Saturday, November 22, 2014

Full Circle

This morning I met my uncle and some of his brunch friends for breakfast at Barney Greengrass on the Upper West Side.  They all met many years before at a different restaurant, but switched after it changed under new management.  Now they regularly meet here.


It reminded me, just a little of the gang who regularly met at the corner in Beverly Hills, though our group was less tightly bound and more transient.


I saw they had homemade blintzes on the menu, so I went for them.  I miss the wonderful ones I had at the Kiev in the East Village.  These were nearly as good.  They were just fantastic.


It was still awfully cold this morning, so I had no choice but to wear not only my scarf, but also my gloves and ski cap and still it was cold.  And today was the day that it was going to begin to warm up!

We went to Zabar's and walked around a bit.  I love markets of any kind, so this was definitely a treat for me.  Eventually, though, I left for the crosstown bus to head to the Neue Galerie.  I arrived just before they opened at 11, so and another patron clung to the side of the building to stay out of the wind.  After two minutes they let us in.

The Neue Galerie was founded to celebrate modern art created in Austria and Germany between 1900 and 1940.  Many of the artists, their art, and their patrons were persecuted by the Nazis.  Some of the most famous paintings in the collection were stolen by the Germans and only recently recovered by surviving heirs.   There's no photos in the museum, but I did snap two shots in the stairwell highlighting their special exhibition:  the works of Egon Schiele:



The museum is really small, just three or four rooms per floor, but they have an excellent collection.  The other major attraction is their Austrian cafe:  Cafe Sabarsky.  Like any Austrian cafe, they have the day's newspaper on wooden poles by the door, so I grabbed the front section of the New York Times to read.  I didn't have much chance as the mother and son next to me spoke to me for most of the meal.

They both got the gulaschsuppe, but the spätzle appealed to me:


It had vegetables, mushrooms, and dill.

For dessert, I went with the Feuilletinewhich is composed of a variety of layers with a meringue japonais (with hazelnuts) on the bottom, then the layer of chocolate feuilletine, and finally, the chocolate hazelnut mousse. With Schlag, of course on the side, and a Milchkaffee.  It was very, very good.


By now it was after 2 pm, so I decided to head down to the Strand Bookstore, one of the last independent bookstores in America.  Of course, that meant having to deal with the subway again.  All day long, there have been delays on the Number 6 line.  "Please be aware that due to a water main break [in the Bronx], there are significant delays on the 6 line today."  I was nearly late for breakfast as our train sat for 10 minutes at the 59th Street station.

One good thing about the subway today, though, was that as I was getting off at 14th Street and Union Square I heard some fun music coming from one end of the platform.  It was a three man band called "Too Many Zooz." I had never heard of them before, but I enjoyed their music and tipped them.  I found out later that they've been written up in several local papers.

On my way to the Strand I passed a great scifi/comix store called Forbidden Planet that I'm sure my niece would love:


The Strand Bookstore was just two door down from it.  This is a four level bookstore with both new and used books.  On the store's map, the fiction section was marked by the symbol for whale (I assume a reference to Moby Dick).  I bought a collection of short stories by Stefan Zweig to read on the plane.

I headed home when it got dark to plan out tomorrow when I head to Brooklyn.  I decided that after such a rich breakfast and dessert (in both senses of the word), I needed something lighter.   I decided to go to Chinatown and get more of the dumplings I had yesterday.   Unfortunately, Vanessa's Dumplings was full and there were no seats to be had.  I walked next door to Shu Jiao Fu Zhou Cuisine Restaurant, also listed in the guide provided by the Tenement Museum, as catering to recent Chinese immigrants to the neighborhood.  It certainly looked the part.


I ordered a small plate of six dumplings and a small wonton soup.  Along with a can of soda, this came to $5.  It was also very good and filling, without being heavy.


I started off the morning with eastern European blintzes, moved to Austria for a lunch, and then went on to China for dinner.  I decided for dessert to go full circle and return to the bialy shop for a bialy as a snack.  They were just about to close when I arrived but I still had time to buy a bialy.  Actually, she gave me two for the price of one, but I couldn't finish the second one.

After that it was another long wait for a north bound 6 train.  Hopefully tomorrow they'll have fixed the problem.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bundled Up

As I think I've mentioned before, I've not been thrilled with my choice of lodging in New York. When I  booked this place, I thought it was a B & B; instead it turned out to be less a hostel and more like a dorm room.  They do, however, have a nice breakfast.


It was 28 when I woke up this morning, and I knew the temperature might get as high as 33 during the day, so I bought some winter clothing to stay warm.  When I headed off to the Museum of Modern Art, I not only had on two layers of shirts and a leather jacket, but a scarf, gloves, and cap to keep my kepi warm.


My uncle is a member so he got me in for free and early.  We headed up to see the Matisse cut outs.  I'd seen some of these before at the East Wing of the National Gallery and I enjoy his use of color and shapes.  One of the things I noticed this time was that most of his major works in this medium were in the years immediately after WWII.  In fact, he had been moving in this direction in the 1930s and started to do more during the war.  So many of the artists I love were strongly affected by the rise of the Nazis and the war, that it was almost shocking to me, how little the war affected his work or vision.

When we left the Matisse exhibit, we got coffees and sat and chatted for a while.  Then we resumed our visit to the museum with the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition.  It opens with his famous and powerful portrait of Aristide Bruant.


I think I saw a version of this at the San Diego Museum of Art around 1980 and was so moved that I bought the exhibition poster and hung it in my various dorm rooms in college.

Toulouse-Lautrec liked to draw the dancer Jean Avril, but I particularly liked this version where she wasn't on stage or dancing.  It depicts her as someone taking charge of her own image, as she inspects the proofs at the printer.


We didn't have much time to tour their permanent collection of post-impressionists; I had to leave early to make my tour of the Lower East Side.  So I sort of raced through looking for things I particularly like.  I had told my uncle that I liked the art and food in Vienna, but not so much the people, so he took me to see "my" Klimts.  But I think Klimt is fun but not particularly special.  I much prefer this Kirchner:


Or the four Kandinskis next to it:


I also very much liked this piece of Italian futurism by Umberto Boccioni:


Unfortunately, I simply ran out of time.  You can only visit the Tenement Museum on timed tours, and I had decided to book two tours. The first, a food tour of the neighborhood, started at 1 pm.  The second, a tour of the tenement focusing on sweatshops started at 3:15.

The food tour was fantastic but a little chilly, even with all my outer garments.

The idea was to sample the various foods immigrants have brought to the Lower East Side from the middle of the nineteenth century to the present.   Here's the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street (photos were not permitted inside):


One of the original businesses in the basement was a beer saloon.  In the 1860s, there were four beer saloons on just this one block of Orchard.  One of my great, great grandfathers, the first to immigrate to the United States, had just such a beer saloon in the 1870s a few blocks over on Houston St.

To celebrate the food of these mostly German-owned business we had pretzels (made by a local Austrian cafe) with two dipping sauces:  mustard with horseradish and a mixture of butter, farmer's cheese and paprika (which I had in Budapest).


As you can see, here as everywhere else on the tour, we didn't enter the food locale, but had the food brought to us.

From there we walked a few blocks to a popular, kosher pickle shop called, not surprisingly, "The Pickle Guys." 


There we had two sets of pickles. The first were these traditional sour pickles, that had only been pickling for about a week. They were yummy, but I think we were all blown away by the pickled pineapple (with some chili pepper). Wow! Absolutely fantastic!

Our third stop was for bialys!  We heard a little about why the bialys never caught on like their more popular cousin (hint: they go stale very fast).  Then we got to sample bialys with a "shmear" of cream cheese.



From there we headed over to the Essex Street Market, where we learned how angry shop owners tried to shut off competition from food carts by banning them from selling food on the streets.  Instead, the cart owners found a home in the newly created Essex Street Market.  Now the place is a mix of high end retailers and low end groceries.  The shop keepers don't like the tours taking pictures so we were asked not to.  I snuck back later, however, and took a few shots indoors.  Here's an example of one of the high end stores:  a clearly hipster-owned and operated "Brooklyn Tacos" stand:


By now we had passed the 1940s and started moving towards more contemporary immigrants.  Our next stop was the Dominican restaurant, El Castillo de Jagua where we ate tostones, a snack made from fried green plantains:


After that we walked around the neighborhood, trying some chocolate covered pretzels from "Economy Candy" and some high end Chinese cream puffs with black sesame filling.  I focused on the over all feel of the neighborhood.


Our tour ended back at the Tenement Museum with some contemporary Chinese dumplings.

The tour of the Tenement House started a few minutes after the food tour ended.  There are a couple different themed tours you can take.  I took the Sweatshop tour, which looks at two Jewish families who lived in the building:  the Levines who lived there in 1900, and the Rogarshevskys from 1910.  They had a few items on display and I noticed a flyer in Yiddish for learning English fast from the "Brooklyn Preparatory School."  

The hallways and rooms of the tenement building are appropriately decayed.  The building was not upgraded to meet the 1935 housing code (which required them to replace the wooden stairs with metal ones), so the upper floors remained vacant until the museum acquired the building.   One can only imagine how hot it was in those apartments in the summer with the heat from so many people living and working there.  Sweatshop indeed.  They estimate that 7,000 people lived in this building for some amount of time between 1863 and 1935.

Afterwards I walked around the neighborhood for a bit, but it was getting colder and the sun was setting.  By 4:15 pm, the sun had nearly set.


It's hard for me to get used to how little daylight there is here in the fall and winter.

For dinner tonight, I stayed in the neighborhood.  I went back to the Greek-owned diner and had their
pastitsios:


It may seem like a lot of food (and it was, though I skipped the potatoes), but then the only lunch I had were the snacks on the food tour.  I also got their homemade baklava:

 
 Tomorrow:  the weather warms into the 40s; I meet my uncle for breakfast at Barney Greengrass, and I visit the Neue Galerie.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ground Zero

I've pretty much wrapped up my research at the YIVO archives.  I've gone through the principle material they have and besides, they're closed Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  I went back this afternoon one last time, just to make sure there wasn't anything else I needed.

The weather was noticeably warmer today.  Above freezing the whole day and once, this afternoon, I think it may have crossed over into 40.  Tomorrow, however, will be colder, so I got the Macy's coupons from today's paper and went to their flagship store.  Unfortunately, their stuff is very expensive and not covered by the coupon.  In the end, I went across the street to Old Navy and bought what I needed for 90% less than what Macy's wanted to charge.

Then I jumped on a train and headed down to Ground Zero.  On my last visit to New York in 2003, I had only come up for the day from Washington, D.C., and had no time to see the site where the World Trade Center was destroyed.  Today I remedied that.


Walking to the site, I was surprised to see a large inflatable rat.  At first I thought this might be some strange attack on al Qaeda, but then I learned it's a labor protest against a local developer using non-union workers on a construction project.


The first reflecting pool I came to turned out to be in honor of the all the police, firefighters, first responders, and city workers who lost their lives in the call of duty on that day.   I found the design moving, but I remain surprised that throughout the memorial and museum I never saw any material on how the space was designed and why.  Perhaps I just missed it.


The main memorial space inside the center starts off rather low key, with just a few beams and such.  Then one moves to a space inside the footprint of Tower 2 where photos of the dead are displayed and voices read out the names of those murdered.  It's really striking to realize how much suffering can be caused by so few people.


Along the way, they have displayed several long metal columns, twisted and broken on one side.  It turns out that these two sections were originally a single set of columns, which was severed when the first place hit Tower 1.



I entered the main information area with no small degree of trepidation.  I had found myself close to tears at various points and so I moved through the events of the day rather quickly, avoiding certain areas.  Nonetheless, I was deeply moved by it.

From the Memorial, I made my way to Broadway and ate in a deli along the way.  Then I went to Soho to visit a small museum, the Leslie Lohman Museum, which has a famous painting by Paul Cadmus called Bar Italia.


Cadmus' style is sometimes called "magical realism," but he's closer to Thomas Hart Benton, except more sarcastic.  His paintings are often peopled by grostesques as part of his critique of every day life.  They're also quite funny.  For example in this piece, there are a group of monks pouring over lottery tickets while ignoring the starving woman in front of them.  A group of American tourists in the lower front can't speak to each other, though the woman in the purple hat is reading a book titled Italian in Three Minutes

After heading to the archives I stopped by the Israeli bakery again for a snack.  One dessert I often saw in Parisian boulangeries was the canelé, so I ordered one. It's pretty good.  Very doughy.


Then I walked over to ABC Carpet & Home.  I love to browse through this store, but the last time I was here in 2003, the power over a quarter of the U.S. went out.  Thankfully, no problems this time.


I got a kick out of the some of the more over priced and pretentious items for sale, such as these table decorations made from preserved wasp nests.


Check out the prices!

As it happens they were having a special vendor event for their "artisanal table" section of high priced, high end gourmet food products.  They had samples and some good hors d'oeuvres.


After dropping my stuff off at my room, I went back to the Center for Jewish History for a panel talk on the renewal of Jewish life in Poland.


It was quite interesting, but I'm too tired to write about it tonight.  I'll say more about it tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Seeing the Met

I was trying to remember when was the last time I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but I'm pretty sure it was more than 25 years ago.  Which is a shame, since not only is it a world class museum, but one of my favorite books growing up was set there:  From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsberg (1967) describes two children who run away from home and live in the Met in secret.  In between fishing coins out of the fountain for food and sleeping in Louis XIV, they solve a mystery involving a potential Michaelangelo statue.

No such adventures for me today.  Instead, my uncle gave me a personal tour of his favorite things in the museum.

We started with the American wing and the Frank Lloyd Wright room:


But the really amazing piece was the Thomas Hart Benton mural America Today, created in 1930-31, in the early days of the Great Depression.  The piece is incredibly vibrant and moving.


Some panels, like the one above, celebrate American cities.  Others, like the one below, seem strongly influenced by the futurist movement.


Many of the panels, with their stylized forms and celebration of American dynamism and physicality, reminded me many of the government buildings put up in Washington D.C. at this time, which had similar sculptures in front of them.


Another painter that came strongly to mind was Paul Cadmus, who also painted panoramas of contemporary life that often satirized human foibles.


One of my uncle's most favorite paintings was John Singer Sargent's Madame X (he required the euphemism, since it was the portrait of a mistress):


On our way to the Japanese exhibit, I noticed one particular painting out of the corner of my eye:  Thomas Cole's The Ox-Bow.  I love this painting so much, I use it as the wallpaper on my work computer.  The version I found on line, however, lacks much of the detail that you can see by observing the painting close up (including the artist's inclusion of himself in the wilderness at the bottom of the painting).


We passed through the El Greco exhibition, but that artist's work has never appealed to me.  In general, I don't care for Baroque art.  It's mostly the subject matter:  all those priests and saints, their bodies twisted in ecstatic agony. 

Instead, we went to the Madame Cezanne exhibit, focusing on Cezanne's multiple portraits of his wife.  What stood out to me is that in all of them, her expression ranges from dour, to passive, to miserable.  Like this one, which is typical.


To get to the exhibit on Cubism, we cut through the art of the Americas.  This guy is from Ecuador:


While this gold pre-Columbian figurine is from Costa Rica:


The Cubist exhibit is one of those where photographs were not permitted.  The primary focus was on Braque and Picasso.  I actually much prefer the former to the latter, though at certain points, the worked so closely together as to be almost indistinguishable.  They did permit photos in the general modernism section, so I like these bulls a lot.


I also was surprised to see that they had a Paul Cadmus painting, whose work I found so similar in certain ways to Thomas Hart Benton.  Here's his painting called "Gilding the Acrobats":


As it happens, the museum also has a portrait of Jared French, an artist who worked closely with Cadmus and who served as his model for one of the acrobats (though I don't see the resemblance):


By now it was nearly two, so we left the museum at walked to the nearby E.A.T. Cafe, owned by Eli Zabar of the Zabars family.  On such a cold day (it was 23 when I went to the museum), I started with the mushroom barley soup:


Followed by the two salad plate:  egg salad and roast duck salad.  It was so filling, I ended up skipping dinner.  It was very, very good.


I had plans to meet a colleague at Lalo Cafe on the Upper West Side, so we caught the crosstown bus and went to the cafe early.  My uncle decided to finally break his 108 day pastry fast and bought something so I could record this momentous event:


My colleague Katja arrived and took some photos of us, including this one of me trying to take the photograph above:


She also took one of the two of us together:


Katja and I sat down to talk and my uncle went home.  I was pretty full, but I still ordered coffee and cake.  I got the Saint Honore Torte, which was mostly whipped cream and puff pastry.  I couldn't finish it, but took home a third in a doggy bag.


Katja didn't do much better; she left over a third of her Black Forest Cake:


We had a long conversation about our research projects and academia.  It was great to catch up.

After that, I made my way home to battle the crappy wifi in the hostel.  Along the way, though, I saw the Empire State Building all lit up as I got off the subway at 23rd st.


The one thing I don't think I can get used to, though, is the way New Yorkers pile their garbage in giant trashbag piles on the curb for pickup.  It just seems wrong.