New York, NY
Wednesday, October 10th, 2007 http://adamkhan.net/rambles/this-trips-last-day
n this final day in New York — Tuesday, having arrived late Friday night — the intent was to awaken early and go rollerblading at sunrise in Central Park, but a) we stayed up talking until 5am the night before and I didn’t get up until 10am, and b) for the first time the weather was overcast. So with surprisingly few self-castigations about the late rising — what beats talking ‘till 5 anyway? — Central Park was cut from the plans.
At the local Starbucks the usual bevy of people sat outside on the concrete chairs enjoying the scene. This time I did not sit inside and glare at the computer screen for hours but took my coffee away, heading to the subway station on 59th and Lexington Ave along 61st St, past the attractive brownstone houses and the “Renanim” Jewish day care center, where my idle thought was, hmm, I wonder if Irit could get a job there.
The first stop was a haircut. Sunday evening I’d asked Gilad if he had a barber he could recommend and he told me about Sal at Astor Place Haircutters. Famous place. Yesterday Matt corroborated that for me at lunch, saying it’s just across the road from his house, and since Gilad and Matt don’t know each other, that was good enough for me: a famous haircutters, an attraction even. So I rode the 4 line subway downtown to Union Square and then walked the short way south to Astor Place, the area coming back to me as a place I’d explored, wanting to get to know, in a mostly lonely kind of way, back when I lived in New York in ’95/‘96.
Elegant Mosaics in the Subway for Goodness’ Sake
Sunday, October 7th, 2007; Manhattan, New York City, New York
What a dungeon! You go downstairs to this somewhat vast basement with absolutely no niceties of furnishing, but about 30 ancient hairdressing spots, each covered in a collage of newspaper and magazine cuttings of hair styles. The man at the reception desk had hairplugs. I asked for Sal, had to ask a second time, and the fellow told me he’s not there. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. I was directed over to Jose, a strong-looking middle-aged man with glasses and thick slicked-back hair, and rather quickly the job was done.
Then I walked back up to Union Square in the slight drizzle and took the N train to Brooklyn. It’s quite a long ride and boasts a magnificent crossing of Manhattan Bridge, yet it’s only a couple of stops. I came out the station, chosen because it seemed to be a hub in Brooklyn and therefore central, and there, right next to the station, hallelujah, a Muslim essential oils shop! They’re usually in clusters so I thought to look around a bit first, but I also had more things to do in the day before catching my flight, so didn’t want to rabbit-hole. I bought some and refused others — his frankincense and myrrh smelled like nothing I was familiar with, though a couple of exotic Arabian ones I’ve never smelled took my fancy.
Around the corner there were indeed more such shops, and I rounded out my purchases there. Then I began the plan I’d formulated on the way across: I’d walk back across Manhattan Bridge to Chinatown for my next mission. In the end it was all much closer than it seemed on the subway, the loud clatter and speeding walls making it seem like you’re traveling for miles and miles.
I walked up Flatbush Ave., a name evocative to me from Stan Lee’s references to it in various Marvel comics. It leads straight to Manhattan Bridge. At the foot of the bridge lies a McDonald’s, its surroundings having that wispy urban tumbleweed feel of Black Ghetto, and I headed in there for a fish sandwich. It was chock-full of African-American schoolkids, with a hubbub unlubricated by alcohol, and schoolgirls both very thin and very fat. A girl dropped something and I picked it up for her. She didn’t know what to say. I get the feeling they avoid looking at White people’s faces for fear of the blank desolation they see therein.
I found a spot at the end of the bridge to munch on my delicious hot filet o’ fish — how emblematic of USA trips has that fastfood product has become to me — and then found the pedestrian entrance and began my walk across. Only about half a dozen people crossed me coming the other way. New Yorkers are, after all, Americans, and even if they do walk more than any of their fellow countrymen, they still tend to avoid excessive walking when they can. I wouldn’t be surprised if half the people I crossed on the bridge were Englishmen.
What a lovely spectacle. It’s a much longer walk than crossing the Thames, and the ocean lies beyond that bay, and the fabled Statue of Liberty is quite visible. Men and a woman were working on one spot of the bridge.
New York (Bionic) Eye
Tuesday, October 9th, 2007; Manhattan, New York City, New York
And at the end of the bridge, there we were, right at the beginning of Canal Street, my next destination. I’d been singing the praises to Simon of my new bamboo steamers for cooking vegetables, and decided I’d get him a set as his wee pressie this visit. But first I wanted some lunch. The fishburger was a stopgap — no chips, no drink — because I hadn’t eaten anything yet today and didn’t want any pangs or irritability whilst walking the bridge.
Living on the Island
Tuesday, October 9th, 2007; Manhattan, New York City, New York
I knew what I wanted: now to find it. I walked west along Canal St, very content to have gained the faith to moderate and time my travel ambitions; for when I came by this street in 2004 coming from Long Island then Brooklyn on my cross-country drive, I did not even stop the car and get out onto Manhattan soil before heading on to New Jersey and the continent. I knew I’d be back again to focus on the city, and here I was, indeed for a second time within three months. I passed a supermarket that would probably stock the bamboo steamers, then kept on, looking for some street vendors from which to have a variety of things for lunch. But there were none. It was about 3pm — perhaps too late. I turned back and saw what I was looking for: a cheap functional restaurant with red baked ducks and chicken hanging in the window.
I braved the entrance. To the left was the bakery selling various savoury dumplings. To the right, the counter to order food. Straight ahead, functional tables and chairs. I hesitated at the entrance and they sat me down, regular restaurant style, albeit to share a table with another solitary gentleman, who didn’t even look up from his rice shovelling. I perused the menu, debating whether to take half a duck ($9) or one leg ($3.50). The side of vegetables was $7. That’s all I wanted, but the vegetables seemed expensive. The duck was cheaper because they’ve got them ready made, whereas the veg was from their a la carte menu. I was brought a glass of brown green tea. The waiter was amenable to my request for half a plate of vegetables: $4, he said. Fine. And I took the leg only.
And it came and the duck was just as I had hoped: rich and fabulous. The vegetables were cooked nicely but smothered in a sauce a bit too flavored and MSG’d for my liking — plain would have been just fine. But the duck. I knew it could be this way. And for just £1.70! Gotta love Chinatown. This was the real McCoy and I’d like to think I’ll have the opportunity to return often.
Then it was to the market, #200 Canal St, and there downstairs were the bamboo steamers, $9.95 the set. I also bought some dragon balls green tea, rather expensive but still half the price of England.
And that was it, time to go. No museums, no culture vulturism, no revisit to the Guggenheim, no awe at the Museum of Natural History, no MOMA, no Met, no Whitney. I’d been to a Ravel concert at Carnegie Hall — that was my bit. What I need are some obsessions, some collecting.
I took the subway back up to 59th St and up to the apartment. Yael was there and I packed, we said goodbye, and it was about 5:30pm as I walked in the drizzle to 1st Ave, where a cab stopped and took me to the 51st and Lexington subway. It was a 9pm flight. I had decided to take the E subway to the Airtrain to JFK Airport. First time that.
The subway ride was rough; I was sweating already from the heat in the subway station, and I really don’t like sweating before flying. The train was crowded and I’d imagine it would thin out once we left Manhattan, but it stayed pretty full all the way to the end of the line at Jamaica Station. Then at the Airtrain terminal I felt wooshed up a level from urban to international transport, the grime disappeared, an extra $5 ticket was required, and we were back in airplane land.