Fog’s Rain’s rollin’ in off the East River bank,
Like a shroud it covers Bleecker Street…
– Simon & Garfunkel
We awoke on Tuesday morning to find that our luck with the weather had finally run out – all we could see were grey, grey skies threatening to rain. 🙁 Ah well – at least we managed to squeeze in the two things that really demanded sunny weather (the Empire State and the Statue of Liberty) while the going was good! And in any event, a little disppointment with the weather was to be good training for other disappointments later in the day… but more of that later!
Our first order of business was breakfast. As we had already amply sampled the bounty of Starbucks, we headed a couple of blocks down West Broadway to The Amish Market. We had walked past this rather quaint looking place with wagon wheels outside and paintings of Amish-y scenes a couple of times and decided to give it a try. Once inside, it’s like a wonderful delicatessen. There are exotic groceries on the (jam-packed) shelves and a salad bar that makes other saladbars I’ve seen look anaemic. If I went back to NYC in the summer I would grab a lunch salad from here every day to eat in the park! Sadly they had a “no photos” sign on the door so I couldn’t take any pics 🙁 Wandered through all this and at the end you get to the restaurant bit – more of a canteen than a restaurant. Nick had some sort of full breakfast and I had a bagel & cream cheese with some rather nice coffee. I wish I’d seen the pastries before I’d ordered my bagel as they looked totally heavenly. I learned later that their previous downtown store had been badly damaged in the 9/11 attacks and that this store was one of a couple in the Lower Manhattan area. There is also one on 9th Avenue, further uptown.
From there, we made our way down to Ground Zero. It is now a fully-fledged building site, so I guess a lot of the impact of its emptiness and stillness is lost. There is also no trace of any debris as such – it just looks like any building site, albeit a very big one right in the middle of a lot of established buildings. It really is like a gap tooth – you are so very aware of the absence of the buildings and I found myself glancing up all the time to try and comprehend what they must have looked like and trying to wrap my brain around how two buildings taller than anything currently standing there could have come down so quickly and in such a comparatively tiny area. The whole place is fenced off and all the notes and mementos left by people have been moved. The subway station under the site is also once again open and commuters were streaming out when we arrived, so there’s been a real effort to get things back to normal. At the viewpoint above the station entrance, there’s a big plaque bearing the names of those who died, plus an exhibition of photos – some of the towers still standing and some taken on 9/11. I found it all terribly affecting – it brought me straight back to how I felt that horrible day, sitting in front of my TV with tears streaming down my face for hours and hours. The most surreal thing for me was to think that in the streets where we were walking on a daily basis were where the photos of people running from the dust cloud of the collapse were taken. I found it a really sobering experience and it went a long way to explaining the stringent security that we experienced at the airports and the Statue of Liberty.
As we were in the neighbourhood, I insisted that we pay a quick visit to the famous bronze statue of a charging bull that sits near Bowling Green Park in lower Manhattan. The bull has a rather interesting story attached. It was created by Sicilian-born artist Arturo di Modica at his own (considerable!) personal expense – over $300,000 – following the 1987 “Black Monday” stock market crash. It had not been commissioned by the city as a public work of art and on the night of 15 December 1989 Arturo and some friends loaded the statue onto a flatbed truck and offloaded it without permission outside the New York Stock Exchange as a Christmas gift to the people of New York. In a flyer distributed that day, Di Modica proclaimed it to be a symbol of “strength, power and hope of the American people for the future.” But that didn’t change the fact that, as far as the city was concerned, it was illegal dumping, so the police removed and impounded the statue. The public outcry was so great that the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation later re-installed it several blocks away at its current location at the north end of Bowling Green Park, at the end of Broadway. It is a very impressive beast – 3.5 tons of bronze with its head lowered and poised on its hanuches with head lowered, ready to charge – and it has become one of the most photographed pieces of public art in the city. In fact, getting the shot on the left was made almost impossible by a throng of oriental tourists who arrived about 3 seconds before we did and only after they had ALL been photographed with the bull did we get a clean shot. Make sure to check out the rear view as well – you will find the bull’s testicles have been burnished to a fine bronze sheen by traders (and tourists!) touching them for luck. Talk about taking the bull by the balls!! From there we walked through the financial district which feels rather a lot like London – partly because the strict grid system doesn’t operate down there. Found ourselves at the NYSE building – beautiful but very heavily guarded – you felt a policeman was going to question you every time you took out your camera! Did take a few shots though, of the building, the giant flag that it is draped with and the loitering policemen.
From there we made our way to the nearest subway station and caught a train uptown. We emerged in midtown Manhattan and into the early stages of a drizzle, which was fixing to settle in and stay. After retracing our steps from yesterday and walking up 5th Avenue for a couple of blocks, we turned off at about 47th street to go and inspect the Rockefeller Centre, home of the famous Radio City Music Hall. The Rockefeller Centre at first appears to be just a monolithic group of buildings, but when you start looking more closely, you discover that the detailing, especially at street level, is an art deco joy and seriously lovely. Probably the most iconic and recognisable part of the centre is the ice rink (a sunken garden and cafe in summer), presided over by the giant gilded statue of Prometheus bringing fire to mankind. The first time I saw this statue was probably 20 years ago in a movie (I believe it was Splash??) – it was also wintertime and you could see the skaters and the fairy lights and this beautiful gold statue. I was hooked. And let me assure you that it does not disappoint in real life – the whole scene with the statue and the ice skaters and the 200-odd flags fluttering around the plaza is just elegant and lovely.
By now it had really started to rain, so we put up our umbrellas and did a brisk walk over to MOMA, the city’s famous Museum of Modern Art. I still had very happy memories of visiting here in 1997 and spending hours gazing at the beautiful Monets. I think it was also here that I finally got the point of Georgie O’Keefe whose beautiful flower pictures just do not make sense until you see them in the flesh (so to speak!). However… after organising every other detail of our trip down to the last second, I had made a pretty basic mistake and not checked when the museum is open. And as luck would have it, this was a Tuesday and the museum is closed on Tuesdays. Noooooo! So to comfort ourselves a little and to get out of the annoying rain, we spent a while in the MOMA design store across the road, which is probably the best place in New York to buy non-tacky gifts for the folks back home. By then it was time for lunch and after the roaring success of Katz’s Deli, we were keen to try another of the city’s famous Jewish delis. A quick glance around the web seemed to suggest that the Second Avenue Deli was the best, so we hopped on a subway and headed to the other end of town, the East Village, with the address scribbled on a piece of paper. As with much of the East Village, the particular place that you want to go to is probably not served by a subway station in the immediate vicinity and so we had a long walk ahead of us. And did I mention that it was raining?? Hard?? Or that Nick was beginning to nibble on his gloves as he was so hungry?? We walked and walked and finally we got to the block we needed, and then to the address we needed… and there was the empty storefront, locked up with a notice on the door to say that the 2nd Avenue Deli is now closed.
So there we were, getting wetter by the minute, trapped in the East Village with no idea of where to go from there and getting hungrier by the minute. Based on how long it had taken us to walk from the subway station, Nick decided not to turn back but rather to walk on to the next station. I was beginning to feel suspiciously like I was trapped in a scene from Bladerunner – walking around this huge, busy city with lights and cars and traffic everywhere and this unrelenting, heavy vertical rain. All we needed to complete the picture was Harrison Ford and a couple of replicants… While trudging disconsolately along in the rain, contemplating my GAP chinos that were by now soaked and plastered to my leg up to about my knees, I was suddenly brought to a halt. Nick had stopped and was peering down a sidestreet through sheets of rain, saying “hey, didn’t we see that name in a guide somewhere?”. And yes – somewhere in the forest of guides, maps and recommendations I had definitely seen the name mentioned: Angelica Kitchen. Halluljah – we were saved!
Had Nick actually remembered in what context he had seen the name, he would probably have walked right on by: Angelica Kitchen is reputedly one of the best vegan restaurants in New York, and therefore total anathema to my committed carnivore husband! But it felt sooooo good to get inside to somewhere warm and dry that, by the time he realised he was in a vegetarian restaurant, he didn’t really care either way! I, on the other hand, was thrilled. The restaurant ticks all the boxes for ethical eating: owner Leslie McEachern insists on fresh seasonal produce; direct purchasing from small artisinal producers; use of heirloom varieties; 95% organic produce; and no refined sugars, preservatives or animal products. Inside, Angelica is warm, woody and welcoming. Okay, so our waiter did look as if he knits his own sweaters from the wool produced by the goats he keeps in his back garden, but that kind of adds to the charm – and he was very friendly and helpful. I nearly wept with joy when my eyes scanned the drinks menu and found… warm mulled cider!! From there on, they could have fed me anything and I would have been happy ;-). We sat by the window with our hands wrapped around mugs of delicious apply cider, contemplating the menu while my damp chinos steamed gently. The menu is intriguing, with starters like Thai Mee Up (shredded vegetable salad in a Thai dressing), curried cashew spread and lentil-walnut pate. There are two main course specials every day and regular menu mains include a selection of salads, a sushi plate, noodles, bean chili, vegetable tortillas and “dragon bowls” which include a variable selection of vegetables and grains. Prices are about $4-$6 for starters or $8-$10 for mains.
After a few restorative sips of mulled hot cider we were ready to order. Nick surprised me completely and ordered a daily special of smoked tempeh with mashed potato, mushroom sauce and marinated red cabbage – see how gorgeous it looked below on the right! I, on the other hand, felt pretty desperately in need of comforting and asked the waiter just how spicy their three bean chili was. He assured me that it wasn’t that hot so I took his word and oh boy was I glad I did! It was spicy but not at all hot and the blob of lime jalapeno tofu sour cream added a wonderful creaminess and cooling tang. It was served with a deliciously frBut the highlight was the big square of cornbread – I love corn in any form and this dense, moist cakey texture had me at hello 😉 So we sat happily munching on our wonderful vegan fare and watching the rain come down in sheets outside. I could imagine Angelica’s to be a place where you could come with a big group of friends and sit chatting or playing boardgames all afternoon, gorging on their (no doubt gorgeous) lemon cheesecake. There’s also a refectory-style communal table for single diners who don’t want to eat alone. In the land of cheap, fast food and the Big Mac, this place is an oasis for anyone who cares what they put into their bodies – but still want to indulge their taste buds. Innovative dishes from an extensive menu in a warm and friendly atmosphere.
But all too soon we had to settle up and head out into the wet again – ugh. From there we trudged back through the set of Bladerunner towards TriBeca, stopping briefly at an internet café to try and find places to stay when we left New York for Connecticut. Since it really wasn’t the weather for outdoor activities and the night was fast closing in, we decided to indulge in some indoor activity: shopping! On our sojourns through and past Ground Zero, we had spotted Century 21 which we later discovered was a huge discount store, so that’s where we headed. For those of us who associate the idea of a discount outlet with the great but excruciatingly basic TK Maxx, this place is a revelation. The building itself looks more like an old school Oxford Street department store, all wood paneling and nooks & crannies. But every nook and cranny is jam-packed with discounted designer merchandise – incredible!! Menswear, womenswear, accessories, homewear, games, even NY souvenirs. In fact we were so gobsmacked by what was on offer that we spent an hour wandering around with out moths open and then left without buying a thing, resolving to have a think about what we needed and come back tomorrow early. The store has convenient early opening (07h45) and late closing (20h00) hours.
Made it back to our hotel, slightly damper that when we left and planned to spend an hour relaxing, but instead I ended up on the phone for most of the hour – to the three friends we were planning to see in Connecticut and Boston, and then I called Ronni Bennett, one of the most eloquent and erudite bloggers around, and one my all-time favourites. Until recently Ronni lived in New York and so I was hoping to see her, but in the last few months she had moved to Maine and I was going to have to content myself with a phone call. Although the subjects Ronni addresses on her blog are serious, her cheeky sense of humour peeks out often enough (especially in relation to her gorgeous Ollie). But on the phone it is a whole different story. Of all the laughs I have heard, Ronni’s throaty laugh is one of the most infections, and most of our conversation consisted of the two of us laughing like drains. Ronni is one of those people that you might not have met but feel as if you have known for years – we just clicked instantly and could not stop talking. Eventually it was Nick who got us off the phone by pointing at his watch, then his stomach, then making slashing gestures across his neck. Oh sorry sweetie – are you hungry?! So Ronni and I rang off but I hope to meet up with her this summer if her planned trip across the Atlantic materialises.
That evening we set off with high hopes back to the East Village (thank goodness it had stopped raining by then!!) Even before I ad left London, Ronni had recommended a neighbourhood Italian called Marinella that I was eager to try. I had called to try and make a reservation, but the phone message had said they were closed for renovations, reopening on Saturday (i.e. 3 days ago), so off we went. I must say I really like the East Village – it really does have the feel of a village to it, with loads of low-rise residential buildings and plenty of neighbourhood restaurants. I could see why Ronni was so sad to leave! Anyway, we finally arrived on Marinella’s doorstep to find… it was closed!! Not forever, but definitely for the night, with chairs stacked on tables and all the lights off. There was no illuminating notice on the door, saying that renovations had overrun, or that Tuesday was their night off – nothing. So I guess we’ll never know why they were closed, but the more pressing problem was where else to eat? Now the odd thing about the streets around this area is that, although I’ve never set foot there, I had a pretty clear picture of what was available because of Ronni’s wonderful photo albums chronicling the shopfronts of Bleecker and Carmine streets. It was the maddest feeling of déjà vu in a place where I had never visited! But when I saw John’s pizzeria I knew we’d be OK 😉 So that’s where we ended up eating in my friend’s neighbourhood Italian even though she no longer lived there. The place is more homely local than smart bistro but in a comforting way it reminded me of the pizza joints of my youth (like Cranzgots in Plett when they still let you write on the tables!!), and the big coal-burning brick oven in the corner was a good sign. We settled into a corner table and perused the menu which is great if you’re after a pizza or pasta and salad, but not too good if you’re keen on something else! However, since I’m the pizza monster,I was quite happy with that. The toppings are strictly traditional – olives, sausage, mushrooms, anchovies, meatballs, peppers, onions and pepperoni. None of this new-fangled sunblush tomatoes, goats cheese and rocket 😉 We opted to share a (huge) black olive pizza at $16 and a whopping big house salad at $6. The pizza was napolitan style, rather like Luzzo’s – a thin, perfectly charred crust spread with tomato sauce, mozzarella and a generous sprinkling of olives (apparently John’s is the pizzeria of choice for those who like their pizza loaded with topping!). It was hot and fresh and tasty – just what you want from a pizza. The salad was also fresh and tasty with excellent, properly ripe tomatoes. Wouldn’t it be nice if London had plentiful neighbourhood Italians like this – not anodyne chains like Pizza Express or over-priced gourmet Italian restaurants. Just satisfying, well-made, unfussy Italian food. Sigh.
And on that dreamy dream note, we made our way back to the subway and to our waiting bed.