Favourite New York places.

I spend quite a lot of time thinking about New York City. Probably WAY too much time. Whenever I am working on the computer, by mind turns toward New York. That started when I was working at Chapters Inc. and spent lots of time doing orders and inventory on the computer. I was freshly returned from your stint in The Bronx and my heart and head were still there. While sorting through lists of audio tapes and software to order, I would be riding the express bus from our apartment to 52nd Street, in my head.

Since I won’t be crossing the border any time soon, all my visiting is done vicariously via friends who do and online. Unfortunately, my “head trips to New York” are starting to fade.

Here are some of my favourite places… at least the ones still around. Some of them have gone already.

City Island…

Formerly the home of oystercatchers and shipbuilders, City Island, located in the far reaches of the Bronx, still retains its small-town atmosphere while hosting thousands of visitors from the rest of the Bronx and from Queens and Brooklyn. I would wager that fish restaurants almost outnumber the people living on the island. The choice of menu ranges from the very cheap at the Reef Restaurant at #2 City Island Avenue, where you can sit out on the patio, eat, and watch the ships go by (always my choice since it was a block from home and the food was great); to Portofino and The Crab Shanty – for late-night take-out Sammy’s Fish Box is open until the wee small hours on Thursday to Saturday).

City Island has a respectable number of small gift shops, galleries, and antique shops. Sadly, Mooncurser records, my favourite is gone. I was in nodding acquaintance with Roger Roberge (then almost 80), the somewhat crusty owner who was always either ensconced in a rocking chair in the shop or on the sidewalk outside the shop. Mooncurser was was arguably the world’s smallest record shop with the world’s largest collection of records and sheet music (Reckoned at over 12,000 songsheets and 100,000 records. And, no, not a single CD or cassette!).  You could have gone in blindfolded, picked something randomly from the shelf and it would be a gem of a recording. I just wish I had more money while I was living there. I’d have bought a LOT more. As it was, my Tom Lehrer record will serve as my reminder of one of the world’s greatest record stores of all time. Roberge died at age 86 in 2004, the business was sold to someone else, but finally closed in 2006.

Mooncurser records via stupefaction

Toroya… I am stricken! Whenever I was in Manhattan and I had some spare money, I would stop in at Toroya, the Japanese tea room and gift shop. I ALWAYS bought some wagashi (Japanese sweets). Alas, Toroya, at least the New York locations, are closed “temporarily”, leaving not a single North American outlet for these amazing confections.  Toroya had been supplier of confections to the Imperial family since at least the 16th century.

There were seasonal collections of sweets and ones which were available year round.

While perhaps not appealing to North American tastes, Japanese confections are less sweet. Rather than being sugar-based, they depend on sweetness coming from ingredients such as bean paste. They are lighter and incredibly beautiful. My absolute favourite was one called “Wakabakage” (Under the shade of spring leaves) which resembles a Koi in a pond. The one below is a little more “cartoon-is” than the ones they had at Toroya.

Wakabakage

The GOOD news is that there are other Japanese confectionery shops in the New York area… Minamoto Kitchoan and Mitsuwa Marketplace (in New Jersey)!

Leekan Designs… An amazing shop which, amongst other things, has a terrific selection of antique and contemporary beads.

The Cloisters… The Cluny Museum in Paris and The Cloisters in New York are my two favourite museums in the world. If you go to The Cloisters for no other reason than to sit in the Medieval Garden on a hot Summer day or a rainy Spring afternoon, The Cloisters are a must. But there is so much more to see. The Cloisters houses Metropolitan Museum’s Medieval European art and architecture collections. Some of the highlights are the triptych “Robert Campin and Workshop“, “The Annunciation” by Hans Memling, and the tapestry “The Unicorn in Captivity”. The Cloisters is hidden away in Fort Tryon Park but is accessible by bus, subway, car, and on foot.

"Robert Campin and Workshop"

Union Square Greenmarket… I used to love heading down to the farmer’s market in Union Square (handy to the Union Square Barnes & Noble!). Aside from the fresh produce, I bought wool for the knitting that kept me busy because I couldn’t work. The market is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 8-6 (10-4 from December to June). They also have weekly events and special events, including cooking demonstrations, recycling drives, and lots, lots more! The website lists the various vendors and their products and their schedules. Want Emu eggs, goat, vegan products, or seafood? It’s all there!

Fishs Eddy… I LOVED this store! Floor to ceiling dishes, lassware, salt and pepper shakers, platters, condiment servers, trays… the list is endless., not to mention the bushel baskets of flatwear… Everything from plain white to “blueplate special” dishware, melamine, glass, toile, all sorts of sturdy home cooking-style dinnerware. I found my blue glass salt and pepper shakers there.

Kate’s Paperie… Paper and paper goods galore.

AKN Fabrics.. Stunning array of African fabrics, batiks, and Osikani prints, embroidered fabrics. I LOVED IT!

Of course, many of the places that I loved that are now gone. In New York, places come and go really quickly… in a “New York minute”. There were places I went to a few times and the next time I went to buy something I had been looking at and they were gone.

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Christmas present.

One of my Christmas presents this year was was a great book of photographs, called “Gotham Remembered: Manhattan in the Nineteen Seventies“. It’s by one of my favourite photographers, Harry Bonham Houchins. Yeah, yeah… i am a “tiny bit” biased since he is my brother but I’d love his work even if  I hated his guts (which I don’t — hate his guts, I mean).

Harry has worked in a variety of photographic mediums. I can recall being in his darkroom working on some of his Dichromate photography, back in the 1980s, when I visited him for the first time (long story… Papa was a rolling stone) and his taking photos with his view camera (can’t recall now what format, Sandy. Fill me in) when we went up to BC to visit our Dad.

Harry grew up in New York City. The photos in his book were taken during a six month period in, as the title states, the 1970s.

“Déjà vu on Caillabotte Street” Harry Bonham Houchins

"42nd Street" Harry Bonham Houchins

My first visit to New York City was in 1975, during the height of the garbage Strike, just a few years later than the period the photos were taken in the slide towards the bankruptcy that brought about the strike. I visited again in the 1978 or 1979 — the Punk-era graffito-ed Big Apple and finally living in, pre-9/11, the Bronx. But I always felt that I should have been born there. For years I thought I had been conceived there when my Mom was living there with Harry’s and my father, in Greenwich Village. Mom said shattered that belief when she told me that I wasn’t a gleam in my parent’s eyes for at least another year, after they married and Dad moved back up to Ottawa where Mom was living before her hiatus in NYC. I’m not sure which was more traumatic, finding out that I wasn’t a product of New York or not conceived out-of-wedlock.

So to say that New York holds a fascination for me is and understatement. I love the history, I love the streets and I love experiencing New York through my brother’s camera.

Thanks, Sandy!

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