Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Greenwich Village’

Hooray for the weekend! Is it really? Every day here has felt a little bit like a weekend and now it’s here for real. A quick pit stop at my 108th corner deli for tea, WiFi and fruit and I’m city bound.

Top Of The Rock is the name given to the observation desk atop the 80 year old Rockefeller centre on 5th Avenue. It is one of the tallest buildings in Manhattan at 70 floors and it is accredited with the best views over Central Park and Midtown. Nowadays it is best known to the average American because Saturday Night Live is filmed there. The lift journey takes 43 seconds and there is a light and sound show on the way that leaves me recoiling with flashbacks to Hollister (see yesterdays blog entry).

View north - Central Park

View north - Central Park

View south - midtown

View south - midtown

The views are commanding even with todays slight haze. It is a worthwhile trip but if I’m feeling a little underwhelmed it is because you are so high that it all seems unreal. Nothing is close enough to allow you to feel vertigo.

Bottom on the Top Of The Rock

Bottom on the Top Of The Rock

It’s the same “show” on the lift down which is a pity because it is begging for a Monty Burns voiceover: “Smithers, release the hounds. Throw these peasants off my property”. It does leave me with that churn them in, throw them out feeling although really they are just being efficient and everybody makes you feel welcome.

Fifth Avenue is closed to traffic for a street market and it’s unclear whether some thing is being celebrated or whether they do this every Saturday. It provides a pleasant enough stroll south if you don’t mind the developing sensation of walking through a cartoon chase sequence. It’s the same dozen stalls repeated ad-nauseam on each block.

Lunch in the cool green oasis of Bryant Park is regenerative. It provides a soothing contrast to the surrounding monolithic madness that can’t fail to capture your heart. Sure, you can still hear the traffic horns but you can also hear birds and the sound of water flowing from the park fountain. A carousel takes kids for a ride. Men play boules beneath the shade of the trees. It’s a magnet for anyone wanting to escape it all and prams, picnic rugs and newspapers set the tone here.

Lovely Bryant Park

Lovely Bryant Park

The park hosts numerous events throughout the year including outdoor cinema and fashion shows. I almost sit in a free chair next to a chain smoking middle aged woman. This would have been a mistake. The next guy comes along and sits there only to be subjected to her life story including tales of her monsterous husband, a guy I increasingly like the sound of. This is the time for that legendary NY rudeness. “Look lady, quit your jibber jabber. I couldn’t care less.” – is what I want to hear the guy say. Truthfully you can’t feel snappy in a place like this.

Relaxing in Bryant Park

Relaxing in Bryant Park

I’m leaving when I see a guy with a laptop and I ask them if there is wireless connectivity in the park. “Sure, I sometimes work from here”. Now that makes me jealous!

One hop to Union Square where by chance there is another market – a more organic affair than on 5th with produce for sale. It’s a smaller space than Bryant Park and there is less only a thin strip of threadbare grass but it’s a people magnet all the same. There’s a queue in the NE corner snaking into the newly opened Nordstrom outlet that’s been hyped on local TV this week. They sell branded items at discount prices – presumably end of ranges, awkward sizes and the clothes the designers regret cobbling together at the end of a long day when they weren’t really concentrating. Being English I am conditioned to join the queue.

Feeling a little edgy. Tired? Dietary pay back? It’s crowded everywhere, there are slow people in my way and I would like to be rude to them but can’t bring myself to do this. Time for a change of scene.

Earlier this week I visited the Skyscraper Museum in Battery Park only to discover it was closed so I’m headed back now. It’s a C-list museum – small and inexpensive – so I don’t want to be too critical but it’s disappointing that it lacks narrative and engagement. You want to know the progressive history of high rise locally and globally, get insights into the iconic buildings, learn about the construction techniques and understand the cultural aspects of these mini-cities. A third of the display relates to buildings primarily based around Wall Street up to the mid 1900’s when the conurbation was growing and while this sets a social backdrop regarding conurbation growth and the drivers for supporting an increase in population density this isn’t really central to Skyscrapers, plus much of the material is dry and disjointed.

There are then some dated models and information panels regarding high-rise and skyscrapers which are more engaging but again it’s as if somebody has thrown together a bunch of material without any thought to structure or presentation. It’s still worth a visit if you are in the area and you do leave with a little more knowledge but it feels like an opportunity missed and this is clearly down to funding, plus the competition from a million and one other attractions here.

Battery Park outside Skyscraper Museum

Battery Park outside Skyscraper Museum

It is my last night, volcanic ash depending, and I can’t possible leave without visiting McSorleys. When I walked by one afternoon this week and looked through the window it was almost deserted but now it is packed. I ask the bar dude if it’s always like this in the evening and he says it’s relatively quiet. They serve just 2 types of beer – light & dark. It’s $5 for either and you get served 2 half pint glasses of ale with a liberal element of froth. CAMRA wouldn’t stand for that.

Tim and bar dude at McSorleys

Tim and bar dude at McSorleys

The dark ale is really fine stuff. This iconic pub has what amounts to a long and influential history in this city and I’m not going to attempt to do it justice here but if you google it there is a mountain of interesting information out there.

The street outside is closed for what turns out to be the 36th Ukranian Festival. I know this because a lady tells me her daughter is presently dancing on-stage. It’s a whole lot of community spirited fun with stalls selling wooden eggs, folk CDs and religious ephemera for the older generation – and there’s McSorleys for those a bit younger. I’m exaggerating a little. There’s a real sense of pride and tradition that spans all age groups – a glimpse of nostalgia for those who perhaps remember their former home and those who have just been told about it.

Ukraine folk dancing

Ukraine folk dancing

Now I’m confused. A guy is knocking out Robbie Williams “Let me entertain you” in Ukranian. There’s a girls duet that resemble the less hirsute members of ABBA but sound like the Venga Boys. It has all gone a bit Eurovision after a solid folky start to the music.

Ukranian ABBA

Ukranian ABBA

Hungry, but not in the mood for sauerkraut and dumplings. The away walk takes me back into Greenwich Village. I meet an interesting 60+ year old artist cum Forest Gump character called Rico Fonseca who tells me about his travels and bemoans that in 1965 he was kicked out of the UK when he tried to visit. He has many tales to tell and I’m sure he does tell them many times, with more than a dash of fiction most probaby.

Oh bugger, I’m back in my now-regular MacDougal street basement bar a couple of blocks away. How did that happen? I explain to Maria behind the bar that I’m not stalking her but I like the bar and I was genuinely in the area. She is a great ambassador for New York City. She hails from Russia, looks Asian, has a Spanish name and a native New York accent. We need more like her, if only to confuse the BNP.

Once again the bar delivers. Manhattanite Liz and best friend Eileen from New Jersey are funny and insightful company. Liz likes Mighty Boosh is overjoyed to find somebody else who has heard of them or understands them.

Liz, Eileen and seedy guy

Liz, Eileen and seedy guy

Then in a truly surreal turn of events a promotional guy (this time nicotine) tells me he spent 3 years living in Nottingham and used to work at the Old Salutation Inn and World Service restaurant – the former 50 yards from where I work and the latter physically adjoining my office. This bar has mystic powers.

Something has been bothering me this week. I couldn’t put my finger on it but now I might have it. People are so damn “nice”. I’m not complaining. I have met some wonderful genuine people (in this bar for instance), but where is the dissent? Where is the rebellious attitude? There is plenty of graffiti in the gents here for instance and much of it is amusing but none of it stems from reaction.

American Grafitti

American Grafitti

There is little inarticulate (or articulate) rage or mindless vandalism on display here or many places I have been. Look, I’m not trying to get knifed or share a needle with anybody but I would feel more secure if I felt a bit more insecure. I want to know that young people in a University district in a non-republican city are not swallowing what the media and society constantly ram down their throats. I get the feeling that many students here have had it all lined up for them – the career path, job at the end of it, social groups and expectations. After a few drinks when people are out talking in groups there is no shortage of insincerity on show on the streets. People should be talking about music, criticising local or world authorities, but there’s an awful lot of social posturing going on – carefully chosen words and manipulation of self image. Maybe that’s just how it looks here and now but I can only say what I see.

On the plus side the subway smells of piss. I congratulate the (presumably) gentleman who got away (or not) with this act in a busy public place. To further restore my faith in human nature the D-train serves up a girl with pierced everything, luminous green and black outfit plus six inch (I’m serious) platform shoes. She doesn’t care what the world thinks and so the balance of things is restored a little.

Read Full Post »

The sun returns. I have to pop my head outside to gauge the temperature because the repeating weather forecast on the NY1 channel quotes in Fahrenheit and I’m used to Celcius now. It has been a roller coaster of weather extremes this week and the confusion is evident on the street with some people in shorts, T-shirts and sandals while others are wrapped up in a couple of layers beneath fleece jackets. The former are in the know.

Williamsburg has been recommended to me. This laid back suburb of Brooklyn is the best part of an hours journey from the comfort of my Upper West Side hotel room, including a bridge crossing of the East River. Upon arrival I am greeted by wafts of pot from a guy walking by and that sets an appropriate tone for this middle class area. Things have a naturally slow pace here. People amble. The streets are generally narrow and residential with the townhouses generally 3 or 4 floors high – an antidote to the vertiginous silhouette of Manhattan.

Archetypal Williamsburg street

Archetypal Williamsburg street

First things first. I can’t continue this weeks consumptive catalogue of chaos, culminating on the Katz-tastrophe of yesterday. My digestive tract has filed for a restraining order against my mouth so I’m going to stick to recognised meal times and food groups starting with fruit and orange juice for breakfast.

A moving service just for Top Hats? That's posh!

A moving service just for Top Hats? That's posh!

Williamsburg is indeed a good recommendation (thanks Sarah). Life is centred around Bedford Street where cafes, book shops and boutiques line the way. People stop and talk on the street and it is obvious why folk want to live here. A detour to the East River provides a marvellous view of Manhattan that must add a significant premium to apartments in the new 20 storey development at the waters edge.

View from Williamsburg shoreline

View from Williamsburg shoreline

Local signage indicates that this is the site of a large former sugar warehouse. The Brooklyn Brewery is situated a couple of blocks north and they would presumably have been a major customer.

The G line south leads me to Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). It is a geographical oddity sitting as it does hidden in the dominating shadow of the imposing blue and white iron Manhattan bridge. Yet again this is another small distinct district, attracting edgy art galleries and small businesses to its warren of old industrial cobbled streets.

Ghosts of times past in Dumbo

Ghosts of times past in Dumbo

The galleries are so hip and informal you don’t always realise you are in them. I wondered into one ground floor warehouse unit to discover it wasn’t a gallery at all but a business meeting for The Economist. Business imitating art?

Dumbo - there's life in the shadows

Dumbo - there's life in the shadows

The small but fabulous Brooklyn Bridge Park offers uninterrupted views across to Manhattan with Manhattan Bridge to the right and Brooklyn Bridge to the left.

Manhattan Bridge

Manhattan Bridge

American steel

American steel

To fully appreciate the latter I reluctantly polished off a sublime ice cream courtesy of the Brooklyn Ice Cream Company who were shifting cones and tubs as fact as they could milk the cows on this sunny day.

What view? It's all about the ice cream.

What view? It's all about the ice cream.

The walk back across Brooklyn Bridge is mandatory and also packed. It’s not just tourists – far from it. Many commuters use the bridge and in the current rush hour who can blame them. Most of them appear to be yattering on blue tooth headsets, whether pedestrian, on bike or (yes) skateboard.

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

Back on Terra Firma there’s a crowd of people watching a collective of awesome street dancers bringing Michael Jacksons moves back to life, plus a few more he could never pull off. These guys are hugely talented and deserve all the money they collect from their appreciative audience.

Jacko could never do this

Jacko could never do this

That’s not the end of the street entertainment in these parts. I chance upon chess alley next to City Hall. Mostly old guys pit their considerable wits against each other and all-comers oblivious to the people striding by or the fearless squirrels that dodge between them.

Guys pulling off different kinds of moves

Guys pulling off different kinds of moves

It’s 6:30pm and I am desperate for a beer. Uncertain where to go in this part of town the subway to Greenwich Village beckons and it’s back to Douglas Street – the apparent epicentre of student boozing. The heaving “Off The Wall” delivers only promises of being served and after 5 minutes of inaction I’m back in Tuesday nights basement bar across the street for relative solitude and service. Unlike last time I refuse to be dragged into an all-nighter.

And – I’ve just been bought a pint by a very attractive Columbian girl. I just can’t help it. Technically she is handing out beers for a brewery promotion, and the beer is Bud Light (!) but deep down I know she can’t resist my Hugh Lawriesque English charms. We have a good old chat about the forthcoming world cup and she informs me that her country are shit now and she will be supporting Brazil. As for the Bud Light – well if it wasn’t free… she was almost apologetic in offering it when she realised I was English as she assumed I just wouldn’t lower myself to it. Turns out I am shallower than I appear.

Bud Light. Has it come to this?

Bud Light. Has it come to this?

My intentions of a Chinatown meal are being hampered by navigational problems. The problem in this town is that every intersection consists of two street names but how can you tell whether you are crossing to the North or the South? Two girls carrying a large poster promoting a Karaoke bar rested on a long pole suggest I stay in the area. I’m less inclined to ask why then to ask what they intend to do with the pole.

A long queue at Joes Pizza combined with the glowing reviews posted outside persuade me to find out whether the hype is true. It is very good pizza though I would doubt its “best in the city” claims. There’s a picture of Upper West Side resident Ben Affleck with the owner and he is quoted as saying it’s the only pizza place he will go to. Right.

Slices are a reasonable $3 each but a police officer next to me pays $6 for three whole pizzas. I’m not arguing. Attempts at conversation don’t really work – the NYPD have to hand in any sense of humour when they accept the badge but at least I avoid incarceration. That might not have happened a few years ago. I’m not joking – their record for social injustice is legendary but they are trying to tackle it. In a final “slice” of entertainment for the evening a lady introduces a “friend” to her husband on the sidewalk outside with world record levels of insincerity. She might as well have told hubby out loud “this is the bitch from work I’m always sticking the knife into when I get home”. I love it!

Not enough variety today? Want to know just that little bit more about the NY psyche? Here’s what I read about in a local magazine on the subway home – ladies you know you will all be doing this in 6 months time!

Read Full Post »

Breakfast tea at Amrita on a cloudy but dry morning. There’s a young bohemian mum sat opposite feeding her two little impossibly sweet pony-tailed girls sat in plastic seats atop the table. It’s that kind of place.

The subway to aptly named South Ferry at the southern tip of Manhattan takes 30 minutes including a change at Columbus Circle and usefully brings you out at the Staten Island ferry terminal.

Ferry terminal - but where to?

Ferry terminal - but where to?

This free service provides a vital link to locals seeing as there is no bridge linking the two islands. The service runs every 30 minutes and with the rush hour over most of the passengers are tourists who like me line the outer decks straining for photos of the Statue Of Liberty.

The green lady

The green lady

Tim's all at sea

Tim's all at sea

The island itself has little to detain me today. Apparently there are miles of walking paths you can take around the island but that’s not on my agenda and after a brief encounter with the local pizza (which is different here but oh so scoffable) I’m back on the return leg which is a tortuous affair thanks to the sodding clown who has a captive audience for his loud unfunny balloon routine. I really hate clowns. A catastrophic ferry mishap today is something to be hoped for and I imagine the saturation news coverage “Cursed Staten Island ferry in another accident. One clown fatality”. Or maybe there’s a sequel here to Snakes On A Plane called “Clowns On A Boat”. Yes, I think that’s a go’er.

Next to the skyscaper museum which it turns out is closed today. Will try and return another day. The number 20 bus to Tribeca isn’t a long journey but it is informative as the driver fills me in on all the construction work going on at the World Trade Centre site. I’m his only passenger so he generously assumes the role of tour guide.

World Trade Centre site

World Trade Centre site

I’m a little underwhelmed by Tribeca (Triangle Below Canal Street). There’s a lot of transitional building work going on and the streets are very quiet. The area is typified by huge great warehouse buildings converted into stores and apartments. I’m guessing it’s an area you have to catch at the right time. Only last week it would have been different with the Tribeca film festival in full flow but today it feels like the morning after the party.

Typical Tribeca street

Typical Tribeca street

TriBeCa life

TriBeCa life

A short bus hop north up Hudson Ave brings me to leafy Greenwich Village.

Greenwich Village

Greenwich Village

This is another affluent residential area with some great independent retailers and retro/vintage stores. I’m lured into a coffee shop for one of their famous honey cakes. Pizza, cake; here we go again. I wonder whether I can prebook a defibrillator for my arrival at Heathrow on Monday.

Mmmm - Honey Cake

Mmmm - Honey Cake

The clothes shops draw me in and in one of them a farcical set piece ensues with me, a Jamaican customer and two shop attendants whereby we tried on a rack full of soccer zip-tops that never quite fitted and turned out to be ladies sizes. It was absurd, very funny and left me with one of those “what just happened?” feelings as I left the shop empty handed.

As I close in on Washington Arch it becomes apparent that it is graduation day at adjacent New York University.

Graduate graduating

Graduate graduating

A block along and the street is thronging with purple clad grads making a big day of the big day.

Grad alley

Grad alley

There’s a party atmosphere and it should be a fun filled evening. That can only mean beer – something I have largely been deprived of this week – so I seat myself in a basement dive bar on Douglas Street for a pint of lovely Belgian style Blue Moon ale served with a slice of orange. In no time I’m in conversation with a young journalist who is living in Brooklyn but hails from Wisconsin. Dave is a seriously interesting and engaging guy and it’s great to chew the fat with him on anything and everything as the drinks continue to arrive over the rest of the evening. In a freak incident it turns out that we are sitting next to a guy Dave knows from Wisconsin and hasn’t seen since school. Imagine bumping into somebody you used to be mates with in a place 1000 miles from home and you get the sense of the improbability we are talking about.

It’s gone midnight when Dave has to leave (work tomorrow). I have lost count of the pints and seem to have missed out on an evening meal. There are some universal truths and the post-drinking kebab is one of them. It’s raining now as predicted and with the subway service wound down to the basics at this hour I’m not back to base until 1:30am and I can’t help feeling there’s a hangover in the offing. Regrets? There will be none.

Read Full Post »