April 29, 2014

Ellis Island and what seemed a good idea at the time

Ellis Island could be one of the best things to see in NYC. It could be, but it isn't. However, if you want a tiny glimpse of what must have happened to immigrants to the Excited States at the end of the 1800s, this might be for you.

Herded around in various lines at The Battery at the southern most tip of Manhattan, then submitted to "airport" screening to get on a ferry, was all part of the experience. It seemed to take forever and reinforced the homeland security apparatus that is the Excited States today. I'm guessing the folks from Latvia and Estonia and everywhere else, must have felt the same in 1904, when 12,000 people were processed on a normal day.

In its heyday, the government wanted to restrict entry to certain individuals of a lesser physical or mental capacity. The amount of time provided to determine eligibility was brief to say the least, and most were granted entry. Today about 100 million Americans can trace their entry in some way to Ellis Island.

However. The historic site that is Ellis Island today is primarily static, with lots of reading and not much to see. It's all about "telling me" something. The "show me" exhibits used in more contemporary historical exhibits in Australia or Canada is not present here.

A better introduction to Ellis Island is the wonderful Italian movie from 2006 called Nuovomondo or Golden Door. The film was written and directed by Emanuele Crialese and opens in Sicily and concludes in the promised land of New York. Filmed in Rome and Buenos Aires (BA provided most of the Ellis Island scenes) the movie provides an alternative to the normal Hollywood depiction of the immigrant story.

In Italy, the family in the film dreams of a land of opportunity, where giant vegetables are grown, people swim in milk and coins fall from the sky. It is a beautiful film and much more rewarding than our visit to Ellis Island.

At the end of our Ellis Island escapade, firmly planted back in Manhattan, we started walking through Tribeca towards SoHo where we stopped for some rest and relaxation at a place called The Brick. Gus was our genial and generous host and as an introduction to Tribeca, I'd recommend the place for Gus alone.

After that interlude we wandered through SoHo where we happened upon Graham and his two female friends. Being a friendly New Yorker, Graham recommended a dining establishment down the street and around a block or two, depending on which way you go, called Lupa, which is one of the current hot spots in Manhattan. The front of house staff were clearly cool kids, or whatever they might be called these days, with one looking just like Justin Timberlake as he appeared in the latest Coen brothers film: Inside Llewyn Davis. Jeem's pasta was great and Sherry's lamb pedestrian at best. Waiting over an hour for a table: sort of like Ellis Island, without the metal detectors. It's all part of the New York experience.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014. 

Oslo ~ a NYC coffee shop

A few doors away from our apartment on 75th Street, is a terrific coffee shop named Oslo. Founded, strangely enough by immigrants from Norway, the business started in Brooklyn and has branched out to the Upper East Side. There are two locations in Brooklyn and one in our neighbourhood on the Upper East Side.

Our experience with Oslo is positive; we've been here almost every day so that must say something. Different baristas do make a difference and ... we seem to have found our preference. However, stopping at Oslo in the morning for a wonderfully sweet espresso is also a preference.

There's always an interesting music mix playing in the background with the selection and the volume determined by the staff of the moment. It's a busy little place and it concentrates on good coffee and not much else. While there are some pastries available, it's really all about the coffee.

The Oslo coffee company is relatively small. It is a company that returns something to the community. They roast their own beans. This is all very good ~ for New York and for coffee lovers. You're here already. Have a coffee.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

Oslo Coffee Roasters on Urbanspoon

April 28, 2014

The Guggenheim in New York City

The Guggenheim Museum on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York is appealing for its collection of art and for the building in which the art is displayed. In fact, the building is reason enough to visit.

It is a building created by the amazing Frank Lloyd Wright and it is the only museum he ever designed. Solomon Guggenheim, part of a wealthy family that made much of their fortune in the gold fields of Alaska and Yukon, wanted to create a radically new space for modern art in New York. He chose Frank Lloyd Wright as architect and after sixteen years of planning, debate and compromise, the building finally opened in 1959.

Originally the architect wanted people to take an elevator to the top of the structure and then leisurely walk down the gentle and continuous ramp, interacting with both art and other humans along the way.

Taking an elevator certainly isn't the practise and we, and hundreds of others, meandered up the ramp and then slightly more quickly down again. It was interesting to view The Guggenheim after seeing Wright's desert campus in Arizona four months ago. This is an impressive building and it houses an amazing collection of art. The wealth and power that created such an undertaking is amazing too.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

Le Pain Quotidien in NYC

Starbucks might be concerned, but probably isn't. The Europeans are coming. Perhaps slowly. Here in NYC and around the world.

Le Pain Quotidien is a fairly common coffee house and bakery throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. Organic of course, decent coffees, simple but almost satisfying lunches, and communal tables where we "sit together around an idea of pleasure." Or something like that. It sounds good, as does the background music which is usually classical.

Well, it's a good idea and it seems to work in wealthier neighbourhoods in Manhattan and Palermo (Buenos Aires). And, it is fairly good food. I would recommend Oslo for a much better coffee, but they have only three locations.

LPQ was founded by Alain Coumont in Brussels in 1990. It is a privately held company with over 200 locations around the world including Argentina and Australia. Not Canada. Yet. The company's headquarters is in NYC. Of course it is.

Le Pain Quotidien on Urbanspoon

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

April 27, 2014

The Frick in Manhattan

This mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York City was once someone's home, and while many now come for the art collection, the house and its family are just as interesting. It is The Frick Collection and the family is that of Henry Clay Frick (1849 - 1919) from Pittsburgh.

The Frick Collection is known for its Old Master paintings and sculpture and was assembled by the industrialist, Henry Frick, and housed in  his former residence just across from Central Park. It is one of New York's few remaining Gilded Age mansions and it provides a place for Bellini, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Goya and Whistler, among others.

Frick was an American industrialist, financier and patron of the arts. He founded a coke company in Pittsburgh and played a major role in the formation of US Steel Company. He also financed both the Pennsylvania and the Reading railroad companies (of Monopoly fame). Frick was aligned with another industrialist baron, the Scottish-born Andrew Carnegie (of PBS fame it would seem).

The story is complicated of course and at the risk of over simplifying, it is that of the lockout that led to Frick employing hundreds of Pinkerton agents (hired thugs) to displace a band of union members from their Homestead Steel strike in 1892. That strike resulted after the company recorded a profit increase of about sixty percent and refused to increase the pay of their workers. The Pinkertons attacked the union members and at least ten workers were killed with another seventy, or more, injured.

In the end thousands of state police were called in to set things right, with Frick continuing to refuse to meet with union leaders and threatening to have union families evicted from their homes. Ultimately scabs were brought in and in time the union was defeated. At the time Frick was depicted as "the most hated man in America" and he certainly was reviled among the working class.

Still, the mansion and the collection are impressive indeed.

Photos by Jeem.  Copyright 2014 by Jim Murray.

Going to church in Harlem

Some things seem like a good idea. At the time. Like going to Ellis Island seemed like a good idea at the time. Going to church in Harlem seemed a good idea too. It is Sunday after all, and people go to church on Sunday. Even in New York.

Our Sunday morning began with coffee at Oslo, our wonderful neighbourhood espresso bar, then the subway to 125th Street.

From the subway it was a brisk walk to a large evangelical church which we had read about. And they turned us away. "No room for you today!" and "There's no way we can get any more tourists in the church today. No sir!" and "There are other churches around the block. Maybe they can take you." Okay. No room. Hmm... this story sounds familiar.

A walk around the block provided the Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church of Harlem. They seemed to have room and up we went to the balcony. The choir was singing and people were clapping and soon we were too.

The congregation consisted of what appeared to be about 45 regular members in the pews, a choir and band of about 20, and six clergy seated behind the pulpit. The rest of the congregation this day was made up of about 400 "international guests" from all over the world, all here for another tourist opportunity. Told to not take photos with cameras or phones during the service, many did anyway. Highly disrespectful.

As the pastor welcomed people he asked people to identify themselves as he called out the names of various countries. He never called out Canada. Not that there's anything wrong with that. After all, George W forgot about Canada too.

The singing and clapping continued along with four different collections for various things. We actually stopped after the third. Finally the guest preacher came to the pulpit and began his sermon. It was about the story of the disciples on the road out of Jerusalem after the crucifixion, and meeting a stranger who ultimately revealed himself to be their supposedly dead leader. The sermon started slowly enough, with some funny bits, and built to a wild frenzy of screaming and stomping. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Somehow I think sermons should engage and enlighten, offer as many questions as answers. Being preached to is not helpful. Yelling and jumping around doesn't make the message any clearer. At least not for me. In the end, slightly bewildered and confused, we left the church to search out the light of day.

We found a nice place down the street that served wonderful crab and cold beer, and at a certain point Joe turned up the music really loud and encouraged people to get up to sing and dance. Or sit if you want. And on a beautiful Sunday in Harlem, or anywhere else, that's reason enough to sing out: Hallelujah!

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

April 25, 2014

2nd Ave Deli in Manhattan

One of New York's best Kosher delis is just a few blocks away from our apartment. There are actually two 2nd Ave Deli locations, one in Midtown and ours on the Upper East Side. Neither is located on 2nd Avenue.

We came for lunch and were welcomed by several of the restaurant's excellent staff. There was a genuine friendliness in the way they approached us which suggests to me that this is a good place to work; it's a good sign when employees smile and show care for their customers. It seems a simple enough concept, though it doesn't always happen, as we have evidenced at a few grocery stores in the neighbourhood. But that's another story.

Menu items at the 2nd Ave Deli are varied and plentiful. There are franks and knishes, blintzes and kugel, but the place is really famous for its corned beef and tongue, and its variety of sandwiches, with names like Instant Heart Attack and Triple Bypass. It all looked good to me.

The 2nd Ave Deli was started in 1954 by Abe Lebewohl in a 10-seat luncheonette on East 10th Street (not 2nd Avenue). Over time the business grew and both Abe and his deli became New York institutions. In 1996 Abe was murdered on his way to the bank to make a deposit. The city was shocked and mourned one of its own for Abe was a gifted business person and a generous man. For ten years Abe's wife and brother kept the deli open until it closed in 2006 over a dispute with the landlord. However. Two nephews, Josh and Jeremy, re-opened the business in Midtown and then a few years later at East 75th Street and 1st Avenue, where we find ourselves on this particular day. Not on 2nd Avenue.

After some thought Sherry chose a tuna sandwich on toasted caraway and rye while Jeem opted for a triple-decker featuring corned beef, pastrami and salami. Both sandwiches were fantastic as were the side dishes. Sherry only ate half of her sandwich. Jeem, well... no heart attacks.

2nd Ave Deli on Urbanspoon

Great food. Friendly service. Open until midnight seven days a week. Is this a great city or what?

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

April 24, 2014

New York City from the river

There are views of New York City, primarily Manhattan, that are simply iconic; they have been imprinted in our minds through television and film, books and photographs.

The views are new to me, yet incredibly familiar. I have seen all these things before, even though this is my first visit to New York. Yet seeing them again, for the first time, is wonderful.

There is something special about this place and while the views are important, the thing that truly stands out is the people of New York: helpful, friendly and extremely proud of their amazing city.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.