Notes on NYC

New York City, you exhaust me. We rolled back into Montreal on Easter Monday close to midnight, sleep deprived, with sore feet – the markers of a successful trip. It was my third time visiting the city, but I only seem to visit for breathless weekends (the shortest being one and a half days, the longest being four and a half), so it still feels new, unexplored, uncharted. Andrew and I drove up with Nel and Mark and stayed with Shane and Heather in their loft in the Bronx. We walked a lot, we bought books and shoes and clothes, we went to galleries and ate a lot of food. It was good. Here are some of the highlights.

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Nel and Mark doing explorery stuff

Favourite out-of-context sculpture: We arrived on Friday afternoon and while the light was still good, Shane took the four of us for a huge walk around his neighbourhood in the South Bronx. The thing about travelling with a bunch of urban explorer types is that I pick up all this random information about things I wouldn’t otherwise think about. Like, within my first hour in New York City I got a brief tutorial on the sewer system, how water is brought into the city (from the Catskills! The pipe is leaking! It’s been leaking for over 30 years!), the point of those wooden water tanks on buildings around the city, etc. It’s oddly fascinating, and it was great getting a personal tour of the Bronx. As for the out-of-context sculpture, there’s a shipping yard near the water where if you peer through the fence you can see a massive rusting metal sculpture created by Richard Serra (who just had a retrospective at the MOMA). It was slightly surreal to see it just sitting there, bleeding rust, out in the middle of a dead-end lot in the Bronx

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Richard Serra: art, not scrap metal

We also poked around the Hell Gate Bridge and because it was low tide, crossed briefly over to Randall’s Island without having to use a bridge. Tucked into a corner underneath the bridge is a tag by a graffiti artist who gave up on spraypaint and turned to metalwork instead. His metalwork tags are scattered throughout the city and this is one of the more obscure locations.

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I would like tags more if they were always cast in metal.

Favourite meal: Oh god, Sylvia’s. After a day of walking all over the city we wanted food that stuck to our bones and warmed us up. Soul food. So, we went to Sylvia’s and the meal was nothing less than completely satisfying and delicious. Miss Sylvia herself was at the door greeting the diners and my only regret is that I was so stuffed I couldn’t order a slice of Red Velvet Cake for desert. Such is life. Between us we ate: many slices of cornbread, fried chicken, ribs, collard greens, mac and cheese, okra gumbo and garlic mashed potatoes.

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So much goodness in one photo.

Art exhibit best viewed while fully awake: The Whitney Biennial is perhaps not best experienced at four in the afternoon when you’ve been walking non-stop since 9 in the morning on 6 hours of sleep. It’s hard to feel engaged with the art when your mind is kind of blanking on what it means, and I found myself most tickled by the exhibits that I could interact with directly rather than just stand back and look at. So, I don’t know how I felt about it, to tell you the truth.

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At the MOMA, not the Whitney. People dozing off.

Favourite Nabokov-inspired art piece: You would think the International Centre of Photography would have more… photography, but the first floor was devoted to excerpts from photographer/designer/ installation artist, Barbara Bloom’s collection, including a few Nabokov inspired pieces, like the cover of Lolita in rug-form or, my favourite, a butterfly box with tiny drawings of Vladimir, each one named by a different pseudonym used in his career.

Favourite unexpected public space: The weather was so beautiful in New York City compared to Montreal – over ten degrees, sunny, even actual flowers peeking out. We were pretty psyched about hanging out in Central Park and soaking up some sunshine, but before getting there it was a pleasant surprise to stumble upon Bryant Park, next to the New York Public Library, and eat hot dogs at a little table, the sun shining down, yellow taxis whizzing by in the distance.

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Odds of someone quoting the scene from “Annie Hall” where Woody and Diane are in line at the movies while waiting in line to watch a Godard film at Film Forum: 100% maybe? Is it just inevitable? On Saturday night, after dinner and aimless wandering, we felt like sitting down and zoning out to a movie. We were in Chelsea at the time, and Godard’s “Contempt” was about to start playing, so we bought tickets. Within 10 minutes of standing in line, we listened as a guy explained that Annie Hall scene to his date. What is perhaps strange
r is that she had never seen the movie. Note: Like the Whitney Biennial, don’t watch Godard when you’re feeling sleepy. Oops.


Best hot chocolate ever: The City Bakery. With a homemade marshmallow.

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Song you totally expect to hear at a peace rally, but also totally not expect to hear because it’s such a cliché peace rally song: Kumbaya. But we totally did. Note: I’m for peace and all, but we didn’t seek out the peace rally, we just happened to be sitting around Union Square while it was happening. But I was pretty cuted out by this old man with a dot-matrix printed banner for peace:

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Favourite book purchased from a cute bookseller: Steinbeck’s memoir of driving around the U.S. with his dog, “Travels With Charley”. I had just returned a library copy of the book before leaving, and was charmed by Steinbeck’s ambling descriptions. I wanted a copy of my own, so when I saw it sitting on the bookseller’s table, I gladly forked over six dollars for it.

Most a propos poetry collection purchased from The Strand: Frank O’Hara’s “Selected Poems”. O’Hara’s New York is so vibrant and romantic, exclamation marks and orange-coloured things everywhere. His love poems melt me quicker than ee cummings. Whenever we had some downtime, his poems were the only things I could digest.
Excerpt:
I’m going to New York!
(what a lark! what a song!)
where the tough Rocky’s eaves
hit the sea. Where th’Acro-
polis is functional, the trains
that run and shout! the books
that have trousers and sleeves!

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