Friday, April 27, 2012

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial

Despite the 9/11 Memorial having been open for more than six months -- and despite working so close that I could have visited during my lunch break -- I had never been until just last week. I figured that all of our upcoming visitors would want to see it. My Mom and Dad just happened to be the first since it was unveiled.

The memorial is free, but you do have to reserve tickets online for a given day and time. Ours were for 6:30 p.m. last Friday. Security was fast and surprisingly tight. Practically the only difference between it and an airport is that here, I could leave on my shoes.

The memorial is only partially completed; the museum isn't yet open and the expected 400 oak trees are far from fully grown. There are basically three things to see right now, and they are impressive: The Memorial North Pool, the Memorial South Pool and the Survivor Tree.

The pools feature infinity waterfalls -- it's impossible to see the very bottom -- surrounded by the names of each victim of the attacks, not just at the World Trade Center, but at the Pentagon and the other flights. Each name is carved into bronze and lit from below, creating what I'm sure must be a spectacular display when night falls.

The Survivor Tree is a pear tree that was planted at the World Trade Center plaza in the '70s that survived the attacks, albeit as an 8-foot stump. The tree was transferred to a city park, brought back to life and returned to the site.

Looking at the memorial now, it's difficult to believe that the very same area was a hub of activity just more than a decade ago. I'm eager to return to the 9/11 Memorial both at night and as more becomes open to the public.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

By Plane, Train and Automobile

After my parents' four-day visit last week, I can now say I've met friends and family in New York through all means of travel: plane, train and automobile.

This year, my parents decided to forgo the annual car trip and travel by Amtrak instead. The train leaves just 15 minutes or so from their home, but it's still a 17-hour trip once you're on the tracks. Sure, they were tired when they arrived, although you'd think it was me who made the trip instead. Maybe that's why I took a nap when they left Sunday afternoon instead of writing a blog post for Monday.

(Speaking of which, expect periodic blog post delays in the near future as I catch up from the illness that threw me under a bus a few weeks ago. I generally have posts written in reserve, but I'm pretty much day-to-day right now.)

Paul and I have picked up and/or dropped off friends and relatives at all three of the metropolitan area's major airports -- LaGuardia, JFK and Newark -- and met several by car. I've even been to the PATH station both to catch my own Greyhound to Ohio and meet friends on their own buses. But this was my first time at Penn Station.

I was a little disappointed. I was hoping to at least see the tracks, scanning the train windows until I saw a face I recognized. Or have a train-side goodbye, with final hugs as the whistle blows in the background, like in old World War II flicks. Instead, I met my parents in the middle of a huge waiting room crowded with strangers, and their departure was even more of a let-down. Their ticket was taken at a door leading immediately to an escalator, so my last glimpse was of their heads, going down.

Still, it was an interesting experience. And still, I'm glad I was on the receiving end instead of being the one on the train for nearly a full day.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Scarfing Your Way Down Seventh Street

East Seventh Street in the East Village is one of New York's great foodie streets. It has some of Manhattan's best affordable food, and I'm not the only one who thinks so. Step into these storefronts and you're more likely than not to find a line.

But these places are worth the wait, as you may remember from the times I've profiled them on this blog. Want a sampling of your own? Then visit New York and make an evening of it. Just follow this itinerary.

Pommes Frites
123 Second Avenue

While not technically on Seventh Street, Pommes Frites is just steps away, near the corner of Seventh Street and Second Avenue. These are without a doubt the best fries in the city, and maybe the crunchiest since they're twice-fried. If you're coming here for a pre-meal snack, be sure to split an order. I'm not gonna lie -- when Paul and I get separate orders, that pretty much is our meal.

Caracas Arepa Bar
93 1/2 East Seventh Street

Make sure to visit this Venezuelan restaurant when the weather is nice -- the dining area is small, there's no place to wait but outdoors and there's inevitably a line. Get a sampler platter to try a range of the stuffed corn cakes that lends this place its name, or opt for my favorite: La de Pabellón, a mixture of shredded beef, black beans, cheese and plantains.

Big Gay Ice Cream Shop
125 East Seventh Street

If you like sweet and salty, go with the popular Salty Pimp: vanilla soft serve, with dulce de leche and sea salt, covered in a chocolate dip. But really, you can't go wrong here. Toppings like Nutella and elderflower syrup can only be very, very right. Feeling adventurous? Opt for the Choinkwich: chocolate ice cream and bacon marmalade stuffed between two chocolate cookies.

Dessert To Go
Butter Lane 
123 East Seventh Street

The. Best. Cupcakes. In. The. City. (OK, tied with Robicelli's, but they're not on Seventh Street!) For me, the frosting is usually the highlight of a cupcake, but at Butter Lane it's the cake that really shines. Don't get me wrong -- the frosting is delicious, with more than a dozen options to choose from, like cherry, pumpkin and honey cinnamon. Combine that with the vanilla cake, and ... nom, nom, nom.

After fries, arepas and an ice cream cone, you're probably too full to eat this straightaway. But you're in the neighborhood! Get one -- or better yet, two -- to go and say goodbye to East Seventh Street.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Back from the Dead

It's never fun to be sick. That's especially true if your bathroom is too small and your subway commute too long.

But after a couple of days off of work and even more evenings spent in bed, I'm basically up and at 'em again. Unfortunately, I got behind on my blog posts, resulting in last week's unexpected break. Even as I started to feel better, the last thing I wanted to do was get on the computer. (That also accounts for the lack of a long overdue email to my sister.)

Luckily this was my first bout with anything halfway serious in New York -- really, the first time in a long, long time. I'm not eager for a repeat.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Where Religious Traditions Meet

After I put Wednesday's blog post about Borough Park to bed, I came across an interesting New York Times article about how the neighborhood changes as Passover approaches. There's even a shout-out to the kugel blade I had mentioned.

With Passover beginning Saturday, Easter on Sunday and Orthodox Easter the following weekend, I'm reminded once again about how much I didn't know that I didn't know about other religions before moving to New York. Actually, I knew that I didn't know quite a bit. In reality, I didn't know much, much more.

I've learned about Jewish holidays from both my own and Paul's co-workers. One co-worker of mine is Orthodox, so I've learned to say "Merry Christmas" to her one week late, and I've found out about her vegan Lenten diet.

At the same time, I think I've been able to explain a little bit about Catholicism. I've brought up at least once that Catholics are indeed Christian. And I've described exactly what and when Catholics can eat during Lent -- no meat on Fridays and Ash Wednesday, no eating between meals on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

I wrote about it last December, but the same thing still applies: Happy holidays, no matter what you celebrate.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sunday Afternoon in Borough Park

I've written a lot lately about the diverse neighborhoods within walking distance of our apartment in Bay Ridge -- specifically Brooklyn's Chinatown and the Chinese community in Sunset Park. Now for something completely different, yet only a smidge further away than Chinatown: Borough Park, one of the biggest Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods outside of Israel (if Wikipedia is to be believed).

The closest corner of Borough Park is only about two miles from here; nevertheless, I've seen it only once or twice, and only briefly through a car window. But a couple of weekends ago a person Paul knows through work was holding a grand opening for his electronics and home goods store, so we decided to stop by.

First of all, many businesses owned and/or patronized by the Jewish community are closed on Saturday, the Sabbath. That's not just in Borough Park -- the hardware store closest to our apartment is closed on Saturdays for that reason, too. But Borough Park is pretty quiet on Saturdays, Paul has told me. So the grand opening was on Sunday.

Paul and I seemed to be the only ones there from outside the neighborhood, and we were certainly the only ones there in jeans. Everyone else was wearing the traditional, modest garb -- almost exclusively black or navy blue, with white shirts for the men and occasionally a striped shirt on a woman. Even the youngest girls wore skirts, and the older women -- that is, the ones around my age -- often paired them with a lovely well-tailored coat and a hat that could have come from the 1920s.

The store itself was interesting, as well. Most of the wares for sell was stuff you could find anywhere, but at times with a twist. At least two food processors highlighted their kugel blades.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Dishwasher vs. Washing Machine

I think I've passed another turning point regarding living in New York.

I'm now at the stage where I would rather go without an in-apartment washer and dryer than give up my dishwasher.

The chances that I will ever have to choose between one or the other again are slim to nil. If we ever again buy a house, it will have both. And if it doesn't, we will install what is lacking. But in a purely hypothetical scenario, if I could have only one and not the other, I value the dishwasher more.

Maybe that's because I haven't lived without a dishwasher since my junior year in college. Back then, when my meals consisted mainly of tri-color pasta topped with butter and/or toasted pitas filled with butter and cinnamon, cleaning the dishes by hand wasn't difficult. But now that I eat real meals cooked with real, crusty-when-dry ingredients, washing them is a pain in the neck. Luckily I have Paul for the cooking, but loading and unloading the dishwasher generally falls to me. I know I have the better end of that deal.

I think I would also feel differently if the Laundromat were further away, instead of right around the corner, practically in the same building. We don't even have to cross the street. There's plenty of downsides, of course -- having to save quarters (or small bills to put into the change machine) and not being able to do the wash after 8:30 p.m., being the obvious ones.

But as it stands now, I'm content. So long as the dishwasher doesn't break.


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