Sunday, January 17, 2010

Exploring Downtown

When I open my eyes Sunday has began. I shower, dress and explore downtown with The Velvet Underground’s ‘Sunday Morning’ playing in my head.

I take a left outside the Holiday Inn down Howard Street and cut across Broadway. I meander my way through the closed boutiques of Soho and Noho until I find myself in the Village. I pause for a moment in Washington Square park and watch the dog walkers circle the paths. A few moments later I stumble across several shop windows with puppies in them.

I’m looking for a record shop and am having no luck. The Virgin in Times Square has closed down, and the Jazz Record Centre on 26th was another victim of recession. I’m after the expensive jazz cds you only get in Rays on Charing Cross, ones from the Tzadik and Nonesuch labels. Instead I find adland signified by the polished buildings of Saatchi & Saatchi and Euro RSCG. Both offices have Kandinsky rip off’s on the walls, a usual favourite of banks in London, although I imagine it’s to demonstrate the limitless of their creative expression. It’s wallpaper to me. I’m now back by the Hudson, then I walk East down Charlton Street and find a church playing ice cream van music. Churches are strange in NYC. Beautiful buildings, but lacking in history compared to European equivalents.

At midday I find myself gravitating towards NoLita. I walk down Spring Street, lunch at the organic Spring Street Natural Restaurant and shop at Canadian import McNally & Jackson as it begins to rain. I spend too much on poetry books. The amount of new writing journals is astounding, and their presentation creative. ‘A Plate of Chicken’ by Matthew Rohrer’ reminds me of a poem I wrote called ‘Chicken Skin Music’ (a domestic heart attack) after the Ry Cooder album. The book introduces me to the Brooklyn based Ugly Duckling Presse, a non-profit art and publishing collective focusing on emerging and forgotten writers. I admire their design.

On the way back to the hotel I pass Elieen’s Special Cheesecake and think of my Nan.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Devoted and Disgruntled NYC

We rise as the first yellow taxi belts its horn. The sun is still sleeping and for now our only light is an orange eco friendly lamp.

By 6.30am we’re on the subway. ‘N’ train to 42nd Street, ‘1’ train to Columbus Circle, coffee and a Panini to go. At 7am I’m on a ladder sticking up the 4 principles of open space. ‘Whoever comes are the right people,’ ‘Whenever it starts is the right time,’ ‘Whatever happens is the only thing that could happen,’ ‘When it’s over it’s over.’ They read more like philosophical quotations. Instructions for dealing with modern life. Rules to help free yourself from the conventions and expectations of others. Tell yourself these four things often enough, and life doesn’t seem so pressured to ‘get it right.’

The first guests arrive at 9.30. Laurence & Tarah from Anderson amongst them. Improbable Artistic Director and leading Open Space practitioner Phelim McDermott opens the space at 10.30. What’s strikingly different about the NYC one over the London D&Ds is that the participants are up in seconds to call their sessions. In London a serene politeness usually settles over the crowd as they wait for the first brave soul to break the silence and call a session. The New Yorkers are queuing at the word ‘go’ to call theirs over the microphone. I decide to call a couple of sessions around Funeral Customs and creating trailers for theatre shows.

The first session I attend, called by Steven Ginsburg of Hartbeat Ensemble discusses Free Theatre. Ginsburg himself runs an activist-based theatre company interested in social change and creating new works that challenge the status quo. He wants to discuss ideas of a ‘free’ theatre model whereby the audience sees the show for free. We discuss various models; pay what you can, complimentary ticket giveaways, but we also discuss how theatre and performance worked in the past. With the noblemen and landowners inviting the travelling gypsies to perform in their manors, and inviting all the peasants along to enjoy the show. Theatre was less ‘institutionalised’ then, without a real industry to call home. It’s great to see so many artists trying to work out models to give the audience something for free, but it’s hard to see how anything can be truly free when we live in an age where time itself has a monetary value.

At lunchtime I go for a walk around the area. I feel a cold coming on and the fresh sun air is light and full of wellbeing. I take a left outside the church and walk along 58th West until I reach the Hudson. I see a kid with nunchucks in his back pocket, at least it’s not a knife I find myself thinking.

The day wraps up at 6pm, and after meeting many fabulous people, including the beautiful Juliet who bakes the best brownies I’ve ever tasted, we retire to Lafayette.

Saturday draws to a close in Little Italy where we’re encouraged to add sambuca to our espressos.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Church of St Paul the Apostle

The setup for Devoted and Disgruntled begins at 9. It’s the first time Improbable have done one stateside. It’s an arts/theatre meet up held in ‘open space’ where participants are encouraged to set the agenda for the meet up by raising questions about areas of the arts that interest them.

We get there a little frazzled after the Lower East Side - Upper West Side subway dash, but the trains seemed nowhere near as busy as London. And although no regular announcements told us to let passengers off before we got on, everyone treated each other with respect, straight from the pages of the unwritten laws of the commuter.

After 4 hours of drawing butterfly's and bees underneath The Church of St Paul the Apostle we escape into the sun for some natural vitamin C. Central Park is beautiful with its naked trees and fifty odd statues. The day is warm; around 8 degrees and we begin to sweat. We check out the Alice in Wonderland Statue, record some buskers play jazz on a sweet afternoon, and finally make our way to the Guggenheim.

Sadly a large proportion of the museum is closed due to installations being set up, but we see our share of Kandinskys’ and the roots of impressionist painting. We have the most amazing lunch there. A Wright Salad with a ‘gently boiled egg.’

Next we walk for perhaps too long. Right down Park Ave from 88th to 43rd yet we get to see Josh Harnett get of out a cab with a little dog in his arms. I think I know where he lives. We stumble through Grand Central and I imagine The Untouchables.

Back at Lafayette we regroup and head back uptown to Times Square were David Blaine is raising money for Haiti. We meet our friends from Anderson, IN who we haven’t seen in a year and a half. We grab a drink at Ruby Tuesday’s before jumping in a cab downtown to Bleeker Street, where Bob Dylan once lived.

We catch up over Sam Adams in a trendy Village bar.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Battery Park & Friends

Holiday Inn filter coffee is tasteless, but the bed is soft. They give out polystyrene to save on the washing up. We take a stroll downtown and breakfast at a Dunkin Donuts. That’s two fast food joints down. We pass ground zero and I’m surprised at how small the area is. Everyone says that apparently. The flame that never goes out is a fitting memorial; though I wonder how much gas it takes to run. Battery Park is beautiful and we watch an old man feed squirrels. Does it everyday he says as they effectively mug him, dashing for his bag when he strays more than a foot. We meet some kids collecting for their baseball team. They give us Skittles for dollars, and the cynic in me says they’re stolen, but it doesn’t matter.

We board the Staten Island Ferry with the workers, and watch the coastline expand. Lady Liberty waves and winks as we pass and I catch her pose on my camera. A delightful couple take our picture and we take theirs. I spend the rest of the crossing trying to catch seagulls with a photographic net.

We wander the island uphill and enjoy the view of Manhattan. Back in Battery Park we hit the first restaurant we see. It’s quiet and has a great view of the Statue. We trade ideas for logos, and our waiter gives us a free glass of wine at the end, we tip heavily.

I impulsively buy business cards on Broadway to advertise this blog. We visit Wall Street, check out Washington’s declaration, browse a pet shop then head back to Lafayette. We change and walk all the way to Times Square.

The walk is fantastic. Up Lafayette, past Public Theatre, Union Square, Flatiron, Empire State, and see the Chrysler stretching out to the right. Times Square makes Piccadilly Circus a poor mans neon valley, even the NYPD is all singing and dancing.

We ride the ‘N’ subway home and feel like locals.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Traveling to New York City

Black cab to Heathrow terminal 3, sixty quid. Check in three bags and the attendant doesn’t blink an eye that we’re over our economy passenger allowance of one per person. We’re there at 6.45 and the flight isn’t until 12. We find the showiest place in the terminal. Down a bacon bun shaped like a burger and a glass full of fruit salad.

The plane sits still for an hour and a half. Outside it’s snowing animal shapes whilst a man sprays a suspect yellow heating liquid over the wings. The ice thaws and the cabin crew make the safety demonstration the best ticket in town. I now know how to tie a lifejacket and inflate an emergency escape route.

I watch The Time Travelers Wife on the plane, a disappointing film of an enjoyable novel and catch only half of It Might Get Loud. It’s great to see Jimmy Page still rock out, Jack White’s epileptic guitar beatings and I now respect The Edge.

When we land customs keep us penned in for two and a half hours. I enter the US an exhausted man, but the officer said I look like DiCaprio.

‘Lafayette, Downtown Manhattan’ and we’re moving. I suspect the driver’s taking us somewhere else for ten minutes before I see my first Manhattan sign post. I’m a suspicious person. Thankfully he takes the bridge from Brooklyn, and my first sight of the Big Apple is a Christmas tree. It’s like those competitive suburban streets where the wives try to out do each other with Xmas lights, except Christmas is over. It’s a city made out of playing cards with pinpricks for the light.

My first taste of New York cuisine is a Burger King.