Four days in the Big Apple

04.15.09 Times Square 03

I wasn't sure I wanted to go. Chris was heading to NYC on a business trip last Wednesday and we had a spare ticket we had to use up before too long. So I decided to tag along, despite the fact that heading to New York always puts me into a bit of a panic. I get overwhelmed just by the idea of the city and its offerings. I get consumed with the idea that I'll do the wrong things and I'll miss out on all the good things and wind up catatonic on the subway, rocking back and forth, unsure where to get off.

That didn't happen. It never does. I didn't say it was a rational fear. I'm just not a very good decision maker -- I have trouble picking something off a menu -- and there's so, so much to do and see in New York. I feel like I'm supposed to go to museums and take advantage of the culture but the truth is that what I really like to do in the city, in any city I visit, is wander. Aimlessly, sometimes. Operating with a vague idea of where I might want to end up or which neighborhoods I might like to see. A boutique or craft store I might want to check out.

04.16.09 Central Park (6)

I like to punctuate my wandering with frequent stops -- sitting at an outdoor cafe and people watching. Pausing in a park and people watching. Standing dumb-struck on a street corner, people watching. You get my drift. And, boy, did the weather cooperate. Beautiful days stretching into one another just tailor-made for doing not much of anything and covering a lot of ground doing it. Thus, the trip I was reluctant to go on turned out to be (of course) one of my favorite to NYC yet.

04.15.09 NYC Hotel 02

We stayed at Le Parker Meridien in Midtown, about a block south of Central Park, thanks to my husband's amazing acumen at finding stellar hotel deals. This one didn't disappoint. If you have a partner who enjoys the mind-numbing and crazy-making task of developing complex strategies for bidding for hotels online -- or, you know, an expense account -- I heartily recommend it. Compared to our last visit, our hotel room this time was practically cavernous and at 28 floors up, afforded us a nice view into Central Park and onto the outdoor living spaces of those in buildings shorter than ours. Not that it mattered a ton, considering we spent most of our time wandering the streets of Manhattan, trying to ignore aches and blisters.

On the day of our arrival, Wednesday, I napped. I'd like to tell you I did a whole lot more than that, but it would be a lie. We had to get up at the ungodly hour of 5 in order to catch our flight, which routed us through Chicago, so I was more than done by the time we were able to check into our hotel at 3. (Do any of you ever experience what Chris has affectionately taken to calling my propensity for "morning tummy"? That is, if travel requires me to get up super early, I tend to spend much of the day queasy and nauseous? No? Fine. It's just me.)

Anyway, Chris was off at meetings with probably very important people and returned just in time to drag me out of bed and out of the hotel for dinner, lest the day be entirely wasted. I wasn't up for much, but I have to say the matzo ball soup at the nearby and infamous Carnegie Deli was just the thing for my delicate constitution. Not so much the table pickles, but what do you expect? I've probably only had matzo ball soup five or six times in my life, but I've never had balls this big. Yeah. I said it. You can't possibly actually have expected more from me.

Plus, you get to watch people tackle inadviseably tall (and exorbitantly expensive) piles of pastrami on rye while gazing at walls covered in framed, autographed headshots of stars from the late seventies and early nineties. Oh, neighbor guy from The Jeffersons. What a looker you were!

04.15.09 Carnegie Deli 01

In the interest of rigorous honesty, there might have been some brisket after the soup, but I prefer to have you think of me as the delicate sort of flower for whom the above would be a complete meal. If it makes you feel better, the brisket didn't do me any favors and absolutely nixed the possibility of having some amazing-looking cheesecake for dessert.

After dinner, we wandered among the throngs in Times Square and while I did my fair share of gawking and photo-snapping, I must say I don't enjoy that level of crowdedness. I have to fight the constant urge to just shove the hell out of people, which would be disastrous for a number of reasons but mainly because New Yorkers would shove back and I'm pretty much a wuss. Nor do I find, as I heard one woman remark to her toddler, the lights of Times Square to be "beautiful." Unless by "beautiful" you mean "draining the world's precious energy resources," in which case, I concur.

04.15.09 Times Square 01

At this point, my feet started to suggest to me that perhaps I might consider taking it easy on them this first eve in the big city, what with three full days of walking ahead. So I did what I do every time I'm wandering around a new place: I ignored them. Instead, we kept walking, this way and that. Over by Radio City Music Hall, where the Flight of the Conchords were playing a sold out show. (We were only a tad jealous; we've tickets to the Detroit show this Friday.)

Next, we swung by 30 Rock to see if Tina Fey was waiting to meet with me. I didn't see here, so I can only assume that somehow the message didn't get to her. It's hard to find good help, isn't it?

04.15.09 30 Rock

I consoled myself by watching ice skaters and seeing if I had magically developed the ability to make good use of my camera's night time settings without actually learning how. Turns out, no. Still, we had a good old time watching the skaters, which were an odd mix of adolescent girls, families and a small group of mad-fast break-skaters whizzing around the ice, whipping in and out among the regular folks fast enough to put the fear of God into the small children. Occasionally, one of them would put an elbow down on the ice and spin around. Not the most impressive move, but whatever.

04.15.09 Rock Ctr 07

That seemed like plenty for one evening, so we high-tailed it back to the hotel. Chris had meetings the next morning (what is with him?) and I slept entirely too late, before dragging my ass from bed, grabbing a sammich and heading to Central Park to get in an hour or so of hard-core people watching. And watch I did. It was a spectacular day. The trees were in bloom, forsythia branches exploding and it was like all of New York had crawled out from their office buildings to sit in the park on their lunch hour, blinking their mole-eyes in the sun's bright light.

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Folks were running, the playground was swarming with kids, horsies were dragging fat tourists around in open-air carriages. All good stuff. I saw fat people and skinny people and tall people and short people. I heard seven million different languages, although my favorite eavesdropping moment was in English, when a young girl pointed at a horsie and said, "Mama! I see something poking down from the horse's belly!" Yes, you do dear. Because it's spring. It's spring!

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When Chris' business was finished for the morning, I met him back at the hotel and we decided to hop on the subway and head down to Soho, mostly in search of Purl Soho and Purl Patchwork, a duo of yarn and fabric shops. I've ordered fabric from the website before and was eager to get a chance to browse up close and personal some colorways I'd seen online.

Along the way, in NYU's law quad, we saw the first of many stunning magnolias lighting up the city. They're barely budding back home and here some were already losing their petals. Nature doesn't do many things more dramatic than magnolia-makin'.

04.16.09 Magnolias

I didn't actually wind up spending much time in Purl Soho or its sister shop, Purl Patchwork, a few doors down. I knew they were rumored to be small spaces, but they were even smaller than I anticipated. I just get so overwhelmed and claustrophobic in tiny shops, so I barely stayed in the yarn one for more than a minute or so. When confronted by that many balls of yarn, packed tight, piled high in cubbies for the ceiling, I do the aforementioned panic and sort of shut down.

I lingered a bit longer at Purl Patchwork, although it was just as tiny. There were some fabrics designed by the owners I'd wanted to check out and I was glad to have had the chance to see them up close. I also fell in love with some Indian cotton drapery fabric there, but at $37 a yard it was a) out of my price range and b) pointless, since I have no use for it. I left empty-handed, but with that happy fabric-y feeling only fellow sewers will relate to.

04.16.09 Purl Patchwork

We had originally thought we might try to hit Ellis Island on Thursday but they recommend allowing two or three hours for the full effect and the last ferry leaves at 1, the park closing at 5. Since Chris wasn't done with work until well after the last ferry, we went for the cheap, cheerful and fast alternative: the Staten Island Ferry. Sure, it doesn't stop at Ellis Island or give you the option of an up-close visit with Lady Liberty, but on a beautiful afternoon such as we had, it offered us a closer view of both than we would have had on shore and some pretty sparkling sun off the water.

I tell you, no matter how jaded you might be, how many times you might have seen the Statue of Liberty in photos (or even in person), and no matter how tiny she might seem way out in the water, you're just a cold fish if you don't get a bit of a lump in the ol' throat as you glide past.

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Walking through Times Square again on the way home, we picked up some half-price tix to see Blithe Spirit, the Noel Coward play, at the Schubert Theater, starring Angela Lansbury, Rupert Everett, Christine Ebersol and Jayne Atkinson. I like Coward well enough, but I like Everett even better, so although the seats were tight and we were about as high up as you could get in the tiny theater, it was a delight. A delight!

I'm not a very shoppy lady, but if I have one extravagance, it's bath products and glorious scents. While other women think nothing of dropping big coin for purses or shoes, that doesn't much tickle my fancy. I will, however, save my pennies to splurge on some really quality bath goodies. Thus, Friday morning, I made Chris schlep all the way up Madison Avenue with me just so I could set foot inside an actual Jo Malone boutique.

My husband created a monster this past year when, on separate occasions, he treated me to the red roses bath oil and the honeysuckle & jasmine bath oil. (While the latter is divine, the former is perhaps the best thing I've ever smelled. Not cloyingly rosey, but green and fresh and amazing.) There were so many different scents I wanted to try and reading about them on the website wasn't cutting it. I sniffed just about everything, dropped my pocket money on a refill of red roses bath oil and a small orange blossom cologne and figured I could die a happy woman.

Except we were going over to Brooklyn, so I needed to stay alive a bit longer. Thanks to my friend Amanda's great tip, we found our way to Brooklyn General, a really lovely yarn and fabric shop. So many sweet notions and pretty things to look at. Such nice help. And more Amy Butler fabric choices than I've seen in one place. They also had a nice selection of vintage fabrics and spools of vintage ribbon. I bought several yards of the latter, not because I have any idea what I'll do with it, but because it was just so sweet. I also bought myself my first cut of Amy Butler fabric, plus the pattern for her weekender bag. Probably a bit ambitious, but I was feeling creative and full of possibility. This too shall pass.

04.17.09 Brooklyn Gen (8)

Then it was off to meet our friends Matt and Claudia -- and their adorable eight-month-old son Diego -- in Crown Heights. They suggested a neighborhood Mexican joint called Chavarella's, where we sat outside despite the cooling air and I ate some of the best fish tacos I've ever had.

Saturday was our last real day in the city. We debated heading over to Coney Island but the thought of spending nearly an hour each way on the subway while the sun was shining seemed a tad silly. So we headed instead down to Union Square, which boasts an art and green market on Saturdays. Fresh flowers, local art, street food, strong sun. All so good.

04.18.09 Union Square (9)

From there, we wandered through the Village, then stopped for lunch at what has become a favorite dining spot in the West Village, French Roast. We were able to snag a table outside and Chris almost saw Parker Posey. That is to say, he saw a woman who vaguely resembled Parker Posey. I should probably mention that, at this point, I was already bitching up a storm about not having seen any celebrities on this trip. I really want people to believe that I am far more evolved than this, but it's not like they wouldn't figure it out after knowing me for ten minutes or so.  Instead, I made us play a game of pointing out people who could have been stunt doubles for famous people and that was far more lucrative.

After filling our gullets, we ambled more around the West Village,  where I saw this gorgeous fire department doorway below.  We ducked down side streets, marveled at sculptural window box displays and just generally enjoyed the atmosphere. We didn't stop into a whole lot of shops, though we made a very happy exception for Pure Dark, where I would very much like to say we learned all sorts of things about how chocolate is made. In reality, we learned mostly about tasting chocolate, particularly in its drinking chocolate form, with nibs. Almost too much for two people to split. Almost.

04.18.09 Village (1)

Exhausted from all that eating, we followed Christopher Street west to where it dead ended at Hudson River Park and plopped ourselves down on the steps at the waterfront to watch people some more.  Tons of folks were out, walking their weird dogs and their weird kids. And I stretch out a bit on the step next to me and look to my right and there's a woman who looks a lot like Janeane Garofalo. Because she is Janeane Garofalo. (If you don't know who that is, why are you even reading my blog in the first place?)

So, like an asshole, I took a few surreptitious pics of her which only fear of litigation is preventing me from posting here. As I'm snapping away, I'm well aware of the fact that this is an invasion of privacy, which I'm less worried about than how horribly cheesy it makes me look. As I'm contemplating all of this, I look up and, passing right in front of me is the adorable Jason Bateman, his wife and their lovely daughter. I wasn't feeling quite ridiculous enough to blatantly take their picture because, you know, I'm cooler than that, so you'll just have to believe me. Or not. Whatever. (Note, that is not a celebrity in the photo below. It's just some random man with his dog. Clearly I had no problem violating his privacy, either.)

04.18.09 Hudson Park (2)

That was about it for our last afternoon in NYC. There was some dinner, of course, lest I starve and a little more walking through Central Park, accompanied by a lot more complaining about how sore my feet were and a sheepish eight-block taxi ride back to the hotel so that poor Chris could live to see another day. We had to be up early for our flight again on Sunday, so we were tucked in bed at an hour on Saturday night when, I'd venture to guess, most people in the big city were just heading out to enjoy themselves. Which was fine by us. We'd seen all we came to.

More photos of our trip on my Flickr page.