Friday, December 30, 2011

Window Shopping II

Last year when I blogged about the famous holiday window decorations in New York, I discovered the only ones really worth seeing were those at Bergdorf Goodman. The store's renowned team of visual designers (planning for more than two years) proved me correct again this year with their gorgeous, intricate displays, all themed 'Carnival of the Animals.' According to Bergdorf Goodman, each window features a specific material (paper, glass, and brass, among others) used to assemble the entire display--that means entire ostriches made from hundreds of kinds of paper, bright blue glass mosaic fish and, yes, brass monkeys, and innumerable other kinds of animals made from varying materials (and wearing various ensembles). It is a swoonworthy spectacle, and again this year I offer you my original photographs of the displays. Happy Holidays!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas in Norway

“Is this acceptable attire for Norwegian church?”
I turned to my dear new Norwegian roommate, CN, and did a spin for approval. I was wearing black pants, a sweater, and cowboy boots. It was a sentence I never thought I would say.

“Yeah, of course!” she laughed. “There are no rules in Norwegian church.”

That’s something I could get behind. I might convert to Norwegian yet! Any church that let me wear cowboy boots was obviously legit. But really, it’s not “Norwegian church” it’s a Norwegian Seaman’s Church, or Sjømannskirken (I asked my roommate to say this three times. I tried, and she repeated after I pronounced it incorrectly, twice. Finally, I just said”…Okay.” But, to her great credit she said, “Say it.” And I did. Correctly! It’s pronounced “show-man-sear-kin.” CN laughs. “It’s so funny when people try to speak Norwegian.”). The space functions, of course, as a church, but also as a kind of Norwegian community center. They’re located all over the world for Norwegians to congregate and meet each other. Here in New York, it’s located in Midtown East.

In the lobby there is a cabinet full of white teacups emblazoned with different Norwegian words and maritime flags. A portrait of King Harald and Queen Sonja, Norway’s current king and queen, hangs in the lobby (To this, I ask CN—“Who are the royal-looking people?” I am ridiculous). Their picture appears in all seamen’s churches and consulates. Since Norway has a state religion, Protestantism, they represent the religion as well. Signs in the lobby are all written in the language, as are the periodicals. I am tickled. I feel out of place, but in a good way.

On the program tonight are a selection of American and Norwegian Christmas classics, like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Mitt Hjerte Alltid Vanker.” The latter is CN’s favorite Christmas song, which translated means “My Heart Stood Still,” and is voiced by Maria (You know, Jesus’s mom). While we are waiting for the concert to begin, though, there are thin gingerbread cookies in the shape of stars and hearts, called pepperkaker (“pepper-ka-kay”) with the beverage gløgg (“gloog”). Gløgg is a hot mulled juice served with a scoop of blanched almonds and raisins, and spiced with sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, and bitter orange.

As I write this, I am saying to CN, who is in the other room, “How do you say…” and “What’s does that mean…” It is hilarity and learning at the same time. Isn’t that all we want, really?

Both the gløgg and the pepperkaker are yummy, but together they’re divine. The hot juice moistens the cookie and it falls apart in my mouth. Like a classic, silly American, I say “The cookie tastes really good if you dip it in the drink!” I hear myself say this and shake my head at myself. CN laughs at me, or rather with me, and smiles.

The concert begins and a bevy of almost all Norwegian singers and musicians take the stage. One of them sings the American songs with a slight Norwegian twang and it makes me smile. America is this crazy place, New York is this crazy place where all this cool stuff happens on a regular basis and we just don’t know it because, really, how often do we go to Norwegian Seamen’s Churches? Not often enough, obviously. 

One of them, Solfrid Nestegaard Gjeldokk, sings folk songs like “I Denne Søde Juletid” so beautifully I wish she would record an album so I can buy it and listen to it all the time. An awesome tenor, Nils G. Nilsen does a lovely duet of “The Prayer” with Kjersti Kveli, a soprano. And then there are American jazz musicians Art Baron (the last trombonist Duke Ellington ever hired, in 1973) and and Lee Hogans (who plays with Prince), who knock it out of the park, too. The last song of the concert is “Delig Er Jorden,” which means “Lovely is this World.” CN tells me it’s traditionally sung at Christmastime, which explains why everyone in the audience knows the words. A low hum of people singing filters through the space. “Norwegians are quiet,” CN tells me. The people I hear speaking loudly must obviously be Americans. Typical.

After the delightful show, CN and I saunter over to the stacks of Norwegian goodies, like salted licorice and lefse and flattbrød, the latter two of which are both thin, cracker-like constructions, one sweet (lefse) and the other salty (flattbrød).

CN buys the salted licorice and asks me to try one. She readies her iPhone to take a picture because, apparently, non-Norwegians find the stuff putrid. Always game for a challenge, I stare at the cylindrical salted candy and take a bite. It’s not putrid, but it’s really, really salty. And weirdly sweet. And licorice-y. Which I guess I should have expected from salted licorice candy.

Fully in the holiday spirit, we walk back to the subway train and resolve to order Chinese food when we go home. You can take the girl out of Manhattan…

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What Do Your Moments Sound Like?

There’s a certain way I like to walk around the city. Not a particular style of gait, I mean, but a beat. It’s a pounding and a pulsing that makes the 15 minute walk to the subway station a little bit shorter, puts an extra swing in my hips and makes me remember what the runway feels like (I modeled once in college). Though I’m not usually tottering around in stilettos—god bless the women who are, but I just don’t have the patience unless it’s a special occasion because I walk slow enough as it is—in the wintertime when I’m wearing boots, I feel like they’re made for walkin’. But not just walkin’. Struttin’. I put my headphones in my ears and suddenly every sidewalk is a runway, and I’ve got ‘wind in hair,’ the works.

The other night I accidentally hopped myself up on caffeine and walked from the West Village to 28th and Park, about 25 blocks. Beats burrowed into my ears and wound their way out through my feet, cold air running parallel to my cheeks and fluttering through my hair. The long walk flew by as I listened to the music that somehow propelled me forward.

It was around 10pm. NYU kids in skinny jeans and beanies made their way to and from Bobst library in packs like tourists; Tuesday night drunks lined up in front of taco trucks; couples in blue jeans held hands despite the cold wind rushing over their fingertips. I saw the lights of cabs rushing past me, but I couldn’t hear a thing as the Pixies banged out the classic ‘Bam Thwok’— ‘they got the keys to the city but we got a lot of shakin’ in our hips!’ There’s something about Kim Deal meowing into my ears that will always put a bounce in my step. That and a dirty, catchy drumbeat that must have been made with walking around the city in mind. Tonight my caramel leather cowboy boots clicked on the concrete, and every so often I glimpsed down to catch the sight of my pointy toes eating up the street. Pixies shot me another drumroll and I put another grind in my step—at this point it was all I could do to keep from busting out pirouettes in the middle of the sidewalk.

My favorite music for walking around the city has that same grungy, punky edge or hot beat, or both— it depends on who I am on that particular day. Some days I’m roller boogie goddess in metaphorical hot pants (The Noisettes’ Wild Young Hearts), other days an intense supermodel about with an icy glare (Beck’s Modern Guilt) or a young punk figuring out life in the city (Ted Leo and the Pharmacists’ Shake the Sheets). Sometimes you own the city, sometimes it owns you, but there’s a soundtrack for every kind of walk.

I also love Girl Talk’s Feed the Animals (especially the opening track, ‘Play Your Part, Pt. 1’—it starts with a sample of UGK’s International Players Anthem--“My bitch a choosin' lover, never fuck without a rubber/Never in the sheets, like it on top of the covers”—laid on top of The Spencer Davis Group’s ‘Gimme Some Lovin.’’ I have literally walked around to just the first three verses over and over. The beat is so hot it’s really enough). Other killers are Heart’s ‘Barracuda,’ for when I’m feeling particularly sassy; Lauryn Hill’s ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ when I need a little bit of soul with my strut; and ‘Step Into My Office Baby’ by Belle and Sebastian, when I feel like a naughty secretary. We all have our moments.

And everyone’s got their headphones in on public transport, too. I have to wonder what their strutting music is, if they have any? Or are they just cruising or thinking or neither? When we have our headphones in it’s like we’re in a secret little world that only we know about, that might be populated by anything from the Spice Girls to Rod Stewart to Tyler the Creator.  Everyone’s moments sound different. What do your moments sound like?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Taylor Mead

A thin, curlicue of a man hobbles to the stage at the Bowery Poetry Club, his cane thumping quietly along the floor. He climbs onto the stage and arrives in his seat, at a small table topped with an even smaller stereo. He pulls the microphone toward his face, obscuring it almost entirely. A bright blue New York Rangers beanie hangs on to his head for dear life, his large glasses resting beneath his beady eyes. And then he talks and talks about nothing in particular.

“None of my affairs are secret. That’s why the Guggenheim won’t give me an award,” he says in a high-pitched but gravelly voice that gets choked every so often by a ball of saliva in his throat.

He is Taylor Mead, a downtown New York legend, an actor known for his performances in independent  and experimental films from the 1960s (when the independent/experimental film movement as we know it today was just beginning) as well as in the films of Andy Warhol, where he was one of the famed Warhol Superstars. Mead is also a writer of things poetry and non-poetry, which is actually how he first made his mark on the 1950s/1960s counterculture. He and his work are considered to be an important link between the Beat Generation and the downtown New York art and theatre culture which arose around the same time. At 86 years old, Taylor Mead still performs at the Bowery Poetry Club every Monday night for exactly 30 minutes, courtesy of Bowery Arts and Sciences.

He reads poetry. “Now I’m going to read some Emily Dickinson for no reason at all except I can’t understand her….She’s so difficult she must be a genius.”

He talks about seeing Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway in the 1950s.
“His sweat dribbled down the walls of the theatre.”

He reads what he calls a “William Burroughs random choice,” from the back of an old, crumpled mimeographed flyer, the front of which reads ‘The Taylor Mead Show featuring Richard Hell,’ a famed New York musician who is said to have coined the term ‘punk’ in the 1970s.

He tells what he calls ‘a fairy tale,’ pressing play on the tiny stereo to release a fury of chaotic jazz into the microphone as he flips through a series of nonsensical and even primitive drawings in thick black ink, tossing the pages to the floor. He reads, “Nuns operate sex factory out of convent” and “Here’s a guy masturbating. It has nothing to do with the fairy tale.” I laugh out loud. 

Unfortunately, very few people laugh with me. Seated behind long white plastic tables, they’re waiting for bingo to begin at 7pm, hosted by well-known drag personas Murray Hill and Linda Simpson. While Mead speaks, they’re talking, texting, eating sandwiches brought in from outside. They look at each other and raise their eyebrows, wondering who is this little old man telling dirty jokes onstage. I want to tell them to stop and listen, even just for a little while, to give him a chance instead of dismissing him entirely. I wouldn’t have known about him at all, either, if it wasn’t for Penny Arcade who said he was a genius and I should go see him. Before I get a chance to say anything, though, he opens his own mouth.


He continues. “Is it time for my dirty poem yet?” he asks the man in the sound booth.
“Yes, I think it is,” the man says, his voice full of appreciation and good humor.

Mead begins to read, saying the poem was lovingly plagiarized by Allen Ginsberg. I am agog that he can even utter such a relationship in a sentence, but I try to listen anyway.

“A whispering rapist roundabout midnight…”

 But before he finishes people begin talking again and he stops reading. “Oh fuck it, it’s too dirty,” he says. Shortly thereafter he hobbles offstage and sits in “his spot” at the edge of the bar. A beer is there waiting for him.

I go and sit with him. I don’t really know what I’m going to say when I first sit down, but then I ask about the poem he was going to read. “It’s my dirty poem,” he says. Sometimes the audience listens and sometimes they don’t, he says. Tonight, though, they weren’t worthy of his poem. He chuckles quietly. “Maybe it’s because of Christmas.”

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Galleries Three

“…where I shared so many cheeseburgers with my hustler husbands…”
Mx. Justin Vivian Bond’s feminine growl echoes throughout Participant, Inc., an arts exhibition space on the Lower East Side. The album is Dendrophile, the artist’s first, incorporating jazz and folk sounds with Bond’s cabaret-style vocals. A needle lays stiff on black revolving wax, making Bond’s voice a soundtrack to his exhibition, “The Fall of the House of Whimsy.”

Bond is a New York performance art and cabaret legend, notable for v’s (Bond’s pronoun of choice, preferring not to use either ‘his’ or ‘hers’) contributions to what’s known as a “radical queer” art culture. V does not so much play with gender as crumple it, rip it up and throw it in the shredder. Considering vself as neither man nor woman nor drag queen nor transsexual nor whatever, Bond simply is. V is a long creature with elegant, elongated features, a sharp, smooth jawline, and a rush of mahogany-auburn hair. Long-legged and glamorous, Bond has sung, acted, and performed all over the world, and was recently described by The New Yorker’s Hilton Als as “the greatest cabaret artist of (v’s) generation.”

Having read an intriguing article about Bond in New York magazine many moons ago, I decided to visit v’s exhibition, “The Fall of the House of Whimsy.” The exhibition is a small series of installations, photos and drawings all inspired by or featuring parts of Bond’s former loft on Second Avenue, which will soon be demolished. It is a flight of colorful nostalgia, all very personal. I felt Bond’s essence radiating through each book on display from v’s home, each ornate gold mirror, each plastic pot of makeup placed perfectly askew on various surfaces. Though I know I may never meet v, I know there is a person reflected in that space who has a penchant for a mixture of old-world meets new-world elegance and scandal—the Marquis de Sade’s Justine occupies the same shelf as books about Lillian Hellman, Weimar Berlin,  and Sextrology. A collage of intricate black and white cut-outs of campy, made-up figures, lithe feminine hands with perfect manicures, and witchcraft symbols are placed in the corner of a mirror. A chair is littered with a barrage of cosmetics the colors of which remind me of a 96-pack of Crayola crayons. Drawings of gender-unspecific faces on thick, textured white paper are drawn with a soft, light hand. An old, brown, scratched Acrosonic piano with “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from The Sound of Music with Mary Martin as its only sheet music, with a silver, disco-like fabric sign hung on the back of it. After walking around the gallery, I feel like I have known Bond for years, but am walking around v’s house after v has died. There’s a sadness in the collection of objects that reflects what must be Bond’s mourning of leaving v’s beloved home. I just want to give v a hug and say it’ll be okay, that v’s next home will be just as lovely. Because any space that such a person as v inhabits will be full of life and color and beauty.

Walking along East Houston Street, my next stop was supposed to be Salon 94, but on my way down Stanton Street I was struck by a gallery whose front was outfitted by an iron gate made of a wild collection of objects, from old toy boats to sun figurines to bicycles. How could I not enter such a space? It was Lambert Fine Arts, a gallery which opened quite recently, in October 2011. Hung on the walls were works by artists Brandon Friend and Jason Douglas Griffin. Friend’s work featured various colored and patterned papers decoupaged into figures and scenes, my favorites of which were an astronaut-like figure assembled on a variety of MetroCards. Griffin’s work also featured scenes done with decoupage and paint, an especially cool one done to show a dj and breakdancer, entitled “Windmills in the City.”

"Windmills in the City" by Jason Douglas Griffin
A very helpful gallery associate named Jean also showed me some of his own work. Outfitted in smart black pinstriped pants, a black sweater, black scarf and black shoes, Jean, originally from Haiti, has lived in the U.S. for 28 years and says every trip to New York is breathtaking. His most recent stay inspired him to do a series of watercolors based on Harlem. Jean digs out a watercolor pad from his bag and removes his creations. Brightly colored and drawn in ink with a loose hand, they feature a character named Queeny, whose exaggerated physical features are meant to act as a critique on the physical representation fed to us by popular culture. Jean’s speech is laid thick with a French but actually Haitian accent (he pronounces his country of origin like saying the letters “I-T.”) It feels like a gift to go into an art gallery and see not only what you’re meant to see but what you aren’t meant to see. I thank Jean and continue on my way.


The next stop is Salon 94, a gallery on Bowery and Stanton, for a Marilyn Minter exhibition. Minter is one of my favorite artists, whose brightly colored paintings often feature lushly made up mouths and eyes, sharp stilettos or other figures related to and commenting on the female experience. My favorite in this exhibition, though, was the video she made entitled “Playpen.” In the video, a child of maybe three or four splashes about in pools of silver glittered paint in slow motion. The glittering metallic droplets fly in front of the camera, morphing and changing shape as they hit the floor, long strands of paint flying from the child’s hands and feet as it splashes. I sat there, entranced, watching the paint fly and spray and fall. Was it possible for paint to hypnotize? If so, I could have doubtlessly been convinced I was a chicken and clucked all throughout the gallery.

Something I think people forget is that access to art doesn’t have to cost anything. Galleries are a great way to see both the new and the old in any art form. Not only that, but an educated gallerist can always offer a one-on-one education in whatever you’re viewing. While a museum like Museum of Modern Art is a brilliant American institution, admission there now clocks in at $25 for adults, so attending all the time is not necessarily an option for those starving artists among us. But galleries are always free and abundant, so if there’s not something you’re interested in seeing in one, you can just pop into another and doubtlessly be inspired. Free art for all!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving (Not) in New York

Since my Thanksgivings usually happen down south, I cannot tell you what a typical Thanksgiving in New York is like. In South Florida, it’s 80 degrees and sunny. There are no leaves on the ground. But trust me, I’m not complaining—I’m going to the beach on Sunday.

Every Thanksgiving I’ve ever had, though, always involves a piece of New York. That’s because my family always watches the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC. I grew up seeing the world famous Rockettes kicking their faces in front of Macy’s before the parade arrived at Herald Square, along with the ever-popular Snoopy balloon, Garfield, Kermit, and many more. And somehow, at 23, I still haven’t tired of it. Yes, my comments during the parade have grown consistently snarkier as I’ve aged—ugh…what saccharine faux-popstar have they attached to this float now?—but it’s okay, because I’ve realized that my dad has actually been doing this all along. Yesterday he wondered where the wind was going to take Neil Diamond’s toupee as the singer lip-synched his song “Coming to America” atop the North Dakota float. “Everywhere around the world…” Diamond growled, with his usual Jewish Elvis bravado, arms reaching forth Greased Lightinin’ style. We laughed. This parade really is for all ages.

My parents are both New Yorkers by birth, though only my mom has ever gone to the parade. She sits on our big, terracotta-colored leather couch in one of her signature homemade caftans (today it’s the one patterned with ocean life), telling stories about watching it. Her eyes light up as if she was sitting there once more. Her stepfather was the head buyer for the men’s and boys’ departments at Macy’s, so she was able to go for six years, starting when she was five, and sometimes accompanied by childhood friends Janie and Amy (who I both now refer to as “Aunt”). And they had good seats, too, directly on 34th Street and Herald Square, between 6th and 7th Avenues. Not those seats where you see people on TV, though, behind all the action—those people only see the backs of everyone because the parade was being filmed on the other side. But where my mother used to sit, there were no cameras, so everyone in the parade sang for them.

I wanted nothing more than to one day go to the parade for myself, but I have to say that I don’t think I’d still want to go. Maybe if I could see it the way my mother did, but not if I was just some rando on the parade route from  77th Street and Central Park West all the way down to Herald Square, where Macy’s is located. I’d much rather sit in my living room in South Florida, every so often glancing at the still-green hedges out back, the pool twinkling in the sunlight.

The parade has been televised locally since 1946, and nationally since 1947, though the original parade was first held in 1924. This year marked the 85th Anniversary of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, originally called the Macy’s Christmas Parade. The arrival of Santa Claus at the end of the parade is said to start the holiday season. This year it seems especially true since exactly one month from Thanksgiving (on 11/24) it will be Christmas Eve (12/24). Dispersed throughout the parade are commercials about Black Friday sales, which used to start at 6am, but now start at 4am, 2am, and even 10pm the night of Thanksgiving. I wonder what the world is coming to—the thought of going anywhere near a shopping venue on Black Friday is utterly nauseating; and I’m sure as bad as it is in South Florida, it is far, far worse in New York. I don’t think there has ever been something I’ve wanted so badly that I would risk my sanity to stand in line and wait for it. Unless of course they’re handing out magazine staffwriting gigs.

Perhaps one of these days I will have a New York Thanksgiving, but I don’t really know if I want it. To me, Thanksgiving means coming home to South Florida—it’s the traveling part of it, the knowing that for a few days my life will be just a little bit different than they are normally.  While I do without a doubt cherish New York and hope our marriage will be a long and happy one, nothing can replace the feeling I get exiting the Fort Lauderdale airport to a rush of heat and the sound of Beyonce blasting from convertibles.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Take Me To the Candy Shop

Peppermint is tall and muscular, with light cocoa skin and cheekbones like nobody’s business. Her eyelashes bat open and closed like hurricane shutters and her golden orange hair is thick and voluminous. In a long, emerald green dress, she takes the small stage at Therapy, a gay bar in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. Neatly coiffed men and the occasional woman sit behind bar tables and stools and in booths, their eyes glued to her as she greets the crowd. The deejay’s disembodied voice rings from the back, introducing her to rabid applause and cheers of “WERRRKKK!” “SERVE IT UP!!!” and even a “YES BITCH!”

Peppermint is a drag queen. Moments before, I met her and shook her hand, and with a breathless ‘Come on!’ she whisked me down a staircase speckled with red glitter. Having the pleasure of interviewing Peppermint for an article I’m writing for a magazine, I came to her show this evening and had little idea what to expect. Downstairs, in front of a mirror with seven other queens applying realistic wigs and exotic eyeliner, Peppermint takes a couple of fiery paddlebrush strokes to her hair. My camera flashes as I take pictures for my article. Seconds later she’s running up the stairs again.  

A tall drink of water who slightly resembles Jennifer Hudson, Peppermint hosts a show weekly at Therapy called Cattle Call, a talent show for both drag and non-drag performers. Almost all of them will lip synch, but Peppermint will also sing live, in a voice beautifully rich and creamy like chocolate fondue. She warms up the audience with deliciously witty, sassy and sexy banter, and she is absolutely magnetic. Stage presence like that is what makes or breaks a performer. That and “it.” That thing that everyone looks for in a brilliant performance, that thing where someone sparkles so much that you actually feel yourself begin to sparkle—that’s what Peppermint has.

Raised on drag, I have seen a few lip synchs in my day, but Peppermints are the tightest I have seen since Manila Luzon’s “Macarthur Park,” so perfectly performed and choreographed that I forget more than once she is not actually singing. She is a consummate professional, assembling her acts thoughtfully and creatively. My jaw drops and stays there until the end of her performance. Truth be told, I have trouble closing it back up after that, too. There are other queens on the bill, but they are amateurs and in comparison to Peppermint, they’re almost nothing at all. “She’s a star,” a man says to me in the audience. He is absolutely right.

Peppermint is well established in the drag scene, touring the world, premiering songs on Logo, recording an album, and much more. Currently she hosts shows all over New York, including the one at Therapy (Wednesdays at 11pm), and others at XES (Sunday at 10pm) and Barracuda (Mondays at midnight).

Going to see her show last night was one of those incredible things that I still can’t believe I saw. I sat in the cab on the way home talking to my roommate in halted speech because I could just not get the words out to describe this glorious creature. What also amazed me is that seeing Peppermint perform is entirely free. New York is bubbling over with fantastic performers like Peppermint and they’re not all on Broadway either. In fact, Peppermint’s was probably one of the best performances I’ve seen since I moved to New York, along with Douglas Hodge in La Cage aux Folles. I would go see her again in a heartbeat, so if you’re free any of the times listed above, you already know what we’re doing. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Overlooking the East River, Jane’s Carousel sits, neatly enclosed in a glass pavilion designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel on the edge of Brooklyn Bridge Park. How lucky this Jane is to have a carousel named after her, you might say. Well, if you were restoring a 90-year-old carousel way down to its original paint with an X-acto knife, you’d want your name on it, too. Brooklyn-based artist Jane Walentas and her husband David bought the carousel in 1984 and have just finished restoring it with a team this year. The carousel opened officially in September, but this past weekend when the sky was oh-so blue and the air was crisp, it looked far more beautiful.

Originally made by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1922, the carousel was the first carousel ever entered on the National Register of Historic Places. It is made entirely of wood. Even so, the horses’ manes look genuinely windblown, their feet suspended gracefully mid-gallop. Children sit on the horses with a look of unmovable glee on their faces while parents stand close by, making sure they don’t fall over.

If you’re interested in going yourself, tickets are $2. The carousel is open in the winter from Thursday to Sunday, 11am to 6pm. Check out the photos for more. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Slope

I will be the first to admit I know at best very little about Brooklyn. I know many people who live there and love it for its affordability in comparison to Manhattan. In my mind, there is absolutely nothing wrong with living in Brooklyn—in fact, I sometimes wish I had the opportunity to go there more often because I’m sure there’s lots of great places I’ve yet to explore.

So when I was brought to Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood while working on an article for a magazine, I was pleased to have the opportunity to see someplace new. Walking out of the subway onto Flatbush Avenue and then Eighth Avenue toward my destination, I did not expect to be aflutter with marvelous visual overload. I am a big fan of beautiful architecture, and my walk was a drop-jawed, wide-eyed kid-inheriting-a-candy-store feast of 19th century architecture. Curved windows stacked floor by floor in rusty-red brownstones, home after home nestled by a charming collection of stairs, gorgeously detailed mouldings and windowpanes. I was in the Park Slope Historic District, and I wanted to walk up and down the streets in that area forever.

While forever wasn’t possible that day, I did decide to return later. I won’t lie, part of it had to do with the amazingly unreal coffee I had at Prospect Perk, on Sterling Place just off of Flatbush Avenue. While technically Prospect Heights, the neighborhoods are so close that in my mind it doesn’t really matter (although, having since learned more about Park Slope, its residents might…but more about that soon). The coffee at Prospect Perk is all fair-trade, and it’s an independent business—my favorite kind. I must admit, I am not a super-avid coffee drinker. I like my café au lait from time to time, but I don’t need a cup o’ joe to get my day started. However, when I was in Park Slope/Prospect Heights the first time, I wanted my iced coffee fix. I was rewarded with the Love Buzz coffee which, according to a little sign at the register, was supposed to have undertones of fudge. “Yeah, right,” I thought to myself. How freaking pretentious. But then I tasted the coffee. Mixed with some half-and-half, it was like drinking a creamy, dark chocolate milkshake. No, it was better than a milkshake. I don’t know what it was, really. It was liquidy but thick because of the half-and-half, and the fudge taste made my mouth water even while I was still drinking the iced coffee. This was without a doubt the best coffee I had ever tasted. I would make the hour-ish trip out to Brooklyn for this coffee.

And, last Saturday, I did.

Well, for the most part. I definitely wanted my Prospect Perk fix, but I also wanted to take another look at the architecture in the area, and see what the deal was with all of this Prospect Park hype. Like Central Park, Prospect Park was also designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, this time along with Calvert Vaux. I had heard multiple times that Prospect Park rivaled Central Park in beauty and, as I often do, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

This trip to Park Slope, my first stop was at Prospect Perk, this time for a warm coffee drink as we were now fully entrenched in fall (my last visit jean shorts were still de rigeur). This time I went further up Flatbush Avenue to Berkeley Place, and my jaw dropped open again. I had visions of little girls running around in petticoats and pigtails, little boys in overall shorts with cris-crossed suspenders chasing them, mother hens looking down at them from parlor windows in long gowns, long hair bundled and pinned into wispy updos. I felt like I had stepped into another world, and as I continued down the street, it stayed that way.

Berkeley Place eventually took me up to Grand Army Plaza. On the crisp fall day, there wasn’t a cloud above, the sky blue and clear. Also designed by Olmstead and Vaux, Grand Army Plaza features what is known as New York’s answer to the Arc de Triomphe, erected for Union heroes of the Civil War. Opposite that is the grand Brooklyn Public Library and, that day, the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket. The Greenmarket, like the one at Union Square, is home to local vendors of everything from cheese to soap to wool to pumpkin seeds and more. It’s just at the edge of the famed Prospect Park, too.

Instead of going into the park first, though, I instead made my way up Prospect Park West which, from my estimation seems to be a scaled-down version of the homes on the Upper West Side. Instead of immensely tall buildings, the townhomes lining the street are short, but I’m willing to bet they’re still palatial, even comparable to the ones on Central Park West. I am still in awe at the beauty of this neighborhood.

As I walk up this street, I realize something I had been missing in Manhattan—though it was now properly the middle of October, I had not yet seen leaves on the ground, much less changed in color. But Prospect Park West, and Park Slope in general, was swimming in them. Crunchy, brown, yellow, red leaves that are the signifiers of fall were nowhere to be seen anywhere I had been walking recently in Manhattan (I hadn’t been to Central Park in a while). I was shocked at how city living had deprived me of something so inherently Mid-Atlantic. It was, dare I say it, an out-of-city experience.

I then ventured into Prospect Park which, it’s true, is quite beautiful. I can’t say for certain whether it’s more beautiful than Central Park because I have just been in Central Park so many times, but I do still think Prospect Park is lovely and would certainly not mind going back. Amidst a big green field trees were on fire with red and yellow leaves; a yellow Labrador ran leashless; a group of young people set up a volleyball court. For a good while I forgot I was in New York, but in a really good way—that way where you feel a bliss of having traveled somewhere new…though you really haven’t traveled that much at all.

It would have been, by all accounts, fair to say that I loved Park Slope. I was not aware, however, of its rather unpleasant reputation for yuppie families and stroller bullies. As my friend AD says, “It’s kind of the douchiest part of Brooklyn.” The same sentiments were echoed by Lynn Harris in her 2008 New York Times article “Park Slope: Where is the Love?” Sad times! My love for the area was based mostly on the architecture, superficial, I know, so I do still feel justified and not like a douche in liking it. Though I would never actively choose to be anywhere near someone pushing a $500 stroller while bragging about their English Lit degree from Williams College. What I can hope, though, is that if I ever move to Park Slope, when I get there all of these stroller bullies will be living in Westchester. Maybe the suburbs are good for something after all.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kimchi on My Hot Dog

“I wanna eat something weird,” I say to SW. “Or a hot dog.” 

Miraculously, we are able to combine my two cravings and we make our way to Asiadog, in the ambiguous SoHo/NoLIta/Chinatown area on Kenmare and Mott. Asiadog’s menu is quite simple—hot dogs with Asian-inspired toppings. For those who squirm at the thought of anything but ketchup, mustard, relish, etc. on a hot dog, Asiadog will certainly test your limits. However, if you are open-minded as SW and I were, then you will without a doubt have your mind blown.

The owners, known only as Mel and Steve, say on their website that “coming from mixed Asian backgrounds, we celebrate NYC's diversity by incorporating flavors found in China, Korea, Vietnam, Japan, and more.” There’s such simplicity in this statement, but that’s what's great about Asiadog as a whole—it’s a simple concept (a hot dog) topped with delightful, delicious complexities (the toppings).

The Asiadog logo. Brilliance.
SW and I almost pass the tiny storefront on Kenmare street, which I am only able to identify because of its chopsticks-holding-hot-dog logo. It is a tiny yet smartly-outfitted space, with one long l-shaped wooden booth in front of which sit three tiny tables and stools. Asiadog also pops up at places like Brooklyn Flea, Madison Square Eats, and more. The nature of the food is fast, though it’s certainly not “fast food,” because that’s just what hot dogs are. SW and I walk up to the counter and the friendly cashier takes our order on an iPad (SW and I are both utterly bedazzled already), swiping SW’s credit card on a tiny mechanism attached to the gadget. She text messages him his receipt from the iPad because, well, she can.

As far as dogs go, there are seven different kinds—Ginny, Ito, Mel & Steve, Vinh, Mash, Wangding, and Sidney—and their toppings collectively include things like potato chips, seaweed flakes, pork pate, sesame slaw, crushed peanuts, and pork belly. You have the option of ordering a flavor of dog, too, be it chicken, pork, veggie, beef, or organic beef. The store is also known for its Korean style Barbeque Bulgogi Burger.

Taking Asiadog up on their sweet deal of two dogs for $8 (they’re $4.50 individually), I order the Ito and Vinh dogs (both beef, whole wheat buns), while SW opts for Sidney and Mash (chicken and beef, white bread buns). The Ito dog is topped with Japanese curry and homemade kimchi apples. The Vinh is a Vietnamese bahn-mi style dog, graced with aioli, pate, cilantro, jalapeno and a slaw of cucumbers, pickled carrot and daikon radish. SW’s concoctions were as follows: Sidney –“Thai-style relish with mango, cucumber, red onion, cilantro, crushed peanuts, and fish sauce” and Mash – “Spicy ketchup, jalapeno mustard, crushed salt and pepper, and potato chips.”

SW and I are excited for these hot dogs, topped with crazy wonderful weird awesome ingredients. I’ll admit, I am generally one of those people who is frightened of non-traditional hot dog toppings (the thought of a chili dog makes my face do the same thing as the sight of dog droppings on the street or Donald Trump), but I have heard of Asiadog’s legitness (The New York Times, New York Magazine, etc.) so I am not worried this time.

Our dogs come out quickly and we dive right in, sharing bites to see what each tastes like. The Vinh has a nice crunchy, clean bite to it, but the Ito is my favorite. The Japanese curry is spicy but not too spicy, packed with delicious veggies like green and red pepper, and the kimchi apple is its perfect companion, clean and cool. What was even more interesting is that while the curry tasted oh-so-yummy on its own, it was even better atop the beef dog, sandwiched by the whole wheat roll.

I realize how much thought really goes into creating such a menu—not only do the combinations have to taste good as toppings, but they have to taste good on any dog the customer might choose to order, in any bun they choose. There’s math involved in there, but I forget what kind it’s called (I’m sure there’s similar math involved in all restaurants, but I find this math particularly interesting.). Even so, it’s cool that Mel & Steve have been able to guarantee that each dog will be a bearer of deliciousness. I am delighted that on a dark and seemingly abandoned street one can find such unusual, thought-provoking delicacies.

Had decency permitted, I would have licked my fingers clean and mopped up any stray toppings with the leftover hot dog bun. Oh wait…