Saturday, September 3, 2011

A New Chapter

Dearest blog followers:

You may have noticed that I haven't been posting many new adventures of late.  I have a good reason for it, though!  I've been working hard (along with my fabulous friends Kimberly Yates, Yu Lew, Andrea Steiner, and Elizabeth Foster) to turn this blog into a web series.  It'll be the same format - I do stuff around the city and tell you about it - but you'll get to watch all of my adventures in short segments on Youtube.  So . . . stay tuned for the first two episodes of . . . Lookadoo's Twenty Dollar New York!  (www.twentydollarnewyork.com).


Thanks for following!

Friday, September 2, 2011

My Legs and a Twenty

Last week, I issued myself a little challenge.  I gave myself three hours, a twenty dollar bill, and just my legs with which to travel myself to a little adventure in New York.  I took off my imaginary blinders, threw away my agenda, turned off my phone, and set off to enjoy the presence of my own company for an afternoon. It was a sunny Saturday when I exited the stage door of the Sondheim Theatre on 43rd street and I decided I had absolutely nothing and practically everything to do.

First things first: where to go?  I turned toward 6th Ave (so as to avoid the tourists on 7th) and lightheartedly joined the sea of commuters and tourists headed uptown.  Like a moth to a flame, I was instantly drawn toward the oasis of green about ten blocks in front of me.  Peeking through the jungle of concrete and steel that surrounded me was the center of New York photosynthetic resuscitation that is Central Park.  It was, forgive the pun, a breath of fresh air.  I had made my decision.  I would attempt to get lost and un-lost in Central Park (which was surprisingly easy even though I spent months traversing its paths while training for the marathon).  I passed the old stone gates at Central Park and 6th avenue and commenced my adventure.

I strolled idly past families pushing strollers, children with painted faces, and college students playing frisbee and tried to imagine what it would be like to have an entire Saturday off.  Before I could delve too far into my somber reverie, I spied the one thing that could remedy even the worst of my melancholy moods - cotton candy.  A small man in front of me held a gargantuan cloud of pink, blue, and yellow spun sugar above his head.  If it had been balloons, he would have floated away to Jersey.  I surrendered the first two of my twenty dollars, chose the happiest color (pink), and walked contentedly toward what I imagined was north.  With the first few bites, the sky was brighter, the air was cooler, and I felt ready to continue on my adventure.  Suddenly, in front of me was a little cottage-like structure that I had never before encountered and I toted my cotton candy up the walk, a grown-up Gretel without her Hansel.  Turns out, the building housed a dairy in the nineteenth century and was now an adorable little visitor center for the park.  I walked through and leisurely read the signs.  Who knew that, well, first of all, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Central Park in 1858, and that when the did, they designated the area south of 65th street the "Children's District"?  I sure didn't.  Now the close proximity of the chess area, carousel, zoo, and the ballfields all made a little more sense.

I continued my stroll down a hill behind the dairy and ran smack dab into The Mall, a long tree-lined stretch of statues, performance artists, and, well, the obligatory greenery.  I decided to head down the lane and read the statue inscriptions as I passed.  Turns out, they're mostly literary folks, so I read, walked, and spent some quality time with the likes of Shakespeare, Hans Christian Anderson, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and many other famous folks that were immortalized in bronze.  At the end of the mall, the foliage opened up to the gorgeous entrance to Bethesda Terrace, the pond behind it, and the happy people paddling around in the sunshine.  Interestingly enough, I had never taken the time to walk down the stairs and under the gorgeous sandstone structure.  It was absolutely breathtaking.  AND to make the stunning view on a perfect afternoon even better, there was a wedding party taking photographs in front of the fountain, a food truck with chipotle grilled cheese sandwiches, a cool breeze, and a picnic table that was calling my name.  I took a load off and spent nine of my remaining eighteen bones on a snack with which to watch the young lovers and their overheated wedding party.  After finishing my snack, I walked down to the pond, sat at the waters edge, and watched the turtles swim and frolic around each other in the albeit oily and polluted water.  I took deep breaths and enjoyed a rare taste of what seemed to be the ennuyeux of another age.


Eventually, I peeled myself off the rock and headed toward what I thought was downtown-ish, but the minute I knew my exact location, I took a sharp right and intentionally got myself lost again.  The path soon opened to a quiet little body of water lined by benches with a perfect view of the oddly juxtaposed perennials and skyscrapers.  I found an empty bench, opened one of this month's book club books (Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises), and enjoyed a half hour of repose and intermittent entertainment by the clueless tourists that passed.


I figured it was about time to head back downtown, so I looked up, found the nearest large man-made structure, and headed towards it.  After a short bit, I found myself on the west edge of the park right about 72nd street.  I was back on the grid.  It felt as if I had just experienced a little fairy tale of my own making.  I found a clock and realized that it had only been about two hours, but I felt completely refreshed, rejuvenated, and a little more informed on New York's history and activity-filled backyard.

A New York Book Signing

On a recent Saturday night, I joined my fabulous agent, Carolina, in attending a book signing at a trendy bar in Manhattan. Now, previous to this evening, the only book signing I had attended was one where I was the designated signer; a quiet, civilized affair in a back room at Barnes and Noble. This new book signing was a whole other well of ink. Apparently, when you're a famous author whose best-selling book is about to be made into a major motion picture, your shindigs are slightly more elaborate. It also doesn't hurt if your chosen literary genre is chick lit. Who knew.

Here's the skinny: Emily Griffin (of Something Borrowed fame) threw a huge shindig at a glossy little chic locale called Pranna to celebrate the release of her fifth book, The Heart of the Matter. Also on the author's upcoming publicity agenda was the soon-to-be-released film based on her first novel, Something Borrowed, which will star Ginnifer Goodwin and Kate Hudson.  If that wasn't enough excitement for the evening, at 10pm, the ladies-only signing was to open up to admit everybody's single male friends (as if anybody has THOSE in this city), a deejay was to start spinning (do the whipper snappers still use the term "spinning"?), and all the single ladies would live happily ever after in wedded bliss.  And buy Emily Griffin's books.  Yeah . . .  You see where I'm going with this.

Now, good news first.  I truly believe that any experience, no matter how crazy or lame or boring or stressful it is, can be overcome and even made fabulous by good company.  Case in point: running a marathon (see my blog about the adventure).  Long story short, I had a great time doing the marathon because of my fun running buddy.  The same is true of Ms. Griffin's book signing.  Carolina invited her friends to join us at Pranna for some book signing fun.  There wasn't much book signing going on as far as we knew, but the company definitely made the evening worthwhile.

Now, the bad news.  I'll start with the promotional materials.  On Emily Griffin's website, the invitation to the shindig that says things like, "A girls' night out, matchmaking, and book signing event", "Meet Emily's most eligible bachelor friends", and "VIP gift bags to the first 100 girls who purchase Heart of the Matter".  Anybody see something WRONG with these blurbs?  I looked around the packed bar.  I did not see a GIRL anywhere.  I saw smart-looking, well-dressed professional and, I'm assuming, upwardly mobile New York women.  I saw no girls anywhere.  And as for Emily's eligible bachelors?  (I looked at the pics online.)  Most of these women could do so much better.

In spite of the lame invitation, we smooshed into the crowded bar and joined a line to purchase Emily's new book.  The line, by the way, was moving NOWHERE.  Supposedly, there were passed appetizers with which to bide our time, but only one of the four of us managed to snag a piece of unimaginative chicken before the server was swallowed up into the undulating high-pitched mass of black cocktail dresses and perfectly coiffed hair.  As we chatted, we slowly inched closer and closer to the books-for-purchase table as we were jostled side to side by women squeezing their Physique 57ed bodies toward the bar for one of the assortment of pink cocktails that were being promoted.  Again, I'm assuming if it were a male author and a bring-your-eligible-single-women-friends shindig, the cocktails would not be pink.  But, obviously, that kind of event practically never happens.  Don't get me wrong, I will drink a pink cocktail if someone gives it to me.  But really?  I prefer a brown one.

Finally, we reached the table and a few of us purchased the book and collected the "VIP goodie bag".  Then, we looked for the "I-have-purchased-the-book-now-I-want-the-dang-author-to-sign-it" line.  It was, literally, about twice as long as the first line.  At this point, I gave up.  Well, my feet did, anyway.  I apologized to Carolina and her friends for my crassness, made a beeline for the restroom, and swapped my patent leather LaDuca design collection Kill Bill pumps for my ratty gym sneakers.  It was fashion suicide in a bar full of trendy New York women, but I didn't care.  My dogs were barking.  (I know, I'm cheesy).  When I got to the top of the stairs, I couldn't be sure, but my friends seemed to be even further from the front of the line than before.  Oy.  We stood and chatted, looked around, chatted some more, and passed another hour in virtually the same spot.

Eventually, some announcements were made (some kind of raffle) and there was a flurry of pictures and activity toward the front of the bar.  Not like we could see what was happening through the jungle of Diane Von Furstenburg, but apparently, something was happening.  I wasn't too excited about it, but I was slightly curious (Carolina told me later that Hilary Swank was in attendance - she's in the Something Borrowed flick, so maybe that was it).  Oh well.  I guessed I'd read about it the next day in Star magazine (not like I read that, ahem).  We stood for a little while longer and Carolina looked at me, "Okay, I'm done".  I sighed in relief, "Ugggh.  Me, too".  I wanted out.  Somehow, the scene was beginning to depress me.  I didn't know why, but in the middle of the snowballing party atmosphere, I was getting a little sad.  As we squeezed our way toward the door, I saw the first of the "eligible bachelors" arriving.  Yeah.  Not so much.  I said goodbye, grabbed a cab toward New Jersey, and pondered my feelings about the whole shindig.

I had some sort of itchy feeling about the whole atmosphere.  First off, I despised the promotional verbage because I HATE being called a girl.  Girls' night out.  Girls just want to have fun.  Valley girl.  "I'm a pretty girl, mama."  We are WOMEN, women.  If you are over 18, and I was pretty sure EVERYONE in that room was, you are a woman in my book.  Somehow, I find the wide use of the term slightly degrading to our sex.  If we call ourselves "girls" while men never call themselves "boys", what does that say about our continual fight for equality?  Shouldn't we make it easier on ourselves and step up to the grown-ups table?  Secondly, I was slightly depressed by all of the seemingly fabulous single women that surrounded me at the signing/matchmaking party.  If you didn't know, fabulous reader, single women outnumber single men in New York City by over 210,000.  That's pretty shitty odds if I do say so myself.  And this party was a prime example of the marriage crisis we have in Manhattan.  Not that I'm saying that New York women need to get married (trust me, that's a whole other blog), but if they want to, folks, the pickings are slim.  And the women are brilliant.  Well, the ones I met that evening were, anyway.  I guessed that was what bothered me about the shindig.  Well, that and I NEVER even SAW the author's face.  Seriously, that place was that packed.  Not that I'm a big chick lit fan (some would argue that Griffin is not chick lit, but by the attendance at the party, I would disagree), but I would have liked to at least see the author in the flesh.  Alas, no.  The party was 0 for 2 in my book.

I pensively rode home to Jersey and thanked my lucky stars for 1) buddies that can make any experience bearable and 2) the fact that I'm not single.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dhoonya Dance Bollywood Class

Today, my friend Brittany and I went to Chelsea studios to sample our first Bollywood dance class. For those of you that have been under a rock, Bollywood refers to the Hindi language film industry and is a slang term that comes from the joining of Hollywood and Bombay. Bollywood, largely based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), is the largest film producer in India and is pretty huge throughout the world as well. Most Bollywood films are musicals and involve beautifully intricate song and dance sequences that are woven throughout the script. The genre has recently become more and more popular in America with the success of Slumdog Millionaire and Andrew Lloyd Weber's Bombay Dreams (not to mention So You Think You Can Dance, but I may be the only person that is a devoted watcher of that). Anyway, when Brittany received a "Groupon" (www.groupon.com) for a half price class, we decided to check it out. 

Chelsea studios, to most New York actors, generally reeks of sweaty feet and desperation. A large number of auditions take place in those numerous studios on 26th street and the hallways are usually lined in stretching scantily clad dancers, pacing buzzing singers, and actors talking to themselves. We entered around 5:45pm and were pleasantly surprised that all the crazies had gone home for the evening and the place was veritably quiet. We signed up at the door (it was assumed that we had already paid and nobody checked anyway) and entered the large mirrored studio. I looked around as the students filed in. There was something fishy about the student composition of this dance class. After a few minutes, I realized what it was. There were NO dancers in it. Now, I've been dancing since I could walk, so I can spot a dancer (or former dancer, for that matter) from a mile away. And there were none (other than myself and Brittany) in the studio. There were about forty women and a few potential candidates for next season's Biggest Loser, but no dancers. This class was going to be interesting.

Our beautiful and petite teacher walked to the front of the class and introduced herself. The class we took was entitled Bolly Basics and is recommended to all newcomers to Bollywood dance. Priya, our teacher, explained that we would do a quick warm-up and then would learn an entire dance by the end of the class. She encouraged us to ask questions, leave the room and come back, and participate as much as we desired. She even smiled and said that we were welcome to chat while we danced if we wanted. Okay, I got it, she wanted us to have fun. Then she turned on some Indian club-like music with a driving beat and started with a step touch. We tried various easy movements during the warm-up, mostly dance steps with specific hand movements, but it was at least a little fun. Priya was funny and charming and made everyone young, old, big, and small in the room feel comfortable, "Feel free to add hips and shoulders to any movements if you want. In Bollywood, the more hips and shoulders, the better!" She explained that many of the steps we were learning were derived from classical Indian dances that were danced around harvest time, so many looked like harvesting plants or stamping soil, etc. I realized that there was much more to this Indian dance stuff than met the eye. Priya, obviously, knew much more than she was letting on, but managed to just hint at details of the dance and focused more on the having fun part. It helped that the technique of this genre of dance lent itself to being easily danced by a lay person. There were no pointed toes, piroettes, or high legs, just bouncing, hip shaking, and expressive hands. I could see where a dancer advanced in this technique could do much more than we were attempting in the class, but the movement was easy enough for most people to catch on and interesting enough to keep me engaged for an hour. Our routine (which we did, in fact, finish before the end of class) was politely sexy and actually a bit of an oblique workout. Priya translated the words of the song as we danced and laughed as we did a "throwing heart" movement, "women are always breaking men's hearts in Bollywood dance". The ladies in the room giggled and threw their imaginary mens' hearts to the floor with an arm flick and a hip shake. 

We finished our dance and filed out of the room to the changing room where I heard murmurs of "that was fun" and "where's the next class?". I listened and realized I had enjoyed my introduction to Bollywood dance, but maybe not as much as the non-dancers. I planned to take a more advanced level the next time, but it's a rare and wonderful woman that up and decides to take an Indian dance class instead of just putting in an hour on the treadmill or the elliptical. I don't know if I were not a dancer if I would have the motivation to do so, but I was surrounded by women who did. I was inspired by their courage. Priya suggested some favorite Bollywood films to rent while a woman in her late fifties with dreadlocks put on her Birkenstocks (with socks!) and talked about the dance steps with a thin, hunched mousy looking girl of about twenty. We had all shared a lovely experience. It wasn't hard, it wasn't complex, and I will definitely not be adding Indian dance as a special skill on my resume. That wasn't the point. I had a fun time. That was.

16 Handles

If ever you are having a bad day and need a place to go to eat your feelings, it's worth a trip to the east village to visit a little frozen yogurt shop called 16 Handles. My friend Rachel offered to escort me to this oasis of happiness yesterday and while I wasn't a fan of going south of 14th street, I would now go back every day if I could. It's a beautiful thing, this yogurt shop. Here's why.

16 Handles is on second avenue and 10th Street right in the tattooed Bohemian heart of NYU. I met Rachel (and Retta, her soon-to-be-born baby girl) at a coffee shop on 6th street and second avenue and we walked past the wafting Patchouli and piercing pagodas of Saint Mark's Street up to the glistening, colorful beacon of light called 16 Handles. The decor of the shop was much like any Pinkberry or Red Mango - minimalistic and really bright - but it seemed out of place amongst the dark, grungy bars and dusty bong shops of the east village. I was drawn towards it like Patrick Swayze in the last few minutes of Ghost, sucked toward a frozen yogurt heaven. We walked through the door and I immediately saw what all the fuss was about. Rachel explained that the thing that distinguishes this shop from the rest was that its name was not solely a reference to a well-known 80's film, but to 16 different flavors of frozen yogurt. And you get to mix your own! We chose a cup (large) and started pulling the handles to dispense the creamy goodness. I immediately became ten-year-old Michelle at the best part of the Golden Corral salad bar - the "soft serve" station. I mixed and matched like I was making a slurpee at the 7-11. In honor of research, I reasoned, it would only be prudent to sample as many flavors as possible. Right? I squeezed out cookies and cream, dulce de leche, pomegranate tart, New York cheesecake, peanut butter, and pistachio. As expertly smooshed more cheesecake yogurt into my cup, I happened to notice the nutrition facts that were prominently posted next to the handles. Not bad. 25 calories and 0 grams of fat per ounce. The nutrition facts varied from flavor to flavor, but they were all relatively healthy (well, as healthy as frozen yogurt can get). I finished my multicolored masterpiece and proudly showed my work to Rachel. "Ooh, nice. No toppings?", she queried. Toppings? I really was in heaven.

I scooted down the hall of handles towards the massive topping bar. Everything you could ever put on ice cream was displayed in a panorama of sweetness. Hot fudge, caramel, sprinkles, coconut, fruity pebbles, cookie dough, yogurt covered raisins, and at least eight types of crumbled candy bars beckoned me from the bar. I appreciated the selection, but only chose to scoop out cookie dough so as not to disrupt the flavor combination I had just created. Rachel and I walked to the front of the store where we met a cheerful young lad named Paul. He nodded knowingly at my excitement, "First time?", he asked. "And definitely not the last", I replied. As he weighed our treats, Rachel told me that she would treat me to my treat! Little did I know it would be a big treat. That will be $13.98. Oy. Thanks, Rach. I guess we had pumped more than a few ounces of frozen yogurt. We sat down and dug in. It was dreamy. MUCH better and significantly more like ice cream than that chemical-tasting Tasti-d'lite crap. We ate and ate. I must say that my favorite was the dulce de leche, but the pomegranate tart was an interesting and complex surprise. I looked up as a stunningly beautiful woman was paying Paul (heh, heh) for her yogurt. "I think I've seen her somewhere. Is she in movies?". Rachel shrugged and we continued shoveling. I looked up as the manicured woman's driver let her into the back seat of a slick black Escalade and walked around to the front seat to speed down second avenue. Well, I thought, if I were rich and famous and had a driver, I would do exactly the same thing. This stuff is good, people. Like, take-the-subway-south-of-14th-street-on-a-Sunday good.

We finished our treats, grabbed a couple frequent flier cards from Paul, and waddled out of the shop a little less rich, a little less skinny, and a lot happier than before. Thanks, Rachel. I'm so going back. Next time, though, I'll take the Escalade.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Why Is Everything So Much Cuter When It's Mini?

Okay, I'll admit it.  I buy toiletries in travel sizes when I'm not planning to travel.  I buy them just because they're cute.  Yes, I know it's not remotely cost-efficient.  Yes, I know that I can just buy clear plastic bottles and refill them.  I don't care.  Mini sizes are cute.  And I will shell out more dough to bask in their shiny little shrunken new-ness.  Perhaps it's because I had such an affinity for Shrinky Dinks when I was a kid.  (Apparently, that's dating myself).  Who knows.  Who cares?  (Well, other than the mini-making-folks that are reaping the benefits of my fiscal irresponsibility).  In short, minis make me happy.  Well, a few days ago, I found a little shop in Manhattan that played perfectly to my pint-sized predilection.

After a lovely dinner with my friend Bomboy, we happened upon a little establishment called "Baked by Melissa" on the walk from Lucy's (see past blog) toward the Sondheim Theatre.  Now, us New York folks are accustomed to seeing and experiencing every square inch of space on our little island filled with stuff, so the vast emptiness of this bake shop was the exact thing that caught my eye.  Well, and the name.  I mean . . . we'll just say . . . not the most creative.  But, there WAS a sort of homey quaintness to it as well.

"Look, this is cute", remarked Bomboy.  I didn't hear her - I was already dazedly walking through Melissa's door.  In front of me stood a wall of mini cupcakes.  They were brightly colored, perfectly iced, and adorably bite-sized.  Minis!!!  My Pavlovian kindergarten Shrinky Dink reaction jump-started my salivatory glands and I hungrily gravitated toward the rainbow sparkly baked goods.  (Duh).  Bomboy, obviously much more the adult than I, quietly contemplated the pricing.  I followed her gaze to the board that listed the mini cupcake pricing and lo and behold, the prices were anything but small.  One dollar per cupcake.  These bite-sized amuse bouche cupcakes were a full dollar.  Each.  A small bell went off in my head and a tiny voice whispered "overpriced", but it was quickly drowned out by my NEED for one of those cute little mini cupcakes.  Bomboy shelled out two bucks for our treats (thanks!) and we, in the interest of conservation, consumed them in two bites (instead of one).  Brilliant.  A perfect little treat.  Any more, actually, would have been too much.  (Even though, obviously, if I had had two, I would definitely have made them disappear somehow).  I was satisfied with my little treat and, interestingly, not too upset that I (well, Bomboy) was short one dollar.

So, "Baked by Melissa" was not the most exciting blog experience I've ever had.  Perhaps the likes of paintball and trapeze school were much more involved, but I was interestingly just as invigorated by my little new mini-adventure as I had been by my more adventurous adventures.  I tried something new, changed up my routine, and had a fun little time doing it.  The moral of the story?  Mini adventures, much like mini cupcakes, are often just as rewarding as their larger counterparts.  Word.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Air in the Square

I love inadvertently stumbling across something that is completely blogalicious.  18 months ago, before I started this blog, I would have impatiently pushed past the throng of viewers in the middle of Times Square last Thursday and headed straight to my destination.  Now, partially because I am constantly in need of new subject matter for this blog and partially because (thanks to it) I have a renewed thirst for the adventurous, I stop and check things out.  Well, most of the time, anyway.  As I walked toward my new theatre of employ (the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on 43rd), I ran straight into a looming wooden structure and equally-as-huge crowd.  I stopped to check out the hubbub and was pleasantly entertained and thrilled for the next half hour.

Last Thursday afternoon, if you didn't know, was Air In The Square, a Mega-ramp ASA Triples Event.  Don't know what that is?  Yeah, I didn't either.  So, I stopped and asked an official-looking man setting up barricades.  Turns out, it's a BMX competition.  In Times Square.  For free.  Mama like.  I scooted toward the front of the group of folks, googled, and waited for the activities to commence.  According to my trusty internet-capable phone, this series of ramps was 195 feet long and a scaled-down version of the ramp used in the X Games (and event I DID recognize).  This course, though, had an extra ramp and two 15-feet jump gaps.  Oh, and it was smooshed between 42nd and 43rd street on Broadway.  Okay, I thought, this was getting more and more interesting by the minute.

Soon, the blasted punk/alternative music began to swell and guys on too-small-looking bikes whizzed down the large ramp and did an assortment of tricks in the air over our heads.  It was, in a word, thrilling!  They soared above our heads and I was terrified when I saw one of the first contestants wipe out, but the crowd around me didn't seem too concerned.  I realized as I continued to watch that falling was a pretty normal occurrence and these guys pretty much knew how to take their spills injury-free.  A particular biker did a fabulous-looking move and I leaned toward the guy next to me and asked what it was called.  "A 360", he repiled.  Okay.  Well, it was appropriately named, anyway.  I stayed for as long as I could, ooh'ed and aah'ed along with the crowd, and reluctantly turned toward work.  I became aware that this was an experience most people would pay a lot of money for and here I was stumbling on it while heading to work.  BMX pros warming up the pavement I walk every day.  And this, folks, is one of the many reasons why I love New York.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Knitting is for . . . cats

***Warning: Adult content!  Well, kind-of.  I didn't intentionally put it in here, but there are some adult-esque quotes floating around this narrative.  Not quotes from me, though.  I can't, though, talk about my latest adventure without including them.  So, stop reading now if you don't want to know about it.  The end.***

A few days ago, my latest adventure began with the following text messages:

"Wassup.  Jst got an email abt this kewl xhibit.  I want 2 go.  U near soho?"

"Yup.  When u wanna meet?"

"30 min at Spring St Physique?"

"Word"

Now, I was the first person in the above textersation (the murder of the English language facilitated by the world of texting still makes me cringe, but I, alas, must make my messages less than 160 characters like the rest of the world.) and my friend Zakiya was the second texter.  Per our vastly complex communication, we promptly met in Soho and headed toward a new art exhibit entitled (hold your ears, Mom), "Knitting is For Pu$$ies".  Yep.  And I hate to say it, but the name, in all its crassness, was partially what attracted me to the exhibit.  Also, I'm a pretty avid crocheter, so I figured that someone that shares my penchant for both crochet AND vulgarity was someone whose art I should see.  And yes, there was a lot of art to see.

The exhibit, by a female artist named Olec, was on the second floor of the Christopher Henry Gallery on Lafayette Street and, according to the man at the front desk, had been the hot spot of Soho for the past few weeks.  Alrighty, then.  Ignoring an exhibit of penciled pastel lines that I was obviously not cultured enough to appreciate, I immediately climbed the stairs to the dark second floor, made sure the coast was clear of wax figures (long story), and coerced Zakiya into joining me in what was, quite literally, a crocheted studio apartment.  Everything, and I mean everything, was crocheted.  The walls and floor were crocheted.  The windowsills and throw rugs were crocheted.  There was a crocheted sink, toilet, television, clothing rack, wardrobe, ironing board, and a crocheted man/woman sitting on the crocheted bed and pulling back his/her crocheted blanket.  Most of the yarn was semi-glow-in-the-dark, so the room took on a psychedelic quality that reminded me of a glow-in-the-dark mini golf course.  It was crazy and oddly surreal to stand in the room as the only un-crocheted beings.  I thought of the scarves I crocheted for the cast of a recent show and realized that, at the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious,  this had been an insane amount of work.  (Incidentally, I read later that the artist said she had created her impressive work while watching the Lost series on DVD from start to finish - I can relate to that).  We oohed and aahed for a few minutes.


"Um . . . Michelle?  Have you read any of this?" Zakiya asked.

No, I hadn't.  Bad Michelle.  Read the crochet and find the underlying meaning of this artist's hours and hours of toil.  There must be something she was trying to say.  I looked at the nearest inscription.

"Soul is the part of you that sees a lap dance every time you close your eyes."


What?!?!  Hold on a second.  No quotes from God?  The Dali Lama?  Confucious?

"Ur pu$$y is my soul mate."

"My mother hates Mother's Day".  
Really, Olec?  Really?  I mean, with a name like Olec, people maybe just expect you to spout wisdom like your almost-namesake Olmec from Legends of the Hidden Temple (c'mon, you know you watched that show), but did we have to go there?  Well, apparently we did.  And I've got to say that the quotes above were amongst the less vulgar.  I looked at Zakiya whose eyebrows were so far raised that they were actually creasing her normally-smooth forehead and . . . we laughed.  Heartily.  It was actually refreshing for a New York artist to so obviously take herself with an albeit very dirty grain of salt.  After reading the crocheted phrases, I felt more at home in the crocheted apartment.  Somehow, I was a little more at ease, akin to a friend telling a dirty joke at a tense dinner party.  We strolled around the apartment and looked closer at the plethora of woven objects.  As I was sitting at the desk pretending to talk on the crocheted phone, we heard a couple of women near us suddenly realize what was written around them.  Their response?  Laughter much like our own.  We smiled and headed toward the sunlit exit in gallery below.

Perhaps there was some deeper meaning I should have gleaned from the exhibit.  Perhaps there was some profound juxtaposition of the old-world crochet and the new-world verbiage that would shed light on the state of humanity today.  Or, some chick with a weird name likes to crochet dirty phrases while she watches reruns of Lost.  Whatever.  It was fun.  I figured that was what counted.  I thought of my previous textersation with Zakiya and figured Olec would have liked that idea, too.  Perhaps she would have crocheted it on a wall.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

There's a Forest in Times Square

A few weeks ago, I was doing my usual I’m-a-New-Yorker-don’t-get-in-my-way charge through Times Square when I noticed a fairly uncommon occurrence in the middle of what most people call the Concrete Jungle.  Smack dab on top of what is usually a line of theatre-going tourists was . . . for lack of a better word, a forest.  Seriously, it was totally random and weird and out-of-place and kind of interesting.  My first instinct was to stay the course, chalk it up so some over-budget episode of Law and Order that happened to be shooting that day, and be early for work.  On second thought, though, I DO write a blog about trying new things in the city, so what kind of adventurous blogger would I be if I passed up the opportunity to check it out?  So . . . I took a Claritin and a detour.

Turns out, Aveeno (you know, like, the soap?) was the creator of this lush display of greenery, not some TV show.  Interesting.  I went to the nearest counter and asked an amiable fresh-faced young woman how I might best take advantage of Mother Nature’s big apple festivities and she directed me to the entrance to “the garden”.  I walked to the north side of the square, through an archway, and lo and behold, I was in a magical little forest.  After my first three steps, I could no longer see any of the man-made regalia that surrounded me.  I was in a forest full of trees and flowers and butterflies.  It was oh so Amy Adams in “Enchanted”.  (If only I could magically have her career).  The path in front of me snaked from side to side and featured all types of flora and fauna abbreviated with little identifying signs.  I stopped in front of a row of (what the little sign told me were) purple hellebores.  Beautiful.  And adorable.  And SO not Times Square.

I meandered from sign to sign, flower clump to flower clump, and, I must say, thoroughly enjoyed my romp.  Because of the wind-y trail, the length of the path through the trees was much longer than I had expected, and I emerged five minutes later slightly happier and slightly more relaxed.  It wasn't a full day in the countryside, but it was a much-needed taste of peace and quiet.  To sweeten my experience, a nice lady at the exit handed me a bag with Aveeno samples and coupons.  Win/win.  Will I buy Aveeno stuff because they (obviously) spend loads of dough to put a forest in Times Square?  Probably not.  Did my open-mindedness, marginal sense of adventure, and subsequent (albeit abbreviated) walk through trees and flowers make me a happier person for a little while?  Yep.  Good job, me.  Thanks, blog.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Bourgeois Pig

If you know me at all, you know that I rarely venture south of 14th street . . . for many reasons.  First, the streets down there do not intersect at right angles and I am often very easily lost (particularly when I come to the intersection of 4th Street and 7th Street).  Second, the crowd down there smells of patchouli, more-than-dabbles in body art, and generally makes me feel like the geeky, unhip-sweater-set-wearing-approaching-middle-age American that I am.  And third, well . . . the long and the short of it is that it is a RARE day that I venture down to the bowels of NYU on a whim.  Yesterday, though, I did.  And I was pleasantly surprised by the adorable little discovery that I made in doing so.

Here's the skinny: my buddy Summer and I decided to go on a little impromptu outing to celebrate my newly acquired theatre job (see facebook after Monday).  I happily agreed to meet her in the "Union Square Area" and hopped out of a cab at 17th and Broadway seconds before I got her text that she had found a place called "The Bourgeois Pig" at . . . 111 East 7th St.   'Well', I thought, 'The place has an interesting name and I haven't blogged in a while, so why not walk the ten blocks to 7th and check it out'.  Here's the problem with that plan: it wasn't ten blocks.  It was ten blocks and 4 Avenues.  Did I mention that I also don't do Avenues that are followed by a letter?  Nevertheless, I managed to hobble over to the joint and was (thankfully) pleasantly rewarded for my ambulatory efforts.  The light stucco facade was different than any other exterior on the block and wrought iron lampposts and an iron-looking door gave the building an air of provincial France.  And somehow, the air around the building was quieter than the other sections of the block.  Which, in that neighborhood, is a really good thing.  Summer and I snapped a few pics and headed in.

It was even better inside.  The interior was laden with red velvet, dark wood, and antique tchotchkes that were actually more conversation pieces than eyesore.  A stunning blown glass chandelier hung over our heads and a collection of people that were veritably bourgeois themselves chatted and sipped wine around us.  And speaking of wine, the list of cocktails was staggering.  I had no idea where to start.  For a bar that makes cocktails with just wine and beer, they had a collection rivaling Wildhorn's collection of Broadway flops (sorry, I had to).  I had a concoction called the E.V. Swill that had muddled lime and mint, Lustau Pedro Ximinez sherry and was topped with champagne.  Yum-a-licious.  Summer had a Bergamot Toddy (Earl grey infused Lillet, lemon, honey, and pineapple).  We were off to a good start.  I took a moment to read the rest of the cocktail menu and decided this place would warrant another visit as I wanted to try more than I should in one sitting.

Bad news: The Bourgeois Pig sucks for vegan folks like Summer.  Good news: If you're amongst the Me-types that thrive on cured meat, cheese, and any incarnation of pork, you're in for a party.  I wanted a gnosh, so I ordered an assortment of bruschetta (cheddar and roasted apple, artichokes and prosciutto, and ricotta and eggplant caviar) and (the only not-so-great part about our visit) more prosciutto.  Everything but the prosciutto was fab, but the cured meat was slimy, overly fatty, and flavorless.  By then, though, I didn't care . . . because I was sipping on a Providence Punch (elderflower, blood peach puree, lemon juice, orange bitters, and pol roger champage).  Summer had . . . a toasted baguette.  But she didn't seem to mind either because she was slowly sipping a champagne concoction that rivaled my own Punch.  We chatted for hours in the warm, friendly, slightly-upscale-yet-laid-back atmosphere and generally had a fabulous time all around.

As the evening came upon us and the effects of our imbibement began to take hold, we sleepily headed out and grabbed cabs headed toward our beds.  I glanced out the cab window as we drove away and decided, despite my aversion toward avenues with letters, streets that shouldn't intersect, and patchouli,  to head back to "the pig" some time in the near future.  I figure some experiences are worth a little trek into unknown territory.  And who knows?  Maybe they'll open one in midtown someday.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day in Times Square

Earth Day in Times Square.  An odd juxtaposition of the one-day celebration of using our renewable resources, appreciating the earth under our feet, and planting trees . . . celebrated in the center of heaven-knows-how-many kilowatts of squandered electricity and surrounded by concrete where the closest tree is 20 blocks north in Central Park.  In classic New York manner, though, we Manhattanites, as always, celebrate our hypocrisy in style.  I meandered through the Earth Day madness in Times Square to soak up the experience.

For the most part, the Earth Day celebration in Times Square today was a thinly veiled marketing strategy for pretty much everything under the sun.  So much so that locals and tourists alike that walked through the streets could literally smell the inevitable "free stuff" and hunted it down like tweens at a Juicy Couture velour sale at Bloomingdale's.  People smooshed past each other, ignoring lectures about recycling and green vehicles and climbing over each other to get free samples of soy milk (what that has to do with Earth day, I have no idea).

Here's the thing about events like this.  People are not there to be educated. They are not there to be entertained.  At all.  THEY JUST WANT FREE STUFF.  Screw the earth, give them the eco-friendly shampoo sample.  Seriously.  I was quickly made aware of two very nasty incidents that drive home my point.  First, a friend was politely tasting a cup of chocolate soy milk when a woman next to her asked for another cup.  The kindly young man behind the cart explained that it was one cup per customer.  In classic rude New Yorker fashion, she argued and made a general racquet until my friend gently intervened on her behalf.  The belligerent woman's response?  A half cup of soy milk in my friend's face.  No lie.  The good thing is the sweet kid that witnessed the whole thing gave my friend two cartons of soy for her potentially ruined green velvet coat.  Only in New York.

The other incident occurred at the Home Depot booth where the nice volunteers in orange aprons were handing out strawberry plants to children.  I watched as a very small woman approached and grabbed a plant unnoticed amongst the youngsters.  A burly man behind the group of kids shouted at the aproned workers that he wanted a strawberry plant.  (Really, guy?  I'm sure you have a huge garden behind your ghetto lower east side apartment that matches your washed-last-April dungarees, but these were obviously kid gifts).  Again, a very patient person explained that the plants were for children.  "But, you gave one to that woman.  I want one.  That's not fair".  At this, three kids looked up to the grown-up speaking their lingo.  "Sir", more forcefully this time, "The plants are for the CHIlDREN".  He widened his stance, "Yeah, well, you gave one to her, so I . . ."  The altercation blended into the general crowd buzz as I distanced myself from the fray so as not to be hit by any flying planters.  Wow, guy.  Just . . . wow.  Now, these two instances were not indicative of the general hubbub of the event, but they were definitely not the only two of their kind, I'm sure.  Yeah.  Happy Earth Day in New York, everybody.

So . . . in light of my general disgust for people's conduct in public, I would like to propose a New York alternative to Earth Day.  Since most of us obviously do not give a crap about the planet, I would like to propose National Don't-Be-An-Asshole-To-Each-Other Day.  I know it would be hard in this city where that's our M.O., but I think we can do it for 24 hours.  Just maybe we can try not to throw soy milk on each other, steal plants from children, plow people over with our bags, and mutter obscenities under our breaths at each other.  Maybe we could even try to adopt a little of the charm that is inherent in the Southerners we so often like to chastise.  Just for a day.  If the Earth gets one, we humans should, too.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bunches of Biscotti


I absolutely love finding new establishment gems in New York.  Now that this blog has helped me take my I’m-too-cool-to-enjoy-the-view New Yorker blinders off, I’m realizing I’m finding more and more fun and interesting hidden treasures during my daily travels around the city.  Last week, on my way to visit my friends Kimberly, I ran into an adorable little place called Bis.Co.Latte.  Located on 47th and 10th, this teeny little establishment had a sign outside advertising homemade biscotti.  Cute!  I checked that I had time and then headed in for a quick biscotti and a cappuccino (which, incidentally, always makes me miss Florence).

Um . . . where do I start?  First of all, it was quiet and cute and downtown-y.  Coffee shop criteria 1?  Check.  Second, and most impressively, I have never seen so much biscotti in my life.  Seriously.  Glass containers full of baked yumminess lined the entire wall from top to bottom.  And they didn’t just have vanilla almond and chocolate chip.  They had green tea spearmint, coconut almond chocolate chip, ginger peach, gluten-free, wheat-free, sugar free, and vegan.  Mixed berry, citrus . . . really?  I was genuinely overwhelmed.  And that’s pretty hard to do.  It was, essentially, the Char No. 4 of biscotti (see past blog).  I chose the coconut dark chocolate and a wheat-free ginger peach and sat down to wait for the mild-mannered young tattooed lad to bring me my frothy beverage.

By the time I was seated, I had already decided to blog about the joint, so I took a mental inventory of my surroundings.  There was lively harmonica music lightly blanketing the subdued seemingly intellectual conversation and I spotted a bookshelf full of fun, kooky vintage novels.  Amongst the titles were “1000 Record Covers”, “A Book of Cowboy Boots”, and “How to Idle”.  AND amazing, fabulous, fun biscotti.  I dipped and crunched, dipped and crunched.  Even the wheat-free flavor was ba-rilliant.  I checked the rest of the menu and made a mental note to come back for lunch.  The soup and sandwich at the table next to me looked delish. 

Whilst enjoying my quick treat, I noticed a prominent sign on the wall that read, “Our Philosophy: We want you to find respite from a busy day in NYC in a place where friends, neighbors, and colleagues can meet for a coffee break or a light meal and conversation”.  Above the “philosophy” was a NO COMPUTERS sign.  What?  A coffee shop with no WiFi?  How un-American of them.  Hmm . . . I looked around.  It WAS kind of peaceful.  And slightly European.  Maybe it wasn’t the cappuccino that reminded me of Italy.  Maybe it was the fact that people were actually communicating with each other via methods that didn’t involve a keyboard.  The philosophy creators were right, I thought.  The lack of an electronic presence was pretty liberating.  And peaceful.  Yet another reason to come back and have some more biscotti.  I checked my watch, chugged the remainder of my perfect cup of caffeine, and headed out to see Kimberly.  Now I know where to get my biscotti AND my peace and quiet.  A half hour well spent.  

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bouley


Dec-a-dence.  My gorgeous husband recently had a birthday and decided, in lieu of a gift, he would like me to take him out to a lavish dinner at a fancy New York restaurant.  Sweet, right?  Now, if you don’t know us well, you might be confused as to why he wouldn’t want some new electronic gadget or a watch or something.  See, my husband and I are inexhaustible foodies.  Between his degree from the French Culinary Institute and my ability to consume vast amounts of calories in record time, over the years, we’ve concluded that one of our favorite hobbies is . . . eating.  And eat we did.  Where was his lavish birthday dinner?  None other than Bouley, the exclusive and critically acclaimed restaurant of chef David Bouley.

As we know most of the folks in the food industry, we called in a favor and procured not only the best table, but doting service and a few freebies compliments of the chef.  But I am getting a little ahead of myself.  I must first tell you that the d├ęcor alone is reason to visit this establishment.  The “front room” where people can wait for their guests and sip cocktails on leather sofas is, quite literally, covered in flowers.  Fresh, aromatic, colorful flowers.  TONS of them.  It’s a bit overwhelming at first, but after a moment, the flora only adds to the rich ambience.  In fact, the flowers balance the otherwise heavy room, with its dark wood, leather, and large framed paintings.  A very polite young lady brought me a cocktail designed particularly to my tastes by the “mixologist” and I leaned back and read a book while I waited on my man.  I felt privileged and pampered.  As I should be.  For my $17 cocktail.


When Victor arrived, we were led to a glittering table in a cozy corner and presented with menus.  I perused the menu and realized I had a problem: I wanted everything.  Seriously, the selections at Bouley included a fresh Malibu sea urchin terrine with Russian golden oscetra caviar, grilled Colorado rack of lamb with a soubise of chippolini, zucchini mint puree and black truffle sauce, and a hot caramelized Anjou pear with valhrona chocolate and hot toffee sauce.  It was virtually impossible to choose.  Eventually, as we were compelled to heed our growling stomachs, I ordered a chilled strawberry soup, porcini flan with Alaska live dungeoness crab and black truffle dashi, and an organic Connecticut farm egg with Serrano ham, steamed polenta, artichoke, coconut, and early garlic broth.  It was all brilliant.  In all honesty, the egg dish was truly a revelation.  I had no idea what they had done to it, but it was the best egg dish in the world as far as I was concerned.  Delicate and complex at the same time, it was unlike anything else I had ever consumed.  The whole meal was, all in all, a brilliant experience.

I must mention one last thing about Bouley.  This may sound like an odd thing to be excited about, but I was truly enamored by . . . the restroom.  The ladies’ restroom was covered wall to ceiling in red velvet.  Gilded gold mirrors hung from the walls and shimmering chandeliers tinkled above me.  Plush red velvet armchairs beckoned their curved cherry arms toward me and shiny fixtures stood proudly beside linen hand towels and L’Occitaine soap.  I could move in here.  (In fact, it was about the size of my first Manhattan apartment).  I wanted to run upstairs, grab Victor’s hand and drag him down here. ‘Lookit, Hun!’  But, as I was a cultured, grown-up New York diner with a sophisticated palate and a general knowledge that men are generally not welcomed in the women’s restroom, I composed myself, snuck a picture, and returned to the table to whisper to my dinner date, “Dude!  You have got to go down there.  It’s freaking awesome!”

We finished our meal and . . . no.  Wait.  It was not just a meal, people.  It was an EXPERIENCE.  Recently, folks have been saying that dinner is, of late, taking the place of theatre as evening entertainment.  I wholeheartedly agree with this conjecture.  Not that theatre should be ignored (I’d be in trouble if it were), but dining as an experience rather than a means of filling your pie hole, is all the rage.  And I love it.  I will remember some of my more lovely dinners much longer than some of the bad (and mediocre) theatre I’ve seen.  Bouley is a fabulous example of dining and food as high art.  Everything we had was artfully, lovingly, and complexly made from scratch.  It was not prepared in Wisconsin, frozen, packaged, and reheated heaven-knows-how-long later by skill-less ex-cons garnering minimun wage (no thank you, Applebees, O’Charley’s, TGIFridays, Red Lobster, Bennigans, and Olive Garden).  Not to get on my soapbox, but that crap is not real food.  It tastes okay and makes you not hungry, but it is, by far, not art.  It is a page from a child’s coloring book to Bouley’s completed Monet.  Yes, our dinner was pricey (a little over $500), but it was an occasion.  It was a chance to spend an evening basking in degustory mastery . . . as well as each other’s company.  For us, it was well worth it.  Happy birthday, Victor!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Guaranteed peace and quiet in Midtown

When I met my buddy, Hiatt, at a new tea shop in midtown, I had fully not planned to blog about it.  I mean, I had SO been there, done that with the tea thing already.  Thus far, I had blogged about Empire Coffee and Tea, The Tea Spot, bubble tea, and Argo Tea.  I'd say that's more than enough tea, thank you very much.  Round about dessert, though, I decided I had to do it.  Trust me.  It's for the good of the fine people that read this blog (meaning, you).  I had never been to a restaurant/tea shop like this in all of my 21 years on earth (stop snickering).  The place is worth a shout out.  So, if you're tea-ed out and/or don't care about brewed beverages as much as I do, join me for my next blog about PS1 MoMA (or whatever else fun I find to do before I go there).  Otherwise, read on.

Radiance Tea and Book shop is smack dab in the middle of Manhattan's I-want-to-kill-all-of-the-tourists-and-stupid-large-groups-and-cabs-that-make-me-crazy area of the city.  55th between 6th and 7th.  In my short trek from 9th Avenue, I jostled a weeble-wobble of a woman that was trying to work her Pilsbury hands around a cumbersome camera, narrowly missed being plowed over by a teenage delivery guy on a bike, and was, I'm pretty sure, fondled by a man (or woman - I couldn't tell) in a full Elmo costume.  I blew into the front door and noisily heaved a sigh of relief.  Safe!  The first thing I saw was running water over a smooth rock wall, the tinkle of quiet Asian music caressed my ears, and the scent of sweet aromatics drifted into my nostrils.  The perfect combination of instant sensory calm.  I joined Hiatt at a small wooden table and consciously took a deep breath.  For the first time in about 24 hours.  Aaahhh. Mama likey already.


First of all, we had the sweetest and most adorable server, like, ever.  His name was Dan and he gently and patiently guided us through the restaurant's over 120 different teas.  "We do tea tastings as well.  If you're interested, I can take your email and send you information about it".  Well, yes, I was interested.  We chose a tea called Tropical Escape - a blend of black and green teas, pineapple, papaya, and kiwi bits and marigold.  It was presented in a beautifully hand-painted kettle and cups and was playfully fruity and complex.  I had a fresh avocado, asparagus, tofu, and shittake mushroom salad and Hiatt munched on perfectly prepared vegetable dumplings.  The thing that became apparent was that the hustle and bustle that occurs in most restaurants was completely absent here at Radiance.  The servers and people preparing food behind an open counter moved quickly, purposefully, and most astonishingly, practically silently.  I noticed that Hiatt and I were speaking in slightly hushed tones to accommodate our surroundings and that I could still hear the tinkling music and (somewhere in the distance) running water.  I looked across the room at a wall of kimonos, tea kettles, and other intricately crafted things for sale.  I read that they hold private Chinese and Taiwanese tea ceremonies.  This place was, in a word, precious.  I felt like a little girl having tea with her dolls.  Except Hiatt swears more than my dolls ever did.

Best part of the meal?  Dessert.  Dan brought over the menu and, as I had been expecting the general chocolate, cheesecake, maybe a green tea ice cream, etc (which, my friends, is dairy, dairy, dairy which equals unhealthy, unhealthy, unhealthy - read the vegan blog - seriously, there's a reason cows have four stomachs), I announced "Yeah, but I bet you don't have any vegan desserts, huh?"  Dan smiled and excitedly crossed to my side of the table.  Yes, in fact, they did.  Not only that?  They had vegan "ICE CREAM".  Oh yeah.  Coconut milk and avocado.  It was heaven.  The cherry on top of our lunch was the coolest (and probably one of the healthiest) desserts I've ever seen.  These folks took sweet sticky rice, baked it inside a bamboo stalk, brought it to the table, and split it in two (one for me, one for Hiatt).  Then, we poured warm coconut milk over it and sprinkled candied almonds on top.  It was perfectly portioned, really yummy, and I actually didn't feel guilty about it afterward.  Well, not that guilty, anyway.

We finished eating and I found myself longing to linger.  I could feel the stressful pulse of the city encroaching upon me.  Much like a last day in Bermuda or a kid in bed on a school day morning, I wanted to roll over, turn off the light, and pretend I didn't have to go anywhere.  A call from my agent broke my stupor and Hiatt and I headed out into the fray.  I said goodbye to our new friend, Dan, and hustled out into the mess of 55th street with a full belly and a slightly calmer disposition.  I headed south, passed Elmo, and gave him a "wassup" nod.  You never know, maybe that was all the action that costumed character would ever get.  You know?  It's amazing what a civilized cup of tea can do to one's perception of this raucous place.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day in Times Square

St. Patrick's day.  Celebrated in America by the Irish and, well, everyone that has ever heard of the Irish.  A holiday that commemorates the life of Saint Patrick, a widely successful missionary in Ireland in the second half of the 5th century.  How do we Americans celebrate the holiday?  Drinking alcoholic beverages and wearing green.  And . . . well, that's about it.  I'm sure that the folks over in Ireland who are celebrating their RELIGIOUS HOLIDAY are appalled by America's choice of celebratory traditions, but it's true.  That's what we, as a country, do.  I mean, there's a parade or two, but that's it. Drinking beer and wearing green. And sometimes drinking green beer.  And what place is more appropriate to do these things than New York City, a city that has the second highest number of bars per square mile (Athens, Georgia is first - who knew?).  So, in honor of blogging about New York's St. Patrick's Day celebration, I headed to the city's epicenter of celebration - Times Square.  Yes, folks. I did it.  Now, ask any sane New Yorker and they will tell you that this is the LAST place any local would want to be on March 17th.  But, I braved it.  And, actually, it wasn't so bad.  For a while. 

Around 3pm, I grabbed a salad and my jacket, plopped my butt on a pylon on 47th and Broadway, and munched while I observed the action.  First things first: obviously, practically everyone was donning some shade of green on some part (or every part) of their bodies.  As I observed, it was actually kind of fun to see all the creative uses of the color in various fashion plates.  Older women wore crocheted sage sweaters, fashionistas sported fur-trimmed emerald coats, the occasional business men wore forest green ties with their suits, and the majority of traveling frat parties wore the obligatory green buy-them-on-the-street tee shirts.  Apparently, "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" was out this season.  "Kiss Me, I'm NOT Irish", "Kiss Me, I'm Wasted", "I <shamrock> NY", and "Why are you staring at my freaking green tee shirt" had replaced the old classic.  Second: For some reason, on St. Patrick's Day, people travel in large groups.  I watched traveling parties walk past, taking pictures and laughing.  Folks old and young seemed to be spending the (gorgeous and sunny) day with their pals.  'Now, that's not a bad way to spend a holiday', I thought.  A group of cute young girls stopped and asked me how to get to Penn Station.  When I told them, the majority of the group let up a unanimous cheer like I had told them that there would be a fourth Sex and the City movie and forged ahead down Times Square.  It was a lovely, cloudless March Thursday and folks were spending it with their pals.  So what if they were imbibing alcohol.  My verdict: St. Patrick's Day=cheerfully fun.

And then I headed off to my 4pm obligation.  On a side note, if you were wondering why I haven't been blogging so much lately, I have a fabulous new internship at TVI actor's studio.  (Incidentally, if you're an actor or an aspiring actor, they have tons of great classes with awesome agents and casting directors.  Seriously - that's why I'm interning there - fab.)  Anyway, I was inside from 4-8pm and then headed back out to spend some more time observing my fellow cheerfully green-clad Americans in Times Square.  Um . . . a WHOLE different story.  The first thing I saw was two women on the corner of 46th filing some kind of police report - both were wearing green feather boas and one was bleeding from the head.  I crossed the street and a small dodgy-looking character walking with one eye open nearly missed knocking me out with a shamrock-shaped bag.  I high-tailed it across Broadway and picked my way through a group of girls that were SITTING on the disgusting sidewalk.  One was sobbing, one was asleep, and the other two were trying to console/keep seated the other two.  Ew.  Wait.  This wasn't cheerful and fun anymore.  You know when you're out dancing at a club and they turn the lights on full blast and everybody that was once really hot suddenly look sweaty and busted?  Yeah . . . like that.  I walked down 8th avenue and stepped over a puddle of puke.  Yes, human vomit.  Orange, chunky human vomit.  And, incidentally?  That was not the only vomit I had to circumnavigate in my short 8 block walk to the bus, that was, of course, filled with loud talkers, heavy sleepers, and people that I was genuinely afraid would produce still more vomit.  Okay, that's it.  Done with St. Patrick's Day.   I hopped off my stop in New Jersey and was VERY thankful to be at home.  And wearing purple.

The moral of the story?  St. Patrick's day should only be celebrated in the daylight hours.  The end.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Koreatown


I have lived in New York for almost ten years and until recently, if you had asked me where Koreatown was, I wouldn't have been able to tell you.  Chances are, my response would have been, "Um . . . somewhere south of 14th street?"  Yep.  I would have been wrong.  Try closer to Herald Square, Michelle.  Apparently, I know nothing.  So, in the spirit of exploration, Rachael and I headed to Koreatown's main drag (32nd between 5th and 6th) to check it out and soak up a little culture.

First, a little info on the 'hood.  Koreatown, K-Town to those who are in the know, is between 5th and 6th Avenues and 31st and 36th streets and houses more Korean restaurants, karaoke joints, and massage parlors than practically anywhere in Manhattan.  It began with a bookstore and a few restaurants and grew to encompass entire city blocks in tandem with increased immigration from Korea.  Now, most Korean folks actually live out in Queens (Spa Castle, anyone?), but New York and its boroughs are home to the second largest population of Korean people in the world, second only to Korea itself (duh).  Rachael and I armed ourselves with restaurant reviews and internet-researched places of interest and moseyed down what the street sign called Korea Way.

Ten paces and I seriously felt like I had been transported to Korea (minus the overcrowded-ness and language barrier).  We passed a 24-hour spa (note to self), a few restaurants, and headed into a book shop, supposedly the one that started the whole neighborhood.  We opened the door, the bell rang over our heads, and everyone in the joint turned and silently stared at us.  Awkward.  We began to browse and realized why.  Every book in the place was written in Korean.  I picked up Oprah's latest book with foreign characters surrounding the only Roman alphabet word on the cover - Oprah.  I wanted to take a picture of it, but the guy behind the counter was staring holes into the back of my head.  I felt like I had walked into Eleven Madison Park in my gym clothes.  Rachael and I walked around awkwardly for a few minutes and high tailed it out of there.  Who knew, though, I could read Korean.  You don't know, Mr. Shop guy.  So, there.

We walked the length of Korea Way and attempted to soak up a little culture . . . until I spotted a restaurant called Mandoo Bar.  It had a floor to ceiling window in the front of the restaurant behind which a little Korean woman was diligently folding fresh dumplings.  Adorable!  Suddenly, I HAD to have some of those dumplings.  Additionally, one of my goals in Koreatown had been to try one of Korea's most well-known dishes - kimchee.  A little history on me and kimchee:  I have never tried it.  But, my dad was in the Air Force for 20 years and was stationed in Korea for one of them and HATES kimchee.  Like, becomes vomitaceous at the smell of it.  I have, thus, always dutifully avoided the dish.  So, I decided that part of my Koreatown adventure would be to end my kimchee fast.  I checked out Mandoo Bar's menu.  Kimchee dumplings.  Score.  We headed in.  (A pic of Daddy Lookadoo below - he's on the right.)

We were welcomed and seated by a host.  Whew!  No bookstore treatment for us in Mandoo Bar.  I looked around and noticed about a 50/50 split of people obviously raised with this food and people obviously NOT raised with this food.  Perfect.  After graciously identifying the condiments on the table and dropping off some (I think) pickled daikon, our kindly server took my order of kimchee dumplings (warning me that they would be spicy) and Rachael's much more sensible pork dumpling order.  10 dumplings for 10 bones.  Not a bad deal.  They arrived quickly, I snapped a picture for Dad, and dug in. They were . . . brilliant.  It was so obvious that the dumplings had been made fresh for me and I'm sorry, Dad, but the kimchee was really, really good.  Flavorful and not too spicy.  Double Score.

Rachael and I headed out and back toward America.  We were tempted to drop into one of the bazillion karaoke bars on the way, but decided we had neither the time nor the patience to endure it (karaoke takes a very special kind of person).  A quick massage at one of the equally-as-numerous spas would have been a more likely next step, but we decided to be good and save the dough.  I did, though, put the phone number of Juvenex, one of the nicer 24-hour spas, into my blackberry contacts.  You never know when you're going to need a sensible 24-hour spa in midtown.  So, now I know where Koreatown is.  And I have a new favorite dumpling shop.  Mission: accomplished.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Talent Show - MoMA PS1

If I don't know you, how much can I find out about you without actually meeting you?  How much can I discern without leaving my computer?  In five clicks or less?  Age?  Marital status?  Financial standing?  Workplace?  Things you don't want anyone (or everyone) to know?  Or, are you an open book and I can watch your home videos on the internet?  Could I discern that your ground floor window's lock is broken from said video?  And that your Facebook says that you're away from said window at a party on Friday night?  In the age of YouTube and the Real Housewives of Every-City-In-America, the line between public and private has been more than blurred; it has been obliterated.  Used to be, we went to the movie theatre to be entertained by professional artists that were filmed acting in roles behind cameras and after much editing.  Now, we sit in our underwear on the sofa and watch the greatest putt-putt shot of all time, the fat lady that dances on her coffee table and breaks it in half, and the teenager that has a conniption because she can't sing a Whitney Houston song.   In the age when any Joe Schmo can film himself doing practically anything, upload it to the internet, and potentially gain overnight fame, folks are literally flocking to play the lottery of internet renown.  Simultaneously, even if we aren't wrapping our most private moments into the world wide web, most of us lead significantly less private lives that we did ten years ago.  I mean, am I the only person that finds it creepy that my computer knows my PREFERENCES?  I'm guessing Victor's computer isn't flashing Frye boots across the screen every day.  If they (whoever "they" are) know that I am obsessed with quality footwear, what else do they know?

A new exhibit at MoMA PS1 called "The Talent Show" explores the struggle that humans have increasingly faced over the past thirty years - a struggle between notoriety and privacy.  How much exposure is acceptable, how much is and should be dictated by the subject, and where does one draw the line between art and gratuitous exhibitionism.   A weighty subject, I'm sure we'd all agree.  Interestingly enough, though, the exhibit, "The Talent Show" in Queens is sometimes a little light on the substance.  The folks at the MoMA did an interesting job of combining the works of eighteen different artists to explore these subjects, and I definitely found a few pieces intriguing, if not touching and thought-provoking, but a few others were, basically, old news.

My buddy, Kimberly from Moxie Street, and I schlepped out to Queens on the 7 train a few days ago to see this new collection of works.  Now, Kimberly is the perfect museum buddy - she knows when to chat about meaning and, most importantly, she knows when to shut face and take in the moment.  I was happy to realize this when we stepped in to the first room of "The Talent Show" and took in an empty, dark room with a spotlight in the center.  We circled the pool of light, stepped into it, pondered its existence, and Kimberly finally said, "It's like what you do every day".  I chuckled.  Yes, I am no stranger to the spotlight.  We looked at each other and shrugged.  Not so exciting.  Or thought-provoking, for that matter.  Hopefully, it would get better.


It did.  A little, anyway.  As much as the exhibit did not live up to my expectations, I would say that it definitely is still worth a trip to Queens, so I won't tell you all about it - go see it for yourself - but I will highlight a few of my favorite pieces.  The first, I would have walked right by, except I heard a thoughtful, "Huh", from Kimberly as she poured over a framed series of newspaper articles.  Turns out, this writer, Sophie Calle, found an address book on the street in Paris.  She copied the pages, mailed the address book back to its owner, and then proceeded to try to get to know the owner of the book through his contacts - without ever meeting the man himself.  Ms. Calle interviewed contact after contact and highlighted one person per day in a published column, all unbeknownst to the address book's owner.  She asked questions about every aspect of his life - we find that he was a filmmaker, an overtly formal individual, and a screenwriter that was, in his contacts' opinion, marginally talented.  After a series of over twenty articles and weeks of prying, Ms. Calle put together a one-paragraph series of phrases that she thought summarized the address book owner's life.  On marble.  She never met him.  Intriguing, I thought, but would I want to be the book owner?  What would my friends and acquaintances say about me?  Did I want everyone in the world to read it without my knowledge?  Did Mr. Address Book Owner have any rights to privacy?  Or would he be interested in exercising them?  I realized I, also, was playing a part in this man's inadvertent exploitation by reading the articles.  For that matter, I am further exposing him by giving more publicity to this work.  Oy.

Another piece of note was a video montage entitled "The Intra-Venus tapes" by the late artist Hannah Wilke.  When I saw the piece and realized what I was observing, I literally had to sit down (luckily, there was a bench directly in front provided by the friendly MoMA folks).  First impression: 16 video screens simultaneously played seemingly unrelated home videos in a dark room.  I stared for a bit and realized that a recurring character in these videos was a woman that seemed to be sick in some way.  I read a bit about it and sat down.  Hannah Wilke documented her battle with cancer over three years until it took her life in 1993.  The 16 video screens were arranged in chronological order from her diagnosis through her death.  The videos show her running and playing with her toddler daughter and, later, shuffling from bed to toilet, bald, in a hospital gown.  Viewers watch her pull handfuls of hair out of her head on the lower screens while a smiling sunny family vacation simultaneously plays along the top.  It's as if she piled all of her memories on top of each other (her husband facilitated the editing, etc. posthumously).  I was touched, but I couldn't figure whether I wanted to watch or not - it felt much too private.  I didn't want to know about it.  I didn't need to see it.  Or, did I?  It was ugly . . . but somehow beautiful.  On second thought, I wasn't too sure I should be part of this.  Or, perhaps, everyone should.  In my opinion, good art makes one think and feel at the same time.  Having said that, Hannah Wilke had created something exceptional.


While I'd love to describe all of my favorites at the MoMA, I'm sure you all have better things to do with your time . . . like go see it yourself.  I will say, though, that the combination of opinions and differing, often conflicting, artistic approaches to the subject of the exposure of humans is flooring.  Our private moments and feelings are, for lack of a better word, private.  Intimate.  What happens when those private moments become public?  Do they lose their intimacy or is the intimacy shared with the viewer?  How many viewers does it take to make a moment no longer private?  Or is privacy, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder?  Um  . . . yeah . . . I don't know.  Obviously.  Nobody does.  Or, that is, everyone thinks they know, but every individual's answer is different.  And that, I think, is what makes us humans interesting.  And worth observation . . . to a point.