Farewell to Gotham

new-york-november-2008-089November 17th.

The last day of our trip and it’s NOT raining. In fact, aside from the air being colder and crisper than the previous three days, it’s sunny.

Figures. 

We’re a bit slow this morning, managing to get out of the apartment mid-morning. We check out this clothing store in the neighbourhood, which is boasting a sale. I snap up a t-shirt – not on sale, mind you. But I think it’s cute enough for the price.

The rest of the time spent in New York isn’t necessarily to go to specific places of interest. Our plan is to do a lot of walking – with the end goal of attempting to reach SoHo and Greenwich Village at the very least. We end up making stops for coffee, at Victoria’s Secret and Barnes and Noble, and more coffee (or in my case, a chai latte). 

We get as far down as the outer reaches of Greenwich Village – passing through Washington Square and the park near the NYU campus – before having to hop in a cab and hot-footing it back to the apartment.

Just as we start getting a feel for the city (and the pedestrian crossings) … it’s over. Like that.

I don’t think the realization it’s the end of the trip, sinks in when we arrive at the airport … nor while shoved in between between these uppity teachers and students from a frou-frou private school on our hour-long flight on the plane … nor even when we arrive back at new-york-november-2008-092C’s apartment back in Toronto to chill.

It’s when I’m back at my desk at work the following day, staring at my computer, wondering where the time went. No – it doesn’t feel like I never left. But I’m experiencing that pang of traveller’s melancholy I think a lot of people go through.

Ah, New York. I may not have gotten to see as much of you as I would have liked. But what I did see makes me regret not seeing you sooner. 

*sigh*

I’ll return one of these days. You’ll see. You are, after all, only a one-hour plane ride away. And you’re too flashy to resist.

Although next time, I’ll make a point of seeing the Brooklyn Bridge – during the day.

Curing The New York Hangover

November 16th.

It’s cold, overcast and rainy. Again. 

And I feel like death warmed over.

I feel like I’ve gotten a full night’s sleep. But I’ve only actually passed out for about five hours.

I stumble into the bedroom and mumble my thanks to my friends for taking care of me, as well as an apology for being the twit who couldn’t hold her liquor. No worries, they said. Besides, I think to myself, I have, after all, provided them with comic entertainment at my expense.

I’m as slow as molasses getting into the shower. But I feel incrementally better afterwards.

We head out into the wind and sporadic rain to the Tick Tock Diner at W 34th and 8th streets for breakfast before we get down to some serious business of the retail variety.

In the past, the sight of a diner breakfast usually erased all thoughts of hungover queasiness, and I was a new woman by the end of the meal. Of course, the past was when I was in my twenties and had a gastrointestinal system that was practically bionic.

Today is another story. The thought of toast comforts me. The thought of eggs and bacon, however, does not. I make the mistake of ordering scrambled eggs, Canadian bacon (which, by the way, I regret wholeheartedly) and potatoes … and I feel myself turn green when the waitress puts it in front of me.

Shortly after I start picking away at my plate, a wave of nausea hits me and I get up from my table, fast. I make a beeline for the back of the restaurant, only to come across what could only be a HUGE lineup for the bathroom.

This can’t be right, I think. I ask the nearest waitress – who happens to be our server – where the bathroom is. She tells me it’s in the corner … where the lineup is.

“Oh crap,” I mutter aloud, looking around for an alternative. The only thing I can do is go back to my seat, and silently resolve to myself to upchuck outside the restaurant (out of view of my friends) if things REALLY get bad.

But as quickly as it comes, the queasiness passes. Just like that. I start to chew on what I can. Somehow I manage to muster up enough of an appetite to eat most of the eggs and bacon on my plate, along with a second order of toast. (Ah, toast. Sweet buttery saviour …)

new-york-november-2008-078After breakfast, it’s on to the Rockerfeller Center – and shopping. We stop to check out the Rockerfeller Plaza skating rink.

(Can I just say it’s WAY smaller than it looks in pictures? How deceiving. I still dig the Prometheus statue, though.)

Our shopping extravanganza starts at J. Crew, where I manage to pick up a nice cable-knit sweater. Next, it’s to Anthropologie, which is a main point of interest for my friend C (who visits the Web site fairly regularly). I think we cover every square inch of that store. Neither of my friends really luck out, but I splurge on a pair of jeans (which, because of the price tag, I will be taking VERY good care of – like they’re the Crown Jewels).

Before we leave the area, we go into the main lobby of the Rockerfeller Center, where we gaze up at the ceiling mural. We’re actually noting out loud about the number of crotches seemingly painted in our direction when I hear a voice say, “Excuse me? Hello?”

It’s the security guard at the front desk, motioning us to come over.

I’m wondering what could we possibly have done wrong, and get C and P’s attention.

As it turns out, the guard gives us an impromptu history lesson, both about the mural painted behind him – Man’s Conquests by Jose Maria Sert – and the story on the ceiling mural (by artist Diego Rivera) , which “moves”, when we follow his instructions. Well … I kinda see what the guard’s talking about as I walk from side to side, but since I still feel hollowed out from the night before, I’m not really getting the full effect.

We leave the area and return to the apartment for a wardrobe change for the next activity on our list: Our big, fancy New York dinner.

We go to Buddakan, this upscale Asian fusion restaurant at 9th anew-york-november-2008-084nd W 15th. The outside doesn’t really give too much away, but the inside is fabulous. As I find out the next day, it’s one of a chain of different frou-frou restaurants run by this guy from Philadelphia, and was one of the restaurants used in the Sex and the City movie.

But forget the hype behind the restaurant – we’re there for the food. And – cool, aloof wait staff aside – it’s ridiculously good.

There was this salad … and sea bass wrapped in cabbage which was so good … and this edemame that blew my tastebuds away … and a sweet-and-sour chicken entree I order, which actually resembles a breaded loaf more so than actual chicken. It’s almost too much.

Then the waitress asks us if we want dessert. We’re stuffed, but decide to look at it anyway. I end up going the whole hog and ordering a small chocolate ganache cake, with a dollop of coffee ice cream perched atop some unsweetened cocoa.

new-york-november-2008-080The presentation of the plate is so perfect, I actually feel bad that we’re going to demolish it in a matter of minutes. But it was so warm and so rich, I probably would have left my body, had I not been weighed down with so much food.  

Following dinner, we look around for a bit longer, checking out the dining area below and snapping a few pictures before calling it a night.

It’s hard to believe but tomorrow is our last morning and afternoon in town before boarding a plane for home. It’s sad to realize that our four-day adventure is almost over.

Lady Liberty, and Illin’ in Brooklyn

new-york-november-2008-0631November 15th.

It’s P’s birthday. And it’s a late start for us. There’s a heavy rain shower early in the morning, which causes us to hunker down in our beds for longer than usual.

First stop – no breakfast – is the New York Public Library – heaven for librarians and any book nerds worth their salt.

After the obligatory pictures of one of the lions and the exterior, P and I check out the interior. Despite the beautifully designed building itself, there are, surprisingly, no stacks of books – unless you count the volumes upon volumes of catalogues, with countless pages of photocopies of cue cards, containing information about books.

Sigh.

We check out a couple of the reading and research rooms. P – who is actually a librarian – figures that, to get a book, you have to make a request to one of the librarians at the main desk, who then puts in the request to have said book retrieved.

Double sigh.

From the library, we take the subway down to Whitehall Terminal, and board the Staten Island ferry so we can see the Statue of Liberty.

We shuffle with the crowds, making our way onto the boat and then towards the front so we’ll have a good view.

The drizzle and mist from the water hits our faces as the ferry makes its way new-york-november-2008-066through the water. The air’s crisp and cold. Seagulls bob along the water’s surface and harness the wind to glide above the boat, at times appearing suspended in flight.

And we then we see Lady Liberty. She’s smaller than we expect. Then again, we’re a bit farther away from her than we thought we’d be. But for a free ride, it’s good enough. Making the trip back, we get a better frontal view of the statue, and can just make out the torch, which is “on”.

Off the boat, we walk over to Ground Zero. There’s not much to see, unfortunately – huge board-and-wire-gate fences block the hole from public view, and there’s at least one crane from what I can see, which means construction on something has started.

We stop at a nearby deli for our first – and only – meal of the day. As it would turn out later on, this is a small blessing in disguise.

Next stop: Century 21, the store several people have told me I HAVE to go to. The exterior’s already got lights draped the size of the building, so it looks like a big, glittery Christmas present.

The inside is friggin’ enormous. Just floors and floors of … stuff. P is done after about 45 minutes of looking. (Unbeknownst to us, she temporarily doesn’t feel so hot, but we don’t know this until much later.) I’m just looking and looking. I go down to the basement to look for shoes. I’m a bit overwhelmed, and unsure of the selection, so I re-emerge after about 40 minutes or so. C is almost ready to throw into the towel. But partway through, she’s gets the trick to navigating this unwieldy store: you have to be prepared to dig, and dig to find that choice buy.

At one point, we all get second winds, find some things to try on, and get down to business. In the end, none of the things we take into the dressing rooms are truly worth getting. But on our way back through the trench coats and winter jackets, I come across a really nice pea coat, which I end up getting for half-price.

Unfortunately, all the time at Century 21 thwarts our original plan of heading up to Harlem for soul food. So we decide to head back to the apartment and change before going out to get changed for P’s birthday. We’ve decided to go to Brooklyn, to this place P read about online, Black Betty.

Drinking at the apartment beforehand, I’m imbibing slower than the others – I’m kind of tired, plus, I want to pace myself. (Wait for the irony of this statement, if it is indeed ironic.)

We head out and after a few attempts, including a cabbie that outright drives off when we tell him where we’re headed, we land a cab.

Because of the traffic, it takes FOREVER. We almost give up and tell the taxi driver to turn around, but he says the bridge takes no time to cross, once we get to it. 

He’s right. Et voilà. Welcome to Brooklyn … And Black Betty.

How to describe the place? Um … dive-y?

We enter, and the place is packed with young’uns, drinkin’, dancin’, bumpin’ and grindin’. There’s even a Hasidic Jew getting his dance on.

Well, then.

We order drinks from one of the bartenders. As we wait, we spot one of the other bartenders wearing an old-school Saskatchewan t-shirt (which I’m pretty sure she’s wearing “for the irony” because she probably has NO CLUE where Saskatchewan is).

About half an hour in, the night starts to blur. As far as I remember, the rum and coke in the full-sized plastic cup becomes a Red Stripe (!) … which then morphs into a mixed drink C gives me … which then gets placed on a table, never to be finished.

At some point, a speaker falls off its perch above us and nails P in the foot. NOT COOL. She helps put the thing out of harm’s way, which pleases some of the other drunk patrons who didn’t move an inch when the thing originally fell.

Things for me take a turn for the worse. P comes up to me, asking for my help in shaking her loose some young squirt who’s latched onto her … and I sit down because I suddenly don’t feel hot. AT ALL.

I feel it’s my duty at this juncture to impart some words of wisdom to my fellow drinking lightweights.

No, I’m not going to give a lecture about the danger of mixing drinks. Or the virtue of eating enough to absorb the booze. But I WILL say three words in regards to emptying the contents of one’s stomach under a table:

NOT. CLASSY. EVER.

Learn from my mistake and NEVER do it.

Back to my story: I seriously cannot for the life of me remember the last time I did this. I’m too OLD to be doing this. It’s a wonder I don’t retch up a lung. 

My friends and I – to my utmost relief – finally leave Black Betty behind around 4 a.m.

It’s unfortunate that my last memory of the Brooklyn Bridge early this rainy morning is anything but pleasant.

A Broadway Sort of Day

A cloudy Novenew-york-november-2008-015mber 14th.

After a nice, greasy breakfast (which for me includes pancakes … mmm!), C, P and I trek west, then north towards Times Square.

We stop briefly at Bryant Park, which has already set up a small skating rink. Because of the rain, a couple of maintenance staffers are pushing the water off with a broom while someone else gets ready to go over it with a Zamboni. Looking out over the rink, it immediately seems brighter. It’s probably the ice, reflecting what little natural light there is at this point in the day.

We continue on along until we hit what is Times Square – which to me looks like a series of long narrow, concrete strips, going north for a number of blocks before “ending” at this plot of land with fibreglass risers, known as Father Duffy Square. This is also where we’ll go to the TKTS booth to try and score some seats for a Broadway show. 

Times Square is crazy. All the neon signs, ads, crazy billboards – combined with all the vehicular AND pedestrian traffic – is a bit overwhelming. And this is during the day.

We talk to a security guard at the TKTS booth, who explains to us how the “ticket-getting” works.

We leave Times Square and continue northward until we hit Columbus Circle (where C and P stop for coffees) and then … BAM! There it is. Central Park.

new-york-november-2008-025It’s every bit as beautiful as people say it is.

We don’t walk the whole thing – I’d say we manage to do about half of it. We start at the playground, sitting on nearby Umpire Rock for several minutes. We then peek in at the carousel, walk down the Mall, under Bethesda Terrace and past the fountain, where we see the last of the waterlilies, right before they pull them out.

We get as far as the Alice in Wonderland sculpture then double back, ending our visit at Strawberry Fields. We take a break on the park benches around the “Imagine” mosaic, taking in the loud conversations of characters we assume are “regulars” to the area.

We exit at W 72nd Street, crossing the intersection to get a brief look at the Dakota, where Yoko Ono is said to still live. There’s a doorman and a dimly-lit alcove just beyond the big wrought-iron gates behind him.

After, we grab a taxi back down to Times Square to look into tickets for a Broadway show. We’d all forgotten the security guard’s advice about getting there before the box offices opened at 3 p.m. It’s about 4:30 when we get back there and – understandably – the lines are jammed full of people. I admit that I’m secretly pessimistic about our chances.

C and P come up with a good plan to have a bunch of choices available in case our first choice isn’t available. In the end, we do get tickets for a play – the Tony and Pulitzer-prize-winning August: Osage County. We don’t know anything about it, other than the blurb we read about prior to getting in line, but we take a chance. Anything involving a dysfunctional family is bound to be interesting, right?

We rush back to the apartment, freshen up, then hot-foot it back out to Broadway. We stop at Junior’s for a snack before the play.

We sit outside on the chilly patio and wait for someone to serve us. Our waiter is – what’s the word? Oh, right. Meh. He’s minimal with the helpfulness when it comes to ordering.

And when we decide to order three slices of cake? I immediatnew-york-november-2008-052ely regret not ordering a brownie. Our desserts are mountains of cake and icing. 

Head’s up if you go to New York: If you eat like a bird, Junior’s is NOT for you.

Everything is big. EVERYTHING.

I remember us turning to look at the plates of the closest patrons to us sitting inside the restaurant, and saw this old lady trying to tackle a salad meant for a family of four. If the table was any lower, she’d probably fall in.

After settling the bill, we waddle across the street to the theatre and find our seats just before show time. The production is almost three hours with two intermissions. And it’s fantastic. If you don’t mind a dysfunctional family plot with cussin’, this play could be your cup of tea. A number of the actors were just dynamite in their roles. Forget Katie Holmes and “All My Sons” (which, incidentally, was playing across the street)!

new-york-november-2008-057Having just about recovered from Junior’s and his Everest-sized cakes, we pass back through Times Square, its neon signs and lit billboards ten times more bedazzling at night than it is during the day.

Yonge-Dundas Square doesn’t even hold a candle to this. It shouldn’t even try.

We keep going and eventually find this Cuban restaurant near Times Square for dinner. It was awesome. I get this grilled mango-glazed salmon that  just melts in my mouth. And the mojitos, I have to say, are even better than the ones I’ve had in Cuba, sugar cane and all.

The walk home tonight is one I don’t mind making. I’m happy and content.

Tomorrow: our big night out. But where?

Meeting New York City

The first thing I smell is bread.

The first thing I hear is a horrible, screechy, ear-splitting … security alarm.

Welcome to New York. LaGuardia Airport, to be exact.

It’s the afternoon of November 13 and it’s raining.

My friend C and I have just gotten off the Air Canada flight from Toronto, almost ready to start our four-day trip in New York City. It’s our first time here. We just have to get our luggage and meet our friend P, who is also coming to NYC, but is arriving on an American Airlines flight just after ours.

Shortly after getting our luggage off the carousel, we’re almost immediately accosted by a man trying to convince us that taking his cab would be cheaper than the yellow New York cabs pulling up just outside, about 50 metres from where we’re standing.

We decline his offer. I immediately think he’s one of those illegal cab drivers I’ve read about in one of the guide books about New York, and I become annoyed.

We then try to figure out where P might be getting her luggage when she arrives. We pace back and forth between directory maps of the terminal, trying to read them. The annoying cab driver returns for a second shot at getting a fare.

My friend says, “No thanks,” as I say, “We’re meeting a friend,” and I look at him. Hard.

After the little weasel disappears, we find airport staff who helpfully direct us to the next building over. We get there just as our friend has collected her luggage. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

In a matter of minutes, we’re zipping along in a big yellow taxi towards Manhattan and Murray Hill, the residential area where we’re rented an apartment for the next several days.

By the time we get out of the cab on 3rd, it’s pouring rain. C calls the guy we’re renting the apartment from. He says he’ll be in the area in about 40 minutes, so we head to a nearby diner to kill time.

We finally meet our contact – named J – who helps us with our things up four flights of stairs, and then shows us the basics of his small apartment.

After we rifle through his things get settled, we new-york-november-2008-0011decided to make the most of our afternoon – starting with a peek at Grand Central Station. We enter the building and take a quick look around the main hall of the central terminal, and then up at the ceiling, which in itself is a work of art – all the stars, and the constellations painted on by hand … wow

It was then onwards to the Museum of Modern Art (or the MoMA), opting to walk instead of tackling the subway system during our first day in town. The rain continued as we weave our way around other pedestrians, across busy intersections and under scaffolding.

“Umbrellas, umbrellas, umbrellas,” sings a vendor we pass on the sidewalk. “No need to get wet, umbrellas …”

We arrive at the MoMA around 3:30 – and find out the museum closes at 5:30. No matter – we tackle three, maybe four floors.

There are installations, paintings, sculptures, multimedia works and industrial design pieces as far as the eye can see. Even though we cover a lot of ground in just under two hours, I’m sure we don’t see everything. You just can’t. Even as we’re in the museum, they’re putting the finishing touches on a multimedia installation which, as it turns out, is by a Swiss artist, Pipilotti Rist.

The highlights for me are:

(1) A Henri Rousseau painting called The Dream. Don’t ask me why, but it resonates with me. I buy a poster version, which I hope to mount one day.

new-york-november-2008-013(2) Seeing the Picassos. But not just any Picassos. I had poster versions of Girl Before A Mirror and Three Musicians (pictured here) when I was a kid. The posters have since been taken down, but seeing the real thing is pretty cool.

We leave the MoMA in search of our next quest: dinner.

We walk up and down the streets in search of a pub or anything with decent food. Of course, it being a Thursday in New York, we’re trying to find a restaurant in the middle of happy hour. Which means almost anywhere we go is packed to the gills with drinking young – and not-so-young – professionals and other types.

We finally settle on a pub around E 43rd Street. I can’t speak for either C or P, but I’m so tired by this point, I’m feeling drowsy halfway through my mediocre fish-and-chips dinner, and am ready to faceplant shortly thereafter.

When we leave the pub, it’s around 11:30 and practically empty, save for the staff, a couple of stragglers and the middle-aged couple canoodling in the booth right next to ours.

When we return to the apartment, I am gladly looking forward to the good night’s sleep that awaits -probably the best in ages.