Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cool Spaces: BAM Rose Cinemas

Last night, City Guy and I saw another film at the New York Korean Film Festival, which ends tonight. The movie, Le Grand Chef, a comedy about an Iron Chef style Korean cooking competition between two long-standing culinary rivals, was so worth the trip to Brooklyn--I laughed, I cried, I got a history lesson. I felt thoroughly satisfied walking out of the theater. Great film. Also, this time, the show was sold out! We had to sit in the second row, in the last two seats to the left because we didn't get there early enough. I guess the really good films in the festival have the word-of-mouth to pack a theater. I've learned that Le Grand Chef was one of top grossing films in Korean in 2007.

This was also my first time at BAM Rose Cinemas, and from the moment we turned the corner onto Lafayette Street (after getting off at Pacific, where there's a Target and a Chuck-E-Cheese), the architecture of the building just made me feel at home. It felt quintessentially Brooklyn somehow--a humble building, incorporating the best of the past and present, both historical (the original building was build in1903) and modern:And walking into the lobby and then up through the main doors into the theater area, you really felt like you were stepping back in time. Check out the stunning arches and the light fixtures: I felt a little giddy. Like movie going was an event, something you dressed up for and looked forward to. I never feel this way anymore going to the local AMC. It was classy and stuff...I'm glad I went.

Great Find: Colony Music Center

Earlier this week, I was looking for a place where I could buy piano books in the City (having recently resumed playing the piano) and remembered passing an old music store in mid-town with a bunch of sheet music in the window: Colony Music.

The store bills itself as the largest karaoke and sheet music store in the world, so I was a bit surprised it was only one floor, but what a fun place. Like stepping back in time. All the sheet music you can find--I certainly found what I came for (walked out with four books). But what I love about the store is the old school feeling. Nothing's slick or corporate about this place, not even the laconic musicians who work here. It also sells movie posters, records, and rock-n-roll & TV memorabilia, like these TV guides, which I found in the Rock Collectibles section in the back... ...and these old TV show & rock star trading cards, which can be found at the register:
My only question is how old is that gum?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cool Spaces: Trinity Church

Funny how you live in the City for years and every day, pass the same buildings, some of them famous enough to be visited by thousands of tourists a year, and one day, you decide, hey, I feel like going in, and you do, and you find that a sanctuary from the world has always been just right there, a few blocks from your this case, one replete with grand Gothic arches and scintillating stained glass windows and brass sculpted doors so beautiful you find yourself standing in the doorway as tourists edge past you. And you wander through and find a little gallery no bigger than your apartment where there's an exhibit about your neighbors, and you see photos and read quotes from people you pass every day, and you suddenly feel a bit more at home. And at the end of it all, you step outside and find a lovingly maintained cemetery with gravestones from the 1700's, half of them so worn by the elements that you can't read who was laid to rest there, but you think, that's okay, because by now, they're part of the daisies growing there before you, and you realize you are not alone. You were never alone.

On My Mind: Last Visit to Strand Annex Is A Sad Affair

After bemoaning the demise of the Strand Annex, I finally made it over to Fulton Street this past weekend to officially say goodbye. Here's what I found:

First, a hysterical sign announcing their lease extension:
Ladders & empty shelves galore:
...and hundreds of books you've never heard of, five of which I rescued from the liquidator's grubby hands.

I spent a great deal of time perusing fiction, my favorite section, from A thru Z, and I left feeling pretty sad about the whole thing. No, it wasn't the half-vacated space and the pall of economic ruin. It was the realization that what remained a week before the Strand's original closing date was an unsentimental death sentence for the authors of the books that remained in inventory.

If you were an author and wanted to see if your book had any resonance or longevity in the world of readers, you could come to the Strand Annex before it closes and check the fiction shelves to see if your book(s) was still being sold for 50% off--a month after the sale began. And if it was, you would know that not only did the city's book lovers not want your book, but neither did the used book wholesalers or other book collectors with their esoteric taste in literature and worship of the NY Review of Books.

It's a sad thing, but the hundreds of books that remain are written a> by writers you've never heard of, b> by writers you'd heard of who who winced at mention of said failed book c> by people you've heard of like Pam Anderson or Joe Esterhaus (no joke), whose talents are best served outside long form literature or d> by writers you would like to day..when you get done reading all the stuff you really want to read.

Whatever the case, let's say a little prayer for the thousands of hours of effort, anguish, hopes and dashed dreams that produced these books and for the closing of one of the only places in the city, possibly the world, where these books might have had a chance of connecting with a reader.

Word On The Street: The Pain of Moving to NYC

I love this article in the Times this morning: "Newcomers Adjust, Eventually, to New York". Sounds awfully familiar. I wonder why? Oh yeah - this entire blog is devoted to the topic! According to the article, some people come and like it; some people get beat by the city and leave. Sounds about right.

Complaints as registered by Times reporter: subway navigation, alienation & loneliness, lack of neighborliness, high cost of living, abrasiveness of co-workers, and the insidious way the City turns you into a pushy, short-tempered New Yorker over time....let's see...double YUH-HUH!

Glad to know I'm not all alone and crazy in thinking this city's full of challenges. Makes you wonder why there aren't more support networks for us so-called "adjusting newcomers"? If only there were a blog where other newcomers could come and post comments on the challenges they face, learn things about how to live more comfortably in the city, commiserate with blogger and friends? If only....:)

Happenings: New York Korean Film Festival

If you like melodrama, stylized violence or unhappy and/or bittersweet endings that get the tears flowing, you're probably a fan of Korean films--you just might not know it yet. Thanks to the Korea Society, which is headquartered in NYC, there's the New York Korean Film Festival, an annual event that hosta about a dozen feature length dramas and comedies, some short films and panel discussions with Korean film types--a veritable foundation in Korean film for any curious "Seouls." (Sorry, that pun needed out.)

I, for one, am already of the initiated, having much love for movies like Park Chan Wook's vengeance trilogy, most notably "Old Boy" or Kim Ki Duk's zenlike Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring Again or the comical small town cop drama, Memories of Murder; of course, there are also numerous Korean drama series, which are probably Korean melodrama and storytelling at its best.

Which is why I'd been meaning to go to the festival for years now. This year, I finally made it. So far, I've seen Open City (Friday at 9:40 pm) and A Love (yesterday at 6:30) at Cinema Village. (They're also screening films at BAM Cinematek)

In both cases, the theater was surprisingly less than packed. I mean, c'mon people, this is once a year! Couldn't the sundry sponsors and film types and Korea Society people drum up a little more enthusiasm for these screenings? These shows should be sold out! Also, on Friday, there was a delay caused by a projector failure (at least that's what they said) - and the film started late, but not before an out-of-breath, verging on tears Korea Society representative made an apology to the audience. Yesterday, they seemed better organized. Yellow-t-shirt clad festival volunteers were out in force, passing out surveys, programs and raffling away CD's of an LA-based Korean pop band before the screening.

Open City, a film noirish/femme fatale ganster drama, was better than A Love, a love story (what else), which had the old white guy sitting at the end of our row mumbling "I've had enough"and exiting the theater even before the highly predictable, laughably melodramatic ending (and this from someone with a VERY high tolerance for melodrama). I really liked Open City, actually, though my friends, both men and less in touch with their sappy sides, I think, were less enthusiastic.

I, for one, think the Korean Film Festival needs better publicity and a web site budget - how 'bout some trailers, guys? Or a way to buy tix directly from the site? There's so much potential here!

Still I'm glad I went, and if I'm not too lazy, will go again later this week. It's not the Tribeca Film Festival, where every movie you watch is hand-selected to blow your mind, but watching some obscure Korean movie on a weeknight is part of the fun of living in NYC. You accumulate experiences, the more specifically random the better. If you're just doing the same old crap they're doing in suburban middle America, watching the same five movies, shopping at the same mall stores, what's the point of staying in Gotham?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Word On The Street: The Strand's Stay of Execution

Read in Galleycat today that the Strand Annex has been granted a one-month lease extension. Been meaning to walk over this weekend and see what dregs of literature are still left. At 50% off, I'm sure the most desirable books are long gone, but who knows? Remaindered authors need love too.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Home Sweet Favorites: NYC Bookstores

So I was away last weekend...if you must know, I was in California (*gasp*). Yes, my former home, whose Redwood mountains and breezy beaches still tug at my soft little heart. But this time, having only gone for three days, my return to the city was not so difficult. Funny enough, the weather is actually much nicer here than it was in northern CA, where if not for my wool sweater and Wolford tights, I would have frozen my fanny in that 50-degree early morning/nighttime weather.

But I digress. What I really want to write about is bookstores in NYC. One thing you gotta love about this city is how literate people are. People miss their subway stops, they're so engrossed in their reading. They stand in lines that snake around the block to get some indie writer to scribble his/her name in their books . Proust and Joyce and their ilk outnumber bodice rippers and thrillers in the used book bins lining Washington Square. In a country where reading is on the decline, it's easy to believe the written word still matters when you live in NYC.

Still, I'm concerned. Next week, one of my favorite neighborhood bookstores, the Strand Annex on Fulton, is closing. Now, the only bookstore I have in walking distance is a Borders on Broadway and Wall. It's a fine bookstore, but the selection is not as deep and varied as I would like it to be. Last year, the Barnes & Noble on Astor Place closed. No more creaking around their fiction stacks on hardwood floors. The gigantic B&N in Chelsea--also closed.

Our beloved bookstores are being priced out. The rents are high, and too many people are "Amazoning" - myself included. It's like global warming - I know I'm contributing to the problem, but sometimes, it's hard to make the responsible choices.

But if you are going to wean yourself off Amazon, here are some bookstores we should fight to keep around. Maybe the way to think of it is, you end up paying a few dollars more for a book, but you're paying for the privilege of walking into a bookstore, smelling the fresh paper and ink, sitting in the corner and reading the first chapter of a new book, knowing that a dozen or more people are sharing that space with you, reading some words on a page and letting their minds be carried away for one quiet, perfect moment. Bookstores are like zen spaces. I hope we keep them around.

"Home"-girl's favorite bookstores:
  • The Strand - I can never walk out of this store without wanting to buy an armload of books
  • McNally Jackson (former McNally Robinson)--the perfect place to go when you're sick of reading the same 10 authors over and over
  • St. Marks Bookshop--remember how smart you were when you were in college? feel that way again with books on feminist theory and philosophy
  • Left Bank Books -- a recent find, but what a gem. THE place to get first editions of your favorite novels.
  • Kitchen Arts & Letters -- if you love cooking, this UES bookstore has nothing but cookbooks. Tell them what you feel like cooking. They'll have a recommendation.
  • Barnes & Noble Union Square --it's a monolith, but that cafe area is a lodestone for the community. I can't tell you how many times I've met friends in that cafe. Or how much time I've killed before a movie browsing its four floors.
That's my short list, but if you need more, Books in New York is even more book-obsessed than I am. They've got an entire blog devoted to this topic.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

On My Mind: How NYC Dodged A Bullet

I remember how disappointed New Yorkers were when they lost the bid for the 2012 Olympics, but after seeing last night's opening ceremony (NY Times Photo above), I have to say I don't think we could have done better. In fact, I feel sorry for London for having to follow up in 2012 with something even grander. I don't think it can be done. Cities like NYC and London just don't have as much to prove, and therefore as much fire in their bellies, as Beijing does.

Plus, can you imagine if NYC had hosted the Olympics? With our filthy subways stations? The congestion in the city? Where would the sports complex have been built? The Bronx? We couldn't have built the equivalent of the Birdsnest in four years--we can't even get the World Trade Center site built in seven!

I really have developed a tenderness for NYC, but I'm happy for Beijing. NYC is the world's greatest city in a lot of ways, but I'm not sure that hosting the Olympics would have cast this city in the best light. Could it have survived the kind of scrutiny Beijing has endured in the lead-up to the event? Or would the world have enjoyed an inside view of how much this city and America is struggling right now? Let's work towards a better future at home and stop worrying so much about what other countries aren't doing right.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

On My Mind: Shut-In NYC

Confession. I haven't left the house in two days. Okay, not so unusual for someone who works from home, but it made me think of how easy it is to be a shut-in in this city. With the Internet, Facebook, email and phone...oh, and TV (the people are almost real!), it's easy to think you're connecting with people when you really aren't. And it's easy to stay home and avoid the crowds, the dirt, the noise, the spending of money, and it's way too easy to start spiraling into an inner world of your own creation until your next scheduled dinner/lunch/social outing.

According to the Census Bureau, this city has 8 million plus people living in it. A person shouldn't get lonely with that many people around, but sometimes it's like trying to reach out and grab a fish when a school of fish is swimming by (I just got back from diving, so excuse the metaphor). When you're not going to the office every day, your social interactions have to be formalized. There's very little spontaneous human contact. You have to make a real effort, and I can imagine that for some people, that effort becomes too much. I wonder how many people live this way, just walls separating us from them, but silent and invisible.

I have this idea about small towns and cities. I imagine everyone's in your business, all the neighbors talk when you don't mow your lawn and know more about your marriage than you probably do, but they'll bring you soup when you're sick, and if your newspapers pile-up, they knock on your door to see if you're okay. I've never lived in a small town, but I fantasize that it's a little like living in Stars Hollow. Sometimes I wish I could knock on my neighbor's door and offer up cookies I've baked, or ask someone to water Begonia while I'm away on vacation. I wish I had a group of friends, like Seinfeld or Ross and Rachel do, people who just come over unannounced...but maybe this kind of neighborliness gets annoying in real life.

Maybe a great number of us who move to New York are control freaks who really do like being able to control how, when and where people interact with us and how much they know about us. Maybe occasional loneliness is the trade-off for maintaining the illusion of perfection? Maybe all that neighborly intrusion would just be a form of procrastination, a reason not to get the things I really want to get done done?

Whatever. I need some fresh air.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Stuff I've Learned: Celebrity Sightings More Likely In Restaurants

City Guy and I celebrated one year of blissful marriage today. *blush* And to celebrate he surprised me by taking me to Blue Hill, Dan Barber's celebrated Hudson Valley fresh restaurant. I started with the smoked shrimp gazpacho; City Guy with the sweet corn ravioli--both so good I closed my eyes and made moaning noises. Our main courses were the Berkshire pork and spring lamb respectively. And for dessert, chocolate bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and peach cobbler. Oh god. Now I know what the fuss is about...

But what topped off the entire experience was sitting next to Kim Cattrall of Sex and the City fame, who was having dinner with the director of some new project she's starring in (I gather from my eavesdropping). I wanted to tap her on the shoulder and say "I loved Sex and the City! It inspired me to move to New York!" but I figured I'd let her enjoy her dinner. She doesn't look or sound like Samantha in real life, btw, which is probably a good thing.

The whole experience made me recall other celebrity sightings, and more often than not, they're in restaurants: Helen Hunt at Franklin Station Cafe, Gael Garcia Bernal at Hampton Chutney Company, Willem deFoe at Kori, Christy Turlington & Ed Burns at Odeon, Rick Ocasek & Paulina Porzikova at Shabu Tatsu, Oliver Platt at Parea...I did pass Colin Firth once a crosswalk in the West Village and John Slattery of Mad Men was at J&R Music the day we bought our TV, but even famous people gots to eat! So if you want to see celebs (don't ask me about bars & clubs--I'm a married woman) hang out at a> a hot new restaurant like Blue Hill or b> go to a neighborhood favorite in a celebrity-hood like Tribeca.

Funny enough, when I lived in LA, I seemed to run into celebrities while shopping--saw Ellen Degeneres at American Rag CIE and Sarah Michelle Geller at 3rd Street Promenade, for instance. Though I did see Charlie Sheen eating at Crustacean once...and my all-time favorite sighting - Al Pacino - was at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Stuff I've Learned: After Being Away From NYC, It Takes A Few Days To Readjust

Hey folks. Sorry for the pause in communication. I've been away. Out of the country actually--"on holiday"--as the Brits, who were ubiquitous where I was, like to say. I actually got back late Thursday night, but it's taken me almost three days to feel up to blogging / communicating with the outside world / resuming my routine again.

I tend to experience 2-3 days of post-vacation blues when I get back to NYC. Could be it has nothing to do with coming back to the City, but I believe it does. How could my mind and body not revolt after being extracted from the above seaside paradise and plopped into tourist-infested weekend subway cars within 24 hours? The difference is so jarring. Isn't it only normal for me to mourn the passing of a fantasy life in which beach boys, bellhops, concierge and restaurant staff wait on me hand and foot and the most taxing decision of the day is what restaurant we should try tonight and whether we should lounge by the pool or on the beach?

I know by the end of this week, I'll have stopped looking so wistfully at my vacation photos and the great resistance I currently feel towards my daily obligations--work, grocery shopping, correspondence, laundry, working out, going to the post office--will have slipped away.

But it is in this post-vacation refractory period that I see my life in NYC most clearly. Before the rhythm of the city pulls me under and carries me along, I can see my life as it is: my constant striving and many disappointments, my stress and exhaustion, but also the moments of discovery, joy and triumph and above all else, even through my inertia, I realize how lucky I really am. Few people in the world get to live and thrive in a city as great as this. Few people are given a chance to pursue their dreams, however painful the journey, the way we do here.

Being away always makes me appreciate home more. I have to say I did say a little prayer of gratitude when we touched down at JFK.