Reading about New York

First posted March 19, 2014.

Most of the nonfiction I read falls into the memoir category, with an emphasis on travel. But one of my favorites is Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, a book for book lovers. If you haven’t read it, buy it now. It’s short and you’ll read it so quickly you’ll wish it were longer. I’ve read it a couple times and love all of the essays, but one of my favorites is called “My Odd Shelf”.

It’s about Fadiman’s obsession with polar exploration and the collection of books she has built centering on it. You can read a little of it in this review, but the concept is a simple one: many of us voracious readers have a niche topic which fascinates us, one that the general population wouldn’t understand. I have a few of them – favorite authors that I’ve read almost everything by, girls’ mysteries stories with a focus on Nancy Drew and books about Nancy Drew, and fairy tales. But I’m starting to build a small collection which could be called “Books about NYC that I haven’t finished reading yet.” Not quite like Fadiman’s collection. Oh well.

The only book in this collection that I did finish is called My First New York: Early Adventures in the Big City, and I gave it away. It’s a collection of essays from New York Magazine by notables from all fields about what New York was like when they first arrived, whenever it was. I saw it on the ubiquitous New York tables at bookstores and museums and finally gave in and bought it. It was, like Ex Libris, a quick read, but a good one.

Another “saw it everywhere” purchase was New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009, edited by Teresa Carpenter, which offers snapshots of the history of this city in diary entries from New York residents throughout the city’s existence. I’ve dipped into it, but have yet to read more than 40 or so pages. What I’ve read, though, was fascinating!
When I graduated college I was given The Neighborhoods of Brooklyn as a gift. It traces the history of each section of the borough I’ve lived in since moving to New York, and while I’ve read up on some of the neighborhoods I’ve lived in, I have yet to read all of it.

Not strictly about New York, but my friend gave me a copy of To Marry an English Lord, the book that inspired “Downton Abbey”, and while I’ve only read about three-quarters of it, I was struck by how many of the American heiresses in it were from New York society, and by the portrait of that society it painted.

A book that is useful for this blog: the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: New York City 2014, given to me by the fabulous Allie Singer. Once the weather’s a little nicer I’m going to use it to plan adventures in parts of the city I haven’t had the chance to explore yet.

On my to-be-purchased list: Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ve seen it in the Met bookstore (where else) and my fascination with museums means I will eventually get around to buying it.

What’s on your odd shelf? What books do you buy faster than you can read them? And what books about New York should I add to my read-eventually pile?


Getting places on time in NYC

I was late to brunch on Saturday. I’d left my apartment with plenty of time to get to my friend’s neighborhood, pick up some apple cider, and show up on her doorstep, but I wasn’t paying attention when I got on the train and only realized I’d messed up when it started going across the Manhattan Bridge. Oops!

How to handle lateness in NYC? With Patience.

How to handle lateness in NYC? With Patience.

I was only fifteen minutes late, not a huge deal when you’re meeting at someone’s apartment instead of a restaurant, but it still annoyed me. I was late a lot growing up and as an adult I try to always be on time. That’s not always easy in New York – you don’t have to drive anywhere, but the subway has its own problems. Delays and construction aside, if you’re running just a couple minutes late and miss the train, you can suddenly be ten minutes late, or even later depending on the time of day.

Fortitude works, too.

Fortitude works, too.

Sometimes it really doesn’t matter if you’re late. I had a few friends over to watch a movie a couple weeks ago and people were running late. But it was Friday night and I was home, so I just watched TV till people arrived. No problem! But other times, being late means missing the beginning of a show, or being late to a rehearsal, or getting to work later than you planned. Last month I was on my way to dinner with friends and I got off the train a stop early rather than wait on a crowded platform for the next one. Bad move – it was a long walk, and my friends were left waiting at the restaurant for a while.

The solution, of course, is to leave extra time to get anywhere, especially when you’re going someplace for the first time! But somehow it seems that the days when you need extra time – when the train’s packed and you have to let it go by, or the doors close as you’re swiping your metro card – are the ones where you’re already running late. The days where you leave early? They tend to be the ones where all your connections work out perfectly and you end up at your destination ten minutes early. And on the days you’re early? The person you’re meeting up with is probably going to be late.

Some people would say here, “Thank goodness for smart phones!” But since I am still clinging to my dumb phone, I’ll say, “Thank goodness for books!” and wait patiently for you to show up, because I’m a little early.

What’s your surefire way to get somewhere on time?

Staycation in Park Slope

Considering I had a long weekend trip just a few weekends ago, and I’m in the midst of planning a vacation with my mom for not too long from now, a four-day Labor Day staycation was clearly in order this weekend. I needed it. My apartment, which wasn’t looking bad but required a little cleaning and attention, also needed it. And so I had four days wherein I stayed so close to home that I didn’t take the subway and only took the bus once, after a particularly expensive drugstore visit.

???????????????????????????????A delicious and cheap brunch place where Mayor De Blasio has been known to hang out

I ran some errands, saw a couple friends for meals, did some trip planning, and got some reading time in. I also watched some TV and a movie, two things I haven’t done all that much of this summer. I even got up and went to the gym on Monday morning, a little later than I usually go because it was, after all, a holiday, and the streets were quiet besides a few dog walkers and cyclists. The gym was emptier than usual – I had the whole row of ellipticals to myself.

???????????????????????????????The Park Slope library, with random stoop sale outside it

During my errand outing in Park Slope, and when I was meeting up with my friends, I took a few photos of the neighborhood. It’s where I go for brunch and to buy shampoo and return library books (when the library is not closed for the holiday, oops). When friends visit who haven’t spent much time in NYC, they’re usually surprised by Brooklyn. It doesn’t look like the NYC they’ve seen on television or in movies.

DSC01850A pretty church

That’s one of the things I like about living here. Working in Manhattan is a lot of fun, but it’s nice to escape at the end of the day and on the weekends to a place that’s a little quieter. Even with Park Slope’s notoriety, I don’t think there are a ton of tourists wandering down 7th Avenue. I can handle the baby strollers, and there are usually enough cute dogs to more than balance out the small children.

???????????????????????????????Pretty houses

I meant to take more pictures of the commercial streets, but I got distracted by trees and pretty buildings. Next time I take a walk maybe I’ll get some more pictures of restaurants and stores, or even people.

Well, maybe.

???????????????????????????????A lovely weeping willow

What did you do with your long weekend, and what’s your favorite staycation activity?

PS The movie I was in has started showing in theaters, but I haven’t gone yet! If you see it, let me know if you spot me!

???????????????????????????????Another pretty church! This one has a used book sale every February.


At the top of Central Park

I tend not to spend much time on weekends in Manhattan. It’s not that there aren’t great things to do in Manhattan – there are, and I’ve written about them. But when you spend a solid hour and a half commuting Monday through Friday, sometimes on the weekend, you need a break.

Cathedral of St. John the Divine

But this weekend I made the trek, and not just my normal trek to downtown, or to midtown for a show. I headed up to 110thStreet and Central Park West. My friend and I both had parties to go to that evening around 100th Street on the east side of the park, so we met up at a café near the northwest corner, got something to eat and drink, and had a nice chat. On my way to meet her I stopped to snap a few photos of St. John the Divine. Sometime I’ll go back and take some pictures of the interior, since when I was there seven years ago it was under renovation.

 After we ate, we meandered into the park to make our way across and slightly south. I’d only ever seen this bit of Central Park from a bike, so it was neat to explore a little and see what the north end has to offer. It was definitely way less touristy than the southern end of the park, which is in itself a recommendation.
There’s a lake, and a swimming pool, and some really gorgeous little gardens. Some of the buildings we could spot along the east border of the park were pretty too. We passed a man in a tux, hands in his pockets and blowing bubble gum, and then a wedding party, out for photos. We assumed the man wasn’t the groom…

 We got turned around a little as we left the park because some streets dead-end at the train line up there, but eventually we both made it to our parties. It was a really lovely outing, made better by the fact that despite some threatening rain clouds, we didn’t get wet.
 This doesn’t count as my “getting lost” outing (I really need to do that soon) since my friend knew where we were, but it was great to wander through an area of the city that I hadn’t explored before. Are there any parts of Central Park, or any other park, that you’ve stumbled upon and loved?


Walking the High Line

I can’t believe I haven’t written about the High Line before. It’s been five years since I first walked it with friends, when I was an intern, and fell in love with it. But if I’m being honest, the reason I haven’t written about it is that I’m not sure I’ve walked it since I started writing this blog. I know, it’s crazy – how can a place be one of my favorites in New York if I haven’t been there in a year? But the High Line is pretty far west, and not the easiest place to get to by public transit. I walked there last night from my office and it took me about half an hour – only ten minutes longer than the subway option would have taken me.

But it’s worth the hassle it can be to get there, because this above ground subway line-turned-park is gorgeous. The buildings that surround it are interesting, and the contrast between the green trees and plants and the buildings is the perfect level for an urban park. It reminds me a little of Bryant Park, except the focus of the High Line is walking.

I went last night with a friend and we walked along the whole length, and much of the way back, stopping along the way for a gelato and a drink. There were people sitting at benches and on the grass all along the High Line, but there was also the steady stream of people strolling. We strolled, and talked, and I took these pictures to remember what a beautiful summer night out can look like.

I love the spot where you can turn around and see the Statue of Liberty in the distance, tiny but present, and the spot nearby where you can sit at a window overlooking the street and watch the traffic in front of you.
Part of the path was wet, maybe from irrigation for the plants, and kids and adults were cooling off their feet.

If you’re interested in the history of the High Line (or, you know, how to get there), you can read more about it here. If you want to read a beautiful children’s book about places like the High Line, pick up a copy of The Curious Garden by Peter Brown.

View from the top: the Empire State Building

Last Friday night I had a true NYC tourist outing – I went to the top of the Empire State Building with my uncle and cousin. They were in town doing the college visit thing and I got to meet up with them a couple different times and show them around New York a little bit. It was a blast – I hope they come back soon, even if my cousin doesn’t end up here for school!

Anyway, after dinner on Friday we meandered down to 34th Street. We stopped in Macys and rode the old school escalators all the way to the top before I remembered that the men’s section was on the other side of the building, and then we headed over to the Empire State. It was around 9:45, and we were warned there’d be a 30 or so minute wait. Honestly, I don’t think we were waiting all that long – mostly it just took a while to get up the elevator, buy tickets, and make our way to the observatory deck on the 86th floor.
There was a line for the elevator from the 80th floor to the 86th, but they also told us we could take the stairs, so we got in our workout and climbed six flights up (and later, six flights down). I was a little out of breath, but the view from the 86th floor was totally worth it. 
I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve always loved views from a height. When I went on a choir trip to Italy in college, climbing to the tops of the duomos and of St. Peter’s were some of my favorite parts of the whole trip. The six flights to the top of the Empire State were nothing compared to those climbs, but its view is even more impressive. Being outside while up that high is amazing.

We got the supplementary tickets to go up to the 102ndstory – the view was lovely from there too, but not different enough that I’d do it again. It’s also enclosed by windows, so there’s more of a distance between you and the lights of the city.

Admission (without fast pass to skip the line) to the 86thfloor is $29. If you haven’t done it before, it’s worth doing, especially at night. The city is both huge and tiny from above, and so very complex — kind of like looking at the Panorama. Looking down at the taxis moving through the streets, the ads of Times Square flashing, the Freedom all the way downtown – it’s all beautiful from on high.
 Have you been to the Empire State Building? What’d you think? Are there other rooftop views I should be checking out? I need to get to the Met and visit their roof again before the summer ends…

Summer Streets of NYC

If the rain holds off this weekend, there is something all the New Yorkers reading this should check out on Saturday: Summer Streets. If you’re out of town, or it does rain, don’t worry — you’ll get another shot next the follow two Saturdays, 8/9 and 8/16.

Summer Streets is an event in Manhattan each summer where a long stretch of road is closed to car traffic for the morning, from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m., from the Brooklyn Bridge all the way up to Central Park. The route is almost seven miles long, and if you go to check it out, you can walk, run, bike, scoot, rollerblade, or basically use any non-motorized form of transportation to travel through the city.

I did it two summers ago with my friend and we had a blast. I rode my bike, and we picked up a free roller blade rental for her because the bike rental line was too long. I don’t usually bike in Manhattan — too much of a scaredy-cat — but having the opportunity to do so and not share the road with cars is so much fun! I got to do that when I did the Five Boro ride, and Summer Streets is a great way to get the same experience without having to ride quite so many miles.

It doesn’t hurt that there are rest stops along the way with food, free samples, workshops, crafts, music, a zip line and climbing wall — and all of it is free! Even if you aren’t a cyclist or skater, just walking along a street without cars is a novel experience in the middle of Manhattan, so I highly recommend it!

Has anyone else been to Summer Streets? And more importantly, who wants to check it out with me one Saturday?

Getting lost in New York

It’s been a long time since I was a true tourist in New York, someone who didn’t know her way around the city and got lost easily. I took the subway by myself for the first time as a sophomore in college, traveling from Grand Central all the way up to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, even navigating a service change. Since then I’ve made my way on my own. Okay, there’s the occasional brain fart where I forget which direction is west and which is east, but besides that, I can get myself around without too much trouble.

That means that I don’t often just wander the city anymore – I’m always on my way from one place to another. It’s efficient when you have to be somewhere by a certain time, but it means I rarely stop to explore my own city, even when I have people visiting me – especially not then, since I’m always trying to show them the parts of New York I already know and love.
Most of my meandering happens in familiar parts of the city – a walk around SoHo after dinner with a friend, around my neighborhood in Brooklyn, or through Prospect Park. If I’m walking for the sake of walking, sometimes I’ll notice places I’ve never seen before even though I’ve passed them a dozen times, and sometimes I’ll take a moment to stop and just enjoy the sunshine. I forget to do that sometimes when I’m on the phone with my mom, walking home from the subway after work, and it’s important to slow down and be present.
A modest proposal for the remaining weeks of summer: I plan to take one free afternoon, pick a neighborhood I haven’t spent much time in, and wander, without a timeline or a destination. My goal will be to get a little lost, because if I do, I might find myself somewhere pretty neat.
Anyone want to join me?

On going to the gym

I used to be an athlete. I played summer soccer for seven years as a kid, and I played tennis all through high school. I also danced for eleven years.

Despite all those years of physical activity, I never seemed like an athlete. I wasn’t very coordinated in gym class, I couldn’t run a mile all that quickly, and don’t get me started on push-ups. While I was a decent soccer player and a decent dancer and a decent tennis player, I wasn’t great, so it’s unsurprising that by college all that stuff fell to the wayside. Barring a few months of working out sporadically in college, I avoided words like “treadmill” and “elliptical” and “weight-lifting” until about a year ago, when I joined a gym.

It’s been tough creating a routine. In my pre-gym days I used to be confused by friends who’d decline plans because that was their gym night, but now I get it. Life is busy – if I’m out late at a choir rehearsal, I have no interest in going to the gym next morning. Some friends are amazed when I say I go the gym before work, but what they don’t realize is, if I tried to go after work, I’d never make it. If I don’t have plans, at the end of the work day I want to go home, eat dinner, and watch TV.
So instead I roll out of bed before 7 am and drag myself out the door for a quick workout a couple times a week, and while I don’t quite get the endorphin rush, I don’t hate the time I spend on the elliptical anymore. It’s especially bearable if I bring something to read on my Nook, or if I can find a tennis match to watch. Turns out tennis makes me run faster than reading does.
NYC gyms can be expensive, and mine is no exception. If I were more of a hardcore cyclist, I’d bike for exercise and scrap the monthly fees. But I’m not, and while getting to the gym in the snow or rain is definitely hard, I’m better at it than I used to be. Going in the summer is downright easy by comparison.
It’s been almost a year now, and I do feel the difference – I’m a little stronger, a little fitter, a little more confident in my abilities. I don’t get quite as tired when I’m out long walks in the city. I’m sure I’ll miss weeks again next time I go on vacation, or when the cold weather comes back, but my excuses are getting less frequent and I’ve just upped my level on the elliptical. Maybe it’s time to cash in my second free personal training session…
How do you exercise? Is a gym membership in NYC worth it to you, or would you be biking across the bridge every morning?

Free Saturday at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

My dad came to visit this weekend and on Saturday morning we knew we needed to spend time outside. It was a gorgeous day, in the upper seventies, and after brunch at a diner we wandered over to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Famous for its cherry blossom festival each spring, the Botanic Garden is located in the northeast part of Prospect Park, near the Brooklyn Museum and the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. When we got there, we made a lovely discovery: admission is free on Saturday mornings between 10 am and 12 pm.

We wandered into the park and found ourselves in the native flora section, where some of the bushes smelled like the ones we had in our old backyard. There were wide paths and narrow ones, and while we could hear traffic and catch an occasional glimpse of it, this little bit of woods could have almost been a trail in a park upstate. At the head of one of the narrow paths we came across a young couple and their tiny twin toddlers. One of the girls was walking sturdily along until she saw us, at which point she hid behind her mother’s leg.

We emerged out of the flora paths and passed a pond, complete with turtles and lily pads, then walked into the rose garden, my favorite part of the Botanic Garden. I took picture after picture, trying to capture the vibrant colors. There was a couple who looked to be taking engagement photos, and a little later a woman asked me to take a photo of her in front of the roses.

Alongside the rose garden was a beautiful lawn that I think was the esplanade where the cherry blossoms would have been in early spring. Families were sprawled out on the grass, and while you’re not supposed to bring food into the garden, it looked like a perfect place for a picnic – or at least for a quiet afternoon with a book.

Our last stops were the Japanese Tea Garden and the Shakespeare Garden. The pool of water the Japanese Tea Garden sat on was lovely, but the flowers in the Shakespeare Garden were lovelier. There’s also something especially neat about a garden populated with flowers and plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. I went to a Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park a few weeks ago, and while it was bigger, more like one of the private courtyards at the end of the movie Notting Hill, it didn’t have quite the impact that this smaller garden, packed with flowers, did.

There are other times when the Botanic Garden is free, so check out the website to plan your visit! Has anyone else spent any time there? What’s the best season to go?