Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I definitely have a few phobias.  Chief among them?  Flying, unfortunately.  That's a tough one for someone who enjoys travel so much.  But I have learned to cope, and my battle gear is always with me when I fly (small wine bottle on board, Enya on the iPod, noise-canceling headphones, and often something stronger for the longer flights).  I mostly manage to not let my phobias get in the way of my life. 

Bergdorf Goodman's window designer, though, you have to wonder about - he really knows phobias.  The current window displays are such a brightly colored kick to the senses that I was compelled to take pictures.  I'm not entirely sure there was a heavy emphasis on fashion here, but they're loads of fun, especially taking some time to read the signs that go with the clever displays.  Lucky for us, the window design team doesn't suffer from defenestraphobia.

Even if you have a fear of shopping (most men I know do), go see these windows.  They're probably some of the most creative store windows we'll see in New York until Barney's offers up their Christmas windows.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dancing Alfresco

It's one of the best things about New York City in the summertime - Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center.  Last night was Opening Night of the season, and it was summer in full swing, literally and figuratively.
I can't tell you how much fun it is to be a part of such a huge dance party, seeing people of all ages and abilities simply having the best time, enjoying the live big band music, and being as friendly and asking each other to dance in just the same manner as you might imagine would exist in a small town.  New York as small town - shhh, our secret! 

Last night was free admission to the dance floor because of Opening Night, but even if you don't want to buy a ticket, the dancers spill out onto Damrosch Plaza, where the speakers carry the music loudly enough to dance to or just to sit, enjoy and watch.  There's a full bar, plenty of water and a few food vendors, too.  But the main draw is the music and opportunity to dance as the sun sets.

And when it's all over, a pleasant stroll past the Lincoln Center fountain caps the end of a perfect New York summer evening.  To me, it doesn't get much better than this.
Midsummer Night Swing runs through July 16 this summer from 7:30 - 10pm.  Group dance lessons are offered before the bands begin, at 6:30pm.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sidewalk Philosophy

Sidewalk path in Central Park

I've been seeing these around Central Park from time to time.  This one was alone; at least it's all I saw on my run to the Reservoir the other day.  However, there are other times I've seen one after another of this sort of drawing consisting of motivational philosophy - and fish - along my walk, with practically a story to follow that develops along the way.  

Since this was the second time I encountered this, I figured it's no fluke (bad pun intended).  And so I did a little research and came to learn about James De La Vega.  He's quite known already as a New York street muralist.  He's executed more complex wall art in other parts of town. 

I also found interesting video of De La Vega creating sidewalk art on Fifth Avenue during the 2009  Museum Mile Festival (an annual June evening when the museums along Fifth Avenue are open late, admissions are free and the avenue becomes a pedestrian walk).  See it here.

I'll be on the lookout now for more, and I'm sure to become motivated to post what I find.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Caffeinated Weekends - Java Girl

The Upper East Side in the '60s (the streets, not the decade) is filled with large chain store franchises.  On the eastern avenues, like Second and Third, it feels more and more like a suburban shopping mall every time I go (which is not often).  That's why Java Girl, on East 66th Street between Second and First Avenues, stands out.  It describes itself, on t-shirts for sale in the store and in its online logo, as "indescribably exotic & sometimes nutty."  In other words, Java Girl really wants us to think it's a pretty odd place.  It's neither exotic or nutty for a New York coffee bar, but it's unique given its location, which is in fact relatively convenient to all the hospitals and doctors' offices located around there (Weill Cornell Medical Center and Sloan-Kettering).

And that is a nice thing.  There are exposed brick walls, little wooden tables and chairs for seating and quiet conversation for as long as you want, a selection of teas as well as coffees, and  various other food items, too.  They do a good mixed nuts, dried fruits and seeds snack bag, for example. 

What this place does best is convey "homey."  It's one-of-a-kind, and that really stands out in an area so obviously filled with the repetition of chain stores and otherwise not comfy places, like doctors' offices and hospitals.  

If you didn't know it was here, you'd just walk right by.  I'm glad I know it's there, for it makes me slightly less indifferent about the Upper East Side than I otherwise would be.  And besides, the latte's pretty good.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

High Line, Section II

This is one of the most Euro promenades in New York.  I say this because it's where the European tourists go.  This is not a scientific study, of course, but my own observation from High Line strolls I've taken.  I love to listen to the various languages - British English, German, French, Italian, and others not just in or near the EU, including Chinese and Japanese.  Outside the US, folks seem to enjoy walks and admiring architecture.  Here's a great spot for it, and now it's double its previous length.  
Sign at the bottom of one of the entrance stairways
Embedded rail in the pathway
The newer section is mostly narrower and greener.
Much narrower; traffic flows like a two-lane country road.
Doesn't this just look too perfect to be real? 
Dramatic architecture sprouting up all along the High Line
And we're high up enough to catch wall graffiti, too.
Since this new extension only opened in June, it's going to be a "thing" for a while to come so it's pretty busy up there.  It's worth the visit, though; there's nothing wrong with a slow stroll, after all.

And for hunger afterward, or before, there's always Chelsea Market if you're around the stairway entrances at the southern end.  Or, at the northern section, I just found a burger place (ala Shake Shake, without the lines out the door or the hype) called New York Burger Co.  It's right off the Highline; you can see the High Line from the open windows on Tenth Avenue and 23rd Street.  Pretty much fast food, but made to order and fresh ingredients make it feel almost virtuous.  If you bike down and back, even better.

Friday, June 24, 2011

0.04 Acre

Manhattan is small, and notwithstanding the New York Times' article today about Texans living "large" in New York, the small things about (and in) New York are often the most endearing to me.  I'm also one of those impossibly rare former Texans (though one is really never a "former" Texan, I've been told) who is greatly comforted by "small" - small apartments, small closets, small handbags, small luggage, small amounts of kitchenware, furniture and most other belongings.  Too much is too much.  And too much is overwhelming to me (except scarves - and my kids would add shoes - for some reason).  Maybe it's exactly because New York is so jam-packed that I need the calm of the small to have a few sanity moments of not feeling I have to conquer every inch of New York space all the time.

Finding Septuagesimo Uno Park, the smallest park in New York City, just by chance in the rain as I walked my soaked bike home (too chicken to ride on slick streets), was a tiny treat, just my size.

As I said, it was raining and no one was inside, but here was this imposingly tall gate, which belied the itty-bitty patch of green space behind.  So mysterious.  Yet oddly welcoming.
What was this?  I've seen pocket parks in midtown for the office workers who have no parks nearby.  I've seen perpetually locked up "community gardens" (and still haven't quite figured out the bureaucracy on that one).  But this is different.  The signs indicate it's an official New York City Park, but it's right near Riverside Park, just a block away.  Central Park is another three blocks in the other direction.  What?  Why?  The second plaque beneath the name gives a full and historical description - also here.  Beyond history, though, was calm - sheer and utter peace and remove, under and through the trees, and sandwiched like a thin slice of pastrami between two apartment buildings on West 71st Street.
Before 2000, the park was called "71st Street Plot."  Poor thing.  The current name means "71" in Latin.  So much more exotic.  It's like when you come across Paris Hilton-type dogs that carry names like "Lord Wilfred Blogstock."  Similarly, this is a name that overcompensates (or makes a joke on its small stature), but offered up a tiny surprise and didn't disappoint.

I can't wait to go back and spend some time there, with a book or my new ipad, in the sunshine.  Wonder if that park offers free wifi?  Hmmmm, bet not.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

H&H, Say It Ain't So!

Shock, sadness and dismay.  Oh, how can it be that H&H Bagels is closing on the Upper West Side?!? So quick, in fact, that the signs and awning were removed at the corner of Broadway and 80th and yet the store is still open.  But for how long?  So incomprehensible that there began a grassroots movement, yesterday, at the doorway to petition to keep this private enterprise open.  So beloved that neighbors feel they must gather there to mourn collectively the loss of a neighborhood institution that's been around since 1972.

Excuse me as my eyes tear and my mouth salivates.  To me and my kids and everyone I know who lives around here, H&H has been here FOREVER!  It's a fixture for our neighborhood like not much else.  It's the yin to Zabar's yang (though Zabar's lower-than-half price bagels didn't help, I imagine).  However, to a bagel connoisseur, the H&H Bagel, hot from the oven, no matter the price and no matter the flavor (except blueberry, which we all assumed was only there to separate the New Yorkers from everyone else) was the best of the New York best, which meant they were the best in the universe, of course.  Even New Yorkers can get a bit provincial, but we know when we're right.

Oh, the memories.  From my first visits to the neighborhood after college, no Saturday evening was complete that didn't include picking up sliced nova from Zabar's, the Sunday NY Times (always available after 9-ish from the newsstand) and fresh steaming hot H&H bagels (enough for Sunday morning one per person, plus one to share on the walk home because how could you resist?).  Yeah, all that ages me, dates me, and all that jazz.  But that's my idea of a New York memory, perhaps THE New York memory.  And with H&H gone from the Upper West Side, well, I almost may as well move to Paris, or Brooklyn.

I am not alone.  Many will write about this.  Of that I'm sure.  It's a touchstone for some reason.  Why?  Of that, I'm not sure.

OK, so there will still be H&H on 46th Street and Twelfth Avenue.  Quite frankly, so what?  It's overpriced and too far away, and they've abandoned us.  We New Yorkers might be overwhelmingly loyal to all that we perceive as worthy, and we will travel a good distance and even pay a premium for fine (and I don't necessarily mean fancy) cuisine, theater and music, but we're are also terribly spoiled and expect loyalty in return... and we're honest enough to admit it.  

Besides, they've destroyed my reality and turned it into a distant, yet oh-so-golden, memory.  And that makes me feel old.  And they must suffer for that!  

But, H&H, thanks for the memories.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Washington Square Park

After many years and much controversy surrounding its long period of closings and recontruction, including the moving of its fountain, almost all of Washington Square Park is open again (unfortunately not in time for NYU's Class of 2011 to enjoy it over the last three and a half years).
It was a beautiful sight to see the inside of the iconic Washington Square Arch lit on a lovely late-spring evening at dusk last week, framing the Empire State Building in the distance.  And for the aural senses, there was a grand piano directly underneath the arch playing for a small audience of classical music enthusiasts (he got the piano there, but couldn't manage the bench?).  
The 9.75-acre park was active and full of life that evening.  It reflected a microcosm of New York City in its diversity.  And now all spiffed up and shiny new, its visitors seemed to exude a pride I would not have expected in the park's previous incarnation.  Or it could have been the weather, the fact that school is out for summer, that it was the end of the business day, or who knows, but it was just perfect for une promenade après dîner.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

le subjonctif

So, I'm just minding my own business, trying like hell to study the French subjunctive "mood"  (not a tense, oh no).  Anyway, I get to this line in the grammar book - 
"On utilise l'indicatif après les verbes "de la tête" (penser, supposer, etc.) et le subjonctif après les verbes "du coeur" (désirer, souhaiter, craindre, etc.)."   
This basically indicates that there's a difference in how one expresses verbs "of the head" and verbs "of the heart."
Can you even imagine an English grammar teacher or book making such a distinction, with a straight face?
I just adore these little cultural differences I learn (which really aren't so little) as I torture myself with French grammar.  Makes it all worthwhile.
(Or maybe I'll just use The Subjunctivator!!  I'll definitely be Bookmarking that link.)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hats of Spring

It's a season of hats in New York City, this and every spring in the last few years (since the street fedora became trendy with the hipster set), but this spring, I notice it more for some reason.  Perhaps it's because I've got the camera out and am snapping all the hats I see.
The small fedoras have the most urban appearance to me, but the larger brim hats do a better job at sun protection...and they're just so much more varied, colorful, individual and clearly seasonal.

I have two favorite milliners (love that word, just brings you right back to "Hello, Dolly," "My Fair Lady," Ascot and the Kentucky Derby, doesn't it?).  Luckily, New York has a few very good shops.  The best have the hat designers on premises,  happy and proud to fit the customer with just the right design in just the right size.  I love the tiny boutiques of Lisa Shaub and Barbara Feinman.  Both shops are downtown (Nolita and the East Village, respectively) and both are owned and run by their amazing designers, who have helped me select mes chapeaux for every season.  As a matter of fact, when I was in Barbara Feinman earlier this spring, two tall blonds had just purchased about half the store for the Kentucky Derby; it was such fun watching them try on all those huge hats I'd love to buy but would think I'd never have any possible reason to wear.  But I do love hat shopping, maybe even more than hat wearing (they always seem to look so much better on everyone else)!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Caffeinated Weekends - Culture Espresso

This is where it all began for me, my civilized addiction to a daily dose of great latte - hot in the winter, iced in the summer, and always to-go - right over to my office, every morning on my way to work.  I would nurse it through the entire morning, at desk or in meetings, and I am sure I was known for (among many other things) having a Culture Espresso latte with me wherever I was. 
A couple of years ago, I randomly walked by and "discovered" it, its big window and large espresso machine beckoning.  Back then, it was always empty; I prayed it would not go out of business before it found its following.  It didn't (go out of business, that is) and it has (found its following, that is, big time).  They are serious about excellent espresso-making here, first and foremost.  It's probably the best I've found in Manhattan. 
Not only could I buy my caffeine fix and know that it would always be amazing, right around the corner from my office in the middle of the quality dining wasteland otherwise known as the Garment District (excuse me, The Fashion Center, as its neighborhood BID would prefer it be called).  Culture also features homemade sandwiches and, back when it first opened, they had a truly creative pastry chef churning out, on premises, the most beautiful things I wouldn't dare let myself indulge in (too much/too close).  But I loved seeing what she was making every day; if one could gain weight just by looking....  Though that pastry chef has since left and Culture now features baked items from Sullivan Street Bakery (also very good but more predictable), I did notice when I was there on a recent weekday afternoon that a huge group of patrons arrived around 3pm and started a line going out the door to buy fresh-baked, still hot, chocolate chip cookies.  They were definitely in the know, these neighborhood workers in the fashion business or whatever else - and it's quite varied - these folks are doing.  

Culture uses Intelligentsia Coffee; every espresso-based drink is a triple shot.  The sandwiches (which run out by early afternoon) are also fantastic.  I'm partial to the Chipotle Chicken, but I hear Figgy is good, too (maybe I just think the name is cute).
There is room for seating at small tables, so conversation is definitely possible,  as well as one long high table in the middle of the room.  They also have free wifi and play LPs on an actual turntable - remember those?!
For tourists (who pretty much haven't found this place except on Thanksgiving Day when the parade crowd falls in), I would advise remembering it as an excellent pit-stop on the walk between Times Square and the Empire State Building.  There it is, on 38th just off Sixth, about half way between them.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Plaza Food Hall

There is a place to eat and drink in midtown Manhattan where you will have no idea what the weather is doing outside.  Nor will you have wifi or be able to receive a cellphone signal.  But if you can deal with these barriers for an hour or two, you will be rewarded by far-better-than-adequate food, reasonable prices, a varied menu and plenty of languages in a bright and shiny room underneath The Plaza.
This is The Plaza Food Hall.  I can't say enough good things about it, for what it is.  First, it's kind of a pleasant surprise - just the fact that it exists, just where it is, and that it isn't killer expensive (mostly because of where it is)!  Second, that you can find it and that not everyone else in that neighborhood is there is a sweet treat.  (Geez, I had been at the Apple Store right before I went there most recently, around 4:30pm on a Friday - it was cheek-to-jowl, as they say (who says that anyway?), and unimaginably claustrophobic at the Apple Store, but right across Fifth Avenue, down an escalator just inside both the north and south side entrances to The Plaza, is this large  and very calm refuge of cuisine, somehow quietly unknown to the rest of the bustling crowds above.) 

For variety, it cannot be beat.  Bring the family!  Bring the out-of-towners!  Everything everyone from out of town wants to see is right nearby, as are a gazillion hotels, so all the languages are there to be heard, too.  And since all seating is at counters surrounding eight different food stations (sushi, grill, raw bar, stone oven pizza, etc.) plus a few communal counter-height tables, you can make new friends.  Above all, of course, the food is fresh and well-prepared and the ambiance is a breath of fresh air (to the extent one can have a breath of fresh air in a basement food hall).
Eggplant and spinach flatbread pizza
I was there once during the Christmas holiday, and mashed between many shopping bags were the friendliest faces and most exhausted feet from all over the world.  Being the rare New Yorker at that table, at that season, I was able to do what I enjoy so much - sharing with the group my inside scoop on great things to do in New York!  We discussed theater options, shopping, neighborhoods and other must-dos.  It's perfect for families because everyone can find something they like.  Every item from all the food stations is offered on one menu and can be ordered from any counter.  It's casual but feels special enough to be The Plaza. 

There are also take-away options, a market, a bakery and other goodies from Todd English. 

PS - important note for midtown sightseers.  The bathrooms down there are fabulous!  You never know when you're going to pop out of Central Park and need one.  Come to think of it, the Apple Store and Bergdorf's, too, but maybe that's another blog I should start.  How pathetic.