Sunday, November 25, 2012

Autumn in New York

Originally Written 9/16

Our last full day in New York we got a late start and had the intention of taking it easy, and yet somehow ended up doing as much as any other day. 

Unlike previous days, we went to bed with no clear plans for the next day, woke up slowly and did not hurry out to get much done. There was a feeling that we'd done everything. Not everything that New York has to do, that would take months, but everything we needed to do this trip. Over a leisurely breakfast we decided to hit a nearby game store and then go down and get out of Manhattan, just so we could say we'd done it.

After a goof on the subway that had us at Union Square instead of Grand Central, we ended up at The Complete Stratagist at the base of the Empire State Building. Like a lot of stores in New York the small space was packed with as much as they could fit. In this case they were filling it with games of all kinds (except video): roll playing games, board games, card games, dice games, and everything else. Tech Support picked up a game we were interested in trying.

We took the subway down to the Brooklyn Bridge, and on a whim decided to stay on as it went by the abandoned City Hall Station again. This time, prepared, we saw more of the skylights and station. We got off at the next station and headed over to the bridge. Like many of the attractions in New York it was undergoing work, so for the first part of it we were walking between corrugated metal corridors, enjoying the feeling of cattle being herded and getting none of the view. "Imagine you are a tourist in New York..."

Eventually we got out though, and saw the views of the bay and the bridge and had a lovely walk.

Legs aching a bit, we found a park to sit in right on the other side and then went to a nearby Boba place and took it easy for a few more minutes. Fiddling around with our Smartphones, Tech Support figured out that we were actually ridiculously close to HP Lovecrafts Brookyln apartment, so we took a short stroll. He only lived there for a little while and it's still a rented apartment, so there wasn't much to see, but it was nice to see the area that he hated so much.

My guidebook promised interested graffiti if we crossed the Williamsburg bridge but had pitiful little in the way of explanation on how to get there. First we walked through a dark section of Williamsburg, the streets rich with graffiti and dark because of the elevated subway tracks overhead.

Then, we spent twenty minutes looking for the pedestrian walkway that would take us across. First we couldn't find any way on, and then we only found the bike path. Finally, with the Smartphones help again, we found the pedestrian walkway.

There was a fair amount of graffiti.

The Williamsburg bridge is longer than the Brooklyn Bridge, and we passed a colorful set of characters as we made our way across. Once at the other end my legs ached and we spent some time reorientating ourselves. We discovered a nearby Soba place with excellent reviews on yelp and thought about doing another Tenement Museum tour.

But neither were too happen, as the tours at the Tenement Museum were all sold out, and while sitting at another coffee shop we came up with a new plan: Go back to Brooklyn and to a used sci-fi book store that publishes out of print/copyright books. So back onto the subway we went, and then out to a quiet, warehouse filled part of Brooklyn by the river. 

The store, Singularity and Co, was awesome. It was like wandering through my childhood as I saw all the old yellow DAW paperbacks with their scantly clad barbarian characters on the covers. Time portals, time-space portals, rips in space time and doorways to other dimensions abounded in the back cover copy. I found the fantasy novel that made me stop reading fantasy, and the pern books by Anne McCaffrey I'd devoured when young. 

I had more fun pouring through the museum of my childhood but didn't have much luck finding any authors I was interested in. Tech Support, concerned I was bored, kept suggesting he was done and we leave. But I kept telling him we should stick around a little longer and the pile of books in his hands kept growing. Finally, when we were about to leave, Tech Support scored majorly with an out-of-print copy of a roll playing manual he loved, discovered off to one side of the store he hadn't explored. The store owner clearly didn't want to give it up, and even asked about hosting a game at the store. He was deflated to hear we were from Los Angeles.

We left pleased with our bounty of books. We walked a few blocks away and enjoyed a delicious dinner sitting at the bar at Vinegar Hill House. The older building reminded me of eating in England more than New England.

Next we went back on the Subway to see Catherine one more time, this time for her Birthday. To our surprise we ran into a MASSIVE street party, so thick with people we could barely work our way through it. When we made it to the bar Catherine was supposed to be at we discovered a private party had usurped her, and had to find our way to where they were now.

Instead we enjoyed drinking at a nearby bar and talking with Catherine, her mom and her friends. It turned Catherine wanted to go to Singularity and Co and Vinegar Hill House, so we heartily recommended both. We didn't part until after midnight.

We were only partially packed, so we kept getting ready to leave until 2am. Since I'd never really adapted to the time change I wasn't too tired, but I wasn't looking forward to waking up at 6:15am either. My Smartphone alarm clock helpfully informed me that it would be 4 hours and 15 minutes later.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Get Outta Town

Originally Written 9/15

We got up early to go to the Cloisters, which is situated at the very top of Manhattan and the furthest from our hotel we've gone on this trip. We also took the A-train to get there, which made Duke Ellington's classic play in my head. The A-train was pretty fun as it shot up the west side of Central Park, skipping many local stops.

We got out on another planet. One of peace and calm and greet trees. Walking along Fort Tryon I got more of a sense of what the original settlers might have seen when they arrived.

After a short walk we reached the Cloisters themselves. I'm not big on Medieval Art or Ancient Art, and walking through the Cloisters I finally realized why: It's not possible to know much about the artists. We do know a little about some of the medieval artists, but not a lot. Mostly we know about the cultures based on their art they produce. And I'm much more interested in the individual, their personalities, the hardships they faced, their passions and hates, their lives, their growth and bodies of work. Tech Support by comparison is far more interested.

That said, I still quite enjoyed the art and peace of the Cloisters. The gardens were also beautiful, except for the one near the tiny little 'cafe' where they were reseeding. The square area was just dirt being worked over by industrious sparrows. Smart sparrows too, while Tech Support and I snacked on breakfast Pound Cake and Cookies, they hopped up to within a few feet of us waiting to take advantage of the situation. A sign on the table clearly said 'do not feed the birds' and they were so fat off seeds and tourist leavings that we didn't feel bad about denying them. They were smart suckers too, when I dropped a bit of pound cake in my lap they went scrambling around on the ground, thinking that's where it had gone.

After spending an idyllic few hours in the calm of the Cloisters we headed back into the denseness of the city, via the subway, and down to the Guggenheim. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at The Wright, a fancy restaurant right next to the museum. There I managed to fling my glasses into my food, and enjoy it a lot.

Unfortunately the Guggenheim was mostly closed, the main spiral area was inaccessible. Even though that was the main reason for visiting the Guggenheim we went ahead and got the reduced price tickets alway. We were still able to enjoy the few modern paintings they still had out, Picasso, Pissaro, Degas, etc. There was also an exhibit on Rineke Djikstra, a photographer, that I found very interesting.

All arted out again, we got on the subway once more and headed down to Fifth Avenue for a little retail therapy. I picked up some cute stuff from Uni Qlo, and we walked together through Saint Patrick's church. Then we went to Saks Fifth Avenue, but more to look at it like it were art in a museum than to buy. The dresses were all gorgeous and the sales people over eager (I wanted a pin that said 'just looking'). I wanted them all, but since I don't have the money to purchase them I don't have a reason to wear them either. Still, it was fun to admire them.

We went back to the hotel to rest a bit before heading out for our second viewing of Sleep No More. We were meeting Catherine there, whose boyfriend was stuck in Libya and therefor had some free time. Tech Support had rigged up some sticky tape and make-up foam so that when we got our masks we'd be able to wear them with our glasses.

It was just as good as the first time, though the magic of discovery had waned the confidence of moving from room to room allowed me to explore more and see more. I hung out in different areas and watched different characters, trying to get a better feel for the story. At one point I was following the Tailor around and suddenly Tech Support was there -- and the Tailor grabbed his arm and pulled him into his shop! I found a hidden shower room, and spent way too much time watching the Taxidermist wash bones and the Tailor sew a shirt.

The time passed way too fast again and before I knew it I saw the Black Masks standing ominously in the stairway -- herding us toward the bottom floor for the final scene. As I stood up top I felt someone's hands on my back. They didn't feel like Tech  Support's so I peered over my shoulder and caught a glimpse of someone short. Confused, I looked again. 

It was a nurse!

She kept her hands on me the whole time, squeezing and pressing to add to the drama. Then when it was over she led me through the hotel to the front door. I saw others being led too and we were brought to the Mandarley bar. She took my mask off and gave me a kiss on the cheek. It was so cool.

Tech Support was standing there, but we took a while to find Catherine. She'd had her own adventures, getting pulled into the Nurse Room, seeing Lady Macbeth naked multiple times and getting kissed on the neck by one of the witches. The Mandarly was busy, so we headed down the street to a bar and each went over our experiences in more depth.

I understand why people in New York go see this half a dozen times. It'd be a drain on the wallet, but I'm not sure I wouldn't just go hungry to keep doing it.

Friday, November 02, 2012

All Arted Out

We made a sluggish start for the Met, leaving later than we meant but still arriving soon after opening time. Overwhelmed and intimidated by the size of the place, we made our way to the 19th and early 20th century painting.

Compared to Moma however, the Met was calm a peaceful. We didn't have to struggle through any crowds as we went through room after room, starting with painters we didn't know, though there were a few old friends and familiar scenes.

Eventually we started hitting the familiar names: Picasso, Degas, Tanguay, Dali, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Modigliani, etc. I started my own series of modern art: "Tech Support with the Great Masters"

We broke away for a quick breakfast/lunch on the rooftop, where we got a gorgeous view of Manhattan. Going over the map we realized if we wanted a chance to see everything we were interested in we'd need to move faster and have a better game plan.

Inside we started skipping artists whose paintings didn't interest us. We went from 19th and early 20th century European painting to Modern and Contemporary Art. Having just been to Moma we saw familiar artists and paintings that were related to one another. From then we moved on to the European Paintings section, which cover paintings from the 13th to 19th century.

In the medieval section we learned about the habit people made of hiring artists to depict them in biblical scenes -- which struck me as a definite precursor to photoshopping yourself in with celebrities. There was also a painting that could also be considered a thumbnail gallery.

I thought I'd need all day at the Met, but by about 2pm, when we hit the American Wing, I found myself on overload. Most of the paintings of people or landscapes I walked by, not too interested, and only paused for Mary Cassat and Whister (both who did most of their painting in Europe anyway) and a funny painting where the artist deliberately obscured everyone's faces that I really liked.

We finished off some of the sections downstairs, catching the last of the Modern and Contemporary Art.

Even though we were at risk of being art-ed out, we then went down the street to the Frick Collection. It reminded me a lot of the Getty Museum, in that it was someone's big mansion turned into an art Gallery. The collection there was a lot smaller, we spent maybe an hour there, but they were all quality paintings worth seeing. There were more of our old friends, Degas, Turner, Goya, Tanguay and Whistler. Frick liked Rococo more than me, but I understand his desire to live with paintings that weren't too dark.

No pictures in the Frick, so I was not able to continue my series featuring Tech Support.

The Frick was like a chaser to the Met's massive meal and feeling good, we went to a nearby yarn store where I picked up another skein of souvenir yarn.

After that we headed over to Lena's work, where we played games with her friends (and I met the woman Lena claims is my doppelganger) for about 45 minutes before going to our next stop, a not-so-secret bar. This one involves through into a hotdog restaurant and into a phone booth where you make a call to get inside. Lena had made reservations so we only had to stand for a short while before going through the phone booth and into the bar itself.

Thanks to their strict policies the bar is nice and not too crowded, and we enjoyed a round of drinks together in the speak-easy atmosphere.

After that we went to a restaurant that had been recommended to all of us multiple times and gorged ourselves on Venezuelan food. We then headed up the street to hang out at Lena and Daniel's cute New York apartment for a little while before it got late and we headed back to our hotel.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Killer Squirrels and ADD Rooms


Today we took it easier. We started out late but well rested and less sore, and headed down to the Strand Bookstore which we had not made it to yesterday. Kirby found a few books (one of which he is reading as I write this). We were going to meet Lena and Daniel for lunch and had time to kill, so we had some tea at a place by the Strand and then headed down to the Financial District. 

Still with extra time we walked down to Battery Park. There, Tech Support decided to sit down for a moment. As he headed toward the bench I saw a squirrel trailing after him, but thought it was a coincidence. It wasn't, the squirrel continued after him, proceeded to get up on the bench and onto Tech Supports lap.

Certainly, it was a squirrel used to people, but Tech Support was not a people used to squirrels, so he shooed it away. Down on the ground a pigeon was hoping to get in on the action and just about got into a fight with the squirrel. At that point a sparrow swooped down and tried to pen him in on the other side and Tech Support abandoned the bench.

Escaping the overly friendly wild-life, we met up with Lena and Daniel at their office, on the 25th floor of one of the buildings in the financial district. We enjoyed a catered lunch while catching up and staring out the windows at a gorgeous view of the bay. They gave us a few tips on things to do in the area.

After that we headed back down to Battery Park and took the next ferry out to the Statue of Liberty. I'd watched Ken Burn's documentary and so turned up my nose to the audio guide, but Tech Support enjoyed it. The observation decks were all closed so we couldn't go inside, but I think I'd done that when I was ten and have no memory of it anyway.

Next we got back on the ferry and went to Ellis Island, which I hadn't done last time I was in New York. The audio tour was an unending series of rhetorical questions and requests that the listener "imagine" that they are a poor immigrant at the turn of the century. I wished they'd been more imaginative in their audio tour. However, I still enjoyed the exhibits and learning about Ellis Island.

Going on a tip from Lena we did a bit of subway hopping in order to see the abandoned City Hall Station, which involved staying on the 6 subway after it's last stop while it did the turn around. There was not a whole lot to see, mostly a glimpse of stairs and dark tile, but it was still a fun little adventure.

We went up to East Village where we sampled some bao and then gorged ourselves around the corner on delicious cookies and truffles. Buzzing with sugar we headed but uptown, were too late to do anymore shopping, but went to the Rockafeller Center to the Top of the Rock. I'm not sure why it's a rock, but we went up 67 stories and looked out at New York City at night. 

Nothing will ever out-do the Sears Tower for dizzying views that had me clutching at the wall, but neither do I need that experience again. I love seeing cities at night, and it reminded me of the time Tech Support and I looked out at Tokyo at night from the Roppongi Hills Skydeck.

It also had this funny "ADD Room" as Tech Support called it, where moving around caused the lights to do all kinds of different things. He had fun running around and claimed there was a way to "win", although the good humored guard explaining it all to us just said that it was set off by our movements.

After spending a while romantically gazing out at the city, we got cold and headed back to the hotel for an earlier night and some much needed rest.