Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Escape to Manhattan, Part 3

The day after Mama Luz's party, I decided to take the girls into Manhattan since it was my last day in Nueva York and because I wanted to get them out of that house. It was still a bit of a mess even though we did a lot of basic clean up the night before, drunkenly. We awoke to Papi Guillo bolting out of the back room wearing the shirt he had on at the party and boxers. He was toothless. He hoarsely yelled into the kitchen, in Spanish, that he couldn't find his teeth. His thinning lips swung in and out of his mouth like a saloon door. "My teeth aren't here!" He pointed to his face. Even Mama Luz laughed and told her father not to worry, that they were probably in the bed. Sure enough, his teeth were tangled in the sheets somehow; they must have flown out of his mouth during the fitful sleeping of an aged Life Of The Party.

On that note, I decided to get the girls up and ready before we were guilted into a ridiculous choreography of maddening rearrange-cleaning. By noon, we were on a train Manhattan-bound, taking photos and enjoying each other - a lot, as usual.

Maya is a budding photographer with a great eye, and for her birthday she got a killer camera from her BD and Sanne, for which Maya agreed to pay half. She worked that camera out in the LES!
Here are my three favorites:
Capturing Mina perfectly.
Capturing us in a store-front window. Awesome photo, Maya! We went uptown, at Mina's request, because she wanted to go to FAO Swartz and to see the Empire State Building. Mina believes that the gods and goddess of Mt. Olympus live at the top of the ESB because anyone who has read the Lightning Thief series knows that! Maya got this great picture for her.FAO Swartz is what it is, and Mina didn't ask me for TOO many things (none of which she got anyway) but at least going in there was a relief from the 100 degree NY heat beat down we were receiving outside. One thing about having a kid photographer is that they are always putting the camera up in your face and though you don't want to squash their enthusiasm to take many, many, many pictures at your expense, sometimes you're like, damn enough already. She took this picture on the escalator of FAO Swartz. The photo started out angry, then goofy and in a split second turned glamorous. Maya looked at the screen after she took it and said, "How'd you do that?" I said, "I dunno, but stop taking pictures of me because I don't know if I can do it again."Then there were pic's like this that you gotta love - Lego Chubaka, man!Before we left the LES for midtown, I took them to lunch at Teany and when arriving, the waitress said to me, "You really like this place, huh?" which kinda pissed me off and made me laugh at the same time. I said, a little flushed, "Couldn't leave before my girls ate here too." We ate vegan BLT's and spring salads and lavender lemonade so yea, I really like this place -- sans stupid, harmless observations.

I then took the girls to the Tenement Museum on Orchard. Betsy and I had stumbled onto it when walking around the neighborhood a few days before and though we didn't go on any tours, we sieved through the gift shop thoroughly. At this gift shop is where Betsy bought me my very early birthday present, The Most Killer Necklace Eva:When I took the girls to the museum, I wanted to show them the gift shop for sure, but after reading more about the tours I really wanted to partake. We got in on the last one of the day and ran across the street into the old, narrow building where the tour had stared 7 minutes before. The Tenement Museum bought the five story building, across from the gift shop, in 1988 after it had been boarded up, unused since 1937. For over fifty years this building had not been touched and when the museum unboarded it, they realized that the incredibly rich immigrant history of the entire LES was still alive in the walls, in the molding, the hall paintings, the garment inventory notches on the peeled wallpaper and in the gorgeous mahogany banister that was smooth and polished from seven thousand people of many cultures touching it from 1863 until everyone was evicted in 1937; evicted because of that very banister. The fire codes had changed at the time stating that a building could not have a wood banister. The landlord would need to replace the banister or board up the building. Since it was The Depression, a new banister was not affordable. The Tenement Museum researched real families that lived in certain apartments in certain times and tried to replicate their exact lives, telling their stories of struggle and adaptation. It was an incredible social commentary on immigration and shed light on the fact that the tension of this subject has hardly changed; someone was always looking down on someone else, especially the darker the arriving immigrants got. It was also an empowering historical validation about how women are the rock of a society because even when economies crumble, whether during the Great Panic of the late 1800's or The Great Depression or even now, women get creative and keep food in their families mouths. The second apartment we visited was set up to showcase the lives of an Italian family living there in the mid 1930's. The daughter of this family, as an old woman, happen to stumble upon the renovation of the tenement and she was able to give them exact details about how they lived and how the apartment looked, down to morning glories her father had planted in the window for her mother in the empty government cheese boxes to remind her of Palermo, which she would never see again. The daughter did a voice recording for the tour to tell us what their lives were like very vividly. In the midst of The Depression, a year before the tenement was boarded, the father lost his job and the mother got a part time factory job. FDR at the time started a food box program to help families in need, but the stipulation was that no family member could have a job in order to receive the food. The mother stood in line and told the officials that she did have a part time gig but it wasn't enough. They turned her away. The second time she went, she lied, and said she had no job so she could receive the food. The tour guide then asked us what we thought of that, an undocumented woman lying to receive food on the government’s dime. One woman spoke up and asked very terse, conservative questions about the legality and morality of it. I felt very uncomfortable because I could feel her angle, but just then Mina raised her hand. The tour guide, also shifting on his feet from the woman's energy, asked Mina what she thought. Mina said, "The woman had a choice. To feed her family or not feed her family. I woulda lied." I laughed and nodded. The tour guide said, "I think I would have lied too." Mina made all kinds of great comments throughout the tour, Maya a couple too, which meant that this tour and this information had meaning to them, not just to me. I was fascinated and completely in love with the entire project, but to see the girls engaged and thoughtful and compassionate about the issues and conditions made me almost pass out from pride in the sweltering apartment.

The Tenement Museum and that day with my girls was definitely a highlight of the summer for me.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Manhattan Is for Fun Lovers; NY Part Dos

I didn't go into Manhattan to necessarily escape Mama Luz and them. I had planned the excursion for months. And BFF Betsy was coming in from NoCal to meet me in the city for the three days since she had to visit friends in Boston also; she turned it into an east coast tour.

The point of the Manhattan leg of the trip was to have the most fun possible in a short amount of time. That and eat, which is super fun too, right? And Betsy is the person with whom to do all of the above. I planned meticulously -- kind of embarrassingly so -- which wasn't really to feed into some Virgo Planning Sickness I have, but it was really fueled by my addiction to efficiency. If my work and busy life need to be efficient to run smoothly with the least amount of stress then why shouldn't I approach the fun parts in the same way? I appreciate a Go With The Flow approach, but I tend to meander and get distracted by the Flow, losing opportunities I wish I would have taken advantage of. Believe me, I scheduled some Go With The Flow time within the plan. Mmhmm, judge all you want. So, how could I have the most amount of fun in NY? First, invite Betsy. Then, research bars and restaurants, make reservations. Lastly, locate myself in the center of fun, which to me is the LES, the lower eastside.

We stayed at the E. Houston Hotel. It was reasonably priced with TINY rooms (who needs much room anyway?), but it was very clean and simply, chicly decorated. Mainly, it was in the most perfect location. Almost everything I planned was in walking distance. The action was so thick on the street; bars, restaurants, parks, Whole Foods two blocks down just in case I needed a comforting center point; WF is like a pacifier for me in a far-off city. The hotel was across the street from some busy handball courts. I loved waking up to the thwack of the ball. It went on all day. We checked out the court action a few times.

Watching the women hold it down.View from the hotel roof top.While waiting for Betsy's plane to come in, I ate at one of my regular fav's Wild Ginger in Little Italy. I saved her my leftovers of black pepper seitan and the pineapple fried rice made with tofu scrambled bits, pinenuts, goji berries, pineapple and avocado. It's a type of dish that makes you want to violently kick something, it's so good.That night we had dinner rezzies at Counter Organic Restaurant on First Ave. The portobello sliders were to-die, but mainly we were excited about going to the mysterious bar Milk & Honey later, after dinner. M&H is this sort of exclusive speak easy where you need a reservation and practically a secret handshake to get in. The place is not detectable from the street. Ssshhh, very secret, this place. Here I am getting buzzed in. The place was cool, but not really our speed. It was dark and quiet and did not promote any kind of interaction with anyone else, which is the thing B & I like best about a bar. We love to yell things like, "Hey! What are you drinking??" The place was not as pretentious as I thought it would be; the staff was super nice and the drinks were out of this world. They have a list of House Rules and the thought of that made me roll my eyes, until I read the first rule: "1. No name-dropping, no star fucking." Wha? Gotta love that. There is no drink menu. They ask you what spirits you like and what flavors you'd prefer. Mine: Aged Rum. No dairy, no eggs, no bacon -- hey, bacon is the flavor of the minute so you never know. And I got an Aged Rum Lime Daiquiri with shaved mint. YUUUMMM. Betsy: Tequila and ginger. She got a sort of tequila, fresh ginger juice collins with club soda and topped with candied ginger. YUUUUMMMM. After one drink we jetted though. Enough of the dark and quiet. It was after midnight and we walked back to the hotel, talking nonstop, and thrilled to be in the bustle and brightness of the city.

The next day, we took it to the streets and tooled around, going into the million unique and genuinely interesting shops in the LES, from updated men's tailors and milliners who made hats by hand, coffee shops that roasted beans onsite to custom skateboard shops to top of the line thrift boutiques and a revolutionary bookstore. Every effing store was beautiful and interesting and artful. Damn. Like, you want to hate a place for being so spontaneously, rocketously hip & popular, but goddamn if it wasn't worth the hype. I'm LES hook, line and sinker, baby. Anyway, scenes from the street:
This was on the wall of a shop, along with a few others yarned-up bikes. I was kinda shaking when I took the picture 'cause I wanted it so badly!This is from the day before in SoHo, but love the pic.Of course, we had to get over to BabyCakes, vegan bakery, where we ate cinnamon bread and jammed biscuits. Delish!We stumbled into a Brazilian-Cuban spot with a beautiful staff and watched the Ghana-Uruguay soccer match and ate the perfect meal of black beans, coconut rice and platanos at the bar. We cheered and yelled with all the other patrons. Fun! (And this was on my Go With the Flow list; for Betsy too because at first she didn't want to watch any World Cup, but this was a ton of fun even as the game went into double overtime and then a shoot out. Another round of drinks please!) After, strolling through Washington Square Park, we accidentally watched Curb Your Enthusiasm being filmed. We saw Larry David and Wanda Sykes and them. Betsy pretended to take a picture of me to stealthily get Jeff Green! haha.We then booked it back to the Village to meet Shannon for drinks. Shannon is Betsy's husband's son, but he's only about 10 years younger than us. He's great company and a lot of fun and lives in NYC. We met at Cuba and drank unbelievable mojitos with sticks of sugar cane to chew and swirl the drinks around. Too good. A singer, conguero and keyboardist set up in the corner and a man began to hand roll cigars in the other corner. I was feeling the drinks and the buzzing, crowded spot and the liveliness on the little street outside throbbing with bicycles and pedestrians and early-evening light bouncing off awnings and apartment steps.

But on to the next place! One of the places that I was most excited about going to was Mehanata, the Bulgarian gypsy bar on Ludlow. It sounded so fun. And know what? It was! Firstly, Lauren met us there. Hooray for the wonderful Lauren!Betsy, Shannon and I had parked ourselves at a little table near the stage around 10pm. The place was totally empty at that point, but we didn't care. Then Lauren walked in, and we absorbed her into our table, talked like we've always known each other (because we have, kinda) and it was an insta mini party. The table next to us had ordered a hookah and we were like, we want that too, with the mango tobacco please.
Like this?

Naw, like this. Smoke it out, Shannon.
The place started to fill up and we downed homemade vodka apple cider ladled from a big glass jar that sat on the bar. Diced apples floated to the top. Then we met this guy, Wiki, who was just standing around the tables observing the scene. You'd think he thought he was cool wearing douchie shades in a club/bar, but when I looked down, I noticed he was wearing these sort of jean culottes with white tube socks and I thought, He's not a douche, he just weird. "Join the party, Wiki!" Wikki wikki wikki I said all night, like the 80's song Jam On It? Btw, Jam On It was an anthem for Betsy and me in 1984. We never did get Wiki to take off his sunglasses though through different stages of drunkeness, we tried hard. He pulled them down his nose one time on the dance floor. We considered it a victory. Wikki, wikki, wikki.After we pulled Wiki into the fold, we watched a six-foot tall dreadlocked white girl walk in wearing a fedora. She stood alone by the bar and stared toward the stage. Betsy yelled at me to ask her over. I said, "Come over and try the hookah!" And she said, "Ok!" I said, "Hey! Lauren is six foot also!" And that's how we pulled beautiful Michelle in too, who, even more radly, was a forest fire fighter from Canada. Then it was kind of on. The place got packed and we drank more and more apple cider wudka!The band appeared on the step-up stage and started in with some gypsy swing. Much to my dismay, there was no accordian, but we managed to channel our inner gypies anyway.Man, we had a great time. We trotted back to the hotel, through still-packed streets, at 3am.

The next morning, Betsy & I tried to pretend we weren't so trashed and went over to Teany for breakfast. Then we took the subway up to Central Park to ride bicyles. Renting the bikes was sort of a hilarious transaction with a group of Russian hustlers. $20 for two hours and they didn't seem too concerned about the getting the bikes back. The tires were a little deflated and let's just say there was duct tape wrapped around near my rear derailler. Off we went! The day was perfection. Classic Central Park crowd, tourists and locals sprawled throughout the park, intent on thoroughly enjoying themselves. It wasn't hard.

That night was going to be our big, fine dining night. We went to Pure Food and Wine, the gourmet, raw phenomena near Union Square. We couldn't wait to eat here. We were seated closely to two women dining together and we talked to them a little about what they were eating. They asked us if we were going to order the tasting menu offered and after considering the menu I said, "Knowing us, we'll order a ton of plates and create our own big-ass tasting menu." They laughed like I was joking, but after we ordered a salad to split, two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts, they realized we weren't kidding. We don't mess around. Simply, the food here is so outrageously good, we mmm'ed and ooo'ed loudly with every bite.

Here's the desciption of my Zucchini Lasagna: basil pistachio pesto, sun-dried tomato sauce, macadamia pumpkin seed ricotta. Come on!Betsy had the Sweet Corn and Cashew Tamales with Chili Spiced Portabella with salsa verde, cashew coconut sour cream, avocado, raw cacao mole. Delicious. Here was my dessert: Strawberry Shortcake with pistachio gelato, orange blossom caramel. Unreal. I was so happy with the whole experience.On to the next place! After dinner, we went just over the Brooklyn Bridge to DanceSport Manhattan, the biggest annual ballroom dance competition in NYC. Titi Jennifer's husband was a judge and they gave Betsy and I seats around the dance floor! Yay, Titi.I was so excited to see the Latin dancing, but quite honestly when Katusha Demidova, the world champion (world!) of the waltz and the like, danced we were awed. I got goosebumps watching her glide around the floor. I couldn't get any good pictures because of the movement and my shitty camera, but really when she danced, we just stared, slack-jawed. So beautiful.The next morning we ate at Teany again and then Betsy got on a train to Boston and I got on a train back to Mama Luz's house for the party. So, see? Jammed-packed, serious and planned fun, all in three days. Thanks Cuz for such a great time. Seriously, it was the best.

I took Maya and Mina to the city the day after Mama Luz's party, but I'll save that post for Part 3.