Sunday, December 21, 2008

The List That Never Sleeps

Today's list comes courtesy of Sara from To A Bright Yellow. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy law school schedule to share your thoughts on the city.

1) Spot for a Drink
My favorite place to get a drink is Marie's Crisis in Sheridan Square.  Only for those with a Broadway diva in their hearts, on Friday nights Marie's turns into a sing-along with a pianist and some of the best amateur singers in the city.  Come prepared and know your stuff - this is as hardcore as Broadway gets.

2) Bite to Eat
Jacques Torres has three locations in the city in which he sells his magical chocolate confections.  The best is the earl grey chocolate - rich dark chocolate infused with a tea flavor.  Sounds strange, but the flavors work really well together.

3) People Watching
My favorite spot for people-watching is the 4th-floor cafe in the Lincoln Square Barnes and Noble.  There is a row of seats facing the window, and you can look down on Broadway and watch all of the cars and people go by.  

4) Historic New York
Historic New York, to me, means something a little different than it might to others.  To me, I look for the New York of my mother, who grew up in Flatbush and came into Manhattan every day for ballet lessons at the old Met.  I love going to St. Thomas' Church on 5th avenue.  My mom knew the person who installed the organ, and it has an incredibly rich, warm tone.  On Sundays at 5pm, they have free organ concerts performed by various visiting performers.  The quality and variety of the music is worth a frequent trip.

5) NYC Secret
If you take the number 6 train all the way downtown, you can take it around the loop that will turn it back into an uptown train.  They say you have to get off of the train, but you really don't.  What you will see on that loop is something very few people get to experience - the first subway station ever built in New York City.  It was the original City Hall station, with Guastavino tile ceilings and chandeliers.  Originally the gem of the subway system, they closed the station when it could no longer accomodate the number of cars on the standard subway train.  But the station is still beautiful (if decaying) and you can catch a great view from the right side of the train.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Caroline Kennedy Show

So... Caroline Kennedy.

Her "listening campaign" has grown in strength over the last few days, as she sits down with Democratic power brokers in the state. She's spent much of that time reaching out to Dems upstate, since that is where her connections are weakest. Today she met with Al Sharpton, at Sylvia's in Harlem. The cynic in me wonders if that's because Sharpton is actually considered a power broker or if Caroline is greasing up the often squeaky wheel in advance (not a dig at Sylvia's food).

I'm really of two minds on this. I like her. I like where she stands on things, I appreciate the work she's done as an advocate for education in this city, and growing up in Boston, I am genetically predisposed to have a soft-spot for the Kennedys. Her moving op-ed in support of Obama, and active campaigning on his behalf, alongside her Uncle Teddy, was crucial during a brutal primary. With or without the Senate seat, she is clearly cut from the same cloth as her father, uncles and late brother. And that's mostly a good thing. Her history in the city is long, as recounted by Sam Roberts.

All that said, I'm pretty uncomfortable with the idea of anyone stepping into the Senate without having previously held some kind of elected office. Honestly, even some time on the City Council would make a difference in my eyes. I'm all for people stepping up to answer the call to service from outside political office, but I'm very wary of this. I don't particularly like the idea of anyone being appointed into the Senate. I agree with The Nation's John Nichols - the constitutional loophole that allows governors to appoint Senators to vacant seats needs to be done away with.

I suspect I'd be perfectly happy with Senator Caroline Kennedy on a day-to-day basis, but deeply uncomfortable with her as an appointee. It provides a strange aftertaste to the political optimism of the campaign season.

City Sounds

As Governor Patterson proposes a tax on downloadable music, I find myself thinking  of the unique sounds of New York. The presence of music in all of our lives, pieced together snippets from buskers, passing car stereos and random city noises, is something which I have always enjoyed about NYC. 

Explore the sounds of the Lower East Side with Folksongs for the Five Points. This is one of the more interesting interactive websites I've come across recently.

Grant Morrison's New York

Grant Morrison is one the top writers in comics today. His current DC Comics mega-event, Final Crisis, has been an impressive series so far. In it, he revisits some ideas that were present in a group of books he put out a few years ago called Seven Soldiers. That's led me to revisit his earlier work as well.

One of the Seven Soldiers books was The Manhattan Guardian, telling the story of Jake Jordan, a disgraced former police officer who becomes the eponymous hero, having fantastic adventures while in the employ of a local tabloid which documents them. But Morrison's New York City is very much a supporting character in the book, and it takes on some intriguing characteristics that diverge from the city outside our windows.

Since DC Comics already has Batman's Gotham City, and Superman's Metropolis, in many ways Manhattan's dark and light reflections respectively, New York City has seldom played a prominent role in DC stories, in stark contrast to Marvel Comics, where half of the world's heroes seem to live in the five boroughs. Morrison played it to the hilt, dubbing his New York "The Cinderella City" on account of its two ugly step-sisters. Playing on the mythic qualities of NYC, he also looked to architectural dream projects that never came to pass, adding a "what if" to the city.

Morrison's New York skyline includes the Hotel Attraction (designed by Antoni Gaudi), the Chase-Manhattan Bank Building (designed by Hans Hollein to resemble the grill of a Rolls Royce), and the Mid-Manhattan Expressway (proposed by Robert Moses). In the harbor sits The Ellis Island Key Project (conceived by Frank Lloyd Wright and seen above). 

When Morrison was intrviewed about the project in 2005, he told the Times, "I want it to be a more exalted New York, where things that were dreamed of were finally brought into reality."

The Cinderella City is a strong backdrop for Morrison's stories of transformation and mythology in both Seven Soldiers, and to a lesser extent, Final Crisis. Unlike the New York of Marvel Comics, which looks so much like our city that they felt the need for Spider-Man to comment on the fall of the WTC towers in 2001, Morrison's NYC is raw myth. This is a city of dreams and possibility. The journey of Jake Jordan from failure to hero could as easily have been the journey of anyone who comes to New York City for a better life. The essence and mythology of New York City, where anything is possible, is laid bare through it's people and architecture in the work of Grant Morrison. It reminds us of what might have been and what might yet be.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tired. So very tired.

The name of this blog was never intended to be taken literally... 

I would like some sleep now, please. Failing that, more caffeine.

Friday, December 12, 2008

NYC's comic shops

Over at CBR, George Khoury wrote a good piece on the city's comic book shops, past and present. Personally, my regular shop is Midtown Comics. Though, I keep meaning to check out Rocketship in Brooklyn, as I've heard nothing but good things about the store.

The List That Never Sleeps

This is the first of what will be a recurring feature here. I'd like to focus on five NYC highlights in each post. In the future, many of these will be written by guests contributors from around the city. The first one is all me.

1) Spot for a Drink
Just a couple of nights ago, I tried the St. Andrews on 44th. Beer Menus told me they had Bellhaven on tap, so away I went. Good appetizers, nice atmosphere (a Scottish pub that plays the Pixies gets bonus points in my book), and a stellar beer selection. I drank quite a few pints of the Bellhaven Scottish Ale. I also sampled some of the Bellhaven Wee Heavy, which is a favorite.

2) Bite to Eat
I used to work over at Rockefeller Center. One of the best spots for food around there is this fantastic little halal food cart on 49th and Sixth Avenue. There are two such carts on that corner. Try the one closest to the curb. In my experience, that's the better of the two. The chicken & lamb combo platter is fantastic.

3) People Watching
Santacon! Tomorrow the streets of NYC are flooded with Santas. Want to know where? Visit the NYC Santacon website at 10 PM to find out. 

4) Historic New York
One of these days I'm going to get off my ass and actually check out one of the Big Onion walking tours of New York City. These are not your standard tourist fare, with most of the tour guides being at least grad students or doctoral candidates. They offer over a dozen different tours, each focused on a particular neighborhood or historical theme Worth taking a look at.

5) NYC Secret
Sympathy for the Kettle (109 St Marks, between First and Avenue A) isn't just a great little tea shop, but it also has the best hot chocolate known to man. Do you remember when you were a kid and your chocolate ice cream would melt? Did you ever slurp up the melty bits from the bottom of the bowl? Sympathy's hot chocolate is like that, but, you know... hot.

You Don't Have to Go Home, But You Can't Stay Here

"The blogger asks if antiques are disappearing from Broadway. The answer is yes.

And whatever virus is killing them has long been spreading around the corner to 11th Street. For months, the shops there have been falling like dominoes."

"Martin Ruginis, who's been working there for 15 years, said that he 'just wants the store to close already' because he's 'tired of hearing customers tell him how upset they are about it.' According to Ruginis, the best selling product is the fake pile of shit. It used to be called doo doo, but it wasn't selling well so they changed the name to shit and could barely keep it on the shelves. As if to tempt fate, the late Leslie Herson, who opened the store in 1966, then changed it back to doo doo because she didn't like the profanity. Sales plummeted again, so she relented and changed the name yet again in order to sell more shit."

rambling thoughts on the morning after rain

There is a stillness and a beauty to water at night. The way the blackness of the water can sometimes seemlessly meet the night sky. Alternately, the water can rage, in storms or waves, providing stark contrast to its backdrop.

I am reminded of this memory from high school - One night, I was hanging out with my friend Josh in his makeshift home recording studio, making demos, and we decided to go for a ride in his beat-up, wood-panelled station wagon. It was raining heavily and eventually we made our way down to the ocean, watching the waves crash in Plymouth. We sat, we chatted, we smoked our cigarettes and listened to the recordings we'd made. To date, nothing is a better test of how a track sounds than hearing it through a car stereo. Then Josh suggested we just be quiet as he put a tape into his tape deck. He had something he wanted to play for me.

For the first time ever, I heard Tom Waits. His gravelly voice called out "The ocean doesn't want me today, but I'll be back tomorrow to play". Even as sheets of rain fell in the night sky, the waves crashed forcefully, Waits' rambling vocals brought the stillness and vastness of the water into perspective. Sometimes life has a real poetry to it and I revel in those moments when I happen upon them.

That's really part of what I love about New York City. It has a poetry to it, a culture and landscape that seems to organically create moments which could not happen anywhere else. We live on a grid to get around easily, but as I build my NYC experiences and memories it maps itself differently in my brain. Directions from that bar that used to be there to that cool indy theater or the place with the city's best hot chocolate form regardless of streets and avenues. I walk, and I wander and I love it. I flow through the grid like water, absorbing the properties of what I touch, slowly wearing my mark into it as sure and steady as a river.

I know the playground and court house at the corner where the Five Points once met, the halal foodcart which serves the best lamb and chicken platter I have ever had, the music shop where I can find killer bhangra compilations... The rumble of the train and the patter of someone giving the same pitch you've heard a dozen times "I am not asking for handout, I am just selling sandwiches from my duffel bag..." Beat by beat, line by line, it flows together, forming the verses of my city. 

The map forms in my head like a poem, soulful, tinged with different meanings for most who read it, utterly fucking with the orthodoxy of syntax... 

Even better, in its vastness, I might never be finished mapping it in my head as it grows and changes. And every person I meet adds to that map, and hopefully takes something away to add to their own. That, to me, is the magic of cities, this one in particular.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Three New Yorks

For the inaugural post of this new blog, I figured I'd reference one of my favorite quotes about New York City. I've seen it a few times on the subway, and I think it's pretty apt.

“ There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. […] Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion."
- E.B. White, Here is New York

I've been very fortunate to find my home in this city and in the coming days I'm going to get the ball rolling on this blog.