Arts and Letters – A Day in New York City

20 Jul

I recently took a sojourn to the greatest city in the country (New York City, if that needs clarification, which it should not). A living cliche, I admit that “I love NY” – the city moves, a shifting sea of sight and sound. Around every corner there’s a different energy and possibility, someone or thing new, infinite microcosms swirling within the whole. But hell, people have been waxing poetical about Gotham since practically forever. Jacob Steendam is the earliest example I know of, a Dutch poet who in the mid 17th century arrived in New Amsterdam (as NYC was called before it was NYC) to seek his fortune as a landowner. There he wrote plaintive poems with titles like “Complaint of New Amsterdam, in New Netherlands, to her Mother, of her Beginning, Growth, and Present Condition” – proving that even since its inception, the City has always inspired a love/hate sentiment.

At least that’s how I feel about it. I’ve lived in Brooklyn off and on throughout my life, and it gets to you. Or at least it gets to me. The constant bombardment of energy creates this sort of permanent mental/emotional/spiritual defense. But that’s the trade-off for sharing such a small geographic area with such a humongous and endlessly diverse population, and all the commerce and culture and chaos and cacophony it brings. The upshot, I love NY, always will, but I don’t mind relegating myself these days to visitor status rather than inhabitant. Blasphemy to many, I know.

So anyway. Whenever I fly solo on a trip into the city, I try to strike this balance between new and old, action and contentment. You want to feel that comforting familiarity of your favorite spots, but you also want to soak in some of the new. You want to pack as much into the day as you can, but you don’t want to be so stressed out that the experiences are flying by you without adequate appreciation. To this end, as I came up from the train at Penn Station, I headed first to the West Village, with my mind set on A: breakfast, and B: getting out of midtown as quickly as possible.

On my way to breakfast, I passed BookBook on Bleecker Street – a bookstore I had previously and indifferently brushed off, mostly for its hiply redundant name (sorry guys), but have now discovered to be a sweet spot manned by friendly book lovers and stocked with an interesting and well-priced selection. It’s a mixed of new and used, including a “Bargain Poetry” shelf – two words you don’t see together nearly often enough. I scored a hardcover of Chabon’s essay collection Maps and Legends, a PKD novel (been getting into him recently), and a book of collected writings of Isabelle Eberhardt, which I was quite surprised to find, since I already have two books of her writings in translation, and had thought that was all there was to be had. Happiness!

Following Bleeker swept me down near Mamoun’s, my favorite falafel joint in New York, mostly for being cheap (although the prices inevitably seem higher every time) as well as fast, and good. It’s the perfect eat-and-run option, nibbling your sandwich as you continue to walk the pulsing veins of lower Manhattan. Licking tahini off my fingers, I headed to Generation Records, another inevitable spot for me, and one of the last bastions of the glorious days of the punk record shop. There I picked up a shirt from Ukranian black metal band Drudkh. It’s true, I enjoy the occasional black metal, for me though the lyrics are half the battle. I generally need interesting/creative/intelligent lyrics in my music, or I just can’t dig it. Drudkh are interesting because their lyrical themes include Slavic mythology and regional poetry – notably, they crib the work of the poet Taras Shevchenko. Also… it’s pretty metal.

Next came a visit to Mercer Street Books, a landmark for media whores like myself, always great selection. I can’t visit this place without finding an item to squeal about. On this trip, I grabbed Charles Simic’s collection Charon’s Cosmology, along with The Blue Fox by a beautiful and surreal Icelandic writer known only as Sjón, known for, among other things, his collaborations with Björk. Also scored some D.F. Wallace nonfiction and a hardcover of the essay collection Convergences from Octavio Paz. Paz does not get enough love for his excellent nonfiction, I think.

After that I paid a visit to two old friends – one a person, which involved hopping over to Brooklyn for a while, and the other the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which involved going uptown, ugh. But how can you not? It’s the Met! I spent a few hours with old favorites – Picasso, Gérôme, Gauguin, and the ancient Near Eastern section, which houses some of my favorite things in the museum, like the palace of Ashurnasirpal II. Then explored an area I don’t get to often, the Asian Art wing, with its fantastic Buddhist sculptures. Sadly the museum began to close, so to top off the day, I grabbed some dinner at a nearby Belgium place (I guess this is a thing now?) called Brasserie Magritte. The specialty here is mussels and a wide selection of Belgium beer, both things that I have a deep appreciation for. And it was oh so very glorious. PEI mussels served one of four ways (I opted for “northern style”, which the waiter said was best) along with crispy Belgium fries and a delicious ketchup. In the interest of novelty, I went for a “house” beer, their Magritte Witte, which is brewed off-site exclusively for them. It was light but good, perfect for summer. Next time though I intend to delve deeper into their esoteric bottle list. And there will be a next time.


So, that was my day. Sorry for the lack of pictures – I am hopefully upgrading my phone soon, so I’ll have a decent camera on hand in the future. It never occurs to me to bring my actual camera when I go exploring for some reason. Oh well.

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