Sunday, May 31, 2009

Up On the Roof

It's been a weekend of rooftops and skylines. And pie baking. It all started when my coworker--the same one who commissioned the pineapple upside down cake--asked me to come help her clean out her closets. She has been in back pain and cannot lift things, and she was offering to pay, so I said sure, I'll come over Saturday. "Bring a pie!" she added. Specifically, she wanted two very small berry pies for her husband, who is very picky (I later learned that he forbids her to wear red, because it gives him a headache.) Since I had also signed up to bring pies to the church block party/bake sale on Saturday morning, my Friday night became an evening of pie baking, made all the more enjoyable when it segued into a So-You're-Not-Moving-Away-After-All!! party for my friend Josh. We took the last pie over to his & Peter's house where we baked it and stayed up all night eating it and watching TV. I don't know what got into me, but it was sure fun.

However, the morning came quickly and it was time to deliver my pies and then go clean closets. I was expecting this woman's house to be incredible, because she doesn't hide the fact that she's rich, and it certainly was nice. But what blew me away was the view. 38th Street, 40th floor, looking south from a spacious bay window, the entire tip of Manhattan at my fingertips... I just wanted to stare at it all day. Should have taken pictures, but I didn't even remember that I had my camera. I told her that if I lived there, I'd never leave. On the other side of the place, she even had a little balcony. What is it about being so far up in the sky, looking down at the cityscape that thrills me? I guess it's not just me--that's why all the best companies have their offices in skyscrapers, right? It gives you a sense of power to be looking down at everything from so far up that it's all just tiny and toy-like below.

I scored a bag of incredible clothes, a lamp, and a weird ceramic jug, and when closet cleaning was done I went home intending to take a nap, but never quite doing it. Even when I'm just laying around doing nothing, I always have a hard time napping--I feel like I'm wasting my day away. Later I went downtown with S and E to visit a rooftop on 42nd Street. This girl that S knows was house-sitting and had permission to invite people over and enjoy the place. And what a place! This place had a jacuzzi for a centerpiece, a screen that lowered from the ceiling for movie watching, heated tile floors, a bed built into a nook in the wall, two salt-water aquariums with sick (sick=incredible, but one fish actually was kind of unwell) fish, what else? A circular staircase that led to the rooftop terrace, filled with the most comfortable couches surrounded by a garden of fruit trees and exotic flowers. Maybe I was napping after all, and dreaming! We ordered pizza and ate it up there, playing UNO, looking at the stars, and talking about how S and her friend got Rockette costumes, wore them to Times Square, and raked in the dough posing for tourists. What a great idea!

And another late night... So today I've just been laying around tired again. Baking another pie for a little dessert party later, and listening to Benny Goodman. I find that pie-baking is best done with a transistor radio tuned to big band or vintage blues music. This afternoon after church, E and I went up on our own roof, with its view of the projects and empty lots. We sunned for a while, closing our eyes and imagining we were on a glamorous downtown skyscraper roof. Then the wind picked up, the storm clouds blew in, and we rolled up and went in.

Spanish Christian Church

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ghost Train

Back in New York, it rains. But it's a pleasant rain, like an Oregon mist, where an umbrella is hardly worth the trouble. Work is laid-back because my boss is out of town and I can catch up uninterrupted on things that need doing. But I seem to go in slow motion, never quite accomplishing all I set out to do. My Russian coworker spends the day annoying me, playing with my hair, forever asking me for the word in English that means someone who can convince you that what's true is false. Charlatan, I suggest, but he doesn't buy it. Snake charmer? He thinks it's demagogue, but I wrinkle my nose and shake my head. I spend more of the day than I want to listening to coworkers complain about other coworkers. I sigh and eat salt-water taffy from Salt Lake City.

When I come home from work I find out that my friend Josh is moving back to Idaho, and it makes me sad, because I really like him and we hardly had time to get to know each other. So we decide to go to a Cake concert, only to find out that it sold out. Instead, we're going to bake pies for the LDS block party/bake sale, and for ourselves too. So I head out into the rainy night to buy ingredients.

I'm tempted by the fruit stand man, especially the cherries, down to $2.99 a pound, dark red and glossy. But I don't have any cash, as usual. My mom worries about me being so far away and in such a big city, and sometimes when we say goodbye on the phone she says, "Don't wander the streets at night!" It always makes me laugh, but I try to be very careful and observant when I'm going anywhere at night. Nevertheless, my mind tends to wander, especially when I see the ghost train. The ghost train is what I call it, but it's really just an old subway train that they use to transport stuff like trash and building materials. Sometimes I see it late at night when I'm waiting on the platform, and it always fascinates me, because interspersed among the flat cargo-loaded cars are the regular old subway cars full of empty seats inside, where long-gone people sat when they would commute to work or take a holiday to Coney Island back in the days before air conditioning. The train is bright red on the outside and silver-gray on the inside, and filled with dark shadows. It moves so slowly along the track I could jump onto one of the old cars if I wanted to. Maybe something magical would happen if I did. Maybe I'd go back in time to when it was a shiny state-of-the-art mode of transportation, before its purpose was carrying garbage. Maybe it was more beautiful back then, but I don't know. I like the old ghost train full of shadows.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Grandma's House

While I was in Utah I got to stay at my Grandma N's house, the sweetest little brick house you'll find in Logan. She's lived there for 38 years now, and hardly leaves it, so my memories of her and interconnected with her house. Inside it's neat as a pin, full of gew-gaws, but not too full and not too precious. There is a grandmotherly fondness for silk flowers and ceramic figurines, but a tastefully classic selection of furniture. The requisite little white picket fence surrounds the backyard of soft green grass lined with rose bushes.

Despite the fact that my cousins almost convinced me that Dracula lived in Grandma's circuit breaker box in the basement, in this house I feel as if nothing could ever go wrong. There is such a feeling of peace and security that I get when I'm in it. It's the kind of feeling I imagine heaven is full of. And in heaven, like at my Grandma's house, you probably get all the hotcakes you can eat. She did her best to stuff me each day I was there, setting the breakfast table with a five course meal of hotcakes, milk and cereal, fresh fruit, canned fruit, and toast, washed down with hot chocolate and chased by the maple bars my mom would bring over fresh from Macey's. Grandma was very concerned with making sure we were well-fed. On our last day in town, we decided to go to the park a few blocks down the street so my nieces and nephew could play on the playground. Grandma insisted she was too tired to go, and we left her settled on the couch watching a soap opera. However, about an hour later, my sister spotted Grandma wandering through the park looking for us, carrying a gigantic bowl of freshly popped popcorn! "I just thought you needed some popcorn," she said as she deposited it with us, and then went back home.

My mom insists that it was difficult being raised by Grandma, because she was so strict. In fact, at one point she did tell me that my knee-length dress was too short and made me change my clothes, and she wouldn't let K knit in church. Also, she would start talking to me sometimes when I was all the way at the other end of the house, expecting me to hear her perfectly and answer back, and then accuse me of being deaf when I had to keep saying, "What?" And she told my mom that she needed to gain weight to fill out her wrinkles! But I love my Grandma. She's hilarious without realizing it, prickly but sweet at the same time, and I know she loves her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren with all her heart. Hopefully it won't be another eight years before I see her again.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Yesterday we went and placed flowers on the grave of my grandfather, who died when my mother was eighteen. It rained and rained in Logan, but finally stopped when we got up to the cemetery in Preston, Idaho. Then later that night, grandma pulled out her photo albums and we looked at pictures of her and grandpa from back in the 40s and 50s, as newlyweds and young parents with five little girls. Then grandma showed me her high-school yearbook, and opened it up to the fourth or fifth page in. There was a message written by her husband. They hadn't known each other in highschool, but as newlyweds, when he was about to go away to war, she asked him to sign her yearbook, and in it he wrote the most amazing love letter. You're an answer to a prayer, he wrote, and even though a long period of separation lay ahead, he'd come back to her. And he did come back, and they raised a happy little family out in the Idaho countryside, where he was the superintendent of a reservoir power plant for many years. It's been thirty-eight years now since he died, and my grandma has not remarried. It's been a longer separation than war-time, and no less hard I'm sure, but she knows she'll be with her Marvin again eventually. She spends her days living in a cute brick house in Logan, tending her rosebushes and going to the temple.

My other grandma, my dad's mom, was buried on Friday in the Logan cemetery. Her funeral was beautiful and wonderful. We miss her, of course, but everyone knows that she has been reunited with her sweetheart, my Grandpa A. who died 8 years ago. Grandpa A. wasn't in the service, but worked for Lockheed in California, building aircraft for the war. When the war was over and their family was larger, they decided to move to a small town in Idaho, and raised their kids on a dairy farm. At the funeral, my aunts and uncles shared stories about their mom, we sang songs, and my dad played his bassoon. We all cried, but felt happy about lives well spent, and the legacy that good parents leave behind.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Utah Church

Instead of posting a Harlem church today, I thought it would be nice to show a Utah church. Utah is like Harlem--there is a church around every corner. Of course they're all LDS churches in Utah, whereas you have a huge mix in Harlem. Also, the more modern LDS chapels are not very unique--they are nice but built quickly and by a formula that allows for low cost, so they end up all looking very similar. However, there are some real gems in Utah, some chapels built back when more time and effort was spent beautifying the building. This is the Wells Chapel in Salt Lake City, where I went to church as a little kid. My family lived across the street from it for a few years. I love the decorative ceramic panel above the doors, which features entwined leaves and grape clusters.

The Wells Chapel was built in 1920 and is full of beautiful dark wood panelling on the inside of the lobby, hallways, and chapel. The chapel has green stained glass windows, and the upper back window panels fold open to reveal choir seating. Can you imagine being in a Sunday meeting with a choir singing from above, like angels?

The chapel slopes down to a stand nestled beneath an archway, backed with a huge white bas-relief sculpture of a scriptural scene. They certainly don't built LDS chapels like this these days!

Sorry this Sunday church is being posted a little late! It's been a very busy couple of days. I'll have a lot of blogging to do to recap all of my Utah adventures, so stay tuned. Now, I have to get to bed because we're going to get up early and go get fresh maple bars for breakfast and then shop for boots at Smithfield Implements.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Salt Lake City is so quiet! Especially when compared with New York City. I woke up too early on Thursday morning, my inner clock functioning against my will, and left the hotel to search for food, because nice hotels never have free breakfast. In New York there are bodegas, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, and Duane Reades around every corner, but in downtown Salt Lake City I walked for about 45 minutes before I found a little bakery. And where were all the people? Oh well. Despite the eerie silence of the city, E and I walked over to Temple Square and took pictures of the temple and the flowers and the sculptures and everything. We sat and watched the brides coming out of the temple, "popping out like popcorn," my sister said. It was certainly a gorgeous day for a wedding. The sky was deep blue, the sun bright, everything green, and the mountains in the distance still snow-capped. I loved the poppies growing around Temple Square the most. And the forget-me-nots.

We marveled at the temple, counted all the fountains and brooklets, walked around Brigham Young's house, the Tabernacle, the Assembly Hall, and the Conference Center. We went to the Museum of Church Art and History, where we saw a handcart that our great-uncle Blaine built. No, he didn't cross the plains with it! He built a lot of them for reenactments and stuff. The Museum is great--they have the printing press that the first Book of Mormon was printed on, some of the original manuscript pages, and so many other interesting artifacts and artworks. Following that, we went in the Conference Center, where the current Church Art Contest is being held. Every four years or so, the church holds an art contest, and members of the church from all over the world submit artworks that have to do with gospel themes. The pieces were amazing! Everything from landscape paintings to a tile-mosaic radio to baby blessing dresses of fine lace, to a gorgeous woodblock print of a woman. I was also fascinated by the glass sculpture hanging below the skylight.

After getting our fill of Temple Square and art, E and I walked over to the Gateway Mall, a huge outdoor shopping center that was so cute we felt like we were in Disneyworld. Around 3:30 we jumped on the TRAX, the SLC version of the subway, which took us to the train station where we boarded the Frontrunner, a double decker train that took us out to Ogden. The train was so fun. The seats inside have little tables between them, and the train even has wi-fi! It was like a cross between being on the Orient Express in an Agatha Christie novel and some kind of futuristic monorail. I loved it!

It took about an hour to get to Ogden, with the in between scenery full of farms, old trains, electrical stations, junkyards, desert, and mountains. In Ogden we found ourselves at an old Western Union station said to be haunted. I took pictures of the abandoned buildings around it, fended off a panhandler, and E and I climbed on some old train cars there on display. We found a little diner converted from an old train car, and bought ice cream sandwiches and waited for our parents to come pick us up. When they finally found us, we headed north through the canyon to Logan, and the sight of all the green rolling foothills brought back all my memories of coming to Utah as a child.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Return to the Motherland

I was born in Utah, and I lived in Salt Lake City for a few years as a tiny kid, but since then I have not been back much. I think the last time was when that movie Legacy came out and was showing at the new Visitor's Center on Temple Square. I'm sure a lot has changed since then, and it seems like its still changing. The city seems to be in a flurry of construction projects, which cheers me because its one sign that the economy must be doing okay, or at least its not dead. Another sign of an alive economy? A $4 pack of Raisinets at the airport, a $5 bottle of water, and a banana that costs $1.79 (compared with 25 cents on the streets of New York.) A cinnamon roll the size of both of my fists cost me only $1.79 here in downtown Salt Lake City. Mmmm.... cinnamon roll.... such a delicious breakfast! It's okay to indulge when you're on vacation. And even though I've come to Utah for a funeral, I feel like I'm on vacation. I'm having adventures, seeing sights, meeting up with family, and enjoying everything.

E and I left the city last night, meeting up after work to navigate together the journey to JFK. And, after all the horror stories, it was not that bad. In fact, very smooth sailing. It was a gorgeous day, and we ran into a friend on the AirTrain, she on her way to L.A. for a wedding. We all felt very Jet-Setter-ish. Flying is fun. On the airplane I read Vanity Fair, about Captain Sully and how he landed his airplane on the Hudson, and about Bernie Madoff. And I watched lots of TV (the end of American Idol, the top 100 one-hit-wonders of the 80s on VH1, and some silly supermodel show). And ate starbursts. And gave a missionary discussion of sorts to the girl sitting with me and E. She had never been to Salt Lake, was going to visit friends, none of them LDS, and she had a few questions for us. Good times.

At the Salt Lake Plaza, I complained about the lack of 24-hour airport shuttle, and they "upgraded" us to a suite on the 13th floor with a jacuzzi and a balcony with a door that doesn't open. Room 1313 to be exact. Good thing I'm not superstitious. The view is amazing! The mountains are so beautiful. Now E and I are going to let ourselves loose on this salty city and see what we can see. I'm already impressed that there was a guy singing and playing the guitar in the median strip of the road next to the hotel at 8 in the morning.

Hello, Utah.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Close Call

I kept trying to go to Crooks for honeysuckle sorbet while I was in Chapel Hill, but they were never open when I would go there. Oh well... I have the recipe. It's just that there is no honeysuckle in New York, and even if there were, I don't think I would want to eat it.

But luck was on my side in other areas. This morning I was headed to a friend's house, driving my mom's truck. Because the last car I owned was a clunker and made lots of loud, though harmless noises, and was slow to accelerate, I find that driving my parents cars is so easy and enjoyable that it's dangerous. My mom's truck accelerates so smoothly and silently that I didn't even realize I was cruising at 50 mph in a school zone until I saw the cop car parked on the grassy shoulder. As soon as I saw him, his lights turned on and he rolled out behind me, so I immediately pulled over. I couldn't believe it! Now I felt a little of what my brother must have been feeling three days before when he found himself on the wrong side of a few traffic laws. But instead of evasion, I chose to sit tight, pulled out my license and found my mom's registration in the glove compartment, so when the officer sidled up to my window, I was ready for him.

I hope I looked suitably remorseful and terrified, as well as sweet and innocent with the huge bucketful of peonies that I was taking to Alison's house. In fact I was terrified, because when the officer looked at my license and asked if it was still my current address, I didn't even hear the question and just said yes, even though I haven't lived at that address in two years. But then when I realized what I'd said, I was too embarrassed to correct myself. He also asked if I'd received any tickets in the past three years and if I knew what I had done wrong. I said no and yes, and he went back to his car.

The minutes dragged on while I sat there waiting for my fate to be determined. I wondered how much money a speeding ticket would be, and I thought I'd probably just pay it and never tell my parents because they have enough troubles as it is without me adding to them. I figured that the policeman knew by now that I had lied to him about my address, and I wondered if I'd get a ticket for lying to a police officer. I mostly just wondered what was taking so long... It was embarrassing to have other cars driving by smugly, passing the scene with deliberate slowness.

Finally the policeman came back to my window, and asked if I have any relatives in law enforcement. Nooooo, I said slowly, wondering why he would even ask that. He said, "I saw the sticker on the back of your car." I had no idea what he was talking about, but I couldn't imagine my mom putting a police sticker on her car, so I said that it must have been there when she bought the car last year. "So..." the policeman continued, "What you're saying is you know people in law enforcement?" Then it dawned on me what he was trying to do, and I quickly agreed, "Oh, um, yes I do!"

"Slow down for me," said the policeman, handing me back my license, and sending me on my way, free into the world. It was such a relief! No ticket, no worries. I drove very slowly and carefully for the rest of the day, of course. But, looking back, I'm a little miffed that he would rather let me go on the pretext of having connections in law enforcement instead of the fact that I have not had a speeding ticket since 1998. Oh well. Whatever it takes.

When I got to Alison's house I looked and saw that the sticker on the back of my mom's truck says "Honorary Member of the Sheriff's Association" or something like that, with a police badge picture on it. I later learned that it was a sticker my dad got for contributing to the local Sheriff's Department. Who knew it would come in handy? Also, Alison told me that it was a good thing I lied about my address because otherwise my license might have been considered invalid, and I really would have gotten a ticket! But I honestly don't even know why I lied about that--it just came out.


I'm back in New York now, but leaving for Utah tomorrow, to attend my grandmother's funeral. It will involve a family reunion long overdue, and probably a few adventures. I'll be writing.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wedding Weekend - Day 2

My family drives me crazy! Of course I love them; I love them so much. But they are so loud! And crazy. Yesterday while I was at the wedding my brother went riding on his dirt bike and got four tickets (riding on the railroad tracks, evading police, etc.) so now he is all depressed. Everyone is sitting around trying to solve his problems while simultaneously schedule our travel arrangements to Salt Lake City and Logan, and of course everyone has a very loud opinion. They wonder why I would never come over and visit them when I lived in town--it's just so loud here! Sigh... even the dogs are barking.

However, like I said, I do love my family and I enjoy spending time with them. I had a nice time with them at church today, and I made french toast afterwards and we all played Apples to Apples. I won twice!

Earlier today I went to Somerhill Gallery because J and J were having an informal wedding reception there, it being (sort of) the place where they met and fell in love. I say "sort of" because the gallery has since moved and opened in a nicer, grander location. We were all coworkers at the time, she the receptionist, he the part-time holiday helper. She had recently been engaged to another guy, but it wasn't working out and she began spending more and more time with J. One day she was particularly giddy, "prancing around the art glass," as she remembers. I told her I thought she must be in love, and apparently that was the moment that she realized she was, and soon after that the two began dating for reals.

It's always fun to go to the gallery and see Joe, my former boss. The space is gorgeous, and there is no better place to spend a rainy morning--getting my fill of brightly colored art glass, amazing paintings and photography, and spectacular sculptures. Don't even get me started on the jewelry! There was another event taking place at the gallery following the reception, so I volunteered to help set up the jewelry cases. I'll never say no to getting my hands on fabulous jewelry! I also helped J & J with cleanup because their caterer turned out to be horrible and didn't do anything. And I played with Joe's dogs, of course.

The bride and groom are headed to a Mexico honeymoon and then on to a lovely life together in Asheville. It was so fun to see them again and share in the big occasion! And it was just like old times cleaning the kitchen of the gallery with them, laughing as they took the trash out together--hardly a romantic way to begin a marriage, but certainly a practical one.

Meanwhile, Back In Harlem...

The First Corinthian Baptist Church is the biggest, fanciest, most decorated and ornate church in all of Harlem. But it's falling apart. (click on the photo to enlarge...)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wedding Weekend, Day 1

Chapter One - Mouse in the House
E and I pulled out the stove the other night and plugged up holes in the wall with steel wool to stop the mice from getting in, because we think that's where they come from. Not that we have an infestation--we just get an explorer every now and then who takes a liking to our cupboards full of cookies. But there must have been a rogue mouse in the house when we did it, because there was definitely one in my room last night.

Of course I can never sleep the night before catching an early morning flight anyway, but around 2 a.m. I heard a mousetrap snap and that was it. The mouse, however, had not died and was still free, and from that moment on every slight creak, any twitch, squeak or rustle however miniscule was enough to make my eyes pop open and the lamp come on. I tossed and turned. I heard it chewing something under the bed, I swear, and I got out my flashlight. But the search was fruitless and sleep was impossible.

When I finally got up and got all ready to go to the airport, I put two loaded mousetraps in my room and plugged up the crack under the door. I know the mouse is in there, and when I get back it better be dead!

Chapter Two - Fly Away
Waiting for the bus, I studied the old belle-epoque architecture of 125th Street on a morning so foggy that the A on the Apollo sign blended right into the sky. The bus ride to the airport is so quick and convenient. It only takes about 35 minutes, and I get to see some cityscape. This time the bus passed right by the circus, which is in town, its pointy bright orange and yellow tents vivid against the gray of Queens. The bus filled with people on their way to the airport, to travel or to work. One young man looked straight out of the 60s, his hair slicked back and his dapper airline uniform. A couple conversed in an unknown Scandinavian language. One man with a plastic briefcase would almost exit the bus at every stop, but was consistently halted by the bus driver, who knew where he needed to go.

I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to get through security, walk around and look for the cheapest bottle of water, peruse the magazines, and become annoyed with a lady traveling to Cincinnati who seemed to be everywhere, complaining about how expensive her taxi ride was. "I've got the card, and I'm going to call the number," she told a little boy (her grandson?). "I don't believe it was 28 dollars from Roosevelt Island."

"Where's the information counter?" asked the little boy. "I have some questions I need to ask." The thought of what questions an 8-year old boy needed to ask the airport information desk staff made me chuckle out loud. That, and the young couple with a toddler. The dad was chasing the toddler around with a moist towlette saying, "Let's wash the swine flu off your hands," while the mom scolded him. "Be quiet!" she said, "You'll freak people out!"

The flight was quick and uneventful. I read Paste magazine and listened to new songs on my i-pod.

Chapter Three - Get Me To The Church On Time
No one was waiting for me at the airport. I called home and nobody answered, so I called my little sister's cell phone, and she woke up my brother, who came to get me. He arrived 40 minutes later with a tire in the back seat of the car. "We have to stop at Triangle Cycles!" he said, explaining the importance of getting the flat tire from his dirt-bike fixed. Skeptical, but appreciative that he had come to get me, I checked my watch. It was almost 12 and I needed to be in Oxford, an hour away, by 2 for the wedding. "Okay," I said, "but this better be quick."

Thirty minutes later I was still sitting in the passenger seat in the parking lot of Triangle Cycles, so I opened my suitcase, did my makeup, and changed into my fluffy little yellow dress in the bathroom of the motorcycle shop, much to the amusement of all the guys working there, despite my attempt to be inconspicuous. It didn't help matters when I accidentally set off the car alarm!

Quarter to one and we were finally almost on our way home. I commandeered the car, dropped brother off and just kept driving. Miraculously, I didn't get lost, or run off the road in my sleep-deprived wooziness, and arrived in Oxford right on time. I knew I was in a small southern town when I pulled up into the church overflow parking lot and there was a shirtless guy in overalls tinkering under the hood of his car. I asked him if it was okay to park where I was, not wanting a ticket, and he said he thought I'd be fine. "I'm thinking of goin' into that church to see what I can learn," he shared with me, pointing to a big blue bible on the roof of his car. "Well, there's a wedding going on," I said. "But I'm sure you're welcome to go in." And then I ran over to the church, passing the bridal party as they were preparing for the procession. I made it just in time, finding a seat a few minutes before the ceremony began.

Chapter Four - A Marriage Takes Place
I will post some pictures later, because I forgot to bring the thingy that lets me plug my camera card into my computer. I knew I was forgetting something!

Oxford is a darling town, with old Victorian houses, rusticating barns behind a quiet main street. It's churches are stately and well-kept, St. Stephen's Episcopal no exception. The small, non-air-conditioned chapel was filled with carved wooden pews between gorgeous leaded-glass windows depicting New Testament scenes from the life of Christ. A beautiful gothic archway of finely carved wood separated the pews from the altar and its various components. The pews were filled with Southern ladies in bright colored polka-dot dresses and straw hats, and Southern men in seersucker suits, hats on their laps. People fanned themselves with the program, and all eyes were on the back of the room, where the bridesmaids began to appear.

The bride wore her grandmother's satin wedding dress and long lace veil. She clung to her father's arm, holding back tears of joy, meeting the adoring eyes of her groom as she made her way down the aisle toward him. The ceremony began with a prayer, was filled with song, and ended with more prayers as the two knelt at the altar. I cried a little bit, it was so lovely. The part I liked most was singing. I've not been to many weddings, but I think this was the first one where the audience was required to burst into song. It reminded me of being in a musical, or what heaven might be like, where I'm sure people burst spontaneaously into songs of joy all the time.

The wedding was followed by a reception in the adjoining hall, and people lounged in the churchyard under the shade of a huge maple tree, enjoying the beautiful spring weather, drinking champagne and lemonade and eating cake and other treats. A mockingbird sat on a nearby fence singing and singing. I congratulated the bride and groom and their parents, mingled a bit, and then wended home, completely charmed by the whole thing. I'm so glad I came.

The rest of the day has been spent eating at Chick-fil-A, playing with the dogs, laying by the pool (watching an errant frog), smelling the roses and peonies, and taking a needed nap. My family is on their way home from South Carolina, so I've had a rare few hours home alone. But I'm exhausted, and my head hurts.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Packing List for Four Days Including a Wedding

-Dress to wear to the wedding.
-Dress to wear to the wedding in case I don't feel like wearing the other dress.
-Dress to wear to the reception the next day.
-Dress to wear to the reception in case I don't feel like wearing the other dress.
-Dress to wear to church in case I need to change out of the other dresses.
-Shoes to match all the dresses.
-Some swimsuits.
-Comfy clothes for the airplane ride.
-Toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo and other stuff like that.
-Current crochet project.
-The amount of t-shirts it takes to fill all the extra space in my suitcase.
-Chargers for phone, computer, camera and Ipod.
-Driver's license, money, and directions to the wedding.
-Something I'm forgetting now, but will remember tomorrow morning on the bus-ride just as I cross the bridge into Queens.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rainbows Over Harlem

The week before a vacation is always the longest week ever. I can't believe it's only Tuesday and there are still three more days to go before Saturday. Sigh... However, some things make the day go by fast including:

--Being obsessed with the song "It's Hard to Live in the City" by Albert Hammond, Jr. I am a woman obsessed. Check it:

--Eating homemade bread.

--Seeing one of those edible arrangement bouquets be delivered to Dali at work, a late Mother's Day gift from her children. It was accompanied by a teddy bear and chocolates. So cute! I took it downstairs to her and she said she'd save the fruit bouquet for all of us to share tomorrow.

--A crazy customer who walked in to the shop and asked me if he could get an appraisal. I told him he needed to make an appointment, but instead of pulling out a wristwatch he took a handful of knives and forks out of a torn paper bag. He spread them out on the jewelry counter and would not stop talking... about how he was sure they were gold (they were brown) because only gold pulled from the Titanic doesn't tarnish (what?) and he was going to retire off of them (excuse me?) and anyway he wasn't afraid to walk around with $50,000 in his pocket (really? tell me more!). I could not get him to stop talking nonsense, so finally I just walked away and the security guard gave him the stare down.

--Coming home and seeing a double rainbow over Harlem as it rained and sunned at the same time. But by the time I had run up to the rooftop with my camera, only one rainbow remained in the sky.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Salvation and Deliverance

The colors of this church on 116th Street remind me of the skirt I'm making (see previous post). I love the graphic shapes created by the red trim. And of course I love the name. It's kind of hard to see, but the sign over the front door says Salvation and Deliverance Church.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Saturday at the Knitting Circle

This is the skirt I've been working on for about two months now. I'm almost done. I took it to the Harlem Knitting Circle this morning and worked on it for a few hours. The Knitting Circle is a meet-up group of Harlem ladies who have been gathering every two weeks or so for a few years now to knit, crochet, and socialize. This was my first time attending, though I signed up to get their announcements a couple of months ago. Not sure what to expect, I figured I'd at least get a bit done on my skirt before frittering away the rest of my Saturday. But I ended up staying and crocheting for almost 3 hours because it was so much fun. The women were all so friendly and happy and interesting. Njoya, the group's leader is a kindergarten teacher who used to dance with Grace Jones at Studio 54 back in the day. She had some crazy stories to tell! About twelve of us gathered around her on the top floor of the Harlem Branch Library, worked on our various projects, munched on muffins and pineapple, and became friends. I loved it, and will definitely go back--maybe wearing my skirt the next time.

Also, I'm so proud that I got everything done on last night's to-do list! And more. Except I didn't get as far on the quilt pattern as I wanted to, but that's okay. And I didn't find a swimsuit... but not for lack of shopping!

Saturday To Do List:

*Wake up. Bake chocolate muffins.
*Take muffins to the Harlem Knitting Circle Meetup at the Harlem Branch Library and work on my current crochet project for a few hours and then research vaccines.
*Go to H&M and Marshall's to find a swimsuit.
*Go to Borders to get ideas for a craft project for next week's Enrichment Craft Night.
*Go to Lee's Art Shop to buy the hugest piece of paper they have.
*Maybe go to the grocery store...
*Go home and clean my room.
*Start making a Hawaiian quilt by making a pattern for it out of the aforementioned huge piece of paper.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Notes on a Friday in May

I'm not talkative today, the only one at work in a good mood, happy it's Friday. My coworkers are on vacation and I am left answering phones alone, but my boss is out most of the day which ensures that the phones are quiet, and I have time to clean and organize his desk--a perpetual mess. I am determined to remain positive minded although the people at work can be so needlessly negative. Perhaps my Pollyanna attitude will wear away at them and make some small difference. Luckily I am contrary, and if they are going to be horrid, I am all the more determined to be pleasant. Anyway, it feels good to keep a smile on. The watch and jewelry business will never be more important than my peace of mind.

After work I walk 30 blocks up into the heart of the upper east side, simply because I can, enjoying the timid sunshine of a spring evening. Here, the city in spring time is beautiful. Potted flowers match the pastel shirts and sweaters of men walking spotted spaniels. All the shop windows are full of white dresses. There are huge bins of purple lilacs for sale in the corner flower-shops. Restaurants tables spill out onto clean, rain-washed sidewalks. I take it all in, observing each person that I pass, and yet I feel strangely detached. Twice, old men say hello to me, but I'm half a block away before I realize it. Then I feel sad--I don't mean to ignore people. It's just so easy to get caught up in my own dreamworld, with my headphones on and my fast walk, I'm not looking to chat.

I water the drooping ivy in the Park Avenue apartment--my chore is done--and head to the park. Passing the Guggenheim, young folks pose for pictures of each other, one holding a friend on his shoulders, both of them laughing. Joining runners, I walk around the reservoir, in awe of the lush blue water and pastel skyscrapers across the way. A cormorant or a grebe (I really don't know which) flies low and black across the water. I am delighted to see red columbine in abundance alongside my trail. The sun sets behind a building, and when I reach the west side I catch the subway home. Sleepy and hungry, I'm ready to start my weekend!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


wish me luck.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Last Night at the Mercury Lounge

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson's eponymous debut album, recorded three years ago and released last year, is a heart-wrenching glorious and gritty creation, an epic chronicle of struggle, death, and redemption. Somehow I stumbled upon the song Buriedfed and fell instantly in love with this kid, as he seemed to me, whose youth seems at odds with his ragged old-soul voice. A New Yorker by way of Oregon, Robinson has been called Brooklyn's best kept secret. I've been wanting to see him perform for ages.

Which is how I found myself staying up too late last night, down at the Mercury Lounge, where I spotted Miles Benjamin himself, having a drink at the bar before it was time for his headlining performance. With encouragement from my friend Peter, I approached the singer and introduced myself, wishing him good luck onstage. I guess I should have told him to break a leg instead, because the resulting show ended up being fraught with technical difficulties. However, broken strings, tangled cords, and false starts couldn't mar the beauty and magic of Robinson's performance.

Backed by musicians Will Cameron (of the U.K., of the late Blondelle, and, can I say, so young!) on bass and keyboards, Marque Toliver on violin and keyboards, and the very able David Jack Daniels on drums, Miles ripped through his first few songs--"old stuff," he said--with a love-hate passion that left me wishing for the soulfulness of the recorded album but blown away by the breathtaking energy and electricity of the familiar songs taken to their breaking point. Literally. While Robinson scrambled to restring his own guitar, Toliver (with one pant-leg mysteriously rolled up to his knee) jammed on his violin, leading the others in an enthralling spur of the moment tune that eventually evolved into a cover of The National's Abel. Where the show might have been derailed, the audience was instead captivated, and by the time Robinson was able to jump back in and take over, the show was already a success. Robinson let a scruffy guy from the audience fix his broken strings after that, and set about the business of some serious rock'n'roll.

Moving through his set of garage-pop meets retrofuture (or however the hipsters might describe them) songs, each with their own moments of genius, I felt like I was witnessing something more interesting than perfection. Great music is great music, but its not every day that you see greatness being invented on the spot. While it was clear these musicians had not practiced nearly enough together, their scrappiness, like the themes of Robinson's songs, couldn't hide their skills, and my jaw dropped more than a few times at the talent before me. With his natural genius for lyrics and his obvious passion for a thumping beat, Robinson sought to lead his band to musical nirvana, and just about succeeded.

Besides his voice, which is amazingly full of natural reverb, the thing I love most about Robinson's live performance is that he sings with a huge grin on his face, gazing up as if at the stars. He might be laughing at his own misfortunes, having a moment of transcendental revelation, or just enjoying the moment. By all accounts, this songwriter's life has been fraught with all of the substance abuse, addictions, and bouts of homelessness that might have stifled a lesser talent. But with the help of good friends like Kyp Malone (from TV on the Radio) and the guys in Grizzly Bear, Robinson has scraped himself up off the pavement, and turned the tragedy of his personal demons into soulfully real music. “His songs are given flesh and blood in a way that most rock music now doesn’t allow time for. Very little of his content is upbeat. There’s no whitewashing of his perspective on the human experience. Listening to it is edifying. MBAR is my favourite songwriter right now,” says Malone.

With his lyrics ("this is my last song about myself/about my friends/found something else to sing...") still rippling around the New York music scene, Robinson is headed to the U.K. for an eleven-day tour, and after that he's moving to Portland, where he plans to focus on writing, recording new music, and forming a new band. Talking with Peter and I after the show, he sounded wistful, like he wasn't sure if he was on his way home or leaving it. Well, I'm glad I caught up with him along the way. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson is going places.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Zion A.M.E. Church

Something about the colorful windows and haphazard look of the church seems musical to me. When I look at it I hear gospel music being played on a tinny old honky-tonk piano. And I love it.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Saturday on 125th Street in Spring

A Saturday on 125th Street in the spring is like a carnival. Let's start with the ice cream trucks, either parked at the curb or cruising along with their darling music box chimes. Add sellers of pineapple on a stick, carmelized nuts, fresh fruit, shaved ice, bottled water. Then, throw in some church ladies with a few tables of yard-sale items and home-baked goods for sale: fat slices of cake and sweet potato pies. The backdrop is a swathe of shops both old and new, ranging from soul food dives to American Apparel ridiculousness. The sun is shining and everyone is in a good mood. An old guy is busting out some dancing moves for a guy selling cds of old-time R&B. Ladies selling big colorful wooden earrings laugh at him. Other people are selling corsages, Mother's Day cards, sunglasses, plastic kewpie-doll heads with tootsie-rolls for hair. Then there are the Obama calendars, Obama wallets, t-shirts with Obama's face in sequins. Still other vendors hawk original paintings, Egyptian knick-knacks, and books on every subject from romance to Freemasonry. Don't forget the people with the African shea butter, bath crystals, and incense. The sidewalks are full of strollers, shoppers, romancers, people-watchers, sun-lovers, flirters, and all kinds of people from tourists to old ladies in their curlers to young studs strutting their coolest rhinestone belt-buckles and bling. At street-corners, people are handing out flyers for nail salons alongside Jehovah's Witness ladies in flowery dresses, who stand aback demurely, as gypsy cabdrivers honk, trolling for business. On my way to run an errand I walked down this carnival street, this bustling main street, and soaked in the joie de vivre of the whole scene, regretting that I'd left my camera behind.

The colorful festival atmosphere stood in stark contrast to the scene I encountered in the Harlem Branch Library, located on quiet 124th Street. I stopped there to reserve a book, and felt like I'd stepped back in time. Dusty beams of sunlight shone through the large windows of the old brownstone library building. Beyond a wooden staircase, one large room bordered with bookshelves was peppered with men and women reading newspapers quietly. Circulating air lazily around the warm room, a large fan was attached to the antique wooden desk of a harried librarian, in intense conversation with a handsome young man whose white linen shirt and khaki trousers gave him the look of an expatriate journalist in war-time France. A woman in West African dress sat by the door, fanning her napping child. If not for the laptop users and the librarian's computer (which might have been a card-catalog for all the good it was doing her), it could have been a scene from any day between now and 1925. Some things don't ever change much. For that, I'm grateful.

I checked out my book, smiled at the handsome man, and headed back out into the sunny flower-scented street-carnival day.