Hosting in NYC

 

Of all of my friends I think I am the most enthusiastic about visitors; this is probably because of my vast enthusiasm for New York. It is tremendously exciting to show newcomers all the things I love in NYC and to find things that they will love as well. Having visitors gives me an excuse to see places I have not been to recently and motivates me to discover new restaurants and entertainments. At the same time moving around and interacting with the city is fundamentally harder with non-New Yorkers, especially if they hail from any part of the U.S. other than San Francisco (the only other city with decent Public Transit). Visitors have many challenges in New York, from food issues to noise levels, fear of the subway, fear of unknown food, and most of all the amount of walking. We walk a lot here. Most New Yorkers are likely to walk at least two miles a day, not to mention all the stairs we climb in and out of the subway. Even the most fit visitors are likely to find this challenging, and the less fit visitors may find it next to impossible. I recently hosted my father and his wife for a weekend. This is an account of the highs and lows of their visit.

Day 1

They slept in after arriving late the night before and we made breakfast in my apartment. It was wet but not actively raining. We took the subway from my apartment in Brooklyn up to the Museum of the City of New York. I actually hadn’t been there before and I was very impressed. They currently have an exhibit of photographs by Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao that are really stunning (it’s just opened; you should definitely go!). He uses a process that combines many photographs digitally to create one final image. This video shows his process:

The photographs on display are all of NYC and it was fun to point out places I had been and give further information about different places in the city.

We also looked at the ‘Activist New York’ exhibit, which is very text heavy. This was a bit challenging for my visitors because they found the amount of information hard to take in and they soon tired of reading large blocks of text standing up. I thought some of the information was interesting, and in some cases new to me, but it was hard to retain much. My favorite new factoid is that one of the largest suffragette rallies took place in Union Square. I actually lived right on Union Square in an NYU dorm for two years and it was odd to think that I was living in such an important historical space without being aware of its history.

After a couple of hours in the museum my father requested that we see a movie for our next activity, since this would involve lots of sitting. They wanted to see something that they wouldn’t be able to see in their hometown so I looked at the listings for the various artsy theaters. I generally look up the Landmark Sunshine, the Anjelika and the IFC. Finding something they will like but will also qualify as something they can only see in NYC is not easy. My father tends towards action films and his wife is more interested in romance. In the end I decided to hope something dark and funny would be unusual enough to be enjoyable and we saw My Old Lady (I really love Maggie Smith). They were both a bit neutral on this but at least they weren’t adamantly dissatisfied. With other guests I often try to get tickets to a dance performance or a concert but these are not art forms that particularly interest this pair. If they were more willing to experiment with questionable theater I would have taken them to this crazy Shakespeare thing at BAM that I was actually very sorry to miss. The New Wave Festival at BAM is always full of totally ridiculous gems like that. Ah well. Visitors often require somewhat more normal entertainment.

I finished up Day 1 with dinner at Katz’s Delicatessen. I figured this was a real New York experience worth having- a mountain of deli meat and a plate of sour pickles. Now if your visitors have dietary restrictions, and this pair does have some, this experience might not be the best. My visitors did fairly well, surviving the ordering experience and managing to eat their enormous sandwiches, but they complained about the noise and ended up with half sour pickles. The cost was also a bit upsetting. Everything costs more in New York and the sticker shock can be very difficult for visitors. Best to warn them in advance I think. The subway ride back was long and they both fell asleep on the D as we crossed over the Manhattan Bridge; it was pretty cute.

Day 2

We ate breakfast at home again (I was missing the bloody mary brunch experience but since they don’t drink breakfast at home seemed just as well) and then went into the city to the start of the High Line. I was very excited to show them the length of the park and the new section that I had not yet visited. It was crowded, which made them nervous and uncomfortable. My stepmother had no concept of how to get out of the way while taking pictures and I often felt like I was herding sheep. We scored one of the lounge chairs and they were able to rest for awhile in the sunshine. I think this was probably their favorite part of the whole day. Pressing northward again through the crowds they were tired and had trouble appreciating the interesting landscaping details and artwork. When you don’t live in a big city, surrounded most of the time by steel and concrete, you are less likely to be impressed by a handful of reeds and wildflowers. Something to remember when bringing visitors around- you and your visitors may find different things novel. However we all agreed that the final section, which has been left very wild, was beautiful in its openness and connection with the past.

Final section of the High Line.

Final section of the High Line.

By the time we completed our walk (the High Line is about one and a half miles in total) my visitors were completely exhausted. The High Line ends far on the west side, nowhere near public transit. The final trek eastward felt like a forced march. It was almost impossible for me to move slowly enough for them. New Yorkers walk fast and tend to move in competition with other pedestrians so that if you’re walking slower you feel like you’re losing. Keeping at a pace they could handle was super aggravating. Playing tour guide requires patience. We finally reached the train and once again they fell asleep on the trip home. This time I left them to finish the trip without me while I bought groceries for us to cook together. They were very nervous about this and I had to give them directions several times although we had already done this together. Anyone who does not take public transit on a daily basis is likely to find it confusing and at times unnerving. I frequently give directions to strangers in subway stations who appear lost or helpless. The service changes on the weekends always seem a bit sadistic towards tourists; if New Yorkers can’t figure them out how do you expect Midwesterners to manage?

I am lucky enough to have an honest to goodness kitchen in my New York apartment. It doesn’t have a dishwasher of course but the stove is full sized and there’s plenty of counter space and even room for a table. This means I can actually make lasagna with my father without us stepping on each other. For those of you who are not so lucky I recommend introducing your houseguests to the joys of Seamless Web (as per the ubiquitous subway advertisements).

Day 3

On their final day my stepmother requested that we revisit “that restaurant you took us to once with your boyfriend at the time that was very good.” Hmm. Luckily I have introduced them to only three boyfriends so this was not too hard to figure out. In the future I may make a note to either document restaurants with pictures or keep some sort of list. If you’re likely to have repeat visitors it may be useful to keep notes on what they liked and didn’t like to avoid similar errors in the future. The restaurant in question, Miriam’s, is a lovely Israeli place in Park Slope. My father poked at the labneh cheese suspiciously and they both complained about the inattentive waitress, but on the whole it was a successful restaurant experience (very rare for this pair in NYC).

For our last activity I took them to MOMA to see the Matisse Cut-Outs. If you frequently have visitors in NYC it is well worthwhile to be a member of MOMA. You can get in free and you can bring your guests in for only $5/each. MOMA is such a standard part of the NYC tour that anyone who has guests a few times a year will make the $80 individual membership more than worthwhile. I was not expecting to be a big fan of the Matisse but I was pleasantly surprised. It is a riot of color with many pieces full of shapes reminiscent of sea creatures. It’s fun and bright and a pleasure to walk through.

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs. Tate Modern. April 7 - September 17, 2014. Installation view at Tate Modern. Tate Photography. With Composition (The Velvets) 1947, The Propeller 1945, White Alga on Orange and Red Background 1947, Composition with Red Cross 1947, The Eskimo 1947, Amphitrite 1947 and a selection of other works. Photo from the MOMA website.

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs. Tate Modern. April 7 – September 17, 2014. Installation view at Tate Modern. Tate Photography. With Composition (The Velvets) 1947, The Propeller 1945, White Alga on Orange and Red Background 1947, Composition with Red Cross 1947, The Eskimo 1947, Amphitrite 1947 and a selection of other works. Photo from the MOMA website.

After many art exhibits that seem draining or require a great deal of careful examination, this one felt very accessible and positive. I left feeling full of energy and enthusiasm. After feeling quite exhausted by playing tour guide it was refreshing. The best experiences with visitors are always those that both you and they really enjoy; I was glad that this visit ended with such an experience. The Matisse exhibit has only just opened so you should certainly make time to check it out (with or without visitors).

I am on the whole looking forward to my next visitors but I am also looking forward to attending events I love without feeling the need to care for someone else. Independent exploration can also be rewarding.

From the mouths of babes…

I normally use this blog (when I have the time to use it at all) to pour out my love for NYC in the form of recommendations, musings and advice. Today I am writing a post outside of that genre in the hopes that someone may be able to assist me in my work as a trainer of young New Yorkers.


 

In my day to day life as a nanny I am subjected to a barrage of criticism and thoughtlessly cruel remarks from the children I care for. Often these are in the form of questions that I feel obligated to answer to give them a better understanding of the peculiarities of our physical selves. In most cases I think they truly mean no harm and in others I assume they’re teasing me to indicate that we have a close relationship. In each instance I struggle with how to respond. I want to help them become empathetic, not to mention polite. I’m sure every parent and caregiver deals with similar moments. In the spirit of solidarity and in the hope of hearing other methods of handling such comments, here are some of mine. These are just related to my body; the commentary on my character and interests would go on far too long.

5yo “Your thighs are so pouffy. You have a lot of fat in them. If we didn’t have food anymore it would take you longer to die.

5yo pointing at calluses on my feet, “Why are your feet like that? Is something wrong with them?

9yo “Your legs feel scratchy. Why do you have hairs there? It’s gross.”

11yo “Your hair looks too shiny. Is it greasy? Maybe you should wash it more.

9yo “Why is your toe curved like that? What’s wrong with it? Is it deformed?

11yo “You shouldn’t wear tank tops; it’s gross.

11yo “Do you know your nail polish is chipped?

5yo looking at the freckles on my arms, “Do you have spots because you’re sick?

5yo noticing veins in my hands, “I thought only men had veins like that.”

9yo “Your nose is really big.”

11yo “You shouldn’t wear shorts because your thighs are big.”

11yo “Why don’t you wear makeup? It would make you look better.

9yo “Your feet are really big.

I consider myself to be beautiful and a fair number of people have told me they feel the same way but some of these comments do get under my skin. Do I need to shave my legs right before work so they won’t be scratchy? Maybe I should have them waxed? Should I stop wearing shorts? I have long powerful shapely legs and yet I find myself worrying if they’re fat. How do I get through to these children that words can be hurtful without making it impossible for them to ask questions? I don’t want to teach them that grown ups are so fragile they can’t handle a few critical remarks. I want them to have more confidence than I do, not less. When working with children every statement, every reaction, feels loaded. How do you handle these moments?

FIGMENT

There are many wonderful events in NYC in the summer. There are outdoor film screenings, concerts, parades… People watching is everyone’s favorite pastime and every park becomes a stage. Of all the events in the city though, there is only one that truly feels like a figment of Salvador Dalí’s imagination, and that is the FIGMENT Arts Festival on Governors Island. This marvelous event brings all sorts of whimsical creations to an island that still feels as though it exists outside of time.

Wandering around Governors Island, past the houses in Nolan Park and Colonel’s Row, there is a sense of being in a sleepy forgotten town. When you round a corner and suddenly see Lower Manhattan rising above you it can be almost shocking. Visiting the island at any time during the summer is worthwhile; it is a fabulous place for a picnic or a little sunbathing in the new ‘Hammock Grove.’ Children can run free without fear of vehicles, although they should watch out for all the Schwinn bicycles. The ferry is now $2 roundtrip (up from the previous $0) and for the first time is running seven days a week. While I have mixed feelings about the hills currently being constructed, I absolutely love the respite from the noise and smell of summertime in NYC. It’s also my favorite view of Manhattan; the one viewpoint from which it truly looks like an island.

The Island of Manhattan as seen from Governors Island

The Island of Manhattan as seen from Governors Island 2008

Governors Island has its own magic but FIGMENT transforms the island into something truly surreal. The artists who create installations for the festival work in many media but the guiding spirit is that the art be participatory. This is not art behind glass, it is art made to be touched, played with, climbed on, drawn on, destroyed and rebuilt. The island becomes an art museum that a child would imagine. Last year a cloud-like dome made of recycled water bottles rose against the backdrop of the city.

Figment 2013

Figment 2013, Studio Klimoski Chang Architects’ Head in the Clouds

Inside the dome a DJ played music and people of all ages and in quite a strange assortment of clothing danced and jumped and spun until the grass was all turned to muck. The space was lit strangely through the bottles and it had such a feeling of unreality that it was astonishing to emerge into the sunshine again.

Inside  Studio Klimoski Chang Architects’ Head in the Clouds

Inside Studio Klimoski Chang Architects’ Head in the Clouds

Children are usually first drawn to the elaborate mini golf course, each hole of which is designed by a different artist. As someone who is not particularly skilled at golf, I am more likely to make a beeline for the treehouse, although it can get too crowded at times. The real fun is the wandering; there are so many small interesting pieces to discover. Just as important are the many performances taking place. There are concerts and dance performances at all times. Last year I followed the sound of drums to find an all-female marching band on the waterfront.

Perhaps my best FIGMENT was the year that I volunteered as an assistant priestess for the Encouraging Priestess. The Encouraging Priestess marries people to themselves. I helped participants write their vows to themselves and find appropriate costume pieces from our supply for the ceremony. Watching people, some with great seriousness and others with great levity, engage in this ceremony, was magical in a wholly different way. At the heart of FIGMENT is a need to engage, to provoke, to truly touch each person who visits the island. That summer I felt that I was really part of the festival. It was only the porch of one of the lovely yellow Nolan houses, but for that weekend it was a magical temple of self-affirmation and glittery ceremony.

Marry Yourself, Encouraging Priestess

Marry Yourself, Encouraging Priestess

This summer CDR Studio’s Governor’s Cup will add a heavy dash of the surreal to the island. It is described on the FIGMENT website:

Inspired by tape-lace crochet, used plastic cups, saved from discard from throughout the city, are bound by zip-ties into a densely-knit serpentine structure. Undulating between the tree branches, the canopy is suspended by strapping and turn-buckled cabling. The trees are unscathed. A lacy infill of cups between the tape structure and branches create an airborne topography and shadow play. The configuration forms an outdoor room, shimmering in the sun and echoing with breeze-driven sound.

The treehouse, with its slightly terrifying slide, will be returning for the summer of 2014. This video (showing some very happy frolicking) gives me quite enough incentive to go out to the island all on its own. I am excited to see what other structures will be part of the sculpture garden. Until it’s all there under the sun (or sometimes in the rain), the art exists mainly in the artist’s imagination; once it’s there it becomes part of our collective imaginings. This is a festival that aims to connect, not merely to entertain. Go forth and be part of the fun!

 

 

An Ode to Joe’s Pub

Everyone who has lived in NYC for more than a few months has a venue, perhaps more than one, that they hold near to their heart. We all have those places that have defined some aspect of our New York experience. The spot where you first saw that great band, or first drank some astonishing concoction that became ‘your drink.’ I have been here now for eleven years and of all the venues I have frequented the one that is most tightly woven into my life in NYC is Joe’s Pub.

The following appears on the Joe’s Pub website:

The New York Times has praised Joe’s Pub as at the “nexus” of “a downtown axis of clubs whose performers gleefully fuzz the boundaries between old and new, and between pop, rock, jazz, rhythm-and-blues, swing, country, world music and performance art.”

This very much describes the variety of performances I have seen on their stage. One of my first was a gospel singer whose name I no longer remember. I was invited to the show by my boss, perhaps the hippest partner in a law firm you can imagine. I felt very adult sitting at the tiny table, elbow to elbow with the well dressed crowd, sipping a fancy cocktail. The stage lights were dazzling, the sound system smooth and balanced, and the singer’s voice reverberated around the intimate space. I remember thinking that this must be how important people attend concerts, as opposed to the hot and echoey rooms where young people listen to music standing up and pushing each other for a clear view of the stage. I liked the comfort of sitting and absorbing the performance. I have since paid close attention to their upcoming shows and have enjoyed quite a variety of music from their tightly packed tables.

One of the most memorable was a performance by The Wet Spots, a duo who performs some of the raunchiest and most absurd songs I have had the pleasure of enjoying. Joe’s Pub is especially well suited to this kind of act. You’re close enough that the performers can pick on you and make you part of the act. The intimacy and the fact that you’re not standing and crowding the stage, allows the performers to really take the pulse of the crowd and adjust accordingly. Lady Rizo is another prime example of a performer who really blossoms on this stage. She’s performing there again soon as a matter of fact and I would very much recommend being part of her audience.

Joe’s Pub is also an excellent venue for performers who require a good deal of attention to detail. Sxip Shirey is best seen in this kind of venue. His use of music boxes, bells and marbles to make a variety of ethereal sounds can only be appreciated when you can actually see his maneuverings. If you see him in some larger venue, standing far back and craning your neck, you will entirely miss what makes his music magical.

Most recently I attended two performances by a wide variety of artists who had all studied under Barbara Maier Gustern. There were absurd costumes of many varieties and the biggest range of musical styles I think I’ve ever experienced in one show. I truly feel that this kind of show is only possible in a venue with an outstanding sound system and a professional staff. As much as pop-up venues and underground spaces foster creativity in the city, this kind of established venue has the ability to bring out the best in performers. I was very pleased to see one of my favorite musicians perform as part of the TRANSformative lineup; Natti Vogel is really best seen in this kind of environment. I think this photo by Albie Mitchell pretty much says it all.

Natti Vogel; photo by Albie Mitchell

Natti Vogel; photo by Albie Mitchell

For those of you who may still be searching for the venues that will define your experience, I recommend trying out Joe’s Pub. Sometimes the official venues offer something the underground venues lack- the smooth sound and comfortable seating that allow you to enjoy the details.

Wandering in Prospect Heights

Walking in a westerly direction from my current apartment at Franklin and Park Pl. I was amazed by the number of new buildings that have popped up in recent years. Some are certainly ugly concrete blocks with ‘artful’ triangular windows, but others manage to blend and add character in equal measure. The neighborhood is changing. NYC is always in a state of flux. The longer I live here (it’s been almost 11 years now) the more tempting it is to feel nostalgic about how it was when I moved. I remember when anything east of Washington was ‘scary’ (for a white girl from Buffalo). I remember when Grand Space (the hippie colony on Bergen and Grand) was the only place with lights on for blocks. Now there’s a condo building down the street. Progress can make long time residents feel shut out, left behind. Who are all these yuppies with strollers? Why are there so many men with absurd beards and ironic tattoos? This is the way of the city. I wouldn’t have 1970s NYC back for all the cocaine fueled parties in the world. I’m glad that the city is safer, that new housing stock is being built, that organic produce can be purchased at Bob & Betty’s Market. I will admit that I wish brunch for one at Dean St. Cafe didn’t cost me $25 and that the line at Ample Hills Creamery was less than 25 minutes in duration, but I’m happy that they both exist. The rent is too damn high but I don’t believe that NYC is less vibrant, less artistic, less surprising than it was ten years ago, or twenty, or fifty. The city changes. The artists change.

This amazing and totally crazy piece of art by Swoon, which memorializes Red Hook after Sandy, is on display at the Brooklyn Museum. During a recent visit there were Caribbean immigrants, yuppies with strollers, old Jewish ladies and Hispanic families wandering through.

Currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum, Swoon: Submerged Motherlands.

Currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum, Swoon: Submerged Motherlands.

Is this piece of art less meaningful because it’s displayed at a museum? Rather than see it as overly establishment I would like to see the Brooklyn Museum as a vital and interesting venue because of their choice to display this piece of art. Where else would it find such a diverse audience? I don’t believe that art is only important when only a few people know about it; art is meant to be exposed to the public. NYC has always been a place where a vast variety of people have access to a vast variety of art. This is what makes it vital and exciting as a place and I don’t believe that this quality has disappeared. NYC is just as full of wonder as it ever was (but now you can take the subway at 2am and not be mugged).