Yesterday Anthropapa and I dropped the kids off at daycare and
made like bats out of hell drove to New York City. I think they could hear our shouts of joy all the way to Poughkeepsie.
Until then, I had only been to a very short list of NYC locations: the Rudolf Steiner School, the Met (about 5 times already), the Central Park Zoo, the Belvedere Castle, and the Statue of Liberty. So we finally went somewhere else!
Anthropapa consulted an odd little book called City Secrets: New York City for something to do. I got this book in a trade with friends who were moving to Oregon, for a field guide to birds of the West. The book is odd because it’s a city guide written by a variety of people who live in the city. Some are famous — actor Eric Stoltz, writer Anna Quindlen, musician Pete Seeger, designer Kate Spade — and many are not, but they all know their neighborhoods.
We parked in Greenwich Village and walked a block to the Strand Bookstore. It’s got three floors (“18 miles of books”), with a fine rare book collection on the top floor. We wandered around in there for several hours, having synchronized our watches and establishing a meeting place and time, because there was no way we would be able to find each other amid all the twists and turns of the tall shelves.
I found it to be an odd mixture of a funky used book store — lots of great staff picks, weird art and even poems written directly on the walls, and stacks of books on the floors and towers of boxes everywhere — and a well-stocked new book store. I found the collection to be somewhat disappointing in terms of things I was looking for, though I did notice a good selection of non-mainstream fiction (Helen: lots of Murakami everywhere!).
After that we took a bus down to Chinatown to get lunch. We walked down Bowery, past the vendors selling lots of funky Chinese junk, skirting around a large crowd of men bunched up outside the door of what appeared to be a restaurant supply store. Must have been a good deal on deep fryers that day. I immediately was taken over by a recurring desire to learn to read Chinese. Very frustrating to be surrounded by writing that I cannot read!
Anthropapa had noticed something in the guidebook about the oldest dim sum restaurant in NYC, Nom Wah Tea Parlor. Evidently it’s been there since 1920. It’s down a little crooked street that immediately made me start keeping my eye out for Egg Shen and men with large baskets on their heads! The restaurant smelled of cigar smoke and was completely empty except for two men sitting in the back, eating their lunch. Evidently the owner and the cook.
The owner said, “Dim sum?” We said yes. He said, “Give me a minute.” Which became many, many minutes. Evidently he had to fire up the steamer baskets for the first time that day. Eventually the cook brought us some tea (It was good black tea. I didn’t realize at the time that it was a tea house, or I would have asked for chrysanthemum tea. Evidently they have about 20 kinds of tea available.), but it was a long while before any food came. Which gave me the opportunity to gaze at the general disorder of the place, and marvel that at 12:30 on a weekday there were no other lunch patrons.
The dumplings that came (shu mai, har gow, steamed char siu bao, rice noodle rolls) were all standard fare, and were fresh. Yet again, as I always do at Chinese restaurants, I underestimated the power of the yellow mustard dipping sauce, and after my first bite had to cough and choke and wipe my eyes before going on.
We missed some of our favorites — daikon cake, sesame balls, fried taro balls, egg tart, dou fu fa — but the unkindest cut of all was when I asked for gai lan with oyster sauce. “No gai lan, only dumpling,” was the owner’s reply.
Of course, all my complaints died on my lips as we paid the incredibly enormous bill of $10.00.
We then walked west up Worth Street to catch the bus back to the Village. At the corner of Worth and Church, we encountered the weirdest skyscraper: the AT&T Long Lines Building. No windows at all, only vents high up. Papa got a gold star for guessing that it was a telecommunications hub of some kind. It’s definitely a fortress of some kind!
After that, Papa wanted to see a funky building the guidebook had mentioned: the Jefferson Market Library. The garden behind the library used to be site of the Women’s Detention Center, featured in the odd little movie House of D. Yet another example (the library, not the prison) of Gothic architecture, which seemed to be sprinkled liberally everywhere we went. I love how you can be walking past relatively nondescript businesses and suddenly there’s an old stone church, or a building with fantastic ornamentation — or the Hustler Club on the West Side Highway, complete with half-naked ladies, neon, and friezes of the Three Graces, Larry Flynt style. Lovely.
Throughout the day I marveled at the variety of people in NYC. The bike messenger with glowing orange hair. The Chinese woman on the bus whose legs were so short that her feet could not reach the floor. The old lady on another bus whose odd head movements and beaky nose reminded me of a pigeon. The glamorous ladies with huge sunglasses and tall black boots. The students hanging around outside the NYU dorms on 10th.
Next time all we need to do is remember that during the week before Christmas, don’t expect to get out of Manhattan in under an hour.