Monday, May 15, 2006

New York Trip: Part One

Jeff and I stayed at the Chelsea International Hostel on West 20th Street. It's a very central location, close to everything, walking distance to Union Square and Greenwich Village, and a short subway ride to just about everything in Manhattan. The station was just a couple blocks away on 18th Street and it didn't take us long til we had the whole system figured out and were zipping back and forth around the city like old pros.

Check-in was a nightmare with about 30 people waiting in a "lobby" about the size of an 3 by 10 envelope for the cranky woman behind bullet proof glass to get organized and hand them their keys, etc.

After a quick nap we took a walk down to the Chelsea "Market" on 9th Avenue for some food. I put "Market" in quotes because it wasn't really a market, more of a "Festival Marketplace," food shops in a mall, once a historic building (in this case the converted former Nabisco cracker factory from the early 1900s). Way overpriced "Annie's Frozen Yogurt" and "That's a Wrap!" type places with exposed brick and aesthetically-placed factory machinery. We stopped at Amy's Bread for a slice of pizza and a caramel bar because we were STARVING though after the long flight. The pizza was pretty good--pesto with fresh tomato and cheese--and the caramel-cashew bar was excellent, but both were waaayy overpriced. I noticed that the Chelsea Market was somehow connected to a building where they film the execrable Emeril! show. I shoulda known anything connected with that guy would be bound to disappoint.

After took the subway down to Greenwich Village/Washington Square area where Jeff got a great haircut at the famous Astor Place. We browsed the Strand bookstore for a while, and I picked up a great out-of-print cookbook on Chinese Vegetarian Cooking by Florence Lin. I really loved the Strand. It's really what a bookstore should be: inexpensive books that look like something you'd want to read. Sometimes when I walk into Border's they have so much crap: self-help and non-book stuff and cards and horrible DaVinci Code spin-off that I just feel like I never want to read again. The Strand really makes you feel like there's so much interesting stuff to read, so many great writers. It's an entirely different experience.

The pizza hadn't really filled us up so we stopped at Vegetarian Palace 2 on 4th Street near Washington Square, I believe. It was just Okay. The Sugarcane Drumsticks were really good, and the eggrolls were fine. the appetizers were more filling than I thought they'd be so by the time our entree came we weren't that hungry for it. It was General tso's chicken which didn't seem spicy enough and the vegetables were pretty ordinary: celery, carrot and green pepper. Everything--except the drumsticks--seemed like something we could make at\ home. By the time we added tax and tip (they charged us extra for tea!), the bill was way more than I'd wanted to pay. And the bathroom had been totally tagged and graffited by NYU students and other "Trustafarians" (a bohemian with a trust fund) who hang out in the area. Not recommended, unless just to sample the yummy sugarcane drumsticks.

Lastly, we went to the famous Stonewall Inn for a ($4! ouch!) beer before heading home to sleep.

The next morning we headed over to H&H Bagels for breakfast. little did we know that the location we were going to on the West Side near the river was actually their factory. they sold the bagels but couldn't really toast them or slice them and didn't have a place for us to sit. We bought three and a pack of cream cheese, and went to look for a place to sit. We were right near the USS Intrepid Museum, a giant warship (with a McDonald's attached) docked right off of Manhattan. They have a McDonald's but no benches nearby so finally we decided to just walk to Central Park. On our way there we passed this guy on an otherwise empty street, happily yelling at the top of his lungs, "They're not shoes! They're not slippers! They're SHIPPERS! They're SLOES!" It was a little disconcerting and alarming at first, but it was hard not to laugh along with him. He just seemed so utterly pleased with the joke, and to be walking along yelling it at anyone who was within shouting range.

We made it to the Columbus Circle entrance to the park where we had our bagels. I liked the bagels, but Jeff was disappointed and spent the rest of the vacation looking for a particular type of bagel he had in mind with a particular width and a particular type of hole, which he never found. After breakfast, we spent the next few hours walking through the totally gorgeous park. It was still very early so the park was pretty empty. We saw the truck containing all the hot dog and ice cream stands ariving. After that we headed over to Zabar's, a sort of deli/ gourmet shop/ cooking store on the Upper West Side, which didn't disappoint at all. Prices varied of course, but it wasn't hard to find GREAT deals (better even than Atlanta) on some totally delicious food (gourmet cheeses, exotic olives, fresh breads, etc). I thought it was a really awesome store. We bought some lunch fixings and threw them in the bag before heading over to Bloomingdale's.

I had a gift certificate to Bloomingdale's which I'd been saving so I could spend it in New York. Jeff and I picked out a great LaCoste shirt before heading back to the room to make our sandwich fixin's into lunch.

After a brief nap, it was time to get ready for our show that night: Blossom Dearie.

If you don't know Blossom Dearie, you really should. You're missing out. She really is one of the jazz greats. She became known in the 50s and 60s for her totally unique spin on jazz standards such as Cole Porter's "OOh-La-La" and "I Walk a Little Faster." She might be best known to a younger set of people for her vocals on the SchoolHouse Rock Classics "Unpack Your Adjectives" and "Figure Eight." Her voice is still the same: an intriguing mixture of girlish innocence and worldly sophistication. I think the fact that she did a few "novelty" songs along with the SchoolHouse Rock things can sometimes overshadow the fact that she is ALSO a truly great jazz vocalist and pianist. Jeff and I felt totally lucky to get to see her, because, although she performs often in New York, it isn't a totally regular thing.

We got to the cabaret room at Danny's Grand Sea Palace (a Thai restaurant (of all things) near Times Square where she was performing) early because I wanted to get a good seat. We didn't need to worry because the performance space was wonderfully small and intimate. Her performance was great. She opened with Cole Porter's "Ooh-La-La" and moved on to do a set of all her well-known numbers. She introduced a number called "I'm Shadowing You" (ostensibly about obsessive love) by saying that it was written during the Watergate era, but things had come full circle. She introduced one of my favorite of her songs "Hey, John," by saying that it had been written for John Lennon after she met him.

The entry fee included two drinks apiece, which worked out kind of nice, because otherwise I probably wouldn't have sprung for a cocktail and it was totally nice to drink a couple Manhattans (what else?) while we listened to the show. If you get a chance, I highly recommend you check out this fantastic singer.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome home! So glad you boys had a nice trip. The Blossome Dearie show sounds like it was fantastic. Hope to see you soon.


3:23 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

I love the Strand too! Living only about 45 minutes from Manhattan, I should go more often than I do. Enough time passes between visits that I usually have some new and exciting interest and search for the section of the Strand with relevent books.

The last time (no joke), it was (and still is) yoga. I searched high and low, through skyscraper-high shelves upstairs and dank corners downstairs. Eventually I asked someone if they had any books on yoga and they said they did not! Imagine that -- in Manhattan!

As luck would have it, I did stumble across Paramahansa Yogananda's "Autobiography of a Yogi" ... in the BASEBALL section! I'm not making this up! :)

Great store.


3:43 PM  

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