Monday, February 28, 2011
I started fantasizing about a trip to California after I began to notice how many songs were written about the Golden State. So many generations of artists have sung praises about California, it was hard to ignore their message and soon I too had manifest destiny and bought a ticket to LA.
Los Angeles was a city of wide roads lined with palm trees and retro signs. We drove everywhere with the windows rolled down listening to K-Day. I ate tacos every night at 2am and wore short sleeves in February. I made eyes at weight lifters on muscle beach. I decided to retire in Topanga Canyon. I SAW SNOOKI. I hiked to the Hollywood Sign and road-tripped to the desert. As we drove home from Joshua Tree, it was beneath a space-age sunset and when we passed through a field of wind mills slowly turning silhouetted by the sun dipping behind the hills I remembered the words from Led Zeppelin's Going To California, ''I wonder how tomorrow could ever follow today....''
Getting out of New York in the winter is necessary no matter where you go, but I suggest making your destination Los Angeles. Its New York City's polar opposite and its manicured appearance will be a relief for your poor eyes so used to creepy piles of dirty snow. Trudging around in winter boots can make for achy feet and being able to wear nice shoes and rest up while driving around in a car is also quite the treat. I also suggest going with friends. This way you can split the costs of things like car rentals which can be quite expensive. There is still a little winter left, so make a California play list (let me know if you need suggestions), get inspired, buy your ticket and go.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
I would just like to preface this post by saying this little jaunt would be best made in the spring or summer when the botanical gardens in full effect; however, even in the winter walking the grounds is a great way to get away from the sky scrapers and subway rumblings of the city.
We had maxed out the night before singing karaoke in Korea Town followed by a 3am round table breakfast at a local diner. Needless to say, we needed some fresh air:
Luckily you can reach the Staten Island Botanical Gardens in a car in about thirty minutes without traffic, so we were able to sleep in, brunch and head out with much of the day left.
The Gardens are on a large compound that is well marked with maps showing you how to locate its many features. There are several different areas with natural features and paths wind through a field and trees and down to a pond that is currently covered in ice.
Behind this castle wall is a maze. It was closed when we went, but looks like fun if you are into that kind of thing:
There was also a healing garden. We headed straight there as its "rumored" to be a place where Wu-Tang once sought inspiration, not to mention I think we all needed a little healing:
The Snug Harbor cultural center is also on the grounds and while we had most of the place to ourselves, the center was a hub of activity for families. Not being remotely in the kid phase of our lives, we avoided - but it seems like a great place for an outing if you are looking for something to do with your toddlers. This is vastly different from what Robert Richard Randall (the center's founder) had originally planned as he had intended it to be a “haven for aged, decrepit and worn out sailors.” I wonder where they hang out now that the place is teeming with kids.
Last but not least was this greenhouse - but we never got to see what was inside because it was locked too! We peered through the windows and it look tropical and temperate in there:
I think the consensus was this place is going to be great to revisit later in the year, maybe with a picnic lunch or a Frisbee. Highlights on our visit included jumping pictures in the field and meeting some super special dogs. We will definitely be back.
After the botanical gardens, we ate lunch at Denino's Pizzeria and dined among Staten Islanders sharing enormous Sunday feasts. We split two pies, both were perfectly cheesy, but our favorite was a broccoli rabe white pizza that had us fighting over the last slice.
Pencil this one in for the spring and bring some extra cash for a pizza party when you are through.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
This Valentine's Day I took myself on a date to Coney Island. Now that I'm waiting tables again, I am readjusting to keeping service industry hours and have found that I have a lot of solo time. Mondays are my Sundays now, so I woke this Valentine's knowing I wanted to seize my "weekend" and headed one place I knew I could have to myself: The beach.
Recently I have been really into seasonal attractions during their off-peak season. The eeriness of a beachfront town in January or a ski lift with no snow is quiet and vulnerable, like when you watch something sleep. Knowing a location is usually a hub of activity, makes having the place to yourself feel very V.I.P or like you are walking on the moon:
I walked up and down the boardwalk to a locals-only scene: old women walking tiny dogs, men on benches soaking up some vitamin D and kids being pushed in strollers. So normal was the scene, it almost felt like Coney Island was thumbing its nose at its eccentric summer crowd and the likes of the Mermaid Parade. I was into it:
Go this weekend before the weather gets too nice and you have to share Coney Island with everyone else again. Pack a lunch, bring a buddy and hit the strip. Its always nice to cruise a boardwalk when you're feeling good.
Take the F to Coney Island.
Monday, February 14, 2011
I originally discovered Green-Wood Cemetery after an afternoon of bowling at near by Melody Lanes in Sunset Park. This day we had a car and drove around the 478 acres of gravestones in complete awe. Green-Wood is less of a cemetery as it is a seemingly endless sculpture garden. Some of New York's greatest are buried here which means lots of ornate (and borderline gaudy) head stones. The mausoleum to mark the founder of the ASPCA's grave is a giant pyramid with gilded animals on it.
I went back again last week for an afternoon stroll. I hadn't fully thought it through, so I didn't expect to see snow there, but was quit surprised by how pretty a snow-covered cemetery actually is:
It was en vogue to be buried here in the last half of the 19th century. I love this quote I found on the cemetery's Wikipedia page from the New York Times: "it is the ambition of the New Yorker to live upon the Fifth Avenue, to take his airings in the Park, and to sleep with his fathers in Green-Wood." It truly is an outdoor Louvre of headstones, not to mention the resting place of Bowery Boys, socialites, artists and inventors alike.
Something funny I noticed while I walked around the cemetery last week was how many names had been carved into the trees. Names of couples, individuals, groups and gangs are all over the trees, I guess the living feel the need to leave their marks in grave yards too:
Though its really pretty there now with its wintry look, I think a really fun trip would be to ride your bike here when the weather gets nicer and tour the grounds that way. There is so much to see, including a lake with an island shaped like a cross. On foot is a little much and in the car feels a little voyeuristic. A bike would be just right.
25th Street Stop off the R Train
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
I'm more stimulated by coastal vistas so I had medium to low expectations about Joshua Tree. During our ride east I worried about faking it when we got there. Upon entering the park I realized I would have no problem with a disingenuous reaction:
The Joshua Tree looks like something from the mind of Dr. Seuss. It was given its name by Mormon settlers who thought its unique silhouette looked like Joshua reaching skyward towards God in an act of prayer. I was more struck by the fact that no two trees looked alike - a phenomenon that happens in nature with other things like snow flakes, but cant be fully appreciated with out a microscope. Also something curious about the desert - every bush, tree and rock seemed so evenly spaced:
Joshua Tree Park is a two and a half hour drive out of LA and is completely worth the trek, even if you are only visiting for a short time. Its relatively young, having been deemed a national park in 1994 and its enormous, 1,234 square miles to be exact, so even if the park is 'full,' chances are you wont run into anyone.
There is something for everyone here too. If you are a rock climber, this is your Disneyland. Find an outcropping and do some bouldering. If you are a camper, find a remote corner and set up shop. If you are us, take some band photos:
Its interesting to observe your friends in this sort of setting. The desert is huge and city kids like us can't really take it. The vastness makes everyone go a little crazy and scenes like this won't be few and far between:
Go to LA for all the normal reasons: Short sleeves, In-And-Out Burger and celebrity sightings, but dont ever go again without a jaunt to Joshua Tree on your list.
Also, this is the name of a U2 album, so you don't really have an excuse not to go.