Month of Travel: New York, Part 1

In 2011, I attended the Zlatne Uste Golden Festival, but have never been able to return due to work…until 2017! At last! The festival was just one of many delights during four days in New York.

Three days after arriving home from Toronto, John and I load up the car for New York. The drive up couldn’t be easier, especially now that we don’t have to stop for tolls. I simply chant “EZPass EZPass” and clap as we go through the express lanes.

In Brooklyn, Cousin Deanna stands in a parking spot and flags us down. Christmas trees lie on the sidewalks and it smells wonderful. For lunch, Deanna takes us to her spot, Le Paddock, where we all go nuts for deviled eggs.


Day 1: World Trade Center to Greenwich Village

John and I head to Lower Manhattan for a hedonistic walking tour. We start at Le District, part grocery store, part French-themed food hall, to enjoy a red from Vacqueyras and a white from Savenniéres at the wine bar. A scoop of espresso ice cream follows for me! From there, we follow the Hudson Greenway bike path north to Greenwich Village.

Tribeca at dusk

We wander through narrow, quiet streets and spot one restaurant. From the corner, it beckons us with its multi-pane windows and the candlelight within. We see people inside and decide we should be early diners too. Sitting at the bar of the Little Owl, truly little with barely 10 tables, we drink Mondeuse and Falanghina, while I eat delicious Eggplant Parmesan.

From there, we stop at Employees Only, a cocktail bar that routinely lands on lists. The friendly doorman draws back a black velvet curtain and we find ourselves in the 1920s. The only anachronism is that the bartenders wear chef’s coats. John has the Billionaire’s Cocktail — bourbon, lemon, grenadine, absinthe bitters —  and for me, Besos Calientes — tequila, grapefruit, lime, habanero bitters. For the two of us, it’s such a relaxing moment. We haven’t seen each other much the last few weeks and tonight we are finally catching up.

On Bleecker Street, we look at the shops and ponder why a crowd is peacefully dissenting “Let her go! Let her go!” outside a police station. (One person across the street tells us a woman put a poster up where she wasn’t supposed to have, but how does that warrant arrest?) Like good Americans, we quickly forget justice and start shopping. John almost buys a vintage vest, but it is too small. Then, I spot the rainbow-colored storefront of David’s Tea and buy two small bags: Turmeric Glow and North African Mint. Good stuff! We take a whirl around Murray’s Cheese.

John hasn’t eaten much and when he spots the word “tacos” across from Murray’s, his hunger suddenly reveals itself. At garage-like Tacombi, we’re lucky to get seated right away. I move to non-alcoholic drinks and have a super sweet horchata. John tries almost every kind of tiny taco they have — fish, beef, pork, all delicious — and I eat two of the sweet potato-black bean tacos. With corn on the side, we are so content. It’s a short walk to the F train. And what do you know? We home in Brooklyn at 9pm.

Day 2: Upper East Side

For today we have two goals: see art and explore another food hall. On 58th Street, we strike out at Fika, a Swedish coffee shop that by 10am is cleaned out of every last morsel. But with a short walk east, we find heavenly croissants at Plaza Hotel’s Food Hall. We scope the place out and confirm our plans to return for lunch.

Plaza Hotel

In the shadow of Trump Tower, we walk to an unremarkable office building. In search of Galerie St. Etienne, we mistakenly press the elevator button for the 4th floor. The doors open onto a bizarre scene: in a cavernous space, white and purple lights flash and sputter. We can’t see anyone and there’s an accompanying sound, reminiscent of the blaring noises in Mad Max: Fury Road. We know it’s some kind of art installation, but we’re desperate to get away. On the 8th floor, however, we find the Galerie, tucked amidst doctors’ offices. The exhibit “You Say You Want a Revolution: American Artists and the Communist Party” brings us here. Hugo Gellert and Sue Coe are two artists whose work strikes us.


At the Society of Illustrators, a few blocks north, we check our coats and settle into exploring this institution, which exhibits art, holds competitions, and offers workshops for artists. We see work by the most talented illustrators living today in the exhibit: “Illustrators 59: Uncommissioned, Institutional, Advertising”, an annual juried show. Then on the upper floors, John and I marvel (har-har) at the work of comic book illustrator Tony Harris. Still yet on the third floor, we see a Norman Rockwell mural and wonderful work by artists who designed covers for classic magazines like Woman’s Home Companion and Redbook. For John, this is a pilgrimage. Next time, he’ll go to one of their themed sketch nights!

For a break, we walk over to Central Park where the sun spills over the rocks and the wind can’t reach us.

View from Central Park

Then to lunch at the Plaza Food Court! Seats may be hard to come by, but we eventually get a spot where we have no choice but to listen to a younger woman describe to an older woman, a family friend it seemed, every step in her thought process about whether to move in with her boyfriend. Meanwhile, my broccoli and feta sandwich from No. 7 Sub is fantastic, while John’s fennel sausage from Todd English hits the spot. While I finish up, John decides to find dessert; he comes back with a bag of hot cinnamon and sugar doughnut holes from the Doughnuttery. I buy a small canister from Kusmi tea and then we pick up a kouign amann pastry to eat later. Oh heaven!

Inspired by our visit to the Society of Illustrators, we set off for the St. Regis Hotel, where a Maxfield Parrish mural of “Old King Cole” dominates the bar. In San Francisco, we paid a pretty penny to sit beneath Parrish’s “The Pied Piper of Hamlin” at the Palace Hotel. The drinks cost even more here! But the little bar snacks are delicious.


For the last mural of the day, we take a short subway ride up to the Met. In 2013, we went to the AXA Equitable Tower only to learn that the Thomas Hart Benton mural, American Today (1931), had been moved! Now, in 2017, we see it in its new home — a custom room where one can sit surrounded by the 10-canvas panorama!


While at the Met, we also see an exhibit about Max Beckmann, a German artist who moved to New York in the late 1940s. He apparently spent much time at the St. Regis Hotel and the Plaza Hotel — exactly like us!  And I finally get to the Costume Institute!

A happy day of art and with so many lifelong dreams met, John and I board the subway back to the Brooklyn.

Now with Deanna, we head to dinner at Le Paddock and then on to Golden Fest at Grand Prospect Hall. The festival has gotten bigger, but the wine is just as strange and the music just as brilliant! I know to strip down to a tank top and jump into the circle. Deanna and John join me off and on, but mainly I am left to swirl in a sea of sweaty hands and nimble feet. I give myself over to the arrhythmic beats and bilateral dancing patterns.


When I can dance no more, I go upstairs to the balcony to watch from above. Here one can easily spot the factions, the dancers out of sync, the knowledgeable dancers doing some trickier variant. It’s a marvelous chaotic soup.

Following tradition, we three must have pizza after Balkan Fest! No one remembers where we went six years ago, so Deanna and John do some searching and decide on American Cheez, a bar that serves free pizza when you buy a drink. Really? Yes! The owner treats us like he’s known us forever; 70s rock plays; the women’s bathroom is plastered with old John Travolta photos; posters everywhere; a few TVs — one showing an old movie. The owner gets down his Trump and Ron Burgundy figurines and puts them in all kinds of compromising positions. We love the whole spirit of the place. And truly, there is nothing better than pizza at midnight, but really I’m exhausted and ready to sleep.

Continue to Part 2



Month of Travel: Toronto

A short photo diary about a work trip to crisp Toronto, January 5-8

The future
The screens cover every inch of DCA’s Terminal A. If this is the future, leave me out of it.
Hotel room view
From my hotel window, I look on City Hall and a picturesque ice skating rink.
Kensington Market
Whenever I’m in a city, I make markets part of my sightseeing agenda. A mile-long walk on a frozen Friday morning brought me and a colleague to St. Lawrence Market, where we found beautifully displayed meat, seafood, and cheese.
Toronto morning
A glimpse of the CN Tower on our walk back
Beautiful building
I enjoyed Toronto’s range of architecture: gorgeous old treasures to faceless skyscrapers. Look how clean these streets are!
Old City Hall
The Old City Hall
City Hall
The UFO-like new City Hall
Soup Nutsy
On Toronto’s underground “PATH”, one may find food court after food court — like rocks amid the business people rapids. The food quality could be hit or miss — I heard tell from one colleague about cold, hard noodles from a Szechuan spot — but Soup Nutsy was good!
Momofuku Milkbar
For our two group dinners, I ate well at excellent restaurants near the hotel, including Volos and Little Anthony’s. Then, on Saturday night, my colleague and I had an early dinner at Momofuku’s Noodle Bar. I loved the pumpkin ramen and bought these two cookies from the Milk Bar. By 11pm, when I was done with all my responsibilities and felt weary and ravenous, that chocolate cookie did the trick.
The view
After staring at this wall for three days, I get to go home! Farewell, fair Toronto! If I ever come back, it will be in spring or summer. Also, I promise to bring Canadian dollars next time.


Photo Tour of the -tons Road Trip

A four-day trip to visit family and make progress on my donut shop and state park lists. Nights in Binghamton, Northampton, and Canton.

Water Street Brewing of Binghamton, NY
Free at last from the car, we celebrate at an old favorite, Water Street Brewing in Binghamton, NY. The star is “Cyborg Betty”, an imperial red ale.
Who knew? It's Binghamton
We find important history in a Binghamton parking garage.
Willow cat
Our Binghamton hosts include the glamorous Willow.
Binghamton diner
Dinner is a wonderful cookout with grilled perogies! Then the next morning John’s aunt and uncle take us out to the Red Oak Diner. I get a waffle, because, hey, I’m on vacation!
Mrs. Murphy's of Southwick, MA
It’s a three hour drive to Northampton. We pass through three toll booths and have to pay $0, $0.85, and $1.40. Lunch on the road, not too far from Northampton, is a satisfying cake donut and coffee. Because, hey, we’re on vacation! And we ate all of the healthy snacks.
We walk around Northampton’s main street, where I buy fancy green tea and a pair of socks with cats on them. Then to Skinner State Park, which we will have FOREVER.
View from Mt. Holyoke at Skinner State Park
At the park, we drive to the top of Mt. Holyoke for a lovely view.
Starlight Llama B&B
Ready to relax, we check in at the Starlight Llama, a solar-powered B&B north of Northampton. We meet the llamas, emus, guineafowl, dogs, and chickens. The owner gives us recommendations for places to visit in town; we check times and menus and head out.
Northampton building
Not having had a real lunch, we eat an early dinner at Paul and and Elizabeth’s, a vegetarian-friendly, Asian-inflected restaurant. We start with wonderful black bean-filled ravioli and have fun chatting with our waitress, a filmmaker who wears light tortoiseshell glasses. The entrees are gigantic — tempura vegetables and udon noodles with seitan!  John gives the leftovers to a young man, one of Northampton’s many homeless. We continue to explore the town: lattes at Haymarket, a shared flight of beer at Northampton Brewery, and finally wine at the swanky, nearly subterranean Tunnel Bar.
Smith College greenhouse
The next morning at the B&B, we have granola and fresh eggs from the hens twenty feet away. Before continuing east, we go into town to explore the Smith College campus and botanic gardens.
Paradise Pond
In high school, I won a Smith College Book Award, but never bothered applying. This was my much belated campus tour! I’ll say Smith’s Paradise Pond is much more picturesque than UMBC’s Pig Pen Pond.
Wachusett Mt
By midday, we find ourselves at another state park: Wachusett Mountain. It’s a gorgeous day for an easy hike up the Mountain House Trail. For some reason, lots of people have their cameras out on the mountain top.
Wachusett Mt
John and I contemplate the view and then consider our hungry bellies. Yelp points us to Mill No. 3 Farmstand, a fantastic sandwich shop and garden center on the Nashua River. An hour later, we arrive at our hotel in Dedham. We quickly change and then go out to dinner with John’s mom, sister, and niece at the old-school Italian joint, La Scala.
Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum
The next morning, I have an exquisite rose-flavored latte at the Big Bear Cafe in Dedham. John and I pick up his mom and drive to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Only the first and third floors are open, but we still love seeing the eclectic collections, ranging from medieval church pews to Sargent portraits.
Trillium Brewing of Canton, MA
After a quick lunch at Roxane’s Taqueria, John and I take his mom to one of Canton’s microbreweries: Trillium. Their two wild ales — a raspberry sour beer aged in oak and a beer that tastes like wine (aged with grapes in wine, port, and cognac barrels) are totally unique and only available in the taproom.
Sunset in Walpole
In the late afternoon, after a long visit, we say goodbye to John’s mom. I crave a walk and find a park on Google. In the mild air, we dodge soccer teams and goose poop and still manage to enjoy the sunset.
Giant salad in Canton, MA
John decides on dinner at Yard House, a place with a ton of beers on draft and lots of vegetarian options, including this huge quinoa salad in a mixing bowl. I had leftovers for lunch the next day.
Allie's Donuts of Kingstown, Rhode Island
Drunk people in the Hilton hallway keep us up for most of the night. We get up around 5:30am and are on I-95 by 6am. At Allie’s Donuts in Rhode Island, we have our choice of classic cake donuts to spur us on for the 6-7 hour drive home. Some of the best donuts ever and a sweet conclusion to a short jaunt through New England.

1948 European Realists

Survivor of Buchenwald sits on UNRRA truck. Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park

The Search portrays one of the major challenges after the end of WWII:  the liberation, registration, and care of displaced children who survived the concentration camps. The movie centers on one 9-year-old Czech boy, who hardly speaks, does not know his name, and does not know where he was born. He escapes from aid workers, but an American army engineer finds him and takes him in. Meanwhile, the boy’s mother is looking for him; by pure luck, mother and child are united.

Shot on location in eastern Germany, The Search looks like a documentary. Until Montgomery Clift comes on screen, it may as well be a documentary. Clift, as the army man, and Ivan Jandl, as the boy, give such natural, wonderful performances. Jandl communicates so much with his facial expressions and he carries the movie’s many silent sequences (accompanied by music) with a gripping intensity. I found the film moving, informative, uplifting: a must-see.

Source: The New York Public Library Digital Collections

Before Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, there was The Bicycle Thief. Like the earlier Italian film Open City (1945), The Bicycle Thief offers a realistic vision of daily life in Rome: its traffic, poverty, and diverse population. The movie follows Antonio, an unemployed man — his family so poor they even pawn their sheets — who at last succeeds in getting a job hanging posters. However, the work requires a bicycle and on the first day his bicycle is stolen. For the rest of the film, Antonio and his son search across Rome and come into contact with all of humanity: garbage collectors, priests, merchants, policemen, a fortune teller, prostitutes. Each unsuccessful episode in the search pushes Antonio into a deeper state of anxiety and desperation. The sudden “FINE” on the screen surprised me. I suppose there can be no happy, satisfying endings in Italian neorealism?

1948 Noir on Location

Three films set in specific places…

Wall Street. Source: The New York Public Library Digital Collections

Like Body and SoulForce of Evil stars John Garfield in a modern day morality play by Abraham Polonsky. Running at 78 minutes, this taut drama does not waste a second. The story follows two brothers: a Wall Street lawyer (Garfield), who signs on with the mob, and his older brother (Thomas Gomez), who runs a small “bank” (aka numbers racket). Not knowing anything about the numbers racket or betting, I found myself adrift. Still, John Garfield always delivers — here he plays a charismatic, intelligent, morally conflicted character whose perfect little scheme unravels into chaos.

When I have so little to say about a movie, I look to others: here’s Martin Scorsese on the influence the film has had on his work.

Williamsburg Bridge. Source: Library of Congress

Part police procedural, part documentary, The Naked City tells the story of a murder case, while interspersing scenes of daily life in New York City. As the narrator intones, this is just one of 8 million stories from the naked city. A visual homage to New York, as though Alfred Stieglitz had been behind the camera, the cinematography elevates this otherwise ordinary detective story (indeed, the film won Oscars for cinematography and editing).

When the film isn’t appreciating New York at night, its crowded streets, or its engaging population, the camera follows Detective Dan Muldoon, an old-timer on the force, and his rookie colleague, Jimmy Halloran, as they try to solve the murder of a model over the course of a week. The film shows the collaborative nature of police work and how the whole city gets caught up in the story: commuters follow the headlines, a crazy old lady comes to the police station with her theories about the case, while a crazy young man confesses to the murder. Shot on location, the film shows the amount of “legwork” involved with Halloran and others following up leads across the city. At last, the police corner the murderer on the Williamsburg Bridge, which provides ample opportunities for glorious views of Manhattan and the bridge trusses.

Unlike other noirs that feature romance or a web of ridiculous subplots, The Naked City sticks to straightforward police procedures. And unlike other noirs that underscore the depravity of the characters or present complex PIs with ambiguous morals, The Naked City, very much like the radio-program Dragnet, operates within a simple worldview. The cops are really good guys with cute families and fluffy bathrobes, while the bad guys, despite how friendly a harmonica-playing wrestler might seem at first, are really bad. 

Source: The New York Public Library Digital Collections

Released in July 1948, Key Largo offers star-studded summer entertainment and answers a question I’ve often pondered: “What happens when three normal people get trapped in a hotel with a bunch of mobsters during a hurricane?”. In this John Huston directed feature, everyone plays their bit: Humphrey Bogart as the wise guy; Edward G. Robinson, the mobster; Lauren Bacall, the gutsy, but vulnerable love interest; and Lionel Barrymore, the crotchety old man. Thomas Gomez of Force of Evil appears here as a chatty attendant to Robinson’s kingpin (the attendants are not unlike Snow White’s Seven Dwarves — each one with some distinctive trait).

So what does happen? In just a few short hours, Robinson’s Johnny Rocco manages to humiliate everyone, especially his old flame (Claire Trevor); shoot a cop; hoodwink another cop; offend the local Seminoles; and sell counterfeit money to a Miami-based gang — all without leaving the hotel! But Rocco makes a fatal mistake. He trusts Frank, Bogart’s drifter, a war vet who wants to live modestly and quietly and who appears to be motivated only by self-preservation. Forced to transport the mobsters back to Cuba, Frank executes a brilliant plan that leaves him the only man standing.

1948 Laughs

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. My first Abbott and Costello movie helped me understand why these two comedians “were among the most popular and highly paid entertainers” (Wikipedia) of the 1940s. In this film, the adorable, cherubic Costello (whose physical comedy made me think of Jim Belushi in Animal House) and the severe Abbott team up with Universal’s greatest monsters: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, and the Invisible Man. It’s a hilarious collision of horror and comedy and, since I saw all those horror movies from the 1930s, it was a treat to see everyone back again (for my timeline just a few years, but in real life some 15 years later). Definitely a good Halloween pick!

Unfaithfully Yours. I’ve said before that Preston Sturges has been a major discovery for me during this project, but I had doubts about Unfaithfully Yours. The synopsis on the Netflix DVD jacket disturbed me: a conductor suspecting his wife of infidelity envisions three forms of revenge, each set to a different orchestral piece. Jealousy and domestic violence the foundations for a comedy? Well, I have rarely laughed so hard and the final scene when the conductor’s insane murderous efforts all fall to pieces in an extended slapstick sequence left me gasping for air.

Rex Harrison and Linda Darnell star as the married couple, Alfred and Daphne De Carter. They brilliantly portray the peaks and valleys of the emotional whirlwind set off by an unsolicited detective’s report. After the conductor learns that his wife visited the room of his assistant, cold shock melts into a boiling jealous rage. That evening at his concert, the conductor obsesses over possible outcomes:  calculated murder, generous forgiveness, or a game of Russian roulette. The fantasies follow the accompanying music so perfectly and in each Harrison and Darnell strike the right tone effortlessly. I found it fascinating to see the same scene play out three different ways and then follow those imaginary strands through the conductor’s evening after the performance.

The supporting cast contributes to farcical aspects of the plot. Rudy Vallee plays the idiotic brother-in-law who interprets “keep an eye on” to mean “hire a detective”. The detective turns out to be a huge fan of the conductor and goes to the performance with his friend, a Jewish tailor, who shouts “Hooray!” instead of “Bravo!” at every possible occasion.

For as much as the story concerns presumed adultery, the movie also captures the tender, small moments that occur between a couple on a day-to-day basis. Dark, yes, but also clever, ironic, and devastatingly funny, Unfaithfully Yours is another gem from Sturges.

Misty Mountain

(Kentuckessee Part 4 of 4)

We drive across Tennessee on I-40 with ease. The amount of brochures at one rest stop amaze me. A couple hundred linear feet of materials organized by regions of the state.

By early afternoon, we come to Johnson City, a railroad hub just west of the Appalachians. After seeing an Al Capone-inspired bar and a mural with his mug, I want to know what the connection is:  Johnson City, nicknamed “Little Chicago”, was rumored to be a hideout for Capone.

For lunch we escape the heat and eat at a deli. Our server, a blond young woman wearing a rhinestone-studded hat, proves to be the friendliest person with neck tattoos we’ve ever met. With her approval, John tries the local beer from Yee-Haw Brewing.

Johnson City, TN

Roan Mountain State Park brings us to this deep corner of Eastern TN. Budding rhododendrons fill the forest, but they won’t be in bloom for another week or two. Near the visitor center we take a short hike following the pretty Doe River, where fishermen wade to catch trout. The sky clouds over and soon rain starts, so we curtail our explorations and drive to our bed and breakfast.

The B&B started out as a log cabin, but additions and renovations have made it a jumble of historic and new-ish. Our room, though dated in its wallpaper and palette, is spacious with an immensely comfortable bed.

Soon the rain stops, so we seize the chance to drive up the mountain. The sun even comes out as we climb to higher and higher elevations. Our car’s 24-year-old engine works hard and the threat of overheating makes me nervous. With fingers crossed, we reach the final parking lot at around 5600′ after crossing the Appalachian Trail.

Roan Mountain

However, mist shrouds the top of the mountain. The chilling breeze and fine drizzle make an extended hike implausible. This happens everytime we’re near the Smokies! It’s an amateur mistake: shorts and a t-shirt feel good down in the valley, but the mountain top is another world. Truly.

Roan Mountain

Roan Mountain
Moss like algae clinging to a shipwreck
Roan Mountain
I might loose myself to the mist

Fearing that a storm might manifest at any moment, we head down the mountain after a time, but the mist is confined to the magical peaks; elsewhere the sun is still out.

For dinner, a fantastic veggie wood-fired pizza rewards our patient waiting at Smoky Mountain Bakers. The peppers are a little spicy, but a few chunks of sweet pineapple offset. On my left is a couple out for a first date. The woman has a glorious TN accent and, embarrassed, admits she majored in Home Economics at college. On my right, one friendly family is replaced by another. John delights two Ecuadorian abuelas, visiting their American relatives, with his Spanish and they correct him on the words for beard and mustache. The topic comes up because this spotted cat roams the deck:

Pizza kitty

I want dessert and hesitantly direct John to Bob’s Dairyland, which, he says, if we don’t go in, we’ll regret it. The place, though called “dairyland”, seems to be more of a BBQ joint, but there is soft-serve. I watch with fascination as the girl uses a milkshake mixer to combine vanilla soft-serve with syrup to make chocolate. Now that’s efficient.

If not for the rain, we might have gone to the state park’s amphitheater for a music night. Instead we read novels on the B&B porch and retire deliciously early. (The Moor’s Account — so good!)

Roan Mountain

After blueberry pancakes for breakfast, we hit the road on a misty Sunday morning. Driving back home is an all-day affair. Our longest break comes at lunchtime; in Roanoke, we eat tartines and paninis at Bread Craft. As with Johnson City, we’re pleasantly surprised by the activity in Roanoke, which has some very cute shops.

The rest of the afternoon goes downhill. Traffic slows due to an overturned truck; we see a massive pick-up truck ram a deer; then there’s the hellacious DC traffic on a Sunday at 4:30pm; and finally, a torrential downpour lets loose just when I try to exit the car to pick up my farm bag of veggies from a friend’s house. John’s poor nerves can’t handle another thing, but the whole time we try to unpack the car a baby’s screams echo throughout the parking garage.

Welcome home! DC traffic

With such an unpleasant ending to the trip, we grumpily bustle about trying to readjust to being home. But by the next day, our love of normal living returns — nuzzling the cat, making our own food, familiar contours in the mattress. Wanderlust temporarily sated, I consider the amazing city I live in and vow to explore its treasures more often. For example, I need to investigate the availability of beer-bourbon cocktails.

Still, the parks of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee we visited? Beyond compare. Every state park I visit only feeds the dream to see all those included in my National Geographic book. Been to 28 in 16 states on the list…only 178 to go.

return to start of Kentuckessee travelogue