The last installment of “I <3 NY.” For better or worse (…richer or poorer?), life here is like nowhere else.
♥ Samad’s Gourmet. On Broadway between 111th and 112th, Hikmat and Wassim run a great little deli with fantastic wraps, muffins, and coffee. Their excellent baba and hummous are made with tahini they bring in from Lebanon. The two friends are always good for a chat and seem to know half their customers, which inspires a loyalty strong enough to keep some of us away from the neighborhood bully, West Side Market, across the street.
♥ Galleries. I don’t have favorites, I just love that there is always something to see. I think that I might see less because I know something is always there (if you are in a smaller place, you make sure to see what you can, when you can). My friend, Peter, blogs about what he wants to see and where, so if your interested in what to see now, check him out. Above: Matthew Marks. (Okay, Sasha Wolf Gallery is great for photography).
♥ My favorite museum is the Guggenheim (pictured above in grainy cell phone snap). I love the sloping gallery and have seen some amazing exhibitions there. Cai Guo-Qiang and Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle come to mind (heavens, was that eight years ago? I loved that). The Metropolitan Museum of Art is worthy of years of exploration, and the rooftop cafe/bar offers great views of the park. After reading the book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (by E. L. Konigsburg) as a child, the Met has been a beloved place. Yes, the Natural History Musem. Who’s coming to the silk road thing with me? Yes, the Rubin Museum. It’s such an incredibly beautiful space with great shindigs on Friday nights. MoMA? I’ve never loved MoMA. Part of it is the crowds, as the only time I truly enjoyed it was an empty night on the eve of a holiday. And part of it is that I’m partial to staring at pretty things.
♥ Cold, fresh snow air. I don’t like cold winds, but I love do love the smell and crispness of the air when it snows. And when it’s so cold that few people are out crowding the streets. The Swedes like to say, “There’s no bad weather. Only bad clothing.” Bundle up and go play!
♥ New York Moments. #1 comes last. They pop up everywhere if you let them. Moments with strangers on the subway when you both observe some third-party behavioral silliness or transgression and you lock eyes understandingly, made all the more intimate by the fact that such communication is generally forbidden. Moments when you overhear snippets that make you giggle out loud (a bit less special now given the curious popularity of the mobile phone. This device has made these snippets entirely too frequent and at times, cumbersome. Alas, I do celebrate that they do not yet work underground).
Further: Stumbling on a tag scrawling your best friend’s nickname. Spotting the silhouette of a guy in a top hat, who’s singing opera while pacing underneath a bridge in the park. Admiring the outfit of a lady at lunch who has very interesting ideas about how to accouter herself (e.g. above @Caviarteria), whilst you bemoan that the people who have money in this city so seldom have the taste or creativity to know how to use it properly. A man dining with his bulldog. The erroneous number of carbs in bagels, mushrooms, cream of wheat, and jello scribbled on a MTA trashcan in silver pen. Superman strapped to the grill of a delivery van. I could make a slide show of favorite NY moments captured on film, and perhaps I will. For now, a set of my favorite NY images are up on flickr. It features a NY moment or two.
This installment gets into favorite treks, neighborhoods, and a few sites. I’ll add photos tonight, as (surprise!) I’m having troubles accessing them through scancafe. (The box of images and DVDs was returned today. I’ll see them tonight!)
♥ Coney Island to Brighton Beach. This walk is one of my favorites. I drag friends out here and show them Coney (pictured above), then take them down the boardwalk to Little Odessa, where Russians (and other ex-Soviets) have made their home. In the winter, the old ladies sit on benches in their furs and kvetch about their children. In the summer, everyone frolics in the sea, while Russo-Brooklyn’s finest drink beers in the boardwalk cafés, e.g. Tatiana, and stare. Then it’s to some bookstores and shops on Brighton Beach Avenue, and lunch or dinner at Gina’s Cafe or Cafe Glechik. Neither have great food, but Gina’s has that post-Soviet wanna-be-hip cafe ambiance that will make a traveler nostalgic, and Glechik is typical heavy Russian fare. It’s BYO, so grab $2 Baltika beers in the Pakistani Deli next door. The neighborhood feels more like the ex-Soviet Union than Russia does, because the immigrants have hung on to what feels like home, for better or worse. If you’re seeking the Russian gangster experience, head for one of the restaurant nightclubs, like Odessa or National (pictured below). The dancing, costumes, and shows are totally over the top. Это здорово. Bring lots of cash. Far too many born and bred New Yorkers have not had this experience. What a shame.
♥ Astoria. In 1999-2000, I lived on 33rd Ave, near 29th St and Broadway in Astoria. I loved it there. Astoria is known for its Greek community, but also has lots of Eastern Europeans (especially Bosnians) and Egyptians, which makes for a lively stroll through the neighborhood. There are great Greek cafes and lots of good Thai, Egyptian, and Colombian places. A favorite is Uncle George’s, on Broadway, a grungy Greek taverna open 24/7. No coffee is served. Neither is breakfast. Just the regular, greasy, lamb-laden menu all around the clock. (Touristy? How many “fodor’s-lugging tourists” trek out to Queens?) They serve extremely garlicky fare, with cheap carafes of house wine. The food is certainly not refined, but the experience is very Astoria, and good fun. Another favorite Euro-Astoria experience: Zlata Praha, for Slovak and Czech food and décor.
♥ On at least one occasion I walked from Astoria to Jackson Heights, to get a feel for Queens. I also adore Jackson Heights, though I recommend taking the train over walking. Some Indian friends refuse to go because it’s “dirty,” but I love the trip out to eat, shop, and enjoy. The main strip is full of South Asian restaurants, sari boutiques, jewelry stores (gold, lots of gold), music shops, and sweet stalls. There’s a huge grocery store, Patel Brothers, with great bargains on rice, spices, tiger biscuits, you name it. My favorite restaurant closed, so try your luck where you may.
♥ Staten Island Ferry to Little Sri Lanka. This is a more recent favorite. The Staten Island Ferry is delightful. I take visitors on it at least four times a year. It was always a bit of a drag in Staten Island, because the turnaround often meant an annoying wait in a nasty room, but the terminals have been refurbished on both sides, making the journey more pleasant. And I’ve found San Rasa, a Sri Lankan restaurant that’s a 10-minute walk from the Ferry. There’s a Sri Lankan neighborhood with more groceries and restaurants a further 10-minute walk up Victory Street (around Cebra St). That makes for a long return, so I usually stick with San Rasa. If you want to try Sri Lankan food, which well-prepared is amazing, without the trek, Sigiri in the East Village is worth a visit. Both are B.Y.O.
♥ Fort Tryon Park/Cloisters. If you want a break from the city but can’t make it out of town, take the A train up to Fort Tryon Park. The gardens have faded over the last few years, but the views of the Hudson River and the Palisades are stunning, and the air feels cleaner here than further downtown. The Cloisters (part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) are a quiet, gorgeous escape from the bustle of Manhattan. There are plenty of cafes around for lunch—New Leaf in the park, and a few on 187th Street. Or grab some sandwiches at Frank’s Market and have a picnic in the park.
Okay, long enough. The third and last part of “I <3 NY” will mention the obligatory NY cultural faves as well as our biggest draw, NY moments.
Yes, I’ve done a lot of complaining about the only place I’ve ever truly felt at home. Yes, I feel a bit less at home here now, but I do still love much about the city. In honor, I’ve made a quick list of things I love about the Big Apple. In no particular order:
♥ Walking. New York is one of the few great walking cities of the world. We really walk here. It’s the only thing I missed when I was away, the movement that’s part of daily life. And if you want to have a stroll around, there are miles to explore. When friends visit, we sometimes walk over ten miles around the city in a day. I took this shot (above) while walking back to the train from a trip to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. You’d never get that in a driving town. It creates moments. It’s fantastic.
♥ Open hours. The cliché is true. You can get almost anything you need when you need it. Except perhaps in the early morning hours around 5-6am, when the city is very quiet.
♥ The Subway. While I also hate it, I do love how easy it is to get around the city. There’s no need for a car, which is great, because it’s impossible to get around, much less park, in one. Many other cities have hideous traffic and little or no parking, but it’s impossible to get around town on public transport. Melbourne’s trams and Sydney’s buses are no match for the subway. (Yes, many Euro cities have great public transit. I agree.) I also think the subways hold a beauty of their own.
♥ Restaurants, of course. I’ve had different favorites over the years. A few are Chola, La Masseria, Saravanas, Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse, Bamiyan, Kashkaval, Café Asean, Zoma, and, yes, Absolute Bagels (only hot & fresh in the morning). Some of these places I love for atmosphere more than the food.
♥ Yoga. I love the studios, the teachers, the schedules, the variety. The yoga scene here can be competitive and intense, but I like the vibe better than in other cities, like Boulder or L.A. A best kept secret? Genny Kapuler, on Wooster.
♥ The Nipple. Known to many as the NYPL, the New York Public Library. Almost anything you want to read (or, maybe, hear or watch) can be located in the catalog and sent to your local branch for pickup. I adore it.
The list has gotten a bit long, so I’m continuing in the next post. And more photos for this one tomorrow. I’m tired. I’ve gotta go to bed.