Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It's True, Where Ever You Find Love It Feels Like Christmas

So day after tomorrow I'm coming home for the holidays, making tomorrow my final New York day of my first semester of grad school. In some ways it feels like time has gone by quickly. On the other hand, it definitely feels like it's been a long time since I first saw the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry. I've been busy, as the stack on the left indicates. That picture is of everything I read for my classes this semester. Every page there, my eyes traveled at some point. Some may have gotten a closer reading than others, but I still think it's pretty impressive. There's some proof it hasn't been all food and frolic, I've been doing the learning.

I've also been doing an awful lot of the essay writing since we saw The Daily Show last week. I'm halfway through my last essay, and although it is not an especially fun one to write, it is coming to me pretty well now. I'm hoping that by the time my feet hit Charleston soil, it will be totally behind me.

But still, it's important to seize those uniquely New York opportunities when they arise. Last night Rachel and I went to the Fifth Avenue area to see the windows that had been decorated for Christmas. They go all out, and some of them really are dazzling. Whole streets are lit up for Christmas, with trees and lights and even music in some places. We started our tour at Macy's (whose themes were "Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus" and "Miracle on 34th Street," hit Lord & Taylor ("Memories of Christmas"), and saw the Rockefeller Center and the Saks 5th Avenue Bubble and Snowflake Show (a coordinated light and music show projected on the side of the building, which was a major highlight of the evening. It was 22 degrees when we left our building at 5pm (in the pitch black of night), and despite my impressive layering it was bone chillingly cold. Fortunately we were able to duck into Rockefeller Center for a hot chocolate and heating break. After that we saw "The Gift Machine" at Diesel, some strangely overly glam mannequins at Henri Bendel and Bergdorf Goodman, a giant star in the middle of 5th Avenue, childlike whimsy at FAO Schwartz (another heating break), televisions at Bloomingdale's, and Marshmallow Love at Dylan's Candy Factory. It was an incredible way to start winding down the first third of my graduate school experience. Here are some highlights:

Macy's from across the street.

Macy's Miracle on 34th Street

Department stores ready to go under the tree.

The one, the only, uber-famous and oh so gorgeous, Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

Inside the children's wonderland that is FAO Schwartz


So unless something incredibly unexpected happens tomorrow, and I don't just get up, go to the library, go to class, and then come back to the apartment to get ready to leave on a super early train to Charleston the next day, this will be my last blog post until I'm back in New York towards the end of January. So far graduate school has been amazing, and I've gotten a lot out of the city. But I know that there's TONS left to get, so be sure to tune in to my further adventures when the Spring '11 semester starts!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Show A Little Faith, There's Magic In The Night

I know it's been a while since I posted, but I do have a good reason. I've been doing nothing but schoolwork, so I had nothing to offer but descriptions of the inside of the library and the experience of staring at books and the computer screen for hours on end. Such is the end of every grad student's semester. I've actually been pretty lucky, I've only got one essay left. It's going to be a lot of work, but I've got a full week with nothing else to work on.

Today was finally our day for The Daily Show, which was wildly exciting. Rachel, Michelle, and I got brunch at Norma's first - which was fantastic. I'd eaten there once before, so I knew how good it would be. But still, it was dazzlingly good food. Norma's is in Le Parker Meridien, a fancy hotel that at this festive time of year has a display of very impressive gingerbread houses. This years themes was "Movies in NYC," thus this excellent King Kong gingerbread house. There were also houses for West Side Story, Ghostbusters, Big, and Stuart Little. It was very cute, and smelled fantastic.

After brunch, we walked to the Daily Show Studio, which is way off to the west side of Midtown. The neighborhood is full of car dealerships, and we passed the CBS Studio on the way. Fortunately, you know you've arrived once you're there - there's a many stories high picture of Jon Stewart that says "The Daily Show. For Larry Flynt's Hustler Club, go one block down and take a right." I'm sure those are legit directions, but fortunately we were in the right place.

And we were the first ones in said place.

We got there at about 1:50, three hours before we would get in the doors, and about five minutes before the next people in line did. And yes, waiting in line for three hours in the super freezing cold (it was probably about 33 degrees at the warmest point of the day) has its downsides. Specifically red noses, numb feet, and other feelings of discomfort. But the time passed pretty quickly - after a little more than an hour Alex, our fourth, joined us. She held our place in line, and Rachel, Michelle, and I were able to go to Starbucks for hot drinks and a break from the cold. When we walked in and the warmth of the heat hit us, I exclaimed, "Guys, let's live here!" It was that good.

Not too long after we got back, they checked our names off the list and handed out our tickets. After going over the rules several more times (turn off your cell phone, no pictures in the studio, etc), we got to go inside. We went through the metal detector, and were corralled into the waiting room. After hours standing outside, and having the rapid temperature change from icy cold to the stuffy heat of the waiting room we were feeling pretty ragged. But of course, as soon as we saw the set we were absolutely giddy. The desk is significantly smaller than I thought it would be, but otherwise it's what I expected. The studio is big for a live show - it seats around 200 people (though it still feels small when you're in it).

We were seated in the exact center of the third row - good seats. After everyone was settled the warm up guy came out to get everyone in a good mood. He had everyone cheering and yelling, and joked with people in the audience. After he was finished Jon Stewart came out. Of course, the crowd went nuts. Everyone was really excited. He took questions from the audience, and was (of course) very funny. Some guy asked him where he would recommend the audience go for drinks afterwards. Jon said it had been years since he was a "gat about town" and asked the guy where he liked to go. When the guy said, "Well Rudy's is always good" Jon interrupted with, "What? Rudy's is a shithole. That place is still open?" Then he turned to the audience and said, "People, I beg you, do not follow this man after the show. You will get arrested... and chlamydia."

Of course, I wanted to ask a question. How could I get that close and not get an interaction? I spent most of the day trying to think of one, and nothing came. Fortunately, about 15 minutes before the warm up guy came out, I thought of mine. So at my turn I asked, "Have you read any of the academic books that have been published on The Daily Show? Like college students are assigned as textbooks?"
He kind of laughed and looked down. "No. No I haven't. I think it's awful that students who pay money to go to schools are forced to buy them." I kind of expected that. He's always pretty self effacing on the cultural significance of his show.
"I had to read one for an undergrad class." I said.
"Really? You did? What class?"
"It was a class on the news media."
"What college?" He seemed intrigued.
"The College of Charleston. In South Carolina." At that point I was concerned he would make a South Carolina joke. But he didn't.
"Really?" He sounded confused. "That's a good school. That's like a respected institution. Wait, you know what it is? Colbert's from Charleston, so they're just trying to work him into the curriculum."
Then my friend Michelle asked what his favorite Springsteen song was (Thunder Road). Apparently it was the first song he taught his son. After a few more questions, he started the show.

It's actually amazing how fast the show goes by live. It was hilarious, and seeing it live was an amazing experience. Even though it went quickly, it was absolutely worth every second of waiting.

PS - Thanks to Rachel for taking the pictures!!

Monday, November 29, 2010

'Tis The Season To Be Jolly And Joyous

Well, Thanksgiving is over, so I guess it must be the holiday season. At least, that's what the decorations of New York are telling me! People who live here seem to love complaining about Christmas in New York - that it's crowded with tourists - too crowded to see anything. To them I say phooey. New York is always crowded. If you want to see things, you just have to go at slightly unusual times (this theory has yet to fail me, though it will be tested when I set out to go ice skating in Rockefeller Center under the Christmas tree next week).

I had an amazing time being home for Thanksgiving. After an hour it was like I had never left Charleston. Coming back was kind of tough, it's pretty cold here and (compared with the warmth of family, home, pets, and fiancé) kind of lonely. Of course, I do have friends here. Wonderful friends, who are amazing to spend time with! But it's not my home, and right now everyone (including me) is way to busy finishing all of the semester's work to be social on anything like a regular basis. So today that combined with a foot injury that's preventing me from running (following up with Sports Medicine doc on Friday), made me a bit gloomy.

But none of that is any good reason to stay gloomy, so I went to the Chelsea Market for some groceries and hot chocolate. I got to see some of the before mentioned decorations, including some very impressive lights inside the market. It definitely lifted my spirits. And despite the moratorium of running, walking is still allowed, and that is definitely one of my favorite things to do in New York.

So I took today to ease back in to the feeling of the city, and it was worth the extra time. Tomorrow I have to really throw myself in to finishing this semester's work- which means writing my two final papers. A 12-15 page review of three books and a 20 page paper drawing on at least 5 articles from the syllabus. Not easy, and definitely time consuming, but certainly not impossible. Plus, I'm seeing the Daily Show live next week, and am still planning to hit as many of the holiday high notes as I can.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"If You're Wondering If I Want You To, I Want You To"

Things have stayed pretty busy for me, and most of the time I'm either reading for school, writing for school, or thinking about how I really should be doing one of those two things instead of whatever I am doing. But we did have a mild break in the cold weather - for almost a week the daily temperature was in the high 50's/low 60's, which was really nice. Though it does look like it's about to get cold again.

Last night I went to Ippudo with Kim and Ji-Sup. Ippudo is Japanese restaurant that was highly recommended to me. They specialize in ramen, but (obviously) not the freeze dried noodles and powdered flavoring on which many college students sustain themselves. No, it appears that proper ramen is a noodle soup, available in a wide variety of flavors.
That's my ramen, the only vegetarian one they offer. The soup is soy sauce based, and in addition to the noodles there are numerous vegetables, seaweed, and a big lump of wasabi on top. I respect wasabi, and thus put most of it to the side. It was great, especially considering the cold temperature outside.

Yesterday, I went for a run in Central Park, and then walked the four miles back. It was a beautiful day, but even two degrees colder and it would have been too cold. So I probably won't have too many more opportunities to do that this season.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"It's Been Minutes, It's Been Days, It's Been All I Will Remember"

On Saturday I made plans with friends to see the New York cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but it was sold out when we got there. Fortunately they perform every week, so we'll try again before too long. On the way back we stopped at the Waffle Cart (it's what it sounds like) for a waffle cheer up. I ordered a waffle with chocolate sauce, but accidentally dropped it on myself before I got to eat it. Michelle and Rachel both shared their waffles with me, which took the sting out of the situation. But there isn't much to take the sting out of the dry cleaning bill I'll be paying when I pick my coat up on Friday (except for the fact that I got a great deal on the coat in the first place). This has been an opportunity for me to exercise my skills at layering sweaters against the bitter cold, and they have performed admirably.

In spite of my failure to see Rocky, I have managed to spot two creatives I love very much - David Sedaris and Stephen Sondheim - this week at my local Barnes & Noble. I do love that it is a pit stop for all the best authors. Michelle went with me to see David Sedaris, who was absolutely hilarious. He read to the crowd from his new book and his diary, then took questions from the audience. Stephen Sondheim was in the format that Lewis Black's was, an interview with a friend of his. I would have gotten a signed Sondheim book, but apparently at 80 he doesn't much feel like signing hundreds of books. Ah well, it was incredibly worth it. And I will say that one of my favorite things about New York is that of all the celebrities I've seen at Barnes and Noble (Russell Brand, Bill Bryson, Lewis Black, David Sedaris, and Stephen Sondheim) Sondheim easily drew the biggest crowd. The people of New York have spoken, and they love the composer of musicals most of all!

Aside from that, I've been pretty occupied with my classes. I'm halfway through an essay now, and I have two more to write next week. I've started looking at pretty much everything from a graduate student point of view. For example, Michelle mentioned to me that she thought female Disney villains were more frightening than male Disney villains on the whole, and I've been engaging in villain analysis in my free time. This is what I posted on her Facebook earlier today:

"By the way, in my continuing examination of Disney villains, I have developed a new theory in which The Little Mermaid is actually a retelling of the story of the Garden of Eden, where Ursula is Satan (operates by contracts, lives in the deep, imprisions souls, etc), King Triton is God (long white beard, all powerful, quick to anger, but truly loves his children), and Ariel is Eve (coveting the knowledge/experience she does not have). Obviously it's a different perspective on Eden and it needs some tweaking, but I thought it was important to tell you so that when you get back from Canada and have to come pick me up from the asylum, you'll be able to explain my ravings and get me out."

That's right - giant nerd, right here. And I'm not sorry.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"Instead of Stressed, I Lie Here Charmed"

It has taken a distinct turn for the chilly here. Armed as I now am with coats, sweaters, gloves, and scarves, I was not psychologically prepared. Could I ever really be? Also, the change in temperatures means I seem to be catching a cold (it's strictly in the slightly sore throat stage right now, but I know how this works). I just had one less than two months ago! But the transition between New York seasons appears determined to take its toll on my health.

Not that things are all negative here. To the contrary, my oncoming cold is barely a tug on my buoyant spirits. I had an amazing day yesterday, that was basically a nonstop fun fest.

Rachel and I decided we wanted to go check out the Fall foliage (The West Wing taught me this is called "leaf peeping"), so we decided to get brunch and have a walk in Central Park. We set out to eat at Bubby's Pie Company in Tribeca, where we had what may well have been the best pancakes I've ever tasted.

On our way to Bubby's, we were flagged down by a film crew. You have to understand that in New York, particularly the part of New York we inhabit, film crews are a dime a dozen. When you see them you don't think "Hmm... what are they filming?" No. You think, "Get out of my way, or I will lose it." Which is pretty much the go-to thought for any New Yorker in transit. But I knew I had seen the guy with the microphone on T.V. before, so I was intrigued. He said he was from the Discovery Channel (I'm not at all sure that's where I saw him. But I've got nothing else). He interviewed us about the bedbug epidemic - we went back and forth a little about whether he could call it "deadly" since, you know, it's not. He then introduced a bedbug sniffing dog (which do exist). When we allowed the dog to smell us, it barked to indicate we both had bedbug residue in our clothes. We didn't buy it.

For good reason. It was all a wind up. I'm not sure what the point was, or where things were going to go if we believed him and the dog (though there was a suggestion of changing into skimpy outfits while our clothes were dry cleaned, but they had long since lost credibility with us at that point. I think I said, "Yeah, cause getting in a stranger's van isn't a way to get ax-murdered.") So, that was strange. Keep an eye on random bedbug-themed prank shows, and you might see me and Rachel sassing a host who has failed to trick us.

Anyway, after the familiar-yet-strange television personality and the amazing pancakes, we went to Central Park. In spite of how chilly it was when we set out, it was a gorgeous day. The leaves were in full color (but falling quickly, so leaf peeping season appears to be reaching its conclusion), and we had fun wandering through the areas that we've ended up in so many times that they've begun to feel familiar. Rachel took this picture of me, which I thought was actually pretty cute. I got a tourist to take a picture of us together, so we could combat the illusion that we go everywhere alone (which is the result of our always taking pictures of each other). But, well, this one is more flattering to me. So it's the one I'm publicizing. Note the wool coat. That is a very warm coat.

In the afternoon I spent a couple of hours preparing to write an essay (which I wrote today and is due tomorrow - I have less than a page and some formatting left to do). Then I went to Barnes and Noble to get a seat early to see Lewis Black. I got there about two hours before it started, and secured my front row seat.

I may have mentioned this before, but the Barnes and Noble near me has a lot of great celebrities stop through and give free talks/readings/book signings. I always shoot to get there about two hours early, because it all but assures a good seat, and waiting is actually pretty relaxing. You go through the store, grab books and magazines you want to read, get a drink from the cafe, and settle in. It's actually a great way to unwind.

Anyway, I managed to use the seat I was holding empty next to me in the second row to tempt my friend Michelle into joining me (she was very responsibly doing schoolwork while Rachel and I were galavanting through the park, and Rachel was doing schoolwork while Michelle and I reveled in the hilarity of Lewis Black at Barnes and Noble. No worries, I do plenty of school work on other days). We had a great time - Lewis Black was great discussing his new Christmas book, and it appears that his stand up/Daily Show persona is a fairly mild exaggeration of how he actually is. I mean, he was a little more relaxed, but he was not afraid to emphasis with volume, and let his flag fly on certain topics.

From there, I went to meet Kim, Mario, and Ji-Sup so we could go out to dinner to celebrate Kim's leaving for a conference in South Korea the next day. We had Vietnamese food, and then went out for coffee (we always go out for coffee). It was a lot of fun!

So yes, after the nonstop fun parade that was yesterday, I was much more focused today. I wrote an essay and went to class. I have the essay I'm currently working on and three more to finish before Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving I have a 20 page paper and a 12-15 page paper to get done before I come home for the holidays (on either December 18th or 19th). So not every day can be so glamorous!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

"We Live in Hard Times, Not End Times"

So, yesterday was the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, D.C. And it was amazing! I'm still exhausted from the trip, but it was an amazing time!

Rachel and I left our building at 2 am Saturday to head to Penn Station. We had an event free taxi ride, and a low-drama time waiting for our train (though the police did come through, banging night sticks on columns and making everyone who was sitting on the floor stand up. For no discernible reason). At 3 am we boarded our sold out train and headed south to D.C.

We arrived in D.C. at 7 am, and I was happy to be back. I still have a lot of fondness for the city since my time living there two years ago. We went to a diner (Pete's Diner) for breakfast. It was just what you hope for from a diner breakfast - fast, cheap, filling, and not especially greasy. The decorations were a bit strange; the restaurant had clearly leaned heavily towards an Asia theme in their decorating, but had also gone all out for Halloween. This led to unexpected golden Buddha/cobweb and tapestry/pumpkin combinations. There was also a small Christmas tree on the counter.

After breakfast we met up with my dad and Ali, who had come from Charleston to attend the rally. We headed to the Mall - arriving at around 9 am. It was already pretty darn full! We got a spot in the first block, fairly near the Capitol. If I stood on tiptoes and tilted my head to the side, I could see the stage. I also had an excellent view of one of the giant screens it was being shown on.

Considering how widely broadcast and viewed the rally was, it would seem silly to give a play by play here (though anyone who missed it can watch highlights by clicking here). We did the wave with the Mythbusters, were continuously surprised by the people who came out of the tent ("I didn't know Cat Stevens was allowed in the country." "Ozzy? Seriously?" "It's like a random celebrity roulette wheel!"), and laughed at all of the comedy. To be honest, I could have done with a little less in the way of musical guests - but that's just me. It was a great time, and Jon Stewart's speech at the end was perfect!

Afterwards, the Capitol was completely flooded with people (it seems most estimates are that around 215,000 people attended the rally), so finding a place to sit down and eat was tough. But we desperately needed to sit down and eat, as it had been eight hours since Pete's Diner. We finally flagged a cab, and managed to get to a pizza place on U Street mere moments before other ralliers started clogging the doors. The pizza was excellent, but most anything would have been good at that point.

We had planned to do some touristy stuff in the five hours before our train came - we got in the metro and everything. But even though the crowds had largely dispersed above ground, it was shoulder to shoulder down there. We headed towards Dupont Circle to go see the embassies, and while waiting for the train to take us there we came to the mutual conclusion that we were way too tired. We fought our way back to Union Station, and spent a couple hours alternating between vacant staring into space and wild giggling at not much. We got ice cream from the Ben and Jerry's stand.

Finally, at 10 pm, we boarded the train back to New York. We got a free upgrade to business class, and spent half of the trip dozing. At 2 am we were back in the city, and started trying to flag cabs back to the Village. The first refused to take us, and the second only did after we agreed to pay double on the fare. Both of those things are against the rules in the world of New York taxis, and had I been feeling my sharpest, I probably would have taken their license plate numbers and reported them. But I had been up for 30 hours at that point (and that 30 hours was preceded by a four hour nap, not a proper night's sleep), so I just agreed to pay the extra and let it go.

Today I was still pretty tired, so I slept in and laid low. I gave out candy to the trick or treaters in my building, and did some readings for school. It was incredibly worth it though - the rally was fantastic!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Listen to the Sound of the World, Then Watch it Turn

Wow, this is only my third post in October, and October is nearly done. From ten in September to three in October - I can only assume that all the people I've been told are readings this are worried about my health or think I'm really lazy. What's actually happened is a combination of a few factors has thrown off my previously established pattern of doing things, and it's ended up taking the full month to get back on track.

With back to back weekends filled with wonderful visits (first from my mom and then from Angus), I had three weeks of cramming all my work into the middle of the week. Additionally, my classes started to test me a bit more - a midterm presentation, weekly 2-3 page papers, and a 5-7 page paper that I am even now halfway through have all been dominating the landscape of my mind. Add to this that I am going to the Rally for Sanity on Saturday (!!!!), and that's another week with extra work in the middle of it. I have two more 5-7 page papers to write before Thanksgiving, and once I get back I will start work on a 12-15 page paper and another paper that I currently have no information about at all.

No one said grad school was going to be easy. In fact, they said the opposite. And, lo and behold, they were being honest. None of this should be taken as complaining. I'm enjoying my classes (mostly), I'm feeling about 20x more confident than I did in the first month I was here (as in, I am no longer concerned they will realize what a terrible mistake it was to let me in and ask me to leave quietly), and I'm definitely learning and growing in new directions. Some of it is stressful, but in a good way. It's good for me that my essays are challenging to write. It's good for me that I don't get all the readings right away. Because if it were easy right off the bat, what would be the point of paying so much money and spending so much time away from my fiance, family, and friends? No, I'm glad that I'm having to work hard and stay busy. But it does mean that I've been having fewer dazzling New York experiences to share with the internet.

Of course, that's not to say I'm not having any. I recently journeyed to Brooklyn with Michelle and Rachel to get what is widely reported as the best pizza in New York: Grimaldi's (the other main contender for the title, Lombardi's, is where Angus and I got pizza during his visit). The key to having these famous New York experiences, as I have said before, is to have them on week nights. I have been by Grimaldi's twice before - both times on a Saturday - and seen lines that stretched around the block. People waiting 3-4 hours to sit down and order pizza. Our wait? About ten minutes. And yes, the pizza was amazing. But it was not a pizza that I would stand in line for four hours to get. I haven't met that pizza yet.

Other news? No, that's pretty much it. School, and I was lucky enough to have some delicious pizza with lovely friends. Saturday is my whirlwind journey to DC for the Rally to Restore Sanity, which I expect will be thrilling, exhausting, and wonderful. And next week, being a new month, seems to hold the promise of classes settling back to a level where they are still my main concern but I have time for others. So expect to see more words from me in the coming month, and excuse an October of only four posts (I expect I'll get the one about the rally in under the wire).

Monday, October 18, 2010

You're In My Heart, So Until Then

So, this week I saw my favorite comedian - Russell Brand - twice. The first time was on Tuesday, when he gave an hour and a half long interview at the New York Times building, followed by a book signing. In my eagerness to get a good seat I arrived an hour and a half early, securing myself the 24th place in line. And since the 23 people ahead of me were apparently people who waited hours to sit in the third row, I sat on the first - smack in the middle. It was great, he was hilarious and the interview was really interesting. During the Q&A a 14 year old boy stepped up to the mike, and Russell Brand went on and on about how he could be the new Justin Bieber before hopping off the stage to give him a hug. At the book signing afterwards I got a copy of his first book (he's touring to promote the sequel) and waited for my signed copy. I give him a lot of credit - he's not sleepwalking through what I imagine is an incredibly monotonous schedule of book signings. He talks to everyone who gets a book, really studying them with an intensity that almost makes you feel self conscious. Then after the book is signed he offers a hug, generally by saying "Give us a cuddle." And he seems to take the hugs seriously, pausing and closing his eyes as he embraces each giddy fan. By the time it was my turn I was feeling quite flustered, and distinctly uncool. I decided to limit my engagement to saying I liked his comedy and moving along.

He signed the book and then fixed me with the intense look and said, "I remember you."
"Seriously?" I asked, surprise sounding a lot like skepticism.
"Yeah. From the audience."
"Right. I was on the first row." My plan to say something nice sprang back to mind, but flustered, I went for the first thing that caught my eye. "I very much like your scarf."
"Thanks. I got it today." He said, and then gave me a hug.
"Also the stand up comedy." I added lamely as I felt the flow of the line pushing me away.
"Thanks very much for saying so." He responded, with what seemed like genuine gratitude.

The next evening, I attended his book signing at Barnes & Noble in Union Square, because my friend Rachel is also a big fan and she couldn't make it to the night before. I had really wanted to see the interview, so I just decided to do both. This was a much different event, complete with an interview with E! (You can watch the video here. I couldn't spot us in it, but there is some footage of the madness we were in the midst of) and attendance by the paparazzi. There was a brief talk/Q&A where he accepted a garland from a Hare Krishna, and engaged in a bizarre back and forth with the bolder audience members. Then there was a book signing. At one point he stopped the line for a good 10 minutes to visit with a little girl in a wheelchair who was hoping to get her booked signed. He signed the book, posed for pictures with her and her parents, and had what looked to be a pretty in-depth chat with her. It was all very sweet.

Rachel bought a book to be signed, so I waited in line with her. When we got to the front she was just as giddy and flustered as I had been the night before. I was giddy, but not nearly as much as I had been.

As her book was being signed she said, "You have great hair." Which he does.
"Thanks!" He said, shaking his hair a bit and happily letting the curls bounce. "You may touch it if you wish."
We did. He gave Rachel one of his zen hugs.
When he looked at me I said, "Oh, I got a book signed last night."
"Where?" He asked. Then without prompting remembered, "Right! First row!"
"Right." I said, accepting my second Russell Brand hug of the week.

I may be imagining it, but I feel like he gave me a bit of a look as I walked away that said, "It's still cute now, but if you turn up in the next city I'm notifying security."

Of course, all this was but a blip on my happiness radar compared to the join that accompanied Angus coming to visit me for the weekend. He was here from Thursday afternoon at 12:30 until Sunday afternoon at 3:15, and every moment was wonderful. It was his first time in the city, and I did my best to be a good tour guide in the face of adverse weather (rain, heavy wind.. apparently we were on the fringe of a nor'easter). I made sure he got to eat the iconic food (pizza, Katz's Deli, and H&H Bagel), and got to attend one cool event (a reading by Bill Bryson at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square - this place hosts a lot of events!). We did tons of walking around, visiting the different neighborhoods and seeing the famous buildings. Obviously, there's still a lot more for him to see next time he visits. But it was fantastic to be together, though saying goodbye again wasn't easy.

Today I had a five minute presentation for my midterm grade in my Politics of the Gaze class, which was nerve wracking but I ultimately felt good about. I have quite a lot of reading to do this week, but I'm feeling like a pretty capable grad student these days.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

There's Nothing Like Finding Gold Within the Rocks Hard and Cold

For the past couple of weeks my friend Rachel and I have had a weekly brunch/outing. First we had brunch at Good Enough to Eat, visited the Museum of Natural History (strange but fun place - as evidenced by the picture of a sea monster they have hanging from the ceiling with no real explanation), walked through Central Park, and had dessert for lunch at Serendipity 3. We had such a nice time, we decided to do something similar the next week - when we had brunch at Norma's and then went for a walk in Central Park. We were huge fans of Norma's, and plan to return in the future - possibly on a monthly basis.

This week though, we're changing it up. We're both huge fans of Russell Brand, so on Wednesday we'll get a meal (probably lunch), and then go hang around Barnes & Noble until he shows up for a book signing. This will actually be my second Russell Brand visit of the week, as on Tuesday I'm seeing him interviewed by New York Times culture reporter Dave Itzkoff at the New York Times Building. So all that should be fun.

Me, being dazzled by brunch at Norma's.

Me, and a very enthusiastic duck statue with a Hans Christian Anderson statue reading "The Ugly Duckling" in Central Park.

In other exciting fun news, this weekend my mom came to visit me! Considering that it's now been a good month and a half since I've seen someone from home (unless you count the barista who I had met once in Charleston), you can imagine how excited I was for the friendly face. We had a fantastic time - we ate several delicious meals (at the Chelsea Market, a coastal French restaurant, Mud Coffee, and an excellent Greek restaurant) saw two incredible shows (Next to Normal and La Cage Aux Folles), walked a ton, and visited several interesting areas. We even tried to go to Strawberry Fields on John Lennon's birthday. We kind of did, but it was crazy packed, and a guy with a screaming toddler on his shoulders elbowed me in the face - which made me a bit cranky about the crowd thing. However, we did have a great time in the rest of Central Park. And Kelsey Grammar was in La Cage Aux Folles, which was an incredibly fun show. It was great to get to spend time together!

This week, or at least for the next couple of days, I've got tons of schoolwork to do. I have a midterm in one of my classes in a week, and tons of reading to do for the other two. And I need to get it all done in the next few days, since Angus is coming to visit Thursday - Sunday (!!!!!!!); I don't think I'll be doing any work then. Fortunately, we get Columbus Day off tomorrow, so I'll have time to buckle down and get ahead of the game. Hopefully.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"You Can Stare Into the Abyss, But It's Staring Right Back"

Today marks one month since I moved in to the NYU apartment (and thus shifting from a New York vacation to New York living). In honor of that, I'm taking a moment to reflect a little what I've learned about life in the city.

*I Don't Like Getting Drinks from Starbucks Anymore*
In Charleston, many of my days were brightened by my favorite Starbucks drink: tall nonfat no water chai tea latte. I loved them, and would take almost any excuse to visit a Starbucks and snag one. But, unlike Charleston, New York is brimming with local coffee shops, almost all of which offer better quality than Starbucks. The food is tastier (pastries and the meals available), the drinks are bigger, and a lot of them seem interested in helping the environment (Think Coffee divides their trash section into compost, paper recycling, and plastic recycling).

But the one that killed Starbucks is Mud Coffee. In every other coffee place, chai tea lattes taste pretty much the same as the ones at Starbucks. But the ones at Mud are amazing. They've left Starbucks seeming bland and too sweet. So now, rather than go to the Starbucks practically across the street, I trot down Broadway to the Mud Truck or head over to the Lower East Side to visit the store. That's not to say I never visit Starbucks. There's one on pretty much every corner, and it's one of the few places in New York where you don't have to be a customer to use the bathroom.

*Eye Contact with Strangers is Always Incorrect
When I tell people that in Charleston we commonly make eye contact with other people on the street, people think it's strange. They imagine we go around staring at each other or something. Well, we don't, but we also don't go to the extreme lengths to pretend no one else is around that New Yorkers do. I've mainly noticed this when I go running. When you're running in Charleston and you pass another runner, you generally make eye contact and give the other one some kind of nod or wave of acknowledgement. Not so here. It actually took several weeks for me to stop expecting it, but I've learned to put myself in the imaginary tunnel everyone else seems to be in.

*I am a Braver Runner
Another running related story, but when I took up running at home, every time I wanted to go I would drive the 15-20 minutes to Hampton Park, the nearest place with safe running trails. The idea of running down the sidewalk seemed crazy to me - I didn't want to get in anyone's way, I was afraid of looking silly, etc. But here everyone feels entitled to the space they're in (whether they should or not), and you'd have to do something really silly to stand out. As a result, I'm totally comfortable heading out the door and down the sidewalk whenever I feel like the exercise.
The Hudson River Greenway, about a ten minute run from my place

*I Completely Hate Taxis Here
They are insanely aggressive on the road, they go way too fast down my street, and they honk way too often. I have ridden in them twice since I moved in here; one trip ended with tears, and both ended with nausea. I go to great lengths to avoid them. This is limited to New York - my taxi experiences in other cities (D.C., London) were quite pleasant.

*Eating is an Ordeal
New Yorkers eat out for every meal. This isn't really an exaggeration, or a statement about how crowded restaurants are at all hours (during the week waits are minimal to reasonable). But without cars and with tiny kitchens, New York is not a city that favors cooking. As a result, most people eat everything on the go, stocking their kitchens with the barest of snack food. I enjoy cooking, but getting groceries is tough when you have to either walk back with your load or choose your items online. As a result, I swing back and forth between dealing with the arduous task of acquiring supplies and caving to the convenient and delicious on the go food. This is something I'm still struggling to get a grip on, but I think my love affair with the Chelsea Market will help me find more stable balance. Maybe next month.

*There's Always More
Even though I walk everywhere (almost) and I make a real effort to see and do a lot, I simultaneously feel like I'm getting a handle on it here and that I've barely scraped the surface. I'm not sure you could really take advantage of everything New York has to offer even if you devoted your life to it.

Sometimes I feel like I'm part of it all, and other times I feel like I'm peeking into a strange world from the outside. Overall I'm enjoying all the new experiences a lot, and I'm very happy to be here. It can all be a bit tiring though.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"In a New York Minute Things Can Get a Little Strange"

New York gets really crowded on the weekends. I guess that's to be expected - tourist roll in, and the teens and young adults from the surrounding areas flock to the trendy bars and restaurants. As a result, I have decided that I'm best served by doing all my schoolwork on the weekend, and having my free time during the week. Thus I avoid crowds and long lines when I visit the cool places. Really, it's a genius plan. I just need one or two other people to convert to it, since at the moment I do all my cool week activities alone, and have to disrupt my work on the weekends to socialize.

On Saturday I finally went to the markets that I've been meaning to go to - Union Square Greenmarket and the Chelsea Market. The Union Square Greenmarket is a farmer's market that takes place four times a week in nearby Union Square - famous as one of the best in the country. It was pretty impressive (Saturday is the biggest day), but I think in the future I'll go during the week when it's less crowded (See how I think?).

We have a farmer's market - one I'm quite fond of - in Charleston, so maybe that kept me from being too giddy about the Union Square experience. But we don't have anything like the Chelsea Market: a permanent market in the old Nabisco factory where the Oreo was invented. Parts of it still feel and look an awful lot like an old factory, and other bits have the flavor of a high end mall sneaking in. There's a shop run by a local dairy where you can get your milk, eggs, etc or buy a milkshake made with their farm fresh milk and ice cream. There's an Italian market where you can get lunch or browse the international meats, cheeses, and other ingredients. There are many bakeries, and several restaurants serving farm fresh food. I bought Spanish goat cheese and plum preserves from the Italian market. This is one of my new favorite places.

That evening I got dinner with my friend Rachel. We decided to head for Little Italy, since she was in the mood for "cheesy comfort food." However, we did not count of the Feast of San Gennaro. The Feast of San Gennaro is an 11-day festival held every year on Mulberry Street in Little Italy. Historically it is rooted in Catholicism and collecting money for the poor. These days it is more focused on free refill pina coladas (and allegations of mafia connections). Yes, we stumbled straight into New York's most popular party that night.

A rare break in the crushing flow of revelers

That's not to say I'm sorry we hit at prime feast time. It was definitely an experience. It was an amped up, bigger better version of everything similar I've seen. (Which is admittedly not much. The Azalea Festival? The Fair?) Sure, there were stands that sold funnel cakes and deep fried Oreos. But there were also massive steaks roasting over open flames and fresh high quality food being fried up in street stands. We got an outdoor table at one of the restaurants (from which the above picture was snapped), and enjoyed watching the waves of people go by as we ate our food.

Sunday I took a lunchtime break from my studies to attend a multicultural potluck lunch with Mario, Ji-Sup, and Dong-hyung Kim. We all contributed food that represented our cultural heritage, so I brought macaroni and cheese and deviled eggs. I felt a little vanilla when those were compared with the South Korean and Philippine dishes. But I guess I didn't need to. Mario, who'd had deviled eggs once before, was thrilled to see them, and raved to Kim about how "exotic" they are. Similar response to the oven baked macaroni and cheese, which was rewarding. Of course, I was much more excited about trying their food. We resolved to do it again as a dinner soon.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"This Autumn in New York Transforms the Slums into Mayfair"

I've had a sort of odd week in New York City life, marked by confusion, mistakes, and spur of the moment decision making. In a good way.

First confusion first - every time I enter Central Park, I am inevitably lost. Since I never go when I have to be in a hurry, it's not really an unpleasant way to be. I wander through, thinking I'm heading west (while actually heading in any other direction), and discover all kinds of new things.
Sir Walter Scott? What are you doing here?

I'd had no idea the people of New York were such fans of Ivanhoe until I encountered this Sir Walter Scott statue. He was across from Robert Burns, and near William Shakespeare and an unlabeled Indian with a dog. Why? 'Cause. In Central Park, I feel like Alice in Wonderland. "Wait, there's a carousel there? Where did this jazz quartet come from? Does no one else find that girl doing Cirque du Soleil style hula hooping strange or interesting? Ok, fine, I'll just continue going West (North)." Really, the only way to be sure I've got my bearings is to leave Central Park, and thus return to the orderly grid of New York streets that I'm becoming quite familiar with.

Spur of the moment choice? My decision to visit the New York Stock Exchange and the Charging Bull statue. I had been watching a tv show on Netflix (Dead Like Me), and it completely bummed me out. Hardly surprising since - as the title may have suggested - death is a pretty major focus of the show. So I decided to go for a walk to cheer myself up, and the New York Stock exchange was the perfect distance away. I admit, this was also more out of a sense of duty to New York sightseeing than actual interest. I figured I go, I'd see them, I'd take my pictures, and I'd have it done. And I was at least half right. I did get my New York Stock Exchange picture, with the Wall Street sign in the frame and everything. It was right across the street from where George Washington took the oath of office. (Thanks to my time in DC, I already knew that Washington was the third capital under the Constitution - preceded by Philadelphia and New York. However, I had not known that George Washington was sworn in on Wall Street, so that was kind of a fun surprise).

The Charging Bull is actually not on Wall Street, but further down Broadway. And it's impressive, but not impressive enough for me to fight through all these people for a good picture. I still count myself as having seen it though.

Yesterday I went to lunch at an Ethiopian restaurant with a few girls in my program, and Rachel and I got coffee at Mud - my favorite coffee place by far. Then, I decided to walk to these two stores that sounded interesting, and were four miles away. So I headed up Madison Avenue.

Passing Times Square, I realized I was at the right time to try to win cheap tickets to Wicked in the lottery, so I tried. I lost, but didn't mind as it's not much trouble and I'll have plenty more opportunities. I bet not as many people show up in the dead of winter.

So I continued up Madison Avenue, and (finally) got to the first store of interest... and it had gone out of business recently. Darn. Another 10/15 blocks and I get to the second store of interest..... which closes at 7. I got there at exactly 7, and they were extremely closed. Oh well.

So I start to walk back (I am now 74 blocks from my apartment, and kind of tired). I considered taking the subway, but it was a beautiful night and the streets were packed with tourists, so there was really no reason to. I switched over to 5th Avenue, which I prefer to Madison. At around 34th Street (only 30 blocks from the goal!), I passed the Empire State Building. And I thought to myself, "Why let the evening be a total bust?" So I went to the top of the Empire State Building.

It really was a breathtaking view, and the fact that a thunderstorm started about 30 seconds after I got out on the deck did not diminish the experience. It may have made it cooler. And it did motivate me to take the subway for those last 30 blocks.

Friday, September 17, 2010

These Vagabond Shoes, They Are Longing to Stray

It's been a good week in New York, in spite of the weather taking a turn for the chilly and at least one tornado. On Tuesday I got up early so I could cross some things off my New York to-do list.

First on the list: my second New York bagel - this time from Murray's Bagels (my first was from Ess-A-Bagel). Pictured here is the garlic with cream cheese. A day or two later I ended up back at Murray's when a friend and I went out for lunch. That day I got the everything with cream cheese - and when I bit into the bagel my lip got a small but deep cut that bled profusely for an embarrassing length of time. I think it was a sesame seed. So in the future, I'll be sticking to garlic bagels at Murray's.

After Murray's I went to Fishs Eddy, where my longstanding refusal to buy more utensils than I needed finally paid off. Kmart only sells forks and spoons in packages of like 8-12, and since I only wanted 2 of each, I've been using disposables while hoping to come across individually marked flatware. And here they were - only 99 cents each. There was also a ton of useful dishes and kitchenware, as well as kitchsy fun mugs and plates.

Then I went to a bookstore on the Upper East Side that only sells cookbooks and books about food, which made for fun browsing. I strolled through Central Park and made my way to the Upper West Side, where I went to Flor de Mayo, a Cuban/Chinese restaurant.

Vegetable lo mein with fried plantains.

It's an unexpected combination, but one that works deliciously. The service was kind of brusk (at 12:05 they were refusing to unlock the front door and informing objecting patrons that they opened at 12; I went to the Urban Outfitters next door to wait them out rather than argue), but you get used to that in New York. Not in every place, obviously. But waiters do not always feel obliged to help you enjoy your dining experience.

I walked back to my apartment, stopping at one bookstore along the way. It was six miles from Flor de Mayo to my place, which was a little ambitious even for me. But overall I enjoyed it very much.

Wednesday I had lunch/coffee with Michelle, a girl from my program who was a lot of fun to hang out with. That night I had tapas with Dong-hyung (Kim), Mario, and Jisup. We went to La Nacional, the oldest Spanish restaurant in New York. We had our usual good time, and (as always) had coffee at a nifty spot afterwards.

Since then I've been pretty focused on reading and classes, though I did manage to grab a cup of coffee with Rachel today. She's from Cyprus - but (it's a small world after all!) her father is from Charleston and her uncle owns Mr. John's Beach Store on Folly.

Also today, I booked my train tickets for a day in DC on October 30th so that I can attend Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity! At least one other girl from my program is going, so that will certainly be a fun time when it rolls around.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"You're Addicted to the Lights, To the Sounds, To the Sights"

So, now I've been to two out of three classes, and done of all the reading for both. I'm feeling pretty on top of it. I think as long as I keep getting the reading done a priority, I should be just fine. Though I understand how people have trouble. New York is full of tempting distractions.

On Friday I went to lunch at Katz's with Ji-Sup (from New York), Mario (from the Philippines), and Dong-hyun (from South Korea). Afterwards we got coffee at Mud, which is by far my favorite coffee shop in New York so far. They bring your drinks in these big hearty mugs, and my chai tea latte tasted like Christmas. I'm definitely remembering that one for the holiday season.

Saturday I finished my reading, and then walked up to Times Square and kicked around that area for a little while. In the evening I went out again with Ji-Sup, Mario, and Dong-hyun. We went to several bars around Greenwich Village, and decided we should start going out to dinner once a week and try a different ethnic food each time. It was a lot of fun.

At Mud Coffee with Dong-hyun (not a flattering shot of me, but she looks cute!)

On the town

Today it's pretty rainy, so I didn't get to walk as much as I'd normally like. I took the subway to the Upper East Side so I'd have time to check out this one bookstore before I met people for dessert. But the bookstore was closed.
So I wandered through Central Park instead - which was fun. This is my third time there, but I see something new every time I go. This time the new thing was the Alice in Wonderland Statue.

I had planned to meet a group of people from my major at Serendipity 3 (famous for desserts and old timey celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol, and Jackie O). But three of them cancelled last minute, and seven just didn't show up! I mean, it was raining, and the people who cancelled said they were overwhelmed by all the reading they still had to do. I was a little unhappy, but that's the problem with planning events through Facebook - a Facebook RSVP doesn't feel like a real commitment.

Fortunately, this story does not end with me standing out in the rain waiting on someone, anyone, who said they would meet me to come. One of the 11 RSVPs made it, and she brought two friends. And any irritation I may have felt at the seven no shows no explanations was quickly soothed by feeling totally overwhelmed by desserts!