Category Archives: travel

Exploring NYC’s East Village

It’s August (late August), and y’all know what that means: the end of the 100-day weekend, also known as summer. School either has started back or will soon, and the florid green is deepening, preparing to fade.

August in the East Village

I spent my summer reading and working and writing and traveling a bit, and mostly learning how to navigate this city physically, emotionally and mentally. I also spent it exploring, which is my favorite thing, because it is an act of investment and self-edification and fulfillment.

With that in mind, I’d like to share a few places (mostly restaurants) that I’ve fallen in love with and that you should check out in these, our last days of summer. Or fall. Or deep in the winter. These are non-seasonal treasures. Most of them are in my neighborhood, which I am madly in love with, and which is also relatively non-touristy because it’s a bit away from the station. Not all of them, though.

1. Northern Spy Food Co.: An East/Village Alphabet City staple, this phenomenal little restaurant is elegantly designed in every way. A season- and source-conscious menu pairs with an easy-going decor to make for the kind of intimate and unpretentious experience you wish for. The best thing about Northern Spy? The Sunday Night Supper – a three-course, prix fixe meal designed by the chef, Hadley Schmitt, for the unbelievably low price of $27. I had a gorgeous balsamic apple, pear, strawberry and feta salad, jambalaya with grits, and pistachio grandmother’s cake with raspberry coulis when I went earlier this summer. Let your belly really enjoy the summer.

2. Bobwhite Supper Counter: While we’re on restaurants, Bobwhite is a beautiful Southern restaurant on Avenue C. While their fried chicken is prominent on the menu, it’s not as good as they make it out to be. Admittedly, I’ve had excellent fried chicken, being from North Carolina (Price’s…Rooster’s…Acme….), so I am hard to please. It’s the other things on the menu that are absolutely revelatory. First, they make their sweet tea with simple syrup. Yes. They’re purists. Second, their chow-chow (a Southern relish) is perfectly balanced and a bit unusual, as is their tomato chutney. Both go excellently with their pimento cheese sandwich and, wait for it, fried okra. It’s the best fried okra I’ve ever had. Sorry, Frank Stitt.

3. The Dog Park on 15th St. and 3rd Avenue: It’s just a dog park. But it’s a dog park! If you need a little four-legged therapy, this is the place to go. The dogs are friendly and so are the people. And if you don’t have a pup, and are just there to scheme on the neighborhood’s happy animals, that’s okay. You won’t be the only one.

4. Brooklyn Brine: This Gowanus brinery is just about as cool as it gets. They make whiskey sour pickles, pickled chipotle carrots, deli-style pickles, hop-pickles (brined with beer), maple-bourbon bread and butter pickles, orange and fennel pickles, and a whole host of delicious other varieties. It’s also a really friendly space; just pop in, try some pickles, leave with a couple of jars. Also hope that Jenny is there – she’s a gem, and will let you try every single one if you’re that kind of shopper.

Pickles by BB

5. Still House: This is an intricate, well-designed store on 7th near Big Gay Ice Cream and it’s sublime. Full of little items that are special and secret, Still House is a quietly epic place. Most of the things inside are also earthy, or handmade, which is nice to find in this city. 7th Street is a gold mine for this sort of thing, as is 9th.

6. Van Leeuwen: While you’re on 7th, stop into Van Leeuwan for some elevated (expensive) ice cream! With flavors like earl grey and two kinds of vegan ice cream, it’s a bit of a specialty shop. I love ice cream, though, but have trouble with “real” ice cream, so the vegan is worth it for me. Not to mention that it’s also very nicely designed. Would fit right into a little North Carolina town like Chapel Hill, which is probably why I love it so.

That’s a good jumping-off place for now. I’ll add to the list as I can. Happy adventuring!

Laissez les bon temps,

the girl

Advertisements

that time we got lost in a hospital

Screen shot 2012-06-28 at 9.02.46 PM

Late January, 2012.

In the waning Saturday afternoon, Tony asked me if I wanted to go for a walk with him towards the river and back.  Along the way, we’d stop by his new office, where he’d be starting work next week, and take some pictures of this old city new to us. We ended up in St. Thomas’ Hospital on the opposite side of the Thames, lost and laughing.

Standing in front of the double glass doors, looking up a flight of steps at the building that stood between us and the Thames, illusions of general sensibility came tumbling down. Who tries to navigate a city they don’t know without a map or even phones that work? Us, that’s who. To our right was a truck loading dock and to our left, the street we’d wandered down in a neighborhood we weren’t dying to delve back into. Not sure how we’d gotten where we were, we weren’t really sure how to get out.

By the time we’d gotten near enough to see the water, thirty minutes earlier, my sense of direction had evaporated completely. In search of the elusive office, we walked over a bridge I never found again, past a cafe I did try to find again and couldn’t, and backtracked to find it down I street I hadn’t initially seen. Not that either of us really cared. Turns out we’re great at getting turned around and keeping humors up.

We watched people come in and out of what seemed to be the back doors of  St. Thomas’. We watched no one walk up or down the street we’d just come from. The decision was made for us.

“We can’t go over it, and we can’t go under it. We’ve got to go through it,” I said.

“Act cool,” he said.

We started up the steps like we knew just what we were doing, which was just exactly nothing. When we got to the top of the stairs, we came into the central hallway, smelling faintly sterile and humming. I’d never been in a hospital quite so casually, and I know both of our skins were crawling with awkward anxiety.

I felt like I’d forgotten how to walk, not sure if our footsteps were too light or too quick or obviously nervous. When you don’t belong somewhere, it feels like everyone around you is waiting for your tell. My knees started doing that weird thing where they kind of pop too much, like Shaggy Doo or something.

We walked through a stairwell, through a cafeteria, past a fantastically huge and deteriorated statue of Queen Victoria the first, through a weird holding room, all the while looking out the windows on our left at the river and city across it. When we finally did reach a set of doors, practically running through them, into a garden. Sweet relief.

“Found you a chair, Tony.”

We found ruins in the garden too, and almost cried from laughter.

I still have no idea who that man in the statue is or why he’s there, or why there’s an abandoned apartment overhead, or why there’s no way out of that wing of the hospital, but I do know that it’s pretty there and that the vibes are spooky and that I’m glad we found it and even gladder that I never had to go back.

I think we ended up hopping three sets of fences, wandering along grassy knolls not intended for visitors towards the only pathway out we could see: a walkway that we weren’t sure was even part of the hospital running parallel to the river and crowded with businesspeople. By the time we got out, we were grinning like the escapees we were.

.

In the coming storm and falling sun, Tony and I did end up with a few good pictures, some which turned out almost luminescent:

and:

and this sky:

and similarly, this, where the gold crown is sliding right off the top of that lightpost:

I don’t have a moral, except that London is full of the strangest things.

.

as always, laissez les bon temps rouler,

the girl

remembering london in the afterglow

Picadilly Circus, 1960s
Picadilly Circus, 1960s

For four months, I lived in London. I even had a glass of wine with the queen – or a friend wearing a mask of the HRH. But as time passes ever so fast, I slowly lose the detailed memories of that time; the benefit of hindsight is that those big days and big nights feel even bigger and even brighter. Guided by mental and physical snapshots, I’m feeling my way back, one month later.

.

I flew across the Atlantic for the first time on Friday, January 13th and I’m superstitious. On my first full day in London, I took a bus tour of the city which was utilitarian, enlightening, and exhausting. Riding over Tower Bridge, I caught this shot with the London Eye, Parliament, and Big Ben.

I’m a wide-eyed kind of traveller; it always feels surreal, like I’m living in a dream-world and that any minute it’s going to fall away. When I took this picture, it was all so invigorating and a little bit nauseating; excitement and adrenaline burnished with fear. Imagine feeling for three days like you’re living at the peak point of a roller coaster.

.

First walk through Hyde Park, and we come upon this, beautiful and bizarre. Like the usual bird-feeding park-lurker, she had magpie tendencies. Just look at the collection she’s wearing; Chanel bag, red lipstick to match her red coat, costume jewelry earrings and scarf. But her attitude and entourage suggested someone much less lonely, someone much more content. I wasn’t sure what her story was then, but I’d still like to know.

.

Snow in London, covering Russell Square. The first of this year’s late-winter snows dusted the city in the early morning. A little girl and her grandparents were building a snowman in the wake of this statue. I can’t remember what that morning sounded like, but I do remember that it was exhilarating.

I was out early that morning, although work had been called off, to get pancake batter and hot chocolate with my wonderful roommate N. We’d decided to surprise our other roommates, but when we got to Tesco, quickly realized we weren’t the only ones with plans for a sweet morning. The store was out of everything, but the day still ended up being a hazy monochrome, perfectly lazy.

.

An afternoon alone ought to be spent in Hampstead Heath. It’s quiet there and easy to imagine yourself as anyone. The town is quaint and comfortable, and it’s still on the Heath. To my right were swans and other waterbirds that make Lake #5 popular, and behind me the knotted hills so typical of England.

Sitting on that hilltop bench, I could hear the birds’ wing feathers rustle as they flew by me, and hear cuts of conversation as people walked the path behind. I felt for a while like Joni Mitchell sounds and it felt alright.

.

This is the London Eye in March, in the very late afternoon. An hour earlier on the same Saturday, I’d reunited with a dear friend at Holborn Station. Though we went to school together in the States, he’s British and lives in England. We met in middle school as carpool partners, and spent our morning car rides arguing about Al Gore and American Idol. We still talk about essentially the same things- pop culture and politics. A decade-long friendship is something to be proud of, something unbelievable, and something to celebrate.

As that afternoon drifted away, we walked the width of London, across the bridge to Southbank. For a brief time, we wound up under the Eye. The line was almost entirely 16-18 year olds, dressed up and little drunk, riding the Eye as part of their Prom celebrations. G. and I looked at each other, struck that we were in the London, together, and struck by the remarkable convergence of ideas and memories. Here were kids younger than us – though it didn’t and doesn’t seem possible that we’ve gotten quite this old – pregaming their Prom on the London Eye. They were oblivious to us and to the US-style prom that G. and I had experienced together. They were oblivious to the import of the Eye, treating is as casually as only the owner of something valuable can. They were oblivious to how old they made us feel, and how alien they seemed. The process of observing them seemed simultaneously big and small. This moment was strong/fragile and this image embodies some of that duality for me.

.

It’s true that I’ve forgotten now more than I can ever hope to remember, but the memories that I’ve got are more than enough.

.

laissez les bon temps rouler,

the girl

L*O*N*D*O*N

Flying over the Atlantic for the first time in my life, I had a window seat, and forehead pressed to the double-paned window watched the earth roll under the planes wings. I watched the last island-bound lights of Canada slide away, and then skimmed high over the ocean. With so little light pollution, the stars were pure, crystalline, and studded the sky in more density than I’d ever seen. I was flying under the Big Dipper for a while, flying into the moon at another, and watched the sunrise burn up over a long, curved horizon.

I saw the impossibly deep green of island Ireland and almost laughed aloud. It was lit all around the edges at all the ports, a little country just waking up. The giddiness continued as I flew over the countryside- just like in the old Sherlock Holmes movies, familiar but still so strange. The fields were frosted, maybe faded is a better word, but it was all the colors of drying lavender, that dusty green and purple. No surprise that this is a country that breathes ancient breaths, after seeing the look of the land.

Buckingham Palace fountain, glittering in the early morning light.

I left CLT at approximately 5 p.m. and found myself, ten hours later, in the back of a black cab in LDN, rounding the circle in front of Buckingham Palace. I’m skin-deep in London, and smitten already.

.

Bloomsbury by night above, and Liberty below.

Not quite one week later, still infatuated. I like the sensation of piecing the streets together as I walk them, of connecting the loose strands to one another and netting the city bit by bit. It’s all shifting in my brain still, but with each correctly anticipated street sign and turn, it solidifies. I’ve also gotten used to getting lost; it’s probably what I’m best at.

Leadenhall Market, where part of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley was filmed.

Neal’s Yard on an early Sunday morning.

Above is Neal’s Yard, a tiny courtyard of brilliant color in the middle of London. If you’re in the Seven Dials area, try to find it. According to legend, it was launched by an apothecary, Neal, who was tired of the city’s endless grey, so he bought a little storefront and painted it. As the Yard developed, the trend spread. Now, it’s got a veggie-friendly restaurant, a skate shop, a eco-friendly hair salon, an apothecary, and a variety of studios. It’s a secret that refuses to be kept.

It’s Big Ben, for crying out loud.

That summer camp feeling is wearing off, but I’m not weary yet, not by a long shot. We’ve got it made.

.

laissez les bon temps rouler,

the girl