Art Not To Miss at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

I originally published this 11 years ago back in January 2009 upon the eve of what I thought was my final departure from the United States. I’m still looking for my shire. It’s not Morocco and it’s not Oahu and probably not the USA – Turkey was wonderful, until suddenly political and religious bullshit ruined it. Who knows where it might be but I wonder if I will ever find it?

 

The Journey’s Reason/ The Quest
Let’s start with the obvious, I leave the United States this afternoon. I have no idea what the future holds. I’m not even sure if I will ever be back here. That’s part of the reason why it’s nice to have been able to visit Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Ogden, Chicago, Boston, Providence, Warwick, New York City and Queens before I leave. In addition, I was able to look at just about everything in between from the windows of the train. It’s an incredibly beautiful country filed with a lot of wonderful people.

New York is a magical place, but unless I somehow become wealthy enough to have a car service, hire taxis every day, and have a beautiful apartment here, it’s just too cold in the winter for me to ever consider calling it home.

Ultimately, that’s what this trip is about. It’s about finding a place to call home so I can dig in, plant some roots, and put my energy into creation. What about Hawaii? Well, Hawaii is great but I like it to be a little cooler than Hawaii (but not as cold as the Northeast), Hawaii is too far from other places, and unfortunately, I saw myself staying in one service job after another if I stayed there. Or becoming an academic and frankly neither option appeals to me.

So that is why I am leaving. It’s a journey, a searching, a quest and I suppose unlike the Lord of the Rings, this quest starts from a magical land and ideally takes me to the Shire. I’m looking for a Shire, not too hot, not too cold, not too far from the world, and connected via the internet.

On Aging

As my friend James pointed out the other day, we are getting older and it is becoming obvious. Of course sometimes it manifests in ways that I don’t expect and I have to admit to not enjoying that at all.

On the upside, I am more in control of my life than I have ever been before. My capacity to make decisions is unsurpassed in my own life experience. I have learned the lessons of this life I’ve lived (hopefully) and I feel like I am cooler, smarter, better looking, and more together than I have ever been. That’s a pretty good upside.

The downside is more subtle. I’ve been having a hard time finding couches to surf since the West Coast. I attributed it to my lack of planning more than anything else, but there is another possibility that I have to consider. I’m 37. It says so on my couch surfing profile. Even though I meet people and they generally think I am in my late 20s to early 30s, I usually find that their behavior towards me changes (if they are younger) when they find out my age. It happened over and over again in college.

The book of the dead and those reflected in it.

The reason for this change and perhaps for this prejudice against people my age on things like couchsurfing.com is probably justified. Let me repeat that, I think it is probably justified. The truth is that for every guy like me (adaptable, smart, fun, and ‘ahem’ fairly normal) who is vagobonding, there are probably 10 weirdos of the same age that are out to exploit, steal, or who are just crazy. Let’s face it, at 37 I’m supposed to be married, in a career, a father, have some money in the bank, and be living a ‘responsible’ life. Either that or there is potentially something wrong with me…or (as in the present case) I am just a very different type of person who hasn’t followed the usual path.

Frankly, I feel like I think I was supposed to feel in my mid to late twenties. And I’m okay with that, actually, I’m really okay with that because I plan on living for a really long time so there is no need to become old prematurely. The problem is that for the past six nights I think I have been put in an ‘old men’s dorm’ at the Chelsea International Hostel. Nearly everyone in my dorm has been the same age or older than me and aside from ungodly snoring, farting, and other loud bodily noises, I’ve noticed that there has usually been something not quite right with these guys. So you see, maybe I’m guilty of the same prejudice. Here’s a funny thought, maybe all the old guys in the room (including yours truly) all are thinking the same thing.

In any event, I’ve become fairly certain that my age is working against me on couchsurfing and now in this hostel at least. Incidentally, aside from price and location, I wouldn’t recommend this hostel. It’s loud from repairs and old pipes, it doesn’t have a comfortable common area, no chairs in the dorms, and it doesn’t provide wi-fi. I think wi-fi and a comfortable place to sit are high on my list of desired traits in hostels.

And that brings me to cafes.
In the age of the laptop, a cafe without wi-fi is like a cafe without coffee. I’ve been staying in Chelsea and for such a hip and cool neighborhood, I have been surprised to find the only coffee shops with comfortable seating to be Starbucks. How much does that suck? At least in Honolulu we had the option of Starbucks or a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and at CB &TL there was free wi-fi if you bought anything. Here, the Starbucks are packed and the wi-fi is a big rip off from AT&T.

I found a handful of places offering wi-fi and out of those the only one that actually worked was here at the Brooklyn Bagel Company. And I have to wonder if the brushed metal seats and marble counters and tables are designed with making asses and elbows cold. I do like this place though. Great bagels with huge gobs of cream cheese, free wi-fi that works, and some interesting art on the walls.

ART
I spent yesterday at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was astounding and wonderful and overwhelming. It is filled with millions of objects d’art from all over the world. There are entire Egyptian Temples, dozens of mummies, giant rooms filled Picasso, entire rooms from famous mansions and when I say entire rooms, I mean the floor, the ceiling, the wainscoting, and everything else. There is a library parlor designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and everything else you can imagine.

The problem with all of that is that I was trying to see it all in a day. I’ve come to the conclusion that I would rather spend long periods contemplating one exquisite piece of art than to be running around manically trying to appreciate so much in so little time. Not that I would change having gone yesterday, I just realize that I missed a lot by seeing so much.

And finally,
Let’s look at the United States.

As I’ve said, I love the land and I love the people, but I think that we, as a country have lost something within my lifetime. I don’t know if it was born of the cynicism of Vietnam or the excesses of the 1970’s and 1980’s, but there is a sort of ugly greed that exists here. The culture here has become very much “The United States of Me” rather than “We the people”. The difference is of course in who is being served and who is taking responsibility.

I decided to do a different perspective of Venus. I don’t think she noticed. Nice, huh?

It’s not a big surprise at this point that we are heading into a fantastic depression. It might be a good time to start reflecting on those famous words of JFK “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” I’ve lost faith that Americans are capable of such selflessness and perhaps I am simply one of the first rats fleeing a ship that I think is sinking.

Obama might be a fantastic change in the right direction though. I hope. We will see. The United States has become such an incredible slut to Israel, multinational corporations, and institutions such as the world bank, the WTO, and the IMF; unfortunately, I don’t see these relationships changing under Obama. I hope I’m wrong.

And then there is the racism. I’m terrified of the possibility that some nutjob racist will kill Obama. Or some foreign government pretending to be a nutjob racist. My mom, a bit of a nutjob herselftold me to focus on survival skills when I should have been focusing on math because she said that someday there would be a huge race war. She wasn’t a white nationalist, she was a freaky christian hippy, with some odd ideas and some leftover 1950’s prejudice. Frankly, I never considered her crazy ideas to have any merit even through Rodney King, Reginald Denny, and the LA Riots, but when I think of Obama getting shot by some redneck, suddenly I can picture LA happening on a nationwide scale…

Okay, not really. I think we are more rational and better than that, but it could certainly cause some problems. And what happens when Hope gets killed? It’s like the Langston Hughes Poem “A Dream Deferred”

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it sag on your back like a heavy load?
Or does it…Explode?

Anyway, I’m leaving. I might be back. I hope Obama can fix everything while I’m gone. Good night and good luck.

Originally posted 1/17/09

New York Foodie – The Best Places for Food Shopping in New York City

by Sarah Spigelman exclusive for Vagobond

Murray's Chees Shop

New York isn’t just the best place to eat; it’s one of the best places to shop for food. No need to subscribe to pricey specialty food email lists to obtain the latest in hard-to–source foods.

Stop stockpiling foreign candy that gets you in trouble with customs every time you try to come back from London. And please…let’s say goodbye to big box supermarkets that sell tomatoes that look gorgeous and taste like candle wax.

Here are just a few of Manhattan’s very best food stores, sure to give you everything you need to feast at home.

KalustyanKalustyan’s – this Indian food emporium offers literally anything you will need to make a meal from the subcontinent. There is a wall full of spices so potent that your eyes may tear – but at the same time, your mouth will water. Need paneer, chickpea flour, or kaffir lime? They have it. Or maybe you want a huge bag of Brazil nuts, strained yogurt from Greece, or foreign candy bars. Don’t sweat; they have that here, too. If all else fails, you at least owe it you yourself to try some food at the tiny upstairs café. It might not be fancy, but it is the best Indian food that you can get outside of your Bengali mom’s house.

Eataly—Mario Batali strikes gold again with this humongous Italian emporium. This place isn’t just a supermarket; it is a full-on destination. Along with the piles of exotic mushrooms, Italian dried pastas, and imported fruit like Sicilian blood oranges, you can have cooking lessons or wine classes. There is a European style food hall, with many small restaurants focusing on just one thing – fish, vegetables, pizza, or pasta. Also, stand at counters and try meats, cheese, or wines. Finally, for the ultimate experience, head to Manzo, an acclaimed beef focused restaurant right in the heart of the bustling store.

Zabar’s-come on to the UWS for a little nosh. This is the place where you come for Sunday brunch – for soft, chewy bagels, whipped cream cheese,Zabar's and the gest assortment of smoked fish in the city. Smoked salmon, kippered salmon, smoked trout, whitefish salad, and everything else you can imagine to make a fantastic spread. Also load up on gourmet olives, luscious cheeses, homemade hummus, and artisanal crackers and breads. Don’t underestimate the stuff you can get at Zabar’s –they roast their own chickens; have an extensive prepared food section, and a coffee section that carries the aroma of the best Starbucks in the world.

Esposito's Meats by afagenEsposito’s – this old school butcher shop is what NYC used to be like, before the infusion of big chain grocery stores. Esposito’s is a tiny store in Hell’s Kitchen where anything and everything meat can be yours. Shins, marrow bones, veal breast, and whole baby goat – literally, anything that you want is either in stock or will be ordered for you. The fellas behind the counter couldn’t be more accommodating or helpful –they will tell you how to cook that chicken breast so it is tender and flavorful. Pick up some homemade mozzarella and local Italian bread while you are there and make sandwich fit for a king.

Hmart 1 by @JyonnnnHMart—goodbye, USA, hello Korea. This store, where the windows are papered and the location is in the middle of a harried street, houses an entirely different world. A world of 50 lb. bags of rice and dried squid sold like potato chips. A world of thinly sliced sashimi and an entire freezer case filled with dumplings and potstickers. A world of peach flavored gummies, coffee flavored milk, and instant noodles that are way beyond the stuff you had in college. It’s also a world of prepared bibimbap, kimpab, and anything that you might need to take a gustatory trip to Korea.

New York Foodie – Emergency Dinner Spots in NYC

by Sarah Spiegelman  for Vagobond

Katz's Deli NYC Food emergencies happen! You just have to deal with it. Here are a few emergency dinner situations and how to make the most of them in New York City.

– Maybe you are meeting your parents they refuse to go far from their hotel.

– Maybe you are dining with friends who are just too cheap to pony up for a pizza that costs more than $10.

But, whatever the case, you can almost ALWAYS dine at somewhere a little better than what would have been if you are the one to suggest a place, and it is somewhat within the parameters that you or someone else has set.

There are just too many places in NYC to allow even one meal to be less than delicious. Follow this guide to ensure that the only time you eat a less-than-good meal in NYC is when you are in the airport.

Spice Market NYCLast Minute Party Reservations—so you couldn’t get into Buddakkan for your girlfriend’s last minute I’m-turning-35-and-freaking-out huge birthday bash? All you need is to keep an open mind and check out Open Table.

Go with a hip spot like Spice Market, The Stanton Social, or Tao – all places that specialize in small plates with strong Asian flavors. The only difference is that they are a little less popular with the Sex and the City crowd of tourists. These should be easier to get into and still give your friend a wonderful party. Don’t forget to ask for a prix fixe so everyone knows how much they are paying going in.

Dinner with Parents-

If your parents are visiting from Ohio, chances are that they are either so enamored with the bright lights of the city that they won’t want to leave their Times Square hotel area or that they are so disgusted with NYC that they won’t want to leave their hotel room.

Either way, you owe it to them to show them that NYC is more than just the Naked Cowboy and buying fake handbags. For a really NYC experience, pony up for the cab and take them down to Katz’s on the lower east side. IF they have never had real NYC Jewish Deli, they haven’t experienced NYC at all. Get a pastrami sandwich, a potato knish, and an ice cold Dr. Brown’s cream soda.

Tocqueville NYCIf they want a more relaxed dining experience, take them to the John’s in midtown. Spoiler alert – it really IS as good as the John’s downtown, takes reservations, and is far easier to get into. Get a cheese pizza and treat them to a real taste of NYC.

Dinner with Snooty Boss –

If your boss asks you to have dinner with him that night, but YOU had better make the reservation, and for 9 pm nonetheless, don’t even try to get into Jean-Georges of Babbo. Isn’t gonna happen.

Instead, head straight to Tocqueville. This gorgeous Union-Square area eatery offers high end green-market driven fare in an elegant setting. Come wearing a suit, don’t miss the scallops and foie gras, and be sure to ask for a kitchen tour when you are done dining.

Last Minute Brunch on Upper West Side-Gazala's Place NYC Druze Food

Friends pop in last minute? Don’t run out and get a stale bagel, and do NOT head to Sarabeth’s. Rather, go retro with brunch at Big Daddy’s. This 50’s style diner specializes in big portions of home-style favorites like omelettes, pancakes, and from-scratch tater- tots. There are quite a few kids there, but if that bothers you, just have another bloody Mary – they are delicious and strong!

Dinner with Skinflint Friends –

Cheap friends doesn’t have to mean a cheap experience. Head to Hell’s Kitchen and go to Gazala Place, the best Druze food this side of the dead sea. Load up on tabbouleh, falafel, and homemade bourekas in this tiny cash only spot where the food is way too good to be this cheap. You will struggle to spend $15 and will leave totally stuffed. Bonus – the spot is BYOB.

Got another favorite NYCX Emergency Dinner Spot? Let us know on our  Facebook page!

 

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