Saturday, June 26, 2010

Detour: Dresden & Prague

I started this blog to share NYC with friends & family (and now a few kind strangers as well), but I've not had much time to explore the city lately.  Mostly for fun reasons-- at the end of May, I spent a week at Kripalu, a yoga retreat center in the Berkshires, with one of my best friends.  Highly recommended if you are looking for rest & rejuvenation at a reasonable cost.
This past week I was in Dresden, Germany, to celebrate the 10th birthday of one of my goddaughters.  L. was born in the US and adopted by my German friends while they were living in Boston.  I try my best to attend each of her life milestones, and it was a treat to join her and her family in Dresden, where they recently bought a home.  Dresden is very pretty, though its war-time past is still present in the hearts and minds of its people.  The city, once considered among the most beautiful in Europe, was thoroughly bombed during WWII.  Tens of thousands died, and the architecture crumbled.  Much has been rebuilt, including Frauenkirsche, the Church of Our Lady.  How it looks today, after it was rebuilt several years ago:

The views from the top were spectacular:

The street scene was pretty cool too:

The people ultimately make a place, of course, and this proved true once again during this trip.  In addition to enjoying the family and friends of my friends, the neighbors were quite extraordinary as well.  The true standout was a gentleman who lived across the street... the first sign of something unusual was the U.S. Mailbox on his property.  Then the Uncle Sam poster on his garage, the American flag waving on the flag pole, and the most impressive and pristine Chevy Beretta I've ever seen.   Who knew that there were Germans who were more American than some Americans?  He proudly showed me his Americana room:

U. has never visited the U.S., but he used to drive big trucks, and was always impressed by the big American rigs.  Somehow that eventually translated into a passion for all things American.  He was both shy and proud to show me his collection.  Most of it has been procured through the internet.  It was sweet, and touching.

U and his wife hosted an outdoor World Cup viewing party for the neighborhood.  It was great to be with a group of Germans, listening to them yell at the TV and swear while watching their beloved team play against Ghana.  A memorable evening!

Dresden is just a two hour drive from Prague, and my friend S and I made the trip on Thursday.  We were as excited as little kids as we approached the city.  Few things make me as happy as experiencing something completely new.  I loved seeing the signs in Czech, a language totally  unfamiliar to me.

We first took in lunch at an outdoor cafe near the river, within sight of the most famous bridge in town:

We stopped by the Kafka museum, and were immediately entertained by the outside courtyard with its rather unusual fountain:

Yes, the water is coming out from where you think it is.  The hips of each of the male statues swivel, thus spreading out the splash.

What really got my attention, though, was the sign in the background- "Children Friendly Restaurant":

I imagine the sight of the statues are highly amusing to the kids as they eat their lunch- !

I leave you with a few more images of Prague:

The lettering on the bike reads: "Sons of David" "Prague" "Our Hogs Are Kosher".  It was parked outside of King Solomon, a well-known Kosher restaurant in the Jewish Quarter.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

From Senegal to Puerto Rico

I wasn't expecting a cross-cultural experience when I left my apartment this morning to join three friends for lunch.  Silly me, I should just go ahead and expect these things. 

We met in Harlem for a simple lunch.  One of my friends lives in the heart of a neighorhood that is heavily Senegalese.  I love visiting her there-- it reminds me of my time in west Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  It was great to catch up with everyone, and afterwords I decided to walk back to the subway via 116th Avenue, which cuts right through the heart of Africa in New York.  I love seeing the women in their gorgeous African dresses, more colorful and lively than anything that's ever come out of Fashion Week in Bryant Park.  Also familiar were the men sitting outside of their stores, chatting.  The signs and posters are mostly in French, and the orderly contents of the stores are also reminiscent of what I remember in Africa.

There were some cool murals too:

As I continued to walk east, I could tell by the signage and the music coming out of the stores that I had left Little Senegal and entered Spanish Harlem.  Puerto Rican colors and flags and trinkets were everywhere.  Today is the National Puerto Rican Day Parade.  I decided to go closer to the action-- the parade was scheduled to go up 5th Avenue, from 42nd to the mid-70s.  I hopped on the subway again.  Soon I had made my way to the parade site.  I couldn't get close to it, but it was lively enough on the surrounding streets.

It was refreshing to see the vibrancy of the crowds in the most staid and placid area of NYC-- Park Avenue & 5th Avenue on the Upper East Side.  I'm not sure what the society matrons made of the many women with colorful and oh-so-tiny outfits, enthusiastic men covered with tattoos and baseball caps, people of all ages decked in red, white and blue, and loud Puerto Rican music, but here's hoping they smiled and perhaps even tapped their foot to the beat.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Party on my doorstep

I rolled out of bed this morning, intent on being productive.  List of errands in my pocket, I walked out of my building and was immediately greeted by a street fair.  What? Hooray! I had heard about the street fair season in New York, but had never seen any signs or mentions of my neighborhood in the local press.  I immediately aborted my original mission and plunged in.  It was a simple fair, one that lined 1st Avenue for several blocks, abundant in food stalls, hawkers of miracle gadgets, ethnic artifacts, and clothing.  

And fried oreos.  I was intrigued, especially since I am a child of Minnesota, and the Minnesota State Fair is infamous for having every sort of food imaginable fried on a stick.  The vendor sold them in bags of 6 and 12, but I finagled for just one.  Yummy.

Satisfied and feeling a wee bit guilty, I continued my stroll and was immediately accosted by the world's best saleswoman.  A Chinese woman stepped out from the tent, took my arm, and started massaging my shoulders.  To my right was a little city of massage chairs, people with faces hidden in headrests, and an army of Asian massage workers.  I succumbed. 

Hard to beat the blissful massage, but in the end my favorite vendor was a guy selling t-shirts for kids and adults that he and his wife had designed. The young boy in the photos is his son. I loved the shirts immediately-- it was just the sort of quirky NYC/Brooklyn design that would suit my little niece, Baby Bird. Yes, the second photo has a shirt with a friendly alien next to the Flatiron building. I bought two shirts.  If you'd like one (or two or three) too, check out