Archive for July 2007

Today’s Church service and the purchase of a camera

July 15, 2007

As is my habit, I went to Church a little early today and ended up in Times Square a bit early for the service.  It was relatively hot and humid, so I decided to stop at Duane Reade to cool off and just look around.  I went in and was astonished:  a simple, small, inexpensive digital camera.  Only $20.  Not bad; okay, it’s actually dirt cheap.  I recently started to think about blogging and knew that I’d want to include pictures, but a half decent camera is $300 and if I didn’t feel like continuing the blogging, the camera would quickly turn worthless as it would go out of date.  Also, it seems extreme to buy a really nice camera that would generate huge files that people would have to download.  I figured that VGA cheaply done or VGA expensively generated would be about all I’d want.

So, this camera occupied way too much of my thoughts during today’s service.  Incidentally, we had about 11 people at the service.

After I left, I went straight back and bought the camera and some batteries.  I started taking pictures right away.  Wow, are they sub-optimal.  Here’s the Coca-Cola sign at one end of Times Square.

Times Square Coca Cola Sign

And here’s another.  This time it is the view of the square itself including the building where they drop the “ball”.

Times Square

Perhaps it’s an incentive to get a better camera…after a while.

-H

A visit to Willamsburg

July 15, 2007

Yesterday (Saturday), I continued my exploration of Brooklyn.  With the weekly weekend shutdown of certain parts of the 4 and 5 subway lines, getting over there can be a bit of a pain, but that’s only because I keep thinking of “Brooklyn” as the southern part of Brooklyn rather than the huge place it really is.  Last week’s visit to Greenpoint (“Little Poland”) had me take a new route using the 7 line to the G line and that works very nicely.  Of course, this week I mostly ignored that new route.

So, what’s special about Williamsburg?  Right now it’s a very trendy place where a lot of the artists and all seem to be moving.  I watched the local TV show “Cool in Your Code” which did an episode on Williamsburg, but found it oddly uninformative.  I later found out why.

The neighborhood is right across the East River at Manhattan’s Canal Street level.  I took the subway down to Canal Street and then the J train to Willamsburg.  In two weeks, two new subway trains taken.  That’s one of the reasons I’m trying to break out of just wandering Manhattan:  I keep using the same paths and seeing the same places.  It’s time to break out of that rut.

Never, ever, ever let it be said that the subway maps they hand out for free should be used with any belief that they are to scale.  They ain’t.  I know it, and I knew it before; but I guess I just couldn’t help myself.

I looked at the map and used the show and a view of Wikipedia to determine that the place I wanted to see was Bedford Avenue.  According to the map, I could get off at Flushing Avenue and then do a straight shot down the avenue to Bedford and then have a nice long stroll on Bedford and see whatever the trendy set was up to nowadays.  I was in for a surprise.

The train ride was really nice.  It goes over the Williamsburg Bridge and the view is wonderful.  The train car and station was older and little less inviting than the typical Manhattan ride, but that’s just my Manhattan-centric persona speaking.

So, I got to Flushing Avenue, made note of which was was east-west (I wanted west) and started to walk.  One interesting site:  the first business I saw was a law office with the warm and welcoming phone number (posted in very large letters) “1-888-I-Can-Sue”.  The whole area was a little rundown with little activity.

I kept telling myself that “This is Brooklyn.  Crowded, noisy, boisterous Brooklyn.”  No, it wasn’t.  This was deserted, quiet, and empty.  I started walking and found the area a little nerve-wracking.  Where was everyone?  Everything was closed.  On a long street, there would only be one person every hundred yards or so.  Very few cars.  I went by a couple of “project” style buildings and saw only a couple of people, and heard no noises.  Where was everyone?  I walked and walked and walked.  Every business was closed.  Every building appeared deserted.  It was the middle of the day and I couldn’t figure it out.

Eventually, I saw what I took to be a main street intersection.  The map I had was bare of almost any street names, but I had a feeling it was Bedford Avenue.  As I got closer, I saw a number of people walking across it and started to feel a bit relieved.  I noticed that something was a little odd and a moment later I had the solution to the problem: it was the Hasidim.  That is, I saw a number of Orthodox Jews walking and realized it was the Sabbath and they actually are the dominant population in this part of Williamsburg.  For some reason, I thought they were further south of where I was, but that may have been the map scale issue.

I got to Bedford Avenue and hung a right (heading northward).  It turns out that I was absolutely positively in the middle of their early afternoon leaving/going to “services” and the streets were crowded with them (I don’t know if they were “Lubavitchers” or the “Satmar”).  Okay, wasn’t really crowded and jammed with people like I’m used to.  There were certainly hundreds of the faithful that I passed on my way and I was the only Gentile for a very, very long time.  Two really interesting facts about them that I wasn’t really aware of:  large families and hats.  They were going in family units and there was almost always one or more children with them.  The kids were very well behaved; usually “Dad” was firmly holding the child’s hand.  If more than one, “Mom” usually was controlling the bunch of them.  I only noticed one or two teenagers, but the men were all dressed in the same sort of uniform:  black coats/pants and usually a prayer shawl of some sort (always white with minor designs).  But the coolest part was their hats.  The men all had these huge, round fur hats.  Actual fur hats.  They looked great for winter but horrible for the summer weather.  I did some research latter and found that these were traditional for the group with the fur being supposedly beaver but often actually rabbit.  It didn’t look like rabbit to me, but it did look like a good fur of some sort (I can attest that is was long haired fur).

Everyone was quiet.  The men often would speak to each other in low tones, and I didn’t hear the women or children speak at all.

I felt pretty much like an outsider.  No one would look at me and I was insulting them by wandering their area without a hat (I had taken special care with the sunscreen and thought I’d walk in shadows as I just hadn’t felt like wearing a hat).  I’ve heard that they can make their displeasure known and aren’t really welcoming to outsiders; but I guess the Sabbath was far more important to them than some hatless jerk wandering their streets and distracting them from their worship.  That just made me feel worse.

I walked and walked and walked.  It seemed like forever.  Everyplace was closed, of course, but I was getting thirsty.  I spotted a vending machine, but knew it would be off even before I got close (and it was turned off).  Nevertheless, I took the opportunity (it was a very shady area) to pull out my map and try to figure out how I was going to find my way to the more secular areas.  At that point, a woman with a child showed up and put the child on the ground (I’m guess the little girl was 18 months or so).  The woman didn’t look at me but I got the distinctive feeling she was more than willing to help me find where I was.  I wasn’t really lost (I knew I just had to keep walking and eventually I’d find my way to someplace), but I took the opportunity to ask her where I was in relation to the map.  She apparently didn’t know the map but said there was a subway stop a number of blocks to the northeast, but I was determined to continue on Bedford.  I quickly thanked her and left.  She was the only unescorted woman I saw that whole trip and I did notice a man walking in our direction as I left.  It was the only time I think one of the men looked directly at me.  I hope I didn’t cause her to violate any cultural taboos, but I think she was just trying to help a stranger.

So, I kept walking and eventually found myself at the Williamsburg Bridge again.  That’s on Brooklyn’s Broadway and I just hung a right and found myself in regular Brooklyn.  I walked past “Peter Luger’s” which is the premier steakhouse in all of NYC.  I was a little tempted to go in, but they don’t post the menu in the window and I decided that I didn’t want to run from the place once I discovered how expensive it might be (I’ve mentioned that I’m cheap). 

Actually, I really liked that area as it had an elevated subway and all the businesses were in the shadows of the traintracks.  Really nice visuals to it.  I walked up Broadway for a while and eventually found myself at the G train.  Hey, it was lunchtime and on a whim, I decided to go back to the “King’s Feast” in Greenpoint to pig out on the pierogies.  So, I did.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t anything like it was last week.  I wasn’t happy with the meat pierogies and simply decided that I’d only have the “Poland Plate” if I ever go back.  The service was better this time, though.  I guess you can’t have everything.

So, I went back home and that was it for the day.

And I never did see “trendy Williamsburg”.  I guess I what I saw was actually more interesting.  It wouldn’t have made “Cool in Your Code” as I can’t see them ever promoting the Hasidic lifestyle as something that every New Yorker needed to try for a while.

 Incidentally, I didn’t have a camera at this point, so no pictures.  Too bad, the area was fascinating.

-H

Why are my ankles famous?

July 15, 2007

This is an inside joke from one of my previous “adventures” in Manhattan.  One thing that I’ve found out about myself is that I pretty much enjoy parades.  Not so much for the parades, but for what happens in them and the general aura of people-watching that it brings out in me. 

On April 22, 2007, I went to the Greek Independence Day Parade held on Fifth Avenue and found myself standing next to two incredibly cute twin girls about 4 or 5 years old.  They were dressed in traditional Greek outfits and their parents had them sitting on the curb.  The parents, apparently Greek in origin, taught the girls to cry out “Zito Elada”, which apparently is the phrase-of-the-day for that parade.  At first, the girls were a little quiet but, after encouragement from their parents, discovered that yelling out “Zito Elada” brought them lots of attention and they liked it.  The attention was such that people in the parade, including official-type photographers, were snapping these girls’ pics constantly.  In later comments to others, I joked that my ankles had earned celebrity points throughout all of Greece. 

Once I started thinking about doing a blog, I considered naming it something like “wanderingNYC” or “NYCwanderer”, but they just didn’t seem to have the cache of “famous ankles”.

-H

My camera

July 15, 2007

I am now in the possession of the digital camera of my dreams!  Actually, it’s only a “dream camera” because it’s so cheap/inexpensive:  $20.  It has 8mb of memory and 640×480 VGA resolution.  I’ve been mulling over doing a blog just to cut down on multiple e-mails and to let me do some pictures rather than just describe what I’ve seen over the past.  But, being cheap, I wanted to test out my fortitude with minimal cost outlay before I commit to a decent camera.  I’ve seldom felt the need to take many pictures over the past years, but moving to NYC has given me some desire to do more than refer people to wikipedia or books or to their own imagination.

In the next few posts, I’ll put up some pictures and you’ll see the (pretty poor) resolution, but I can always get a new camera to take more pictures if I find the desire to continue this. 

 -H

About this blog

July 15, 2007

For quite a while, I’ve been sending regular e-mails to a number of people about my travels/adventures/wanderings around New York City (NYC).  This blog is intended to make it so that I don’t have to send quite so many e-mails and to allow me the chance to use my highly sophisticated new digital camera to post pictures.

My usual weekly output is a few pages long.  Keeping in mind “a picture is worth a thousand words”, my output may become comparatively enormous.  Or maybe not.

Whatever.  In any case, I have found that NYC is nearly endlessly fascinating and that I really enjoy wandering the streets and describing what I’ve found.  If you’re looking to find some interesting club tips and restaurant reviews; sorry.  I’m a cheap man and I enjoy just wandering about and finding interesting sights and events that can confront you when you wander NYC.

I always remember Woody Allen’s quote about New York City:  that it’s a place you can order moo goo gai pan at 4am on a Sunday morning.  Not that you would ever want it, but the point is that you can get it.  New York provides and omnipresent and overwhelming series of options to explore.  That overload is almost a challenge.

-H