Category Archives: life gotham-style

Picture Perfect Gotham

I’ll be in NYC ever so briefly later this month but not for long enough to properly get a Gotham fix. So, once again, I turn to virtual sight seeing and I found a real winner this time.  Via the ever interesting Brainpickings (ad frequent “site seeing” stop of mine), I offer An Illustrated Tour of All the Buildings in New York.  Isn’t that fab?  Speaking of New York and illustrations, how amazing is this Ace Hotel mural by Timothy Goodman? 

I wish I had more time in to spend in the city next time I am there but it’s really just an overnight connection so there will be a mad dash to see friends and no time to take a leisurely stroll through old haunts. But by golly, I will be back from a relaxed visit in 2014 if it is the last thing I do. There WILL be more sight bites!

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Gotham: Plus C’est la Même Chose

I was back for a quick visit to the old stomping grounds this weekend – UES, UWS specifically – I note a few things that have not changed (some for the good and some for the not so good)

soho1.jpgA year later and the massive sheds on 72nd Street and 2nd Avenue have not moved so I presume they have not gotten to the point where they are working on the next section. Seeing as they had been there almost a year when I left 18 months ago, this seems oddly slow even for them. I don’t know what the latest MTA estimate is on completion of the 2nd Avenue subway but whatever it is, the are wrong and it will take three times longer. I don’t know if you all realize just how long (on and off) this subway line has been in the works? Since just after World War 1. Yes, that’s right. JAPAN was rebuilt after WWII faster than this. Rome wasn’t built in a day but I’ll tell you what – it was built faster than the Second Avenue Subway.

BLISSFULLY unchanged:

  • the mouth-watering perfection of the spareribs at Nancy Lee’s Pig Heaven. I would fly across the ocean for these any time.
  • the classic New York diner/coffee shop experience at Viand on Madison though they have a new lovely treat served with breakfast. A delicious, very fresh strawberry spread.
  • the quality of breakfast at Pershing Square across from Grand Central Terminal remains top notch and you can’t beat the convenience if you’re coming in to town or out. New to me however was the Iced Mocha Frappe

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June “What’s On in NYC” Round Up

Big doings in Banbury this weekend – it’s the Banbury & District Show in Spiceball Park. Never been and don’t quite know what to expect but as a new(ish)resident, I feel I ought to go and check it out. Meanwhile, back in Gotham this weekend (June 11-12) is the 11th edition of the Big Apple BBQ Block Party. Now that I’ve been to (quite a few times) and I can highly recommend going if you are a BBQ fan (as I am).

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Also happening this weekend – the Egg Rolls & Egg Creams Festival (hosted by the Museum at Eldridge Street which is housed in the former Eldridge Street Synagogue). The Festival, a colorful block party, is “a cross-cultural celebration of the Jewish and Chinese communities of our Lower East Side/Chinatown neighborhood.”

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Later in the month – grab your inner Gatsby and get out to Governors Island for the next Jazz Age Lawn Party (June 15-16). I’m a fan of the music and era (not the recent movie, it must be said but then I am clearly not alone as almost any of the reviews reveal). And of course, I adore Governors Island. It’s one of the best things about summer in New York City – one my favorite quick “still in the city but get out of the city” day trips and one I made (and make) whenever the chance presents itself. Even the ferry terminal is gorgeous.

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Gov Island Ferry Terminal (Manhattan water side)

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Gov Island Ferry Terminal (interior water side)

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View of Manhattan from the Ferry heading to Gov Island

On June 18 (2016), head towards the water again but this time to Coney Island for the Coney Island Mermaid Parade.

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So, there’s no excuse for sitting around the house. Lots going on. I’ll report in from the Banbury Show next week but I want a FULL report on the BBQ and egg creams from folks on the other side. Deal?

Size Matters: US/UK Housing Edition

This is one of those posts that is focused on the “… and beyond” part of Greater Gotham. It’s been a busier year of moving, bedding in and – not unsurprisingly decorating. Moving from an apartment into a house usually means you don’t have NEARLY enough furniture from the former to fill the latter. But in this case, because I moved from the US to the UK, space didn’t work out that way. Why? UK houses are smaller than your average American expects.  A few years ago, the BBC had an article on JUST this point. In brief, average home sizes around the world work out something like this:

  • US: 2,300sf
  • Australia: 2,217sf
  • Denmark: 1,475sf
  • France: 1,216sf
  • Spain: 1,044sf
  • Ireland: 947sf
  • UK: 818sf

So if I’d been moving from a New York City apartment into a house and if both of those places were in the US, I might well have found myself wandering around in empty, furniture-less rooms. Even if, as was the case, my apartment was a pretty good sized two bed for Manhattan (approx 1190 sq ft). But I wasn’t moving within the US. I moved to the UK and the furniture from my two bedroom, 1190 sq ft apartment filled my 4 bed (they called it a 5 bed but we’ll debate that later) up quite nicely.

Other things that I had to wrap my head around (and which watching years of decorating shows prepared me for) – the closet issue. Now, my apartment in New York had closets, having been built only 20 some odd years ago but I knew plenty of people who lived in older, mostly pre-war apartments who struggled with one closet or no closets. The creativity displayed in the face of the adversity was tremendous and I salute everyone who carved a closet out of a niche, organized entire wardrobes into under bed bins or found ways to make their clothing part of the decor.

Closets in the UK? Not so much. I was told this was because back in the days of yore, no one used them and the more recent lack of closets was down to square footage. “Closets,” I was told, “made the rooms smaller.” This is true. You know what else makes rooms smaller? HUGE WARDROBES. Don’t get me wrong – I knew exactly what to expect so I didn’t actually say that. I kept it to myself. But I know a lot of the real estate agents got very nervous when they heard the American accent and thought “Oh here we go – it’s gonna be an afternoon of size complaints.”  But I assured them I knew the score and all proceeded well. As it happened, I lucked out and settled on a house described as a 5 bed but which any sane person would call a 4 bed with an odd shaped room that could only theoretically have a bed of any kind in it. That room (to stretch the boundaries of the word) became my closet. I have generously given over the enormous closet IN the master bedroom to my husband.

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But wait – I hear you cry. What enormous closet in the master bedroom? Weren’t you just complaining about a lack of closets? Yes I was. But not in the extension the previous owners put in. Lots of storage in the master bedroom (now master suite after a handy dandy door move). But the other 3 bedrooms? Sans closet. Well, OK – one has an airing cupboard so the linens have a home and I have a guest room with no enclosed hanging space. But never mind – guests are made comfortable (IKEA hacked some hanging space and embraced over-door hooks) but not TOO comfortable thus ensuring that they depart before taking root. 🙂

One more thing. This whole single/double bedroom business. It’s a bedroom or it isn’t. It might be a small bedroom but as most of these “single bedrooms” also lack a closet and require some sort of storage furniture as a result, these rooms would be more accurately labeled closets. Try turning this bug into a feature (as my software developer friends would say). You might find people LIKE houses with closets.

Outdoor Living: NYC v Banbury

Now, I don’t want the title of the this post to give the impression that this is some sort of gardening showdown. It is most assuredly not. It’s more ‘interested musing’ than ‘pointedly comparing and contrasting.’ After all, to compare a balcony on the upper east side to a back garden in the burbs of Banbury is like comparing apples to – well, not even oranges but a canteloupe.

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That said, each of those spaces

  • served and serve as an extension of the living space of the house,
  • were just the right size to satisfy my need for outdoor space without pressuring me into undertaking more “greenthumbing” than I was comfortable with.

I am not a gardener. I don’t plan out planting beds or deck out my deck out with pots galore. But I like a neat and tidy outdoor space where I can entertain or relax with a cup of coffee and a book.

I was hugely lucky in NYC that I had a balcony big enough to use in that way – though the streets of Manhattan aren’t (I admit) the most soothing view. It faced a relatively quite street, was high enough that I wasn’t being peered at by nearby windows and the when opened up, the balcony made my living room a really exceptional space.

My back yard here in Banbury was also a lucky find. It’s not at all overlooked (except for the far corner). It’s not too big – so my lack of skill or interest in gardening ’causes no real problems and not too small, offering a nice sized square of lawn, hedges along two sides and a lovely large deck big enough for a dining table and chairs plus armchair and BBQ grill. The double doors leading out to the yard also mean that the yard works as an entertain extension for the kitchen.

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When I packed up all my belongings and sent them across the Atlantic, I gave my lounge chair and outdoor rug to a friend with an even bigger balcony (his was more a roof deck, lucky sod) but I did bring two things with:

  • the faux wicker arm chair (real wicker goes bad – faux wicker is forever and was one of the world’s great bargains when Home Depot put them on sale)
  • the cast iron bistro set. It currently serves two purposes. One chair and table make what was a covered storage area into more of a lounge and the other chair serves as an elegant cat perch for when Miss Thing (our resident feline overlord) wishes to survey her domain from something lower than the garden wall.

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I have a confession to make – much as I loved my little urban oasis, my city balcony… I am relishing the chance to really make the back garden here a PROPER outdoor room. Not in the sense that I need an outdoor rug as I did in Manhattan (though if you want to define your deck or balcony as a room city-dwellers, I can recommend nothing more impactful than finding a good, nice looking outdoor indoor rug) but in that it is laid out attractively, with conversation spaces and gathering spots like a really well thought out living room. I love the fact that we have space for herbs – I am not and have no intention of growing beds of my own veg or compete with the local florist for the best and brightest blooms. But herbs? They are useful, inexpensive and easy to grow. We started ours in the kitchen window sill and a year later, they thrive outdoors regardless of the weather. I also love the fact that I can have a BBQ grill. This was VERBOTEN in Manhattan. I totally understood why but it’s nice to be in a position to have one once again.

My current outdoor punch list includes:

  • pottinggrabbing a nice potting bench and a few marble cutting boards to create a proper cook’s workspace near the grill.  Yes, I could splash a bunch of cash on an outdoor kitchen set up or a stainless steel grilling trolley but why? Garden centers have nice solid potting benches made to sit outdoors, made of wood so I can easily add some hooks for hanging utensiles and baskets within easy reach. Thinking this one (right) from homebase might be just the ticket. £29.99? Perfect. And the marble cutting boards? A mere pittance (£8 last time I checked) at the dollar store/pound shop and the very definition of long lasting;
  • Taking all those small pots of herbs and put them in a nice, tidy slightly raised planing bed. This has the dual benefit of a) neatening the area up and b) making it easier to ignore the bricks that may or may not need re-pointing on that low wall. I know there are kits around but I wish they weren’t so pricey. I mean, how hard is it to build a BOX? I may need to see if there’s a hack somewhere I can use;
  • rip out the badly placed evergreen shrubs that offend my sense of symmetry in addition to being in the way of my future herb bed;
  • reposition the even more badly places stepping stones that create a walk way around the edges of the yard. We’ll end up with extras but maybe we can use them along the side of the house where the root ball from the  “buddleia from hell” remains, awaiting removal. Once removed, we’ll level it out and put them in their for easier access;
  • put in a few solar lights so the place isn’t PITCH dark once night falls

February New York City Style

Things to note about New York City in February:

snow

  • It snows. Obviously it snows in other months as well but it’s the February snow that always seems to come down in BUCKETS. This is great for making snowmen and finding relative bargains on flights and hotel rooms. It doesn’t do much for flight arrival schedules.
  • February is when City Bakery holds it’s annual Hot Chocolate festival – which I have touched on previously
  • February is also when more dog breeds than you can imagine descend upon Madison Square Garden for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Today in NYC history:

  • 70 years ago today: Yankees slugger Joe Dimaggio waives deferment and joins the Army. 3 years later, he returns to baseball.
  • 60 years ago today: New York federal court delays the executions of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in order to give them time for a Supreme Court appeal. Four months later – their appeal having failed – the couple was put to death.

This Month in NYC History:

  • 1653 New Amsterdam becomes a city (later renamed New York City)
  • 1790: Supreme Court convenes in NYC for it’s very first session
  • 1870: First NYC subway line opens (pneumatic powered) and almost 40 years later (1909 to be exact), NYC is also where the first subway car with side doors goes into service
  • 1872: Metropolitan Museum of Art opens (NYC) – and by the way, there’s a fantastic book about the history of the Met called Rogue’s Gallery. Highly recommended.
  • 1901: The New York City Library is established. While I may not care for some of the current renovation ideas, it is a central and vital NYC institution of which the city can be deeply proud.
  • 1913: Grand Central Terminal opens – glorious space and I did manage (belatedly) to wish the old gal Happy Birthday
  • 1930: New York City is the sight of the first red & green traffic lights being installed. Also where the color-blind first fail to see what all the fuss is about.
  • 1985: “New York, New York” became NYC’s official anthem
  • 1993: A car bomb terrorises explodes underneath the World Trade Center, killing seven people and injuring scores more.

Aging ‘Gracefully’ The NYPL Way

Time gets to all of us eventually – and The New York Public Library is no exception. Like many other Grande Dames of Gotham, it’s having a bit of work done. When I say a bit of work – I mean a LOT. But then, that’s what the Grande Dames mean too. What’s a lot? A $300 million overhaul that will see the removal of seven floors of stacks and open up the the building’s central section. Meaning, when you walk in – you’ll see ALL the way across and through. Visually very impactful.

Not useful when researching the history of NYC taxis or compiling a bibliography of Jewish periodicals or examining the Kerouac papers – but pretty. Behold the NYPL’s YouTube channel “tour” of their idea:

But let’s get back to that whole removal of seven floors of stacks thing. This renovation isn’t happening in a void. It also comes part and parcel with two other major changes – the closure of the Mid-Manhattan branch across the street and the smaller Science Industry and Business Library on 34th Street. The materials from those two will be folded into the collection at the 101 year-old main building. The collection which is losing seven floors of stacks. Hmmmm… I guess they’ll have to be stored off site. Not much use for a research library, I would think. If I drag myself all the way down there and I’m neck deep in minutiae only to be told the journals I want must be sent for from some storage site in NJ, I’m gonna be yonked off. And if the answer to that concern is “email or call in advance.” I can only assume it’s an answer from someone who has never done research and has never found themselves following an unexpected but rich thread in a wholly new direction.

But don’t worry – after many people pointed this out (some more shrilly than others), the NYPL found someone (possibly several someones) to donate $88 million to create more storage space underneath the new window-filled atrium where the stacks used to be. You’d think that this would have part of the original redesign – finding a way to store the books. But what do I know…

nypl_picsOn the upside, the redesign is supposed to actually make the wasted space (and there was a LOT of it) usable – making what was mostly empty offices and storage space into a second floor public workspace for up to 300 people (who presumably will be there to use the books they’ve had to find a way to shoehorn in. But let’s not beat the drum about that any more). Other things I am pleased to note:

  • the reading rooms remain in place and intact (considering how much time and money was just spent redoing them, this isn’t surprising)
  • the special collections will remain as they are (presumably the Science, Industry and Business collection will largely end up in here)
  • and a great deal of the building that has been off limits to the public for many many years will now be usable, open and – frankly – SEEN at last. Take all my other complaints and put them aside in light of this single accomplishment for which everyone deserves credit and applause. The fact that this building has been so closed off for so long and so badly and inefficiently used has been a tragedy.

There will also be:

  • a new teen center (were teens using this branch of the Library? I’m all for encouraging kids to familarize and use the library system as it is a very valuable resource but I question the need for such a thing at THIS branch. Are there outlying branches – in actual residential areas – without such things that could have used a teen center?
  • a children’s room (presumably to keep them out of the teen room as teens don’t want to be lumped in with the kids. I ask the same “outlying branch question in regards to this element.)
  • a below-ground education space (for . . . ? Non-children and teens?)

As I say – I am glad they are opening up the spaces to be better used and used by more people. I get that they are trying to create an inviting feel – I just wish they didn’t seem to equate inviting with coffee house and modern with airport terminal. What do you think of this?

Finally, there is (in my opinion) a bit of a personality disorder being created here. I get that they are trying to turn this research library into a circulating library and so must find a way to make the two very different things live together in a the same space. I just question whether a circulating library makes much sense in that location. Yes, I know it was part of the original mandate 100 years ago. But the demographics of that neighborhood have changed. Yes, I know selling off the Mid-Manhattan Branch and Science, Industry and Business library buildings generates money for maintenance and librarians.

But what does it do to the research library facilities? Would it not make more sense to move the specialist collection from Science, Industry and Business into the main branch and create a SMALLER, more efficient circulating library in an area of dense foot traffic. Say – between the main building and Grand Central? What were the user stats of Mid-Manhattan? Were people actually USING it as a circulating library to any great extent? If not – why hamstring the research library by tying it to deadweight and if there was a demand, surely you want to keep it as accessible and user friendly as possible.

Related links with pictures and opinions from various sides of the issue:

Virtual Visit Home: An Online Weekend In NYC

As you may or may not know, I no longer live in NYC. After 23 years (21 of those in the same apartment), I moved overseas and have been training my Gotham Girl eye on the UK and Europe ever since. But this doesn’t mean I don’t miss my NYC weekends. Sometimes I get a wee bit homesick for long walks through Hudson Park and I miss popping into the Metropolitan Museum of Art simply because I happen to be walking past. Luckily the internet has an answer for that – and I don’t even have to go through airport security to get there

My intention is to visit whenever I can – catch up with friends, see what’s worth seeing at my old haunts. But it’s not the same as being able to just wake up and decide to wander over to see what’s what in the Central Library Rotunda. That said – a darned good placeholder for that feeling is doing a virtual weekend. I skype with friends (time zones mean they are having coffee while I have a quick bite of lunch – sort of like brunch) and then I “wander” over to the Met or the NYPL to see what’s there. And virtual wandering is now more like an actual visit than ever. It’s more than just going to a museum’s website or their “online gallery” space. Now social media savvy institutions have a range of media channels – You Tube, Pintrest, Facedbook, Twitter – in addition to their online home. What this means for the virtual visitor is a more robust, more “just like being there” visit. Of course it’s not JUST like being there but I have to be honest – in some ways, I like it better. No crowds, no worry about whether I can get to the lecture in time.

I’ll still be heading to these places when I get back but I don’t have to miss them quite so much thanks to the links below.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art – yes, one of the most famous and most often visited museums in the world. Also just a short walk from home for much of my time in Manhattan. For two years, I was 2 blocks from this iconic spot and even when I moved, I was only 12 blocks or so. I was there constantly and I still am in many ways, thanks to the Met’s array of online outlets.  Quite apart from their presence on the social media channels – for the virtual visitor, the wonderful MetMedia section of their website is NOT to be missed.

The New York Public Library not only houses one of the most beautiful reading rooms in the world, they stage some of the best exhibits in the city and do it extraordinarily well. I’ve given their YouTube channel a big thumbs up previously and it’s still awesome. But the truth is that they have made the library, its spaces and its collections accessible across so many channels that I’ve seen and experienced more of the NYPL since I left than I did when I lived in NYC.

The Guggenheim in New York has an impressive array of online communities and channels to keep folks informed about exhibits, to engage in conversations about art in public spaces, demonstrate a bit of what goes on “behind the scenes” – even keep note of changes on their cafe menus. A full list can be found here on their website. I encourage you to check them out. Not only because the Guggenheim is worth a visit, virtual or otherwise – but because it’s great to see a venerable institution go full throttle with robust use of social media . In the meantime, some of the outlets for the main museum are:

The High Line, which I first walked the day after it opened and which I have walked many days since, really owes much of its existence to the social media savvy folks behind it. They shot videos, showed the potential, spread the word and got people excited. People became invested with the idea being presented and updates and progress reports were regularly put up so the folks who were excited stayed that way. Now – with the opening of the last segment, the High Line’s online presence remains strong so while I can’t always be there to wake in the changes and the views in person – I can keep up with what they are doing, who they are hosting and take a “stroll” of my own.

Another of my favorite parks is Hudson River Park. It is, according to its website, at 5 miles the longest waterfront park in the United States – a fact I didn’t know but my feet probably could have told me as I’d walked the length of it several times.  It used to be a string of decaying piers, municipal storage areas and parking lots on the west side. Now it is a place to walk, picnic, play, explore, cycle, kayak, run, eat, visit and enjoy. There are has rarely been money SO well spent on a public space.

Even places like the Empire State Building (a regular stop for me whenever showing guests about town), have taken to a bit of online outreach. Bonus? Looking on their facebook page, I now know what the various colors on various nights means. I knew the OBVIOUS ones but sometimes you can’t help wonder.

More to come soon – including more parks, restaurants, and other places one might find me on any given weekend in NYC

Packing Up, Moving Out.

Can’t talk. Too busy. Slightly too emotional. Surely, insane. Last time I moved (21 yrs ago), I moved 10 blocks. This time? Across the Atlantic. Oy!

Bye Upper East Side, It’s been an amazing, fantastic, unforgettable 21 years…

Language Lessons in the Lobby

Was just corrected by my doorman. “Deborah,” he said to me, “where have you been hanging out? Your grammar is out of control.” I love NY.