small pox. A lighthouse stands on the northernmost point of the island. 

Heading south on the trail brings views of open space for picnics and dodgeball, along with a power plant and some other industrial buildings. Farther along, I passed a  fenced-in compound for stray cats that a local woman maintains. She feeds the cats and the ducks, which were numerous and fat. I then entered a gorgeous wild space with wildflowers and native grasses that just beckons for a picnic on a lazy afternoon. At the southernmost tip of the island the FDR Memorial, celebrating his famous Four Freedoms speech of 1941, glistens in the sun. Before reaching the monument, I pass the vine-covered shell of the small pox hospital. This contrasts with the monument's stark white Mount Airy Granite [park staff allow no drinks on the granite because humans can be clumsy and inconsiderate].
After ascending a few steps, a long lawn with 120 little-leaf lindens leads to the monument.  Behind the monument, you can look out over the water soaking in the warm breeze, sunshine, and views of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn.  I pondered the irony that a place of beauty memorializing freedom had for so long been a place a confinement.

The 911 Memorial

Across the river on Manhattan island, another memorial to freedom exists. For personal reasons I waited until the end of my time in New York before visiting the 911 Memorial. Despite this being a popular tourist destination with vast crowds and long entry lines, the layout and the design of the park creates a feeling of serenity and anonymity. The magnificent waterfalls and trees direct the focus on honoring those whose names are engraved in bronze. The emotional effect of seeing all those names on so much space cannot be conveyed fully in print or photograph.