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.