New York, New York: The Land Of Milk & Roses

Fireworks Over Williamsburg Bridge

A few years ago, I decided that Sundays were going to be a day free of rules, with one exception: that I could not work.  On Sundays, I do whatever I want, eat whatever I want, and blow off any and all responsibilities I don’t feel like dealing with.  This generally means that on Sundays I am found surrounded by pillows, reading and drinking tea (or wine) in some beach-y, stretchy clothing with my dog napping on my lap.

In my mind, a vacation should feel like one really long Sunday.  It absolutely has to be characterized by quiet, delicious lazing around (even better if it involves a pool or beach) or else I end up feeling robbed of my hard-earned right to relax.  The problem is that when you’ve invested money and time to transport yourself somewhere, you feel obliged to, um, see and do things.

I need to solve this dilemma once and for all and buy myself a beach house in the middle of nowhere so there is nothing to see but the sunset and nothing to do but read, eat, swim or nap.

The fact of the matter is that I had specifically chosen a sweltering, urban landscape as the backdrop for a summer getaway, so damn it, I was going to get spiritual and use this as an opportunity to find my sense of inner peace.  It was a good challenge.

Whereas being in nature is naturally rejuvenating, navigating the complex, cramped subway system in New York while choking back the smell of sweat wafting on waves of 30-degree air is not.  The whole city smelled like four-day-old Big Macs rotting in garbage bins.

I wanted to find something to do that was uniquely New York, but still kind of relaxing.  Where could I sit and do nothing, yet still take the city’s energy in?

I gave Blue Note jazz club a whirl, but the mirrors and décor were far more “cheap resort” than “world renowned jazz club”.  I have been known to get on board with shabby chic when it’s done right, but this place was an outright tourist trap.  My advice: don’t order any food, or many drinks – both were terrible and disgustingly overpriced.  We probably would have considered the $35 tickets a rip off as well were it not for the surprise appearance of flautist Dave Valentin.  Never before have I seen anyone so desperately in need of being in the spotlight; he twitched and scuttled from side to side uncomfortably whenever the audience’s focus shifted away from him for even a moment.  You forgave him for being so needy though because he was really good.  I have now seen two woodwind shows in one month (I also saw a solo gig by saxophonist Colin Stetson recently), so I may be evolving into someone with sophisticated musical taste.

I am ashamed to say that I missed Canada Day celebrations for the first time in my life, but I guess I made up for it (sort of) by participating in a sparkling and festive rooftop 4th of July party.   If only there had been a little less blue mixed in with the red and white…

I was hoping to design a relaxing picnic plus fireworks experience, but I soon discovered that there is no such thing in Manhattan on 4th of July weekend.  All of the green spaces along the water were closed thanks to the citywide Americana and holiday hubbub.  I had tried to scout out some nature in the form of a “lake” in Prospect Park a couple of days earlier, but after spending hours trying to manoeuvre the stuffy, cramped subway, I stood in pained disappointment before a cesspool of fleshy, floating garbage lapping against gravel and tar.  All I could think was, we’re not in Canada anymore, Toto.

Blessed am I that I have friends of friends with a rooftop patio right on Broadway in the heart of Williamsburg.  From there, we could see not only Macy’s dazzling array of 40,000 fireworks, but also the other smaller fireworks displays crackling on the horizon above Brooklyn and Queens.  It was a truly magical night, and I left with a newfound appreciation for all of the possibilities a city like New York offers.  The glittering skyline was endless, unapologetic, and triumphant.  On that particular evening, it seemed to be daring me to achieve something equally huge and magnificent.

But first, let’s get back to delicious, cozy lazing about.

Milk & Roses

One of places where I felt most at home was Milk & Roses café in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (look for the unforgettable tuba hanging outside).  The walls behind the bar are lined with books and fine wine, and the café’s centerpiece is a well-loved grand piano.  After spending a couple of afternoons there, I realized that perhaps I felt so at home because this place felt strangely similar to my living room.

The café was opened just over a year ago by a husband and wife team (Tommaso Mazzoni and Helena Yelovich, from Italy and Pennsylvania, respectively) who met on a New York subway train.  The design-savvy pair transformed what was once a dingy kitchenette into a whimsical, lavender-scented library bar complete with a lantern-lit garden (where you will even find outlets for your laptop).  It’s true: there was once a rule posted on the door that laptops were not allowed after dark, but owner Tommaso has given in to the pleading eyes of creative work-at-homers like me who couldn’t possibly find a better place in the city to attempt productivity in public.  When I ask him about the missing notice about the laptop ban (which I had seen on a visit there last year) he throws his hands up and says, “Do as you please, and God bless you!”  For Tommaso, the café has always been about socializing.  Guests who understand this are treated like friends, greeted with his signature Italian hospitality and sometimes, even a little cheese and prosciutto.

Speaking of edibles, there are two other tasty treats in Brooklyn that should not be missed.  First off, the Peruvian chicken with flaming green chili sauce at Pio Pio Riko (it was so good, I actually ate it twice in one week), and secondly, People’s Pops which come in scrumptious flavours like blueberry chai and rhubarb chamomile.  These artisanal popsicles can be found every Saturday at Brooklyn Flea (Fort Greene) and are made with fresh, local fruit.

I didn’t just eat on this trip, I swear.  I tried to explore some historic and literary sights in the city as well, including Dave Eggers inspired writing centre, 826 NYC .  I don’t want to start a sibling rivalry here, but 826 Valencia in San Francisco is way better.  The Brooklyn branch sells “superhero supplies”, but the displays were just a bunch of boxes (you couldn’t see what was inside), whereas 826 Valencia’s pirate supply store was interactive and much more fun to visit.  826 NYC did have a secret passageway leading into the kids’ writing room, though, and a wall of photos of all of their members wearing goofy glasses, which was pretty awesome.

My visit to Library Way was meant to lead me straight to the New York Public Library, but as it turned out, universal forces pulled me on a detour to have my future told by the mystical Julieanna. Aside from answering her cell phone multiple times during our session (which, even given her snazzy crystal collection, made me question her overall cosmic-ness), she was one of the best psychics I have ever met.  She was highly opinionated and specific, which are risky traits for someone trying to appeal to anyone and everyone walking in off East 41st street.

Julianna Palm & Tarot

I  cannot reveal the many wonders that she expressed during my palm and tarot card readings, but I will say that the term “soul mate” was used.  I hope her prediction that my life will be very long is an accurate one, because I will definitely need to go back to New York someday to see more of its many sights.

One important mission in particular remains incomplete: singing Alicia Keys at Papacito’s karaoke night.  We will definitely have to meet again, New York.