Thursday, April 29, 2010

A string of happy moments

New York provides small delights even when one is in the midst of a very intense work week.  I'm in the middle of a huge project, and was at work until midnight last night (don't worry -- today I wised up and delegated about half of my plate to my team).  At 10 past midnight, I was amused to step onto the train and discover that it was packed with people.  The train was as full as morning rush hour.  It was nice to have company.

Alas, I had boarded the wrong train.  It was going the right direction, but that particular one didn't stop at my street.  I disembarked to pick up the right train, and while waiting saw the new cover of People magazine at a little shop.  Sandra Bullock adopted a baby!  I love Sandra B, and immediately pulled out my wallet.  The price of the magazine: $4.50.  The contents of my wallet: $4.25.  I was crestfallen.  The shopkeeper immediately insisted that I take the magazine.  "We are friends", he said.  "You take the magazine, and tomorrow you can give me the rest".  So sweet, especially given that he had never seen me before. I resolved to honor his request, even though I am almost never in that particular station.  I devoured the magazine on the way home.

I left work at a reasonable hour today to meet my long-time friend J.  We met in Chinese class at university, and see each other every few (or several) years.  He was traveling through the city for work.  It was so wonderful to see him, and to essentially pick up the conversation right where we left it four years ago. 

I was in a great mood as we parted, and decided to walk towards the subway station that housed the generous shopkeeper.  Along the way I encountered a very long line, about 50 people long.

What on earth?  Here's what they were waiting for:

Unfortunately I wasn't hungry for savory food, but the tacos smelled divine.  Another time.  I did encounter a Mr Softee truck several blocks later, one of a huge army of ice cream trucks that seem to invade the city whenever it gets past a certain temperature.  I am a sucker for vanilla softserve ice cream, and I couldn't resist.  Plus the vendor called me sweetheart.  Delicious all around.

Further down on 53rd Street, I heard rushing water.  A fountain, and- surprise!- a segment of the Berlin Wall were tucked into a little cove.  I was in Berlin a couple years ago, and loved it, so it was wonderful to see this reminder of the city.

I continued walking to the metro station, and upon my descent found the little store.  The shopkeeper wasn't there, but two other men were, and they smiled at my offering of the quarter and the story for why I was handing them 25 cents.  While I was waiting for my last train, I realized that two of my favorite musicians, playing under a banner that said "Lankandia Cissoko (African Criot, Kora Player)" were playing a few steps down.  I leaned against a pillar and let several trains go by as the rippling, dreamy music washed over me.

Small treasures are to be found on even the most challenging of days.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Friday night at Columbus Circle

I looked forward to Friday evening all week-- I had plans to see Banksy's new film with R.  The evening out was just what I needed after an intense work week-- great company, and entertainment on the way to see entertainment (as always in NY!). 

I moved through Times Square station to change trains, and although I was in a hurry, my steps slowed as I heard the sparkling notes of a hammered dulcimer.  I dropped in a dollar and walked away, but did a U-turn as the music pulled on the back of my sweater, my hair, my earlobes.

I stood in front of the musician, transfixed.  He mixed in percussion with the strings-- you can barely see the cuff he is wearing around his ankle, which rattled each time he stepped with the music.  His name is Paul Mueller, and he is also a member of a band named Mecca Bodega, which frequently plays around town.  I hope to catch them soon.  I bought a CD for $10, and can say that it's the first CD I've bought from a street musician that actually sounds good.  I'm listening to it as I write, the shimmering sounds floating through my living room.

I was eventually able to tear myself away, and finally made it to Columbus Circle.  Anything celebrating Christopher Columbus seems a little old-fashioned to me now-- with the evolving focus on the rights of indigenous people, he's not really in vogue anymore, and the holiday is more often than not seen as optional for many businesses and schools.  Columbus Circle does not shy away from its namesake, though.

From Columbus Circle, you can also see one of the grand gates to Central Park:

I was a little early for the movie at Lincoln Center, and amused myself by looking at the whimsical wares of a hat vendor.  He was very friendly and very dignified.  After talking a bit, we realized we had both lived in the midwest, which made both of us smile and also led to us each congratulating each other for escaping harsh winters.

Finally, it was time for the movies.  I highly recommend "Exit Through the Gift Shop" if you have any interest in street art, or are just in the mood for something quite different than anything you've seen before.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Home is me

I spent the last couple days in Washington DC.  I was immediately seized with nostalgia for my previous home.  The hotel had views of the Potomac River and a sweep from Georgetown to the Washington Monument.  For dinner one night, I was the Pied Piper, leading a group of my colleagues from around the country across the river into Georgetown, with a stop at Georgetown Cupcake and a descent to Georgetown waterfront for dinner.  I felt at home all over again, and NY faded away.  I was in town a mere two days.

I took the late train back to NY last night, and arrived after midnight.  I felt immediately comfortable, and cheered by the activity in Penn Station and on the streets.  No problem to find a taxi, and there was a familiar amount of traffic on the ride home.  The driver dropped me off at a street corner, and there were pedestrians on my block as I pulled my luggage to my doorstep.  Once again I felt at home.

I have lived in quite a few places during my lifetime.  If you count as 'living in a place' as a summer or more, I've lived in nine places in the US and four places overseas.  My family and friends are scattered across the globe, and I am thankful for technology, which allows me to maintain warm and deep relationships despite the miles.

I've been reflecting on where 'home' is for me, and decided this morning that home is me.  I'm grateful to be comfortable in my own skin, to enjoy my own company, as I continue to make choices that lead me into new and different worlds, to make new friends and new communities as I also maintain ties to my cherished established ones.  I am also grateful to live in a time that allows me this freedom.  As I approach my 40th birthday, I revel in the feeling of being simultaneously grounded and centered and utterly free.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Midtown lullaby

I skipped out of work at lunchtime to walk to Bryant Park and bask in the sun.  As I strolled down the sidewalk, I heard gorgeous notes floating through the air.  They were coming out a building I had never noticed, on the opposite side of the street.

I stopped by on my way back from lunch, and was ushered into the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office for New York.  A large airy hall greeted those just walking in, and I sat down to enjoy the rest of the trombone concert.

I know-- I've never been to a trombone concert, either.

It was a memorial concert for Tien-Ron Yu, "Pioneer of the Trombonist".  His student, Jack Tzu Yang Chou, was the young man who carried the show.  In the program, he wrote:

"This concert is dedicated to my 1st Trombone teacher Mr. Yu (former Bass Trombone in Taipei Sympony).  He passed away on Feb 19, 2010, age of 56. He had dedicated his life on teaching. Mr Yu not only taught me trombone, but also taught all his students to be a great musician and great person. Because of him, I love playing trombone and love playing music. Without him, I won't be here today. I miss him very much. May Prof. Yu rest in peace."

Professor Yu would have been proud.  It was a beautiful concert, and the first time I had really considered the trombone as a solo instrument.  It was also a simple and lovely moment-- so unexpected and peaceful.  The Taipei center advertised its free Wednesday mid-day concerts, and I will definitely return.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Artist Found

The wonder that is Google has solved my little mystery: who is the person behind the Become Your Dream sketches that make me smile every time I see them pop up on the street?

I had suspected the artist is male.  I was right.  His name is James De La Vega.  A few glimpses into his world:

Sidewalk encouragement

Be Mindful


Sunday Show & Tell

I had an unplanned afternoon at work today-- required due to a Friday 'fire' that consumed most of my morning to resolve and thus totally blew up my carefully planned schedule.  As one would guess, I was not exactly a happy camper.  My grumpiness was somewhat eased by the walk there-- it was a beautiful day, and I walked the 30+ blocks to midtown.  I also walked back in the dusky light.  About 3 miles round trip.

I wandered up Park Avenue for most of the return home.  I've not spent much time on Park, and it feels different than the other parts of the city that I've explored.  The upper East 40s are a soulless grouping of businesses (JP Morgan, KPMG, BMS and Colgate-Palmolive all have offices there) and so it was a perverse delight to stumble across Hello Kitty in one of the courtyards (above).

The gray offices slowly gave way to stately condominiums.  I walked passed a parade of well-dressed older women with seriously stiff hair pulled back to reveal expensive earrings.  There were few restaurants or shops on the street, thus making the avenue rather dry, and lacking life.  There were pockets of beauty, though:
I have difficulty imagining having enough money to live in a home like the one above.  Right in the middle of Manhattan.  It was three stories. 

Other details also delighted:

Once I got closer to home, in the east 60s, I found my guerilla artist (Road Less Traveled )once again:

How can you stay grumpy after walking in the warm evening and being reminded by little fish and a snake to become your dream?  Pretty hard to do.  I am at peace again, and have left the work behind.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Subterranean Adventure

R. understands my penchant for adventure and for exploring the underappreciated and little-known parts of New York.  I know a place, he said.  It's subterranean.

I was a little hesitant at first.  The word subterranean conjures up dark and creepy images, akin to the world written about by Jennifer Toth (see my post Dark World). 

We hopped on an A train at the Port Authority station, and traveled to Washington Heights, the farthest north I've been in Manhattan.  We stepped off at 181st street station, and walked through a diverse neighborhood to find our destination: a subway entrance for the 1 train that is not on normal subway maps.  The entrance one would normally look for is on 191st street for the 191st stop.  This one is on Broadway, three city blocks away, via tunnel-- the longest tunnel in the transit system, and, if one online account is to be believed, it is actually considered a city street, though clearly not a normal one.

The Interborough Rapid Transit (I.R.T.) was the first subway line, privately owned until they and two other lines became property of the City in 1940.  I'd never even seen references to IRT until last night.

This tunnel used to be scary-- tons of crime, avoided by most commuters, a haven for drug dealers and home to large rats and mounds of garbage.  It was renovated in 2008- the station itself was renovated in 2004-2005-  and art won. 

The rollercoaster reference is appropriate-- this station is the deepest in the city, at 55m underground.

I really love this next one-- so true, the song that I hear every day:

The entrance to the tunnel is the most colorful part.  It gets grittier as one continues, though it never devolves into anything scary.

And then.  And then, and then, and then.  As we exited from the far end of the tunnel and entered into the main part of the 191st station, I gasped and got the by-now familiar thrill that comes when finding something completely unexpected. 

Oh, I so love these two people, blissfully and effortlessly floating through the sky.

Note the butterfly wings,
and the wings here as well:

Praise to the artist, Raúl Colón.  The piece is called Primavera. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


The New York Public Library system is a beautiful thing to behold in the city.  The main branch, with Bryant Park in its backyard and two lions guarding its front, is breathtaking and feels more like a museum than a library.  The 'front porch':

The front door:

The Rose Reading Room:

One can no longer check things out at this location, but there are lending libraries throughout the city.  Two of them are within a mile of me, both built with Carnegie funds:

The Webster branch is among the oldest in the city.  Its website reports: ...the Webster Branch has a history that can be traced back to 1893, before its incorporation into The New York Public Library Branch system. Founded as the Webster Free Library, it was named after Charles B. Webster, who donated the building on East 76th Street where the library was originally located. The current site on 78th Street and York Avenue was designed by architects Babb, Cook & Willard and was constructed from funds donated to New York by Andrew Carnegie. The branch opened to the public on October 24, 1906. The three story facility houses an adult, young adult, and children's collection. While the branch originally served a predominantly Czech immigrant population in the early part of the century, it now serves a diverse community of New Yorkers on the Upper East Side.

Seeing the Carnegie name brought me back to my childhood.  My hometown library was also a Carnegie Library.  The grand building was perched on one of the highest hills in town, and had magnificent views of the small city and the river valley below.  I spent many happy hours there, and often read all the books I checked out within a day of returning home with them.  Yep, book nerd.

Curious about the Carnegie connection, I found the following on Wiki:

A Carnegie library is a library built with money donated by Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. More than 2,500 Carnegie libraries were built, including some belonging to public and university library systems.

Of the 2,509 such libraries funded between 1883 and 1929, 1,689 were built in the United States, 660 in Britain and Ireland, 125 in Canada, and others in Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, the Caribbean, and Fiji.[citation needed] Very few towns that requested a grant and agreed to his terms were refused. When the last grant was made in 1919, there were 3,500 libraries in the United States, nearly half of them built with construction grants paid by Carnegie.

The article goes on to say that of all of the original buildings, about half are still functioning libraries close to 100 years later.   Such an amazing legacy to the U.S. citizenry and others around the world.  I, for one, am grateful.