Two Weeks In New York

photo: brasserie la belle vie, manhattan

Another one of New York's bistro's - but I forget where
it is exactly, besides being in the phone book.

Was It One Tour or 12?

Paris:- Sunday, 6. January 2002:- On my arrival in New York City two weeks ago I was presented with a handy list of 64 things 'to do' or 'see' in the boroughs of Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. Thirty-five years ago I had no such list, and I simply walked down Fifth Avenue to Washington Square and got lost in the Village and Chinatown.

That was in the 'old days' in the 60's part of the last century and to try and repeat it would have been a fatal boobism in our slightly used but still shiny 3rd Millennium.

While on my first subway ride from Queens to Manhattan on the 'E' line on Saturday, 22. December I looked over the new 'tour' list and wondered about items like 'Broadway and the 30's' and '2nd Avenue deli.'

For the first time I can remember, I got into the United States without any hassle, so I decided on the spot - photo: nathans hot dogs, coney islandsomewhere deep under the East River - to skip the 'Custom House,' even though I was assured it is now the American Indian Museum. In fact, I decided to skip everything on the list.

Nathan's looked closed, but it did contain diners having their Christmas hot dogs.

Now, thinking it over, I should have really taken the advice I give to Paris visitors. I usually say, 'you don't have to see everything - multiple visits are allowed.'

But just in case you think I spent all my time in the bar of the Hotel Renaissance overlooking Times Square - like I should have been doing - I offer the following as a silly example of never being entirely 'off' the job.

The day after my arrival, although the 'E' subway train made several stops in Manhattan, I did not get off until it reached Brooklyn - for a look at lower Manhattan's skyline from Brooklyn Heights.

The oddest aspect about this view was the lack of any boats or ships other than the Staten Island ferry disappearing in a direction I assumed to be Staten Island. After a while a tugboat showed up, looked at the East River and turned around to look elsewhere.

The subway is a fast way to get into Manhattan. But the best way is to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, which must be one of the most famous in the world. Except for its overly long approach on the Brooklyn side, it was a good walk with a big view of lower Manhattan, including the Manhattan Bridge, which is not 'for sale.'

Leaving the sunlight of the bridge for the deep shade of the area around New York's modest City Hall made finding a café and a coffee necessary. There seemed to be a lot of people around - this was close to the ex-location of the World Trade Center - so coffee had to wait until getting to Joe's Shanghai in Chinatown.

Walking is not easy for the uninitiated in New York. The steady lights of the 'don't walk' or 'red-hand' signals means staying on the sidewalk, while flashing ones mean you might be able to make it across a street. The white-lighted signs mean you can go, but don't trust them.

The other walking hazards are unevenly surfaced sidewalks, often littered with dangerous street furniture or punctured with potholes around tree trunks. House and building fronts often have tiny gardens or basement entrances, surrounded by iron railings. Mobile hot dog vendors and their customers take up more space.

I have forgotten that there are other pedestrians too. Add these to additional sidewalk hazards like mail boxes, bus shelters and newspaper vending stands and after all of this, even single-file walking involves a lot of dodging.

After the dumplings at Joe's Shanghai, Mulberry Street was taken, leading to Canal Street - to seephoto: cafe moscow, brighton beach the sunlight glinting on the top of the Empire State Building, which is a lot more attractive than Paris' Tour Montparnasse.

Also open Christmas Day on the boardwalk in Brighton Beach - the Cafe Moscow.

Mott, Bleeker and MacDougal Streets were found in the Village, and a first espresso was obtained in the Café Vivaldi on Jones Street. Vital cheese supplies were found at Murray's cheese shop and that was more than good enough.

This first tour was a bit much for the day after the flight, so Jackson Heights in Queens was explored on Sunday with a visit to a modest mall on Northern Boulevard, to look for Met's slippers. These, the sporting goods place did not have, so another coffee was necessary at a pizzeria.

Outside I traded a few words with a fellow admirer of white and chromed '61 Chevy Impalas. Seeing older cars was rare, because most of them are in Cuba enjoying the rum and sunshine.

Monday was another bridge day, beginning with a hike across the Queensborough Bridge. Midtown and a bit of the Upper East Side were explored. Mucho swank and little color on Fifth Avenue around Central Park and Park Avenue, and less swank and more color were on Lexington. A sausage was found and spoken German was heard in the Schaller & Weber shop.

The first coffee stop was at Neil's on Lexington, followed by one at the Comfort Diner on 86th Street, after testing Madison Avenue up to 90th Street. Getting back was via the Lexington Avenue subway with a switch to the 'V' train to Queens.

The weekend before I arrived, the MTA instituted some transit changes. If I mention what seem to be unlikely subway references, these are the new ones - ones New Yorkers are still getting used to.

Tuesday - Christmas Day - was celebrated with a visit to Coney Island in Brooklyn, which was reached with the 'F' train via a wiggle under Manhattan. I missed my chance for a hot dog at Nathan's, and one of the seagulls on the boardwalk along the beach did not miss me.

I have always wanted to visit Coney Island, but never realized it is in Brooklyn and is not an island. New York should be proud of it, but not be too anxious to 'fix it up.' It is fine as it is - nice and antique. There were other strollers on the boardwalk, going past the Cyclone roller coaster, the Aquarium at Surf Avenue and all the way to Brighton Beach, plus bunches of Russian outdoor chess players.

A couple of blocks from the beach, I had my first ear-deafening impression of an elevated subway line, running above Brighton Beach Avenue, also known locally as Little Odessa.

This seemed like an appropriate area to seek out Buffalo grass but nobody in a dozen or so shops had ever heard of it. A lady from Kiev even looked for it in a Russian book devoted to the life of plants - but it was not to be found.

The only shops closed on the avenue were liquor stores, which made it impossible to follow the vodka dealer trail. Otherwise, if it was a search for Russian foodstuffs, Little Odessa has more than its share.

After this a stop was made at a deli for fuel and then it was back on the subway to go up to Rockefeller Center to look at 'The Tree.' Several thousand other souls had the same idea, and walking around the corner to 5th Avenue gave a more unobstructed view of a smaller tree than I expected.

Somehow I was convinced to go another seven blocks up 5th, to 57th Street to see the 'big snowflake,' and after this big town glitz it was much easier getting into the Café Europa than the Russian Tea Room.

On the day before the year's first, last and possibly only Café Metropole Club meeting in New York, I tried to unravel the files I'd sent from Paris - by finally getting the server-lady Linda Thalman to send new copies.

In the evening - ever on tour - I visited the more exotic areas of Queens, which might be called West Bollywood if it were not for the Argentinian steak-house and Esteban's El Greco café, where I had an espresso to calm my PC-shattered nerves.

The big day of Thursday, 27. December arrived and for a change, I took the 'V' train to Manhattan, to pick up the first batch of the Café Metropole wine from its UPS drop zone. Labels werephoto: rockefeller center, manhattan not attached, and these were glued on - with special effort put in for the properly 'champagne-type' corked - but empty! - 'demo' bottle.

You can read about this club meeting, and the one in Paris hosted by Linda - which should now show its photos in a slightly better light.

At Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, right around Christmas Day.

For some reason - possibly because of wrestling with the PC until about 06:00 - the following rest-of-the-day was spent discovering the wonders of one of the world's first - or Queens' first?' - shopping mall or center. Winter sales started in New York - if they ever stop - early, and the shoppers at Macy's left it looking like a bad day after a ransack at Tati's.

After not taking sage advice to buy two suits for $79.99, I did buy some jeans in the JC Pennys' outlet - saving some hundreds of francs or tens of euros from the Paris prices. For some reason, the Pennys' store was not torn apart at all even though it seemed to be very similar to Macy's. Maybe the folks in Queens have a grudge against the latter.

My only meal in West Bollywood that night was not stupendous, but I probably ordered the wrong stuff. Other guys in an upstairs room had booze instead, and spent the rest of the evening having a discussion about the tab.

If this 'report' is not to go on for weeks, I have to leave out all the people I talked to for no special reason other than I felt like it. Many did not expect me to say anything to them - people in New York are in a hurry and do not always appreciate idle or incomprehensible chit-chat - but there were a few who gave back in kind.

By this I mean a public apology is owed to all residents who were not expecting me to say 'bonjour' in Spanish, including several nice people in West Bollywood supermarkets, lottery sales outlets and panderias.

Saturday, 29. December was tour day again and a good one for trying out the echo hall in Grand Central station. You may have to wait in line to do this and the couple in front of me claimed it didn't work. But it does - if you appreciate dream voices - so take your turn right by the entrance to the Oyster Bar. Looking this place over too is not a waste of time.

Next on the endless trek were Tudor City, the East Side barricaded UN headquarters neighborhood, and a quick peek at the famous lobby bar in the Algonquin Hotel. Construction of the New Years' platform for bigwigs was under way in a impossibly crowded Times Square, but this was easy to get above by taking a pause in an upper-floor bar of the Renaissance Hotel.

South on Broadway found a Paris-like mini park in Herald Square in front of the main Macy's, and a rare Paris-type coin-toilet, big enough for five wheelchairs, or two full-sized baths inside. Then an upstairs visit was made to Olden Cameras on 6th Avenue - looking for a used something.

Slightly after dark, slightly after it got a lot chillier, I skipped the long sidewalk line-up outside the Carnegie Deli and crossed the avenue to the Ben Ash Deli, where the line-up started after I had a table.

I thought the menu mention of their 16 oz. pastrami sandwich was pure hyperbole until it arrived, bravely held together by spear-length toothpicks.

Nobody has a mouth big enough for one of these, and the French-speaking Lebanese waiter kindly offered a doggie bag to take three-quarters of it away. Take-out deserts were picked up in the reliable Café Europa and then it was the 'R' train's turn to return me to Queens.

On Sunday, the Manhattan-bound 'E' train got me close to B & H Photo to look for used photo stuff again. Even in New York, good used light-metres can cost a fair wad of money - so I passed on it. This store on the West Side at 34th Street and 9th Avenue is closed on Saturdays, but is worth a visit on any other day if you want to find out how Paris' Very Monumental Bibliothèque is supposed to function.

After giving the West Side's Cupcake Café a lookover, the very same 'E' train got me down to the Lower East Side, to see the annex of the Tenement Museum. The streets around it contained museum-grade look-alikes too.

My notes say, 'transfer to 'F' train, exit at Delancey Street, see Williamsburg Bridge at left, walk to Gus' sidewalk-sales pickle outlet, Kossar's Bialy, then to Orchard Street.

By then, then outside turned out to be a number too cold, so a refuge was found in the Arlenephoto: shoeshine stand, grand central Grocery, which was a sturdy bar with a rock-and-blues cellar. From this oasis it was north to the East Village, until freezing up again and diving into Teresa's Polish restaurant on 1st Avenue for a try-out of Kielbasa sausage.

If you have shoes that can actually be shined, then near Grand Central is the place to get them done.

More notes - 'next stop, Di Robertis Italian Pastry Shop, downstairs. With marble tables, noisy refrigerated cases, tin ceiling, and red, white and green décor. Tasty Italian pastries. Been here 350 years.'

Monday noonish, last day of the year - was spent in a huge Dim Sum joint with two parking lots in Flushing - with a Chinese couple doing the ordering the right way. With the 'Quote of the Week' - "You're not in America, you're in Flushing!"

This was finished off with a brief tour of the Hong Kong section of Flushing before taking the elevated '7' train back to Bollywood, past Shea Stadium - home of the fearless Mets. This seems as good as any place to mention that swaying elevated train stations are nothing much to worry about, unless you get seasick easily.

New Years Eve in Times Square was observed in comfort with a nine-inch TV, thanks to jittery video coverage by WB11-TV and other major TV-channels. The estimated frozen crowd numbered a half million, but security was so tight the evening's total for arrests was three, which were skillfully managed by 4000 policemen, or 'cops' as they are called locally.

New Years Day was spent at a brunch in Manhattan's Upper East Side, after the day's necessary tour of the East River promenade and the Carl Shurz park along with a view of Gracie Mansion, vacated the evening before by the ex-mayor's ex-wife,photo: sidecar, b & h photo, manhattan children, retainers and bodyguards. The empty mansion - a fairly large but modest house, in fact - was guarded by brand-new, very big, white city dump-trucks, full of sand.

New York may not have many 2CVs, but makes up for it with other classy pieces of iron.

The new mayor, Mike Bloomberg, was sworn in three or four times between the last day of 2001 and the first day of 2002 and New Yorkers said goodbye to two-term Rudy Giuliani, who was fairly credited with making New York liveable again, if not exactly home to its homeless.

Many New York residents do not consider Mr. Bloomberg to be a 'character' yet, even though a recent edition of the Daily News reported that his first official act was to install two fish tanks in the city hall for his pet fish.

Mr. Bloomberg's real claim to fame is sponsoring the evening's financial news produced by his own company, on WB11-TV, right before the popular daily weather forecast and the unpopular sports news about the Jets losing again. The new mayor is reported to have spent $60 million of his own funds just for the privilege of running New York for four years.

Back to the brunch - the Café Metropole sparkling wine had a week of lying still in a refrigerator after its urgent UPS ride to Manhattan. All who tried it on New Years Day asked where they could buy some. The answer will be supplied soon after real labels are printed - so watch for this announcement in Metropole a little later in the year.

Wednesday found your reporter up in Washington Heights, way up in Upper Manhattan, just to see how high these 'heights' are. Some places in the neighborhood have their front doors at street level, while their back doors are five floors below. Or the other way around.

There is also a splendid view of nothing much happening on the Hudson River from Fort Tryon Park. After this thrill I walked to Broadway - yes, this 'Broadway' is the same as the other ones - and took a handy bus down-island until I felt a need to get off on Amsterdam Avenue somewhere around 138th Street, to try out a latino café and watch a 'Cuban' sandwich being constructed.

This was followed by hoofing it down to 125th Street, then riding a bus crosstown through Harlem, going past Bill Clinton's office building to get to Lexington Avenue and its downtown 4, 5 or 6 train, to ride down to 59th Street, to catch the 'N' train out to Astoria, to Uncle George's Greek Taverna, where I had a so-so souvlaki.

A historical note is needed here - Astoria was the United States' original movie capital until sunshine and cheap land in orange groves were found out west in California's Hollywood. The 'Bollywood' mentioned as an area in Queens is related to Bombay, and its movie industry. Otherwise, there is no relation between the two, except maybe, oranges.

With a search for out-of-date software for an excuse, another tour was undertaken on Wednesday that involved several lettered and numbered subways. The areas of Chelsea, Greenwich Village and the Upper West Side were visited - with no luck at all. 'Used' software is gone software.

Some notes - 'walk to Amsterdam and 77th Street, to the Crocodile ex-computer store and walk back to Broadway and 79th Street to stop at Filene's basement to buy a belt. Then walk up to Broadway and 85th to stop in at the French Roast Café for coffee. Do some shopping at Zabar's giant food deli at 81st and Broadway for herring and bread. Walk south to 75th and Broadway to the Citarella semi-giant food deli for shrimp and stuffed ravioli. With loot, take '7' train from 42nd Street to Queens. Then eat loot.'

Friday was spent in Queens looking for Irish soda bread, in the direction of Woodside, where the bread was found along with a real coffee-shop type café. Then the elevated '7' train was taken the other way, with a transfer to the underground 'R' train to get to Queens Mall - which turned out to be the wrong place - so the direction was reversed by one 'subway' stop, to get to the nearest version of Joe's Shanghai in Queens, for a second round of dumplings.

On Saturday in Queens I learned that while Bollywood was to the right, the longer-term Spanish part is to the left, so this was toured as sort of a latino desert to all the other tours. Even under the rackety 'El' it is supposed to havephoto: cafe casa latina, queens hot street music in warmer weather.

After a final coffee at Esteban's, it was time to pack up and ride out to JFK in a Lincoln latino-taxi. Once at the airport I managed to do the multiple check-ins two hours early.

If I had five minutes more time in Queens I could have given you a report on the Case Latina.

After some extra security checks on everybody and everything the American Airlines Boeing-bus took off two hours late, arrived in Paris two hours late, to meet a RER train that was so late all of its passengers had to switch to another one.

This RER train was fuller than any subway train I'd been on in New York and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get off it before getting to Orly or wherever it goes beyond Denfert.

Saying here that 'Part Two' will be found here next week would be cruel-shoes, so I won't. New York was wonderful. Even if it does lack the cafés it lacks, it has an excellent 4th-dimensional subway system. Coney Island is a true bonus. I'm glad it is really real.

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