Tag Archives: beer

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.


Roosterfish, The Watkins Glen Farm Sanctuary, and a Tangential Rant On Veganism

21 Sep

Watkins Glen was one of those towns I’d drive through often to get somewhere else.  And every time I did, I’d think “What a nice little town.  I should explore it.” Over the past couple of months, this smallish Finger Lakes destination kept coming up in conversation, from its native beers to its fabulous gorge and rolling farmland surroundings.  It’s also the home of a unique animal welfare project called Farm Sanctuary, which provides a home to abused, neglected and abandoned farm animals, while also (not so subtly) pushing conscientious food choices.  As a bit of a former activist, and as a former vegan, I had known about this place for a while and had always wanted to see it.  And when we found out you could meet and interact with the animals, it was decided.  Good beer + beautiful environments + meeting animals = a potentially awesome weekend.

Delicious Firehouse Blonde

My dear lady’s birthday provided the perfect excuse.  She, myself, and a friend of ours made it a Saturday day-trip, starting with the Sanctuary, followed by an intermission of downtown strolling, and ending at the Roosterfish brew pub for dinner and however many drinks the night demanded.  Roosterfish, by the way, is pretty awesome.  They craft several tasty brews, from a dark nut to a Belgian style tripel and even a black IPA!  And you can do a flight of as few as three beers for a very reasonable price.  The food was mostly great.  I loved the spicy ketchup that our sweet potato fries came with, and my catfish po-boy was good (though I’d have preferred grilled fish to fried).  Avoid the onion rings – too bland.  My lady had a very excellent veggie penne.

Lovin’ the attention!

Anyway, on to the main event.  The Farm Sanctuary is in a beautiful spot, about twenty minutes west of Watkins Glen proper, tucked back along a rutted dirt road.  When arriving from the east, you’ll be tempted to park in the first lot you see, which is actually for the animal hospital.  Ignore this lot and continue down the road to the main parking area, where the gift shop / welcome center is.  They do tours of the sanctuary every hour, so time accordingly.  Our guide was cheerful and laid back, happy to answer our questions, and most importantly, keeping safety a priority.  After all, a cow bred for beef can get as heavy as half a ton, and you don’t want that stepping on your foot.  It was neat to really get to know these animals, who were surprisingly sociable.  The goats acted a lot like dogs, enjoying our petting and following us around the pasture.  The pigs would roll their 600 pound weight over if you rubbed their bellies enough.  Even the turkeys seemed to like the attention, though some more than others.  Our guide helpfully pointed out some of the less-friendly birds.  At the end of the tour, we were invited to walk around the area on our own, and to stop by the gift-shop for some free vegan treats.  Coconut-milk ice-cream sandwich = win.

If I have one complaint about the experience, it would be the proselytizing.  It wasn’t pushy or preachy per se, but there was a running theme during this tour of the seemingly infallible virtues of veganism.  There were many explanations on the horrors behind factory farmed animal products, and why a “vegan lifestyle” was necessary to alleviate this suffering.  This is all good, since most people would find this information new and hopefully compelling.  Western consumers are disturbingly disconnected from their food sources, and the more we know, the better.  So I definitely applaud the effort, and I absolutely recommend a visit to this lovely and fun place.

A better life for this bovine refugee

But I must contend the basic narrative, that veganism is the “solution” to issues of food politics.  Like I said, I was an activist in the past (still somewhat am) and also a vegan.  For a long time too – about nine years.  It was a decision born of my environmental and ethical concerns towards the industrial food industry – concerns which, in the past decade, have become much more common knowledge.  This is a wonderful thing, and has prompted a lot of industry changes.  I can remember being a young man trying to explain the horrors of factory farming to anyone who would listen, and the listener would usually be completely shocked (or refuse to even think about it.  Which is perhaps the same thing).  Nowadays, food politics have become much more ubiquitous.  Farmers markets have become hugely popular, food sources an increasing concern for all consumers, not just the hippies and enviro-yuppies of the past.  Everyone (who can afford it) wants organic, free-range, no preservative, non-GMO. non-fucked-around-with food.  The ethics of animal welfare have become a common component of our discourse.  Consumers are changing their habits accordingly – shopping local, reading labels, discussing the environmental and health implications of our ridiculously global food industry.  And, more than ever, they are becoming vegan or vegetarian as a way of curbing these dietary “sins”.

If I sound dismissive about that choice, I don’t mean to.  I have total respect for vegetarianism and veganism, because I know that the decision always comes from a good place.  People make this choice because they learn that their consumption has consequences; awful and nauseating and really quite destructive consequences.  They want to feel better about their role in this process.  They care about animal welfare, personal health, and the deteriorating environment.  And, true to human nature, that choice becomes a rallying point, an identity, a “cause” – quickly spiraling into ideology.  That’s where it gets sticky.  As I’ve often said, I don’t like ideologies on the whole.  They tend to inhibit wider growth and understanding, no matter how noble their roots.  A “cause” turns into a prickly absolute, and Change – the truest reality of life – becomes difficult.

My own “fall” from strict veganism came slowly, as I came to understand the wider implications of my choice.  I was emotionally free from the nightmare of factory-farmed animal products, yes.  But I had instead thrown my dollars and support behind a different nightmare – monoculture farming.  I realized that buying tons of soy products was not in reality a whole lot better for the environment and for animal welfare than eating meat.  Giant agribusiness forces like Monsanto were doing as much damage to the world, if not more, and I was still part of it.  Developing countries were being pillaged for their fertile land, and none of the food or profits went to the people living there.  It dawned on me that some “redneck” who hunts and eats a deer is actually being more politically and environmentally responsible than I am when I buy soy-protein “chicken” nuggets and bananas shipped from Central America.

So this ideology I had clung to, veganism, was not the end-all solution to food issues that I had believed it was.  I was also never really one who thought eating animals was an inherently wrong act, which is where I differed from many vegans/vegetarians.  As a species which is basically equivalent to chimpanzees, I believe we are naturally omnivorous.  Thus, as I learned more, I let myself change.  I gradually incorporated local eggs back into my diet – they’re cheap, they’re healthful, and they come from humane sources that I can see for myself. I started eating sustainably caught fish, for that good fat and protein.  Not that the politics of fishing aren’t also screwy of course, but I try to consume responsibly.  And I guess that’s the point. As a consumer in a civilization of massive environmental exploitation, it is basically impossible to have a diet completely free of bad juju.  If I had my way, I’d grow all my own food, catch all my own fish, hatch all my own eggs, maybe even hunt my own meat.  Unfortunately this is a lifestyle that will take some time to build up to, and it would have to start with me buying land and not living in an apartment.  Until then, we just keep learning, keep growing, and doing the best we can.

Destination: Cleveland! Pt. 2 – Cuyahoga Valley, Loganberry Books, Happy Dog!

1 Aug

Pardon my insidious slackertude.  Discipline – that’s the thing I’m still wrestling with.  Fortunately I’ve been getting work done with my fiction, but I haven’t done enough with the blog.  So then, where was I?

Ohio-Erie Canal & Towpath Trail

Cleveland!  Right.  Hell of a town.  The lady friend and I were thus far impressed with this unsung destination.  But before exploring the city further, we wanted to experience some of the green and the wild of surrounding O-hi-o.  So we headed over to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which runs north and south between Cleveland and Akron, covering some 30,000 acres.  The Canal Visitor Center happened to be right down the road from our hotel in Independence, perfect place to start.  We chatted with a ranger about the history of the Ohio-Erie Canal, conservation efforts, and local fauna.  Within the Center’s large 19th c. building one finds numerous exhibits on the history of the canal area, a history I’d say is pretty underrated.  Us upstate New Yorkers are aware of how monumental the canal boon of the Transportation Revolution was.  The construction of our own Erie Canal, bisecting New York from Albany to Buffalo, connected the Great Lakes with the Atlantic, enabling an explosion of industry and commerce that spread across the northeast.  New York state would not have become what it is without it.

What I didn’t know was that Ohio owes a similar debt of gratitude to man-made waterways.  In the 19th century, there were two major canals in Ohio running north to Lake Erie, and we had stumbled upon the largest, the Ohio-Erie Canal.  It ran from Portsmouth in the south up to Cleveland, connecting interior Ohio to the Ohio River and the Erie Canal, and thus to the trade and industry of the rest of the country.  No small thing for a nation in the midst of an industrial revolution.  These days, the canal is a source of regional historic pride, and the axis of northeast Ohio’s outdoor recreational opportunities.

We asked the ranger where a first-time visitor should go to spot wildlife and were recommended Beaver Marsh at the southern end of the Valley, which also afforded an opportunity to drive through most of the park’s length.  We arrived at a parking area south of Everett where we could pick up the Towpath Trail, running alongside the canal (this is the path donkeys would use while pulling barges along the canal).  This segment of the trail would take us through Beaver Marsh, a thriving ecosystem designated by Audubon as an IBA (important bird area).  The marsh itself has a bit of history, having once been a dairy farm, and then later a field where used car parts were dumped.  Some time in the 1980s, the area was totally cleaned up, which attracted the beavers, who then reshaped the landscape into a waterscape with their industrious labor.  It was amazing to see just what beavers could accomplish!  They had turned a 70 acre  field into a 70 acre marsh.  We walked along the boardwalk, looking down into the water at massive carp gaping their mouths up at us, and glimpsed a huge snapping turtle swimming by.  But the biggest stars of the marsh were the Great Blue Herons.  As we arrived, a group had gathered to watch one perched and preening on a dead tree poking from the water.  As we walked on, we had another heron swoop low right over us, it’s large wings flapping slowly, an audible “whoosh!  whoosh!” -unforgettable.  We later saw another heron standing at the edge, being pestered by a little ol’ blackbird of all things.  It kept dive-bombing the big heron, which, despite its size, seemed at a total loss.  Eventually it flapped laboriously away, clearly confused and annoyed.  Who knew blackbirds could be so fresh?

Great Blue Heron

The Beaver Marsh was great, and we wished we could go there every morning.  The only annoyance is that the Towpath Trail is used heavily by bicyclists, and when one is not a bicyclist, the traffic gets irksome, bikes zooming by next to you, startling birds, threatening collision or a soggy tumble.  Like all National Parks, it’s good to go in as early as you can.  There were other activities at Cuyahoga that we passed up – a waterfall, a train ride, guided walks, so on.  The park region contains a bunch of small farms and quaint eateries, little villages and lots of trails.  It’s a nice thing for Cleveland, to have such a great green area right outside the city.

After the marsh we decided to head back into Cleveland proper.  For the unaware, I’ll mention that I happen to have a serious used book addiction.  Thus it wasn’t long before I discovered the existence of Loganberry Books in the Shaker Heights neighborhood, an “up-and-coming” (as they say) area with lots of shops and a walkable vibe.  I was just looking for my book fix, you know?  Maybe a little paperback or something on the history of the area.  But Loganberry turned out to be a very impressive shop, much larger than it looked from the outside.  They seem very involved with the community, and there was a steady flow of visitors.  Loganberry had some interesting collectibles (passed up a lovely illustrated antique volume of Russian folk tales), and a decent poetry section.  Grabbed some Seamus Heaney, the complete works of Percy Shelley, and an over-sized edition of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, solely because it included large prints of the Gustave Dore illustrations.  I could have spent the rest of the day there, but we were getting hungry and headed downtown to hunt down dinner.

Downtown Cleveland was… not my kind of scene.  There were a lot of restaurants, many that looked very good, but the atmosphere was a jarring blend of tourism and urban hustlin’.  We trekked all over, meticulously looking over menus and meticulously not-looking at the sketchy oddballs who loped around the city with strange looks in their eyes.  Maybe it was a full moon that night, I don’t remember.  Normally I love sketchy oddballs, but there was an unsavory vibe.  It didn’t help that we had a hell of a time deciding where to eat – everything seemed gimicky or over-priced or was already jam-packed.  We gave up and committed ourselves sight-unseen to the next place we came to, which turned out to be an Irish joint called Flannery’s Pub, where I had passable fish and chips and a draft of Old Speckled Hen.  They have an extensive Irish and English beer list, so if that’s your thing, this might be your spot.

Happy Dog!

Our dining experiences took an upswing on the next day, when we went to the acclaimed Happy Dog for an early lunch.  Now this place is awesome.  You can get either a quality hotdog or a vegan “sausage”, and smother it in as many of their fifty (FIFTY!) toppings as you can stomach.  I had the vegan sausage with black truffle mustard (yes, seriously), marinated mushrooms, onions, relish, and garlicky escarole.  Sounds like a hodgepodge, but somehow it all worked beautifully.  Most delicious dog of my life, hands down.  The staff is laid back and the beer selection is extensive, lots of craft brews on tap and bottled.  If I lived in Cleveland, I’d be here every week.

The main event of the day came next – the Cleveland Museum of Art.  That, along with Lake Erie and the West Side Market, coming up in the next post!

Destination: Cleveland! Pt. 1 – Great Lakes Brewing Co. and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

9 Jul

North America is a beautiful continent, vast and diverse, and I’m lucky to have seen a lot of it: sweeping rivers, rolling mountains, the majesty of ancient forests, the severity of the desert.  But in my travels, there’s often a tendency to hop from one end of the continent to the other, leaving the vast center of the U.S. as part of the journey, but rarely the destination.

More the fool, me.

When it recently came time for my lady and I to choose a locale for a short 5-day summer jaunt, we thought of the usual hot-spots here in the northeast: Montreal, Boston, NYC, DC, Philly.  We wanted somewhere within a comfortable day’s drive, with a lot of cultural activities as well as some nice green spaces, and of course, the more affordable the better.  The hot-spots of course are pricy by nature, so I started looking west for some place new.  My eyes settled on Cleveland, a smallish unsung Great Lakes city that I had heard good things about, but had somehow never stopped in.  A city that, I soon learned, had a lot to offer.

The cityscape as viewed from the highway

When I began researching Cleveland, I was mainly motivated by the belief that it would be a cheap vacation.  Which it certainly was.  What I didn’t expect was how culturally and historically rich the town is.  Cleveland, previously unbeknownst to me, boasts world-class museums, a huge zoo and aquarium, five-star restaurants, amazing local food and beer, and varied neighborhoods from the hip to the historic.  It’s the perfect city-size: full of interesting and varied activities, but easy to navigate (once you get used to the crisscrossing highways).  It’s also a surprisingly “green” city, with large expanses of protected land, a lovely university campus (CSU), a renowned arboretum, and even a national park.  It had everything we wanted, and ended up costing us half what we would have spent elsewhere.  Definite win.

An easy highway drive brought us to our hotel, located in nearby Independence, OH, a small suburb only ten minutes from Cleveland proper.  This is a great area to stay in because 1.) you save a lot of money compared to hotels downtown, and 2.) you are right next to the Cuyahoga National Park.  Independence also has easy access to restaurants and stores, handy for last-minute meals or when you suddenly need a pharmacy.  My more-adventurous side would have sooner found a secluded spot to camp in, rather than shell out for a hotel room at all.  But my lady had this crazy idea that a proper vacation to a city should include things like running water and a roof.  Weird right?  We decided to save the camping options for our next visit (and if anyone has tips, please share).  Anyway, you’ll get the best lodging deal over in Independence, where you can choose from a dozen hotels ranging from the luxurious to the usual cheap chains.

For our first night in Cleveland, we hit up the Great Lakes Brewing Company (GLBC).  I was already a big fan of their beers, and couldn’t wait to visit the source of such libatious glory.  It’s located in Ohio City, a downtown neighborhood with some nice brickwork and neo-classical architecture.  We had dinner at the GLBC brew pub and ordered some stupendous fish n’ chips.  The cod was battered with their Edmund Fitzgerald porter, a dark and malty ale named in honor of the famed shipwreck in Lake Superior (GLBC has a lot of regional pride).   The house fries were worthy of epic balladry – possibly the best I’ve ever had.  It is not often that a french fry becomes a sensory experience in one’s memory, yet I can conjure up that taste even now.  I paired this feast with a draft of a flavorful dunkelweizen (dark wheat ale) dubbed Lorelai, a pub-exclusive brew unfortunately not for sale outside of the bar.  If anyone at Great Lakes Brewery is reading this: bottle that beer!  I’d be a happy, happy man with a case of Lorelai.

The glories of the Great Lakes Brewing Co.

Next up came a tour of the brewery.  Our guide made it fun and educational.  Fair warning, Ohio state law prohibits the actual giving-away of alcohol, so the brewery is obligated to charge 25 cents per tasting.  So have some quarters on hand.  And be sure to spend some dough in the gift-shop, because GLBC is a worthy cause!  Not only do they brew fantastic beers, they do so with an eye towards sustainability and integrity.  They use locally-sourced ingredients, strive for zero-waste manufacturing, use green energy designs in the plant, and their delivery truck runs on veggie oil!  These guys are doing it right.  I even bought a t-shirt!

(And I never buy the t-shirt.)

African elephant

Next day, we headed over to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.  Now, I hadn’t been to a zoo since I was a teenager, and I do harbor some ethical qualms about them.  On the one hand, education and conservation are worthy missions.  On the other, a cage is a cage, and there is arguably an innate cruelty in confining certain animals that are biologically wired to roam over miles of territory.  But, I took off my activist/philosopher hat for the day, and just enjoyed myself.  The Cleveland Zoo is big (165 acres), much bigger than it seems on the cartoonish map you get at the entrance.  It’s laid out well, although part of it was built atop a hill, which involves a bit of hiking (unless you’re a wuss and opt to take the shuttle).  The zoo is laid out by bio-region, and there are buildings with indoor exhibits which are like mini-zoos in themselves – a rainforest building, an aquarium, and the largest primate collection in North America.  Throughout you’ll find the sorts of animals one expects – elephants, camels, lions, giraffes – as well as rarities like the aptly named aye-aye and the sleek fossa, which looks like a cougar mixed with a dog mixed with a weasel.  It took us about five hours to see everything, and we are the type of people who like to go slow and savor.

The animals all seemed active and in good health, although (and here comes that activist hat) one never knows what sort of mental or emotional issues are going on internally.  There was one thing I know I’ll always remember.  I was approaching the gorilla exhibit and I saw these thick, black fingers gripping through the fence with what could only be bored resignation.  The stoic ape was hunched over, brow furrowed, staring at the ground.  I met this gorilla’s eyes, and saw such a complexity of intelligence and emotion in them that I wanted to knock down the walls (this of course would not have been an improvement for anyone’s situation).  It was a haunting thing.  But in the zoo’s defense, they also have the Gorilla Health Project, which aims to address health issues of zoo-bound gorillas.  So that’s good.  The zoo in fact seemed to have a lot of ongoing conservation efforts, which is what I like to see.  Gorillas of course are highly endangered, so the question of holding them and other higher species in captivity becomes more complicated.  Is it right or wrong to detain thinking, feeling individuals for the sake of preserving the whole species?  Perhaps an argument for another day.

Young black rhinoceros

Despite these bittersweet musings, the zoo was a lot more fun than I expected.  We saw things we’d never otherwise see, sometimes at very close range (I could nearly pat the heads of the rhinos), and got a bunch of good exercise.  For dinner we returned to Independence and ate a great meal at Aladdin’s Eatery, a restaurant chain that is far too delicious and mindful of quality to be a restaurant chain.  They offer wonderful and affordable Lebanese food and revitalizing fresh-made juices and smoothies.  Best falafel I’ve had outside of NYC.  We rounded out the night back at the hotel with a sixer of Dortmunder Gold (GLBC’s flagship German-style lager) and the lame novelty of cable television (we don’t have t.v. service at home, so it’s always an amusement when we come across it).  We watched three hours of Mythbusters and made fun of stupid commercials.  Pleasant end to a pleasant day.

Coming up: the Cuyahoga N.P., the Museum of Art, and Cleveland’s renowned West Side Market.