3rd Aniversary on WordPress – Oct 29th 2011

Well today marks the third year of my writing this blog and finds me staying at home instead of heading into New York. The nor-easter that has come out of nowhere has shut down my plans to see Rasputina tonight at the Highline Ballroom, it would have been nice to finish the year exactly the way it started back in Feb. But with snow, high winds, and a cold biting rain coming down I just can’t face the prospect of standing outside waiting for the doors to open. Tomorrow is supposed to be really nice and sunny in the fifties as well as all next week, this is a freak storm so doom on me I guess. I will make the best of it by writing and painting and later I will be making a beef stew over noodles for dinner. I have been thinking much about my writing this year and about the changes that I might want to make to it. In some ways when I look at the body of work I’ve written I am disgusted by the amateurish style of some stories. While on the other hand there are some passages that I am genuinely proud of and see as readable in magazines. I expect the best from myself and get discouraged when I don’t measure up to my expectations, but with only one college course in English to my credit I think on balance-I write well.

The tough reality is that the only way to get better is to write and study writing, and maybe also to read, but without more schooling I feel like I’m never going to make it as a writer. I need to take classes at the Gotham Writers Workshop in NY and beside the fact that I don’t have the money, I also can’t make it from my job in Suffolk all the way to Midtown by the time class starts. I would be an aggravated, sweating, stressed out mess with a headache by the time I got to class. I’m not one for taking online classes either, my brother is pursuing an online degree and I find too many distractions would keep me unfocused. Personally, I don’t know how he does it, but he is doing very well!

I am however starting to feel as though I have to change, this blog is not a blog in the usual sense, it is not a few short paragraphs written hastily each day, but a blog of short stories for readers. If you read my about me page I call it “a selfish venture” and indicate that it is at it’s core an open diary. While that is true I find myself wishing I had more fans and more comments. I see with an app added to my page that people from all over the world are visiting, some multiple times. I can even extrapolate that a few high school or college students might be hijacking my words for school papers, why else would I see people logging on from the same place over and over again sometimes a few hours or minutes apart? I don’t care as long as no one is getting paid for it, but it’s a shame that kids are so lazy these days. The change I think I have to make is to write more to an audience and less to myself, while I thought I was doing that already I think now that some stories are too cookie cutter too much the same basic story I wrote the last time. The fact is that not every trip is that interesting or noteworthy, some trips cool stuff happens and I’m cooking on all burners and others I’m too absorbed in what I’m doing to gather all the stimuli around me. It’s a tightrope but I have to try and do it better in the future, if I ever want to get published I must walk that line.

So tonight I will start writing a new piece about the city trip I took last week, and an editorial about this whole Occupy Wall St movement that’s so controversial and so confusing. I must again give thanks to the people that got me here. Thanks to Professor  Wigetow for your teaching and for believing in my potential, to W.B. Wilkins whom I owe this blog to for giving me the key to being a good writer, hopefully I will use it to unlock all the right doors, to J.R.R. Tolkien for the obvious, to Jack Kerouac for teaching me to write in the moment, to William Burroughs for showing me the way to color my words, to Anthony Bourdain for infusing my imagination with his words and especially for turning me on to Graham Greene, to Graham Greene for igniting my desire to be a better writer and for creating some of the most unforgettable characters ever, to Maureen for being my friend and my number one fan, to my mom Alyce for teaching me my A B C’s while still in the crib, sometimes it’s the little things that matter most. No matter what happens I will keep writing and keep painting and strive as I have all my life to do something with nothing, I will keep hoping, planning, wishing, praying and insisting that life can be what you want it to be with a ton of hard work and a little luck. The work is hard, it’s the luck part that I find is so much harder.

Glen

Long Island N.Y.  2011

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A New Mission…Art-August 20th 2011

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.

Passing through the buildings.

A Sense Of The Height

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.

Peace

Glen

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A Short Note On Hurricane Irene-Part 2

This past week I have heard many stories on the radio that I find very disturbing. In response to threats of violence to workers, the police have had to provide escort service to crews who are trying to restore power and clean up downed trees and power-lines. One man in Hicksville was arrested after making “Columbine” like threats over the phone and another in Islip for calling in bomb threats to LIPA/National Grid.

I have lived here all my life and have been through many power outages as a child and as an adult. It was not fun but it was not worthy of threats and violence to the people who we depend on for the power we obviously can’t live without. Have we sunk so low that we can’t make the best of the situation and huddle together to tell stories, read to our children by candlelight, how about playing cards-I’ll bet many of today’s kids don’t know how to play games we played when I was young. Then there is also sitting and making arts and crafts. My artistic talent today can be traced all the way back to my early days. I remember sitting with my mom learning how to draw and paint, and make things with paper and glue and glitter.

This country was built by people who lived by candle light every night and had none of the comforts and indulgent time saving pleasures we have today, and yes I know they knew nothing else but what about our grandparents? They didn’t have TV or AC or PC’s or anything like what our parents even enjoyed. Yet somehow, when things were bad they got together, helped each other and muddled through the bad times, and they did it without threatening to blow anyone up!

Some of these crews are from as far away as Illinois, they are working twelve hour days away from their homes and families. They miss them, their cats and dogs, friends,  their own beds and hometowns. The other day after dropping my car off at a closed repair shop, I walked home secure in the knowledge that it will be Wed before I get it back. I walked right past LIPA as I passed the last driveway I saw a lone truck from Illinois waiting for the light. I stepped up to the cab and looked at the driver, he was maybe between 23 and 28 tops. I raised my left fist in a pump gesture, I told him how much most of us appreciate the twelve hour days to put our island back together. You should have seen the smile on his face, it made the long hot walk home worth while. I hate not having a car but I’m making the best of it, getting things done outside, writing, creating art, reading and studying.

While I do agree that LIPA could have and should do a better job than they did for the money they get. Lets remember that this was the largest outage on Long Island in recent memory, and we could be in worse shape sitting on our roofs waiting to be rescued like those folks in flooded areas.  The bad weather season is upon us, after this we have the winter to contend with, there may be many days without power or stuck inside because of snow storms. The point is we may need these people in the future, lets give em a break at least if not a pat on the back.

Oh and by the way, I never lost my lights. I still said what needed to be said. The driver said “Thank You.”

Peace

Glen

 

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Doing A Slow Burn-Aug 7th 2011

It’s a cloudy breezy morning, warm but nice as I feed the birds on the train station platform and wait with many others to get the next train to Penn Station. I saved some of my crummy low-fat blueberry muffin for the sparrows that live here but one  gregarious pigeon got the lions share. I am especially happy that my far off friend and fan Maureen is okay and out of the hospital and back home, although I don’t know all the details. I have to assume she dodged the bullet and will be okay, I hope so at any rate. If I ever find the means to leave the ground again and fly to far away places we have a date, not a romantic one but a culinary tour of Thai and Indian food that would make Anthony Bourdain proud. It is a date I intend somehow to keep.

That in a way is part of a bigger picture that my thoughts will be on today as I wander. Issues great and small will be my slow burn for today. I am lucky to have a job and my health for the most part is good. Where I see myself in the next ten years is the key issue. I have to form some sort of plan for my transition to another career, I don’t want to sell parts forever and I can’t see myself driving around a forklift in the snow at 50 let alone 65. The improvement of my health, if I want to make 65 I’d better find the discipline to work out and lose weight and keep it off! The acquisition of love and an active social life with my own kind, I have to find a circle of artist/writer/foodie/francophiles to hang out with or else I will never meet that special someone. I do sometimes feel that maybe I do a little better on my own,  like the character of Scobie in Graham Greene’s novel “The Heart of the Matter”. But then again I haven’t met the “other” yet so I can’t be sure of that.

My creative life is another matter, last night I put brush to paper and worked on a watercolor scene of a Paris cafe out of an instructional book. It took an unfortunate row  to lock me in my apartment and forced me to sit down, listen to music and paint slow. Despite the fact that I have had no formal training in watercolor, and have only painted two others in my life (which came out great by the way) I found out something very important. I can still paint. Even after a nearly four-year hiatus and after two abortive attempts at this scene.  I finally hit my stride and found that which lies within every artist, the something that happens when you find your way. I have to try to find some more good pics of Paris cafe on the web that are not copyright protected.

It’s a sleepy kind of day, except for one kid and his dad everyone is quiet, lost in thought. There is an Asian beatnik on my left up a seat. He asks the conductor if the train stops at Mineola? “No, this is the express- I announced it three times.” the conductor said matter of factly. “What do I do now?” asked the deflated hipster. “You’ll have to get out at Jamaica and go back.” said the conductor as he punched his ticket and moved on. The beatnik in the beret with his Lennon glasses and his Fu-Manchu mustache busied himself with texting and avoided eye-contact  with anyone. I smile inside but I feel for him all the same. Just when you think your cool and in control is when you slip on a banana peel or get on the wrong train. The train meanwhile is getting crowded, everyone is going in for some fun. It’s hard to believe the summer is half over.I don’t know exactly where I’m going, but I do have some restaurants written down and I would like to see the green market again.

I’ve started to wonder about writing a proposal to the Travel Channel about a show in New York City, in it I would do what I love to do…this. It would be better perhaps for NYC TV but not so big an audience as TC. If I knew a little more about the night life in NYC and had a lot more confidence in myself I think I could pull it off. Maybe a book based on my experiences so far would be a better lead in to a show. The one thing I do know is that somehow I have to capitalize on my art, writing, and New York travels while the food and travel boom is on going. If I don’t I’ll miss out like I did the computer boom. It’s amazing to think that the kid who didn’t want to be in the school play now wants his own TV show now…I certainly have changed. We descend underground and soon I’ll be on the street or subway.

I decide on the subway and take it down to 23rd st coming up on busy 8th ave, I try to walk slow and takes things in nudging over an ave or two as I head south. People are swarming like bees enjoying a field of wildflowers, the warm breezy day has all of us walking on air. I find myself at Union Square with no effort at all. How can I describe the green market any better than I already have in so many stories. I can’t, you just have to come and see for yourself. This is a place where you need a French market basket and a whole day. You walk slow, sample the foods and see what is good, then walk back and buy what you need from the vendor with the best product. Too bad it’s only here half the year. I am sold on a pint of fresh blueberries by a slick tongued salesman, then after tasting garlic/rosemary jam and talking with a vendor about heirloom tomatoes and blossom end rot, I move on and wander a little. I eventually wind up at 5th ave and see something I’ve never seen before. It’s closed to traffic, bicycles, skaters and foot traffic only! I find out later that it’s part of a program called “summer streets”and goes on for many blocks to allow folks to enjoy the summer without having to go far. The quiet is almost deafening but there’s a magic to it as well. The walkers, joggers, skaters, and bicyclists are all moving at different paces in a kind of modern ballet. I loop back around after buying a lemonade from kids selling outside their apartment building and head west, I spend too much time on the lower east side so it’s time for a change.

Summer Streets in New York

I am thinking as I walk that maybe I should start using pictures I take in New York as a basis for paintings. I stop to rest on the service entrance steps of an Italian place on Bleeker and eat my berries for a snack while I write and practice my relaxing and people watching skills. Many people pass by as I write, all types from locals out shopping to vacationers and across the street two tour groups pass while the guide tells the same story he told a hundred other times. I could use a loo and a wash-up so I reluctantly get up and begin the search for a clean bathroom, not an easy task in Manhattan unless you eat at a restaurant. But I find one at a place called “The Slaughtered Lamb”, which is actually an old historic bar with a fireplace and a door marked “The Dungeon” opposite the front door. I didn’t ask why. I order a Stella and settle down to read an article in the Village Voice about people who are distilling moonshine in the five Burroughs today. It is actually an appropriate place to read about moonshine, the old wooden floors and the fireplace and mantle tell me that this place has seen some bathtub gin back in the day. The article is fascinating, I didn’t realize so much went into the process and that the authorities are still prosecuting those who distill without a license. But to get a license you have to pay huge fees and taxes and must pass rigorous inspections and limit your production as well. No small wonder where the government is involved, pain follows. Which is the whole idea anyway, they probably really don’t want anyone making their own Hooch and would rather we all just work, spend, sleep…repeat and repeat. The place fills up with a bunch of loud mouth out-of-town types that sound like it’s their first beer so I head out to find some lunch.

On the way I pass the Jefferson Market Garden, a small garden that has benches and pathways that is planted with a wonderful assortment of perennials and roses and scrubs, the beautiful building for which it is named is a branch of the New York Public Library but was built between 1874 and 1877 as the Third Judicial District Courthouse. I walk the trail and see many of my own garden planted here too. Black-eyed Susan’s, copper bells, butterfly bush, azaleas and more are here. I sign the book and donate a few dollars and move on. Soon inevitably, I find myself at Washington Square seeking a food truck. The only one here is the Cambodian Food truck, these folks are former restaurant owners who are victims of a greedy landlord and the system of things in general. They have all the court documents and letters made into a poster set up outside the truck for all to see. It’s too much to read but the little I read makes me feel for them. Now that Kampuchea is gone, this is the only Cambodian food in New York. I order spicy curry chicken with potatoes, bean sprouts, onion over angel hair rice noodles in a coconut sauce  and Thai Ice Tea. It takes about six minutes for my food to be made and I sit on a bench inside the park area and eat very carefully, it’s hot and the sauce is right to the top. This is delicious, the chicken is tender and the potatoes are just right and the thick sauce is creamy, savory and spicy. This is a great meal washed down with cool sweet Thai ice tea, for eight bucks with tip it doesn’t get much better. There may be some kind of advantage to austerity eating after all. I sit and listen to live jazz behind me in the distance, the park is full of families, couples, students, and tourists. Everyone is enjoying the weather in their own way, pretty girls in bikinis lie out getting a tan, others crash out on the grass fast asleep with I-tunes playing in their dreams, the readers read, the dreamers dream and everyone else is just thankful to be out of the rat race. Unfortunately, it’s time for me to start heading for home.

I walk back to Penn station at a slow pace, not wanting to go underground or spend money on a taxi, this is good for me anyway. I stop to get money at an ATM inside a drugstore, enjoying the cool air. There’s an attractive woman dressed up behind me about my age. I say “You know I can remember when,  if the bank was closed you couldn’t get any money!” She laughs and says” Me too”. and I get out of her way and back on the street. I guess I really didn’t figure anything out after all. There is too much to occupy the senses here, anyone who doesn’t live here isn’t used to it and won’t get any thinking done till they are at home. I wander in Penn Station to kill time before my train comes and get a water instead of a beer to save money. My train comes and it’s also an express, three stops and I’m home. I feel a little lonely and isolated from my family right now, but the city is always ready for me when I need it… and it never lets me down.

Peace

Glen

 

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Short Note-Hurricane Irene Aug 28th 2011

The dreaded hurricane is a done deal for us, off to wreak havoc on other poor unfortunates to the north. I would say on balance that we were extremely lucky in that the two large trees we have on our property are still standing, and the garden needs just a minor cleanup of green leaves ripped from the trees to call it a day. The neighbor down the street had the tree in front of his house fall and take out a street light, but that’s county property so no cost to him.

Our Street

Many others were not so lucky, the storm claimed 16 lives so far, my prayers go out to their families. Many people are dealing with large uprooted trees which have landed on their houses and some have blocked major roads. The main road by my house was almost completely blocked by a large tree and when I ventured out for a walkabout this morning, I saw many trees felled right behind us.

3 lanes blocked

Street behind us.

My brother took out his car around noon and found many downed trees in the area by our house and I too found lots of blocked roads when I took a drive a short time ago. There is flooding in many areas, the Belt Parkway in Queens is shut down due to flooding and many residents in low-lying areas are trying to pump out basements and businesses.

Closed till tomorrow

Like a ghost town.

Most of the stores are closed, as is the mall and almost all restaurants and diners are closed. So tomorrow begins a new work week and a big cleanup will continue, by next weekend this will be a fading memory. But I can tell you, it was a scary night and I stayed up till 4:00 AM listening to the wind expecting the worse. The whole region is relieved however, it was supposed to be much worse than it was, so as I said…we got lucky.

Peace
Glen

 

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Noodling in Chinatown-July 1st 2011

I’m sitting on a long Island Railroad train heading for New York City, behind me a crazy cat lady is telling the conductor that it’s” Take your cat to work day” …I didn’t get that memo. But it doesn’t matter to me because I am on vacation and this is my first in three years. So I’m heading into the city to get out of dodge for a while and having not been here since April, I’m rather looking forward to just loafing and sitting and watching the working world go by me. I am armed with Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” and a laundry list of places to eat and drink, but to be honest I’m back on austerity so it’ll have to be cheap. I spent 225 bucks on my car repairs and after 11 years and many upgrades my old desktop computer just gave up. I was forced to buy a reconditioned laptop. It’s got 4 gig of memory and a great processor, but I don’t like it much as a writing tool. I’m used to my old setup so part of the next ten days will be spent setting up my desk and introducing the laptop to my peripheral devices. This has set me back over 500 bucks so my dreams of three star dinning are out the window.

But at least I’m out of the rat race for ten days and my garden is in full swing with veggies growing and war being waged organically on pests and a big barbecue is planned for the 4th with everyone bringing food and drink so life is good. Recently I saw an episode of Andrew Zimmern’s” Bizarre Foods” which actually has him working in restaurants trying to work a shift like he used to in the old days. He goes to Xian’s Famous Noodles in Chinatown and works the busy lunch and dinner shift. Here they make every dish of noodles by hand and after brief instruction he is stretching and slapping the noodles on the counter like a pro. Each dish of noodles is made with a delicious combo of meat or veg in a sauce and the most popular is the Spicy Cumin Lamb Noodles. During the episode his friend and fellow Food Network Star Adam Richman stops by to have a bowl and declares it to be fantastic. I’ve read that Anthony Bourdain has also declared that Xian’s is among the best in New York, so at just 7 bucks a bowl-for me to day-it’s all about the noodle.

Recently, I was looking at Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations website and found that he is writing for a HBO show called “Treme”, I don’t have HBO but he is also contributing to a new culinary quarterly called “Lucky Peach”, this is the baby of David Chang the legendary owner of Momofuku in New York, the home of possibly the best Ramen noodles in the western world as well as three other restaurants. This magazine is available only through McSorleys on the web and this first issue is devoted to Ramen noodles. There are articles by Anthony Bourdain and original artwork  and recipes and maps of Japan showing how Ramen is made in different provinces. It’s an off-beat unconventional magazine and owning a subscription makes me feel like I’ve joined some secret society, known only to a few who have the password and secret handshake. I am today entering the complex world of the noodle, a humble Buddha-like food product so important to so many.

So I get topside and head for my first destination which is another food network episode memory, again to the Lower East Side where many simple good things seem to have been invented, up to and including the donuts at Doughnut Plant, a little shop where hand-made jellies and sauces go over hand-made batches of donuts. It’s a place that’s a little smaller than my house where chef/owner Mark Isreal has come a long way. He has made the doughnut a work of art and they even sell t-shirts for tourists to show off back home! This is a small Jewish enclave on the outskirts of Chinatown on Grand St next to Kossars Bialy and a kosher bakery. But when you come to this small shop, it’s all about two things. The Peanut Butter and Jelly doughnut and the even more venerated Creme Brulee doughnut, so I sit down on the window ledge after a family from Nebraska leaves and tuck into my PB&J, this is a square doughnut that has a square hole in the center with grape jelly running all through it. The outside is covered in a peanut butter sauce, it’s good but I really should have milk with this rather than bad utility coffee. But the Creme Brulee doughnut is another matter. This is good, I mean blackout good, this doughnut is made with creme Brulee filling and the outside is actually got the hard toasted sugar just like the classic French dessert! This reminds me how much I need to learn how to make the French dessert myself from scratch, yet another chapter in my cooking pursuits.

There is much going on today in the city, for some reason Elizabeth St is closed with police barricades. They are moved by officers to let sporty black police edition Dodge Chargers through however, and down the block men in suits and white shirted officers stand around for what…I don’t know. But I later learn it was an accident of some sorts. I walk on and get a text message from mom, she wonders if The Golden Dragon is still open in Chinatown. This was a place where she and her girlfriends would have lunch back in the day. I have no way of tracking this down myself but with additional texts from my brother, I use my map to go to 51 Division St but find it’s not there, I actually go to two more addresses but I come up empty handed. It would have been cool to find it still open but that was back in the fifties, most places don’t last that long. It was a good effort though and it made me hungry. So I decided to double back to my noodle lunch destination. The fascinating thing about being here is how much you feel like an outsider in your own country. You are literally the one in one hundred who doesn’t look or talk like everybody else. The streets are mobbed with people shopping, talking and bustling about. Many are laden with bags of food, unfamiliar greens thrust up from shopping bags, others are heavy with fish, large eyes staring through plastic that were only hours before searching for food in the sea. The streets are lined with vendors selling all manner of colorful hats and shirts, battery operated toys, fans and those ceramic cats with writing on their bellies…I wonder what that’s about? I find Xian’s easily and go into the crowded space and wait my turn. This is not the same location that was used on TV but the food is the same, I am however disappointed that I won’t be seeing my hand=pulled noodles made today. I place my order and go sit in the back and wait for my number to be called, the orders are made in a downstairs kitchen and come up on a dumbwaiter. My number is called and I go up and get my tray and choose my weapon of choice-chopsticks. I tuck into my spicy cumin lamb noodles with gusto, this is a whole other level of good! The noodles are soft and yielding at first but then become chewy, and the chopped lamb with onion and cucumber and scallion swimming in an fiery orange sauce. This is savory and hot, evil and good. It’s too bad the A/C is blowing so cold, I rush to eat my food before it is chilled down. My lips are burning as I slurp down the last of my dish and I really wish I could try another but that would be gluttony so I clean up my tray and head out into the warm summer day. I decide to head back to the Doughnut Plant to get some Creme Brulee’s for the family, it’s a long walk but that’s okay. I make my way back in the growing heat of the late afternoon to Penn Station, zig-zagging to keep to the shaded side of the street, like they do in Provence. Soon I find myself in the growing crowds entering the station proper and the coolness wraps you as you descend. The long walk was tiring but at least I burnt some of todays calories off, this beats the heck out of standing at that hot counter! I grab a cold water and go down for my train, relaxed and happy.

Chow
Glen

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Filed under Anthony Bourdain, Food, Food Writing, Japanese Food, Lower East Side, Memories, New York City, Writing

A Requiem for Amy Winehouse-July 25th 2011

When I heard that Amy Winehouse had died, I was strangely affected. I wasn’t even a fan of her music, yet somehow I was saddened. Maybe it was the coincidence of Jay Leno making a joke about her in his monologue the night before, or maybe  just the fact that another young star was lost to us that hit a nerve. The first time I heard her music on TV, it was the self-fulfilling prophecy “Rehab” that was playing.  The image of the beehive hairdo combined with the lyrics just made me roll my eyes. Crafting a song about drug addiction like it was something to be proud of bothered me. I also thought she was just another white girl trying to be a sister, from the sixties this time around. But nevertheless I totally ignored her from that point on. Now I wish I hadn’t, now I know that I missed something.

The reaction from people around me went from total indifference to those who felt she got what she deserved. The sad thing is that most of the people who feel that way will never know what it’s like to be an addict, how it can destroy your will to do what you love or be who you want to be. I have seen addiction firsthand and can tell you it’s not the barrel of fun that people make it out to be. I watched a co-worker scramble for drugs every day for over a year.While I drove him home every day, I listened to the phone calls trying to score a hit and out of the corner of my eye watched as he counted money, going through all  his pockets to collate what he had hoping it would be enough. I could feel his eyes upon me when he didn’t have enough money and I lied many times that I was broke. He left the company and I was relieved, the strain of watching him feed his addiction was starting to take its toll on me emotionally.

There are some who are blaming Amy’s close friend Kelly Osbourne and Amy’s parents, saying they should have done more to help her, but I think this is unfair to Kelly and also her parents who are most likely experiencing a lot of guilt. This is an old story unfortunately, for Amy and a handful of other stars.  When a group of friends gathered to try an intervention with CSN legend David Crosby back in the day, his response was to do a line of coke and walk out the door. You can’t sit on top of someone 24-7, sooner or later they have to be alone and no one can possibly be there every minute. The fact is that Amy had been rumored to have been in rehab recently, and after treatment in hospital and as an out-patient for lung problems associated with smoking tobacco and crack cocaine, she had received a clean bill of health from her doctor. She like other stars who died young was embarking on a comeback, with a new album in the works and a tour to follow-she was in good spirits according to those close to her. There was no reason to suspect that she would wind up like she did, in fact it will be several weeks before the toxicology reports are done. So far foul play has been ruled out and the autopsy was inconclusive as to the cause of death.

In interviews her former band mates concluded that the sudden overnight success took a toll on the sensitive young singer and she responded in the typical manner of the gritty Camden neighborhood she grew up in, it’s a place where fast times and the rock-n-roll club life are part of the nightly music scene, where the young singer was easily drawn into the drugs and heavy drinking while she was paying her dues and learning her craft. The pressure of stardom took its toll on Amy, after her sudden explosive success followed emergency room visits and arrests and rehab. But it was the relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil that was the turning point for Amy, at least one band mate Neal Sugarman remarked that the change in her was visible. The first tour was a lot of fun compared to the second tour supporting “Back To Black” which wasn’t fun at all. Sugarmen felt that the return of Blake was when Amy started taking drugs again, he remarked that the last time he saw her in London “it was not a pretty sight”. She was unable to sing on some of the songs they were working on and said “it was really depressing”. In their hit song “Truckin” Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead sings “What in the world ever became of sweet Jane, she’s lost her sparkle you know she isn’t the same. Living on Reds, Vitamin C and Cocaine…all her friends can say is ain’t it a shame.” This seems to be a direct reference to Janis Joplin, a friend of the band and one of the members of the unfortunate 27 Club; rock stars who died at 27. This includes Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison among others.

But the warning signs were there and some people in the industry said that Amy was on what they call a “death watch”, an interesting term considering that people on a death watch are usually behind bars and kept from using any devices that could cause themselves harm. Why then don’t we have the same precautions in place for family and friends. In her short life Amy suffered and struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol, depression, eating disorders and self-harm issues. The real tragedy is that brilliant career that could have been hers is now lost forever, we’ll never know what might have been had she lived and kept recording the kind of music she loved. What we do know is that she opened the door for new female artists to walk through, Lily Allen rode in after Amy’s release of Back To Black, and Adele credits Winehouse with making the US market easier for herself and Duffy to achieve success. This also ushered in a third wave of female artists including VV Brown, Florence and the Machine, La Roux and Little Boots. But the most acclaim came from Lady Gaga who said Amy Winehouse “paved the way” for her rise to the top of the charts. Winehouse could be said to have jump started a revival of soul music that started in 2000. Amy’s work made it possible in 2009 for five female artists to be nominated for the Mercury Prize in the UK and that year to be called the “year of the woman” in music circles. That is more than can be said for many artists who had hit records who were clean and sober, that she was able to do all this and stand up for causes and start her own record label speaks well of her ambition and energy. Not quite the picture of the irresponsible addict painted by so many. One can easily imagine a new young singer somewhere in the UK or US, unknown at the moment. She has been watching Amy on TV and dreaming of stardom. The thrill of it all, a new sound that harkens back to the age of soul, who many will compare to Amy Winehouse, but a new face, and hopefully a career that will stand the test of time and the roller coaster ride of fame without breaking under the enormous pressure. That is the legacy of a singer like Amy Winehouse.

My unexpected reaction to her death was to sit and watch You Tube videos of Amy in concert, that is where I first realized the power of her vocals and the emotional element she added to them, a conviction about the lyrics and the  honesty with which she sings her songs. I have tried to analyze my feelings of loss, were they driven by a latent sexual desire?…no, she’s not my type so I don’t think that played a role. Was there a deeper issue involved? Such as my lifelong struggle with food and weight loss issues? Yes, that was at least part of it, I could understand the desire for something that was off-limits, and potentially dangerous. But it had to be something more, buried deep in my subconscious. I still haven’t found what it is that moved me so much as I sat at my kitchen table stunned from the news. I can totally understand now why Elton John was moved to write “Candle In The Wind about Marilyn Monroe. I will be sure to buy all available recordings of Amy on CD or DVD, and like so many bands that are no more, I will cherish what we have of them to enjoy. Perhaps the greatest gift Amy unknowingly gave me is the gift of being more open in my mind to new ideas. To listen to new sounds and really see new images before passing judgement and moving on. So goodbye Amy, maybe you didn’t realize how much love was coming your way. While you were searching for the perfect love that doesn’t exist in life,perhaps you finally found it in death. I hope so for your sake…rest in peace.

Regrettably

Glen

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