Daegan and I wake up early – I don’t even need an alarm clock, I’m so excited. I’m showered, dressed, and packed in record time. Double check for both of our passports and Canadian Permanent Resident cards – required to get back home – and we’re out the door, dodging Tenzin the cat as he tries to join us to explore the space between our apartment and the elevator. With nobody to walk him back home, he has to stay in this time.
Getting out the door early has had a wonderful effect on us. There is no stress. Yes, the bus isn’t due for fifteen minutes at this time of the morning. Who cares, we have tons of time. We’ve got almost 90 minutes of subway and bus travel before we get to the airport. No problem. I’m happy. Bag checked and through security and US customs without the slightest hitch. Even with the long trip in and bus delays we have time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast in a new food court inspired by our last neighbourhood, The Distillery. The food was good, the neighbourhood pretentious, expensive with lots of galleries and boutiques but a long walk from the nearest grocery store or decent library. Fortunately for us, though, we aren’t planning on living in Terminal 3 and before long we’re finishing a coffee and boarding a small jet bound for New York City.
We taxi to the departure runway and as usual, I find myself dozing off. I don’t know what it is about the experience of taxiing around the tarmac but I find it so restful. I can be wide awake boarding the plane, wide awake for the actual takeoff and flight but without exception, I am almost completely asleep for those few minutes between gate and runway.
I travel by plane several times a year now, and at times my work is such that I fly somewhere every two weeks. And still I find the whole experience exciting. It still is like magic to me. I walk in to a metal tube in my home town and a little over an hour later I am in a place that would take me a steady week of cycling to reach. It is nearly miraculous. I barely have time to read a preview for a book on Kindle before we are pulling up to our arrival gate.
The trip to our hotel is very easy – the airport train takes us to a commuter train (the Long Island Railroad) and we walk about a kilometre and we’re there.
We’re back at a hotel we stayed at in Gowanus, part of Brooklyn. The price is right (free thanks to all the business travel we’ve done) and though the elevator might well be the slowest ever – Daegan can climb the stairs to the sixth floor faster than I can ride the elevator – the room is perfect: clean, quiet, and with a nice view of the city.
We landed at noon so after the trip in we’re ravenous. We set our things down and don’t even take our shoes off. It is time to go find food. Off we go for a walk. One of the things I love about this part of New York is that the streets are full of life. There are people walking everywhere, talking and shouting to each other. Music from hip hop to bhangra to salsa to house music vibrates out of houses and cars. The clatter of the subway can be heard every few minutes from beneath as steam billows from big yellow pipes coming up out of the ground.Everyone is going somewhere and doing something – even if “doing something” consists only of sitting on your stoop talking to your friends and listening to music coming from your phone.
Our wanderings take us all over the neighbourhood and we look inside a lot of delis. Where you may struggle to find a decent sandwich in Toronto, you are spoiled for choice here. We finally stumble upon Russo’s Mozzarella and Pasta, an Italian grocery in Park Slope. We have our winner.
This looks like a great store with a fantastic selection if you’re shopping for groceries.
But we’re here for one thing: sandwiches. There are two things I miss from the east coast of the US that they just can’t do in Toronto: pizza and a simple Italian deli sandwich. The latter shouldn’t be too difficult: take a freshly baked bun, add good quality sliced meats and cheeses, add a bit of oil and vinegar, and done. But here the buns tend to be soft and more often than not taken from a bag bought at the supermarket. Subway and Mr. Sub should not be contenders for good Italian subs but so far they seem to be. Daegan and I choose two different ones and agree to swap a half of each so that we get to try two.
I get a “Carroll Street” – it could hardly be simpler: Genoa salami, capacola ham, lettuce, oil, vinegar, and provolone cheese.
Daegan gets “The Godfather” – Boiled ham, prosciutto, capacola, roasted peppers, and provolone.
We grab our sandwiches and a couple of cokes and head over to a nearby park to eat them.
Well fed, we make our next plan. Daegan has heard about an interesting gallery space. We dip down in to the nearest subway station to get two week-long transit passes and get on the bus.
I ride the bus all the time in Toronto, but this is my first time riding an NYC bus. But before I go anywhere I have to scan my transit pass. There’s something about diagrams that show what way you’re meant to insert a card that I find incomprehensible. Does that diagram with the notch on the top right above the slot mean insert the card notch-first into the slot? I think so. The card gets slurped in and spat back out with a buzz. Maybe I need to turn it over with the strip on the other side.
I turn it over again…
Now, the driver is looking at me and I feel like I’m Griffin Dunne in After Hours and the bus driver is the cab driver he just told he couldn’t pay.
Finally he tells me slowly and with careful gestures how to put the card in. And it works. And I never make this mistake again.
But really, that’s not so much a challenge for travel as a challenge with not letting other people’s impatience bug me and after about a minute of feeling stupid, I pass the challenge and watch out the window.
I know the name of the stop: Pioneer Street and that it comes after Sullivan Street. This should be easy enough
After we pass the stops for Hhahhhshshsssss Cklarkle, ShhhhhhhKKKKKflaunr and BRRREREDUPdddd Aasllrrrrrk, I realize that I’m not going to be able to know when we get to Pioneer Street.
I open Google Maps to see where we are and where we should go and notice that I have 20% battery left. I can’t just stare at my phone waiting until I see us arrive. And so I try to count the turns: “Left, left, right, left, right right” stays in my head about 30 seconds before I need to open Google Maps up again. Eventually, I find the name of the last major turn and watch out the window for a tiny street sign saying “Van Brunt” and then open Google Maps again to get me there. I am disappointed in myself, though. This is no different than navigating Toronto when we moved here in 2004 – we had no stop announcements at all and no Google Maps and salt-covered windows you couldn’t see through and still I found my way. My smart phone has made me soft.
Finally, as Google Maps tells me we’re almost there, the stop announcement for “Pharaaryeeereet” comes over the PA and we pull the stop request cord. and walk to the gallery space.
There are some striking pieces like this one:
Ralph Ziman has reclaimed a Casspir armored vehicle for his work, SPOEK 1. The Casspir is synonymous with the heavy hand of apartheid oppression in the townships and urban areas of South Africa. While designed originally as a military vehicle, it was used extensively against civilian populations in the 1980s. For his installation, Ziman has covered the surface of the Casspir with elaborate, brightly-coloured panels of glass beads, arrayed in traditional patterns made by artisans from Zimbabwe and the Mpumalanga province of South Africa. With SPOEK 1(and the larger Casspir Project), Ziman sets out to confront the past and initiate a dialogue on where we are going. – via 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair
Elsewhere in the garden we find a sparsely decorated Airstream trailer. Daegan gets inside and I see his future life as an artist living simply on his own terms:
We head inside and see a video installation. We have come in a few minutes in and I feel like I must have missed something. A man is standing in his underwear, pants around his ankles. He says a number, twitches a little and repeats it. After a few repetitions, he changes the number and claps twice and slaps himself and repeats that. Cut to another scene where a nude woman in sunglasses is lying face down on a couch. It appears that someone else in the room just before the scene started was reading and had to go answer the door. When the doorbell rang, they put the open book face down on her bare bottom so they wouldn’t lose their spot and went to get the door. She’s also doing a few repetitive moves, this time with a few phrases tossed in. She sits up a few times, then lies down, turning to the side. The moves she repeats also correspond to the numbers she’s saying. We travel throughout the space in and around a small glass building adding more people, most clothed, some not, all with numbers and moves to repeat.
Part of me finds it horrifically pretentious, while another part is fascinated with the composition, spreading action across two screens often with different shots of the same scene from different perspectives. The music and audio are also compelling. In some ways it feels like an extremely surreal episode of Black Mirror or Inside Number 9.
As silly as we found it, we also found it interesting fodder for discussion relating to art and creativity. If you’re curious, there’s a preview of the piece available here. It’s only a small excerpt, though. The full piece is 35 minutes.
We check out the rest of the gallery space. I’m particularly captivated by some of the art in the upstairs windows – words that appear over the iconic Manhattan skyline.
This is a challenging one: It’s certainly what a lot of nations have been and what some continue to be. I think there’s power, though, in how we define ourselves. That power guides us to where we as a nation may go.
How we define ourselves is powerful. Those things are, sadly, quite American and have been for some time now. But what is missing from this, and maybe for the viewer to see is what we conclude from these statements. I worry that some may just say “and therefore we’re just following our nature…” and continue as is. But if we say “and now it’s time to change this.” then it becomes a powerful statement that can create change.
In the past I think we as Americans have done the opposite of this: there’s a past of genocide and slavery, and continuing imperialism and racism and for a long time the narrative has been “America is the greatest country on earth!” despite this. This isn’t healthy. I think somehow we need to get to a point in which we can say “There are a lot of terrible things that America has done and continues to do. Let’s see what we can do to fix it.” Hopefully we are heading in that direction. I think to do this we need to look in the mirror and acknowledge both the good and the bad.
It’s only 4PM. Though everything on the list is done, I feel like going back to the hotel and sitting is a poor use of the time we have in New York. And so, on a whim, I decide to look up the memorial park for Adam Yauch, “MCA” from the Beastie Boys. The Beastie Boys are a bit of a guilty pleasure for Daegan and I. We listened to a lot of them on the 500 Kindnesses trip. They were pretty terrible in what they promoted in their early days – lots of objectification of women and drinking: “I grabbed two girlies and a beer that’s cold…” is how Paul Revere ends back in 1986. Thirteen years later you can watch them as they grow up and publish songs with lyrics like: “I want to say a little something that’s long overdue / The disrespect to women has got to be through / To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends / I want to offer my love and respect to the end.” or talked about men on the subway with lyrics like “Why you gotta be / Like you got the right / To look her up and down / What makes this world / So sick and evil?”
MCA eventually became a follower of Tibetan Buddhism near the end of his life and died of cancer on May 4, 2012. A park was later renamed in his honour. Daegan and I are not particularly reverent people. You will be unlikely to see us go somewhere to pay respects to anyone. For me all of that happens internally. The place doesn’t really matter. On the other hand, I am curious to see what it is like and it could be an interesting walk. And so, rather than say to ourselves “Who cares, it’s just a park?” we both head out the door in search of adventure.
The way to the park had quite a lot of art to see just out and about.
On the way we come across a used bookstore. Inside, a couple a little older than me was playing backgammon as another older man was loading books in to his 1978 Chevrolet. By the time we got there his trunk was full along with most of the back seat and the car was almost dragging on the ground with weight.
There was something particularly beautiful about the lighting and selection of books. There were a few newer titles, but the older titles were old enough that they had the correct covers – not the newer ones added recently when some of the books were made in to movies. Even the smell was right – just the right level of old book smell combined with the smell of wood floors.
A few blocks later we arrived at the park.
In one part two pairs of young men are playing one on one basketball while a couple of older men sit and watch from nearby benches. While the children’s playground is particularly busy. It was a lovely and lush park – a peaceful space despite being not far from several really busy streets.
The children’s park was full of kids so I didn’t take any photos. Fortunately someone did take a photo of it on a quieter day.
At this point we’ve walked at least 15 kilometres and we’ve worked up quite an appetite. After searching online for a bit we decide on Uzbek food – something we’ve never had before. It might be something we’d never had before but clearly many others had – the restaurant was packed!
We start with Uzbek Plov which is described as “Rice Pilaf cooked in a kazan [I looked it up – it looks like a cross between a cast iron wok and Dutch oven] with chunks of lamb, carrots, and chickpeas, topped with scallions.”
It is delicious – really tender lamb and buttery rice. The meat almost falls apart in my mouth.
Two minutes later, the manti arrive. These are pan-fried dumplings made with lamb and beef. They are very like momos or Chinese dumplings, or even Korean mandu (Interesting to note the similarity in name despite the distance between these countries).
They are amazing – even better than the plov and that set a high bar to begin with. We leave the restaurant with only one criticism: For the price the portions are small. We’re still hungry. We stop at a bagel place (almost as ubiquitous as the delis) to fill ourselves up.
Here we meet Joseph. In his 30’s with glasses and a ponytail, he seems very excited to have people to talk to. He asks what we’ve been up to, what we thought of our dinner, and where we’re from. When we tell him Toronto he gets even more excited and says how much he loves Toronto and how he goes there all the time. “I know all of your secrets!” he says and goes on to tell us to look up the connection between the NSA, CSIS, and Telus, both Daegan’s and my cell phone provider. When our bagels are toasted and buttered, he tosses them in a bag and then after we pay, tosses a few more free ones in for good measure.
“Be sure to go to Brooklyn Bridge Park – it’s great. You can find it easily: go eight blocks that way then turn right and go for eight more blocks. You can’t miss it! And don’t forget to look up CSIS and Telus!”