Friday, February 5, 2010

Salty and Satisfied

I knew I'd love New York City. And even after a knee-achin, no-snoozin-red-eye flight, I did. We arrived early early am, tired, frustrated with lost luggage, and COLD. Welcome to NYC, below freezing. Check bags at Grand Hyatt near Grand Central Station. Warm up in Starbucks--and then adrenaline kicks in. Hop on the double-decker to explore Manhattan. First stop-- Rockefeller Center. Built between 1932 and 1940 by John D. Rockefeller, is perfect,even before seven a.m. Cafes, theaters, shopping, all bustling with life. On the lower level, bundled humans glide across winter ice rink. A perimeter of world flags flap in the icy chill, the bold colors a striking contrast against the glacial floor. But the 18 degree weather keeps us from gazing too long at the skaters, or at Prometheus' golden form. Pass by NBC studios--and into the NBC store. We've got to thaw again just after a few minutes. Into Time Sqaure and a glimpse of the ever-famous New Year's Ball. Our California blood still in desperate need of a little thickening. Back out on the street...and into the M&M store. Defrost. And shop! Lots of cute stuff of a "Super Sweet" little girl

Broadway makes my heart sing. To be surrounded by so many theaters. So much talent. So many stories. Truly invigorating. Later today, it will be a hard choice as I wait in line at the TCKTS kiosk to get my discount ticket for the night. Short trip. Only one show. Unfair.

Admiring the skyline, we cruise through the streets in our double-decker. The Empire State Building. The Flatiron District--with the narrow, triangular "Flatiron" skyscraper on the intersections of Broadway, 5th, and 23rd. Surrounded inch-by-inch with history--something not in our SoCal consciousness. This famous and funky building was the city's first skyscraper, all 2o floors, built in 1902!

Heading south through East Village (where the tour guide must stay silent through neighborhoods,) we venture into Chinatown. Exit on Canal Street. Scarves, hats, and gloves are the hot items along the street. I smell a mixture of downtown traffic and a pungent spice I can't quite identify. The vendors pop up every ten feet, ready to make us a deal. And it's an offer we can't refuse. The teeth chattering-knee knocking temps leave us wanting more cloth to wrap around every square inch of our bodies. Heather has no hat, so we find THE perfect $3 beanie, like the stars had left it out just for us. Matching cashmere scarves--and we escape again into a tiny Chinese market to purchase the most important item of our trip. Hand warmers! Little packets of heat that last 13 hours! How could we have lived w/o them?

Off a few more blocks. Time to defrost in McDonald's. Listen to grand piano above (yes, in a McDonalds!) Back out on the street, braving the offshore breeze kicking up in our faces. We make it to City Hall. Take refuge in another Starbuck's, and chow down on a street-prepared falafel. Five bucks well spent. Juicy, white sauce, smothered in onions. Bellies full, we burst out into the cold.

I'm struck by the cemeteries tucked in between buildings. Three-four hundred year old burial grounds laid foot-by-foot with grave markers. Old stories of the dead. A family of tombstones gives me pause. How often do those ghosts try to absorb a transformed NYC? It's the land of lost gloves. Broken Dreams. Harsh winters. Or maybe a place of opportunity. Streets full of unleashed possibilities. History in the making.

Lower West side. We pass Ground Zero. The void leaves me empty. I imagine the crowds racing away from the clouds of dust that barreled down the street like waves that day. I am so disconnected from the reality, though, and can't even begin to imagine the tragedy. The horror of what happened. Haunted by St. Paul's chapel--the sanctuary that housed the heroes that devoted their lives to saving life after life. We're quiet.

Onto Battery Park. Wind chill numbs my lips. My nose seems to disappear. The ocean breeze is unbelievable. We greet the lady of liberty--but absolutely know it's way too cold to take a boat ride out into the harbor. Next time we'll see her face to face.

Back on the bus. Wait in line for a ticket. An hour in about 16 degrees to see NEXT TO NORMAL for $60. Will it be worth it? Back up toward Grand Central. We visit the gorgeous, old NY Public Library and happen upon a teen book club. Check out the shelves, and talk books. Off to the hotel to sit, and rest a bit.

Walk to Broadway. NEXT TO NORMAL at the Booth Theater. Small, quaint, like the Pantages here at home. Ninth row orchestra. I'm stoked. Show starts, and instantly, I'm captivated by this story of love and loss, suffering, complex relationships and the light you search for in your soul to make it through. Why did NOBODY warn me that I'd need tissue? Lots of it. Everyone in the audience is a wreck. The sniffling. The silent weeping. An emotional ride of twists and turns, surprises and unprecedented, sacred moments that tear your heart out. Whew. What a ride.

Outside, Times Square bursts with life. And I'm thankful to be alive. To feel. To breathe in color. To witness story telling and vocal performance at its finest. Yes, I'd have waited in line for many hours in 16 degree weather to see this show.

Saturday I take the subway to Greenwich Village, longing to absorb the literary and creative history. Eugene O'neil. EE Cummings. Faulkner. Steinbeck. Hemmingway. I cruise the streets for hours searching vintage clothing shops, using my internal GPS to find MacDougal St. where Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs met for coffee. Too many choices. Upstairs, downstairs, hide-away-cafes and bars all filled with life. Oregano entices my palette, Where to eat? I want hang out and write in hopes of conjuring up a literary ghost to inspire me. I finally chose a great spot. The Hummus Place. Potato soup. Hummus. White wine. Could life get any better?

Heather meets me. We toast with a glass of sangria--spiced up with anise and clove. A wonderful walk through the village complete with discussion of the worlds of our novels. We meet our friend Steve at Lombardi's--the ultimate pizza (even though I only smell, not eat, stomach on the mend.) Amazing dinner mates. Talk of travel, books, life. Off to Rice to Riches--a gourmet rice pudding joint. Fancy flavors and toppings. Heaven for me (after recently making my mom's rice pudding recipe.)

Sunday conference. Good to connect and re-inspire. Off to Central Park for an hour. Beautiful contrasts of winter's silhouetted trees and skyline. Ice rinks and snow. We meet Bailey, a Portuguese water dog who loves to hold her owner's gloves. We walk, ice-chilled air, along paths and paths, yet only touch a bit of such a grand park.

Time in NYC almost over, for now. I end with friends and literary dreams. A pretzel off the guy at the corner. I'm salty and satisfied as I head for home. I'll be back. For sure.