Inktober Week 1: Why I Love New York

I’m drawing something I love about New York City every day in October for Inktober. Afterwards I think I’ll assemble the drawings, making some kind of interesting poster.

Drawing something until conclusion every day is harder than I thought but a goal I want for myself after this month is over.

The first week was:
NYC Buildings
Bagels
Walking over bridges
Slices of Pizza on the street
The subway
The skyline
Bodega cats

Wild Bird Fund

A few blocks from my apartment is a peculiar storefront. In the windows are branches arranged in skeletal patterns. If you stop and look close enough at the windows, you’ll notice the common city pigeon and other smaller, migratory birds of unknown origin (to me) perching on branches, hiding in nooks.

At first I assumed this was some kind of exotic bird pet store, which always peeves me out a bit. I’m not a pet store fan. But to my surprise, it’s not a store at all, but a non-profit emergency room for birds!

The Wild Bird Fund rehabilitates the city’s avian wildlife from the city “garbage” pigeon to all the kinds of birds that have migrated to New York City for thousands of years. Our city’s built environment changes the life of birds though, from tall buildings to fly into to toxic trash to eat. That’s where the Wild Bird Fund comes in. People come from all the city bring birds to be rescued here, by a dedicated staff of mostly volunteers. It’s the kind of hidden New York City institution that makes me have faith in the city, it’s people and it’s wildlife.

The Wild Bird Fund is donation run, doing the kind of unseen care that makes an ecosystem work. The Fund treats not only the city’s Pigeons but Owls, Red-Tail Hawks, Robins, Great Egrets, to name a few. I love when I see a large, strange bird ambling inside the storefront.


Wild Bird Fund
565 Columbus Avenue
New York, NY 10024
between 87th and 88th Streets

 

Favorite New York City Coffee

I like to pretend I’m on vacation most weekends by treating myself to espressos. During the week it’s mostly french press at home or coffee cart dollar cups. But fancy coffee never tastes so good as when I’m lounging at 3pm in another neighborhood or just down the street on a Saturday afternoon.

Here’s a current list of my favorites for the season of back to school and back indoors. Now, if the New York City heat would finally leave.

My New York City Coffee Geography

Toby’s Third Estate because it’s a tiny spot with a hidden Strand.
Third Rail  for the Washington Square Park vibe.
Sweatshop for Aussie Williamsburg espresso.
Birch because of the cold brew I’d drink all year long.
Joe as a classic from back when I moved to New York.
9th Street Espresso for a real space to work and think with your espresso and milk.
Think because the old NYU undergrad heart only grows fonder!
Blue Bottle in Carroll Gardens since it’s got that South Brooklyn charm. Like, is this neighborhood even real?

 

Day Trip: Croteaux Vineyard

Summer is over officially now! I made a list before the real summer started with a few goals. I made it to some of them: beach lounging, trips out of the city, sitting in parks, a baseball game, and so on.

One of the lucky day trips I made this summer was to visit Croteaux Vineyard on Long Island. It’s all the way out in Southold, in the North Fork area which is becoming a little bit of a hip destination, too. I was convinced by a group of wonderful former coworkers and the promise of a bagel breakfast on the longer LIRR train to make the expedition for the day.

Croteaux is a rose-only vineyard which I mean, come on, of course I was into that. We had a great time ambling to the vineyard on foot through the quaint town of Southold. We even came across a very old cemetery en route with pre-revolutionary graves.

Our group of four sat in the lovely vineyard garden, sipping flights of rose. It’s a great location to relax, with the right mix of rustic charm and green vines. I highly recommend the sparkling flight to taste the variety of roses as well as the cheese and bread basket to share.

While the town is walkable, even to the vineyard, we took a car back to the train. Next time I’d love to stay over night in North Fork to explore more of the charming area.


Croteaux Vineyard 
1450 S Harbor Rd,
Southold, NY 11971

 

NYC Pizza’s I’ve Known: John’s on Bleeker

I’m on a pizza expedition around New York City, dedicated to trying it all, from fancy gastropub pies to grandma slices to dollar slices.

This past weekend I revisited one of the greats: John’s Pizzeria.

John’s is a classic, coal oven pizza place open since 1929 in the village. It’s one of the originals of the city, better than the others I think.

Sometimes you have to wait to get in, sometime you don’t. There are no slices. The walls have been scratched over the years from what seems like faux hooliganism, just people wanting to be part of a place well loved.

The inside is always a mix of locals and tourists. On this Saturday the table next to us was having a small family reunion dinner, with at least four pies surrounding their plates. I dreamed of that many pies.

The pizzas here are coal fired and quintessentially New York with a flat blackened crust, basic tomato sauce, and fresh mozzarella. These are not your artfully constructed pies. The crust and dough won’t have you singing the praises of its tang, its sourdough ferment. The tomato flavor is bright but simple. I find it’s rustic, classic charred edges unpretentiously delicious.

I always go for a medium pie of mozzarella with fresh Italian sausage to split between two. If you’re especially hungry, a larger pie will do too.  You can get beer or wine or a salad but really, you’re here for the simple pie.

Eat in or take it to go, sitting by the Hudson or in closer Washington Square Park.

John’s Pizzeria
278 Bleecker St
New York, NY 10014

 

A First Time Trip to Rome and Florence

Rome and Florence are tourist destinations unlike any other I’ve been to. They are in late May and early June also teeming with college kids finishing their semesters abroad, spilling into plazas at night. They are hot, crowded, and wonderful cities that I’d visit again in a heartbeat because sometimes being a typical tourist abroad is blissful. 

Maybe it was that we flew into Italy right as the season warmed, a welcome change from rainy spring, because the crowds didn’t bother me in the least. Sure, there were moments of waiting in humid lines. And yes, we did watch a particularly intoxicated American fall asleep at a fountain around midnight, who thankfully awoke before we had to rescue him like awkward faux mom and dad Americans we are. And yet in both cities we ate really, really well. I know that’s what everyone says about Italy but the food and the wine and the gelato and the coffee are really all I need to feel like I’d gotten away from home for a bit. Spending nights in plazas, sipping cheap peronis without needing a plan is exactly my kind of casual respite.

We flew first to Milan on a good deal with Alitalia, hustling on a high speed train to Rome. We walked around Rome by day and night for several days,  hardly ever taking the metro.  We drank two, sometimes three cappuccinos a day always standing at the counter, speeding into the day but still crashing from heat and walking exhaustion. We rode a double bicycle through the Villa Borghese, which turned out to be less whimsical vacation and more hilariously difficult, battling Italian drivers and skidding down hills while I laughed unlike I’ve laughed in while.

Rome was graffitied, gritty, and pockmarked with with hot trash piling everywhere. Yet it was also beautiful, old, and differently dense than New York City, with quiet back street cobblestone neighborhoods right around the corner from literal Roman ruins. I was most impressed by the Rome of working Italian people living their lives despite the tourism facade, stopping at coffee counters in the morning because it’s just a normal everyday ritual.

We left Rome for Florence by high speed train too, my burgeoning art history afficiando ready to lean into the tourism of such an amazing city. I stood like a child in front of so many larger than life paintings, trying to see right into the grain of the paint strokes, inspecting faces in early Renaissance frescos with amusement.

We waited in line for close to two hours, fending off so many line jumping Italian grandmas for the Uffizi.  Brian read me the entire Rick Steves walking guide to the galleries as we meandered around. I loved it thoroughly, like a kid.

We gazed upon Duomo everyday, staying right nearby. We sat in manicured parks as well as open church squares in the Oltrarno neighborhood after dark. We ate late after spending days walking up and down hills, staring at churches so much older than things I can imagine. We shared Florentine steak and pasta with house wine at a small Tuscan restaurant called Osteria Cinghale Bianco where we just happened to get a seat without a reservation.  It was absolutely one of the best simple meals I’ve had, the kind of serendipitous moment you can’t repeat.

We flew back through Milan, a funny thing to be a little familiar now with this northern Italian city I’ve stopped over in twice. We too took a moment to gawk at its epic Duomo. More summer tourists arrived for Italy just as we departed, feeling a little like we were temporarily studying abroad in our thirties.

Rome

seeing
All the greats are here, of course.
I loved the otherworldliness of the Pantheon the most, it felt like it belonged in Battlestar Galatica (nerd alert.)
Walking through the heart of the city to see the Trevi fountain at night.
Stranger but lovely was the Capuchin Crypt.
I found the Vatican Museum not as awe inspiring as St. Peter’s, though.
Capolitini museums were worth it for the awes inspiring Roman statues as well as the view of the forum. 

staying
The Monti neighborhood was lovely and very slice of life Rome right by the main tourist destinations. We opted to stay in a hotel there.

eating
Travestere for all dining and especially Dar poeta pizza.
A cute cafe spot for breakfast in Monti called La Casetta.
There’s a mini chain worth it called La Prosciutteria
The best gelato I had was Fanta Morgana.
Pasta Chef for street food carbonara that delicious and budget friendly.
Lunch and apperativo around Campo di Fiori
Antico Cafe Greco for a little posh old school cappuccino

Florence

seeing
Duomo! 
Walking everywhere, especially at night across the Ponte Vecchio.
The Boboli Gardens for meandering and the views.
The Uffizi
Piazza della Signoira  with a beer in the evening, observing people.
Piazza Santo Spiritu for a lively night scene, too. There was a cute cafe with to go spritz.
Leather goods everywhere, you can tell the more artisan stores if you wander a bit.
Ceramic goods from Tuscany at La Botteghina Del Ceramista
Santa Maria novella for the beautifully patterned church and the famed perfume store.

staying
We stayed right by the Duomo in a side street airbnb on the top floor. It was lovely.

eating
Aperitivo at the Santa Croce hip spot Oibò
Pizza off the beaten path at Marlborghetto
Sandwiches everywhere, in little delis tucked on so many streets.
Old school pastries at cafes like Bar Pasticceria Cucciolo and La Loggia degli Albizi
A fantastic Tuscan dinner at Osteria Cinghale Bianco

Saying Goodbye to Apartments

I’ve lived the longest on my own in the apartment building we’re about to leave in Brooklyn. It’s been almost four years in one building, crazily enough. Four years back in New York City. I’m happy to have been here and happy to move somewhere else, to buck the nostalgia people always cling to when leaving phases in life.

In my packing, I found this sketch from one of my 2015 sketchbooks. It was the year I decided to start making art again, not really caring why or how. I’m so glad I did because it brings me so much joy outside of the hot subway commute of working life in the city.

We brought both of these bookshelves to the basement a day or two ago. We found them first on the streets of Brookline when we were living in Boston. In the two apartments in this one building I kept the shelves organized about the same way in each. Funny how I repeat life patterns. It’s a bit freeing though to realize they’re old and musty, that we don’t have to keep just so many books.

Our super arranged the boxes upon boxes of books we got rid of into a free library in our laundry room basement. That made me a smile a bit and feel less like I was throwing away good reading material. My New York Times Cookbook was already snatched up by the time I returned to the basement. People are less interested in the literary and cultural theory textbooks with the used label I’ve kept way too long. Ah, ghosts of a liberal arts youth!

I’m keeping the vintage globe because a girl has got to keep some whimsy in her life, and the painting my mother did of a picture I took in France and the ye olde time looking radio. My terrarium died, of course. I’ve got no green thumb, but I’ll keep trying. I’m thinking: ferns!

I’m keeping books that have a sentimental value to me and letting go of the rest. Oh and my fruit bowl, that will live on. I love an apple a day.

I know I’ll be back to Brooklyn, maybe not to the exact spot I’ve lived in for four years, so I don’t feel any kind of fear of leaving. It’s easier to romanticize the past or the way things are than to embrace the change of the current and the future. I am so ready for getting older and moving on with whatever happens along the way.

Recently I told a last-year-of-teenage-dom teenager that every year we are dying so why fear change. She asked me if I was always 65 years old. The answer is yes, yes I have always been.

Here’s to moving back to Manhattan, where I haven’t lived since I was a college kid in 2007.

Sketching St. John Divine

I started working uptown this past spring on both a whim and a planned expedition in changing.  And I mean, actually uptown and not just above the corridor of favored lower Manhattan offices. I mean the uptown of that-certain-university in Morningside Heights.

At first I thought, well this will be the commute, when considering the working life up here. But after a few meandering walks around the campus, and down Broadway into the the west nineties, I was sure it was the right change. I kept thinking during the walks about those essays about leaving New York, those inflated ideas of New York we grab onto.

Morningside Heights is also full of charm, students, bookstores, and slower cafes than those downtown. It is most notably to me home to the looming neo-gothic glory of the Cathedral of St. John Divine. Every time I rest on it’s steps, or venture inside for a moment in its cavernous-like interior, I feel the pangs of a long lost crush on Joan Didion. Just this past week I was remembering how I clung to her narrative for a long time but that now I feel a natural distance from her detached prose. I kept her books when cleaning my apartment for the move uptown still. Either it was sentimental or silly, I don’t know.  I know she too felt a particular connection to the cathedral, though, the way it witnessed ups and downs in her life. 

When I’m walking up Morningside Drive in the morning arching my way onto the campus, I always stare up at the Cathedral’s spires, feeling a bit like I’m coming around to the beginning of a life in New York. The church is always inspiring me to sketch, to look at it from a side street, in awe of it’s giant prowess in such a small beautiful neighborhood. 

Maybe I’ll join the ranks of those wistfully thinking about loving and leaving New York from this iconic neighborhood or maybe i’ll just mark this as another part of the journey.  I’m happy to entertain my own version of Goodbye To All That even if I’m thinking right at this moment that I never want to be so far away I can’t still get lost in the giants of Manhattan’s avenues.  Of course, that gracious feeling I have walking around is more often than not buttressed by finding myself crammed into a hot and sticky heatwave subway car or watching a pigeon eat my fallen slice of pizza on the street.

I wouldn’t change it, though. 

Cathedral of St John Divine.
1047 Amsterdam Ave,
New York, NY 10025

It’s worth taking a tour around the inside of the Cathedral. So many artists have had a part in shaping the vision of the church in the 21st century, and it’s mission to serve the diverse people of the city.There’s a Keith Herring Triptych inside as well. It’s one of the oldest buildings in the New York!

Home for the Fourth of July

Spending the Fourth of July at home is always a hectic dance of vacation days, bus trips, and wrangling which of my family members I can see. But despite the complicated maneuver, I think it’s a tradition I want to keep up for years to come. Though I do love the emptiness of New York City during a summer holiday, it’s nice to go back to my childhood house in the trees, joining in some good old debates about what time to grill while at it, even if it drives me a little batty.

I split my time in both New Hampshire and the suburbs of Boston which means I’ve think a lot about trips I can tag on while in New England. Of the many things I miss about living in that region, I miss the most the fact that you can just get in a car and be in another state, at the beach, or in the mountains, with ease. 

This year in New Hampshire we aimed for relaxation and quality time, but I’m proud we got to at least one of the many local breweries in the state without trying. Perhaps next year we’ll take the week off to rent a lake house for a day or two in the northern part of the state. I once went to the White Mountains in summer, thinking they were absolutely glorious.

Around Boston we didn’t make it to Walden Pond as I dreamed of but explored a less touristed local lake to see a friend, one I didn’t even know existed, which quenched that same thirst for suburban lake lounging.

We spent time playing mini-golf and eating ice cream in the farm stand of my youth, like classic Americans surrounded by dads in American flag t-shirts. We even played candlepin bowling like New Englanders with weird traditions (I am one of them) right where I used to spend my most favorite awkward years in junior high losing at skee-ball.

(I lost at mini-golf but didn’t do so bad at bowling, thank you very much. )

We even found time to stealth away in a car,  driving into Cambridge to visit our favorite bookstore in Harvard Square. I stopped into one of the best vintage stores I’ve ever been to, picking up something red white and blue by serendipitous accident.

We capped our brief visit to Cambridge by sitting down for a meal at a classic greasy spoon with a friend, the kind of free-standing diner that are almost all but gone in New York City. All-day-breakfast feels a lot of like home, reminds me of getting rides into the city as a teen or skipping class to get breakfast sandwiches at the now closed diner counter of my hometown. 

Sometimes it’s pretty alright to go home for a while, treating where you’re from like a different destination than it’s always been. 

 Fourth of July Notes

A Brewery Crawl of New Hampshire (someday!)
Martha’s Exchange in NH
Memorial Beach in Marlborough MA
Kimball’s Farm for minigolf in Westford MA
Acton Bowladrome in Acton MA
Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge MA
Oona’s in Cambridge MA
Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown MA