29 September 2013

2013 NYC by Train 8 - Brooklyn to 8th to 44th

We got off the bus at Greenpoint. Teshia's summer apartment is located nearby in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. She said it is kind of an up and coming area with lots of little restaurants and bars. Per Wikipedia, it is an influential hub for indie rock, hipster culture, and the local art community. Sounds like Teshia picked the perfect spot for her summer stay in Brooklyn, NYC.

She took us to Spritzenhaus33 for a refresher. It had an expansive bar with lots of beer choices, as well as hard liquor. There was a huge fire place in the middle of the hall and high stacks of oak firewood waiting for cold weather. Picnic tables were plentiful for seating and the 

"wall" windows were garage door style. They were all open today because the weather was so pleasant. See www.spritzenhaus33.com.

Mike was a little dehydrated so a large water for him. Teshia had beer and I had my usual cuba libra (rum and coke with lime). They didn't have Myers Dark, but Goslings worked. The menu was limilted, at least at this time of day, mostly appetizers and sandwiches. We weren't starved, so we shared a German style pretzel with peanut sauce for dipping. Teshia paid (on dad's credit card). Thanks, Tom! 

A big entertainment attraction here is the Jenga game. There were boxes scattered everywhere--on the fireplace, tables, bar, floor. Just grab one and start playing with your friends. The goal is to remove a block from the pre-arranged wooden tower and place it back on the topmost level in a balanced way. The person that places a block just before it falls is the loser. It is all based on manual dexterity and mental skill. See www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jenga. We were not up for a game, but enjoyed snooping at the challenges going on around us.

After our quick refreshment stop, we wandered a bit through some iffy neighborhood back streets. I wasn't nervous in the late afternoon, but night might have been different. Lots of trash, not so good graffiti on abandoned buildings, bicycle frame padlocked to a street sign pole (no wheels or handle bars, rusted, long abandoned, but still locked to the pole). People we passed said "Hi" and we felt safe passing through.

No sure what subway line (M or L maybe?) we took from the Brooklyn side, under the East River, and back to Manhattan. When we hit daylight again we were near Teshia's favorite NY book store, The Strand, at 8th and Broadway. We popped in for a browse. It reminded us of the original Border's in Ann Arbor--several floors and every nook and cranny packed to the brim. If you want it, they have it or they can get it. Rare, out of print, hot off the press, and book related necessaries. This 1927 establishment's motto is "Where books are loved" and you can tell it is true.

Here we unwillingly parted ways from our niece. We so enjoyed our short but sweet visit with her. But she had things to do and places yet to go this day. It was strange to see the little one that we so wanted to hold on to now evolved into a butterfly of independence and confidence. It was inevitable. We are so proud of her and her parents that led her through the zigzag steps of life to this point. Nothing but promise ahead.

We could have taken a subway back, but decided to walk as far as we could. We were at 8th Street and Broadway and our hotel was at 44th Street and 5th Avenue. That meant about 40 blocks. One thing about the blocks in NYC is that they are SHORT. Thank goodness. You feel like you make quick progress.

What touched us as we plodded along was the architecture. Every era represented, some very innovative, some classic, some traditional, some perplexing, some ugly. Also, saw street artists, news stands, public works of art. At Union Square Park we cut off onto Park Street (which is also 5th Ave). That took us through the Gramercy and Murray Hill districts. Awesome people and pet watching. It made the time fly.

We spotted the flagship Brooks Brothers store. It was a fashion icon in our youth, but not as much in the limelight these days. We continued within eye shot of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building (one of our favorite structures in the world). We again strolled past the grand NYC public library on 5th and the historic Grand Central Station.

We finally turned left on 44th and discovered the New York City Yacht Club building. It is out of this world with windows that look like the sterns of ancient sailing ships. It was built in 1900 in the Beaux-Arts style with lots of sea-faring details carved in the stone facing. The history of this building and the NYC Yacht Club are definitely worth reading more about at www.nyyc.org. Mike stated this may be his new favorite building in the world and what a great loft it would make!!

Back at our hotel we were both pooped with feet aching. We took a brief siesta and then ventured out again for dinner around 7p. We asked the front desk where we could get some good New York pizza. He suggested John's, which I had seen in our wanderings, so away we went.

John's was on 44th west of Times Square, but when we got there the line spilled into the street. We were hungry, but Mike does not usually stand in line for anything. We left a little disappointed and headed back across Times Square looking for a deli.

Pausing in Times Square is a must. It is amazing. We wondered how many light bulbs, LEDs, etc there could possible be in just this little area of NYC. Every color, every shape. Unreal, but very real. So many people. Lots of cops, too. Reassuring. After about 5 minutes of jaw-dropping awe we continued on.

We saw a sign with parking rates. A bit hard to read above, but per car monthly rates are $497.90 between 6a-5p and an additional $497.90 between 5p-6a. One hour is $18.59. Plus there is an 18-3/8% parking tax!!

Shortly after that we came across a promising deli and cafe. We opted to grab a sandwich and eat back at the hotel. We got a turkey/bacon/avocado on ciabatta. It came with half a kosher dill (all mine!!!).  You could make a whole sandwich at home with just the avocado on this one. We got cold drinks and cookies for dessert. We were hungry, it was good, and I ate my whole half (meat and all). What a way to end the night and great inspiration to hit the hay, so we did.

12 September 2013

2013 NYC by Train 7 - The Teshia Tour

Teshia met us about 1pm at our hotel. We chatted about all that was happening in her life, and then headed for MoMA-PS1 in Brooklyn. She has become quite the NYC expert and tour guide...thank goodness.

The hotel is in Midtown Manhattan, so we headed south or downtown to find a subway entrance. We walked past the NYC Public Library on 5th Ave with its stately marble lions guarding the Beaux Arts building doors. It looked more like a museum than any library we had seen. Wish we had time to go in and browse. Next trip.

Behind the library, we passed through Bryant Park, a lush oasis snuggled in a canyon of high-rise buildings.  The lovely park includes a grassy lawn for sunbathing, a plaza with fountain, park benches, and a charming carousel. Several dining choices and tables were available to catch a snack. There are outdoor game areas set up for chess, backgammon, ping pong, and Petanque (French version of bocce ball). It was a warm day, but shade from numerous trees made it quite comfortable.

We paused for a minute while Teshia helped us download and explain the NY Subway System app. We were glad she was with us to dissipate the mystery of this underground transportation labyrinth. We found the closest station. To pay, the best plan was for each to buy a Metro Card. Each entry to the subway is $2.50. For that price you could transfer any number of times until you exited the subway system. We each bought $10 worth of fares.

As we waited for our train, we listened to a fiddle player doing Yiddish Klezmer style music. We hopped on the #7 subway at Bryant Park, traversed under the East River, and exited at Court Square. The stations and subway cars were much more clean and welcoming than we expected (from watching TV shows). Clientele were students, business and everyday folks, not intimating at all.

The exit on the Brooklyn side was above ground on a raised platform. We had a nice view of the area. Many buildings were graffitied with exceptional spray paintings up several stories high. More works of art than works of vandalism. A block or two walk, past an old fashioned art deco diner and we had arrived at MoMA-PS1 (Museum of Modern Art - Public School #1), where Teshia is interning for the summer.

The public school building itself was erected around 1892 in the Romanesque Revivalist style. It was the first school in this Long Island City neighborhood of NYC and closed in 1963 due to low attendance. It then became a warehouse.

In 1971, the Institute for Art and Urban Resources was founded there as part of an effort to use abandoned and underutilized spaces in NYC. PS1 transitioned through several phases before a renovation in 2000. At that time it became formally affiliated with MoMA and is an exhibition site rather than a collecting institution.

Much of the original space was preserved, including its classroom-sized exhibition rooms and galleries. It devotes its energy and resources to experimental art, emerging artists, and dialogue regarding new ideas, trends, and genres. They also schedule music and performance art events. Per its website, it is a true artistic laboratory.

I hope I have all this right. If not, I'm sure Teshia will let us know and we can fix it. Anyway, you will get the idea. -- We started our tour by entering the lobby and gift shop. There were fish-eyed peep holes bored through the wall, which gave you had a tiny view to the outside world. Not sure the reasoning ... probably no reason, just fun.
Next we passed through a courtyard containing a huge wood art piece. It was erected with re-purposed wood from a skateboard factory and held down with big bundles filled with water. You could see where the skateboards had been cut out from the plywood boards. There were other water features and places for kids (all ages) to play and relax.

To one side was located The Colony, a "commune" of artists living on the property trying experimental ways of living and doing art simultaneously. And a very cool 90-degree community garden space.

Community engagement is a big feature of this 125,000 square foot facility. All the space is open to the public for browsing and interaction, even the basement with its gold painted original furnace system and waterworks. Remnants of a bygone era, steam-punkish, and very cool. (Sorry, no photos allowed here.) 

Warm Up was this year's summer music series event and Teshia was very involved with "curating" these weekly happenings as part of her internship. These are held in the courtyard with the "stage" on the wide steps leading up to the school entrance.

Currently, inside were environmental works, including a basement room filled with water, goldfish, flora. It felt and smelled like a tropical oasis, but visually was rough and raw. In other rooms, sound and light became art objects. In another, old pipes, dust-filled furnace filters, and rusty tools were displayed as art. So much more. Each classroom a different artist, a different idea, a different feel. Some nicely unique and some oddly weird.

Next we peeked into the gourmet-ish "cafeteria," out of place modern compared to the rest of the site. Then a quick back room tour of the offices, meeting rooms and library, and then off to lunch. 

We waited for about 20 minutes for a bus, but time flew as we chatted and surveyed the area. We studied more art/graffiti on the old warehouse buildings. Very inventive and clever ideas. Political statements. Art from the heart. We finally hopped on the bus to the Greenpoint stop and our snack spot in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.

PS1 is also where the NY Art Book Fair is held each September. For more info on PS1, see www.momaps1.org and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moma_PS1

PS - Forgot to tell you about The Hole at P.S.1, Fifth Solar Chthonic (definition: concerning, belonging to, or inhabiting the underworld) Wall Temple art piece by Alan Saret. As we walked from the subway station to PS1 our niece pointed out a small hole in the brick work on the third floor outside wall. It is on the eastern end of the north wing of PS1. She commented that we should remember it.

Then, near the end of our tour (on the third floor), she pointed out the same hole from the inside of the building. Sunlight streams down from the small orifice to the floor. At different times of day and season, the sunlight pierces in at differing angles and strengths, and makes various sun spot shapes on the floor below it. The sun becomes the medium that makes an evolving natural art piece. This is the kind of interesting stuff that goes on at MoMA-PS1.

For more info, read www.momaps1.org/exhibitions/view/171. This may make the holes through the wall in the lobby mentioned above more significant...mimicking this original.

01 September 2013

2013 NYC by Train 6 - Daylight Delight in NYC

Woke up to a perfect weather day. Maybe slightly warm, but not a scorcher. Mike was refreshed and feeling great, to my delight. After last night I was not sure how things would go.

Today we had a date with our niece, Teshia. She is interning at MoMA-PS1 in Brooklyn and seeing her is what really motivated our visit here. We had been longing to get to NYC for an extended trip for forever, but just never got around to it. Teshia here, was the incentive to actually travel to this must-see city.

We were to meet her later in the day, so we started a morning trek to pass the time. Some North Carolinians we met in the lobby recommended a French place for breakfast, so we headed that way. But a few doors down we saw The Red Flame, a typical NY diner. It was full and hopping. If this many people liked it, so would we.

We got a seat in the back across from the kitchen order window and we were amazed at how quick and crazy orders were coming in and going out. Wait persons of many different nationalities hollered out orders to the cooks, each order having adjustments to the menu listing. Service was excellent and soon our pancakes and avocado/spinach/Swiss omelet arrived (served to order with all our "adjustments"). Coffee was good, orange juice was fresh squeezed, food was tasty and plentiful, and service was excellent. We were in and out in a jiffy and on our wandering way.

We continued west on 44th to Times Square. We would cross this famous corner many times during our stay. It was exhilarating and fascinating no matter what time of day, and always worth a pause in our venture. People watching is at its utmost here. Even at 10am, there were throngs. Per Wikipedia: "Although Times Square is only 1% of NYC's total land size, it generates 11% of the city's economic output and 10% of the city's jobs."

Many of the "jobs" are photo opportunists. These folks are costumed as every pop art character you can think of--many Muppet look-alikes;  Spiderman; Dora, the Explorer; Builder Bob; Mario; Angelina, the Ballerina; and a host of others. These all appealing to kids (of all ages) who then want their photo taken with the "personality," whose parents than have to pay a "tip." We overheard one little boy say as he headed away, "OK, Spidey, we're going to the park now" (as if he wanted Spidey to look after him in this big, over the top, maybe foreign to him, city).

We also saw the famous Naked Cowboy. Yes, he has his own Wikipedia entry at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naked_Cowboy. He is a "street performer" that runs around Times Square in cowboy boots and hat and white jockey style briefs. Today he did not play his guitar, but was still VERY popular with his attire (or lack thereof) and longish blond curly hair. The gals run up to him for a hug and a photo. Imagine getting paid for hugging pretty girls! Sometimes he picks them up in his arms like going-over-the-threshold-on-your-wedding-night style or smooches them. I was not up for any of that, but I must say "That guy is really hunky!"

We meandered north and west along interesting looking blocks, marveling at the variety of architecture--classic buildings from NYC-Manhattan's beginnings to mirrored skyscrapers where you could hardly tell the reflections of clouds in the windows from the actual clouds above. We continued through the main and fringe areas of the Theatre District. It is our plan to see Book of Mormon sometime on this trip, but didn't happen past the Eugene O'Neill Theatre where it is playing.

We window shopped at many fun stores along our way. One was NY Gifts which had a replica of the Statue of Liberty outside. I told Mike to stand by Her for a photo as we were not sure we would see Lady Liberty in person on this trip. Good thing, too, as we were not able to fit Her in. Big reason to return here.

Another thing we noticed was the abundance of NYC police. They take their security seriously here. Lots of police and lots of video monitors. Times Square even has an NYPD station located in its heart. And American flags everywhere. After 9-11, this must have become the most patriotic city in America.

Winding our way back to the hotel to catch up with our niece, Teshia, we came across a great little beer bar named Beer Culture. It is on West 45th between 8th and 9th Avenues. It has been open only two weeks, but we could tell this is going to be a booming place and a plus for Hell's Kitchen. (We found out later that was its neighborhood, but we didn't find it imposing or hellish at all.) See www.beerculturenyc.com for more info.

It was only 11:50am and they didn't open til 12n on Sunday per NY law. They invited us in and until we could get served we chatted with the owner, Matt, and his sidekick, Eddie. Mike "delved" into beer his whole life and did some home brew stints in California. (Abigail Ale, an experimental IPA, was one of his favorites, named after our first cat Abigail.) So he could keep up with the beer minutia conversation very well.

I, on the other hand, know very little and have only drunk one whole bottle of beer in my life that I can think of. That was a Modelo in Puerto Rico with our good friends Lynn and Sandy. We were motoring around the hot and high mountains when we ran across a little hole in the wall roadside bar in the middle of the jungle-y terrain. We were all perspiring heartily and needed rehydration. Beer was the only option and I downed one pronto. I wish I could say different, but that was the only time I enjoyed a beer. Personally, I'd rather have water, wine, or tequila. 

Anyway at noon we ordered. Not sure what Mike had but I ordered a Lindemans Framboise Lambic ale. That is a Belgium fruit style beer that tastes more like fizzy raspberry juice than beer. I have had this many times as a pseudo beer. They had several other brands, but they were bigger bottles and I didn't want to get too "relaxed" as we had a long day ahead. So I stuck with my tried and true.

This place is called Beer Culture for good reason. It has numerous coolers filled with 415 varieties of beers and they hope to get up to 600 at their max. The beers are place by east to west origin in the cooler so you can easily find one from any area of the U.S. or the world. We looked for Bells (brewed in our home town of Kalamazoo), but they said they were in sore need of that. They had Founders (nearby Grand Rapids brewed) and a few other Michigan brews.

Most of the 400 are artisan, designer, or micorbrew kind of stuff. They also have an old fashion refrigerator with some old time working men's beers--Miller, Papst, Schlitz, Rolling Rock. Stuff your grandpa would drink. No Bud though. On the inside door is a photo of a naked lady. Matt said most people miss that as they are really enjoying looking at the "vintage" beers.

They had about 10 brews on tap that change constantly depending on what Matt can get his hands on. The curiosity of "what's new" keeps the clientele coming back he said. While Mike was in the restroom, Matt came out and asked me which tap beer should go in the chili that day. I was not a good person to ask, but he said, "This one is kind of smoky," so I said, "Sure!" Now I'm a beer aficionado and a cook! HaHa!

Matt also has a unique collection of beer locked in a wrought iron cage. These are mostly Belgium beers valued at several hundred dollars per bottle. Some of the bottles are magnum size! Matt advised beers, if tapped and stored properly, can last 60-70 years. You think of wine in this regard, but not beer. I was only there about an hour but learned more about beer than I had my whole life--bottling, serving, styles, etc.

The menu sounded delicious, especially coming from the little 4x4 corner kitchen. We will come back to try the hot Caprese sandwich. And another surprise, they have USB ports and power sources below the bar counter for patrons. That is a first, as far as I know.

During our chit-chat Matt said that they put a different quote on the outdoor sandwich board each day. He was using a line from Mike's conversation for the quote today. He wouldn't tell us what it was, but said look on our way out. When we finally and reluctantly had to leave to catch up with our niece, he came out with us to see the board and took our photo. Fun, fun, fun!

On YELP Mike says "Beer Culture is one of the best thought out beer selling operations he has ever seen. Plus they were playing George Benson and Lou Reed on VINYL for background music!!" That is really making a statement for Mike and he bought a T-shirt, too.

On the way back to our hotel we had to pause at 7th Avenue. There was a Gay Pride Parade going on today. This was huge, lasting from 1-5pm. When we arrived, the Dominican Republic contingent was passing. It was a colorful display, somewhat political, cultural, and gay mixed in together. We had to wait a bit to cross to our side of 5th Ave. It would have been fun to watch for awhile, but we were anxious to catch up with Teshia.