Monday, November 29, 2010

Vacation to Buenos Aires: Following Evita

Casa Rosada

When we returned to New York early Sunday morning after eight days in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the real world slammed into me like a brick wall.

I was cranky because vacation was over. I was cold, leaving 80 degree temperatures for ones in the 40s. I was tired after 13 hours of flying, split between two legs. And to make matters worse, my checked suitcase was still in Peru, having failed to make the connection.


But things have to go wrong once in a while so you know just how good everything else is, right? And this vacation was good.

I've been enamored with Argentina ever since watching the movie version of "Evita" some 13 or 14 years ago. In fact, my dad and I have a tradition of watching it every winter, when I'm home for the holidays. I had a basic knowledge of the city's major sights ("Rio de la Plata, Florida, Corrientes, Nueve de Julio") solely from the movie soundtrack. And, of course, one of our first stops in Buenos Aires was the Casa Rosada, Argentina's equivalent to the White House, where Evita Peron spoke to the masses and Evita sings "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" in the production.

Later in the week we visited the Museo Evita. Most of the museum's information wasn't new to me, but the way she was portrayed was surprising. There was no hint whatsoever of the controversy surrounding her life and charity. And no mention of the musical or movie -- which isn't so surprising when you consider that they didn't exactly paint a picture of a saint.

Of course, Evita's family mausoleum in the Cementerio de la Recoleta is also a big tourist draw, but she hasn't always been buried there. A couple of years after she died in 1952, her remains were even spirited away to Italy by anti-Peronists and buried for 16 years under a false name.

Tourists at Evita's grave
Elsewhere in the cemetery

Although Evita was the spark that sent us to Argentina, most of our trip in fact did not revolve her. This week and next week I'll be sharing the highlights and lowlights of our eight days in Argentina and Uruguay -- how we got robbed for the first time ever (it's not nearly as bad as you think), why Buenos Aires probably has a host of plumbing problems because of me (I'm happy to finally stop carrying around my own roll of toilet paper), and what I'll miss most about the city (mostly $6 bottles of wine and liters of beer).

I'd been looking forward to visiting Argentina for so long that I was afraid it wouldn't live up to my expectations. Instead, the country exceeded them. I wish I were still there.

Casa Rosada, even more rosada at night with pink lights

Friday, November 19, 2010

A One-Week Blogging Break

I'm taking a blogging holiday next week! I'll be back at my normal Monday - Wednesday - Friday posting schedule on Monday, Nov. 29. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Travels of Flat Stanley, Part 1

About a month ago I opened our mailbox to find a small manila envelope with my name on it.

Unused to receiving mail that wasn't either a bill or a campaign flier, I was excited. But that turned to mystification when I saw the return address -- it was from my cousin Junior, a second-grader in my very own former school district in Ohio.

Inside the envelope was a letter and a paper doll. The letter explained that his class read "Flat Stanley."

The book is "about a boy whose bulletin board falls on him one night in his bedroom. At first he is sad, but then he finds all sorts of things that he is able to do when he is flat. One thing he can do is fold himself in an envelope and mail himself to visit friends in faraway places."

I was charged to take photos of Stanley at local landmarks and then send them back to Junior to share with his classmates.

I was excited -- I got my very own kind of traveling garden gnome!

I've already sent Junior a few pictures, but I plan to take more before Stanley travels back to Defiance in a few months. Here's the first installment:

At the Brooklyn Bridge

At the Statue of Liberty

On the Staten Island Ferry

In New York Harbor

Monday, November 15, 2010

New York City Subway Stations: Prince Street

Prince Street is a subway station I've come to know well since I recently realized its proximity to one of my new favorite stores.

It's close not only to Uniqlo, but also to the whole host of major Soho shops that line Broadway. Even Paul doesn't mind the area, thanks to the rock climbing gear at Eastern Mountain Sports.

Because Prince Street is on the R line, I've seen the station innumerable times since we moved to New York. I didn't take a close look at it, however, until about a year ago when I read a book about New Yorkers' subway experiences that featured artwork from the station. (I think it was "The Subway Chronicles," but I'm not positive.)

The walls are lined with silhouettes of hand-sized people going about their daily business. It's not the most exciting -- or colorful -- of stations, but the detail is astounding.

I have to say that the last photo is pretty true to life. Two out of three people really don't look up when they're walking down the platform.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Old Fulton Fish Market

Former Fulton Fish Market building. Brooklyn Bridge in background.
Lower Manhattan's Fulton Fish Market closed in 2005. Although I work just a few blocks away from its long-time location, I never knew where exactly it was until mid-October.

Paul and I were walking along the East River, from the Lower East Site all the way to Battery Park. When we got to the South Street Seaport, we slowed down to wander through an outdoor market. All of a sudden, just a few feet from the stalls, there it was -- the Fulton Fish Market.

The New Fulton Fish Market is in the Bronx, and according to its website, the former market relocated five years ago this Sunday, November 14, after 180 years in South Manhattan. About 5 percent of the country's seafood sales reportedly came through the market, and I would have liked to have visited. Truthfully, I probably never would have -- it's hours were 3 to 9 a.m. Monday and Thursday, and 4 to 9 a.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Not exactly prime hours for sightseeing.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Our 8 Days Without Heat

As the thermometer dipped, my anger peaked.

When we first asked our landlord to turn on the heat in our apartment, he thought it was already on. OK, I thought. An oversight.

A week later we reminded him again. That began 8 days of phone calls, text messages and the nearly non-stop use of our space heater.

At first we thought the heat just wasn't working in our apartment alone. Then the building's boiler blew up.

As our landlord and the plumbers worked to patch things up, our apartment hit a low of 59 and a high of 64 in rooms without the space heater. I'm not used to that. After all, during the last three winters our apartment was so hot we regularly had to open the windows.

I'm a wimp when it comes to cold weather. All week I changed into a hoodie as soon as I got home from work, and one night I even wore a hat for most of the night. I slipped on a wool coat if the cold got unbearable. During the worst of it, my space heater and I holed up in the bedroom, door shut.

The week progressed, and I got angrier. The glimmers of hope only made me madder. On Friday morning the radiators sputtered on at about 4:30 a.m., but were off by the time I got up at 8. On Saturday the same thing happened, only in the afternoon.

On Sunday -- day number 8 of the fiasco -- we were both fed up. Even Paul -- who had been taking the absence of heat pretty well -- was exasperated. He and our landlord exchanged 22 text messages and 2 phone calls. And our heat was officially and finally flipped on at 8 p.m.

As I type this blog post on a Monday night, it is a balmy 75 degrees in the living room, and I am happy. But I did learn something from the experience -- namely, how to tell the difference between 59 degrees and 63 degrees merely by standing in the middle of the room. It's a skill I hope I won't have to use anytime soon.

Monday, November 8, 2010

New Yorkers Know How to Bag Groceries

Everybody has a story like this:

The bagger at the grocery store put four cans of black beans on top of your loaf of bread. Or bruised your apples with a jar of applesauce. Or broke an egg with a clumsily placed ice cream carton.

I've never had that happen in New York, which has led me to a theory. New York City simply breeds better baggers.

My better bagger theory continues. They're bred out of necessity.

In Ohio, upstate New York or anywhere that customers commonly have a set of wheels at their disposal, groceries go from cart to trunk to grocery table. The handles on those cheap plastic baggies are used for a minute or two at most. Even if the black beans are bagged with the bread, you can just rearrange it in the car.

No such luxury in New York City. Those bags have to hold up to a 10 minute walk. Baggers here have it down to a science. The bags are never so full that they rip on the trip home. And just as important, they're never too empty. It's annoying to loop six handles through each hand when I leave the grocery store and then again after I sit them down on the floor to unlock the apartment door. Each bag better have in it more than just a stick of butter.

The expertise of New York baggers came home to me a couple of months ago. I stopped at Rite Aid to pick up a bale of toilet paper. It was so big and soft that it would have been right at home in a hayride.The bale allows me to go a long time between purchases, but it's generally really annoying to carry home. This time, however, the bagger stuffed it into a standard plastic bag while rolling a second plastic bag into a snake. She tied each end of the snake to the handles of the bag holding the toilet paper, thereby fashioning another handle for the bag. Kind of like a big toilet-paper-only purse.

I actually complimented her on her bagging skills.

Friday, November 5, 2010

NYC's Best Doughnut Search: Doughnut Plant

New York is known for its bagels and for its pizza. It definitely is not known for its doughnuts.

You can find a cannoli on every corner in Little Italy, and you can order a knish at nearly any given deli. But a plain, simple doughnut? No can do.

Of course, a good doughnut isn't really plain or simple. And, as I wrote in September 2009, a good donut does not come from either Tim Horton's or Dunkin' Donuts. Since these two chains are nearly as omnipresent as McDonald's and Starbucks, it's difficult to look past them. It took some research. A few fancy restaurants, I found out, have high-end doughnuts on the menu, but I'm looking for a doughnut that doesn't come with a waiter or a linen tablecloth.

And so I have begun my search for New York's best doughnut. First stop: Doughnut Plant.

This Lower East Side doughnut mecca gets high marks for drool-inducing flavors like creme brulee and tres leches. It has about an equal number of yeast donuts and cake doughnuts on the menu, and they all looked equally appetizing. The long Sunday afternoon line gave me plenty of time to second-guess the doughnut I had already decided I wanted to sample: the Blackout.

This chocolate cake doughnut (bottom left corner in the top photo) was covered in a chocolate glaze and topped with chocolate cake crumbs. A few bites in I noticed it was also filled with chocolate pudding -- the first time I'd ever had a filled doughnut that also had a hole in the center.

Paul opted for a vanilla yeast donut, and the bite I begged off him convinced me it was a high-end Krispy Kreme.

Judge's marks: Three doughnut holes (out of a maximum of five). The doughnuts were by far the best I've had in New York, but it doesn't match the ones I've had in Ohio -- particularly the vanilla frosting-filled selections at Schuler's in Springfield, or even the bismarcks at Buckeye Donuts on a good night. And at $3 a pop, you won't be seeing me bring in a dozen for my coworkers anytime soon. Still, the Doughnut Plant offers delicious treats, albeit more for dessert than for breakfast.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pommes Frites: The Perfect French Fry

French fries: So simple to eat, yet so difficult to make.

I can name few places that deliver fries exactly how I like them -- golden and crispy. And by far the best of these places is Pommes Frites, in Greenwich Village.

Pommes Frites is a hole-in-the-wall on Second Avenue that's easy to spot by its continually long lines. The shop sells and specializes in one thing only -- Belgian fries, fried twice.

The fries are hearty enough to be an entire meal, and a few weekends ago, they were. A small order was plenty large enough to fill me up for supper, with a few leftover. Paul prefers the poutine -- french fries covered in cheese and gravy.

Small order, with frites sauce
You also can choose from 26 sauces, ranging from rosemary garlic mayo to peanut satay. I always choose the "frites sauce," which Pommes Frites describes as a traditional European mayonnaise. Paul thinks it's just regular mayo, and after I saw the giant jars of Hellmann's in the back, I'm afraid he might be right.

The seating is small and cramped -- two tables, and maybe four bar stools along a narrow shelf. After snagging a couple of stools the last time we were there, I smelled like french fries for the rest of the night. It's a testament to how good these fries taste that I wouldn't dream of complaining about the scent.


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