(Again, I am slow to post my adventures. Also, I write this under pressure – the to-do list is long and I am behind – and so the narrative exists more as a recording for me to reference as my memory fades than a travelogue inviting immersion. Sorry.)
After my brother moved to New York five years ago, I started making an annual trek back to visit him and his wife. The first year, I took Kaylee. The second year, I took Nick. The third year I would have taken Chelsea, but she was too busy and laden with pets, so I split a two-for-one ticket with my friend Grant. Last year I went alone. Each visit served up new places to explore, eat, admire. I would text and call my husband from MOMA, the East Village, the Staten Island ferry. “You would love it here,” I would tell him.
This year I insisted he join me. Caving to his objections to flying, I bought him a ticket on Amtrak instead. Not a sleeper car – those things are pricey! – just a seat on a train. Which sounds fun for a day. Three-and-a-half each way? I’ll meet you there, I said as I scanned for the best deal on flights. This was back in February, when a tax return made me feel flush. By the time we took the trip, mid-September, I’d been offered a small part-time teaching position at HSU and a big new job at the Surfrider Foundation. The timing interfered with the former, but fit perfectly between wrapping up my nice gig at the NEC and starting with Surfrider – this would be one of the rare times “vacation” didn’t translate into “mostly vacation except for the emails I need to answer daily and the thing I need to write and the phone calls I need to answer because.”
Bobby departed on a Friday, catching a ride to the Bay Area to board a train in Richmond Sunday. I bribed a friend to shuttle me down – gas! dinner! – and we ended up at Dosa and seeing Monstress at the American Conservatory Theatre with other friends, a fine start to the week of big city cultural immersion awaiting.
Instead of my usual BARTing, I Flywheeled from the Inner Richmond to SFO, a $51 trip that I made more expensive because I, country mouse, didn’t realize the tip was included. Other than that, the trip was smooth. I polished off a cheese and fruit snack, and Nadine Gordimer’s The House Gun, a prize-winning novel with elegant prose and a mood far too bleak for the state of mind I desired. I read a New Yorker and left it in the seat back after.
From JFK, I took the AirTrain, the A train, the G train to Park Slope, a pretty neighborhood in Brooklyn (obligatory nod to gentrification), Bobby showed up an hour later and holiday began with dinner and drinks at Talde, where we indulged in both.
Given my husband’s existence as an artist, an identity that defines him almost as completely as that of a SF Giants fan, the plan was to absorb as much art as possible, knowing that the offerings would far outweigh our ability to see them. We started at the Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art dedicated to the European medieval period. As if being there isn’t enough, two coincidences elevated the experience into the “Whoa!” realm.
I’d texted a photo of 13th century stained glass to a friend of mine who works in that field for Hilliard Lamps and telling her that if she was ever in New York, she must check out the Cloisters. She responded that she’d just read a book to her daughter that was set in the Cloisters and I must look for the unicorn tapestries. I asked my brother about them and he led us to “the unicorn room,” where not only did we see the same tapestry that my friend had referenced – and wow, this is not some sweet, happy unicorn story, it’s a telling via multiple tapestries of a mob hunting a unicorn – but while we were standing there discussing the violence of the tale, Bobby suddenly exclaimed, “Dana!” because, of course, one of his old high school friends would wander into the room at just the same moment we were there.
From there, we went to St. John the Divine’s Cathedral, one of my favorite places, stopping to admire the Peace Fountain, perhaps my very favorite sculpture ever, outside. It’s incredible:
The 40 foot-high bronze sculpture weaves together several representations of the conflict between good and evil. Above, the Archangel Michael embraces one of nine giraffes (said to be the most peaceful of creatures) after his defeat of Satan. Below, the lion lies down with the lamb. The fountain’s spiraling base takes inspiration from the double-helix of DNA. On either side of the fountain, moon- and sun-like faces direct their gazes toward and away from Amsterdam Avenue.
I must insist all travelers to New York visit it.
After ooohing and ahhhing at the inclusive majesty of St. John’s – normally I might criticize a church’s extravagance, pointing out that the money spent fancying it up would be better used to serve the constituency, but in this case, the wide, open arms of the cathedral and the mission to wrap up all people within them makes me happy. The sense that this is a place for the people permeates throughout and I love the loveliness for that.
We hit the Met via Central Park after powering down some Middle Eastern-style wraps. Bobby inhaled art, while Tag and I sipped cocktails on the roof. Both options delighted.
After last year’s bike riding fun – and because Bobby so enjoys riding his bike – a repeat was an obvious choice. I rented a supercute bicycle and, resplendent with bright orange helmet, joined the guys to bicycle out to Coney Island (where the Cyclone is being renovated, so we didn’t get to ride it, sadness) and then to Jacob Riis Park, nearly deserted due to – I’m not sure. Wind? Summer being technically over? For whatever reason, the spot, which is patronized by thousands in the summertime, was for us more an oasis amid the empty expanse of the Rockaways. Sangria and a savory waffle cone (!!!) restored me. We kicked back, then rode back to Park Slope, completing about 29 miles overall.
Rented a car, drove to Roxbury, a small town in the Catskills, partied in a half-dome house with my brother’s coworkers.
Departed Roxbury, drove back to Manhattan, spent nearly an hour trying to get back to Hertz, a task made excruciating by detours and blocked streets – the U.N. was in town and parades and some kind of race and who knows? Map apps were no help at this point, but eventually, with the assistance of a NYPD officer stuck directing traffic, we found a way into a parking garage and managed to get the car back.
All that made us late to The Secret City, a monthly worshipping of art created by Bobby’s high school friend Chris Wells – the reason their mutual friend and accomplished poet Dana Levin was in town. (And in another coincidence, my friend Ayun Halliday, with whom I did not go to high school, but know through completely different circumstances, is part of the Secret City team. Even in New York, it can be a small world!)
But, oh, even late, what an event! Storytelling and song and color and music and meditation and sharing and generosity and the connecting of individuals into community – just a beautiful experience. I would attend regularly if not on the other side of the country.
Even more amazing: Emilio Delgado, “Luis” from Sesame Street, was in attendance and then hung out with Bobby and I for a long conversation after the show!
Afterwards, brunch at Rintintin. (Apparently “brunch” in New York is an all-day thing, not limited to between breakfast and lunch. I support this.)
Back in Brooklyn, Jen and Tag put together noodles and arugula and garlic into a fine dinner, and we sat on the stoop, drinking rose and vinho verde, waiting for the moon to turn red. Balmy nights are magic even without a Blood Moon.
More art! This time, The Whitney, subject of well-deserved raves. Bobby enlightened me as to the importance of several works, I was surprised by how much the anti-war collection moved me and we finished our tour with falafels from a food cart parked outside.
From there, we walked along the water for a while, holding hands and chatting about all we’ve done so far and what more we’d like to do. Eventually we arrived at our destination, The Dead Rabbit, an intimate, multi-storied tavern and restaurant. We stuck to the ground floor Tap Room, where I wanted to try Writer’s Tears, but was told it was part of the owner’s private collection, so stuck with Teeling and an Irish coffee instead.
Fortified, we struck back out into the cacophony and heat toward midtown. Tag had texted that the band Hinds would be playing on Tumblr’s roof that evening and did we want to come? I never pass up an opportunity to be on a roof, so up we went.
We wrapped up the night at Madison Square Eats, a bustling outdoor food court pop-up with a full range of options and a great view of the Flatiron Building. I would like more triangle buildings in the world.
When I first began traveling more often, I relied on Yelp to help me find new and good places to eat. Over the years, the trustworthiness of the app – or more accurately, it’s reviewers – has made me skeptical. Sometimes, however, options for narrowing down restaurant choices are limited. And in this case, when searching for “breakfast” in Chelsea, we were steered right, to Friedman’s, a joint with decent coffee (hard to find in New York) and excellent food. As a breakfast lover, my morning was made.
We walked The High Line for a while, exiting where the art galleries were thickest. I opted to kick back and read a book in Chelsea Waterfront Park while Bobby got giddy over various exhibits. After he’d explored several, he called an asked me to join him – I finished the last 15 pages of Franzen’s Purity and we met up at Anna Zorina, which featured works by three women artists (the name of the show is “Three Women”): Nadine Faraj‘s watercolors – gorgeous and clever; Alonsa Guevara‘s sensual fruit portraits and Patty Horing‘s lush, intimate oil portraits.
In the third coincidence of the trip, our friend Deric Mendes was in town to film a demonstration at the U.N. with the Syrian community. We met up with him and his video partner Tyler in less dramatic circumstances at 169 Bar, a wonderfully divey joint with cheap drinks and plenty of room for old pals to hang out and chat for an hour. So we drank and talked for that long and then some.
Then because it was Tuesday, I made tacos back at the Park Slope pad.
We said our goodbyes to Tag and Jen, and to each other. I left for JFK, Bobby for Penn Station. One of us successfully began the trek westward. Train 1, Airplane 0. I wouldn’t be able to get another flight till the next day, which caused me all kinds of complications, none of which compared to the inconvenience of being bombed, which, the newscasters blaring across the terminal’s TV screens, is what was happening to the people of Syria as Russia had begun airstrikes in the region. My problems were solvable. By Thursday night I was home – exhausted, but safe and happy, well-loved and grateful.