Thursday, December 30, 2010

On the first bus out of town

Curiously, the B train appears to be operational--I saw three go by this morning--but there's nary a Q in sight. That's okay, since I'm decamping to Philadelphia shortly. See y'all next year, and thanks for reading in 2010.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

No time to post, guys, largely because of stuff like this. The blogs I read on transportation and Brooklyn are all absolutely flooded with pictures and stats and complaints about snow cleanup. It still surprises me that I have made it in to work at all, considering. And apparently on my favorite dangerous streetcorner there are yet more problems.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Snowed out

Last night I stayed over at K.--'s house, sensing that I might not be able to get to work from my own. The wind blew so hard that I kept waking up to hear it rattling the windows; in fact, snow came inside at one point. Brrr. I sort of wished I'd stayed in my sometimes overly warm home, only it's probably buried under a foot of snow right now. I am not looking forward to digging my way through to the side entrance of the house, and rumor has it that service on all the nearby subway lines (which run aboveground, usually a positive thing) is suspended.

Living in the city, you often forget what a force nature is, until you watch the snow fall down at night and wake up in the morning surrounded. Snowplows were out in some places but I had to wade through knee-high drifts at times, and only the side entrance to the office has been shoveled. It's sort of nice to be here on such a skeleton-crew quiet day; it's unclear whether the courts are even open, for starters. It's fun to see who comes in, a sort of Twelve Day of Christmas style count-up. We are currently up to four, with one more on the way. I am grateful to E.-- for her gift of Starbucks Via; I was so frozen on the way in that even making coffee in a French press felt beyond me.

Well, I'm all awake now, and still a bit dazzled by all the snow. I hope I will be able to leave in time to enjoy the beauty of my neighborhood in it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Top ten, part three

And, finally:

3) The National; High Violet
Three is an appropriate number for this one, since I have seen my favorite band perform not just one but three times this year, at Radio City, the Electric Factory, and Prospect Park. This album does not flow as effortlessly as the band's Boxer, which is among my top ten favorite albums ever, but most of the songs are genius. "England" is definitely the best piece of popular music I have listened to in a long time. It's a great album for all moods--the bleak despair of "Afraid of Everyone," the power of "Bloodbuzz Ohio," the dreaminess of "Runaway." Plus, there is a song about zombies that is not cutesy at all. What's not to like?

2) Belle and Sebastian; If You're Feeling Sinister
Though I'd been meaning to before, I never properly listened to Belle and Sebastian until the veryvery end of last year. If You're Feeling Sinister is the album I played constantly at the beginning of 2010; unlike many, it's an album that's worth listening to in order from start to finish. Belle and Sebastian did release a new album this year, Write About Love, which I have purchased, but I haven't listened to it yet since I am trying to listen to all their work in more or less chronological order. I saw them play live at the Williamsburg Waterfront; though the weather forecast had a 100% chance of rain, B and S prevailed with a dry night. I even, thanks to the grace of the security guards, was able to stand to the side and *see* the band, an unusual occurrence owing to my, um, vast height. I look forward to absorbing even more of their music in the coming year.

1) Mumford & Sons; Sigh No More
Mumford takes the top spot here because their songs are so joyous. They are similar to one another, but in a way that makes me feel I'm revisiting an old friend rather than listening to the same tired chords over and over. I saw them in concert and got goosebumps as they played "Awake My Soul"--many of their other songs are just as good and make me feel like I'm able to take on anything. "Awake" most notably, as well as other songs, really helped in my late-year project to, well, awake in the mornings at a much earlier hour, and much more coherently, than in years past, and is perfect to listen to as the sun climbs higher in a winter morning sky. It is also worth mentioning that Sigh No More has some great angry songs; Mumford really does all emotions so that you feel them yourself.

*Honorable mention: Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra
Though this piece was obviously not recorded remotely recently, I had my attention brought to it by C.-- earlier this year (in response to a post I made here, in fact). He could tell you the story behind it much better than I could, but suffice it to say it was a triumph for Bartok, as well as for me! Shostakovich 5 will always be my favorite, but this one's pretty damn close. I saw it live, too (what a lucky year I've had for concerts!) and hope I'll be able to again.

Thanks for reading and later, folks; I'm going to listen to some Sufjan Stevens Christmas carols while it's still the season.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Top ten, part two

Some more music!

6) Lucy Wainwright Roche; 8 Songs
I found Lucy Wainwright Roche, as I must admit I have found many artists, on NPR's Song of the Day. I wound up listening to her album Lucy on my Dahill walk, but it is 8 Songs that holds my attention even more. I really like Roche's own work--and recently saw her perform some of it--but there is something perfect about her uncomplicated cover songs: the unexpected appearance of Richard Shindell's Next Best Western; one haunting a capella B. Allen that I probably like more than S&G's more-conventionalyl titled version; a light-as-air rendition of Fleetwood Mac's "Everywhere" as the snow starts to fall.

5) Spoon; Transference
I knew Spoon before but their newest album surely deserves a spot here, since it's among the first few albums I really enjoyed this year. Each song blends catchily, inexorably into the next, and back when I was in better shape I found it a perfect soundtrack for running around the neighborhood. There's something really joyous about my favorite "Got Nuffin." I got to see Spoon live at Radio City earlier this year and it was well worth the journey into the depths of Midtown.

4) Gabriel Kahane; Gabriel Kahane
I first heard of Gabriel Kahane 'cause he lives in my neighborhood. A contributor to Sufjan Stevens's albums and a friend of Elizabeth, #10 on this list, he makes songs with interesting lyrics that combine classical music attention to detail with indie rock melodies (like the hilarious, awkward Craigslistlieder, available for free online). On his self-titled album, Underberg is a perfect soundtrack for The Fortress of Solitude, or for any Brooklyn nostalgia trip, and the gorgeous, deceptively upbeat-sounding North Adams always reminds me of traveling in Massachussetts this summer. I had the pleasure of seeing Kahane in concert with the great-named Rob Moose in the tiny nuclear bunker that is the basement of Sycamore, my neighborhood's oft-mentioned whiskey bar flower shop, and look forward to his new album, due out next year.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Everything falls apart

Yesterday in the space of a couple of minutes, my headphones broke and I realized that it was my phone, not its battery, that was defective. Out of sorts, I went to 826's party, unwound a bit...only to trip and fall running to catch the bus afterward, slow-motion banana-peel style. I nicely ripped holes in my gloves and my knees in the process.

I didn't used to think I was more accident-prone than other people, but by now I suspect it's the case. And something about winter brings on more than its share of problems—bike and feet skid, bag buckles warp, electronics go on the blink (just replaced an alarm clock on Sunday too) and tempers fray.

And yet there is something glorious about the snow and ice, the cold that makes things crackle and break, the Christmas lights that adorn the streets, the way you forget about everything else except staying warm.

And so I'll curl up with my cider now and try not to muse any longer on what's broken, or only so long as it takes me to appreciate that I can meet my father and have him look at my knees and set me up with a new cell phone, that I can buy myself new headphones and an alarm clock, and remind myself that I can be bigger than some of the stuff that's gone wrong lately.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Top ten, part one

Herein, the first portion of the top ten artists I have discovered this year. Not every band put out an album this year, but they are all pretty current. Since I am a liiiittle pressed for time these days, I will just offer a brief summary and maybe cite a memory of a particularly nice listening experience. Hit me up if you want to hear some of the songs.

10) Elizabeth and the Catapult; Taller Children
The first of several members of this list to hail from my own Brooklyn, I first heard of them when they played a concert with the guy who will be #4 here. I was immediately drawn to them by their excellent name. Elizabeth sings clever lyrics in a whole range of styles. I recommend the infectious "Race You" and the dreamy "Rainiest Day of Summer," which I have listened to on rainy days of my own. My favorite memory is listening to their first album on a perfect day in Philadelphia, on my way to Green Line Cafe, wandering the city.

9) Beach House; Teen Dream
Beach House puts out the perfect music for cold days where the sky is white and you find yourself retreating into your own cozy world. I listened to their album streaming on NPR before my giant walk down Bedford Avenue; I walked with them in the snow to Iris Cafe on an enchanted Saturday morning. I had the pleasure of seeing them live in Prospect Park, as an opener for this list's #3, and they are just as magical in the summer.

8) Clogs; Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton
A member of #3 (I recognize doing this in reverse top-ten format has developed some problems of mysteriousness) and his various compatriots comprise this instrumental-rock group who I first encountered on a neat program at BAM where the Brooklyn Phil brought in rock artists that it liked. They've now turned towards music with some vocalists, including awesome guests Sufjan Stevens and Matt Berninger. "Red Seas" is particularly haunting, but all the songs are really just gorgeous.

7) Sharon Van Etten; Epic
I had a hard time tracking down Sharon Van Etten's "Much More Than That" after hearing it on NPR's Song of the Day, but I am glad that I did, and that I found her 7-track Epic. As I have mentioned here, "Don't Do It" is the perfect soundtrack for striding bravely through fall. And I often have a hard time finding female vocalists I like, but her voice is compelling in a whole range from the quiet of "Much More Than That" to some of the rockers on Epic like the aforementioned "Don't Do It" and brassy "Peace Signs." I wish I had gotten a chance to see her live, but it's eluded me so far; she is opening for #3 next year but, alas, in Europe.

Stay tuned for bands 6 through 1, and if you would like me to expand anything from this sketchy set of descriptions, let me know!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Gloom and doom

I read many a blog lamenting the demise of the New York of yesteryear. It is fascinating to learn about what has gone before, particularly from Forgotten NY, but I generally find the overall tone a little too doomsday for me, elimination of subway lines excluded. Yes, many of the glories of yore have vanished, but so have plenty of problems. Call me bland, but I'd rather have a Times Square with its (certainly bemusing) pedestrian mall than one overrun with sex shops. Call me a gentrifier (and believe me, I do this in my guilty head a lot), but I'd rather have a coffee shop with friendly staff and delicious fare than an unfriendly neighborhood institution where the waiters hit on me creepily (but that's another story). So, all in all, I think change is a mixed bag, but not without its redeeming factors.

But yesterday night around Union Square I found my agreement with the bloggers growing. I got the first inkling at the Strand, which I guess is not gentrifying so much as diversifying from its publishing (is dead! long live publishing!) inventory. There's something creepy about the lovably grimy store of your childhood transformed into a plethora of trendy kitchen instruments and a candy bar assortment that Willy Wonka would envy. Of course, there are still books, but every day it seems like the selection has decreased and the prices gone up and they are rearranging the place so damn fast I can never find what I'm looking for anymore. I experienced a moment of fondness for my neighborhood library which, though with its own set of problems, doesn't place a candy counter between you and your book purchases.

All this was bad enough but it wasn't until 14th Street proper that I really felt that old New York was dead. Walking to Strand as a child, I remember the giant construction pit on 14th that gradually rose up to become a Virgin megastore, movie theater, and Circuit City. Chain storey, sure, but I found myself visiting all of them at one point or another. But, yeah, record stores are practically no more, Circuit City has been replaced by a glossier yet less-content-filled Best Buy, and Nordstrom Rack, a monstrous glass Citibank office, and a shiny new-style Duane Reade have taken over the rest of the 14th Street side of the building. From the street, it looks exactly like a generic anyoldplace strip mall.

And I found something utterly sinister about the inside of the Duane Reade. I generally like the store, since it's more or less a New York institution (though that's questionable now that it's been bought up by Walgreens) and of course since each one is equipped with an ATM from my bank. But the 14th Street branch doesn't resemble a drugstore anymore. Instead, it's a space age emporium and I had trouble describing it to my companion: grocery store? department store? The aisles are shiny and filled with displays of products I might otherwise like--Eli's sandwiches, Rice to Riches pudding, Rob's iced tea (I regret I did not make it far past the food, what a surprise)--but there is something disturbing about finding them inside a drugstore. This is the future, I told my friend. One surgically neon-lit sell-all cure-all emporium. Forget about buying rice pudding or sandwiches or what have you straight from the source. Forget about the joy of exploring a new neighborhood and finding out its specialties. Forget about each neighborhood looking substantially different from the one next door. Nope, it's one size fits all, and this size is going to cover the globe. I can't wait. Can you?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sunset Park

I'm not Paul Auster's biggest fan, even though I feel like I should be. (Bizarre postmodern storytelling, New York settings, mysteries galore--what's not to like? Surprisingly, there's something, though I can't put my finger on exactly what.) So I was surprised by how much I enjoyed his latest, Sunset Park, after its name, and setting, drew me to pick it up despite my reservations.

Sunset Park's not an uplifting book, to put it mildly, but I still found it compelling. Maybe because I come from a similar enough background to New-York-born Miles, the most-main character (each of the characters has a lengthy section devoted to him or her, but it's Miles who pulls them all together) that I can sympathize with him. But his life situation is also so unusual--he's run off to Florida to hide from a tragic accident, works for a company that cleans out the homes of evicted people, and eventually returns to New York to squat in a house in Sunset Park--that it held my interest.

I think above all Auster is good at providing a compelling senses of character and place. The story isn't really driven by external events, except in its final, potentially devastating, moments; instead, it's about what happens when characters take the time to figure out themselves and their relationships to their families, friends, and lovers. And, of course, to their places--blighted Sunset Park (surely not quite as sinister in real life as Auster makes it out to be here), the strange no-man's-land of Florida for a New Yorker, the remembered opulent Manhattan past. I felt myself entering the strange wintry twilight of Sunset Park, worrying along with the characters about guilt, redemption, looking for a meaningful job, and repairing family relations. I won't say more here--it's a busy week--except to recommend this book if you want to immerse yourself in the richly imagined lives of others.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Scofflaw that I am, I took off from work today so I didn’t have to get to bed early last night after seeing my surprise-favorite Chanticleer perform in front of the Christmas tree at the Met. Early afternoon seemed like a perfect time for a bike ride, so off I went.

This time, I took a straight path down Clarendon Road, which I had always been curious about since a high school classmate lived there. There is now a nice bike lane in each direction (well, nice except for the gazillions of sewer grates and stuff that made the path bumpy) and so I toddled off to Ralph Avenue, site of the Wyckoff farmhouse, apparently the oldest house in the five boroughs, dating from, if I recall correctly, 1656 (!). There was not too much to see since the museum did not appear to be open, but my bike and I walked down the path and saw the house itself as well as the gardens around it--what looked like apples and tiny eggplants were growing to glory. The house was quite a sight, nestling in quite comfortably amidst the drive-throughs and factories and single family homes in the area. It also verges on a fun geographical nexus, where East 59th and 83rd streets intersect. What?!

While I am on my favorite topic of streets, I will spare some love for the New Yorky set of avenues starting at New York, heading to Brooklyn, Kingston, Albany, Schenectady, Utica... I believe that the farther east the roads are, the farther away the cities are from this one. Also worth a mention is the meandering Kings Highway, which is much more highwaylike out here than at the urban-law-unto-itself Kings Highway Q stop.

On my way back down Clarendon, tiny sharp rainbows emanated out from my bike's wheels as I paused at street lights. All in all, an hour well spent.