Monday, November 22, 2010

These People Obviously Believe in Evolution

How can it be that a city knows and respects history so passionately, while constantly modernizing and being on the cutting edge? The city of New York sued the Penn Central Railroad when they wanted to raze Grand Central Terminal in the sixties, Jacqueline Kennedy publicly decrying the severance of the American psyche with its origins in order to guilt the public into saving it. Yet they tore down Penn Station and covered it with the evil behemoth of Madison Square Garden. Horrible tenements are knocked down and livable housing is built up, but one of the most interesting small museums in the city is the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, where one can see the realistically restored hovel of an immigrant garment worker. While countless modern means exist to cross the East River to Brooklyn, the most loved route is the oldest, the Brooklyn Bridge. It was built in 1883 and was the longest suspension bridge ever when it was completed. At the behest of one of my traveling companions, we trekked across it, and i was pleasantly surprised with both its grandeur and walkability. Now do not get me wrong, I am a Golden Gate Bridge devotee through and through, but I would have to put this marvel, with its looming medieval stone arches and iron cables, as a safe second on my list of famous bridges that I have crossed on foot.*

The strange misunderstood people of this city also have a great way of taking old, defunct things and converting them into new, useful, artistic, and generally extremely expensive masterpieces. Take, for instance, a new park called the High Line. In the early 1930s the New York Central Railroad built this 13 mile stretch of elevated railway tracks in order to move people and goods without causing the traffic and horrible accidents that had followed the street level railroad system. However, by the 1960s it was becoming obsolete and in 1980 it pulled it's last load: a glamorous cargo of three boxes of frozen turkeys.** Soon after that the land hungry developers wanted it torn down and the land sold off but a local railfan contested its demolition, and over the next twenty years a fabulous reclamation and repurposing project was developed.

A friend took me to see the newly opened park, which is unlike anything I have ever seen. It has pieces of the old tracks woven in among various native plants painstakingly selected to have some interesting blooms at all times of the year. It has lovely benches where one could recline and view the nearby Hudson River. It has a huge and disconcerting art installation in which terrifying bells ring all around you without warning. And, its most exciting feature, is a glass-walled amphitheater where one can sit and watch the traffic of Tenth Avenue*** passing silently beneath one's feet.

New dining and entertainment recommendations from the past few days are as follows:

Shake Shack, a beautiful oasis of American diner fare in Madison Square Park. The outdoor dining complimented by heat lamps and tiny white lights make the perfect environment to sip a PUMPKIN PIE MILKSHAKE. They do exist, and they are even better than they sound.

Cafe Habana, a cozy, homestyle Cuban restaurant where one can enjoy a huge platter of pulled pork, black beans, and yellow rice for only ten dollars. The warm atmosphere and Caribbean music are a nice escape if it is cold outside, which it usually is.

McNally Jackson Books, in a neighborhood called Nolita****. I went there for a reading by seven authors from different European countries from an anthology of new fiction from the continent. Great selection, and a nice cafe inside as well.

Zebulon, a bar and concert venue that we visited expecting to hear jazz, but finding really good rock and roll from the very stupidly named band Crinkles. It is a nice place to check out some live music in Brooklyn with no cover.

Stay tuned for more New York City, including the U.N., the MoMA, free sake bombs from a Thai gentleman called Paul, and a pony siting!


*This is a very short list, as it is never my idea to do anything on foot when it is not completely necessary.
**I am not making this up.
***Formerly dubbed "Death Avenue" when train and other traffic collisions were shockingly frequent there.
****I will never understand the neighborhoods or confusing naming practices of this town.

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