It has not been a very happy year so far and it shows no sign of getting better any time soon. I know I’ve been off the radar for two years now and I can’t seem to get back on the horse. I am putting a link that will tell the tale for me in the hopes of getting some help. Here it is http://www.gofundme.com/bm047c
I never thought it come to this but desperate times call for desperate measures. Thanks for reading, and to any who used my work for term papers and such. I hope you got good grades.
Category Archives: Greenwich Village
It has not been a very happy year so far and it shows no sign of getting better any time soon. I know I’ve been off the radar for two years now and I can’t seem to get back on the horse. I am putting a link that will tell the tale for me in the hopes of getting some help. Here it is http://www.gofundme.com/bm047c
The air is cool today as I ride the train to New York, heading in today to repeat a self guided tour I did a year ago as well as do a photo shoot. I have cast a critical eye over my pictures from the last photo-shoots in New York. So armed with a little new knowledge and a more focused purpose I hope to come home with better pictures than ever. What I figure is the best pictures come from focusing on one area and working that completely. This will be better than walking from one side of Manhattan to the other, and will save my feet from a forced march. I also want to check out Vesuvios Bakery, part of the green bakery project in NYC. The new owner Maurey Rubin has taken a huge step in preserving the past by keeping the 1920’s storefront but updating the old wood fired ovens to make the business safe. I have it on good authority that the Maple Bacon Scone is to die for and a popular breakfast item. I also intend to check out Yakitori Taisho, a place that has a great reputation for Yakitori, the grilled meat on a stick that is the mainstay of Chinese lunch and happy hour. But I’m also thinking that a slice of pizza at Rivoli’s is in order, since the triumph of my painting of their storefront. I think it’s only right that I go and have a slice to see the place and say yes…I ate there. The weather is turning cooler fast and although I say I won’t let the winter keep me in, if it’s anything like last winter-I will be.
I come up from Penn Station on the NE corner of W.33rd & 7th Ave and walk east passing lines of out-of-townees waiting for tour buses, along the way I pass a series of pubs and public houses. The traffic is backed-up as the garbage is noisily collected by crews who sweep clean as they pass, anything that’s dropped must be picked up. The sounds of the trucks echo down the glass walls of the canyon like building as I come up to Greely square. I make it to 6th Ave and head south, this is a busy area in the low thirties through the twenties. There are busy shops, hotels and souring structures of glass and steel. I hear a snippet of conversation behind me. One young guy relating a story of trying to get a cab and an older woman with a southern accent asks if she can have it first saying “I’m so tired, can you let me take this one?” He did the thing that gives New Yorker’s a bad reputation. He ignored her and got in the cab. He laughingly tells his friend “Hey lady…this isn’t the south!” They both chuckle and I really wanted to tell him what I thought of him, but at almost 50 I can’t risk a beating by two guys in their twenties. Besides the evil that you do comes back to you threefold, so they will get theirs one way or another. A street fair is being held so the police barricades block off traffic and I walk freely down 6th Ave past dozens of vendors. They are selling sunglasses, jewelery, scarves, hats, clothing, and food of all kinds. It’s just getting set up this early but later these streets will be teeming with people buying early xmas gifts or just trying on some hats as I do in my quest for the right hat. Finding none that I like I move on into the village proper, I notice more than ever the homeless today. They seem to be out in force and it pains me to walk on by, but the sad fact is that if I helped them all I would be standing right next to them shaking my own empty coffee cup. I hear Blue Jays echo though the streets as I pass the Spring St subway station, looking for a loo and wishing I had a hat it’s a little cold.
So after using the loo at Starbucks, the travelers friend. I make my way to my breakfast destination, Vesuvio’s is very small and quaint with pictures of the old ovens in the basement on the wall above the milk and sugar bar. The friendly staff serves me my Maple bacon scone and coffee, they don’t make faces when I ask for some hot water to warm up the coffee gone cool from the freezing cold milk. Why we haven’t adopted the French method of warming the coffee milk is beyond me. The scone is crunchy and delicious and every bit what I love in a scone, but I can’t resist going back in for an oatmeal cookie for later, these have also been highly recommended online. I move on and walk down W. Broadway, there is an art show on the sidewalk and I admire the work of the artists showing today along the way. It’s so different now that I’m painting again, I no longer feel ashamed when I look at others work. I feel like an artist again with a purpose, even if I’m not doing important social commentary right now. I feel like I bought back a piece of myself. Now I begin to wander looking for good shots and feeling warm and happy, I can ignore my sore back and do what I came here to do. I pass a professional photographer sitting in a chair by his work, he too sits and writes in a small book just like I do. I wonder what he’s about…
I leave the art show and find myself on Lafayette St where an artist is painting the facade of an old bar in a style based on a small collage of liquor ads he’s been given, it’s very nice work and reminds me of my old style of painting. I talk with him a few minutes but move on to leave him to his work, it looks like it could rain all over his parade soon. Turing the corner I pass an art gallery and decide to go in. Brentano’s Gallery on Crosby St has an amazing collection of original prints and paintings, one whole wall is nothing but Salvador Dali’s work and on the other side a nice seating area with more art. I tell the owner that I’d like to move in and he laughs. Then I share with him the story of Harvey my old friend who would have loved to be here with me looking at Dali’s work. The one I like is a hand signed lithograph, limited to an edition of 150 which is only $4700. This may sound like a lot but by Dali standards it relatively cheap. Then of course and actual drawing by him is worth a fortune in comparison. I leave the gallery and circle back around to take some pics of the muralist from a distance without bothering him and then begin to move uptown starting to think of lunch, it’s been a few hours since the scone and I’m starting to get a little hungry.
I come to Bleeker St and turn right taking it to Bowery (4th Ave) and then north to St. Marks Place, it’s a long walk from where I was but carried along by the hipster crowds and tourists I make it to my lunch destination Yakitori Taisho, only to find it doesn’t open till 6 pm. So I will not be experiencing the delights of chicken parts cooked on skewers over glowing coals today. So I decide the only thing to do is take the long walk back to the other side of town and go to Rivoli’s Pizza. The clouds have gone away again and the sun is warm as I make my way to 7th Avenue South, passing through another street fair as I do. I stop and look at hats again and even find a $25 hat I like but they don’t take credit and I decide to pass it by instead of looking for a cash machine. When I arrive at 7th Ave South I can see Rivoli’s in the glare of the late afternoon sun and cross the street with others making the most of this glorious day and go in Rivoli’s for a well deserved break. I look at the pie and am immediately disappointed by the looks of it, this is utility pizza at best-nothing special here. I can’t imagine this place turning out veal scallopini or mussels marinara. But with a sigh I order a slice and a soda and settle down in the same window seat I struggled so hard to get the reflections of the table, chairs and taxi in. The pizza is as good as it has to be right now as I am ravenous after my long march, so I read the Village Voice and slowly drink my soda to rest for the walk back.
I sit and it occurs to me that right now or on any other day that I’ve been in NYC. I might be the person in the picture that someone took as part of their art project, or livelihood. It’s an interesting thought as I look through the window and eyeball the people walking by and crossing the street. I leave and make my way down 7th Ave with the wind at my back. Today I saw many homeless people and heard many French voices all around me, too many of the former and not enough of the latter. The weird and wonderful I saw today in people as I passed by, I would need a personal secretary to remember and document them all. I think to myself God how lucky I am to live so close to this city. I wonder if I could ever leave it.
It’s a gorgeous day as I wait for my train on the platform bound for New York City. I’ve just finished a light breakfast of a coffee and a light airy pumpkin muffin. The first sign of fall is not the solstice on the 23rd, but rather the arrival of pumpkin products in the stores and eateries. This does not depress me as usual, in fact I will go so far as to say I welcome it. It will mean meat cooked over an open fire while me and my bro ponder the meaning of life and hold a meeting of “The Office of Separate and Collective Endeavors” a geeky name for some quality time spent together over food and alcohol.
But today I am on a special mission in New York, I mentioned that I put brush to paper for the first time in almost four years, after three abortive attempts to paint a cafe scene from the instructional book on watercolors. I finally got a finished piece on the forth try, I learned much about watercolor painting but have miles to go. I wrote in “Doing A Slow Burn” that I have to find good pictures of Paris cafe’s on the net to use for watercolor paintings. But I had a genius attack the other day in the city, and decided that my own pictures taken in my travels would be a better choice. Most good pictures on the net are copyright protected or you pay to use them, the last quiet trip to the city only yielded one picture good enough for a painting. So today I will be taking multiple shots of every scene that catches my eye, different angles will be tried and the element of chance will be invited to come along. I have found out that I can make my own watercolor block at home using home-made glue and sheets of watercolor paper cut to size and pressed together. This will save me lots of money, block is expensive. Especially the superior French Arches Blocks that cost arms and legs for the large sizes.
I am very excited about this new reason to go into New York, I stand at work and think about how I will sit and listen to Pandora Radio and create art later. It takes the idea of being stuck in for the winter a happier thought, and at the same time it ties together all my interests into one. It’s all here in a nice package Art, New York City, Food, Photography, and Writing. It’s been a quiet ride so far, but in Woodside, Queens things change. A big guy in shorts and t-shirt with a baseball cap get on the train and sits down in front of me. By all accounts he’s very normal looking. But after the train pulls out he starts talking to himself in a high-pitched nasal voice. I wonder if he’s nuts or if he’s practicing lines for a voice over in a commercial or something, either way it’s a little annoying. We slow to begin the descent into Penn Station and I fill with anticipation for the day. I emerge from the station and decide to walk to West 10th st and head south. I am looking for film for my Advantix camera which I haven’t used since I got the Samsung from my English relative in 2008. I don’t find any in two places I stop in so I start walking west. What I don’t know is that they stopped making the film and I will have to find it online. By the time I write this however-ten rolls are sitting in my fridge and I will buy more when I can. I will not give up on those beautiful wide-angle shots, some of my best pictures were shot using that camera!
I’ve never gone this way before and it turns out to be a good decision, as I begin walking south I stop after a few blocks and notice people walking towards something. I turn and see the entrance to the Highline, an old elevated railroad that used to be the carrier of freight trains into and out of the city. But for many years it was the haunt of the homeless, junkies, and crazy kids looking for some free fun in a shrinking economy. Of course it was illegal to be up there but with dozens of ways in, people found a way to do it. It’s kinda like the sewers and catacombs beneath Paris, you’re not supposed to be there but no one really has the time to enforce the law. The powers that be in New York decided a few years ago to turn this space into a public park, so I go up to investigate. There are stairs leading to walkways that have been built over the tracks, and on either side are planting beds with a wonderful array of trees, shrubs and flowering perennials. There are nice benches along the way, special seating areas and viewing platforms that jut out into space. The park police patrol to keep things cool and emergency call boxes in case of an accident.
There are times when the buildings rise up around you and others when you are open to the sky, it almost feels like your flying as you look out over roofs where only pigeons walk, they stare at you unable to fathom the invasion of their domain. This is a truly wonderful space, you can see the contentment on the faces of the native New Yorker’s and the delight of the visitors is apparent too. I hear a man say to his fellows that the time to come here is in Feb, when it’s not too cold and there’s no one here in the early morning. I can imagine how tranquil that might be especially if it’s snowing. I will have to remember that for the future. I walk some three miles to the end, along the way I encounter common areas where events are staged, a place where the children can splash about in an inch of water while mom and dad sit in chairs big enough for two, and a roofed-over area near the bathrooms where the kids can play with giant wood and plastic Erector set pieces and build small contraptions. I make my way to street level and start for the West Village, walking down Greenwich Ave again for the first time in two years. I pace myself slow, taking pictures, reading menus, and find myself down by the waterside-just a short walk away from the piers. I pass a huge meat distributor and wonder how many millions of dollars of food are inside, then doubling back to civilization to find lunch. So many good places to eat, but I can’t afford them, I need to spend under twenty dollars today so I walk on looking for a sandwich and a beer.
I find it at the Fish on Bleeker St, a small place that has been here since the fifties I think as I look around at the decor and the pictures of the old days. I order an Oyster PO-Boy sandwich and a Stella Artois and relax at the old wooden bar and watch TV. I see a huge pyramid of shellfish go by and is laid down on a table in front of six people, they immediately go at the crab legs, lobster’s, clams and mussels with a vengeance. In fact all you can hear is cracking and the banging of small hammers to break shells to get at the wonderful treasure inside, along with corn on the cob and boiled potatoes it’s a meal fit for a king. My sandwich is taking a long time but I watch the prep chef at the raw bar set up his mise-en-place a few feet away. He’s setting up dozens of oysters and clams, making sure he has plenty of sauces and lemons. He stops to put orders together which spit out of a gadget that looks like a credit card machine, then after setting up a plate he rings a bell and it’s picked up and delivered. When my sandwich arrives it’s a big plate. There’s a bunch of fries and a nice side salad with greens, sliced tomato and pickle with a tangy sauce. The po-boy is another matter. It is light on soft bread, the crunch comes from the oysters that have a delicate flavor that deepens as you chew, they taste of the sea and the stones where they grow. It’s altogether a delicious and filling meal, but I can’t resist going down the street for dessert. So I sit and let my food go down and then after paying my bill I go to a place called “Cones” an ice cream shop like no other.
I know I have seen this place on the Food Network or the Travel channel as soon as I walk in. There are many different colors of gelato in the case and as others get theirs I look past them to see many strange flavors. There is Yerba Mate,made with a South American tea. There’s kumquat with Johnnie Walker Black Label which costs a dollar to try a spoonful. Zabayone, based on an Italian dessert with cream and sweet Marsala wine-amazing. But I go for the Corn after the pretty Argentinian woman behind the counter gives me a taste. Made with real corn and cream and with a dash of cinnamon on top, it is a thing of beauty for the tongue. Imagine a piece of corn bread with butter and cinnamon and you’ll get the flavor profile. I talk a while with the waitress who is also Italian, we chat about living in her home countries, life in the city, and especially about Cones. They have been featured in articles in the New York Times, New York magazine and Zagat’s. They are number four in the top ten places making the best “corn” dish in New York City. I am sure I’ve seen this woman on TV. I finish my treat while she helps other customers and I bid her farewell and head out again. I’m on Bleeker St in the West Village so I decide to head east arriving on 1st Ave. This is the exact opposite of where I started so I think I’ll walk up 1st Ave and see what happens. I feel the heat and humidity more now after eating as the afternoon heats up. This is a fast paced area sporting many Italian, Latin and Indian eateries but not many good photo opportunities. So I begin to work my way back to the center of things and find brassiere Les Halles on Park Ave and a few others. Then I cool off inside a Greistede’s supermarket for a few minutes with a cold bottle of water. I retrace some of my steps from past trips but I always walk down a street I’ve never been before. I always find something new and today is no exception. Mille Feuille is a French bakery on LaGuardia Place in Greenwich Village featuring its namesake dessert and the bright Macarons that thrill and delight children from Paris to Provence. I order a coffee and a Mille Feuille and sit at the bar against the wall. The pastry cream is delicious and the crispy layers make it difficult to eat but oh so worth the effort. I see a mom coming with a stroller so I get up and open the door for her and two kids and her husband follow. They thank me and they are French, looking for a taste of home. The adults order Espresso’s and the kids are so cute asking for “Pain de Shokolat” as they loudly look at everything asking so many questions and running around the small space. I decide not to get into a conversation about France.
I continue my long walk back to Penn Station and think it’s been a almost perfect day. The only way it could have been better would have been to have a little more money to spend and if it had been about ten degrees cooler, but that will come soon enough. The final act of the day is a stop in tracks for a wash-up and a drink. It’s been a hot walk back and my french dessert was burned up hours ago. I ask for a St Germain cocktail and the Irish waitress says to me “What’s that?” so I order a glass of Harp instead. I didn’t really want a beer but when in Rome…
It was a crappy week at work so I really needed a good day out, I am tired and happy. Tomorrow will be a rainy day and I will work on pictures and remember today.
A chilly breezy morning on the platform of the Long Island Railroad and I’m a little under-dressed for a city trip. The temperature is supposed to go up to sixty today so later I’ll be comfortable, but right now I’m cold. The Old Farmers Almanac is calling for a wet and colder spring followed by a cooler summer except for August, followed by a September that will require an Ark to be built in the backyard. But right now the English Sparrows are busily engaged in selecting just the right twigs on the embankment of the tracks, they rummage through the brush and will probably nest along the tracks in the underbrush which never sees human feet, too steep to walk on without tumbling to the sidewalk below. I guess I’m pushing the season a little but this winter was long and hard, it practically seems like another life now, which reminds me I have to run the gas out of the snow blower and put in the fuel stabilizer this week and put it away proper.
I’m a little glum because of the weather and also because I must start looking for a second job, I need to make more money. It’s the only way to get out of my debts and begin to save for the future. I know I’m a pessimist but when your government almost shuts due to lack of funds, then the future doesn’t look very bright. The great middle class in the US has bailed out the banks and now we will bail out our government too, I can feel it coming like a distant train that starts out lonely and quiet-then roars by as it flies through the station with a great rush of wind and garbage trailing behind, only this time it will be our tax dollars trailing behind. I saw a piece this morning about the tax situation over here with the deadline to file taxes only days away, the last President to balance the budget was Bill Clinton, since then George W. Bush and his wars for profit and Obama’s train wreck politics have it so loused up it will take a miracle to fix it. Perhaps they just needed a young intern to help them to think clearly, I mean after all it worked for Bill didn’t it? I can’t imagine how much money I’d have if the near crash of 2008 never happened, especially if I didn’t dip into it. I’m spending my 401k money gradually which I’m also paying back each week so eventually it’ll be back up to what it was, but we will never make up what was lost to us. The fat cats however are enjoying the trickle up economy that has been intentionally put into place ( in my opinion) to separate the haves from the have-nots.
I’ve always had that good christian “There but by the grace of God” adage shoved down my throat, and have been made to feel as though my complaining was selfish and childish. But every positive thought I ever had about what I wanted to happen-never came to fruition. Yet every negative thought about what could possibly go wrong-did go wrong.
This year I’m going to grow a few vegetables I’ve never tried before, French breakfast Radish, Globe Zucchini, and Frisee, as well as some fresh herbs and of course Heirloom Tomatoes and anything else I can fit. I am really worried about them because my dad doesn’t remember to water the garden. If I’m out at my second job the garden will suffer and with all the zones it’s a big job, I wish we had gotten lawn sprinklers installed years ago. Maybe I can find an online job so I can look after things and make money when the sun goes down.
Behind me a little boy asks his mom about everything that he sees out the window. “Is our train bigger than that one?” or “What is that yellow thing there do?” I love it, I can’t remember when the world was full of so many innocent questions.
I get off and make my way to the 123 line of the subway to get downtown and decide to get off at 14th St. But I walk through the subway station to the 12th St exit and go topside into the bright sunlight. I make my way easily down the streets and hustle through the taxi’s jammed up at the intersections and find The Little Owl with no problem. It’s not open yet so I scout around and find another place called “Moustache” a few doors down-also closed. This is a little Middle-Eastern place with a good write-up in the paper posted in the window. The prices are reasonable and the menu is interesting, they make “Lahambajin Pitza” the Turkish pizza that I had one night a few years ago. Hummous, Tabouleh, Lentil Soup, Merguez and an array of sandwiches are featured. I make a note of this place but I am here for the whole wheat pancakes with fresh fruit that The Little Owl has to offer. This (according to Chef, TV host and culinary scientist Alton Brown) is the best breakfast he ever ate. He had a show for years on the food network called Good Eats which was part cooking show and part science class, he explained what happens to food when you cook it in an informative fun way, kind of like Julia Child meets Monty Pythons Flying Circus. I have the first two coffee table books that cover the shows with color pics, tips and recipes, plus pics from the show and little bits of trivia about the episodes with anecdotes. But this breakfast comes with his recommendation on a show called “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”, where chefs and TV food personalities and critics talk about their favorites, broken down by category each show is a treasure of eye candy and can bring new experiences, even if some of the places are very far away. It’s still fun to watch.
I wait chilly with a noisy police tow truck fixing to tow a car that has been abandoned, while delivery trucks bring cases and bushels of food. They take the food delivery through the side door and down the stairs, and bring a huge steaming pot of meatballs in sauce up and into the restaurant to the delight of the dozen or so people gathered around this corner eatery. The tow truck shuts off his engine and all is very quiet, save for an occasional car or truck passing by and the conversation of sparrows with their cheerful chirping and gregarious mating habits, like people they are ready at the drop of a hat! They were brought here from the UK ages ago and have spread like wildfire taking over North America and Canada I think too, so along with the people gathered talking I have an ear full as I write and wait. Finally, the doors open and I sit down in the corner facing the window and get my menu and order a coffee. The menu is pretty diverse, Meatball sliders, vanilla French toast, bacon and eggs, fried oyster omelet, oatmeal, etc. I of course order my pancakes and Irish bangers on the side, then go to the loo to wash-up before breakfast. The bathroom is behind the little bar area and is about the size of a closet, before me on the wall are two different color framed silkscreen prints by an unknown artist from 1996, and to my right is a long framed picture of Neil Diamond on stage from the 1970’s! He is dressed in white like Elvis and striking a pose like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. I wish my mom could see this, she would get a kick out of this for certain.
Seated again-I scan the room, it is small and quaint and also trendy and rustic. There is a wall mounted wine rack, which is accessed with a small ladder. The ceilings are painted steel filigree tiles and the floors are ancient wood as is the bar and white linen covered tables. The staff is friendly and courteous and in no time my steaming plate of whole grain flapjacks are in front of me. These are beautiful, thick and fluffy-nothing like the rubbery things I make from a mix which are best suited for taking off stubborn jar lids. The flavor is not like whole wheat either, these taste better than any other I’ve had. They are served with real maple syrup, no synthetic fake corn syrup flavored with chemicals, and my Irish bangers are top-notch! They are a different kind of good, lean and finely ground pork with just the right seasoning. If there is one complaint, it’s in the relatively few pieces of real fruit on my plate compared to the TV show which featured four kinds of berries. Soon after I finish my meal and enjoy another cup of coffee I decide to pay and give others a chance as this place is packed with more waiting outside, not a bad brunch for about $18 with tip and I am full too.
I leave and start walking toward W. Houston St heading for the East Side but as usual I get pulled toward things. I pass several small eatery’s I haven’t seen before. There is 12 Chairs which is packed, Rouge Et Blanc which has an A rating but is closed unfortunately. I find myself sitting on the corner of 6th Ave and Charlton and watch the world go by a little. I listen with envy to a woman talk about settling in an apartment in the lower 60’s, pricey I’m sure. She’s telling someone who she has to put three months rent in escarole just to secure the place to go to contract. Then goes on to talk about a date she had the other night so I move on, it’s noisy here anyway. I pass The Dutch, a new place I read about online, a man is hand painting the inside of the glass windows with an accent stripe. I ‘m passing Ward Nasse Gallery, this kind of place used to draw me right in, no sadly I walk right past it, feeling like I no longer belong. I stop and think about it and as I do, miss lower 60’s passes me with her head held high loving life, she is followed by another woman who seems to have just had a fight with her man. She’s walking fast talking to herself and you can just hear her saying to a friend later “And then he said blah blah blah!” so I said “Blah Blah” and then he said “blahhhh blahhhh Blah” so I told him to” BLAH BLAH” and left, at least that’s what I think. So I turn around and go in the gallery, forcing myself to relax and let go of negative feelings. The featured work is by Tove Hellerud, Nature and Culture is fantastic abstract work that reminds me of Robert Rauchenbergs late work if not in style then in definitely in dialogue. The prices are astounding! There is one I admire for $14,000, it’s about 36 x 48 deep gallery wrapped. I’m greeted by an older man who is hanging work who goes about his business and lets me slowly walk the creaking floors. There is surreal work that Dali would have been proud of that catches my eye. I make my way around the room and see impressive work of all kinds, sculpture, found objects, paintings, drawings. I speak with the owner briefly and he tells me this is a co-op, a not-for-profit gallery that has been here 32 years and represents 700 artists world-wide. He asks me if I’m an artist and I tell him I used to be years ago, but then started writing. I get the feeling if I was he would have asked to see my work. I say goodbye and a young foreign couple comes in to browse, I grab a card and hope they buy something as I continue my journeys.
I pass my old haunts in the village, I see a few more fast food joints have invaded, I hope they fail. The old cafes should be saved by someone, at least we still have the Minetta Tavern. I decide to go in and have a lunch. It is pretty packed so I wind up at the bar-not very comfortable. I already know what I’m going to have, the much-lauded Black Label Burger. The burger that Anthony Bourdain himself recommended to me a year ago, so I order a good imported beer and watch the show as I wait. The bartenders are busy as bee’s making drinks to keep the patrons happy as the place fills up with more and more people. The beer is good and the music is too, the stool is not the best and I really wish I had a table but soon my burger arrives, it is massive and served with a mountain of frites. The burger is good-don’t get me wrong, this has to be the highest quality meat I’ve ever eaten. I guess I was expecting the top of my head to be blown off, or to wake up slouched against a wall in an alley saying “Gilligan…where’s the coconuts?” or something other than feeling like I just spent $26 on a trendy burger that wasn’t as good as Shake Shacks was last year. I finish the meal and my beer and pay the check with my plastic money and hit the street a little wiser for my experience. I have to remember that just because Tony said so, doesn’t mean it’s right.
I pass the Kimchi Taco truck parked right down the block from NYU, I wish I was hungry. I have heard about this trend to mix Korean traditional food with the Mexican Taco. This is the biggest thing to happen to tacos since the Taco Bell chain brought the taco to white Americans decades ago. These are made with Korean style barbeque pork, chicken or veg and three for seven dollars is a steal! There is a line of people waiting for a delicious lunch but for me it’ll have to be some other time. I walk a little further to find Salon De Tapas has moved around the corner from its old location where I confused so many people while eating squid cooked in its own ink.
The work is still going on in Washington Square Park, it won’t be done till 2012, just in time for the end of the world if the predictions are right.Right now though there are so many people out on the streets, everybody is hungering for the nice weather and a chance to be comfortable in less clothes. Some girls are already wearing shorts and on the grass in the park one girl was in a bikini on the grass. I don’t get it, I’m chilly in my button up denim jacket and scarf! I pass an older guy who works hard playing “A Hard Rains Gonna Fall” and tries to get the few people around him to sing the chorus. He plays guitar better than me but it’s hard to take him seriously. I mean really, how can you even try to capture that emotion 40 plus years later?, when the rain’s been falling hard for so long? The sand man is doing his thing as usual as I pass the Arch and head west to 9th Ave. I’m looking for any organic fruit stalls I can find on the street, I recently discovered I can eat nectarines, plums and probably peaches and apricots too, as long as they’re organic! If not then I get an itchy irritated mouth, a friend assures me it’s the pesticides and I should just wash my fruits in a little peroxide and water but organics are better for you anyway. I am so happy to be able to eat fresh fruit mixed with plain Greek yoghurt, topped with honey-that’s lunch some days. It may not be low in calories but good for you in so many ways.
I arrive at Chelsea Market and sign a petition outside to keep the powers that be from building a double skyscraper over it. The developers want to make every block of this city a congested, loud, fully developed urban blight. Inside it’s a hive of activity and I make my way to the information desk and ask for the loo. The guard says “On the left just past the waterfall.” The waterfall? They have a waterfall here? I start walking through the crowds past Amy’s Bread, the Butcher, the wine shop, produce market, and a hand-full of eateries. I find a fenced off area where a large pipe in the ceiling opens at a 90 degree angle to allow water to drop into a well below, and it is here that the bathroom line ends. I don’t know who designed this place but they should be throttled once a week-just on general principles. There is a long hallway with 5 single occupancy loos, but the first door is just a few feet away so the long line has people standing right next to this waterfall listening to running water! It’s absolutely diabolical. No one even bothered to tell us there is another loo at the far end of the market, I would find this out myself later. I resume my trek through the market to find a bookstore, kitchen supplies, a portable knife sharpener stand, and a Middle Eastern housewares seller going out of business, selling everything at 50% off.
I take a fascinating spin through the produce market seeing things like wild ramps and fiddle head ferns, many things that Emeril picked up for his old show. The wine shop was offering a tasting but the prices of many of the wines was enough to drive me off to the butcher. They are offering pork rillettes and a tongue and leek terrine, so I buy a little of both and go across to Amy’s Bread to get a baguette. I run the gamut of hand crafted baked goods in the display case that are enough to make you drool, pay for my baguette and reluctantly leave the market. It is indeed one of my favorite places, other that the open air market at Union Square. This has been the best part of the day other than my morning meal, and with a mental nod to CoBa as I pass I head up 9th Ave in the warm sun of the late afternoon. By the time I get home after my long walk back to Penn and my train ride I will be ravenously hungry again. I will enjoy this simple supper of meats and bread with some Dijon mustard, cornichons, and a nice glass of Rose!
It’s a beautiful day as I rise early and find myself sitting on the train heading for New York City for a re-do of the Greenwich Village/Soho self-guided tour I did last year, tomorrow is Memorial Day and a barbeque will keep me busy half the day so today is just for me. I saw this morning before I left that my French “Haricot Vert” string beans have poked their heads up out of the ground, as well as some “Babette” carrots, in a week I will be planting Heirloom tomatoes as well as Thai basil and some Mervielle lettuces, a diverse group of plantings this year. This is a quiet car filled with perhaps sleepy people like myself ( I had one too many glasses of wine last night) who probably needed a few more hours of shut-eye, just the rhythmic pattern of the wheels on the track to hear. But soon the relative quiet is broken by a guy who gets a call on his cell phone. He loudly tells the person on the other end that he’s “out pretty far” (we just passed Mineola next we’ll be out of Nassau County and into Queens County) and he won’t get there till about 10:00 o’clock. I’m guessing that he would consider my little town close to the “bush” and the East End of Long Island; with its farms and vineyards a step back in time. We pass a big brick building with faded lettering you can just make out Rull Coal & Ice, it’s funny to think that before modern refrigerators, people used ice boxes and that company delivered blocks of ice that slowly melted into a drip pan under the fridge that had to be emptied periodically, and heating with coal too was a sooty mess until the modern oil burner was available to everyone, we take for granted our modern conveniences like refrigeration and electric stoves.
Lately, I have been voraciously reading a series of books written by Peter Mayle documenting the transition with his wife from bustling Londoners to country bumpkins in Provence, France. The first book “A Year in Provence” is a funny look into the purchase of a 200-year-old farm-house and the trials and joys of restoring it and the property to the glory of a working farm while they learn about how things are done in a place very different from London or New York. I highly recommend these books. The fame it brought him in France with several more books like Toujours Provence, French Lessons, Encore Provence, etc is immeasurable and he has also written a few fictional novels set in places like Provence, Paris, Spain, etc which I haven’t read yet. The latest one involves the heist of a cache of wine and is a chase /action read, a good “caper” book. So I have a new hero to worship, a man who lives the life I would love and has made a fortune doing what he loves to do.
Speaking of hero’s my old pal Anthony Bourdain got himself in a little hot water with his Republican fans on a talk show called Anderson Cooper where he refered to the Tea Party members as a “bunch of angry white men” and compared them to the prejudiced men of the sixties who opposed Martin Luther King and his followers. The reaction from fans was that about seven people said they wouldn’t watch the show anymore or participate in the discussions. Well that’s funny because at least one of them called himself “usedtowatch” and had only posted once! Which means he never participated in the first place and that was his first and final post! This particular group seems to want to go back to the way things were when good ol Georgie W was in the White House and the Republicans had control for eight more years of war for profit, a tanking economy, and people losing their homes and jobs while the fat cats just grew more wealthy. So I wouldn’t worry Tony (not that you are) you don’t need them anyway.
I get out at Penn Station and go down to the subway station, it’s amazing how few people are around compared to other days. I take a quick glance at the subway map and that’s where the best laid plans of mice and men start to go astray. It was supposed to be easy just take the subway up to 42nd st and then take the 7 over to the 456 line and take it down to West 4th street. But I got my signals crossed and was leading myself to the Lower East Side again instead of the West Side. I get out at Spring St and realize my mistake, in my overconfidence and slightly hungover tiredness I have given myself a chore to walk over to my starting point on the other side of Manhattan! So I begin my walk and while I do I stop to read menus posted for today in restaurant window’s. It being Sunday many places are offering brunch, and as I read one to the other I begin to notice that no matter what the cusine, brunch consists of the same food no matter where you go! The humble omelette, French toast, bacon and eggs (any style), Granola with fruit, hot oatmeal and coffee or tea is the food du jour of today with no variation or anything to make it interesting or different. I could easily make any of this at home with my eyes closed standing on one foot! Well… maybe with one eye open. I really get mad at myself when I find that I’m all the way down on Canal St going in the wrong direction! Now I have to pull out the map and get my bearings again, I turn the map so I can see exactly where I am and decide to try for Thompson St as that will be the most direct route.
I walk along in the warm sun cursing myself for screwing up and quickly realize that it will be hot, I’m starting to think I should just go back home, I mean I’m just not on my game today. I remember Peter Mayle’s references to the unbearable heat of August in Provence, a time when many leave the region for cooler points north and those that stay do little or nothing! I zig zag keeping to the shaded sides of the streets like Tony Bourdain did in Provence Episode of “No Reservations” until I come to Thompson St and take it north to Washington Square Park. I see the fountain is in full operation shooting water high in the sky turning off I walk to Macdougal Street to find food. I have had nothing all day except for decaf coffee and I need to eat, maybe a good breakfast at home was the way to go, but dad was up and I can’t abide morning news at max volume. I like my mornings quiet and thoughtful.
I feel at home on this street, it has been the subject of many a story of mine as walk down looking over at the Cafe Reggio, all tables taken out front so I continue on walking past Meskerem, the Eithiopian place where I had a lunch years ago. I walk a little further and see an unexpected sight, the old Minetta Tavern that closed down over a year ago is all clean and polished and the door is open! I quickly cross the street to find it offering a brunch and open for business! I walk in and am immediately greeted by two people at once and as I look around I feel as if I stepped back in time. Black and white alternating floor tiles harken back to my parents days and then some, good wood all around on the bar and wainscot , walls covered in hand drawn portraits of the stars who ate here in a bygone era. My waiter a nice middle-aged man takes my order of decaf coffee and suggests the special, a omelette with goat cheese, chanterelle mushrooms and asparagus served with frites and leaves me to make a decision, so when he comes back I decide to order the special and add an appetizer of duck hash. Then I go to the loo for a wash up and put myself right for my meal. When I emerge from the bathroom a man in a smart suit says brightly “Just in time sir your food has just been laid out for you.” So I thank him and sit down to tuck in, the duck hash is beautiful big pieces of meat and redskin potatoes fried till golden in a little duck fat with a confit of onion. My omelette is small but delicious with bright green asparagus cut in small pieces easy to chew with chewy chanterelles and goat cheese my new favorite thing and a huge mass of frites, honestly I would have rather had a field green salad instead of fries but that would be extra. My waiter comes over and asks if I’m enjoying my meal and I look up and say ” The only thing that would do this justice is a glass of house red.” He nods and gets me a glass and a small pour to try, now this has never happened to me before. I swirl and sniff and taste, it is good enough for me so he pours me a glass and I happily sip away washing down mouthfuls of food while listening to the man in the nice suit tell two staff about his humble beginnings, I can’t hear everything he says above the music which is an awesome mix of Parisian Cafe, old American standards and more modern rock. But he talks about going to chef school, spending time in France and coming to New York.
Indeed he speaks French with a cute blonde bartender in her late twenties as he moves about the room checking on me as well. When I’m about half done he comes over and picking up my wine glass gently he apologizes but says he has to take it away, when I ask why he tells me that due to a stupid law they can’t serve alcohol before noon, but he promises to bring it back full and free as soon as the clock strikes 12:00. He tells me that the waiter didn’t know that which I find hard to believe, but I won’t argue with a man who is promising free wine. I pick at my food and wait the ten minutes nessesary to get my wine back which he laughingly brings with a smile, somehow I think they were just treating me special because I came in so stressed, sweaty and having a bad day that they wanted to do something nice without making it obvious. I ask the waiter about the history of the place and he tells me a little the rest I found myself.
Minetta Tavern was opened in the 1937 and was named after the Minetta Brook that ran southwest from 23rd St to the Hudson River. The original owner retired in 2008 so the restaurant entrepreneur Keith McNally along with Executive Chefs Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr who have worked together on three of New York city’s best, Pastis, Balthazar, and Schiller”s then decided to partner on this new venture and after closing for complete overhaul of the guts of the place re-opened in 2009 to rave reviews. They kept the original pictures on the walls and the old boxing murals in the back dinning area and restored it to its original look from long ago, now you can feel the spirits of Eugene O’Neill, Ernest Hemingway, Dylan Thomas, and the famous Bohemian Joe Gould, with a little Frank Sinatra thrown in from the days when it was Italian all the way. Now it is considered a French Bistro, Italian influenced Steakhouse featuring the famous Black Label Burger a sinfully delicious burger made with prime cuts and dry aged beef coming in at $26, and a Cotes du Boeuf for two at $104 served with marrow bones and salad to mention a few. The staff is great and treat me well, right now I’m the only one here but now that it’s after noon people start to come in and sit down while others make reservations for tonight. I love it here, it just goes to show me again that good things come from bad starts. I’ve had a good time in a small space and can go home happy with my discovery.
I stop the guy in the suit and say to him “Your one of those famous people from the food industry aren’t you?” He laughs and says not really. “What’s your name?” I ask extending my hand. “Arnold Grossman” he says shaking my hand and asks me for my name. I tell him about myself and my work on WordPress and he is suitably impressed so I give him my web address for WP and he thanks me saying he will check it out. My waiter comes over and asks me if I want dessert but I decline and ask for more wine instead, wishing only to write and keep the moment alive as more and more people come. They are so busy at night, they are turning people away and reservations are hard to come by, but my waiter assures me if I arrive at 5:30 sharp when they start dinner service he can get me a table. This is a trendy place where it’s possible to meet celebs almost any night, a place to see and be seen. I have to come back cleaned up and better dressed for dinner I think as I sit and write and finish my wine. I am sooo happy I came here, this is the life for me! I pay my tab and leave refreshed and relaxed.
I walk down to Washington Square Park and take some video of the fountain and the musicians, people are everywhere enjoying the sun. Some are laying out in bathing suits and others just sit and read or talk, people jog or pedal past you as your eyes take in the swirl of colors around you and you see a pretty face, an old black man, a toddler with daddy, a serious hipster looking for someone while on their cell phone. The stories they all must have to tell about themselves boggle the mind and bring out the journalist in me. Who are they?, Why are they here?, What do they want from life? I begin to wander in the general direction of my starting point, the wine is working on me just a little, just enough to feel light and fluffy like a piece of Angel Food cake that has been dusted with crack. I’m kidding of course, by roundabout ways I come to find Warehouse Wine and Spirits featuring the most extensive selection of French wine I have ever seen. It’s mind boggling really as I wander around reading labels and checking prices. I soon find myself talking to the owner who came from Nimes in the south of France at 19 and although he goes back for visits he has made his life here. I tell him of my love for Paris and France in general and my desire to travel to Provence, he too knows Peter Mayle’s books very well. I say “I wish I had $1000 to spend and a team of mules to take it home!” and he says to me that “People come from as far away as Florida with a U-Haul to stock up because my prices are so good.” He bids me a “Merci” and goes about his work in the busy store, I get a business card to take with me. I will be back…soon. Now all I need is a wine cellar and I’ll be all set. I walk a few more streets and find a kitchen store called the Broadway Panhandler filled with an amazing array of pots and pans and every tool a chef could want, I look at copper pots that delight me with their shine and depress me with their prices, I can see why they chain them to the wall. I enjoy wandering around in the cool space and look at everything. I almost buy some nice cheese plates but decide that I don’t want to carry them home so I buy a cheese knife with a phony wine cork handle to take home. I always liked souveniers, it’s the kid in me I guess.
Leaving the store I need a loo so I walk down to the Au Bon Pain, a chain of coffee, pastry, soup and sandwich shops that we have all over and after a wash I get a decaf and a little lemon tartlette and sink into a comfy chair by the window and read the latest Village Voice and watch the world go by. I read an article about the life and death of Coney Island, such a tragic and sordid history for a parcel of land so dear to so many. There’s a movie or a play there somewhere I just know it…I wish I had more time and money and was also a better writer, there is something deep and artsy and powerful to be made. I just don’t know how to go about it…yet.
I’m a little tired now, it’s 2:45 and I think I should head back home. The sun is hot as I walk up to 14th st and I stop to buy a small coconut ice, a rare treat as these vendors usually are found only in Brooklyn or so I’m told by a friend. Then moving through the crowds in Union Square market I make my way down to the subway and wait for a local train, it’s stuffy and hot so I wait for a second train when the first one comes in loaded like a sardine can. The next one comes a few minutes later and I get on, at least I can sit down on this one! I get off on 33rd St and move topside. Soon I am walking past vendors of every description, selling everything from Cd’s to fresh mangos on a stick to cold water and sugared nuts hot out of the pan, and let me tell you they are doing a heck of a business today I can hardly get past the squeeze of people and get to my destination. I squint in the glare of a late afternoon sun as a young guy gets an airbrushed tatoo on his bicep-something to show off at school next week I guess, but it will rub off with time. The entrance to Penn Station is a welcome sight and I descend into it’s cool air and see my old watering hole Tracks in the distance, it’s familiar blue logo pulsating as I walk toward it. I decide to skip a beer as I have only sixteen minutes to get to my train, so instead I walk down to a new Papaya King I spotted earlier this morning. It’s where I can get a simple good thing. A 20 oz papaya juice drink, cold, fresh and frothy… it’s just what I need right now. So I walk down through growing mobs heading home to track 17 and find an express train, only two stops till mine. I sit and write on the train as we move along, stopping at Jamaica Station I see the airtrain leaving for Kennedy Airport and wonder when I’ll be boarding a plane for England or France again. It all seems like a dream now, being so far away and so free.
In these quiet moments always think great thoughts about rising above my bad habits, and turning over a new leaf. But in my day to day life it’s not so easy, to be so many things to so many people wears on me and I turn to food and wine for comfort and enjoyment and escape. Unfortunately I have been a bit of an ogre lately at home, work has been like a funeral procession where the mourners are all angry and just had it with everything too, and sometimes I bring that home with me. Except of course the owner who is happy to be alive and doing so well in a bad economy. But if you ask for a rise there’s no surprise their giving none away. My Mom is always saying be happy you have a job and there is no doubt that being unemployed would be hell right now. So I have to keep looking and working on my angles for getting out and doing something else, in the meantime I have much to do and little time. Today might have been screwed up and hot but I made some more contacts, people who will know my name and what I do, I’ll make sure of that.
I might complain often and some might say too much. But in my busy world the time lapse between these trips of mine feel like a year apart, I know that sounds strage to some folks but it’s the way time moves for me. On balance I had a good time today. Despite all the foulups I made the most of things. A trip back in time, a coconut ice and cool fruit juice…
At the end of the day that’s all you can hope for.
Today is bright and will be warm and I sit and munch half a bran muffin washed down with a decaf coffee on the train to New York City while I listen to a young couple dote over their three-year old boy, he’s a cute kid in a baseball cap who stands on the seat and marvels at everything, looking around in wonder and asks questions, lots of questions. There is three young girls sitting diagonally across from me speaking French, I am shy to go and talk to them I don’t want to make a fool of myself, but I push shyness aside and walk over asking if they were from France, which they confirm. I excitedly talk about my love for France and everything French, my ambition to cook French food and to be a tour guide in NYC and to someday ex-pat to France after Mom and Dad are gone and Chris is moved to Vegas or Canada whichever he chooses. They are here for five months and are doing work/study programs although they don’t seem to want to share the details or even talk that much too me. The dark-haired girl is friendly and the redhead too I guess, but the mousey girl sitting closest to me looks petrified or at least uncomfortable. They assure me that they are meeting friends who live in the city and will not need my services but I explain that I am not licensed yet so cannot guide them anyway, although I could do it for free… that is not illegal in New York but give them time. So I decide to wish them well and head back to my seat and they talk amongst themselves, laughing occasionally at the older guy who just wanted to meet some people from France, but now I feel like a fool who should have kept his mouth shut. When will I ever learn.
I know I have a tendency to be too excited when I talk about my passions, but I’m not the only one and I remember Drew Barrymore, the actress talking on Late Night about how she scares people with her enthusiasm for a new project, so I can really identify with her, I guess I do too but at least I’m in good company. So I get out at Penn Station and make my way to the blue A,C,E subway line and check my old tickets for credit left on rides, I swipe my old cards and see that I have plenty. While doing so the three girls come up behind me and are busily engaged in trying to use the ticket machine, I say a quick hello again but don’t even try to help them, I would have helped them in any way I could just to be nice. But their snobbery being what was I move off quickly to get the next train to West 4th St station and make sure I’m in a forward car so I don’t run into them again. It’s a quick ride on the subway, whoosh! and your there almost before you know it, I get out and almost immediately I am asked for help by a woman and her daughters from Queens who are looking for the Washington Arch and NYU University, I whip out my flip map and tell them to follow me and we walk up to the 8 Th Ave exit.
It’s a beautiful day turning warm as I lead them to the Arch, they walk fast and it’s hard for me too keep up, I’m guessing they are looking at the school for the girls to attend after they graduate high school and after we walk past the fountain, still dry. Not in operation yet as I see excited kids running around inside its shallow bowl that will soon be cooling off visitors who brave the (clean?) water to cool off in the heat. I part company with the family on the other side of the park pointing out the NYU buildings to my left and with a few Thank You’s they are off to see the wizard and I go to towards the Lower East Side starting point for my tour. I am stopped on my way by a young Asian girl who is lost, looking for an address. She is staring right at a map mounted inside a frame for the students looking for certain buildings in the area but this girl cannot find it and she cannot be late, she’s going for an audition! I tell her to follow me and I tell her also that I’m a tour guide in training and it can be very confusing especially with all the construction going on with closed streets and all. We walk a few blocks and a few turns later and I’m beginning to think I screwed this girl up but she turns to her left and says “Here it is!” with glee and with a shake of my hand we wish each other good luck and I continue on my merry way, the triumph of making a difference for two people putting a swagger in my step as I continue on my way. I give a homeless man the other half on my Bran muffin and says God Bless You as I pass him by and a little further on I see a youngish couple looking around in confusion so I stop to help. They are also from France and I tell them how much I love their country and using my flip map show them exactly how to get to the West 4th St Station, and also what train to take to get to 42nd St which is where they want to go next, they also thank me profusely and with smiling “Au Revoir’s!” they move off and I holster my map like a smoking gun in its holster ready for the next time. My starting point is a few blocks away but I am in need of nourishment now and I spot an old-looking place just ahead.
I stop in the Cafe Colonial, a Brazilian eatery with a brunch menu and a simple atmosphere with white metal bistro tables and chairs, and a pay phone in the back corner. I order a simple meal of warm steak over field greens and a decaf coffee and after a wash up in the loo begin to make notes on the trip so far, I feel a real optimism about today as my food arrives and that is made more apparent by the delicious food I get. This is the way I should eat at home, no starches just meat and greens with a little whole grain thrown in too. So I pay the bill and start walking down the street when I see a familiar face standing in chefs gear smoking a cigarette, I don’t know his name but I recognize his face from the food network Iron Chef show, he was one of the contestants to be the next Iron Chef! I stop and say “Hey I know you from the food network!” “That’s right, that was me.” he says casually but visibly happy to be recognized. I look at the building , “Is this where your working now?” I ask not being able to see the sign up ahead. “Yeah. you should come in and eat, it’s the best!” But I explain I just ate at Cafe Colonial and he suggests I get a paper menu, so I move off to do so and them after I get it I can’t resist going back and saying “Dude can I be a real tourist and have you sign this?” as I offer a permanent marker and the menu. He signs it without hesitation and I explain that I’m studying to be a tour guide and will be back to eat here the next time I come to the Bowery to study and eat. I shake hands agin and start walking towards the starting point again. This is shaping up to be a great day! I might just have made my first contact in New York!
(Footnote: I would find out later that he’s only been there since February when it opened and on April 4th he was arrested for carrying a two-inch knife on a chain he uses to cut boxes at work as he was walking home between shifts at his restaurant Pulino’s Bar and Pizzeria, he was surrounded by three police cars! Nice going New York’s finest, way to keep us safe from 2 inch knife wielding chefs, I know I feel a lot safer now!)
So I begin my tour stopping first at the Famous Russ & Daughters Deli appetizers since 1914, it is said to have the best bagels, Nova & Caviar cream cheese in New York, it is packed so I walk down and back getting glimpses of fantastic food in flashes as the space between bodies is small and closes quickly, people are ordering bagels by the bagfull! I leave promising myself that I will have a bagel next time around, next I take a few minutes to photograph the famous Katz’s Deli, I wish I was hungry because this place serves up beef brisket or pastrami sandwiches that need their own Zip Code! I peeked in once at this place at night right before the Anya Marina show in 2008, (see Anya Marina Concert Parts 1&2) but didn’t want to eat so much as this place gives you between two slices of bread. I move off turning on Norfolk and take it down to Rivington & Orchard, but needing a loo I stop in Nooy’s Bar for a cold beer but first a wash up, this is actually the bar for the Kampuchea restaurant, a mix of Cambodian and French Cusine I find out from the young friendly bartender who is cutting and squeezing dozens of limes to fill a Magnum for drink-making. I sip my cold Hennepin Ale and we talk the interesting menu, travels abroad and N.Y.C. He is a Californian studying graphic design who works 50 hours a week and pays $1200 a month for a studio apartment! I find him a great source of info for food and wine, he has re-done the drink menu for the restaurant himself and added his own spin to them. He is smart, friendly, hipster, cool and I admire his ability to multitask and still be a great conversationalist. I can’t resist ordering the Chicken Rillettes and another beer, they come with small greens and pickled Rhubarb with toasted slices of Baguette. It is superb, I needed this so bad! I haven’t been this relaxed and happy in a long while. I could sit here all afternoon, but I can’t eat or drink anymore. I pay the tab and shake my bartenders hand and thank him for his kindness and move on. I walk down the street taking it all in, the sun, the breeze, the easy feeling of being able to do whatever I want with no one telling me what to do or where to stand while I do it.
I move through Chinatown and enter another world where I am the minority and don’t speak the language. I sit on a low wall on the corner of Bowery & Canal St and write, cool from the breeze yet warm from the sun. I watch the kids play on a clay soccer field while parents sit on benches and talk on the sidelines. The little park is surrounded on two sides by a grass field about ten feet wide where a young woman sleeps peacefully with a cell phone on her chest while a young hipster lies on his back with his knees up talking on his phone a few yards away. I realize how lucky I am to have a piece of land I can call my own, this is all the nature they get in this urban sprawl of concrete, stone, and the ever-present sound of traffic and machinery. It makes me appreciate the ease with which I walk out my back door and step into nature. I move on into the heart of Chinatown where stalls of fresh fish (some still flipping around) crowd the sidewalks that flow with the runoff of melting ice in a constant stream to the street. The foods here are endless, dried mushrooms, dried fish, and strange vegetables are displayed and in butchers windows whole roasted Peking Ducks and chickens. The crowd is a mix of tourists but mostly natives that live in this enclave and shop here all their lives, vendors hawk their wares and shoppers argue loudly over prices and freshness, at least that’s what I think they’re saying but who knows. The bucket of still moving blue crabs from some far off place the subject of this particular debate. I pass into Little Italy and the mix of Chinese and Italian turns all Italian as I make my way up Elizabeth St where I see a familiar figure sitting outside his butcher shop, Moe is still going strong at 83, he sits with his son enjoying a Perrier water and enjoys the day. I promise to come back and get a “Got Cha Steak” his trademark aged beef steaks as soon as i fix or replace my grill.
Well, the tour was done a while back on Grand Street and now I am back on the corner of East Houston Street and Elizabeth Street, the Cafe Colonial is a few steps away, across the street is a big mural on the wall of a building painted with the cities permission by Shepard Fairey of Obey giant fame ( see What is Obey Giant Parts 1,2,3,&4 for more) the last time he was in New York, right next to that is Billy’s Antiques and Props. My brother and I have plans to cook over the open fire tonight so I better head back to Penn Station, I walk towards 6Th Ave as the strong late afternoon sun burns a little as I pass familiar sights, the basketball park and street vendors on West Houston and easily find my way back to the West 4Th Street subway station. It’s an easy ride to Penn and easily grab an express train to Hicksville, three stops to home!
I sit on the train and think about what might have happened if I had a camera crew with me shooting my fun day. Somehow I think it’s just possible that I too could have a hit show on the Travel Channel, so what if I’m not tall dark and handsome. I don’t have to be a hipster twenty-something with a face full of scruff and a half tucked shirt with vest. I can just be who I am in all my aging hipster, latter-day bohemian, over enthusiastic glory! Those French girls missed out, they could have spent the day with me being shown the ropes, while listening to a good storyteller who knows a few good places to eat and drink. It was a great day nonetheless, and I managed to make a difference for a few people who let me into their life for a few minutes, all in a days work for The Guide Boheme.
Well it’s an auspicious occasion for me tonight, I am six days away from my one year anniversary on WordPress. To coin a well-worn phrase it’s “been a long strange trip” but really not so strange and actually it has been wonderful! When I started this BLOG a year ago I was home sick from my many wanderings in New York City, burning the candle at both ends as it were. But when I wrote my “About” page and my first post “Now with Subtitles” I couldn’t have imagined where it would lead and how it would change me as an artist and as a writer.
While I always knew that I could write pretty good at least as far as my school teachers grades indicated, it wasn’t till I attended college that my English 101 teacher Prof. Wigetow told me when asked that I could be a writer, he said it with conviction and without hesitation. But it was on a cool night on Oct 22nd 2008 that my world was changed when I; waiting for Duffy to take to the stage, was questioned by a woman asking what I was writing in my notebook. While I told her she was joined by her brother W.B.Wilkins, Wilkins (a former english teacher and actor) upon finding out that I intended to wait until the winter to start writing, gave me a lesson I’ll never forget. He covered how one goes about writing, but more importantly how I should go about writing about my experiences. He told me to do this in two days not two months!,and to try to convey what I’m feeling and what others are feeling. If I can write a piece that speaks to 80% of the people then I turn writing into saleable art.
But he warns me not to expect to make money at it, just like painting the pleasure is in the doing, the experience of the work and the love of the written word. If you are very lucky, people will pay you for it! This is all punctuated by light taps on my chest, a rub to my arm and a squeeze of my bicep. It’s done in a fatherly reinforcing way and with a handshake he and his sister who is also a teacher, moved off to get a good spot for the concert that was starting.
I left that episode out of the Duffy piece because I thought it broke the flow of the story but now give the credit where it is due, I have tried to convey in all my NY travel stories exactly what he said, how it feels to be there at that moment. To give my readers the sights, smells, and tastes around me and also the people moving around me and how they might feel too. I feel as if I’ve done a good job of this but there is always room for improvement. I also have to acknowledge the influence of Jack Kerouack, his hand written notebooks and in the moment style have had immeasurable influence on me. The sheer brilliance of his raw novelist as reporter approach to his writing have served me very well and I really don’t think I would be this far along if it wasn’t for him. But I also have to give as much credit to William Burroughs, his loose yet careful words have shown me how a writer can be like a jazz musician, light and dark, fast and slow, all at once or each emotion on it’s own terms. There is also room to mention Tolkien and James P. Blaylock both created antediluvian worlds that made me want to live there, where good quiet folk found themselves fighting evil and having adventures. They are still favorite reads for me and the work never gets old even after multiple readings of Tolkiens “The Hobbit” and Blaylocks best “The Disappearing Dwarf” and “The Elven Ship” they will be read again and again till I am gone from this world.
The influence of another figure who is not only a writer but also a well-known former executive chef and star of two hit shows, one for the food network (which is no longer on the air) and currently an Emmy Award winning show for the Travel Channel. I’m talking about the loveably snarky and iconoclastic Anthony Bourdain. He has been my mentor, my man-crush, and my pick-me-up on Monday nights at the beginning of a long week of work. I listen closely especially to the voice over at the end of the show where he tries to sum up his experience in a particular place or country. While images of the trip flash by he recites his words, the liquid wisdom he has written in the moment. Very often the insight about the world and the human condition become (for me at least) the best part of an already excellent show. These programs have fired my imagination and along with my trip to England and France in 2005, have given me a wanderlust that right now…I can’t satisfy. The lack of expendable cash and responsibilities on the home front have kept me from journeying away. But I know that someday Tony, I too will swing in my hammock on the edge of the lake in Indonesia, in my little house and wait for “pancake man” to come in his boat on a sunny morning to give me breakfast. Yes, this at least I’ve promised to myself.
But since I will probably never get to meet you face to face and tell you this story I’ll write it now, and maybe you’ll read this someday. I have never been a great lover of seafood, even though I have Swedish and Norwegian blood and my Great Grandfather was a sea capitan I have never much liked the water and could only stomach a few kinds of fish even into my twenties and thirties. In grammar school of course I ate tunafish sandwich and I liked fish sticks as long as it was all white, no discoloration please! Frozen deep-fried Howard Johnson’s clam strips or shrimp were a favorite too…thanks Mom.
But I could not stomach the real hardcore seafood, I’m talking about the shellfish. On a good day I could handle a lobster tail (when I was older) but drew the line at a whole lobster or even crab legs, I had no desire at all to perform an autopsy on my dinner! The humble Mussel was enough to make me hurl, the sight of the chambered form inside with its Lovecraftian appendages, bubbling and blaspheming in a pot of Cioppino at my cousin Chrissy’s house, could send me screaming about the “Old Ones” into the night, and don’t even get me started on snails! But in 2006 things would change in a special way.
My aforementioned cousin Chrissy had been battling cancer since 2003, and had survived an operation that would have killed most people, they are probably still studying her case. The cancer had spread from the intestines to the liver and ovaries, kidneys, stomach-the lot. They removed so much tissue from her body it was a miracle she lived, but live she did. She would live to vacation in Jamaica and take many other trips away with her husband and two girls, and I living nearby would drop in to see her without notice just to sit and tell her of my adventures or problems, you could always count on honesty with Chrissy, even if she didn’t always tell you what you wanted to hear.
We had a special bond as painters but had gone to only one art show together since I started to paint in 1999,she was raising a family and I was busy with my own life. So in 2006 Chrissy and her husband Bruce decided to host Christmas for all the family, these were always happy times for me, I loved sitting at the table with my cousin Chrissy and her sister Donna, Bruce and Pat their husbands, my cousins daughters Sharon, Michelle, and Jennifer and my brother Chris as well as all the parents of our tribe. We would go off telling war stories and riffing on each other in a friendly way that would be punctuated by the raucous laugh of Chrissy and high-pitched guffaw of Donna and my own explosive laugh. So on this night things were a little more subdued but not much and when the hot food was served I saw that there was many seafood items to be eaten tonight. I realized that this may be Chrissy’s last Xmas with us and when I had already tried the other dishes of chicken, various pastas, eggplant, zucchini, roasted peppers and mushrooms. I went to the table of freshly laid out seafood and scanned the offerings, there was Cioppino, small snails in tomato and garlic tapenade, crab legs with butter, stuffed clams in garlic butter, seafood stew, a feast of garlicy tomato Italian tradition.
I took it all back to the table and bravely tucked right in with my cousin sitting across from me beaming as I discovered that some of this was actually very good! I ate and talked with her enjoying the face time with her and for a while it was not very obvious that she was sick. There was no way I wasn’t going to do so, like Tony says on the show when people are giving till it hurts, even if you don’t like it-you eat it and you smile and you ask for more, to do anything else would be an insult.
My cousin died eleven months later in November of 2007 and it was touching that she seemed to wait until Stanly Kramer, her old art teacher in grammar school, now the school principal. Had to come to see her before she would let go, that’s how strong her bond was with him and with her art. We get together now without her and it’s cool to see how her daughter Jennifer has taken over Chrissy’s role as the raucous storyteller, regaling us with her tales of working in the fashion industry in New York City and Donna too seems to have joined her as well filling the gap left by Chrissy’s passing, and Chrissy’s other daughter Michelle, (a photographer who looks like her mother) quietly takes embarrassing pictures of all of us-yes we will get you for it too Michelle just wait.
I did some growing up that night and since then I have found myself trying more foods that take me out of my comfort zone, even though I might not like them at least I try them now, veal, seafood, unfamilair meats, blood sausage, lagastino lobster, and anything else offered to me I eat without hesitation. I no longer sit on the sidelines and watch as others enjoy and encourage me to do the same and refuse, too caught up in myself to be polite and join in. I learned there is a big difference between taking a stand against a certain type of food for health reasons or moral obligation, and not trying a certain food out of immaturity.
So thank you Anthony Bourdain for helping me to grow a lot, and for putting a smile on my dying cousin’s heart. Indeed with your own writing not just for your show (and it’s accompanying books) but also your fiction, which I have also enjoyed very much. You have informed my writing too, just like the master writers of this century and I hope you stay here in New York and keep doing No Reservations for many more years to come. This viewer will never grow tired of it.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the one thing that my writing has given me, the most important thing…a friend. When I started reading others work I came across the blog of Maureenj aka White Orchid and after commenting on something she wrote, found her also looking at my page and since then we have become good friends. The fact is that only a few other people have bothered to comment on my posts and the comments have all been good, but no one follows my blog like Maureen. This past year we have weathered many storms in our own life but still find time and energy to encourage each other and comment on each others blog posts. She has become the older sister I was supposed to have in many ways and although I have not shared some of my deeper problems and fears with her, (especially since she had a medical scare this year and a death in the family) I have come to realize she is my true friend. We talk of our desire to meet one day and I often find myself day dreaming about my trip to Australia or hers to New York, where I would undoubtedly be the personal tour guide for her that I want to be in the near future, and was with my relatives from England in April of this past year.
Mark and Sharon came over and changed my life without even knowing it at the time, the days spent showing them the Village and Midtown Manhattan were the happiest this year, and led to my realizing that this might be my true calling. This was reinforced by meeting Robert Fogelnest; a former tour guide and Village authority whose book I bought and study along with many others on all things good and bad about New York City.
So right now while I weather the storm of debt consolidation and zero credit available to me I cannot indulge in the finer things in New York City. I have to learn to write about other topics anyway, still have some story’s to tell about New York and some experiences I had before all this blogging, theater-going, tour guiding study and hardcore foodie stuff started. The very first story I wrote as an intentional piece of journalism was a story about street art that I wrote in 2007 when I was so wrapped up in my story that I didn’t even review the food I was eating in a now closed Sri Lankan restaurant, which is strange because I remember it was good. The story of our trip to England and Paris is all a blur now but I can try to look at pictures and piece it together to make it live. I also have the hope of coming into some money soon, by legal means I assure you which will be enough to pay off a few bills not covered by the debt consolidation in which case I could be in a few months very close to breathing a sigh of relief and able to continue my adventures.
So right now after watching Paradise Found with Keifer Sutherland last night I am also trying to become an artist again, and trying to meld both my writing and my art into switches I can throw on or off depending on my mood instead of one or the other, which is the way it’s been since early 2007, I haven’t painted a thing in two years,why…I don’t know.
I am grateful to Word Press for their support and presence on the web, and to Cheru Jackson of Alphainventions for helping me to promote my page, and to my Mom, whose diary writing, and her repeatedly showing and speaking aloud the first three letters of the alphabet to me as a baby, have undoubtedly had a lasting effect on me as a writer and reader. As always it’s the little things like this that mean the most.
It has been a great ride and I hope to continue this for the rest of my life, even if I never make it as a writer or an artist it’s OK. The most important thing is that while I write or paint I’m alive, doing what I enjoy and not wasting time with mindless activities or destructive behavior. Thanks to all the cast of characters in my life, which is my work of art, as I am in others casts…so may all of us grow. Thanks for reading and influencing my life and art, and if your ever in New York City drop me a line and we’ll have a drink or two, and one more thing…try the veal at Le Rivage on W. 46th St…it’s really good.
Long Island, NY 2009