Sunday, April 26, 2009

Churches, Death Masks & Sean Connery

Before I moved to New York I had a notion that the city's churches were few and far between. Sure, there was St. Patrick's for the Catholics and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine for the Episcopalians and ... well there must be a few other houses of worship hidden in the depths of the city for everyone else.

How little I knew.

We have at least three Catholic churches within walking distance of our apartment, and I regularly pass two or three other churches and a temple just doing normal neighborhood things like shopping and walking to the subway.

Manhattan is no different. About two or three times a month we attend a mass in the city depending on our plans for the weekend. When we are planning on visiting a certain museum, eating at a certain restaurant or exploring a certain neighborhood, I pop in the zip code at and up pops a list of the three or four dozen closest Catholic churches.

We've seen some beautiful churches this way, and some very interesting artifacts instead. The church we went to near Lincoln Center last weekend had a glass cabinet displaying a death mask. The Catholic church closest to our apartment has a statue of a saint that looks exactly like Sean Connery circa "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."

As for services, last night's was by far the most interesting. I found a Slovenian church near NYU, and lo and behold the mass was in a small chapel squeezed between apartments. The mass was in English, but I have a feeling the priest didn't speak much of the language. There was absolutely no homily and no music. Only 15 people -- 16 if you count the priest -- were there. The whole thing was over and done with in 30 minutes flat.

Which made me feel even guiltier that Paul and I walked in 10 minutes late. Yeah, there's a million jokes you could make about Catholic guilt right now, and they're probably all well-deserved.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Spring in Bay Ridge, Part 2

The weather was so mild and sunny last Sunday that I convinced Paul to supplement his miles of running with a long walk through the neighborhood with me and my camera.

Who says nature doesn't exist in New York City? It's just harder to find, that's all.

Spring has arrived!

Bay Ridge's famed Gingerbread House. I'll take better photos of this someday, but I feel a bit like a stalker taking pics of someone's house.

What spring day would be complete without a stop at the playground?
Alas, the swings were all full.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cupcake Wars: French vs. American at Butter Lane

For weeks I had planned a frosting face-off at Butter Lane, a small cupcake shop in the East Village. Most all dessert shops feature American buttercream, but Butter Lane is unique in that it offers French buttercream as well. I'd never sampled French buttercream, so I was eager for a sample.

The night Paul and I were there Butter Lane had 13 icings to choose from, but the French buttercream was available only in chocolate and vanilla.

That made things a bit easier. Cupcake #1: vanilla French buttercream on a vanilla cupcake.

But what about #2? Lemon icing? Mango icing? Too many choices! Finally we settled on blueberry American buttercream on a vanilla cake.

The American buttercream was just as you'd expect: extremely sweet from all of the powdered sugar. No complaints. The French buttercream, however, was light like a meringue. No surprise there. French buttercream is made from egg whites and granulated sugar.

The winner? The frosting was a toss-up, but the cake itself stole the show. It is the cake by which you judge all other cakes. Not too moist, not too dry. Not too crumbly, not too firm. Perfect. Better yet, the top of the cake just where it meets the frosting was just a tad crunchy almost like a struesel. Delicious.

Unfortunately, Butter Lane has only a small bench inside the tiny shop, and another outside. It would be best to get these to-go ... if you can make it that far.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Night at the Opera

I'd been reading in the newspaper for months that the Metropolitan Opera has weekly drawings for $25 tickets. About a month ago I decided to give it a shot.

You enter the drawing online each Monday, winners are notified Tuesday, and they have until Wednesday to purchase up to two tickets.

No luck. The next week, no luck. It was my third or fourth try when I finally found success: two Saturday night tickets to the Italian comedic opera L'Elisir d'Amore (Elixir of Love) at Lincoln Center for $50 flat.

My experiences with opera have been mixed. I saw the Marriage of Figaro performed in Toledo with my high school German classmates 10 or 11 years ago. I remember enjoying it. My second and only other opera was not as successful. We had just taken an overnight train from Munich to Berlin, Germany, and snagged some cheap seats to The Magic Flute for that night. I was exhausted, we could only see a corner of the stage, and despite my best efforts, I fell asleep.

Last night was much better. We had orchestra seats, about four rows from the back on the main floor. I saw a couple of people with binoculars, but it wasn't a bad view at all. The scenery was just as lovely as the singing, but since I'm no connoisseur I expected nothing less.

My main reason for wanting to attend the opera was simply for the experience. It didn't disappoint.

I had an idea that the women would be dressed to the nines. There were just as many formal dresses as there were jeans. That is, a few but not many. I wore black pants and a nice shirt and felt completely comfortable. Paul wore a suit, as did most men in attendance.

The opera itself was quite entertaining, as was the subtitle system. Each person had access to subtitles on the back of the seat in front of them, and they could be set to English, Spanish or German.

The juxtaposition of the Italian poetry on stage and the blunt English on screen was a little jarring at first, but I soon became accustomed to it. During the second act I even turned on the German titles to see how much I could follow. I knew more than I suspected, and I compensated by peaking at the English subtitles in the row in front of me when needed.

Overall, it was an enjoyable experience that I would gladly repeat. That's one thing checked off of my New York to-do list. Now only about 999 more things to go ...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

Our European Kitchen

I haven't spent Easter with my own family in about six years, and it's been two years since we spent the day with Paul's. But even though it was just the two of us in our tiny kitchen, Paul and I did our best to make it seem like that wasn't the case. For lunch we went to Greece, and for supper we prepared a French feast.

Paul was really yesterday's star chef, but I spent a good a bit of the day by the stove -- and the microwave -- as well. I'm a huge fan of couscous, so for lunch I came up with a Greek-inspired dish with spinach, yogurt, feta cheese and olives. It's a one-dish meal that took less than 20 minutes. Mom would be proud.

I'm not a huge fan of ham, so for a couple of weeks Paul and I had been planning a meal that was as un-Easterish as possible. He made a delicious coq au vin, cooking the chicken in a dutch oven filled with wine, pearl onions, carrots, mushroms and other bits of deliciousness.

Instead of mashed potatoes, Paul smashed together cooked turnips and parsnips. It was suprisingly sweet and yummy topped with the leftover wine in which the chicken had been stirring.

So what did I concoct? Paul misses his mom's popovers but agreed to let me attempt them in a muffin tin. They turned out even better than expected. I let Paul choose the dessert I'd be baking, so long as his choice was French and fruity. A blueberry tart fit the bill. Paul raved over it, but in fact it was a little burnt.

Needless to say, we have lots of leftovers and will shortly be eating Easter Dinner Part 2. Or should I say, Part Deux?

Friday, April 10, 2009

More Proof That New York Is Different From Ohio

Twice today I was told to have a good Easter, "if I celebrate."

I'm certainly not offended, but I found the phenomenon quite interesting. In Ohio -- and especially in Defiance -- everyone assumes that you will be celebrating Easter. And 99.9% of the time, they'd be right.

Since moving to New York, I've become a lot more familiar with other religious holidays, and especially Jewish holidays. At the very least, it's good to know when they all are because that usually means a parking holiday-- no need to move the car for street sweeping!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

New York MTA: High Prices for Bad Service

Weather has always been a good small talk topic. Now New Yorkers are adding another item to the list: the upcoming MTA fair hikes and service cuts.

As the name implies, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is in charge of public transportation in New York City, including the subway and bus systems. And like so many quasi-government agencies, they aren't doing a very good job.

Right on the heels of fare increases last year come changes even more drastic. First of all, my 30-day unlimited ride Metrocard is increasing from $81 to $103, and the M train that I take part of the way to and from work is being discontinued. Even worse, prices for students and the disabled are skyrocketing-- some by more than 100%.

Needless to say, this has many New Yorkers up in arms. Two of my co-workers, Meghan and Mellisa, are even enlisting locals to Boycott the MTA for 23 days-- or at the very least, on June 1.

They aren't the only angry commuters. Mellisa was interviewed by one of the free local dailies, am New York, for an article Wednesday about fair hike revolts on Facebook.

So what's my take?

I'm annoyed by the increase to the unlimited ride Metrocard, but the price is still no more (and maybe less) than the 60 or so gallons of gas I would guzzle every month in Ohio.

I'm more irritated by the loss of M train service to the stations I use. It's the quickest, most convenient way for me to get to and from work, and I'll miss that.

But what makes me angriest are the draconian fare hikes to people with disabilities-- like it isn't inconvenient enough for them to take public transportation.

Fortunately, there's still time to stall these changes. The state government is supposed to be considering an MTA bailout plan. Unfortunately, I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bowling: A Comparative Study

I love that split-second feeling of elation just before I get a strike, when I know the bowling ball will hit the center pin and the rest will soon come crashing down.

It's a feeling I don't get very often, and Saturday night was no exception.

After watching the Red Sox destroy the Mets in an exhibition game Saturday, a group of us went to a bowling alley not too far away in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was not only my first time bowling in New York, but also the first time I've bowled in two or three years.

I never bowled too often in Ohio-- maybe once or twice a year. In other words, just often enough to keep my average at about 100 and rarely higher.

Waiting for my turn Saturday night, I compared the alley to those I've visited in Ohio. The Williamsburg alley had a '70s feel: 8 lanes, no frills. A small black and white screen at each lane tabulated the scores, but there was no overhead screen like at the large, popular, modern alleys.

To the left of the first lane was a wall-length window. On the other side of that window was the connected bar, about as big as the alley itself. The bar was sunken about three feel below the alley itself, giving drinkers a unique view of the action on the other side.

To the right of the eighth lane was an exposed brick wall with -- and this amused me -- a sagging American flag with only 48 stars.

All in all, it was pretty similar to the alleys in Defiance, except this one was smoke-free and had better beer.

It was completely different to the alley we'd occasionally visit in Columbus, however.

The C-busers know what I'm talking about: Columbus Square Bowling Palace. It might be known as ghetto bowling for it's questionable east side location, but inside it's 64 lanes of bowling pleasure with a wide variety of '90s tunes. And it's open 24 hours.

So how'd I do on Saturday? I barely broke 100 in the second game thanks to a 10th frame strike. I was secretly (well, not so secretly now) quite pleased.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Saturday in the (Baseball) Park

What could be better than a Saturday afternoon watching the Mets take on the Red Sox in the stands of the new Citi Field stadium?

The weather, for one. The score, for another.

One of my co-workers snagged nine tickets to the exhibition game, only the second game to be played at the park. It didn't take much consideration to claim one of those as mine. Besides, it was to be 60 degrees and sunny-- perfect for a day at the park.

Instead it was a gray 48 degrees, with gales that swept the foam clean off full glasses of beer. Luckily I had my wool coat and leather gloves, but my scarf and hat were tucked away cozily in our always-too-warm apartment. I shivered my way through the game, ecstatic for a moment when the sun peaked through the clouds about an hour after the first pitch, only to have my dreams dashed as it quickly went back into hiding.

I left my seat for part of the fourth and fifth innings, ostensibly to explore the stadium and take photos for the blog, which I did. But I have to admit that I took an extra long time in the heated bathroom, standing underneath a warm vent and chatting to a woman who was also taking refuge from the wind.

For Mets fans, the score was just as dreary as the weather: 9-3. Even though I have no particular allegiance to the Mets, as a Cincinnati Reds fan I feel I have to support the National League.

Unfortunately, the Mets gave me little to support. At the top of the first inning, the pitcher gave up 6 runs in about 40 pitches and was taken out before mustering three outs. But I did get to see a lot of well-known faces from both teams, including the Mets' third baseman, David Wright. You can see him there at the plate, right?

Even if there wasn't too much excitement at the plate, there was a lot to see from our seats. We were about a dozen rows from the top, just to the fair side of the third base foul pole. In the distance you could see the elevated subway lines, what passes for skyscrapers in Queens and even planes descending into LaGuardia airport, located just behind the stadium. Fans at the top row of certain sections could look back on the airport (below) or even get a nice view of the Manhattan skyline.

Weather it was because of the weather, the score or a combination of both, fans at first trickled out and then left in droves. Most of the upper deck, where we were seated, were long gone by the final pitch. It seemed that a lot of people deserted their seats for empty ones closer to the field, but a lot of people simply left altogether.

But despite all of this, I really did have a good time. I like baseball, I like having been among the first to see Citi Field (especially since I never did visit Shea Stadium), and I certainly like hanging out with my co-workers outside of office environs.

Here's hoping the Mets do just as poorly Monday, when the season officially begins with a game versus the Reds.

What's left of Shea Stadium.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The World According to Spam

I periodically scan the spam filter of the blog I manage at work to make sure a real comment doesn't get thrown out with all of the junk. The spam is easy to spot, of course-- lots of links and usually longer than the post itself.

On Monday, however, I came across spam of a different sort. Inspirational spam (with a scary one or two thrown in for good measure).

I've received spam like this before, but never so much at one time. So here, unedited and split into categories for your reading pleasure, are 17 of Monday's 63 pieces of spam:

Didn't I Read That in a Fortune Cookie?

A lot of good arguments are spoiled by some fool who knows what he is talking about.

We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.

The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.

A wise man changes his mind, a fool never

the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself

You won’t find a solution by saying there is no problem

If your happiness depends on what somebody else does, I guess you do have a problem.

When an argument flares up, the wise man quenches it with silence

Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it

Many can argue; not many converse

Spam That Starts Conversations

All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind

It is an interesting and demonstrable fact, that all children are atheists and were religion not inculcated into their minds, they would remain so

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts

Life is not a continuum of pleasant choices, but of inevitable problems that call for strength, determination, and hard work

What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?

I Don't Think That's Exactly True

There are very few personal problems that cannot be solved through a suitable application of high explosives


I know the answer! The answer lies within the heart of all mankind! I think I’m in the wrong building.


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