July 24, 2008

You've Got to Find Your Own Happiness

...So I'm getting ready to take an overnight flight out to Casablanca, dreaming of Rick's Cafe and cramming in as much last minute American food as I can.

The preparations haven't been too bad, especially since I've had a month to do it, but I'm still panicked that I'm forgetting something.

I booked this trip because I was tired of waiting around New York City for something good to happen, and tired of dealing with all of the bad, but now that the trip is upon me, I'm a little scared. And it's ridiculous, because I'm not scared of plane crashes or kidnapping or malaria, but of mundane things that would just make my life even more unbearable like losing my luggage and not sleeping on the plane and sunburns and couscous-inducing tummy aches.

Thank God Michelle is coming with me, and that we're taking a group tour during which almost everything has been planned for us. But as much as I've travelled lately, I've gotten really comfortable with every area of the United State, forgetting that things sometimes work differently elsewhere. And I've got to excavate five years' worth of French out of the bowels of my memory. Or learn how to pantomime very well.

There won't be much I miss while I'm away, besides Edith and pizza and Lean Pockets and family and Guiding Light. I tried to buy a new VHS tape to pop into the VCR and replace my old worn out one that I tape over and over again every day, but Duane Reade apparently no longer sells them, and running around to a Best Buy or something to find one would cut my timing way too close. Apparently I am a luddite. Even though I'm a little panicked that my Blackberry won't work in Morocco.

I haven't really left the country in about a year and a half (unless you count a few hours in Tecate Mexico) and I think it's about time I do it again. Maybe I'll be happier when I come back. Or maybe, like my last desert experience in Death Valley, I'll just fall deeper into an existential crisis.

July 21, 2008

Photo Essay: George Michael @ MSG - Night #1

Seeing George Michael in concert is nearly the final frontier for me to live out all my childhood concert-going fantasies, locked in a tower in snowy Upstate New York with no access to my favorite pop artists.

When I realized that the group I was going with tonight had seats in the 200-level, I threw caution to the wind and spent another $300 to get a really close ticket on Wednesday night too.

Now that I saw the concert tonight, I'm glad I'm going again. In the meantime, here's the first wave of photos from afar. The graphics were amazing and he sounds incredible. I only wish he had included "Monkey" in his set list.

More close-ups and details later this week...

July 19, 2008

I Might Be in One Place But My Legs Keep Movin'

I'm lying in bed but it still feels like my legs are moving. Maybe it's leftover from the acupuncture earlier today, or maybe I really do have restless leg syndrome. Or maybe my legs are just so used to taking me all over the place that they're not used to staying in for the night.

I was in Chicago again this week, luckily getting a great rate at my favorite Hotel Monaco and having a little bit of time to check out some restaurants I missed on my last trip. After Edith's recommendation, I was excited to try the popular Weber Grill, but it was too noisy to concentrate on my conversation with Kevin, and my steak salad was more like roast beef salad. We pigged out on the onion strings and I splurged on a locally-brewed Goose Island root beer (not diet) so all was not lost.

After a few hours of stressful work, we ended Thursday at the famous Frontera, where we dared to eat goat empanadas, which I washed down with a nice silver tequila and spicy sangrita (garnished with a hot pepper). Since there was an hour wait for the dining room, we sat in the bar area and were waited on hand and foot by the attentive staff, who brought me some ricotta-filled enchiladas topped once again with onion strings, bringing my day full circle and filling my belly.

angel food cake muffinI only had one night in Chicago and my feet were killing me, and knowing I have another big trip coming, I kind of tried to take it easy. Rather than doing the sightseeing and exploration I would normally do to try to take advantage of a free flight somewhere, I had a quick coffee meeting at Intelligentsia (also recommended by Edith) and then hopped an early flight back to NYC in time for a hair appointment and a big night out on the town.

Popcorn at Tailor's downstairs barKnowing I was going to stay in tonight, I was looking for a good New York City night out last night, to show off my hair and get it out of my system a little. Starting with wine and zucchini crostini at Gottino (always a favorite), and moving on to a hibiscus highball, strangely sweet squid and Thai coconut curry-tasting popcorn at the molecularly gastronomic Tailor (which was a bit too weird for me), I should have stopped there. Instead, I moved on to foie gras and too much wine at Blue Ribbon, and a bacon cheese stack (I think) at Marshall Stack before blindly taking a cab ride home and somehow managing to get my contacts out of my eyeballs before passing out.

A few days in the city to recover before heading out on a terrifyingly adventurous trip to Morocco. I'm trying not to think of the movie Babel.

July 13, 2008

I Didn't Bring My Gas Mask

There's an underground oil spill nearly twice as big as the EXXON Valdez oil spill, only because it's underground, people don't notice it so much. Greenpoint residents have the highest percentage of cancer in all of New York City. Between that and the nearby sewage treatment plant, the neighborhood - which I lived in for seven years - smells really bad in the summertime.

Still, despite the toxicity of the land, hipsters and Polish immigrants still thrive there, and even at the source of the spill - Newtown Creek, the body of water that separates Brooklyn and Queens between Greenpoint and Long Island City - lots of the same birds that we first spotted a week ago on our Audubon cruise are alive and well on the banks of the creek.

Like the Gowanus canal, Newtown Creek is an industrial waterway full of barges, Civil War-era warehouses and trash, only the creek is a natural waterway and almost as wide as the Harlem River. In fact, when I first crossed the creek on the Pulaski Bridge way back in '97, I couldn't imagine something so big was only a creek. But as a Greenpoint resident (though not anymore), I was always fascinated with it and was excited to embark on a guided tour of it, especially after how cool my Gowanus cruise was.

Pulaski Bridge Our cruise started out calmly enough, and I kept thinking that the water looked much cleaner than the Gowanus, at least on the surface, especially considering the oil spill and all the traffic crossing the creek on the Pulaski, Greenpoint, and Kosciuszko bridges above. And then towards the end of the creek, at the point that the creek splits into English Kills (the eventual end of the creek at Metropolitan and Grand Avenues) and Maspeth Creek (the filthiest section), our boat was slowly turning around in the water and kicked up a bunch of greenish brown silt in the water, making the huge black pool of gook below our boat undulate and expand and contract like a huge swamp thing toxic amoeba.


That was also the point that the creek started to smell really bad, so even though most of the dumping historically happened much more at the beginning of the creek, closer to the East River, we were a little afraid to breathe back there, where we still saw birds but they seemed to move a little more sluggishly and didn't really fly. No egrets, either.

Greenpoint Avenue BridgeTaking a cruise of a tributary that served for years as a dumping ground for oil and petroleum and God knows what else is not for the faint of heart, and probably not for tourists. But if you love New York like I do, you want to see the good with the bad, sometimes especially the bad. Nobody has any idea how to fix an oil spill that covers 50+ acres of land - underground. But optimists like myself see so much potential in that waterfront, if only it could be zoned for parks so any kind of cleanup could be accelerated.

Lawmakers Ask EPA to Help with Creek Cleanup - New York Times

July 11, 2008

A Fair Night in Jersey

I braved the swampland of Secaucus tonight to stomp around the Giants Stadium parking lot for the New Jersey State Fair Meadowlands. I wasn't sure what to expect, as an avid visitor of The Great New York State Fair and having been relatively disappointed by the Tennessee State Fair. But at the very least, I always like the sights and smells of an amusement park at night, so it would be a nice place to walk around on a Summer Friday.

We were pleasantly surprised at how entertaining it was, with lots of freak shows, including an "Angel Cobra" girl which was basically a woman sitting under a table with her head stuck through a hole and a stuffed snake body wrapped around it. When I was giggling hysterically, she asked me, "Are you laughing at my body?" in a Jamaican accent. I replied, "No, it's beautiful!" and Dan let out a "hee hee." She said to him, "Do you like my body?" and then turned to me knowingly, admitting, "The men, they always like my body."

We cozied up to some real animals at the petting zoo, and although I didn't have any quarters to crank out the food pellets that you find at every petting zoo, I did spend some quality time with a baby ram or llama or something that wasn't old enough to not like having a good scratch from someone with no food to feed him with. For a moment, I caught the eye of the camel, and our gazes locked. I told him I didn't have any food, and he just stared at me. I talked to him like he was human. I think he could see into my soul.

We were hungry too but we both felt compelled to scout out the entire midway before choosing our dinner, but we finally settled on the Main Street Butcher Block, where Dan ordered a Pot Roast Sundae.

The picture on the awning looked like this:
but in reality, it looked like this:

I passed on the juicy vat of slow-cooked meat in favor of the charred, sizzling virgin London Broil that was sitting on the grill in front of us, which they promptly slapped onto the meat slicer and piled up into a huge sub sandwich for me, with melted cheese, mushrooms, peppers and onions and a squirt of hot sauce. I ate the whole thing and was still kind of hungry afterwards.

As the sun started to set and a cool breeze blew my hair into the peppers and onions dangling before me, we decided to take a ride on the chair lift so Dan could shoot some birds-eye video of all the sights and sounds below. Though Dan has a fear of heights, he overcame it quickly once he was able to take in all the bizarre beauty of the blinking lights, brightly colored awnings and billowing flags - all those things that keep attracting me back to carnivals, fairs, and amusement parks.

The sun pretty much set while we were in the air, though our tickets only took us in one direction, so we had to buy more tickets for the return trip, facing the sunset.

It was a nice change of pace from my normal nausea-inducing rides on the attractions. Since Dan is not a fan of rides, and I'm not a fan of riding them alone, we stuck to the leisurely pace of the chair lift, with one round on the sub-par bumper cars which were way too slow and not nearly as exciting or as dangerous as the ones at Krazy City.

As the sun hung low and red in the sky, we stumbled upon the free aerial stunt show, featuring a motorcyclist and an acrobat's act on a trapeze line. It was graceful and stunning against the dangerous sky. Much more exciting than the pig race we stayed late for (though the pigs were much bigger in Jersey than in Tennessee).

Typhoid Sandi

I've got typhoid on my mind.

I'm knee-deep in preparations for my 11-day group tour of Morocco with Michelle, and in my research I realized I should catch up on some of my vaccinations, namely tetanus and Hepatitis A. But one guide I read also mentioned typhoid, and although my doctor doesn't think it's necessary, I'm thinking I might become a carrier for it.

North Brother Island On our Audubon Eco Cruise last Sunday, we passed through a number of islands up the East River and into Long Island Sound, including North Brother Island which still holds the relics of a typhoid hospital that once housed Typhoid Mary. Of course, given my fascination with abandoned buildings, I'm dying to go back there for some unstable exploration, but I have a feeling I would catch a case of the heebie-jeebies knowing the disease that once lurked within those walls, like I did at the Ellis Island hospital.

U-Thant IslandActually, most of those islands kind of gave me the creeps, sailing on a water taxi so close to Riker's Island, passing tiny little islands made up of piles of rocks and dead branches, and lots of birds - like U-Thant Island, where the laughing gulls with black heads sail high above you and cormorants perch with their heads held high.

Someone who had never been to New York City asked me recently what the one thing is that I would recommend to a tourist, and I said - to Edith's surprise - "Get on a boat." There's so much you can see of the city from a boat, whether it's the Circle Line, the water taxi, a private charter, a kayak or a canoe. This week we got to see the Waterfalls under the Brooklyn Bridge on our way up the river, as well as the Roosevelt Island smallpox hospital pretty up close, but the highlight was definitely that typhoid hospital, which looks terrifying.

Can't wait to see the toxic sights on our Newtown Creek cruise this Sunday.


view of the Waterfalls facing Brooklyn from the north side of the Brooklyn Bridge

July 05, 2008

A Calmer Evening?

After drinking too much Thursday and Friday night, I decided to have a cultural night tonight by going to the Lincoln Center Festival opening event of The Bacchae, a modern adaptation of the classic Euripides play about Dionysus. I didn't have to drag Michelle, who loves its star Alan Cumming, and she didn't really have to drag me since I love anything that features a Greek chorus of girl group soul singers.

The show is weird but entertaining enough with an opening shot of Alan's bare butt, some shockingly hot pyrotechnics, and blood spillage that almost rivals The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

fritterAfterwards, I was starving and thirsty so we found our way to the Time Warner Center outpost of Tribeca's Landmarc restaurant, which serves no wines by the glass but lots of French and French-inspired food. Michelle and I split some mozzarella and ricotta fritters with fried zucchini, plus a side of ratatouille. I devoured some foie gras on grilled country bread. And then we tried to order a Nutella eclair to split, but the bartender gave us the evil eye and brought us a huge strawberry-flavored cotton candy too.

double dessertJust as we were both tearing apart the cotton candy with our mouths and hands, ripping pieces off as prosthetic eyebrows and mustaches, we met the composer and music director from The Bacchae, who I recognized from the pit. Next thing I knew, he started twisting and bending forks for Michelle, who's probably as susceptible to magic tricks as I am.

Once the novelty of the forks wore off, he started to tell us about his kids and ask us about our lack of love lives. What do you tell someone who asks why you don't have a boyfriend? For me, it's easy enough to use my job in children's entertainment as an excuse, but the truth is, I never had a boyfriend before either.

So, full of liver and sugar, I had to decide whether to stay out with Michelle or to give up and go home and get a good night's sleep for once.

But even though the glasses are on and I'm in bed, I still haven't committed to staying home...

Photo Essay: Rainy Fireworks

It was another rainy Fourth of July in Greenpoint, only this year we were on Sebouh's roof without Sebouh. Somehow we got him to offer up his keys while he would be in Cape Cod for a wedding, so not only could we partake of the best view in New York, but also make home base out of his lovely apartment, sip wine, and grill up some meat.

Too bad Sebouh wasn't there.

The fireworks were nice but they moved them down the river a bit this year, so they seemed somehow smaller. Or maybe I'm just used to them. Or maybe I'm just bigger.

July 03, 2008

Needles and Pins

Just when I thought I'd already tried everything...

I've been wanting to try acupuncture for a few months now. Western medicine has done little to alleviate my chronic pain, and although my trips to a naturopathic doctor cost a lot of money for a whole lot of nothing, acupuncture is something that has helped my friends cure their insomnia and even fertility issues. So although my issues are very different, it seemed worth getting stuck with some pins to see what would happen.

I honestly expected very little. I figured I would feel the prick of needles, maybe unpleasant, maybe nothing.

Instead, I got a needle stuck in the middle of the top of my head, and suddenly a huge head rush. I got a needle stuck in each hand between my thumb and forefinger, and at first nothing - then, after a slight adjustment, a huge rush of heat throughout my entire hand and then throbbing.

As my acupuncturist worked her way down to my shoulders and upper back (which were really hurting after urban rebounding this week), I didn't feel much, but then she got to my legs. Wow-ee. Apparently somewhere near the back of the knee is the "female spot" that they activate to help PMS and that sort of thing, and I felt surprising waves of...movement down my legs. One more spot on each leg produced lots of movement up my legs.

The only way I can really describe it is like the feeling I had when I was put on an IV before getting my tonsils out. I could feel the cold liquid moving up my arm, out of my control, out of my normal experience, weird and unpleasant but not painful, somehow supposedly good for me. Only this time there was nothing in the needles - they were simply tapping into something that was already within my own body, and then released, like if you could feel your veins breaking and spilling to create a bloody bruise under your skin surface.

Once you're all set up with the needles (she had to take the one out of my head or I was going to pass out), they leave you in the room for a while to sit alone with the strange sensations. I could feel something happening in my forearm even though there were no needles in my arms. I felt pain in my chest as I was lying face down on the table, motionless on the outside but constantly moving on the inside. Whooshes up and down my legs.

Still nothing in my back, but that's probably because I'm very "blocked" in that area, and it'll take a while for the needles to unblock it.

After about 25 minutes, just in time for the orchestral ocean sounds CD to start skipping in the player, my body finally settled down and the acupuncturist came back in to remove the needles. I thought maybe she would tap into some emotional chakra that would bring on a deluge of tears, but I only cried a little right at the beginning, partially because of the strangeness, partially because of being alone in a dark room. Instead I was just incredibly lightheaded and disoriented, having to sit to collect myself for a while, and when I finally left, I got really confused between Second and Third Avenue. I'm not sure how I made it home in one piece.

Right after, the pain was definitely a little better, but I got really exhausted as the afternoon wore on and had to take a nap. The acupuncturist said I would probably get worse sometime today and then get better, and that I should sleep really well tonight.

That seems worth $90.