Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Little Guy, Big Apple

I heart New York.

I've wanted to live there since I was a kid. I'd turn on "Sesame Street" and watch the segments shot in Central Park, or on rooftops in Queens, or sidewalks in the Bronx, and think how lucky those kids were. They got to live in a place where right outside the door of your apartment were shops, and theaters, and libraries, and all different sorts of people.

My parents thought this was little strange (New York, to them, was place where you had to rush down streets paved with trash and lined with muggers). So did just about everybody else. It's noisy! It's crowded!

Yeah, it is noisy and crowded. It's New York. What the hell do you expect?

All I know is that from my first visit, as a college freshman, I found the vastness and the pace invigorating, not frightening.

We lived on a succession of Air Force bases that were pleasant, and safe, but about as exciting as your typical American suburb. Which is to say, not exciting at all. Nothing but row after row of identical houses. The base library was usually too far away to get to without a parent to drive me and there was never anything interesting to see or explore within walking distance. Not even a park or a playground.

Yet all these years later I've still not lived in New York. I'm not much of a gambler, and I've always felt I'd have to be going there for something in particular, most likely a job. Temperamentally, I'm not one to just move to New York and see what happens next.

This latest visit was to celebrate C's birthday and goof around with his wonderful friends Lila and Alex. Lila and Alex live in lower Manhattan and are the best hosts you could ask for.


I'll come right out and say it. New York yarn shops beat the living hell out of Chicago yarn shops.

I got to visit two: KnitNY and Purl. I didn't expect to see Purl, but Lila needed to make a stop at Murray's Cheese Shop in the West Village and so we stopped in on the way.

This is me outside of Purl:

Outisde Purl, New York City, August 2005

See that smile? That is the smile of a man who, for the second time in one day, has been to a yarn shop where he was greeted politely and treated with respect, and was able to buy excellent yarn at prices many dollars cheaper than can be found in his own city.

Chicago shops justify their incredible mark-ups by citing high city rents. So why are the regular prices for yarns like Manos and Rowan lower - often by 50% - in New York? Because retail space in the Village is an absolute steal compared to the same square footage in Lincoln Park?

Yeah, right.

The service was also sterling at both shops. Purl was busy as heck, but the saleswomen found time to help me out. One of them even got excited over my "Middlemarch" t-shirt - turns out she's an Eliot fan, too. At KnitNY, I got to work a ball winder and swift for the first time. I think I'm now qualified to be a "ball guy" like Jon.

Yarn Person

Of course, I can't go to New York without visiting The Strand, the most incredible used bookshop in the United States. They have something like 8 miles of books for sale, a length slightly reduced after I'd had a go at their photography and needlework sections.

While I was scoping out the knitting books, the lady standing next to me saw the copy of the Vogue knitting reference I'd pulled off the shelf and said, "That's a lucky find."

We started chatting and who does she turn out to be? Marion Edmonds, one of the designers whose work appears in Last Minute Knitted Gifts. Good grief!

Happy Birthday to U, C

Lila is studying at the French Culinary Institute and arranged for us to have dinner at L'Ecole, the school's restaurant. But first she put out a wine and cheese course at the apartment that nearly made me crumple to the floor with delight.

It was all dreadfully Noel Coward, as you can see:

Lila and Chris, New York City, August 2005

Maybe Noel Coward mixed with a little Tennesse Williams. Lila's roots are Southern.

It just kept getting better. At L'Ecole we got a kitchen tour and a private dining room. We ate a great deal of excellent food and drank a shocking amount of good wine. Note the line-up of glasses. Most of those are from one person's place setting.

Self, Chris, Alex, and Lila at L'Ecole, August 2005

This may explain my red face and the incipient mania in my eyes. I drank in sips but it still must have added up to a full glass, well over my usual safe limit of 1/4 glass per calendar year.

C got a surprise with his dessert. He won't tell me what he wished for, but after he blew out the candle I was still at the table. That was a relief.

Chris Makes a Wish, L'Ecole, New York City, August 2005


Occasionally as we walked around I noticed we were being stalked by Edward Hopper:

Corner of 9th and 1st, New York City, August 2005

It made a nice change from Chicago, where one is more likely to be stalked by Diane Arbus.

Speaking of art, we spent a large hunk of Sunday at P.S.1 in Queens. I got shivers from the place - good ones. If you've never been there, it's a sort of MoMA satellite, housed in an old school building. A lot of the works are site specific, and the cumulative effect of the place is surreal. You step from what still looks like a fairly standard school hallway through what looks like a normal classroom door, and discover the room is full of human-sized, animated yeti. You walk down another hallway and notice a tree with paper leaves is growing out of the wall. And on and on and on.

Not even a preponderance of bad video art installations could kill my buzz.

We finished up the weekend at the Guggenheim, where there was a good Mapplethorpe exhibit on display. I had somehow never been to the Guggenheim before, so now I've got one more Frank Lloyd Wright building crossed off my life list.

Chris at the Guggenheim, New York City, August 2005

Not pictured is the noted gay porn actor we saw wandering around the exhibit.

Ah, New York.


Anonmous said...

thats a lovely picture of C! very nice :)

goblinbox said...


Unknown said...

Your pictures are great--my favorite is your Edward Hopper.

I'm ashamed to say that I have not been to NYC in a few months, although I live about 50 miles west and worked there for years. The Strand was my source for knitting books when I first started knitting. And a hell of a lot of other books too.

My experience in Chicago yarn shops was as you speak. Expensive, and the help was lackadaisical to boot. Went to some awful place off of N. Michigan that was two flights up. But I love Chicago. I'd rather live there than NYC and I'm a native Noo Yawker.

Anonymous said...

Well, certainly some of us wouldn't mind if you just up and moved to this end of the country ;) I'll make you a deal, you move to New York, I'll move to Philly and we'll meet for tea in Jersey...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the visit. My husband had an idyllic New York in the 50"s childhood and we spent our first decade together in the City. Though I'm only 2 hours away now, my life is too complicated to allow me to get down there as often as I want.

I'm glad you and C did not suffer from lack of good company, food and wine.

Rabbitch said...

Looks like you know how to enjoy a vacation! (Wanna come with us to the Puyallup Fair in September?)

Thanks for the fantastic pictures. (Um, would you like to explain just HOW you recognized the well-known actor, mister??)

Anonymous said...

I've been to New York once in my entire life, when I was 15 and played in a concert with a band at Carnegie Hall. Unfortunately, we'd spent the better part of the previous week practicing for the concert at a college in New Jersey and so my sights of NY were limited to the touristy things like the World Trade Center (I have pictures from the top).

My cousin, however, born in Topeka, Kansas, and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, decided upon his graduation from the Univ. of OK to pack up his car with everything he owned and drove to NY without a job, without a prospect. He's lived there ever since and has done very well for himself.

I envy him tremendously, sometimes.


Anonymous said...

Purl is one of my two favorite yarn shops (if you don't count Morehouse, which is the best retail experience on earth, and not at all like other yarn shops, and so doesn't count). My other favorite is Rosie's Yarn Cellar in Philadelphia.
They're always well-stocked, their proprietors are smart and knowledgeable, and there're always exciting things being worked on.

How happy I am that you see the Strand as Mecca as well. Their txtile selection is the greatest, though not after I've been through.

Today I'm looking forward to meeting you even more.

Calvin said...

I'm glad that you and C had a good time in Manhattan and made it back home safely. The pictures are great, especially the one of you standing in front of the yarn store. C is really a lucky man and you guys make a cute couple.

Katy said...

I'm glad you had a great trip.
You were lucky in Strand to find any knitting books at all. They almost never have any. I know, I look every time I go.

Anonymous said...

Franklin honey, after finally reading your account, I feel I am a jaded, ole' New York BITCH. I thought Purls' yarn prices were high. Jesus, is yarn THAT expensive in Chi-town? Lord! I notice your shopping bag is not in the picture–was it full of yarn, perhaps? ;-)

I'm AMAZED that you link that corner of ninth to Hopper. Shot in that light, made me see it anew. How did you get everyone off the corner? LOL

C looks excellent at the Guggenheim!

I knew Robert in another life when he had one of his first exhibits at Fashion Moda, in the Bronx. He was such a sweetie, and took some fabulous photos of friends of mine. We hung out a lot and had a geat time. He loved the Bronx and the Bronx loved him.

NYC was such a fab, crazy place then. And honestly? I've been to mid-western cities where the crime was much worse per population. Detr...

Glad ya'll had a wonderful trip, and do come back. Oops, I'm busted! Gotta go back to work.

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