Okay travelers, this post is going to be a long one, as it contains three days worth of adventure, so you should grab your glass of wine and take a bathroom break now.
My weekend began with a visit from my dear friend Nancy, who left the city a couple years ago for grad school and an admirable career in teaching. A weekend with a best friend you haven't seen in a while, is like a very expensive glass of wine, something to be truly enjoyed and appreciated, and always leaves you feeling sad when it is done. It's also a reminder, that true friendship, withstands time and distance, with an ease and comfort, a constant, that the interval between visits seems a blink of an eye.
Friday night found us in the West Village at a fantastic Spanish restaurant called Sevilla her parents had been frequenting since the 70s. (Side note, her parents were also in town, and every time I see them, I find myself amazed at the love and adoration after 35+ years of marriage. Her father stills carries a picture from their early days, when they shared a tiny apartment in Brooklyn, the edges a little worn and the image faded, but if you look closely, reflected in those smiles is the same devotion that sat across from us that evening.)
After one pitcher of sangria, the stories began, and over family style cuisine we laughed about how he finally convinced her to marry him after how many times of asking, that number is up for debate, and by the second pitcher, even my marriage skeptic heart was warmed. During that time I also fell in love with the restaurant, a small, family owned gem since 1941, the atmosphere warm and welcoming like coming home, and the food rich with flavor. We shared an appetizer of chorizo, bursting with spanish spices and when the waiter came to take the plate, there was a fight for the last. For main course, we shared a very large portion of Mariscada Ajillo with hot garlic sauce and a classic Arroz con Pollo. The staff were friendly and attentive, many of whom have worked there since the 70s or earlier and are as part of the experience as the sangria. My only suggestion would be to get there early because by 8pm, the bar and tables were packed, with a line out the door.
Friday evening poured itself into Saturday, where we found ourselves at an old favorite of mine, the Met. (A must see on any visit to NYC, and with a "suggested donation" policy a must go often for any New Yorker.) After asking every employee and some serious "going inside the map" we finally found Nancy's boyfriend, Lou, his sister Katy and her boyfriend Tyler in Mesopotamia. After polite introduction and handshakes (important later) we wandered our way to the armory wing and ended our journey in Egypt. I love visiting the Met for as much the exhibits as the people watching. From the avid explorer, with their notebook and slow pace, reading every description with a fierce appetite for knowledge, to the families and foreigners, skimming their way from wing to wing, impressed more by the grandeur of the place than the artifacts themselves. It's a place you can get lost in, literally and metaphorically, where one can find themselves staring down a mummy in ancient Egypt, gliding through silk drawings of Asia or dancing by guitars from the days of Beatle-mania. After traveling for a couple hours through history, we needed some nourishment and libation. We stumbled upon a great little mexican restaurant called MXCo, though the decor/atmosphere were much to be desired, the food was tasty and the margaritas hit the spot. I love the end of time spent with new acquaintances, when the awkward handshakes and polite conversation are replaced by a bonding of time spent in merriment, when your guard comes down with shared experiences and you find yourself hugging goodbye. With our bellies full and our cheeks warmed by the margaritas, we parted ways with our new (well for me) found friends to venture on a cross-town bus to Harlem, where the famous Lenox Lounge and a night of jazz awaited us.
(I mentioned this would be a long one, so if you need to refill that glass of wine, now would be a good time.)
I don't know how to describe the next couple hours that can truly do it justice. Every moment was so new, exciting and a little scary, like a fish out of water, that as I listen to the greats Nina Simone and Sam Cook, I smile with the memory of my fear, almost laughable in retrospect. The cross-town bus took mere minutes and suddenly we were facing the famous Lenox Lounge, as staple to Harlem as The Apollo Theatre and great BBQ.
Founded in 1939, Lenox Lounge with its legendary zebra room, has been a stomping ground for some of jazz and blues greats, from Billie Holiday to Miles Davis, and for you Mad Men fanatics, apparently it is the location they filmed the brilliant opening scene in the very first episode. Walking through the doors was like stepping back in time, though from the outside you wouldn't know it. Surrounded by run down shops and bargain basement deals, the lounge blends in, almost hiding the treasure inside. With just a few tables and an even smaller bar, it's amazing that once it hits the peak of the night, anyone can get a drink, not that it would matter. That's not why one ventures to 125 and Lenox. You come for the music, and it is well worth the journey. We arrived just before the 8:30pm set and stood outside the doors to the Zebra room, already packed with patrons, nervous that we had arrived too late to secure a seat. Luckily we were the last two accepted, and Nance and I found ourselves at the front table, mere inches, seriously, away from where film, television (A Different World anyone?) and Broadway star Lou Myers would perform with his trio. The room was small, it held maybe 50 people and true to its name the walls were a vibrant zebra print. For the next hour, we were entertained with a combination of classics like "Birth of the Blues", and "I put a spell on you" to some I had never heard like "Power." How can I describe the energy in the room? People standing and dancing, stomping their feet and singing along. I gazed at the tables crammed with elderly women enjoying a glass of wine and steak, to young couples celebrating an anniversary, everyone moving their head with the rhythm of the music. Laughter filled the air, as Lou sang about his "mojo not working on you" and wild applause as the young guitarist, just 16-years old, riffed through intervals like a pro. The set ended too soon, and we giggled and smiled our way, arm in arm out of the bar, the sound of the music still ringing in our ears.
Our journey ends this morning with a brunch in old-paris (french accent inserted here), okay, well it was actually a French Bistro on 55th and 6th Avenue, with our friend Heather. We sat, the three of us, facing a window that overlooked apartment buildings and an exhaust vent, but for the mood we were all in, excited to be in each other's company, it might as well have been Paris. For two hours, over mimosas and eggs benedict, we laughed about old stories, boys and experiences, a perfect end to a weekend of travel.
As I write this, the sun setting, Nina in the background,my mind filled with this past weekend's whirlwind of experiences, old and new, I feel exhausted and content....well, for now.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Okay, I have to admit, I started this blog with the intent of writing the "Anti-St.Patrick's Day blog", the "Dear John Letter," the "maybe we can just be friends" St. Patrick's day entry. My final farewell to a holiday that had caused me more frustration and disdain than joy.
Yet, I find myself, at the end of the night, after a day of viewing green shenanigans from a distance (I work on a block with four, yes, four Irish pubs), and experiencing for a brief moment the true spirit of the day, and of course, sipping my Guinness, sentimental. Like an old lover I didn't appreciate until truly gone.
Growing up I never had a connection with St. Patrick's day, even though I am Catholic. I vaguely remember a desire to wear green and clad myself with shamrocks but it was never something I understood or appreciated. I recall a celebration or two in college but they are a memory blurred by so many fun nights out that they don't hold importance.
When I moved to New York I discovered a whole new side of the holiday. A day where New York turns green, people take off work to attend a parade and streets are filled with drunken debauchery (more so than usual.) In the last six years, I've seen a celebration of culture like non I had experienced in small town Minnesota. Then I found myself working in an Irish pub in Times Square, a place that has given new meaning to both New Years and St Pattys day and I found myself despising March 17th, like one would a funeral or math exam. Working long hours in a crowded pub, surrounded by drunks who at any given moment would propose marriage, express undying affection for my rare beauty or vomit, sometimes at the same time, can make anyone leery. So, imagine my amazement, when after a long day of advertising and marketing, I was oddly curious to see what the fuss was all about, from the other side of the wooden plank and after six years, not at Olunney's Times Square Pub. (I'm going to do a shameless promotion for a restaurant that has seen me through freelance jobs, career changes, breakups and where the owners have become like family. A place where I went from waitress to manager and lifetime friendships were formed. It impacted my formative 20s in ways I appreciate now and will for years to come. A restaurant I started working at my 2nd day in New York and has become as staple to the city in my mind as any tourist attraction. ps you should check it out if you have not done so already. It's a taste of Irish humor, warmth, and true hospitality in a part of Manhattan saturated with corporate America.)
I ventured around 9pm to a pub my friends were gathering at for a quick pint and some investigative, real life research. My wikipedia search enlightened me to the true meaning of St. Patrick's day, a day dedicated to the celebration of Patrick, the Patron Saint who brought Christianity to Ireland, when all this time I thought it was an excuse for people to drink. The celebration of a culture and belief I found inspiring, and given the current state of tsunamis and threat of radiation a night to drink and be merry seemed almost admirable if not necessary. Even the color green, though not my favorite, seemed an okay fashion statement. (note: I wore purple, not out of protest, but sheer convenience, it's laundry day people.)
When I walked through the doors of Dewey's pub, I was amazed to find myself smiling and not the least bit annoyed at the crowds. It was the same atmosphere and energy that had carried me from 45th to 26th street, a place filled with, of course, patrons decked in green, laughing and drinking to some Irish tune on the jukebox. I'm sure half of them had no idea the history behind the day, nor did it matter. The fact that one day could bring so many different people together, to enjoy a time dedicated to celebration, life and hope, well I have to admit, even my Patty's day grinch heart grew 10 sizes.
So even as I write this, quietly in my apartment, away from the crowded streets of green filled manhattan, sipping a Guinness, I smile. Maybe I'm pleasantly surprised by my appreciation for a holiday I had shared a love/hate relationship for so many years, or maybe it's the Guinness, either way, this holiday represents a celebration of change and something new, and for any traveler, that's definitely a reason to raise a glass. Slainte.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
There's something about Spring that makes me restless...that makes me want to run through the streets, singing a song from an old time musical someone needs to produce again and see, taste, smell (well, it's NYC so maybe not) everything around me.
I ventured into the blogger world a couple years ago with the same ambition I have tonight, to see and experience as much of New York City as I can in a time in my life when opportunity and ability are just outside my door.
For the three people that read my last postings, (thanks mom) I had begun a quest to experience all the things of NYC and hopefully beyond, I had never tried before, from street meat (tasted, enjoyed and experienced food poisoning for the first time) to flying trapeze (yet to conquer) and inspired by a long winter,I find myself jumping back into the blogosphere with reckless abandon, this time
with the hopes of posting more than once every two months.
with the hopes of posting more than once every two months.
This past week I ventured to many an entertainment hot spot on the great white way (two Broadway shows included), but the one that stuck out as the most original, fun experience I've had in a long time was Ripley's Believe It Or Not. Believe it or not (ba-bum-ching) I had never been.
An adventure filled with bearded ladies, siamese twins and crazy shrunken heads, I found myself laughing and enjoying myself in ways I had only remembered as a kid. You know, the uninhibited laughter and silliness, the innocent, raw, true appreciation for the unknown and unbelievable.
I found myself passing ancient torture chambers and pictures of headless chickens living and performing for years, yes without a head, with both awe and amazement. I could almost hear the carnival sounds of the 20s, single toothed Carnis crying out for my attention and feel the dirt of the dust bowl at my feet.
I even took a turn at the laser room (for those who need a reference, think Entrapment with Catherine Zeta Jones and Sean Connery). A room filled with lasers protecting the elusive artifact (a button) at the end, that one must maneuver, twist, turn and find their way to and back again in a time frame set by many before them that day. I placed fifth (of the day), leading me to think perhaps theatrical marketing was the wrong career and maybe there is a fortune to be made in cat-burglary...on second thought, I'll stick with marketing since the other requires me to wear dark makeup.
I found myself sad to leave at the end, like a roller coaster ride, and I heard myself express I will definitely be back again. For any New Yorker, to visit a location twice whether restaurant or attraction, that was statement was pretty momentous.
Maybe it is significant that the first entry on "Untraveled path to insanity and other adventures" begins with a trip to a museum about the oddities, the unusual, the unbelievable...a great starting point for the untraveled.