We had a great time in Manhattan yesterday. It started off less than stellar, between nasty weather -- low 40s and raining -- and spending over 20 minutes looking for a parking space at the ferry terminal. But we finally did find a place to park, and the weather improved as the day went on. Even in the rainy morning, I had the Ethel jacket so only my head got wet.
Our first stop was meeting our friend Kevin at 2nd Avenue Deli. Now, my previous trip there, some 12-13 years ago, was not a great memory. The food was good, but my main recollection was of our waiter, an older man who seemed to be in charge, yelling at me because I ordered swiss cheese on my roast beef sandwich. What can I say, I was an ignorant tourist. I'd heard of kosher of course, but had no idea what it entailed, much less actually eaten the stuff. So when I asked for cheese, he shouted "NO! NO CHEESE!" and then stalked away muttering "They want we should be treif." Back then I had no idea what "treif" meant, but it sounded bad. That was my introduction to kosher dining and to New York.
This time I knew enough not to order cheese on my sandwich, but I still breathed a sigh of irrational relief when I saw that the old man who yelled at me wasn't there. (As if he would have remembered me after all those years! But I did say it was irrational.) Instead we were greeted by a nice man, who when I asked if I could take a peek to see if Kevin and Nellorat were there yet, replied "You can take two peeks! A peekette, and a peek!"
They weren't there yet, so we stepped back outside (under an awning, thank goodness) to wait. Then I saw a sign on the door about the murder of the deli's long-time owner, with a photo of the man who had yelled at me about cheese. Which made me feel very bad about having been glad he wasn't there. I'm sure he was a very nice person if you weren't asking him to be treif.
Kevin arrived after a few minutes, unfortunately without Nellorat who had been kept home by a hurt shoulder. I was sorry not to have seen her, but I must say I was worried about her being out in that cold wet weather, which would have been bad for a strained muscle I think.
Once we sat down, Georg and I gave Kevin his belated Christmas present. Now that the gift is safely given and there's no surprise to be spoiled, I can admit that I stayed up all night sewing not just for the Ethel jacket's fur sleeves (although those did take a lot of time), but also making costumes for Kevin, Arthur and Nellorat's pet rats.
I got the idea because Nellorat had bought Santa and Mrs. Claus costumes for the rats, and done a wonderful photo-essay on the rat family preparing for Christmas. Unfortunately, I didn't get the idea until Tuesday evening. Which left me two days to figure out how to make rat costumes, design them, buy the fabric, and sew them. (Besides of course making the fur sleeves and collar, packing, and any other preparation needed for the trip.)
The costumes, three in all, turned out nice if I do say so myself. I took a photo of them before we left, which I will post after I get back. (And I also hope Kevin and Nellorat will post photos of the rats wearing them!) My only concern is whether they will fit. I didn't have a pattern of course, and no actual rats to measure or do fittings. So I guessed, by looking up the average length of pet rats online and estimating the body & neck size from Nellorat's photos. I used Velcro so the straps would be adjustable and made Kevin promise to send them back for alterations if anything doesn't fit.
Our lunch at 2nd Avenue Deli was divine. Georg and I each had a bowl of matzo soup and split a humongous chopped liver sandwich (no cheese!). The matzo soup really hit the spot on such a dreary day; it was simply a bowl of clear chicken broth with a surprisingly light matzo ball, a bunch of little square noodles, and some carrots. And the chopped liver was amazing! I think it's going to be hard to enjoy merely good chopped liver, like the one they sell at Southern Season, after having had this one. Kevin had a bowl of, I can't remember what it's called but he described it as Jewish brunswick stew. I had a bite and it was excellent. They also loaded the table with freebies like cole slaw (vinegary, no mayonnaise), fresh pickles, and nice rolls.
Our waiter, not the same guy who had greeted me earlier, was also very friendly. When he brought our food Kevin said "Bless you," and he said "Oh, thank you for the kind words!" He seemed really touched. Later when we were done, he told us to be sure and keep our feet dry, and then encouraged us to stay and sit awhile if we wanted. It was early and the restaurant was still half-empty, but still I understand that this is a rarity in New York. Usually waiters shoo you out the door as fast as possible so they can turn over the tables. We did sit for a while, but then left when the lunch rush started to pick up.
Kevin had suggested before that we might visit the top of the Empire State Building, which I would have loved as I've never done it before. But the weather yesterday clearly precluded that. (It was so grey and misty that we could barely see the Statue of Liberty from the ferry! Speaking of which, did you know that they closed the Statue of Liberty? Due to post-9/11 security measures, I think. You can visit the island but you can't climb to the top. I'm very sad about that because I always wanted to go up there, but last time I was in NY I was so out of shape I didn't think I could handle walking to the top. Now I could, but they don't allow it. Oh well, maybe they'll reopen the statue someday.)
So instead we decided to go down to the winter garden in the World Financial Building. This was nice because I had visited the winter garden (a group of tall palm trees inside a glass atrium) years ago with my friend Jennifer. I had heard that the World Financial Building was so damaged when the World Trade Center fell that they had to tear it down too, but apparently not! Kevin said all the glass was blown out but the structure survived. They also had to replace the trees, which died from exposure to the elements when the glass was out.
I must say that Kevin was an excellent tour guide, pointing out interesting details about buildings around us and historical facts. He seems to have learned a lot about the city in the 10 or so years he's lived there.
The atrium has an excellent view of Ground Zero, which neither Georg nor I had seen before. I have to say, the really weird thing about it is that it looks so ordinary. It simply looks like a construction site, albeit a really large one in the middle of the financial district. You can still sort of see the footprint of the two towers, but they've installed a PATH terminal and some other structure down there, adding to the strange sense of normalcy.
They also have a display in the World Financial Building showing all (7?) proposed WTC memorial designs, which we took a few minutes to look over. We all agreed that we did not prefer the one with faces of victims superimposed over sheets of flowing water. Kevin commented that it was too personal, which sums it up pretty well I think. He also remarked that a memorial should be low maintenance, which knocks out the one with a hanging votive light for every victim. Imagine if you visit the memorial ten years after it opens and a third of the lights are out? That would be a lovely message about honoring the dead.
None of us cared much for the one which featured light passing through semi-transparent tubes (one for each victim I think) into an underground chamber below. (I don't remember the title but it had something to do with clouds.) I can't remember what Georg and Kevin said about that one, but I felt like of all the proposed designs, it would age the least gracefully. Heck, it already looked uncomfortably like a set from Logan's Run to me.
My favorite was one in which the entire memorial area was turned into a lake. The footprints of the two towers were like grassy square islands on the lake, with a bridge between them. Each island would have trees, and small clear pillars all over it with the names of the victims on them. At night the pillars are lit from below. There's also a large wall at one side of the memorial with all the names on it. If I recall correctly, this was one of the only designs to incorporate the names of 9/11 victims outside NY (i.e. the ones on the other planes and inside the Pentagon).
At this point Kevin had to leave us and get back to Yonkers, so we bid adieu and headed out on our own. We had poorly planned and ended up in the city on Monday, the day museums are all closed, so we decided to go shopping instead. Our first stop was Century 21, a discount store which luckily was right there, across the street from Ground Zero. Neither of us had ever been there before but Georg had heard of it. It was overwhelming! Like a huge Marshalls which included major designer labels. If I lived in NY I would go there all the time. Every week.
The place was mobbed -- I never even got into the shoe section, it was so crowded -- but I don't know if it's always like that, or just now because they're having a winter closeout sale. I bought two cute dresses, and a fleece hat to wear right then. Georg found the real score: a peacoat from Marc Jacobs for 75% off the original price. I spent some time looking at the designer clothes without any intention of buying, just to see. Based on the small sample of clothes they had, my impressions were: Valentino's clothes are beautiful, but not to my taste at all; I liked Galliano a lot more than I thought I would, but Gaultier is every bit as wretched as expected; Anna Sui looks like something you would find in the bargain bin at a thrift store (and put back, if you were me); Balenciaga is ridiculous, no connection to the elegance of a few decades ago; Donna Karan is what I would want for work clothes if I had an office job; and I am head over heels in love with Pucci. They had a long spring coat, solid light green on the outside with a Pucci print on the lining, double breasted with a little self belt in the front, that was to die for. Alas, it was $650. (Marked down from $2180, but still!) I'm going to scour the vintage patterns on Ebay and see if I can recreate that coat for myself. Of course it wouldn't have a Pucci print lining, but I bet I can find something suitably loud and retro that would do.
After Century 21, we headed up to the garment district and B&J Fabric. They had to move recently, now they're on the fourth floor at 525 7th Avenue. Showing my total ignorance of Manhattan geography, I had assumed that this address would be on 7th Ave. between 5th and 6th Streets. But it was actually in the high 30s. Georg said that the grid system really only works that way in midtown. In fact, I don't know if 5th St. even exists.
Anyway, Georg waited in the Starbucks below while I checked out B&J. Like Century 21, it was totally overwhelming. Wall after wall of gorgeous silks, wools, linens, laces, etc. All priced well out of my range, which was probably a good thing. (Having forgotten my list of all my patterns and how much fabric they need, I was far less inclined to splurge than if I had known exactly how much to buy.) If I wanted to make the outfit of a lifetime, that would be the place to go. But since I was just browsing, I restrained myself to a couple of lower priced fabrics: a light blue retro "atomic age" cotton for our kitchen curtains, and a cute printed flannel for me. Probably for new PJs but maybe I'll think of another use for it.
We had also planned on hitting Paron, another good fabric store. But we were concerned by this point that they would be closing, and when I called the number I had written down from the phone book, it was disconnected! They must have moved since the Pattersons' (very old) phone book had been printed. So much for Paron. I had really good luck there a few years ago, bought some Ralph Lauren wool (they get designer overstocks) and made it into a skirt which I still love and wear all the time. But I was kind of shopped out anyway, so I might not have done as well as I did on that previous trip. Come to think of it, between B&J and Century 21, it's probably a good thing for my bank balance that I don't live in New York.
At this point we wanted to head down towards Craft, our destination for dinner. It wasn't that far, 15-20 blocks maybe, and it had stopped raining so we decided to walk. On the way we happened upon the Chelsea Whole Foods, so of course we had to stop in. It looked basically like any other Whole Foods, except for having an odd layout because the lobby for the apartment building above sort of jutted into the middle of their space. They had a few things that we don't have in NC -- like a vastly expanded bagel selection, from H&H which Georg tells me is a reknowned bagel maker -- but for the most part it felt just like the Chapel Hill store back home. The line was pretty long, lots of shoppers just left work I guess, so we didn't buy anything. Too bad, I wanted to see the checkout line system they have. Instead of one line for each register, everyone gets into three lines. At the head of the lines is a caller who sends people to the next available cashier. I've heard it works really well: no matter which line you get into, you get to the cash registers as quickly as possible.
I think I'm going to close for now, spend some time with Georg's folks, and write my review of Craft in another post.