Sunday, August 23, 2009

Les Photos, Part Deux

I feel like being French today. Ooh là là!


To continue ...

Have you heard about what the new transportation commissioner of New York City has been doing? Her name is Janette Sadik-Khan, and although she's in charge of the New York City Department of Transportation, she's all about ... reducing transportation. From what I've read, she's more motivated by the citizens' health and pedestrian accessibility than anything else, so she's consulted heavily with urban planners in pedestrian-friendly cities like Copenhagen to redesign how the roads are used here. The first big project happened this summer: Traffic lanes were closed along Broadway in both Times Square and in the shopping district around Macy's, and tables and chairs were put in the middle of the street. The idea is that if you create lanes for cars, then cars will come to fill them; six-lane expressways around major metropolitan areas do not cut down on traffic. Likewise, if you take away those lanes, the drivers will acclimate. As far as I can tell — although I don't drive here — the rerouting has gone relatively smoothly. The biggest concern was for shop owners in terms of how they were going to get their deliveries by truck. I don't know how that's working out.

This being New York City, it's going to take a while for these pedestrian plazas to become beautiful, so the chairs in the middle of Broadway are just place-holders until the redesign is made permanent. Meaning, the chairs are ... lawn chairs. And this being New York City, many of the lawn chairs were stolen pretty much out of the gate.

In June, Josh and I went to Times Square to check out the scene. And you know this is a big deal because people who live in New York never go to Times Square. Not even under extreme physical duress. Feh.

We couldn't stop laughing. The look of it was so bizarre, but we love the idea. And I'm amused by the thought of tourists walking around midtown with Belgian waffle–like imprints on the backs of their thighs.

In mid-June, my friend Kristina Riggle's first novel, Real Life & Liars, came out. I just finished it and couldn't stop crying. It's a beautiful, beautiful book and you should go buy it and read it and love it, and then tell the good readers in your life to do the same.

Anyway, the day it came out, I headed to Barnes & Noble in Union Square to pick it up. I decided it needed to be put in its rightful place of prominence:

This is what it's like to try to do freelance work in my house:

This is the kind of thing you see all too rarely nowadays on the streets of New York:

The hot dog weighed 150 pounds. These guys had walked it all the way from where they bought it down in Chinatown, up more than 60 blocks past the Port Authority (where I took this photo) and were heading over to their house in ... New Jersey.

Me: What are you going to do with it?
Hot Dog Guy #1: We have a barbecue area in our backyard. It's gonna go there.
Me: You know what this means. You have to get a matching giant jar of pickles. And, like, a burger.
Hot Dog Guy #2: We already found the burger. That's next.

My birthday was June 27. I'm 35. Thirty-five! Thirty-five. Thirty-five! When the hell did that happen?!? Anyway, Josh planned a lovely day on Governors Island. Governors Island sits in New York Harbor right at the tip of Manhattan, near downtown Brooklyn and within spitting distance of the Statue of Liberty. For years it was an Army and Coast Guard base, and then went unused. Eventually, the city of New York bought it from the government for $1 and the island has slowly been turned into parkland and gallery and entertainment space. Right now it's just a really lovely green space with historical homes, buildings and forts and shady trees to lie underneath. And there's a mini-golf course.

It was a damn miracle we could go. I don't know where you live, but our summer has sucked in terms of weather — there has been no summer to speak of because it's either pissing rain or steaming hot and humid — and in the month of June alone it rained something like 25 days. As luck would have it, June 27 was gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous. So we took advantage.

The Fulton Ferry Landing and Brooklyn Bridge:

The plants and flowers on Governors Island were incredible. Huge and lush. These hydrangeas were the size of bowling balls.

Inside the former home of an admiral, this safe was installed into a wall, and on the front of the safe was the combination.

Stuck to the back wall inside the safe was this Post-it:

Apparently, Bill and Ted also think Governors Island is awesome.

I covet these bookcases:

We spent our last hour lying on a bedsheet on a lawn surrounded by chatting visitors and beautiful old homes.

After taking the ferry back to Brooklyn, we walked around the DUMBO neighborhood (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass; don't ask). It has always been an industrial area and has become more gentrified in recent years, with delicious restaurants, hopping bars, good shopping and condos popping up. It's making the neighborhood unaffordable, of course, but that's the nature of the city. There are so few pockets that are affordable anymore.

We wandered into the P.S. Bookstore, which was heaven. Really well organized, a good selection, comfortable and not stuffy, and look! A Hebrew section!

On the way out, I saw this:

Holy moly, that book was my youth. When I was in elementary school, there were two books I repeatedly checked out of the library: this one, and On Stage, Please by Veronica Tennant. I was obsessed with ice skaters and ballerinas when I was little, and the fact that this book gave a close-up look at the life of an ice skater, well, I was beside myself every time I read it. I was later thrilled to find that Katherine Healy, the skater in the Jill Krementz book, starred in the 1982 Dudley Moore/Mary Tyler Moore film Six Weeks. She died in it. Alas.

And I was too young to appreciate it then, but Jill Krementz was married to Kurt Vonnegut. It was meant to be that I own this book. I picked it up off the shelf.

It cost $82.

I did not buy the book. Alas alas.

We were in such a zone while we were in the bookstore that we didn't realize it had rained. We came out to this:

It was a helluva birthday.

The next day, we headed back to DUMBO for dinner. Between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, there are both a farmers' market and Brooklyn Flea, a huge, excellent flea market.

It makes me sad that radishes are flavorless, because they're so damn pretty:

I'm kind of loving the yellow shoes on the left:

In mid-July, I went to California. This vacation was stellar. It was Bass's first birthday, so I knew I'd be heading up to San Francisco to celebrate with Stacy, but it had been a long time since I'd been to L.A., and I have friends and family I hadn't seen in a long, long time who live there. Let me say this: I hate L.A. But I used to go a lot when I was a kid to see my cousins, and as adults, our relationship has faded. I really wanted to reconnect. And my friend Mark now has two children who I'd never met and I just thought, Enough. So thank god for Virgin America, because I flew from New York to L.A. to San Francisco and back to New York for $400. Recession, you rule!

My mom met me in L.A. so she could see her family too. We rented a car and ended up with a ... Chrysler PT Cruiser.

My dad had a PT Cruiser. It was black. We called it The Hearse. And not only did it look like a hearse, but the blind spots were so huge that you couldn't see behind you and your chances of dying increased thirtyfold. But the two of us, we two ladies, we showed L.A. how it's done in our ... PT Cruiser. Awwww, yeahhhh ...

We immediately headed to Van Nuys to see my mom's aunt Shirley, who is turning 101 in October. My mom's cousin Debbie was there, as was Debbie's sister, Susan, Susan's husband, Michael, and their son Damion, who is a year younger than me. I was close with Damion when we were kids but I hadn't seen him since Lauren's bat mitzvah in 1997. Seeing him in L.A. in July with his beautiful wife (who's pregnant!), Elisa, was better than I even hoped. It was just excellent. Last time I hung out with him in L.A., it was his bar mitzvah, during which I snuck away and French-kissed one of his friends in a phone booth. I was such a floozy.

Santa Monica:

I spent the next two nights at my friend Mark's house. Mark lives in Pasadena with his wife, Asha, and their two kids. Mark and I used to work together at an advertising agency in Warren, Michigan, right after I graduated from college. I hadn't seen him in, I think, three years, and I think the main reason why I had to visit him in California was because I needed to actually see him with two children to believe it. So much can happen in three years, and there's a slight suspension of disbelief when you're communicating solely over phone and e-mail, I think. But they're all doing great and it was just a really, really nice visit. I shared a bedroom with their 2-year-old son, Callan, who woke me up in the morning by reaching through the slats of his crib and tickling the bottoms of my feet. It was maybe the cutest thing that had ever happened to me.

Mark took me to Huntington Gardens, these tremendous, unbelievably beautiful botanical gardens in Pasadena. Oh my god.

Mark insisted on taking a picture of me in front of a cluster of prickly phalluses. And yet he still wondered why I couldn't get my head around the fact that he has two children.

I loved that it was 100,000 degrees in southern California and the middle of July, but flowers were still blooming:

The Huntington Garden also has an impressive art museum and a print archive that has texts you wouldn't believe. Isaac Newton books actually owned by Sir Isaac Newton! A Gutenberg Bible! Mark and I both really love Edward Hopper, so we took a bunch of photos of this painting for Mark's iPhone screen saver until the security guard yelled at us.

Mark and Asha were planning one of their children's birthday parties, so Mark and I went to Party City to scope out what they had. He came up with some ideas for the party, but even more valuable was what we found that was totally unrelated to the party.

Like this:

I just don't know that it bodes well for any couple that the bride's arms are ripped off.

And this:

The most miserable-looking couple ever.

Nothing gives a cake more meaning than sacrilegious candle packaging:

And then there was this:

Me: Why is Jewy stationery always so maudlin? We're the chosen people! Why can't we have invitations in colors other than blue, white and silver?
Mark: That's not so bad, I just don't know about the wording.
Me: "Please Join Us."
Mark: It's more like, Please join us. Be one of us.
Me: It's not like we need an invitation for that. We'll take anybody.
Mark: Yeah, but doesn't converting take forever? You have to take classes and stuff.
Me: Yeah, that's true. And if you're not circumcised yet ...
Mark: Forget that.
Me: Yes.

Up in Marin County, Stacy found out she had a few days off from work coming to her, so she planned three of the most excellent days for us. We spent the first afternoon in San Francisco. I've spent a total of maybe three hours in the city in my life, and Stacy hasn't spent much time there since moving to Marin, so we were both really excited and had the hardest time ruling out places to go.

One of the many cool things about where Stacy lives is that you can take a ferry into the city. It's a beautiful ride, and on a ferry, you're not stuck on a bridge when The Big One hits. And all I can think of when I'm in San Francisco is earthquakes, so this was much appreciated.

I took a picture of San Quentin for Josh because he likes crime. Say hello to Scott Peterson, everybody!

Hi, Scott Peterson!

The Bay Bridge

Being the tourists we were, when we got off the ferry, we climbed onto a cable car and headed straight for Chinatown. I've lived in New York and London; Stacy's lived in Jerusalem, New York and Chicago. And just like that, with one act of tourism cliché, all our street cred — gone. We didn't care. It was great fun.

In front of the City Lights bookshop

Another tourism rite of passage: Stacy and I walked up this hill:

At the top of the hill was a cable car. We took that to another tourism rite of passage, Fisherman's Wharf.

It should be noted that on that day, Stacy and I managed to take the worst picture we've ever taken together. It took 29 years to do it, and whoo boy, did we make up for the lag. It will not be posted here, but trust: It's heinous.

We capped the day with dim sum and a slow walk through the truly excellent ferry building. We hopped on the boat and headed back to Marin in time for my acupuncture appointment. I'd never done acupuncture before but I've needed holistic assistance with my very moody stomach, and it was fabulous. It was relaxing and fascinating and terribly helpful, and I'd recommend it for anybody.

This was in the waiting area:

The next day, we drove out to Point Reyes National Seashore. It's so beautiful out there. It's just a giant, giant area with mountains and redwoods and fields and animal preserves and small towns and the ocean. The air is clean, the sun is bright, the fog wraps itself around you like a blanket.... It's ridiculous.

This was an old creamery adjacent to an elk preserve:

We went hiking, first toward the end point that juts into the water, and then down a slope to the ocean.

That night we saw the latest Harry Potter, and happiness was felt by all.

Stacy wanted to plan a day for my birthday present, and holy crap, did she ever. We woke up that Friday morning and drove up to Sonoma, which, gorgeous. She said she knew I'm not into wine, so she thought of what we could do in terms of fun Sonoma tastings. And then she found the Wild Flour Bread bakery. When she first told me about it, she sent me an e-mail with a link to the Web site, and I wanted to eat it. So it was safe to think this was a really good idea. She thought we'd start the day there, tasting different kinds of breads and bringing home some snacks for her husband, Mark, and his friend in from out of town, Julia.

When we walked in, I wanted to lie down on the floor and sleep there forever. The smell was divine.

They allow you to taste the available breads, which we did heartily. We ended up buying three kinds for us:

A sticky bun bigger than my head

A chocolate, lavender and apple scone that was so light, the strongest flavor was the lavender

And the three-cheese fougasse, which also has hints of garlic and rosemary, and why do I want to say mushroom? Anyway, amazing.

The smell alone was perfection, but then we drove down the road to Osmosis Day Spa, and really, how could the day get any better? Well I'll tell you. It got better. Osmosis is known for their Cedar-Enzyme Bath, which is a large square tub filled with cedar shavings and hundreds of different kinds of enzymes that, combined with your body temperature, creates heat. It's a dry steam bath, no water at all. You climb into this thing and it's soft and cushy, and the Osmosis therapist piles the cedar around you to your comfort. It's the most comfortable blanket feeling I've ever experienced. You stay in for 10 or 20 minutes, and then you shower off and are taken to a meditation room, where you lie on a bed, put on headphones, and they pipe in relaxing music for 30 minutes. After that, still smelling like cedar and fougasse, we got dressed and spent some time in the beautiful meditation garden, where giant orange dragonflies buzzed around the pond.

In the locker room when we got dressed, Stacy opened her bag where she had stowed the bread she was bringing home, obviously not wanting to leave it in the hot car, and looked worried.

Stacy: Oh no. I made the whole locker room smell like bread.
Me: You say that like it's a bad thing.
Stacy: True.
Me: It smells delicious.

We had lunch in Occidental, a western town that time forgot. We drove the Bohemian Highway. We bought pluots and cherries at a fruit stand manned by a woman whose daughter usually runs it; it's how her daughter is financing her college education.

I don't even know what to say about that day. It was absurd. Driving around some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever taken in with my oldest friend, eating bread and spa-going and buying local fruit and homemade pies ... It was the perfect day. The perfect perfect day. Every two minutes I kept saying, "I don't believe this. This is ridiculous. You live here." I felt like I'd been there for a month, I was so relaxed.

And then, of course, the most important part of the whole visit: Stacy's son, Bass, turned 1 that Saturday. She organized a really lovely party in a local park, and her friends and all their babies came. It was a riot. I hadn't seen Bass since last summer, when he was 2 months old, and it's really spectacular to see a kid grow and change like that. He's on the verge of walking, he very enthusiastically says "Bye!" and he made his first art project. He's such a cool kid.

Bass's bass cake, made from individual cupcakes that were iced as one cake on top — genius:

Bass has a friend who has the best barrettes. I met her at a farmers' market picnic, where she was wearing a knit watermelon one. This is her party cupcake:

Stacy very brilliantly, for party favors, bought a bunch of bouncy rubber balls for the kids that were a huge hit. She brought a big basket for them. Bass most enjoyed taking the basket with the balls in it and dumping it over his head.

It was both hilarious and awesome.

My last morning, Stace took me to a huge farmers' market in San Anselmo. It was unbelievable. Row after row of flowers, produce, pickles, homemade lotions and juices; handmade purses and belts and picture frames; trucks with fish and pizza and breakfast food and meats. All locally grown and made. The produce in California is superior to anywhere.

These were the biggest blackberries I've ever seen:

This is Chinese zucchini:

As glorious as the sunlight was in California (especially since it's been grey as smoke here all summer), it's unfortunate it was so bright when I took this photo, because the electric purple color of the zucchini was stunning and you can't really tell with the glare in the picture. I never knew a color like that purple could exist in nature.

And then I went home, sad to leave and totally content from the perfect visit. It's been a loss of a summer for the most part, so posting these photos has actually reminded me that I actually did do something like leave the house and, uh, experience things. This week, Josh and I are off to Fire Island where we'll be watching some mad waves from the remnants of Hurricane Bill and breathing in some ocean air.

Beyond that, after not having watched a second of TV since May, I'm alarmed by my date book, which is filled with the premieres of fall TV shows. I think I'm becoming that person, but I don't think I'm wrong in believing that life is always better when Dexter is on.

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