Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Window Shopping

My usual impression of the holidays involves Christmas lights wrapped around palm trees, so being in New York during the holiday season is a whole different animal. Christmas trees line the streets, smelling all pine-y and green (yes, they smell green), reminding me that in some places the holiday does not smell like sea salt. In New York, stores littered with usually a person or two are packed to the gills with customers, and midtown is filled with tourists all hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous tree at Rockefeller Center. People go ice skating at the rink, pop into Serendipity for a Frozen Hot Chocolate, rush about Bloomingdale’s in a frenzy trying to find the perfect gift. And then there are the holiday windows.

I was familiar with Christmas windows as a general concept from once going to Pittsburgh’s Light Up Night at the beginning of the holiday season, when the department stores downtown display their windows for the first time. There are animatronic robots and tons of color, tinsel, glitter, the works. It’s definitely cute, but I never thought it was beautiful, per se. Then there were the windows in New York that my mother always used to talk about. I pictured her seeing the windows at Lord and Taylor and Macy’s as a tot, eyes dancing with visions of elves and Santa Claus and snow. I looked forward to seeing some of these New York windows and maybe having a similar experience.

I got a chance one evening when HL came in to visit. When I picked her up from Grand Central and asked her what she’d like to do, she replied happily, “Well, I haven’t seen too many Christmas decorations yet.” I knew what we had to do. We did Rockefeller Center of course, but then made our way to Saks, whose windows featured gorgeous designer gowns in scenes with more animatronics, plastic bubbles and hot air balloons. Again, it was just cute. But then we made our way to Bergdorf Goodman.

The corner of 57th Street and 5th Avenue is a hotbed of Christmas sparkle. A giant glittering snowflake is suspended in the middle of the intersection, Tiffany’s is covered in a blanket of white Christmas lights, a high-fashion fifties-style fashion model light installation graces the front of Dior. But Bergdorf’s, also on this corner, is by far the most beautiful.

Every single window wrapped around the famed high-end department store is filled with a visual feast. In the 57th Street windows, a collection of neon lights and snow wishing happy holidays rest alongside mannequins in elegant coats and ballgowns. 

It is the windows on 5th where the store truly shines, though. Entitled “Wish You Were Here,” each display was assembled along the basic theme of travel—airplanes, trains, boats, cars, horses, rocket ship, you name it. Designed by Bergdorf’s Director of Visual Presentation David Hoey and a talented team, the windows are a clever collage of color and sparkle. Bergdorf’s is well-known for its window displays year-round, many of which take years themselves to produce. This is because the fine visual team at the store spares no expense in making them. Here’s a behind-the-scenes video about some of what goes into the process of putting together the windows:

I feel like description really won’t do them justice, so I’ve included pictures. My favorites were the boat and rocket ship windows, so intelligently designed and filled with the most strange and wonderful details: a toy iguana painted silver, a jewel-encrusted toy alligator, a sailor suit made entirely of sequins. Nothing was placed in any particular location by accident. The store takes holiday decorations to a high-fashion level, where even the mannequins are gorgeous and elegant. At Saks I just felt like I was looking at Christmas windows, but at Bergdorf’s I felt like I was looking at art. 

Truth be told, Christmas never really meant that much to me because I don’t celebrate the holiday, but when I was standing in front of Bergdorf’s taking pictures I felt a little differently. There was a team from a Japanese television station in front of the store asking people about the meaning of Christmas, what their wishes for the world are, and so on. They asked me and I heard myself say, “Well, I don’t celebrate Christmas, but the holidays to me are a reminder of our happiness. My wish for the world is to find beauty in the everyday, to appreciate the little things that make life wonderful.” To me, because every tiny detail in the window displays was as beautiful as the bigger picture itself, it seemed like this was what Bergdorf’s was trying to tell us, too. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Day with Levi's

Scrambling around SoHo, I had some trouble finding it. The Levi’s Photo Workshop was set up at 18 Wooster Street at Canal Street. While walking down Canal the first time I missed Wooster completely. When I found myself in TriBeCa, I knew I had gone too far and scrambled back.
Normally there would have been no scrambling, but I was running late for a panel where photographers like Marilyn Minter and Michelle Elzay would be discussing different art books that inspired them. Eventually I found the space, though, having traipsed all over and freezing my legs solid. I ended up being early.

It was totally worth it, though. The Levi’s Photo Workshop is (rather, as of the end of today, was) a temporary photography space set up from October to December where people could use all different kinds of photography equipment, from vintage cameras to studio setups and lighting to printers to computers with Photoshop and probably even more that I’m not aware of. For a couple of months in different cities (Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc.), Levi’s sets up a workshop for people to use all of this equipment completely for free. According to Levi’s, the workshops are meant to be “a series of community-based venues for collaboration and creative production,” where people can use the equipment not only to produce their own work, but to see the work of others and contribute to a growing gallery space.

The front of 18 Wooster Street, like many spaces in SoHo, is an
industrial one, with a shiny metal and plastic garage door that allows you to see the glories inside as you walk past. Inside, the space has tremendously high ceilings in both the first and second rooms. The first room is home to a series of vintage cameras people can use in the space, as well walls are filled to the brim with photographs from “all the photographers in New York” (one of the workshop’s goals, I imagine, was to get them all into the space at some point). Portraits of some of these photographers hang on a banner spanning the vertical length of an entire wall, including the likes of Mary Ellen Mark among others. Also on the walls are numerous sets of photos from the digital photo booth right there in the space, which the workshop’s employees later used to decorate the space for the closing night party.

The second room, up a short set of stairs, is the more utilitarian space, painted completely white with each section of the room designated for different pursuits: two rows of computers with photo editing and organizing software; a printing area for 8.5 x 11 prints, a printing kiosk for 3x5 and 4x6 prints, a large format printer for large prints, and a fabric printer for printing photographs on t-shirts, canvas, and the like; a makeup area for photoshoots; and the remaining wall space for the shoots themselves. Any kind of photo work you could ever want to do could be possible in this space.

Though the space had been open since October, for whatever reason I hadn’t made my way there until this week, the last week it would be open. This panel discussion was the first time I was there, and it was incredible. I listened to world class photographers talk about what inspires them (Marilyn Minter brought in a Basquiat book and Michelle Elzay brought in a 1970s Playboy) and actually got to have a discussion with one (Elzay) myself. It was an amazing experience and I promised myself I would be back as often as possible within this last week to make use of the space, and even try to print some photos.

Today (Saturday), I woke up at 8:30am to get to the workshop at 10:30, 30 minutes before it opened. I was probably the fifteenth person in line when I arrived, waiting outside in the cold to make sure I’d be able to print (a side effect of getting to print for free on awesome equipment is that everyone wants to do it and there are lines).

When I got there, however, I found there was no more photo paper (a side effect of being non-for-profit and at the end of the program). However, the employee in charge, with spiky charcoal hair, a flannel shirt and thick-framed glasses, told us they needed a bunch of help putting together the final night’s exhibition so if we wanted to help we could. Deciding that I didn’t want my waiting out in the cold to have been in vain, I helped, cutting white edges off blown-up portraits from the photobooth. I also ate the waffles they made fresh for us, knowing we’d be waiting outside to get in (with Nutella and maple syrup! Delish).

I met and talked to different people, all photographers, and for the first time since I’ve been in New York, I felt like I was a part of a community. We were all working together toward a common creative goal, and that felt really great to be a part of. I love New York dearly, but it can be difficult to meet new people and find a space where you belong. I felt like I belonged within minutes of being there, though, so I can only imagine how it would have felt if I had been using the space longer than that. I am kicking myself a little bit, but I’m really genuinely happy to have been able to participate at all.

I did end up getting to print some photos, however, on canvas that I bought at the art store across the street, and they look pretty cool, if I do say so myself. As I left, I said to one of the employees that I don’t know who to thank for such an awesome space, but thank you nonetheless. He smiled and said “You can thank all of us.” But I guess that’s what community is all about. So thank you, Levi’s Photo Workshop, for a fantastic experience and a fantastic day. I only wish you were open longer!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


“Let me know when it’s my stop,” HL said to me.
The closest I’ve ever had to a sister, HL was staying with me for a few days after getting a job in New York. Her job was not too far from mine so we were able to take the train together in the mornings. HL is from Pennsylvania, and though she’s been to New York before, she hadn’t taken the subway too much.

The first day we took the train, I explained everything I had learned to HL—-walk to the end of the train, or as close as possible, so you’re not smashed sardine-style in a subway car; yes, you can put your MetroCard away after you swipe it if your transfer is in the same station; sometimes you don’t have to hold on and you can just surf the rails. Some of it is common sense, for sure, but I spouted away just in case, like a mother hen tending to her chicks.

After leaving one train to transfer to another, HL almost veered off in the wrong direction, but I quickly steered her the right way and we laughed. Having traveled together a bunch of times before, her joke to me was always “I’m here to protect you!” It seemed this time, though, I was there to protect her, too: to make sure she didn’t get lost in the subway station, to make sure she got off at the right stop and that she knew how to get home.

On the second train, she whispered to me to tell her when to get off. It was a stop before mine, and when she got off the train, she waved back at me and grinned. It felt weird, like that feeling mothers must get when they drop their kids off at kindergarten for the first time. You just smile and hope they’re going to be okay (and she did get to work fine, of course).

I decided that part of becoming a New Yorker is helping someone else get settled as well. Because HL is still getting acclimated to New York, having only been here about two and a half days, I have been able to help her and it feels good, like a rite of passage for both myself and for her. I’ve taught her the joys of HopStop, but that it’s not always perfect; that you probably don’t want to live up by the Cloisters if you can avoid it; that Bergdorf’s has the best Christmas windows; that Gristedes is more expensive than Food Emporium. There’s been more, I’m sure, but I can’t remember all of it because it just kind of rolls off my tongue. There are some things you have to learn by experiencing them for yourself, but sometimes it’s just easier if someone tells you so you don’t have to go through the ordeal of buying ice cream for seven dollars in one store when it could have been significantly less elsewhere. But I guess this is what my mother had been trying to tell me about life all along.

This morning, HL and I walked to the subway as before, but we got separated on the train. I noticed she wasn’t near me when the doors closed and looked around quickly trying to find her. A few people away, she waved a gloved hand at me and smiled. I was happy she was there, but then I realized she didn’t really need me anymore. My little girl was growing up!

We transferred and she knew where to get off this time, but still asked me “This one?” quietly, as if to reassure herself. I smiled and nodded, sagelike (if I do say so myself). Maybe she would need me for a little bit longer. But I had promised her long ago that I would always be there.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Grand Central

If you get off the 6 train at 42nd Street, you will find yourself inside Grand Central Station. Actually, you’ll find yourself in Grand Central Terminal because that’s the building’s correct name. Either way, however, you’ll be in the largest train station in the world by sheer number of platforms (44, with 67 tracks along them).

To be in Grand Central is really quite humbling. Brilliantly bulbed chandeliers dot the Main Concourse, into which the tallest windows pour endless natural light. The ceiling is a turquoise and yellow sky, complete with lighted constellations of Orion, Leo, and what have you. Soft yellow, almost tan, light fills the palatial station, giving everything in it a similar hue. Two massive staircases at either end of the main concourse lead to a fine restaurant and to the Campbell Apartment, which was once the office of 1920s millionaire financier John W. Campbell but is now a cocktail lounge. Under the main concourse is the dining concourse, like a food court, saddled on one side by the famous Oyster Bar. There are also numerous stores, ATMs, and the like, making Grand Central a small city in and of itself.

Being in Grand Central is like walking through history. I imagine the building is flooded with ghosts, of men in their grey flannel suits walking through the station to work in the 1950s, women clutching hats and gloves as they rush, ladylike, to the trains. Traveling by rail in general evokes another era, when people perhaps preferred trains to airplanes (though trains have always been more reliable). People still rush to catch trains, but the glamour of it is lost on people, I think. I mean, not everyone is Miss Noxzema Jackson in To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, begging to know “Does it have a club car? Ooooh tell me, tell me, tell me does it haaaave a club car?” But somehow by looking at this building, we’re allowed to think what this club car might be or have been like.

Grand Central Terminal was originally called Grand Central Depot, and rose in 1871 after railroad baron Cornelius Vanderbilt acquired the New York Central Line. Because of a train accident that killed 17 people, the depot was renovated and redesigned by architects Reed & Stern and Warren & Wetmore beginning in 1903 and ending in 1913. For over 40 years, Grand Central remained as it was in 1913, but when the building began to crumble in the mid-50s, it was almost torn down. Thankfully, the site was named a national landmark in the 1960s; it was then rejuvenated a second time and appears as it is today.

The first time I was in Grand Central long enough to appreciate it was in early fall, but I finally got a chance to go back and take some pictures. Have a look, but really try to check it out for yourself someday.  

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Best Date Ever

“Took myself on a date, pick me up at half past eight.”

It’s from a hand-game song we used to sing as kids, but Thursday night it was real life. Like some of the dates I’ve been on, I didn’t realize it was a date until about a third of the way through the evening, but that's me for you. After treating myself to dinner and snagging a front-row seat at a free dance show, I realized I was on the best date ever with none other than myself.

It started quite unassumingly. While checking my email at work, I found in DailyCandy’s Weekend Guide that there was a free modern dance performance by the Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects at the Lincoln Center Atrium at 8:30. Since I get out of work at 6, I decided to kill some time by taking myself out to dinner (which I am wont to do on a semi-regular basis, much to the chagrin of my bank account). But where would I go?

A day earlier, my boss had asked me to find her an interesting restaurant on 9th Avenue in the 50s, walking distance from our office. I gave her a bunch of choices, stumbling upon a restaurant I wanted to try for myself at some point in the future called Casellula. On Thursday I decided to actually go since I had the time. I bundled myself up to brave the cold, medium-strength winds and walked to 401 W. 52nd Street, hoping a glass of wine would warm me up.

When I arrived at the tiny restaurant, I instantly noticed the soft orange hue cast upon the two white walls and the two exposed brick walls. A dark wood L-shaped bar bent into a third of the restaurant, the rest populated by small tables for parties of four or less. Behind the bar, exposed shelving on the brick wall displayed an infinity of wine glasses and wine bottles. Next to it, a small food station with a multitude of cheeses and a little silver oven for warming, toasting, grilling the menu items, all small plates like macaroni and cheese, paninis, and salads. Near this kitchen area was also a tall cheese display case, three shelves of Roqueforts, Camemberts, Bries, Goudas, Chevres, Bleus and more, their different color skins and molds making some sort of delicious-looking dairy rainbow.

I sat at the bar and perused the wine list. After looking at the menu online, I had already decided I wanted the macaroni and cheese, made with Fol Epi, Comté, and Chevre cheeses, lardons (pork fat) and caramelized onions. I know nearly nothing about wine, so I took this chance to learn something.

“Is there a wine that goes with the macaroni and cheese?” I asked, laughing at myself. I knew wines went with different dishes, but I didn’t know if mac and cheese counted. I found out it does. Nikki, the caramel-skinned bartender with a curly, reddish afro, told me a red would complement it nicely, and recommended a Pinot Noir wine (Pinot Noir is so called because the grapes it’s made from are blackish in color). I don’t usually like red wine, but I decided to take her word for it. She let me try the wine first.

She poured a little bit of wine into a glass. I smelled it—it was fruity, almost floral, really light—and then took a sip. It tasted exactly like it smelled. Yum! I was all set to get a full glass.

“You’re actually supposed to drink the whole sample at once,” Nikki said helpfully. Whoops! “I’m still learning,” I laughed happily and ordered a glass of the wine, a McKinley Pinot Noir from Willamette, Oregon. Not too shabs, Pacific Northwest! I really just wanted to keep smelling the wine, maybe take it home and use it as perfume. I didn’t know wine could smell that good. I sat at the bar with my wine, fully conscious of how weird I looked smelling between delicious sips.

My food arrived after a while, macaroni and cheese bubbling hot in a little skillet about the size of a CD. Initially I was worried that this seemed like such a small portion, but as I tasted it I realized it was just right. It was a dish to savor and really try to taste all of the ingredients working together. (I’m fully aware of how pretentious this could sound, but I don’t really care. It’s important to taste food, not just eat it.). The cheeses were creamy and tangy. The lardons and onions were soft, sweet and salty. There was a kind of crisp on the mac and cheese from where it touched the hot skillet that was chewy and just a little bit charred. Delicious, perfectly portioned, and fabbbbulous with the wine. I don’t have any more of a food vocabulary to describe the relationship, unfortunately. You’ll just have to try it for yourself, so visit Casellula and enjoy.

Satiated and just a little bit buzzed, I walked up 10 blocks to Lincoln Center, passing the trees and sculptures near Fordham Law that were lit up for the holidays. I had some time to kill before I went to the performance, so I ambled around Lincoln Center a little bit. I hadn’t been there in about 10 years, and was fantastically struck by the modern beauty of The Met, The New York City Ballet and New York Philharmonic buildings. Though they were beige, they were by no means “beige,” shining with soft white light and filled with patrons dressed up in their wintry theatre attire. The iconic circular fountain in the center of the three buildings was almost like a beacon of this same white light. My only word was “Wow.”

I then made my way inside the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center, which is just across the street from the aforementioned building trifecta. On Thursdays, Target sponsors all kinds of free performances in the atrium (all shows are at 8:30, but get there early because there’s limited, first-come, first-serve seating).

By some stroke of luck, I wound up in the front row of the free Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects show that had been set up inside the building. Tonight was the first modern dance performance in the Target Free Thursdays series. Special dance flooring had been taped to the atrium floor to be a stage for the dancers, with rows of chairs set up on three sides of it for the audience. I was on stage right.

Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects (JODP) is now in its 20th year as a company, performing in an athletic, post-modern and expressive style that has been consistently lauded by publications like The New York Times. According to the company, “With inventive athletic virtuosity, wit and whimsy, JODP works to create dance and film pieces that are explosive, reflective, and seductive, relating to the vastness and intimacy of personal experience.”

In the performance, dancers were creatively tossed about and formed into interesting, bizarre shapes. What I really liked about the pieces (“For Intents and Purposes”, “Moves” and others) is that you could never anticipate what the next movements would be. Even so, they still made perfect sense—there was never a moment where I thought “Uh, what?” or felt like something didn’t belong, even though the movements and phrasing were so unusual. I’m not a dance critic by any means, but you don’t have to be to appreciate people making beautiful movements and shapes with their bodies like the dancers in the JODP. I guess I just know that seeing something beautiful always puts me in a good mood.

I’ve always believed that you can have really meaningful and/or exciting experiences on your own, and this night was no exception. It’s fabulous to go out with friends, but sometimes it’s nice and even cleansing to appreciate the world in solitude. The most important relationship you can ever have is with yourself and as with any relationship, dates are highly encouraged.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Great Bedbug Scare of 2010

“Don’t freak out,” my roommate said to me.

As I pulled up in a cab from the airport after being home for Thanksgiving, I saw her rolling her suitcase down the sidewalk. I had shouted hello from the cab, only to be greeted with the words no roommate wants to hear.

“We might have bedbugs.”

I sat open-mouthed in the cab and stared at her, the meter still running. Bedbugs, parasites of the family Cimicidae that feast upon human blood, have been causing trouble in New York for a while now. Nobody really knows how or why they came to New York, but some have speculated that the amount of travelers the city receives on a daily basis has something to do with it. Sadly, New York seems to be prime real estate for bedbugs, which enjoy a dark crevice and a good fabric seam (clothes included). They will take up residence all over apartments, which are full of both these things. And they’ll bite, leaving small red welts on the bodies of their human prey.

While my roommate and our friend EJ were hanging out, EJ noticed one singular bedbug crawling on one of our futon’s throw pillows. He immediately killed it and my roommate bagged it for future evidence. Not taking the chance that there might be more, she threw clothes in a suitcase and got the hell out. That’s when I ran into her.

I was scared. Were we going to be another unfortunate pair of New York residents whose lives and bank accounts were turned upside down by horrifying creatures no bigger than my thumbnail? Would our Sweet Caroline (the name of our apartment) be no more?

I eventually got out of the cab and my roommate and I stood on the sidewalk, trying to make plans for where to stay that evening. We realized, though, that we had to call our super and tell him about the bug. To his credit, he calmly talked us down from our metaphorical ledge, telling us to go back into the apartment and bag everything up in the general futon area. My roommate, ever stable, made us a plan. Too stunned to formulate coherent thoughts beyond “ohmygodohmygod”, I listened. I clung to the hope that we did not have more than one bedbug.

Just in case we did, though, we would leave our bags in the lobby of our building and go upstairs, she said. We would then put the contents of our living room (and parts of our bedrooms) into plastic trash bags. Into the bags went sheets stripped from beds, pillows wrangled from their cases, the covers torn from the futon and table along with anything else we could fit. It was a pleasant surprise to not see any more of the wretched creatures, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Weary and subtly terrified, we cabbed it down to friends’ apartments (RB and LA are both actually from heaven) and resolved to skip work to deal with the problem the next morning.

LA plied me with drinks and cigarettes and conversation to rid me of my fears, and eventually I passed out at 2am, not thinking about the tiny beings that might be eating me alive if I were in my own bed.
At 8:30 am I rustled my bones and headed back to our apartment, my roommate arriving soon after. Still in the clothes I wore on the airplane, I began piling things in the laundry cart to wash—nay, scorch—in hot water in the washers downstairs. I knew, but had to be reassured that if we did have bedbugs, they cannot swim and certainly do not enjoy being boiled. Through my fog of sleep deprivation I hurled the sheets and pillowcases and futon covers and tablecloths into the washers, taking up three of the four machines we believed would be our salvation.

My roommate threw some pillows into the shower to drown them in hot water. We realized later, as we squeezed the pillows out and wound up with our own, personal wet t-shirt contest that perhaps this was not a good idea, and simply threw the pillows into the dryer to burn the bugs to death, if they were in fact there at all.

Around 11, after all had gone into wash that could, we paused our cleaning endeavor and went to our respective workplaces. The super would be by later that evening to check and see if we actually did have the creatures. Nearly passing out at work from being so tired, I slogged through the day still hoping we didn’t have an infestation.

Luckily, on the way home from work I found out we didn’t. My roommate texted me and I smiled, replying “YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSS!” Apparently the super came in with a flashlight and spray, the whole shebang, and went into every crevice and/or bedbug hiding place in our apartment. No bedbugs to be found. We instantly felt safer in our own home and breathed mental sighs of relief.

People have said to me recently, “New York is not a place to live,” and I disagree, even with events like these. If I was living in Kansas, I’d have to worry about tornadoes. In Los Angeles, earthquakes. We dealt with our bedbug scare, and are incredibly thankful it was just that. But we’re not going to pick up and leave because of it. I guess, somehow, what doesn’t bite you makes you makes you stronger.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


There are times during the week when I come home, swamped with deadlines and personal projects, and flop onto our massive futon, thinking, “Dear God, I just wish I had time to do absolutely nothing.”

Strangely, though, I am a person to whom the concept of “doing nothing” is sometimes lost. Doing nothing is different for everyone, I suppose. My “nothing” always involves something, but some people really can just sit there and be perfectly comfortable doing that. Occasionally I envy them but I am often too caught up in my own nothing to think about it. I find myself utterly incapable of just sitting there, though I often wish I could—and I find this especially prevalent living in New York. There is just something to do all the time. Anywhere. If you want it you can find it. Sometimes I find that I start to “itch” if I’m not doing anything. I’m worried that if I am not going out and finding “it” then I am not taking true advantage of living here.

But this is simply not the case. Months ago, MS warned me of this very phenomenon. Because there’s so much to do, so many distractions, we have to focus our attention on the things that really matter. Is it so vital that I go to the Union Square Farmer’s Market right now? No, I can go next weekend. Do I have to go to the Guggenheim tomorrow? No, it will be open many other days during the year. Part of living in New York and learning to be a New Yorker is that you have to learn to live here as if it weren’t the city that never sleeps. Sometimes you have to wake up with nothing on the schedule and then go forth with doing that nothing because that’s what normal New Yorkers do. They are not tourists who have to see something every second of the limited time they’re here. Grand Central Station will be here next week, next month, next year and the next ten years—I can go in any of those time segments I choose. There’s no rush.

Instead, occasionally you have to sit in your pajamas all day and read the fashion magazines that have been piling up on your desk and drink your tea and maybe you’ll eventually decide to rustle your bones and jaunt down to the grocery store so you don’t wind up eating stale Cheerios for dinner during the week. That’s it—that will be your day. And it’s okay because that’s the “nothing” you’ve been wanting to do for a while (if you’re me, anyway).

The nothings, no matter what they may entail, are necessary in New York. If you do something all the time you’ll really just burn yourself out. And what kind of a way is that to enjoy living in such a bustling, lively place? It’s better to have the energy to do the things you love than have no energy because you were doing a bunch of things that didn’t matter to you. The “nothing” moments are far more important than we think they are, but unfortunately we only appreciate them when they’re unavailable. So it’s important to have a lazy Saturday, and maybe even a lazy Sunday if you’re feeling ambitious. Because without your own silence, you can’t appreciate the city’s music.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Not For the Faint of Heart

At 20 minutes til, I was one of the first people there, but we could not go in until the exact hour. In front of the dingy iron door, more and more women, and the occasional brave man, began to line up as the clock neared 11.

And then, 11:03. A stout, unibrowed man held open the door with a fleshy palm. He wore an army green v-neck t-shirt that danced atop his swollen stomach. The shirt swayed in gust of wind created by the first 10 or so women in line rushing past him to fill the industrial elevator that would bring them to the fourth floor, the location of their long-awaited treasure: the Lutz and Patmos sample sale.

Lutz and Patmos is the child of Tina Lutz and Marcia Patmos, who joined design forces to produce timeless, casual knitwear for all seasons. Together since 2000, Lutz and Patmos created a niche market for both themselves and their customers. However, the two split up after this past Fall collection, each desiring a different path in the fashion world. Now the line no longer exists, so the sample sale was highly sought-after.

Retailers, like Lutz and Patmos, use sample sales to get rid of excess merchandise. Shoppers can purchase near-mint condition garments for a fraction of the original price and when it comes to designer labels this fraction is a significant one.

All of the women in the elevator knew this, and knew that this would for the most part be their last chance to get anything Lutz and Patmos at such a slashed price. The unibrowed man heaved open the elevator door, and a barrage of women walked quickly to the metal doors where the sample sale lay in wait. A cacophony of clacking heels and boots and the shuffling of ballet flats resounded along the hallway.

The sample sale was not in a large room, a room perhaps no bigger than a family living room. The beige walls were lined with silver wheeled clothing racks. In the center of the room were tan cardboard boxes filled with scarves, fur accessories, belts, skirts, tank tops, and silk dresses. On the racks were the famous Lutz and Patmos knits—cardigans, shrugs, sweaters, capelets, dusters, and even knitted fur jackets and vests, all soon to be torn through and flung about by the same women who were making their way down the hallway at that very moment.

Hearts racing, the women practically threw their coats and handbags at the coat check girls and flew into the racks of clothing. It was every woman for herself—if they even had an inkling that they might like an item of clothing, into their arms it went. I was no exception. As I made my way through the first rack, I was particularly charmed by a long red knit cardigan and a silver and grey argyle shrug. I wrapped them in my arms and held onto them for safe keeping—I had visions of Monica on Friends pinning down a woman at a sample sale who wanted her same wedding dress, and I did not want to be that other woman.

When I began looking at the second rack, I found something quite wonderful, however. A jacket of woven navy blue rabbit fur for more than 70% off the original price not only in my size but the last one on the rack. I grabbed it and wrapped it around my arm for security. Nobody was getting near this jacket until I tried it on. Suddenly, I seemed to be infected with the same sample sale fever as the women slinging clothes around me left and right.

Stray, unwanted clothes began piling up on tables, fallen soldiers littering the pathways between and underneath the racks. Clothes covered the chairs where women tried on their finds, keeping them close and in sight. I expected some of them to burst out with an unearthly “My precioussssss,” like Golem in the Lord of the Rings movies, but thankfully nobody did. Instead, they quickly stripped out of their clothes, bras exposed, underwear on display, to jump into the Lutz and Patmos creations and see if the garments were worth the trip to the register, suspiciously eyeing any woman who came near their stash mid-try on.

Yet again, I found I was no better, as I piled my own belongings on top of my stash to mark my territory while I tried my pieces on (thankfully they were mostly jackets so no stripping was required). The two sweaters were okay, but the rabbit fur jacket was exquisite. But did I have the funds to bankroll this garment? I put the two sweaters back from whence they came, holding tightly to the fur jacket, and found a people-free zone near the entrance to telephone my financier (aka my mother).

The jacket was a go. I found a place in the line for the register, which extended the length of the room. Clothes and their women still flew around behind me, but being in the line was a welcome lapse in the chaos. I paid and exited, donning my new rabbit fur coat proudly (and warmly, I might add). I was not a sample sale victim who had their garment of choice ripped from them by a cruel woman in a passionate fashion frenzy. I had bravely protected myself against the masses and emerged victorious with a fabulous coat.

Entering the elevator, the chaos finally stopped. Strangely, I felt my pulse slow down. Sample sales, I realized, were not for the faint of heart.

My precious...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Meat District?

A story of an evening out, for no reason in particular.

At 2am, Feebs, ALiCo and I hustled ourselves into a cab.
“We’re going to Little West 12th and 7th, the Meatpacking District.”
“That does not exist,” the cab driver said. Problem. ALiCo quickly dialed LO, who corrected us—Little West 12th and 9th.
“So what’s it called, the Meat District?” said Feebs, who was visiting from Florida.
“Yup. Something like that,” I said.

Just below Chelsea and just above the West Village, "the Meatpacking District isa 20 square block, 24-hour neighborhood on the West Side of Manhattan, flanked by Chelsea Market to the North and Gansevoort Street to the South." About 100 years ago, it was home to 250 slaughterhouses but now contains numerous high-end designer stores, restaurants, bars, hotels and more, all housed in grungy-gorgeous old buildings, surrounded by thick, uneven black brick streets. In the past 20 years, after serious renovation, it's become what some say is "New York's most fashionable neighborhood." I don't know how much I believe it myself, but I'm sure everyone there thinks it is.

Leaving the cab, we walked past the sleek Hotel Gansevoort, subtly lit up with thin red neon lights and down underground to 675 Bar. Once we walked down the stairs  and passing through a door covered in graffiti, we entered through two glass doors into what looked like a brick lair for hip young people (with complimentary coat check). A red pool table lit by a giant horse lamp—an actual size horse with a bulb atop its head—occupied the front half of the room and the four of us found ourselves there for the rest of the evening. Turns out Feebs, ALiCo and LO are all really good at pool, winning something like four or five games in a row while I sipped a Tom Collins in a spiffed up barber’s chair nearby.

Eventually Feebs left us, having been up for 21 hours and desperately needing sleep, and we went off in search of food. ALiCo said loudly and happily to LO and I, “I WANT SOME PIZZA!” So we crossed over the Meatpacking District’s black streets and wandered down 14th Street until we found Rocky’s. The pizza place was still open because, well, this is New York and that’s how we do it here.
Around 4am, I sat on a newspaper vending machine and bit into a slice of ALiCo's Penne Vodka pizza. Anything tastes delicious at that hour, excluding or not excluding whatever beverages may have been involved up to that point.
Top 40 radio blasted in the background while I popped pirouettes and arabesques near the cash register, waiting for LO and ALiCo to get their food. LO shook roasted red pepper onto her pizza as ALiCo heaved her pizza outside. “Holy crap there’s pasta on my pizza!” she said. We sat and talked about nothing except how freaking delicious the pizza was while men who had hit on us at the bar walked past and tried to get our numbers yet again.
I jumped into a cab not too long after that and as we made our way down 14th Street, I watched all the lights go by. There were still people on the street, still traffic rustling past. “I love New York!” I said to the cab driver, just because I felt like it. He didn’t acknowledge me. I must be one of millions who have said that in a cab here at 4:30 in the morning. I didn’t care.  

Friday, November 12, 2010

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Run, Forrest, Run

One of my favorite things about New York is the crazy things you can see from your window. On Halloween, people with apartments overlooking 6th Avenue got to see the parade, but this past Sunday people all over Manhattan and its four sister boroughs got to see the New York marathon.

At around 11am, I stepped up to those somewhat iconic police barricades and snapped pictures of the runners as they trickled onto the street from another borough’s bridge nearby. They ran in the sunlight on the left side of the street, as if they might freeze if they ran in the shadows on this already chilly day.

Runner after runner crossed in front of us, strides long and powerful on even the shorter entrants. Their legs were unbelievably toned, one long line of definition extending from hip to ankle with nothing jiggling in between. No two runners were dressed alike, from short black shorts to full pink bodysuits.

Earlier in the morning you catch the stronger athletes, the ones who break away from the pack either on foot, or wheels for the disabled (nobody is excluded from the marathon). People fly past with their names on their shirts so people they’ve never met, like me, can shout out “Go Tony!” or “Come on, Joe!” to support them as they make their way through the marathon’s 26 miles. That’s part of the great fun of the marathon, really—cheering on people who need your support.

And they deserve it, too. You don’t just get up one day and say hey, I want to run 26 miles. You train for it for months and months, maybe even years. People come from all over the world to participate in the marathon, too. I saw people proudly displaying their flags on their running attire, from places like Australia, England, Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, Venezuela and Germany, just to name a few. Onlookers gather behind a giant flag and go nuts when they see one of their own, hoping they’ll win.
There’s one winner for the marathon overall in the open division (there’s $130,000 in it for the winner of the open division, $200,000 if they’ve won the marathon once before). There’s also a winner for other divisions: Age-group divisions for ages 18-19, 20-24, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, 40-44, 45-49, 50-54, 55-59, 60-64, 65-69, 70-74, 75-79, 80-89, New York Road Runners member divisions (open, ages 18-39; and masters, age 40+), wheelchair division, and handcycle category.
When I first started watching around 11, I saw mostly male runners and while I am not at all averse to this sexy man parade, I was a little disappointed. Where was the womenfolk representation? But then, at around 11:10, I saw the first lady I’d see for another 20-30 minutes at least. I was so proud of this girl for keeping up with, and even surpassing some of, the men.

I left and came back later in the afternoon, around 2:30, when you get more joggers and even people in costume—I saw a Minnie Mouse, some woodland creatures, a man in KISS garb, a guy in a bunny mask, and more—and of course that one guy who just walked alongside runners and took a bunch of pictures. Oh, and there was also the guy who juggled while running.
It’s incredible for anyone to do the marathon, though. Person after person ran, or wheeled, or walked, or crutched (yes, a man on crutches!) past me and I just thought to myself, Hero. Hero. All of them.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Present from New York

On Wednesday I was practically tripping over myself with happiness all day because, well, that is what I do on my birthday. And not only was it my birthday, it was my birthday in New York, which is cause for even more celebration. So anything else great that happened on Wednesday was really just icing on the cake.

I walked into work and was greeted with a cupcake (topped with chocolate buttercream frosting and M&Ms) and a present, a beautiful art-deco candle that smelled like flowers and mimosas. My boss also said I could take off early because it was my birthday, so I’d actually be able to do my favorite walk home before it got dark.

On the walk home after work, I remembered that one of the things I really wanted to do on my birthday was go into a classic bar at a chic New York spot and have a drink. I sighed, I wish I could still do that. Then I remembered, uh, why can’t I? This is New York, for crying out loud. I could find any place like that in a stone’s throw, if I really wanted to. So I immediately made a right and went inside Petrossian.
Photo courtesy of The Wallman Report
Petrossian is known for its caviar, foie gras, smoked fish, and “French-influenced contemporary menu.” It is consistently placed in the prestigious Michelin restaurant guide. On the inside of the restaurant, up a small marble staircase, the seating area is made up of tables clothed in white linens. According to the restaurant, it was designed by Ion Oroveanu, and features “Lalique crystal wall sconces, bronze sculptures from the 1930s, Limoges china, and a Lanvin chandelier.” There is also a pink marble bar behind which the walls are mirrors etched with glamorous Erte drawings.

I went in, sat down at this bar, and ordered a glass of Nicolas champagne rose. The vested bartender removed the cork from the bottle with that signature champagne pop and poured the sparkling liquid into a triangular champagne flute. I sipped the fruit bubbly and smiled. This is what birthdays in New York are supposed to be like, I decided—simple, classic, fabulous. I think there are very few other cities in the world where you can just take a right and end up in such a place.

I left and continued on the walk home, up the Central Park side of Fifth Avenue. Leaves blew around my feet as I walked on the park’s cobbled sidewalk, past the avenue’s beautiful old structures on my right, the bristling park trees on my left. I was reminded yet again of how wonderful it is to be here. Thank you, New York, for a wonderful birthday present.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween, Village Style

NP and I sat on the curb eating dumplings and scallion pancakes as we waited for the parade to start. We found a nice empty space, free of women in New York Yankees ensembles who would indignantly tell us no, we could not stand in the space next to them because they had been waiting there for an hour blah blah blah. Our spot was all our own, directly in front of the silver police barricades. The wind seethed through us like ghosts in some Harry Potter movie. I suppose it was fitting because it was Halloween, after all.

I had read about the Village Halloween Parade many times and decided that I would drag my roommate and GD along with me to go see it for our first Halloween in New York. The parade actually began in 1973, when a mask maker and puppeteer would walk from door to door with his children. A year later it was picked up and expanded by the Theater for the New City and a year after that the parade became its own freestanding non-profit organization. The parade is now a huge grassroots event in the West Village, drawing approximately 60,000 costumed participants. It is also broadcast on local New York television station WPXI.

The parade itself begins on Spring Street at 6th Avenue and travels all the way up to 16th Street in Chelsea. We stationed ourselves on the corner of 10th and 6th and had a nice side view of the action, on the street and on the sidewalk behind us. People were decked out as Elizabethan monarchs, superheroes, genitalia (yes, genitalia), biblical figures, Chilean miners, witches, Teletubbies, Elmo, and the list goes on.

Once the parade started, though, we forgot all about them. Puppets are such a large part of the parade’s history, and the legacy continues today. Not creepy ventriloquist puppets, though—awesome, Lion King on Broadway-type ones, all handmade by artists for the sheer pleasure of participating in the parade. Some of the most famous (and awesome!) puppets in the parade are the 20-year old skeleton puppets, all larger-than-life and not at all creepy. The skeletons are placed at the front of the parade coinciding with the Day of the Dead traditions, not to be “grim expressions of the morbid but rather joyful reminders of all that is vital.”

Beyond the puppets, anyone can be in the parade, from the volunteers who maneuver the puppets to the costumed participants, to bands to dance troupes to vehicles painted in crazy designs. There was a marching band that played Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” a dance troupe from the Broadway Dance Center doing “The Time Warp,” belly dancers, and oh so much more. One of my favorite things about the parade, I think, is that it’s so democratic—it is literally by and for the people of New York, no exclusions.

Once the parade started, it was definitely a neat thing to see, but next year I might try to actually be in it…

Here are some of my favorite costumes from the night:

This was actually on the train down to the parade, but it's still a favorite.


Edward Scissorhands!

The fiercest jellyfish I've ever seen.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Happiest Tourist

I hate tourists, so a movie tour of the city was not at the top of my list of awesome things to do on a Sunday. But I went to support GD, who was writing a piece about it for her job, had an extra ticket, and was kind enough to invite me.

At 11:45am walked to meet GD at the corner of 51st and Broadway. Somehow I missed the gigantic tour bus on the corner and called GD to ask her where she was. Upon seeing the massive vehicle, however, I scorned my mother for all those years of blonde highlights (what have those chemicals been doing to my brain for 16 years?) and promptly crossed the street.

We snagged ourselves some seats, and I looked around the bus. It reminded me of an awful middle school bus trip around New York and New England, except this time there were no smells of tween b.o. and LipSmackers. Instead, the front of the bus was moderately populated with quiet, not-bad-smelling adults, some, not all, of which were tourists. They all seemed happy to go around the Upper West and East Sides for three hours viewing spots from cinema classics.

I’ll admit, while I do love classic cinema, the three hour bit was daunting to me. I would be on a bus for three hours and technically I wouldn’t be going anywhere; in that much time I could hop on a flight back to Fort Lauderdale and, if we caught a nice tailwind, even arrive before the tour was over. But I kept my thoughts to myself.

The tour began. Our guide was a young actress/producer/stand-in who was really quite knowledgeable about the movies of which she spoke. We started almost right away, hearing about movies filmed on certain sites like: 1954’s It Should Happen To You! in Columbus Circle, 1978’s Superman on Central Park South, 1984’s Ghostbusters all up Central Park West. As we passed each site, we also saw clips of the films in which the sites appeared, doubling the impact of what we were looking at.

We stopped briefly in front of The Dakota, where Yoko Ono lives, just hundreds of feet from where her husband was assassinated. We were also able to leave the bus and visit John Lennon’s Imagine memorial. Then it was back up the West Side to Zabar’s, the fantastic gourmet food store (that is, incidentally, my favorite grocery store in Manhattan), where we picked up free-with-the-tour Zabar’s mugs and GD got a Nova bagel with cream cheese.
At this point, I was no longer skeptical—in fact, I would be quite happy to do this for three hours. Maybe I’m a huge film nerd, but learning about movies for three hours and getting to see some sites I wouldn’t normally see (and getting a free mug!) really is my cup of tea. I thought we would be packed in the bus like a herd of cramped cattle—instead, we were free-range cattle, moving about our stops as we pleased.

We traveled through Central Park to the Upper East Side, down Museum Mile, past the Guggenheim and sites from movies like 1981’s Arthur and 1976’s Marathon Man. One of my favorite stops on the tour, however, was the front of Holly Golightly’s brownstone from 1961’s divine Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It turns out the brownstone was chosen because it got enough natural sunlight—the filmmakers wouldn’t have to spend extra money to light it unnaturally with equipment. The sun really did hit it beautifully, and I was so happy to stand on the steps of the brownstone and take a picture like a big, huge tourist and be in the steps of the lovely Audrey/Holly even for a few brief moments.

Then it was back to the bus for a few more sites, then my absolute favorite part of the tour: the tiny little park/sitting area on the corner of 57th and York where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton sit and look out onto the river in 1979’s Manhattan. That scene in Manhattan is one of those scenes in a New York film where you really get to feel what the city is like. It made my heart happy. Somehow, something in the universe went right and I was able to be here, just like Woody and Diane. “And we can come back any time we want,” GD said.

I think this idea was perhaps my favorite part of the entire tour (that, and standing on the very spot where Marilyn Monroe enjoyed the subway grate breeze in 1955’s The Seven Year Itch. Amazing.). The city was ours to do whatever we liked with it, be it visit movie sites, sit by the river, go to Zabar’s, or what have you. These aren’t things someone can tell you not to do—it’s just the city offering itself up to you, saying please, enjoy. Like the Giving Tree but hopefully much more long-lasting.

Seeing New York as a tourist made me appreciate it that much more. It reminds me of when I used to have to leave New York, not to return for months, if not years at a time. But now, along with so many others, the city is mine; it is my home, my workspace, my playground. It’s the scene of zillions of fictional and non-fictional stories—romances, dramas, tragedies, comedies, you name it—and every day there are only more and more. By some happy twist of fate, I get to be here too, and I don’t know if I will ever get over that.