Monday, July 31, 2006

Boarded up on Charles Lane

Another view of this cobblestone West Village street here.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

End of the line, West Village

Orange Lemon Egg Canary at P.S. 122

So if there were an award for best Off-Off-Broadway performance delivered while hanging upside down and appearing to have been impaled upon a spike, it would have to go to Aubrey Dollar, who somehow managed to deliver lines pretty well while in this compromised position. I just don't see many magic shows, or I probably would've known about this "Impaled" illusion. Either way, this show managed to weave actual magic tricks, from pre-curtain through the climax, into a well-acted and well-crafted if imperfect story about three magicians and the power struggle/love triangle that ensues. A ghost of a magician's assistant provides an extra layer to the action, stepping in and out of the magicians' stage created at the center of the performance space. I really liked the set overall; it reminded me of a deconstructed vaudeville theater. The playwright was Rinne Groff, and sadly, the show closed this weekend. Oh, and Julia Stiles was in attendance at Saturday's 5pm show. She came by herself. She was greeted by one of the actresses after the play was over while waiting in the bathroom line, but it was a brief conversation. I kept waiting for her to smile at some point, but she wore something like a scowl whenever I caught a glimpse of her face.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

More power to us

So I got my ConEd combined electric and gas bill today for what is typically the peak summer period. As I started to tear it open, I attempted to guess how much it would be. I started at $100, then bumped it up to $120, imagining that I'd be a little relieved when it came in below that rather high projection. But then I saw the number, and I realized how utterly insane it's been this past month in terms of heat and the need for A/C: $131.20 for a studio apartment with one air conditioner and one fan (two at the maximum). What's your bill like this month?

Friday, July 28, 2006

An uptown night out

I know I said I wasn't going to type until next week, but I have to recommend two great uptown spots before bed. Amy and I visited the Archway in Hudson View Gardens tonight for a latish dinner. It's a really adorable place, and the food was wonderful: I had the wild mushroom ravioli; she had the baby spinach salad entree. Walking in, the place reminded me of England, what with all the British food items displayed among the shelves by the entrance, testifying to the room's former use as a commissary for the co-op complex with a Mock Tudor design that is HVG. There's room for about two dozen diners at most, and it was about half filled when we arrived. The art along the walls was also beautiful, and Amy remarked on wishing she could have one of the mixed-media canvases by Aryn Chapman. It's called "One Self," and it's actually featured on the artist's website. Then we discovered it's listed at $8,500. As a consolation, our waiter dug up one of the artist's postcards.

After dinner, Amy took me to a place she's visited a few times before, down by the Columbia med center. It's In Vino Veritas, on St. Nick near West 171st Street, and the only unfortunate thing I'd have to say about it is it faces a McDonald's. Other than that, it's a real gem. A five-piece combo was playing some really sensational Cuban music tonight, and the place was packed with people drinking wine, sipping Framboise and Stella, munching on tapas and salads, and digging in to the liqueur-laced specialty desserts. We shared a carafe of shiraz as well as the chocolate souffle topped with a touch of Grand Marnier. It's quite the popular place, as people just kept arriving, filling in every nook and cranny in the relatively small wine bar. I'd definitely go back to both places. A. and I remarked on how nice it is to have a night out where we can walk there or walk home or both, instead of having to take a taxi or the subway. And it's good to support these uptown establishments, because then they'll thrive and maybe proliferate.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Blogging break

So I have BlackBerry thumb and I don't even own one! My doctor has advised me to minimize typing, so no updates until next week. In the meantime, check out some of those links at right.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Bubble Lounge Tree Shadow

Mirror vision

Sunday afternoon, as I was getting on the 1 train, I saw a couple through a window in the subway car, their faces reflected in a full-length mirror they were transporting uptown. Eventually, a seat opened up and I was sitting beside them. They were speaking French and doing a lot of something else French. Between PDAs, they looked in the mirror that they had propped up in front of them. The train sped out into the daylight onto the 125th Street trestle. They kept looking; I thought for a moment that they were looking out at the setting sun in the mirror, but they were actually looking at their own faces, which is what you normally do with a mirror, I guess, but a part of me thought: A mirror on the subway—use it for something fun and different, like looking at the landscape in the opposite direction. He was wearing an old T-shirt that showed too much of his chest, she was wearing impossibly pointy elfin red shoes and a fair amount of eyeliner. They got off at 168th Street, he in front of her, the mirror facing out to the world.

Monday, July 24, 2006

'Tommy's got his six-string in hock'

I got in touch with my Jersey side tonight, enjoying the tailend of a beautiful day outside Hoboken's East L.A. with Caren, dining on quesadillas with funny names like the Suburban and the Agricultural and a raspberry margarita that was tasty but not quite red enough to be totally convincing. C. made sure that a daring neighborhood pigeon was well fed on our spare corn chips and that I didn't miss a single cute dog passing on Washington Street. Afterward, I got a glimpse of the famous automated robotic parking system, which is hidden behind a nabe-friendly facade, and then we headed over to partake of the 96th annual St. Ann's Italian Festival, which inevitably made me think of Scranton and their more sedate version. The Nerds, a 21-year-old (as in that's how long they've been playing together, not how old the members are) cover band, were on stage. On the setlist were such crowdpleasers as "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Sweet Child o' Mine," and "Footloose," as well as Jersey-appropriate numbers "Summer Wind" (think Frank) and "Livin' on a Prayer." We made sure C. headed home at around her expected hour to work on revisions and such for a Friday deadline, so when her next book comes out, you can thank me in part for not distracting her too much.

Oh yeah, and the Nerds are available for weddings and bar mitzvahs, but not Aug. 19th or Sept. 9th or 10th because they're already booked.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Detail from the Dorilton

171 W. 71st St. at Broadway. Beaux Arts style. Dates to 1900.

Quick picks

From my yesterday, one re-recommendation from the Upper West Side, and two nice places to drink in the Flatiron District: Land Thai Kitchen, 450 Amsterdam Ave., below 82nd St. Punch Bar and Grill, 913 Broadway, below 21st St.; jester-hat sign out front, urns of fruit-infused vodka inside, and fresh olives at the bar for sampling. Bar Jamon, 125 East 17th St., east of Irving Place; Batali's "14-stool Iberian-inspired" waiting room for Casa Mono next door; small plates in a truly elbow-to-elbow sort of wine bar.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Aroma Espresso Bar on Houston

After teasing us with its window dressing for eight months, Aroma Espresso Bar, an Israeli chain, has finally opened its U.S. flagship in the ground floor retail space of the 160 Wooster St. condos (actually at the corner of Greene and Houston streets) at the edge of Soho. It's definitely worth a visit, and Time Out claims it's open 24/7, a little detail I didn't notice last night as I stopped in for a sandwich and a lemonade. It's conveniently located diagonally across the street from the Angelika, so I can see it becoming an alternative to the film center's own cafe, which is short on fresh substantive food. Aroma, while not exactly cheap, doesn't feel so out of class with a $10.75 movie ticket, making up for the extra dollar or two with Mediterranean-influenced salads and sandwiches that are a refreshing cut above. Decent-sized half-sandwiches hover in the $4 range, and the coffee prices seemed to be on par with Starbucks. You order your food and then they line it up for you along the bar as the different components arrive. I had a delicious omelet and veggie sandwich on wheat germ bread that could not at all be confused with the egg and cheese croissant at Dunkin Donuts—though I'll admit to enjoying those on occasion, too. I'd had my fill of caffeine for the day, so I'll have to try the coffee another time.

I wish I could give as glowing of a review to Clerks II, which opened last night. It certainly had its moments, and if you have a soft spot for Kevin Smith movies, then by all means go. It just feels too slick and Hollywood to be a proper sequel to the indie flick that kicked off this auteur's career. The story is disappointing and cliche, but the non sequiturs, pop culture riffs, and silly performances are what make it worth seeing. The character of Elias, except for the end, is especially endearing in a pathetic sort of way as he utters "one ring to rule them all" with innocent awe and describes the unappreciated value of the Transformers ("they're more than meets the eye"). The "ABC" dance sequence is pretty funny, too.

Port Lincoln Center

Nancy Rubins: Big Pleasure Point [Public Art Fund]

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Worth reading

Speak, Memory: Rediscovering a young New Yorker's journal, decades later; be sure to watch the audio slide show (great Nabokov reference as well) [City Section]

New E. Vill. Thai

Wednesday dinner with Heather at Room Service, a tiny Thai place on East 12th Street, not to be confused with the more opulent Room Service Thai in Chelsea. No word on whether they're related, although I doubt it. Despite the hotel reference in the name and the room keys attached to the menus, the East Village one actually looks like the sleek cabin of a slightly outmoded (think '80s futuristic sleek) private jet, complete with wood-like paneling along the back and engine-like central-air nozzles. The decor apparently dates back at least to the time when the eatery at this location was called United Noodles (get it: U.N.), which was the name we'd been seeking. I had a dish called drunkboy noodles, which was pretty spicy for my palate, but not too bad overall. Heather got the pad thai, with chicken and shrimp; she let me taste some, and it definitely gets a thumbs-up and a try-me-again. We had peanut dumplings for starters, which just confirmed for me that Thai food is the perfect grownup cuisine for a kid like me who practically lived on PB&J sandwiches. The peanut farmers would be proud.

NY Phil follow-up

So reading the Times review of Tuesday night's Philharmonic concert, attended by some 50,000, tipped me off to a few things I missed: The woman who announced the slight shortening of the program was none other than the conductor herself, Marin Alsop. And she did actually get the third and fourth movements of Beethoven's Fifth in there under the wire. I guess I'd just been expecting to hear the second movement, and therefore assumed it was the fourth when it didn't match.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

New PSU Creamery Opening This Summer

The new Penn State Creamery retail location will be opening this summer in the new Food Sciences Building on campus. It's going to be two and a half times the size of the current hole in the wall, which has nonetheless provided countless ice-cream-covered smiles but also led to those famous lines out the door. For a sneak peak at the store under construction, click through for the video. Tip o' the hat to my sis for passing this along.
New Digs for the Creamery [PSU]

PSA: USQ Wine Tasting Promotion Ending

If you haven't tried out the Enomatic self-serve wine tasting system at the new Union Square Wines, head down there before Sunday to get your free 500- or 1000-point card. After Sunday, we learned tonight, the only way you'll be able to get one of the declining balance cards is if you actually buy some wine there. I think it's like five tasting points for each dollar spent in the store, which means an average sample of wine will come from $3 or $4 of wine purchased. The system will still be in place, but the wine just won't be flowing as freely, so to speak. I guess they've been swamped by lots of freebie seekers.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

NY Philharmonic in Central Park

Amy and I met up tonight for the mass collective flouting of the open-container law that is the free New York Philharmonic concert on the Great Lawn in Central Park. There were a few more people there than at the Staten Island performance, just a few. I stopped at Fairway and Beacon Wines to pick up rations for the evening on my way up to 81st and the park. And you know those few extra people? They all got there pretty early, so we had to stake out a spot on the edge of a baseball-diamond infield since all the foreseeable grass was occupied.

It was of course hot as blazes out there, but we ate in relative peace until the rain came, right as the show was starting. No umbrellas for many of us, but all but a few concertgoers braved the relatively light raindrops, which seemed to be pitter-pattering down to the minimalist rhythm of John Adams' The Chairman Dances. Amazingly, the rain stopped right around the conclusion of the piece. But more rain was on its way, according to a woman who announced from the stage that the next line of the front would be coming through at 9:40—"We've received word from above," she said—so the organizers were opting to skip the intermission (clap, clap, clap went the crowd) but also play only the first and final movements of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (boooo).

So the orchestra launched into Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 with Leila Josefowicz as soloist. [Nostalgic aside: Growing up, I always had a fantasy that someday I'd get to date a hot classical violinist. The idea still intrigues me. When you grow up on classical music the way I did, you start to idolize the pretty people on those glossy CD covers.] I'm not very familiar with the work, but I really liked certain passages. It requires the soloist to draw out a lot of nicely contrasting timbres from the instrument. Even at about 20 minutes, the concerto felt like it was over too quickly, like there was more to explore.

The whole time during the concerto, there was an absurdist play going on in the audience. Here we were, halfway into the program, and still there were people standing up on their blankets, talking at normal volume into their cellphones, trying to direct the remaining members of their party to their particular spot on the lawn. I mean, what's so wrong with getting there on time or otherwise accepting your lateness and watching from the periphery? And then of course there were the people who insisted on seeking out some imagined bit of open grass somewhere dead center, ignoring the extent of the crowd and the likelihood that all those people sitting on the baseball infield had already likely tried to make it to the grass but failed.

This time around the whole clapping between movements thing didn't bother me as much, as I realized: These outdoor concerts treat the orchestra much more like a rock band, and thus, lauding the philharmonic in a similar manner doesn't seem as out of place to me anymore. This was highlighted by the little roar of approval that greeted one of the most recognizable snippets of classical music known to popular culture (dun-dun-dun-duuuuh). It was like the roar you get at a pop show when the artist launches into one of their standard favorites. Finally, for the last 15 minutes of music, it seemed, everyone who was coming aboard had come aboard, the night breeze picked up a bit, and we were all enjoying the orchestra. Off in the distance, the skyscrapers glowed silently, stray balloons floated up and across the sky, and it was lovely. Despite cries from the audience (Second movement! Freebird!), the band did skip from 1 to 4, which is a pity because I just love this one progression in the Andante movement that builds to a small yet satisfying triumphal moment.

The fireworks, as you can see in the photo above, came out of the southwest corner of the park, off near concert sponsor WimeTorner's building. They were not in black and white, but the photo looks better that way. As the mass exodus from the park began, we started feeling raindrops again and seeing lightning this time. Amy and I looked at the clock: 9:48. "Above" wasn't so far off after all. Soon, the floodgates opened and squeals went up from the retreating crowd. There were no taxis to be had within moments of the deluge, so we trudged over to the subway and sogged our way uptown along with the rest of the Woodstock-ready crowd on the local.

On cheek kissing

Some college friends were in town last night, and I stayed out a bit longer than I'd planned, so I've been dragging a little bit so far today. (Luckily, I picked the right subway line heading downtown for once: i.e., the A, the one without the service malfunctions this morning.) After The Cottage but before the Irish pub with the dartboard up Amsterdam, we got on the topic of cheek/social kissing between friends and acquaintances. It's just not something you see a lot in Pennsylvania. I first encountered it as an adult among European friends in Manchester, but it's obviously pretty prevalent here in New York. So, to the questions of the day: Do you cheek kiss? Do you ever have awkward moments where the other person doesn't know you're going in for the peck, or vice versa? Have you learned to mentally divide people you know into those who do and those who don't? What settings or circles seem more prone to it? I wanna see some comments. :-)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Watch those fingers fly


Man, this guy can play the ukulele. Definitely worth some of your daily allotted YouTube time. His name is Jake Shimabukuro. The song is George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." The location is not far from Strawberry Fields in Central Park.

Franklin Street station

What I think is missing from too many subway stations around the city are attractive entranceways like this one here in Tribeca, which reminds me a bit of Paris Metro designs. From what I've seen of the proposed No. 7 train extension stops and the planned 96th Street pavilion for the 1/2/3 trains, the MTA is working gradually to rectify that. I sense a swing of the pendulum: Back in the day, there were more aboveground elements, and then they gotten eaten up by buildings or were turned into more basic stairways. Now, we realize it's kind of nice to have an aboveground reminder of where we spend so much of our time.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

I heart Heidi Blickenstaff and other deep cultural ruminations

Jaime reminds us all: [title of show] is open again for another run at the Vineyard Theatre, and if you didn't see it five million times during the first run (even if you did), and think of yourself as any percentage of a theater nerd, it behooves you to get down to East 15th Street and officially become a [tos]ser, in the best sense of the word, of course. (And, yes, the title of this post is my shameless theater crush of the moment, although I don't know whether I have the funds or wherewithal to turn it into a true obsession, the way some people* I know did with other performers and other shows.) Me, I haven't been feeling very theater-y recently. My primary source of comp'd tickets has been drier than a raisin'd grape of late, and I just haven't been feeling very free and easy with the money, so I haven't gotten around to seeing History Boys, even though I know I should, and will be happy I did. I feel like I often go on "medium kicks," where I'll throw myself deeply into one kind of art and then move onto something else. So there'll be a string of dance performances on my Playbill pile one month, and then the next month it'll be art galleries on my checklist. Lately, it's been free (with the exception of one) outdoor concerts. Getting last-minute Ani tickets was too much fun to pass up, but all the rest have been thanks to the generosity (read: advertising) of the corporate behemoths we know and love like ExAm and WimeTorner. Although I did go ahead and buy McCarren Park pool tickets for Neko Case's show later this summer. Since I've become such a fan, it's about time I saw this artist do her thing live.

*Bebe in Chicago and JCM in Hedwig come to mind.

'On Photography' at the Met

There's a great little exhibit at the Met right now that I'd say is worth paying at least $3 for. It's inspired by the photography criticism of the recently late, great Susan Sontag, and shares its title with her seminal collection of essays on the topic. The introductory image of the exhibit is an awesome B&W photo that I've never seen before of Sontag lying down on a bed. Photographs in the three rooms, culled from the museum's collection, are paired with snippets from Sontag's writing, and each one is worth spending a few moments with, something I can't always say about photography exhibits. Sometimes her words comment directly on a particular body of work, other times they are about a certain aspect of photos in general. One great quote, which is paired with that famous Diane Arbus photo of the boy with the Bomb Hanoi button and the American flag: "The subjects of Arbus's photographs are all members of the same family; the inhabitants of one, single village. Only, as it happens, the idiot village is America." Which reminds me: The Arbus biopic with Nicole Kidman, Fur, is set to come out in November now. Also included in the "On Photography" exhibit is the "Falling Soldier" print by Robert Capa, alternatively titled "Death of a Republican Solider." The accompanying Sontag quotation raises the issue of whether this photo actually depicts the shooting death of a soldier, or whether it was a training exercise. [The question is examined in this article from Aperture via PBS.] The fact I never doubted that it is what it has become known to be highlights the way photos and their titles and our prejudices affect the meaning of such images. Seeing this photo again also inspired me to pick up the cold trail of the big red missing Igael Tumarkin sculpture inspired by this falling soldier that used to sit on Penn State's UPark campus. It was removed for "repairs" in 2002, but has yet to return, and I can't seem to discover its whereabouts or status. So I did something very old-fashioned: I wrote a letter to the director of the Palmer Museum of Art, asking for an update. We'll see if she responds.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

'Letter to N.Y.' by Elizabeth Bishop

Great poem over at GK's The Writer's Almanac today. The opening lines: "In your next letter I wish you'd say / where you are going and what you are doing; / how are the plays, and after the plays / what other pleasures you're pursuing ..." (If you don't listen to this segment on public radio, it's like five minutes of daily escape back to the best lit class you can remember, but taught as if with a tall glass of lemonade sitting on a porch somewhere, all writerly curiosity, no term papers to fear.)

N.Y. Phil in Snug Harbor

I rounded out my own personal three-day music festival last night with a rare trip to Staten Island—aboard the free ferry for the first time—with H. to see the New York Philharmonic play one of their free concerts at Snug Harbor. The evening was almost perfect, no clouds, very little humidity, not too cold as darkness fell, dragonflies buzzing about, an egret or two floating by high above—which can be pronounced E-gret or e-GRet, I've now learned. The program featured Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto and Dvorak's Eighth Symphony—not the "New World" one, but still tuneful and satisfying, keyed in a major key, but filled with minor touches.

The crowd was, well, what you'd expect, lots of toddlers and babies, people who wanted to clap in the middle of the violinist's first movement cadenza, grandmotherly types who answered their cell phones and chatted in Italian for a while, mid-music. I mean, I didn't really expect any different, but it still cracks me up, and makes me wonder: Do they teach arts etiquette in school? Where do people learn that you're not supposed to clap between movements of a concerto or symphony? Where do you learn that it's perfectly OK to clap in the middle of a jazz piece, especially after a solo? And ditto for a great aria in an opera? Maybe I'm too arts-centric myself, but I feel like knowing some of these basics is part of being a good citizen, since arts attendance is a public proposition. Am I just imposing my petty bourgeois values on the situation or is this something that really should be taught somewhere along the way?

Still, the ferry ride was great, and made us proud to be taxpayers of the city of New York. (As they say, one of the only things here that actually ever went down in price.) Great head-on view of the Statue of Liberty, basking in the sun on the starboard side, as we ate our dinner from the deli, and scooted over to give some French tourists some more room. Afterward, we decided to forgo the S40 bus, and just walk back along the road that traces the top of S.I., passing areas that reminded me of Scranton a little bit, catching a glimpse of the dark minor-league baseball stadium and the island's 9/11 memorial from the promenade, before we reached the massive terminal at St. George, which feels even more like an airport than the one on the Manhattan side, what with its connections to the Staten Island Railway and buses and taxis and the ferries.

East 62nd Street rubble

The big story that everyone was talking about this week in New York was the apparently intentional gas explosion that brought down a four-story townhouse upon its sad and bitter owner, who amazingly survived. The explosion was even caught on a surveillance video. I had a doctor's appointment the other day on Park Avenue nearby, so I stopped by to snap a photo. The block was still blocked to traffic when I was there, but it's supposed to open up next week, from what I read.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A dispatch from the storied halls of olde English academia (no malt liquor involved)

I correspond occasionally with one of my favorite professors from college, who helps to keep me tethered, albeit rather effortlessly on my part, to the world of musty manuscripts and dusty books. Here then is his latest email. I've highlighted a line that I officially ordain my Aphorism of the Day. "Here I sit, in the 'junior common room' at St. Catherine's College, Oxford, typing a quick response to your email. Delay of any kind means nothing--so long as the answer at some point arrives! So don't feel any need to apologize for that. The current project (and paper) is also something for which I have high publication hopes, so keep your fingers crossed. When I have something from it that seems presentable, I'll be happy to send you a copy. (It's on Hawthorne, by the way, although--inevitably--James figures into it.)"

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Ani, unexpectedly, in Central Park

I'd written it down in my planner back when they announced the SummerStage season: "Ani ... $36 at 7pm." But then I never got around to buying tickets and the show sold out and I crossed it out of my book. I forgot about it until this afternoon when I called Amy to say hi, and she said she was going to head down to the park and see if she could get tickets anyway. So I get out of the 6 train at the Hunter College stop after work, and I have two voice messages from her: Success! Tickets from a guy selling his pair, and bargained down to only a slight premium over what we would've paid had TicketMaster's and the tax man's fees been included. So there we were under a beautiful not-too-hot New York summer evening sky, watching Ani DiFranco do her amazing thing. I'm not as devoted a fan as Amy evidently was, and I haven't kept up with every album she's put out, but ever since Little Plastic Castle, I've enjoyed her songs, and respected her lyrics and musicianship. She's currently touring with an awesome upright bass player, who adds a nice grounding to her stuff, but even when it's just her and her guitar, she soars, creating a whole host of percussive sounds and rhythms. The crowd at an Ani show, especially an outdoor one, is always a sight to be seen, but Amy remarked at how there were actually more guys on hand than she expected. A couple of times throughout the show, when Ani's singing came down to a concentrated hush, it felt like the audience was getting a little restless, but overall they were very attentive and adoring, and so many people seemed to know all the words, and sing along to prove it. As her first encore, she played a song even I know by heart: "In a coffee shop in a city ..." Something I was reminded of again tonight was how much you can tell Ani respects the lyrics to her songs; this may not sound all that unique on its face, but during almost every song, I felt—underlying her singing—an urge that we get what she's saying: whether you're standing there, mouthing all the words along with her, or hearing a fair amount of them for the first time, like me. This concern of hers, perhaps, sticks out to me so much strongly because I so often come at a pop song from its music first and its lyrics later, if at all in certain cases. To highlight her words even more, she recited a poem of hers at one point, with her guitar silent. It began with the word "Manhattan."

Brush up business in Tribeca

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

TheBurg: 'myspace'

Another episode of TheBurg (tagline: Too Hip to Be Spared) has been posted! Be sure to note the unironic use of Penn State football footage and Dave Matthews Band on the soundtrack early in the show. Choice quotes: "That poster is not funny-because-it's-not" and "I'm an actor; I try to keep it shallow."

Maude Maggart at Stuyvesant High

The free River to River Festival goodness continued this evening despite the crazy rainstorm outside. The organizers thought ahead and moved the waterfront event inside to Stuyvesant High School's theater auditorium. On the bill was up-and-coming cabaret star Maude Maggart, with pianist and jazz crooner Tony DeSare opening. The turnout was pretty impressive, but if more people knew about how great she is, I bet there wouldn't have been an empty seat in the place. How often do you get to see a top-notch cabaret artist for free?

I first heard about her on WNYC during Jonathan Schwartz's weekend-afternoon shows devoted to the American songbook. She is Fiona Apple's sister, but she also comes from a very musical family besides going back at least two generations. During her set, she told about one pair of grandparents who used to play in a swing band together—she was the singer, he was a "reed man." MM said they supposedly first met at a sheet-music store where she was singing "You Go to My Head," which would've just been out about that time. It may be just an apocryphal story, but it's a great lead-in. Her rendition literally gave me goosebumps, it was so soft and gently intoxicating (like the lyrics say), and I loved the particular way her voice rose up on the title line.

Her style and voice are best suited to darker, more melancholy numbers, ones filled with longing or memory or mystery or even devilishness (like "Pack Up Your Sins and Go to the Devil in Hades"). She said she has an affinity for early Irving Berlin and Cole Porter lyrics as well as other songs that came out during the '20s and the beginning of the Depression. She did a great medley of "42nd Street" and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (the Harry Warren one, not Green Day's). She also sang a fun version of "Alexander's Ragtime Band," and for the first time, I could decipher those lines: "They can play a bugle call / Like you never heard before, / So natural that you want to go to war."

How times have changed, said the older lady sitting next to me. She seemed to thoroughly enjoy herself throughout the show, remarking how refreshing it was to see young people play the kind of music that she likes. She also told me how much she likes living in Battery Park City, where Stuyvesant is located. She said she feels like it's an island amid an island, but warned me "not to tell everyone" for fear the "secret" would get out and things would change.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Beware the stock photo

The other day at my party Daryl gave us a strong warning about something he's learned: Never pose for a stock photograph, if you can avoid it or make a living some other way! Why? Because you never know where your face might end up. Your innocent smile could be used to hawk all manner of unseemly things. Or otherwise things you oppose. Like this woman in Brooklyn. But out of all the more famous blatant uses of stock photos, I'd have to say the most annoying one is Classmates.com (right). Who are those poor people and what did they do to deserve being in that sad, sad campaign? You know, the ones that say things like "She married him? And they have 7 kids?!??!" and the like. Whatever they were paid, it wasn't enough.

Dance dance revolution

I'm not saying I'm actually going to be there, but I found this invite pretty amusing, and hey, maybe it's your cup of tea. "Join Metropolis in Motion in an open-air dance and participatory movement event to bring attention to the antiquated and restrictive New York City cabaret laws. When: Saturday, July 22, 2006 from 2-4 PM. Where: At the corner of the Honorable Mayor Bloomberg's home ... Who: YOU! And artists, ravers, i-bankers, cheerleaders, lawyers, doctors, hip-hoppers, street performers, ballroom, swing, Irish folk and African dancers, jazz aficionados, waiters, actors, janitors, punk rockers, politicians and a slew of your fellow New Yorkers." I like how they don't forget to mention i-bankers. Perhaps they'll have more sway with the mayor?
Legalize Dancing NYC [LDNYC]

Getting their kicks on Rte. 66

My friends Kristina, Emily, and Marcia are well into their crosscountry road trip as E & M officially move to L.A. They're doing their best to update along the way. Their trip blog's called PA Chicks on Route 66. Check back for updates!

This comes highly recommended

I have a confession to make: I've now been to three out of three restaurants recommended by one of my more recent friends here in the city, and have loved every one of them. Tonight? It was 7A. (I had the chicken stir fry with brown rice from the "24hr menu"—it absolutely hit the spot!) You can just go ahead and guess the intersection where this place is located. (Hint: It's in the East Village.) So yes, if you are out there reading this, and I think there's a chance you might be, then I admit it: You have wonderful taste in restaurants. It's not that I don't try out places on my own, without being recommended to them by someone. It's just that I've had such good luck with places that people in general suggest to me that I pounce upon any good notice I hear. It may just be that long-ago bit of advice passed along to me—back before I'd fallen in love with New York, before I even imagined myself living here—from a New Yorker at the time, now living in Europe. She said there are thousands of places to eat here in the city, and not all of them are good, so it's best to keep an ear out for the ones that are worth your money and time, so you won't waste too much on the bad ones. The other good thing about taking recommendations from people is that you can start to associate eateries with people. The person who first introduced you to a place. The person with whom you first shared some place. The people you're with when you're the one doing the introduction. And I'm not saying it's a one-way street. I get as much pleasure out of sharing my favorite restaurants with others as I do upon discovering new ones. I sometimes mention places around Hudson Heights, Washington Heights and Inwood that I enjoy. Perhaps it's time I typed out the contents of a little black book I keep with the names and locations of my favorite places in other neighborhoods, too.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Free beer tomorrow (or next week)

OK, so I have a proposal. I have way more alcohol in my apartment than I will be able to drink alone before it starts getting old. So, if someone would like to invite me to their party, I will gladly supply 24 bottles of beer (Blue Moon, Heineken, Yuengling, Corona Light, and Woodchuck) as well as one bottle of Tanqueray gin and two to three bottles of wine. Free! Please be close to a subway line, and please have the party in the next few weeks. Depending on how long it is from now, and how many nights in I happen to have between now and then, the actual alcohol on offer may dwindle, but probably not by much. Also, it would be nice if I know you in real life, or you can otherwise prove to me that you're worth knowing and sharing some drinks with. E-mail me.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Around the digital hearth

Several friends, new and old, joined me for a little get-together last night, nicely filling the modest nook of living space I've carved out of my main room. I was really interested to discover that most people chose to drink wine over beer or cocktails. Luckily, I bought enough of each to go around, not knowing everyone's preferences, or at least the preferences of those who showed up. But I'm glad I decided against that last six pack of beer from FreshDirect, since I now have 24 bottles of beer left over in my fridge. So if anyone wants to come over and help me drink the remains, you're more than welcome. Attendees with a website included Daryl, Chris (and Cheryl), and TAB (and "Bunny"). Thanks also to Amy for helping to get the party started, and of course Heather for helping to set everything up so beautifully.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Starchitect sighting

I took a walk through Tribeca after work Friday. There was a whole lot of it that was new to me. My strolls uptown usually take me along Broadway or closer to the river, but this time I split the difference and was rewarded with many fresh sights. Lots of glamorous-looking people out and about in one of Manhattan's richest nabes.

On the way, I saw neighborhood resident Daniel Libeskind and his wife walking out of Bouley Bakery on West Broadway, several bags in hand. In honor of this sighting, I give you a three-year-old rendering of what might've been at the WTC site. Yes, the positioning of the buildings is basically the same, but little about the old Freedom Tower design remains, except of course for the 1,776 feet and the presence of a spire at the top. But Danny's tower would've looked a lot more like the Statue of Liberty than Davie's will, even though they continue to insist on drawing the same comparison.

Soho Grand Lawn

Friday, July 07, 2006

California, here I come

Yeah, it's cheesy, but Phantom Planet's been playing on a loop in my head all day. Why? Because I bought the plane tickets! I'm officially flying out to California for a nine-day trip later this summer. No longer, when asked how far west I've been, will I have to answer Pittsburgh or Niagara Falls. So I'm looking for suggestions. I have about 3 days in San Francisco, 1 in the Napa Valley, 2 along the coast, and 3 in Los Angeles. I know this isn't very much, but what're some highlights I shouldn't miss? Already on my list: the Hearst Castle at San Simeon, plus the Getty Center and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. (Yes, I realize I'm being an archi-tourist.)

1964-5 New York World's Fair


I've been fascinated by the New York World's Fairs for a while now, so it was great to happen upon this present day video narrated by Bill Moyers with archival footage of the one in '64-'65, juxtaposed at the end with the skeletal remnants that remain in Flushing Meadows Park.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Belle & Sebastian, Trinity Place, Polly Peachum

I saw Belle & Sebastian live for the first time yesterday with N. in Battery Park. Turns out I really lucked out in not having to brave the Starbucks ticket distribution fiasco. Sometimes it pays to be on the corporate email lists. Martha Wainwright opened under dry skies, but the rain arrived shortly afterward. Luckily, the lightning held off, and they didn't have to clear the lawn, so we just waited it out under an umbrella. The storm passed, and B&S got to perform a great, long set. The sun even returned for the second half. I recognized about two-thirds of the songs. One of my favorites of their new album, The Life Pursuit, is "Funny Little Frog." I love how Stuart rhymes "thro-at" with "know it." They did not, however, play "Step Into My Office, Baby." I'd actually been trying to remember the title of this song, when a guy with a slightly funny sounding scream somewhere in the audience shouted it out in request. He kept requesting it throughout the show, to the laughter of many around him, but B&S, alas, did not oblige—or couldn't hear him to begin with. Stuart and the band had a great banter going between each song, which included nods to the fact that they were a band from the "old country" playing on our Independence Day. Afterward, we decamped to Trinity Place, one of the best bars in the Financial District, overlooking Liberty Plaza/Zuccotti Park for a couple of rounds of Guinness. It was supposed to be the afterparty for the concert, but only one of the band members showed up, and later told N. that they were actually going to be at a bar in Brooklyn. The clock struck nine, and we headed out and caught a glimpse or two of the fireworks. We toyed with the idea of taking the Staten Island Ferry, just for fun, there and back, but the spontaneity of the moment (and our buzz) ebbed a little when we realized it wasn't going to be there for another 20 minutes. (What would Edna St. Vincent Millay say?) On my way home, this woman and I were both running for the same cab. I said she could have it, but she offered to share, which turned out to be a fun New York moment that reminded me of the transit strike last year. Turns out she was an actress, soon to be appearing in a Fringe Festival show, Imminent, Indeed (or Polly Peachum's Peculiar Penchant for Plosives), based on A Beggar's Opera.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Noisy? Not here

It came as a little bit of surprise to know that the combined neighborhoods of Washington Heights and Inwood, which make up CB12, accounted for the most 311 noise complaints in the past 12 months or so. Why? Because I've rarely ever in my 2+ years here had the urge to complain about noise issues. This may of course have to do with where specifically I live: on an avenue in the Hudson Heights section that is considerably more quiet than, say, Broadway or 181st Street. But I also have to wonder whether more noise complaints are registered because people above 155th Street generally expect their neighborhood to be quieter in general, and therefore the threshold is lower. If you live in an area where there is more continuous noise from traffic, maybe it takes more of a disruption to make you pick up the phone.

Monday, July 03, 2006

USQ Wines

There's a funky new way to sample wine down at the new location of Union Square Wines & Spirits, Fourth Avenue and 13th Street, on the opposite corner of the block from the Virgin Megastore. It's called the Enomatic wine serving system, and it's basically like having a perpetual self-serve wine tasting. If a woman behind the counter is to be believed, it's the only one in the Northeast. You sign up for a free card with a microchip, and then you're free to sample any of the wines that are on offer at the three tasting machines around the store—typically two for reds, and one for whites and roses. For each 15 milliliter sample of wine, you give up anywhere from 10 to 40 points on your card. You add points to the card by either visiting the store each month or actually buying some wine. It would probably be a fun prelude to an evening out somewhere in the neighborhood. Of course, any tasting is only as good as the wines on offer, and when B. and I visited recently, we weren't blown away by the samples. I went back this evening, and had a little more luck. There was one really tasty Rhone rose from Chateau Guiot [4th down here], which I decided to buy. Much to my chagrin, I later realized I'd purchased another bottle of the same wine I had at home—but hadn't tasted yet. At least now I know I have two bottles of a decent wine for the drinking.

'It's one amazing ketchup-delivery device, from farm to plant to packet to truck to McDonald's to French fry to mouth.'

Hank Stuever riffs on the strange relationship we as Americans have with our 50-year-old interstate system. "The argument might be that the interstates are so soulless that they don't inspire anything like art."