Friday, July 18, 2014

Coney Island

I've been meaning to visit Coney Island for years for basically two reasons. 

Reason #1 was to pay homage to the original Nathan's hot dog stand on the corner of Surf and Stillwell, the subject of numerous hot dog shows and my personal favorite brand in the grocery store for many years. I used to make them in a skillet with Wolf brand no-beans chili (seemingly only available in the South - I have to order it by the case from Amazon if I want it now), shredded cheddar and diced white onions.

Reason #2 was being inspired by Kacey's Coney Island Playwright Competition that she raised money for a few years ago. I think I pledged about $100 at one of the fundraising events at Papacookie. She made it sound like such a magical place, full of mystery and adventure. Since it's a direct subway ride from TSMC, there's really no excuse for it to have taken this long to visit.

So when my friends Chris and Bruce came in this past weekend from Harrisburg for a visit to celebrate my birthday and Bruce said he wanted to sample the most authentic New York style pizza, I saw a chance to cross a few things off my bucket list. Puck was also in town, so the four of us went out Sunday to visit the fabled playground on the shore.

I was surprised how close everything is to the train station - the famous original Nathan's is only one block from the station. In retrospect, we probably could have skipped breakfast before the 50 minute subway ride out there, because we didn't have much appetite for more than one dog apiece. But oh! was that a delicious hot dog! I also got some fried clams and Chris and Bruce ordered fries. But it's great that we got to eat them outside on a beautiful summer day, which also happened to be a day with small crowds (since it had only been a week since the insanity of July 4th).

After our first lunch, we took a walk down the boardwalk, and Chris and Puck indulged their craving for funnel cake.

We turned around and walked the other direction to the parachute tower and walked out to the very end of the fishing pier, where I took some pictures of the shore. Kacey's dad saw them on Facebook and stitched two of the shots together to form this beautiful panorama that is now my desktop background at work and cover photo on Facebook. I like it better than any of the postcards I saw for sale, but then why wouldn't I?

We stopped in the Coney Island Museum and were pleasantly surprised by the experience. We were the only visitors for most of the time we were there, and there was a guide named Jay who told us lots of stories about the history of the area and the ride and attractions that were on exhibit. It was especially interesting to me because I have been reading "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen, which takes place in a Depression-era train circus, and I just finished the book today. It was a really worthwhile visit and once again, I marveled at how uncrowded it was that day. Truly, I might make this an annual thing on my birthday weekend.

After the museum we went to fulfill Bruce's desire for authentic New York style pizza by visiting Totonno, the oldest continuously operating pizza parlor in New York, for our second lunch. It was actually very reasonably priced, with a large pizza being only $18 and we got half cheese, half pepperoni. It didn't quite have the same impact for me as Frank Pepe's that Puck and I visited last year in New Haven ("9th birthday" - July 16, 2013) but it was a good pizza. Plus the walls of Totonno are lined with all sorts of interesting news articles and memorabilia, so it was a nice atmosphere as well.

On the way back to the train station we stopped at an Asian bakery for some dessert cakes and bubble tea, which hit the spot and once again, we were the only patrons in the dining room, which was nice. All my needless fretting about Coney Island crowds was for naught. So this is the secret to visiting Coney Island - go right after the big holiday weekend.

Here's a picture of the handstamp from the museum - it's a hot dog mermaid - just to remember this beautiful day of food, fair weather and friends.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

July 4th and High Line anniversary

I had a really memorable Fourth of July weekend, although I really didn't do too much. Puck came through the city on Wednesday night and stayed over, which was a rare treat. Thursday night I didn't get an early dismissal, but I had plenty of work to keep me busy.

Friday I made one of my bourbon bread puddings for a party in Bushwick that Liz invited me and Victoria to, a gathering of former theater friends and professional chefs. Their apartment was on the fourth floor of a building that seemed to lean a little to the left, but needless to say, the food was amazing - homemade pastrami carved off the bone; pulled pork, mango and cilantro tacos; grits with bacon and cheese; corn on the cob with a cheese and mayonnaise spread; raw oysters; and barbecued lamb ribs with yogurt sauce and mint. Plus, Liz made a mixed berry pie to go with my bread pudding for dessert.

The roof was set up with lights and a sound system, along with the barbecue pit and a beer keg. I had what they called an orange crush - fresh squeezed orange juice, orange flavored vodka and Sprite. The three of us kept diluting our drinks with Sprite since they were made with so much vodka - I pretty much drank one and half of them all night (Victoria didn't want to finish hers so I helped her out).

The apartment is about two or three blocks away from Kacey's old place where Lourdes still lives, across the street from this very pretty building off the J line at the Kosciuszko Street stop.

Our hosts shot off a lot of fireworks, and we could see many other going off all around us from other Brooklyn rooftops. We were too far from the Macy's fireworks show on the East River to see much of it over the buildings, but it was fun to see our own up close. Sometimes the wind was so strong it would blow over the cardboard tube launcher after the fuse was lit, so we had a couple go off on the roof, which was a little more excitement than we bargained for.

Saturday I spent most of the day shopping for dresses for my party this weekend. I was very fortunate to find a nice one at The Rack that will probably be the one I'll wear. It's a Adrianna Papell white wrap dress with a Tiffany-inspired stained glass floral pattern. On Sunday I cleaned the apartment in preparation for Chris and Bruce's visit, and then in the evening I joined Liz and Andrea for dinner and to see Andrea's roommate perform in a one-woman play, "The Other Mozart" about the life of Mozart's older sister.

Monday night I met Kacey up on the High Line to celebrate the three-year anniversary of our first meeting there, which was for me the start of our friendship after our meeting on Easter Sunday in 2011. We've never celebrated this anniversary before, but I had a mind to do it because as the years have gone by, I've come to realize what a milestone this event was in my life.

Meeting Kacey was really the start of creating the intentional family I have around me. Along with Puck and combined with meeting and becoming friends with Piper in February that same year at Wicked Faire, they have become my closest friends, and in the process, led me to meet other people who have also become part of my inner circle and many others who touch my life in all sorts of wonderful ways.

So Kacey and I had a nice long visit of about three-and-a-half hours, walking back and forth from 14th Street to the northern terminus at 33rd Street, talking about our history and the events of the past year. She shared her stories about her trip to Prague and Vienna. We talked quite a bit about our past relationships and created an intimate space by kicking off our shoes and facing each other on a bench in the middle of the trees surrounding the flyover bridge. Sometimes when the circumstances warrant, we can be very intense with each other. Other times it's more relaxed. But we continue to find new things about our friendship that makes it unique and nourishing in our lives.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Winter's Tale

I just finished reading Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale for the second time. It's one of those magical books, like Charles de Lint's The Little Country or Keith Donohue's The Stolen Child, that represent the kind of fanciful work that form the cornerstones of my new life. They are examples of beauty and wonder that Tara's influence instilled in me and continues to guide my path.

So it is with some trepidation that I consider the home video release of the movie version of this much-beloved work, starring Colin Firth and Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay, along with A Beautiful Mind alums Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly. I missed this movie in theaters last year, partly because I wanted to finish re-reading the book first, and I'm glad I did. This is one of the densest, most evocative books I've ever read, and challenges even my prodigious vocabulary to the limit. So the second reading was much more enjoyable than the first time I slogged through it several years ago.

The movie has gotten really awful reviews from critics, and many negative reviews from viewers as well. Liz told me that the word is that the movie ran out of budget and had to be wrapped up hastily, which might account for plotlines being dropped. For a time, I had despaired that I should even try to watch the movie at all, since I would rather not witness this magical story sullied by a poorly executed adaptation.

However, I've been reading the Amazon product page for the Blu Ray of the movie, and the reviews are surprisingly skewed to the positive, with 57 five-star and 21 four-star reviews to just 16 one-star and 5 two-star reviews. And reading some of the positive reviews, I wonder if this is one of those movies that simply got trampled by a mob mentality of negativity.

For example:

I'm not sure why this movie did so poorly in theaters -- bad release timing? critics who came in expecting one thing and got another? -- but it's far more enjoyable than Rotten Tomatoes might lead one to believe. It was hyped as a romance, which it is, but it's more about the power of love in general across generations and how we don't always get the miracles we want, but we sometimes get miracles nonetheless. The performances are moving and the visuals are beautiful. - Michelle Erica Green

Keep in mind, this film is predominantly about Love. Capital L. Love in the highest sense of the word.
Not only the romance that occurs between the two leading characters.
There's more than meets the eye if you look closer. Nothing is without meaning.

Some films may be read like poetry - the smallest nuance being as vital to the whole
as what's blazing on the surface. This one has "layers" of stories within the story.
Some are obvious: the slips and bends of time, the impact of historic places, crossed destinies,
good versus evil, mystery over certainty, the universal longing for love in a world where death
should not triumph. Other aspects are far more secretive and delicate, better left to
individual interpretation.

A person biased against poetry will miss the treasure of the most exquisite poem.
The fault-finding critic will relentlessly find something to pick apart, be it in movie or book.
The particular audience this movie appeals to, the open-hearted viewer, will find
the light and beauty within ~ no matter what anyone else says or doesn't say. 

A touching, deeply memorable film. - Harmony C. Adkins

In a comment to her original review, Ms. Adkins also writes:

Like any movie, it's not for everyone. Even director Akiva Goldsman, in an interview with Vanity Fair, said 17-year-olds would leave the cinema saying "What was that?" Basically, the more you've lived, the more people you've loved & lost, the more thoughtful your perspective, the deeper your emotional experience of life, the more likely you are to find something meaningful in it. 

So given all this, I've reconsidered avoiding the movie and I'm going to give it a try. I'll invite friends to see it with me because I know I have some friends who feel the same way about such works. I have no illusions that it will be a perfect movie, but given all the negative reviews, I just want to approach it with an open mind and an open heart. I have no expectations, but my hope is that I become one of those five-star reviewers who falls under its spell and becomes so captivated by the movie that they feel the need to contradict its many naysayers.