missing fall

Before we left town to visit New York, the weather here was fine, all the trees were green, even the lawns were starting to look normal again after the summer heat wave that tried to kill them off.

New York was hot and muggy. We had a little rain, but temps were always in the 70s and 80s. We walked the streets in our shirtsleeves. We sat in parks under full, verdant trees surrounded by thick bushes and brightly-colored flowers.

Then we came back here to find that, in the short week we were gone, practically all the leaves on the trees turned and fell, all the lawns went brown and spotty (again) and, even before that, the first thing to hit us was temps cold enough to make us put on our jackets and make us zip them up to our necks. It’s like we missed fall.

got gas?

Here’s a weird thing about Manhattan: There are no gas stations, or almost none. The whole time we were there, we saw just two gas stations, and we walked up and down a lot of streets. In six days, we saw just two places selling gas. It was weird, because we saw a lot of cars. Taxis, mostly, and a lot of trucks, but quite a few personal cars, too. I suppose the taxi companies have their own, private filling stations, but where are the ordinary people getting their gas? They can’t all be buying it at the two gas stations we saw. Do they drive to New Jersey to gas up? Brooklyn? I’ll never know.

Skyscraper Museum

Then there was the Skyscraper Museum. A museum about skyscrapers. It was in New York City because where else would you have a Skyscraper Museum?

We almost didn’t find the Skyscraper Museum. It’s just north of Battery Park where the streets are so old that they tie themselves in knots so that the address numbers don’t always follow a linear progression. Three does not necessarily follow two as you walk along some of those streets. Luckily, while we were tracing streets with our fingers in our handy guidebook, a passing Manhattaner out walking his dog took pity on us and helped us find the building we were looking for. Without him, we’d probably still be in New York City right now. Bastard.

The Skyscraper Museum was in a few rooms of the ground floor of a building that was not a skyscraper. The ceiling was mirrored, though, so that in every room it looked like the walls soared up into the skies. Very appropo.

Fun fact: Most of the downtown neighborhoods in Manhattan were built up in the 1900s by the garment industry. There’s hardly a block anywhere on the lower half of the island where clothes weren’t being stitched together by a dozen immigrants in every room in tenement buildings, or later by a hundred immigrants in a loft. They were making clothes everywhere down there right up to the 50s, and quite a lot of those buildings are still standing, making up some of the more interesting parts of New York City.

Best part of the Skyscraper Museum: Admission is just five bucks. There’s amost nothing you can do in NYC for only five bucks. Go see the Skyscraper Museum.

NYC at night

New York City at night, looking south from the top of the Empire State Building.

image of NYC at night

(Click on the photo to see it in MEGAVISION!)

Fifth Avenue shoots straight down the middle of the island; Broadway cuts across it at an angle. The tallest sparkly tower in the middle distance is the new World Trade Center. And I think the loopy string of bluish lights with two bright red beacons is the Manhattan Bridge.

charging bull

image of My Darling B with the charging bullMy Darling B posed for her picture with the charging bull of Wall Street, except that it’s not on Wall Street, it’s on Bowling Green at the bottom of Broadway, just north of Battery Park. In fact, it was never on Wall Street. But it is a bull. The artist who made it, Arturo Di Modica, placed it on Broad Street outside the Stock Exchange, apparently without asking anybody. It was so hugely popular that, when the city removed it, the public made such a stink that it was relocated it to Bowling Green.

There was a teeming throng of about a hundred people clustered all around it that barely fit inside the enclosure fence set up along the boundaries of the island it stood on in the middle of the street. I had wait patiently to snap a few shots of My Darling B beside it without somebody else in the frame, and then the best photo I got still had a guy’s butt just inside the edge of the frame that I had to crop out. Thank goodness for photoshop.

Just as we got there, an older man was gathering up a busload of kids who looked like maybe fourth graders and explaining the significance of the bull as a lucky rub. The bull is cast in bronze, so the parts of it that people rub for luck are quite shiny, while the rest of it wears an earthy patina. “Many people like to rub the bull’s nose,” the old man explained to the children, “and some people like to rub the bull’s backside. Some people like to reach underneath and rub the bull.” Titters from the crowd of children, who really didn’t need their minder to explain this, as one person after another posed to get their pictures taken grabbing the bull by the, ah, jewels.

Hayden Planetarium

There’s an IQ test to get into the Hayden Planetarium but they don’t tell you about that when you buy your tickets.

The planetarium itself looks like a huge sphere on stilts inside a glass box that is the Rose Center for Earth and Space. Wow. I would give up a kidney to work in a place called the Rose Center for Earth and Space. I wouldn’t even necessarily have to do anything all that earthy or spacey, I just want to work in a place with a name as cool as that. Even if I were the janitor, I’d have business cards made up with my name followed by ROSE CENTER FOR EARTH AND SPACE because how awesome would that be? But My Darling B isn’t going to move to New York City because she loves her garden and I love that she has a garden so I’m probably never going to clean toilets at the Rose Center for Earth and Space. *sigh* Guess I’ll have to be content with cleaning toilets here at Our Humble O’Bode.

When we got to the Rose Center for Earth and Space (not going to shorten the name; deal with it), we found ourselves on a mezzanine that ran all the way around the bottom third of the planetarium sphere. To get into the planetarium, which is in the top half of the sphere, we had to ride an elevator from the exhibit floor beneath the sphere to a balcony on the floor above us. The only way to get to the elevator appeared to be by way of a corkscrewing ramp that coiled around the base of the sphere, and to get to that, it appeared that we had to enter a small movie theater in the bottom of the sphere where we would have to watch a four-minute video about the big bang. The IQ test is: Can that really be the only way to get to the planetarium? Because if it is, it seems a little convoluted. (Answer at the bottom of this post. Don’t skip ahead to cheat.)

Not that I didn’t want to watch a video about the big bang, but we bought tickets for the twelve-thirty showing of “Journey To The Stars,” the featured show at the planetarium, and we arrived shortly after noon. Our timing was a little tight. Also, the corkscrewing ramp was an exhibit about the big bang that I wanted to see. Seemed a little pointless to watch the video if we wouldn’t have enough time to walk through the exhibit, but we searched for, but couldn’t find, a stairway down to the bottom floor, so we gave up, ducked into the little movie theater, watched the video about the big bang, then rushed down the ramp without looking at any of the exhibits, figuring that we could come back later to look them over.

The planetarium show was all about stars and how they’re the source of practically all the elements in the universe, and the sun is the source of all power for all living things on earth. Great show, outstandingly illustrated, excellently narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, although I have one teensy-tiny little niggle, the smallest of bones to pick with the writing, which missed a huge opportunity, it seemed to me, to explain what’s going on when new elements are formed in stars. It bugs me that shows like this one dumb the science down so far that it sounds as if the formation of elements in stars is almost entirely accidental.

Here’s what I mean: When I asked B later to tell me how fusion took place in the sun and why, she said, “Well, they made it sound like all those atoms just floated around until they bumped into one another.” She’s not far off at all: That’s exactly how they explained it, if you can call that an explanation. Why they bumped into each other in the interior of the sun, instead of doing it somewhere else, was not explained. A simpler and, if I may say so, a better explanation would be that fusion takes place in the sun because a star is a place where there is so much hydrogen piled up in one place that it gets crushed under its own weight. When you crush atoms against one another, they fuse together. It’s as easy to explain as that, and yet most science films make it sound like an atomic dance party where hydrogen atoms gather for no other reason than to bump into each other.

After the show, we stepped out of the planetarium to find ourselves right back on the same mezzanine we started from when we came in. We still hadn’t worked out the secret of how to get to the bottom (hint: there’s a stairwell at the far end of the Rose Center for Earth and Space that we overlooked until we were about to leave) and we wanted to go back and see the big bang exhibit and several others on the floor below the planetarium, but we really didn’t want to watch the introductory film again. My Darling B took the lead on this one: As we entered the movie theater, she lead me toward the back and parked herself in front of the exit door. Then, while the attendant wasn’t looking, she opened the door a crack and slipped through. I followed here and we stood giggling at the top of the ramp like a couple of school kids who’d skipped out of study hall to smoke cigarettes in the parking lot.

Our truancy did not go unnoticed, however. We thought we got away with ducking the movie, but somebody must’ve ratted us out because the attendant popped out the back door while we were looking over the exhibits. “You’ve got to see the show,” he told us, looking genuinely hurt that we didn’t stay.

“Actually, we’ve seen it,” I told him, figuring that honesty would serve us best here. “We came through once before but we didn’t get to see the exhibit, so we’re doing that now.”

“But you’ve got to see the video first,” he said again. So much for honesty.

“Yes, and we’ve done that,” B said. “We came through earlier and watched the show, but we didn’t have time to see the exhibit, so we’re doing that now.”

“But you have to see the show or it won’t make sense.”

“We saw the show,” I said. “Before. We watched it, and then we came back to see the exhibit.”

“Well, okay then,” he said. “Have a nice day.” And he ducked back inside, but he didn’t seem to be convinced that we’d seen the show. Maybe he was just sick and tired of arguing with us. We’re always messing up somebody’s day.

The Curse of Bleecker Street

Frau Bleecker!Beware the Curse of Bleecker Street! This is an age-old New York City curse that will strike while you’re trying to find a place along Bleecker, or if you have to cross Bleecker, or even while you’re walking down a street that sounds like “Bleecker.” You will be mysteriously overcome by a desire to walk blocks, or even miles away from your intended destination if you’re not paying attention. Don’t be fooled! We were, and here are but a few of our tales:

Although B was not feeling entirely well Wednesday night, she was very hungry after a day of tramping all over New York and wanted to find a nice place to eat a really good meal, so after going back to the hotel to clean up we did a little Googling on the internet for Italian restaurants in the neighborhood and decided that Bianca’s on Bleecker Street sounded like just the kind of place we’d like to go. We knew from our walk that morning that we could find Bleecker by getting off the train at the Christopher Street station, and we figured that finding number 5, the address of Bianca’s, would be a matter of simply walking down the street a few blocks. And in theory, that would’ve worked. In theory.

We had no trouble finding Bleecker after getting off the train and weren’t fazed much by discovering that the addresses we were seeing were in the mid-200s because they can change very suddenly. We had seen them go from 200 to 100 to single digits in just a couple of blocks on other streets. Unluckily, that didn’t happen on Bleecker Street. We walked three or four blocks and the numbers were still in the 200s. We walked another three or four blocks and although the numbers dropped below 200, they stubbornly stayed in the high 100s no matter how much further we trudged.

Finally I stopped under a light to show B the map and plead with her to go somewhere else, anywhere else, rather than keep plodding on. It would have been no more than another six or eight blocks but I really didn’t have a special need to eat at that particular restaurant any longer. I was able to convince her to turn back and we caught a train back to Christopher Street where we utterly failed to find a nice quiet Italian place and had to settle for an Olive Garden knockoff that served pesto so full of stems I wouldn’t have fed it to rabbits. At least they poured a generous glass of wine.

The next afternoon we were trying to find the Bridge Cafe for lunch. B had read all kinds of good things about the Bridge Cafe and really wanted to try it. Although we found it with little trouble, there was a handwritten sign on the door that said they were closed for lunch due to a freak electrical fire, and once again we were left searching for a place to eat.

Looking at the map, we noticed that we seemed to be not very far at all from the far end of Bleecker Street where the Italian restaurant we’d been searching for the night before was supposed to be. It was five or six blocks away but we thought a nice quiet place where we could sit for a while would be worth the walk. When we got to Bleecker and started up the street we saw right away that the addresses were very wrong, and when I checked the map I found that we were on Beekman Street, not Bleecker.

So we found the nearest subway station and took a train to Bleecker Street station, which was supposed to be just a couple blocks away from Bianca’s. Working our way down the street, our anticipation grew as we passed restaurant after restaurant where people were sitting at the tables, enjoying glasses of wine, the aromas of so many delicious meals drifting into the streets. Finally we reached the end of Bleecker and No 5, the address of Bianca’s and it was closed! For no reason that they cared to explain, it was the only restaurant on the street that was not serving lunch that day.

We were so completely deflated that for ten or fifteen minutes we couldn’t decide what to do. When we could, we got on a train and went back to Chelsea to look for an Italian restaurant across the street from a Cuban place where we’d eaten dinner a couple nights before. It was closed, too. No surprise there.

So, to summarize, the three Italian places we were looking for were closed, while every other restaurant in NYC was open for late lunch. In the end we decided to just bend to the will of fate and went back to the Cuban place, which was not only open 24/7, it was also serving mojitos. Yum.

Our final encounter with the curse of Bleecker Street came when we were on our way to Murry’s Cheese Shop. It’s kind of a big deal, especially to foodies like My Darling B who adore cheese in a way that makes people like me feel as if we should just pretend we don’t know what’s going on.

The quickest way to get to Murray’s from our hotel was to take the A, C or E train to Washington Square, walk down to Cornelia Street and hang a right when we got to Bleecker Street. Since going to Bleecker Street had screwed up every other plan we’d made so far, I took extra care to research the hell out of our trip before we left by Googling Murray’s, making notes in our guide book and drawing arrows on the maps to indicate which corners we had to watch for and which way to turn.

Everything seemed to go smoothly. We easily caught a train right away after we got to the station, found Cornelia Street with no effort at all and made our way down it to Bleecker. Our friend Troy at the Chelsea Pines had told us that Cornelia Street was a great place to get a bite to eat, what with all the different restaurants along it but, although we saw three or four bars, most of the shops along the street appeared to be selling sex toys. “I hope Troy wasn’t trying to pull our legs,” B said.

The street also seemed to be a lot longer than the map indicated it would be, and by the time we got to Bleecker we found out why: We’d been walking along 4th Street the whole time and were four blocks north of where we should’ve come out! I grabbed B’s hand and we doubled back to 6th Ave to find out how that had happened.

At the top of 4th Street we found the street sign that pointed down the street and clearly read “Cornelia” but the sign pole was bent at a weird angle and the signs hung slightly skewed from the direction of the streets. It looked as if someone had backed into it with a car and twisted it around so that the sign that read “Cornelia” was pointed down 6th Street. That was about the craziest example of the curse of Bleecker Street that we saw while we were there.