Wednesday, May 16, 2012

New York Trip, 2: The Bronx Is Up, and the Battery Down

[If you missed the first part of my trip to New York and seeing GATZ, you can catch up here.]

The next day, I used my above-14th-Street exemption to take the subway to the Upper East Side to meet up with a friend for a lovely breakfast of eggs Benedict and another excellent cappuccino at Sant Ambroeus.

Then I went to the Whitney Biennial, a collection of contemporary art, selected to mirror the pulse of “right now in the art scene,” so along with paintings and sculpture, there were installations, films, performance, artists in residence inside the museum, and more.  I lucked into a great, hour-long tour that offered context and insight into the work on display and the Biennial as a whole.  There was much to ponder…and while I do love contemporary art and the way it challenges and pushes at boundaries, for me, there was a noticeable difference between reading about all these works and hearing how the artist was trying to do XYZ and what the process was, versus heading up to the top floor, where a few large pieces from the permanent collection were displayed in small galleries. There, simply looking at something and feeling, were all I needed:  I didn’t need to know how or why or what it meant…it was just an object that was stunning, exactly as is, even when I knew nothing about it.

Insanely, I decided to take the subway down to 14th Street and then walk down Broadway to the hotel at Battery Park, roughly 4 miles.  This was insane because Broadway is a crowded street and because I am easily distracted:  within two blocks, I was wandering through the Strand Bookstore, where I picked up some Ftizgerald books to commemorate our trip and a SIGNED copy of Lionel Shriver’s Game Control.  I was also gratified to see a British paperback of Pears on a Willow Tree on the shelves.  After I tore myself away, I proceeded on with purpose until I saw a woman carrying a Ferrara plastic bag and insanely asked her for directions so I could get some of the best cannoli in the world.  This involved going backwards—and making the wrong choice of which way to turn at every point (though while I was lost, I came across a park in Chinatown where old men were jamming with interesting Chinese instruments).  Insanely, I decided that there was no way I was going back without those cannoli, so I retraced my steps yet again, and finally, finally found Ferrara (at Grand and Mulberry, FYI) and bought cannoli and cookies.  On and on—Broadway is a loooong street—and I marched down the Canyon of Heroes, where the famous ticker tape parades are still held (clearly because it’s so windy and great for floating ticker tape!).  Each parade is marked by a metal plaque in the sidewalk, all the way back to the very first parade for the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, back in 1886.  Whew…back to the hotel to SIT DOWN and take my shoes OFF.

Meanwhile…Steve was wandering around the Financial District, mapless, looking for the Titanic exhibit at the South Street Seaport.  After finding that, he walked across the Brooklyn Bridge—another crowded route; how many people does one’s eyes pass over on any given day in New York?—and ended up on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, admiring the view, until he realized he didn’t know how to get off the Promenade.  Cleverly, he followed a mom with a stroller and escaped…ending up at The River CafĂ©, for a martini and tuna tartare.  Whew…close call!

That night, we exchanged the stories of our adventures over an AMAZING meal at Bouley in Tribeca, a fancy, destination restaurant worth the $$ in terms of food, setting, and service.  I did take a copy of the menu, so I could write out exactly what we ate, but I think you’d all hate us, so suffice it to say that this was one of the best restaurant experiences of my life…everything was inventive and impeccable in taste and presentation.  (Okay, my first course was “fresh Malibu sea urchin terrine with Russian golden osetra caviar.”)  Dinner was like being a judge in a final round of Top Chef!  Plus, there was a bread cart, with a selection of 7 artisan breads (I took currant & anise; Steve went for garlic).  Interestingly, we both had a lot of strange dreams that night, which I’ll blame on the sea urchin.  Just a quick sense of what makes this place special:  as you walk in, you’re greeted by the aroma of apples…the entryway walls are lined with them, and they perfume the air, promising magic ahead.

Gotta work off those sea urchin calories, so we took a walking tour of historical New York, through Big Onion Walking Tours, which hires grad students as guides.  Our guide was interested in architecture, so we got some interesting tidbits about how Doric vs. Ionic columns in the impressive financial district buildings reflected the values of the culture at the time.  It was a fascinating tour, ranging from the Native Americans to the Dutch settlers to the robber barons to a brief encounter with Occupy Wall Street protesters. 

We wound our way up to Soho and ate at one of our favorite pizza restaurants, Lombardi’s.  It’s a bit touristy now (thanks a lot, Food Channel!), but the clam pizza is still stellar.  And while waiting outside, we enjoyed a conversation with an older man who lived in the neighborhood for 38 years (in a rent-controlled apartment, of course, $229/month!--but tiny, he said, like a cubicle) who told us about an old girlfriend named Violet Gleason who drank Pink Squirrels.

After poking around some boutiques and indulging in a fantasy in which I somehow ended up living in a fabulous Soho apartment, we went to the Flatiron District (oops—sorry, below-14th Street rule that went right out the window!) and headed to the Flatiron Lounge as it was opening…a lovely time for more elegant craft cocktails, made and served with care.  My favorite was a milky punch made with chai-infused bourbon.  (Please…these drinks were small!)

We meandered through the Village and then returned to the hotel and sat outside in Battery Park, admiring the water, watching a green light off in the distance, hoping the men with the fishing poles would catch something.

Saturday, the last day:  nothing better than riding a train stuffed with deli food, so we went to Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side.  Pastrami!  Corned beef!  Pickles!  Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda!  Oh, and, um, also a hot dog!  And what I’ll call a celebrity sighting:  I was staring at the photos on the wall of various people posing over the years with one man…who then emerged from the kitchen.  “Mr. Katz”!!  He languidly stood at the counter, surveying his empire of cured meats and the tourists and New Yorkers gobbling them up.  No one knew who he was or noticed him…so I had to jump up and say hello, thanking him for keeping his restaurant so perfect over all these years.  I mentioned that I had been eating here way back in 19--, well, let’s just say way back when, and that everything was still the same as it ever was. 

We wandered around the Lower East Side and stopped at the bookstore/gift shop of the Tenement Museum:  I bought a copy of Rats by Robert Sullivan, a nonfiction book about—you guessed it—rats in New York and what can be learned about the city by studying them.  (I started reading it on the train—fascinatingly creepy!)

And a second celebrity sighting in the train station:  Hoda Kotb, from The Today Show.  I don’t watch The Today Show unless I’m in a hotel room, and I enjoy Hoda and Kathie Lee in a guilty pleasure way, imagining Hoda must have the patience of Job to put up with that irritating Kathie Lee.  Anyway, she was gorgeous even without make-up and animated without being on camera; she was wearing exercise clothes and looked impeccable nevertheless.  She was seeing off family, it seemed—and I didn’t really have anything to say to her—so I merely watched, admiring her perfect legs.  At this point, I was a New Yorker after all, too cool to be overly impressed by something like a celebrity in Penn Station.

And then this little piggy cried wee-wee-wee all the way home…thankful to have Katz’s leftovers for dinner.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.