Wednesday, October 11, 2006

NYC Narrative, part 2

I left off with lunch in Chinatown. And shopping for obscene porcelain figures for my sister as a gift. Chinatown was insanely crowded. There were many points where we had to simply walk in the road to get down the street.

Part of me loves Chinatown. The crazy produce, the huge vats of seafood fresh from the ocean this morning waiting for someone to make a purchase and create a galaxy of prawns kind of dinner. All the different languages floating in the air. The rich white kids trying to be slacker chic, the old Vietnamese and Chinese women looking for tonight's meal. The huge black men muttering "DVD DVD DVD DVD" or "Rolex Rolex" as they pass by. That's a Rolex as much as I'm a supermodel dude. Keep moving. The lucky bamboo trees.

Another part of me hates it. Store after store filled with the same useless piece of crap fake leather pocketbooks, the bootleg DVDs, the t-shirts with slogans that were funny last year but have lost any ribald charm.

In thinking about what the pastor at Trinity had to say about commerce and capitalism being good, it is this environment where the cheap and crappy is peddled to the masses that I actually turn my nose up at free enterprise and long for something to buy that is original (like a crazy lamp waterfall thing. I only saw one that day. I saw 50 million John Lennon in a New York City t-shirt standing in front of the Statue of Liberty T-shirts). I didn't smell or see any philanthropy. I didn't see anyone benefiting really. I saw products which will soon line landfills and Big Lots shelves. I saw what makes people really hate Americans. Really.

I told Doug that I simply wasn't enjoying Canal Street, even though I was thinking of the Simpsons the whole time...

Marge: (walking along the streets of Chinatown) Are we still in Little Italy?
Lisa: Actually I think we're in Chinatown now
Marge: Only in New York!

Chinatown wasn't meeting me where I live as far as experiences I want to have go. It was hot, rude, pushy, crowded and dirty. And I had my fill. We started walking north and stopped in at an Army Navy store because Doug wanted a new belt, and I was looking for an interesting backpack. Both of us had our needs met, and we crossed the street to Yellow Rat Bastard to look at Chuck Taylor sneakers with flames shooting off them and Paul Frank Julius monkey shirts. Inside was an odd mix of tourists and goth city kids, skateboarders and Dolce & Gabanna sunglass wearing Long Island girls with big hair. The music was loud, the environment inside was fun. It reminded me of when I was in high school and we'd go shop at the Canal Street Jean Company. Only this was more obviously retail and a lot less punk than it wanted to be. It was like Hot Topic but not in a mall, and with its own magazine.

We decided that because we hadn't even made it into the numbered streets yet that it was time to take the subway up to 37th and Madison to go to the Morgan Library to see this Dylan exhibit they had there because Doug loves him some Dylan history and memorabilia. And I enjoy it too.

We got there and the exhibition was sold out, so we couldn't go in (d'oh). I was actually really irritated because we came all the way up there just to see this exhibition. I was having such a good time way downtown, especially after getting off of Canal Street and into Soho where I could mock the shoppers and their pretentiousness in my head. Doug bought tickets anyway, much to my bitchy chagrin. I didn't really want to go through a museum and look at other stuff when it was so beautiful outside.

Gotta hand it to him -- it was worth the visit even without the Dylan exhibition. I mean, I so would have loved to have seen the Dylan stuff. But once I got over that fact, and my uber-bitchy attitude, I was pleasantly surprised by the things I was seeing... The Morgan Library has some unbelievable stuff, and anyone who loves literature in all its forms really needs to go see the collection.

There is a room filled with precious literary artifacts. Wonderful bestiary books from Persia handwritten and painted in gorgeous Arabic script. Tarot cards from before Tarot was done as fortune telling. Song books by Wagner and Gershwin. A handwritten lyric sheet by Bob Dylan of "It Ain't Me Babe," from when he sketched it out in a London hotel room. Illuminated manuscripts of Jonathan Swift stories. Tiny masterpiece mini-books so delicate and old that I felt even looking at them may destroy them and turn them to dust.

I actually started to cry as I stood there looking at the rough sketches that Jean de Brunhoff did of Babar the Elephant before he wrote the very first book. I'm not sure why it reached out and caught me so off guard in that way, but I was just so deeply moved by realizing these tiny sketches by this one man were such a mustard seed, as he was thinking about making this elephant character and his family -- so small and tiny, so bare and skeletal in design-- and look where his work has grown to. He died so very young, just six years after the first book was published. And while I am sure he knew Babar was popular, I'm sure he never really grasped what would be the success of his franchise. And that blew me away.

We left the Morgan and decided it was time to head down and finally check into our hotel. The subway line we wanted was not running, (the 4 and 5 are messed up on Sundays). We were instructed to get out at this one stop and change to the J train, which never came. Doug entertained himself by watching rats race on the rails. I was semi miserable because there wasn't a place to sit anywhere. No benches, no nothing. Feh! My legs were so sore now because they had stopped moving.


We gave up waiting for the train and walked upstairs and exited the subway, finding that we were at City Hall. We decided to just walk back down towards the hotel. Had we made a better choice and taken the 1/9 to the Staten Island Ferry it would have worked out much better for us. But we had no idea until we made our choice that our line wasn't taking us to Rector after all. Boo. Hiss. The walk wasn't too horrible, but by then my legs were killing me, and I was ready for a cocktail, a hot shower, and a nap.

We checked on our car, it was still there... not towed away like on The City of NY vs. Homer Simpson. We had reservations at the Club Quarters Downtown NY on William Street. It's a membership hotel and they open up their rooms to the Expedia/Travelocity crowds on weekends. But if you want to stay there during the week you've got to be a member. The room was nice and had the best shower I've ever had at a hotel. The desk guy was really nice, and informed us that the holiday parking rules were not in effect for Columbus Day, he thought. But he wasn't sure. Not knowing for sure could have resulted in our car being towed, so we checked with some policemen near the Stock Exchange and they confirmed that the car had to be moved by 7am.

So we moved the car and went out to dinner.

We ended up going right back down to Stone Street where we'd been earlier in the day. We had seen several cool restaurants gearing up for lunchtime, so we figured the places would be open for dinner too. They didn't disappoint. We thought about going to Brouwers or Smorgas Chef, but ended up at the Irish pub Ulysses' because they were the only restaurant open who had had a big huge projection TV.

And the Steelers were playing Sunday Night Football. So that won us in.

Irish pub, football, and on top of that it was Trivia Night. Hells yeah kids. Hells yeah. So we ordered up, we got wings and oysters. We played trivia, we watched the Steelers. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

100806 45 black and tan at ulysses
100806 46 trivia night answer
100806 44 ulysses

Just like with Trinity Church being the place where I'd choose to worship if I were to live in Manhattan, this would be my bar if I were to live in Manhattan... I had an awesome time.

Monday morning Doug was up incredibly early. He'd started to come down with a cold and woke up because he couldn't sleep. He made enough noise to wake the dead, mostly because he wanted me up so we could go explore some more. I finally got up and he went out to get coffee. We didn't have to check out until noon, so it was 9 and we decided to go explore more of the southern tip of the island.

We walked over to Federal Hall, which was where George Washington was sworn in as President once upon a time. It also overlooks the New York Stock Exchange, and the statue of George looks as if he's waving at it. It made us laugh.

Inside, there wasn't a lot to see, it was a nice building, if not a bit austere. Come to find out it isn't the original building where George was sworn in, but a building put up much later after the original was torn down in 1812 and the new building was built as the Custom House for the city. There was one nice presentation about National Parks in NYC, with smaller supporting linked themed panels showing similar parks all around the country. So it was more of a display on how cool National Parks are, not so much how cool THIS building's history is.

In one room the National Archives had a table set up and Doug went over to see what they were showing. He immediately knew it wasn't something he was interested in spending time looking at, but the woman would not stop talking.

Have you ever been in that situation (uh, like you aren't right NOW!) where the person won't shut up? Yeah. We were trapped and couldn't get away.

Luckily we eventually managed to tear our ears away from her grasp when she needed to blow her nose and cough.

We then went over and learned about John Peter Zenger. Do you know who John Peter Zenger is? No? Well neither did we. Seems that no one covered this for either of us when we were in High School History and American Studies classes, so this was at least something interesting to learn about. If you want to find out what he did and why you should know who he is, click here.

On the second floor there was this huge exhibit of Living Memorials to 9-11. There were several small plasma TV screens set up on easel stands spread out through the hallways. Many of them were running sound AT THE SAME TIME.

It was an exhibit about exhibits. It painstakingly outlined the different types of exhibits. Forests, found spaces, city centers... random crap on the side of the road memorials. Oh my Gravy. It was, by far, the biggest waste of space and resources I've EVER seen in my life. The audio all running at the same time was disconcerting and dizzying. The fact that there is an exhibit about how they classify exhibits was just ... wrong.

Doug and I made some more Simpsons themed jokes, like a multi-media presentation dedicated to the makers of multimedia, audio visual presentations. And we misquoted Principal Skinner saying "I'm only in here to get directions for how to get away from here." We could not wait to get off the second floor. It was horrible. Interterrible, as my sister would say.

Overall it seemed like a poorly managed National Park site. There were a lot of park rangers on hand, so it certainly was wonderfully staffed, but there really wasn't anything to do or see.

Japanese TouristWe gawked at the Stock Exchange building and took some cool pictures of the flag, the architecture... the whole area. We walked back over to Broadway up Exchange and went over to the giant brass bull. It was completely swarmed by Japanese Tourists all taking their picture with it.

Some were crouched down behind the bull, grabbing its giant brass balls. They'd take a picture and then chimp it, laughing their heads off. A Dutch or German camera crew desperately wanted to take shots of the bull without the Japanese climbing all over the damn thing, and they politely requested in heavily accented English that everyone clear off so they can "Please just get one shot, please." So the Japanese cleared off, the camera man swooped around the bull, and immediately in his wake the Japanese swooped back in, hugging the bull and posing with it.

I was immensely entertained by this display.

We then walked along but not inside Battery Park because there was all this weird solid fencing up and we didn't want to figure out a way through the maze. We stopped in at the Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, simply because the building was gorgeous and we couldn't resist this gem of architecture.

There was no one inside the chapel, we had the place to ourselves and enjoyed looking at the stained glass and enjoyed the solitude. There was a very peculiar children's book series of pictures posted on the wall, which sort of weirdly explained how Elizabeth came to be Catholic and eventually founded the Sisters of Charity. I found Seton Shrine's website explains her history much better than anything they offered in the building for me to read.

God bless the informative internet.

After Seton Shrine we walked up by Fraunces Tavern again and discovered the restaurant open for lunch, but the Tavern was closed. We asked if we could walk around and take a look. The girl was very nice and allowed us run of the dining rooms, both of which were, well, very incredibly Colonial. It was almost like being at my own house, to be honest. Except with more classy furniture and no dogs. Or dog hair.

5/365We strolled back up Pearl Street where we found a giant inflatable rat, which you know I had to have a picture of because I am a complete and total flickrwhore.

And because, honestly, when is the next time I'm going to see a giant inflatable rat anywhere?

Special thanks to photographer Doug for taking this shot.

We had no idea why this rat was here. We had an idea that perhaps it had something to do with all the street construction they were doing. Maybe it was there to let people know they'd be poisoning rats soon. I don't know. If there are any New Yorkers reading this who can hazard a guess as to why a giant inflatable rat was standing on the side of the road, do leave a comment and let me know.

Hotel checkout went smoothly. Parking garage took forever. We were out the door and up the road in no time, eventually finding our way to the tunnel we wanted and the Long Island Expressway. We got to Linda's and got the kids packed up. Doug was fading fast - the cold was really starting to grip him and he was cranky and tired. So we didn't linger, as much as I would have liked to.

Proud Chrysler OwnerWe hit a ton and a half of traffic going up to the ferry. All the vineyards and pumpkin farms on rte 25 were overflowing with families from the western lands come out to get their fall paraphernalia. We got into the standby line for the 4pm ferry and didn't make it on. Good thing we had reservations for the 5pm. The day was gorgeous -- Doug napped in the car and Geoff and I went and threw rocks and talked to a man who was towing a 1941 Chrysler Highlander from Long Island up to Ottowa Canada.

And yes, he was thrilled to have his picture taken with the car.

The sunset on the sound was unbelievably beautiful -- so I am very glad that we missed the 4pm ferry. We wouldn't have been treated to the beautiful display. I was the queen of friendly up top on the ferry -- playing with my camera I attracted the attention of the couple sitting behind me. They asked questions about digital cameras, because they still had a film camera. I took their picture with the sunset with their camera, and it was the last shot. They were very happy. I took random pictures of little kids playing with the near-far lookers. I took pictures of a lovely black lab and its owner, feeling how much the man loved his dog.

After a while, I asked if I could take a picture of him and the dog. He gladly agreed, and I took a nice one, and met his lovely dog, Buka. Geoff and Buka got along great and there was a lot of love and talk of dogs and how great they are between Geoff and this guy.

I spied another woman using the same camera I have -- and she was having a hard time getting her shot steady. So I walked up and showed her how to change her settings, walking her through with my camera, pressing buttons while she pressed hers. Then we both took the same shot, and had a great time until her battery died.

We got home at about 8:30, and the dogs were so happy to see us. I was happy to see them. In my mind I was pondering the things we didn't get to do that we wanted to do. The Dylan exhibit, taking the subway to Brooklyn and then walking back over the Brooklyn Bridge. Riding the Staten Island Ferry back and forth just to take pictures of the skyline. Taking a circle line sunset tour. We didn't get attacked by C.H.U.D.s or pimps, like Homer Simpson. I guess that is probably the best part.

With all the things we didn't do, I would say we still did a lot. And none of it was wasted time.

And that was my weekend. How was yours?

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