09 May 2017

Tiny Update: Room Makeover

I don't have time for a major update, but I am happy to report that I have updated my bedroom, with Sarah's loving help. Most of the reasons for me doing so will be made public later, but I can say it was a long time coming. It's still a work in progress, but I'm so very proud of it, why not show it off? I don't have 'before' pictures, unfortunately, but enjoy the 'after's!

 Here you can see the main part of my room. My bed was previously in the centre of the room, and the bookshelf shoved into the corner. The Grandma Chair had been in another room entirely. We picked up my bed and moved it so that it's now up against the radiator. (Not pictured. Also not pictured, the dresser we moved next to the radiator.) The bookshelf got moved as well, and then we had a heck of a time getting the Grandma Chair, as I have affectionately named the thing, into the room to its ultimate spot.

 A closeup of the corner the chair is in, my cozy creative corner where I do most of my writing. (I'm writing from that corner right now.) The second chair is when Sarah comes over to help me with a certain writing project. In this photo there's a scarf draped over the back of the chair, but that'll likely be moved. Eventually.

Opposite my bed is my gallery wall. When I started it, it had the vague theme of "eccentric Victorian traveller", thus the old portraits and silhouette and the palmistry guide and global goods such as the tin heart and Polish flag. (Though I've had that flag for years.) The theme has... not quite been executed, as after a few months I decided to go with a more eclectic "I like it so it goes" theme for the entire room. However, there is at least one piece of art that hasn't made it onto the gallery wall...

This painting. THIS PAINTING. Sarah and I found it at a yard sale down the street from Hamilton Park when she visited me last weekend and I fell in love with it immediately. Isn't it the worst, kitschiest piece of fantasy schlock you've ever seen? I needed this in my life. It's handpainted on a piece of black velvet and I'm not sure what it's meant to portray but I'm a little obsessed with it and its special brand of kitsch. I'm thinking of hanging it between the bookshelf and the Grandma Chair.

As you can see, the room is still a work in progress. In addition to hanging the painting, I also would like to get a rug, and I've bought a clothing rack which still hasn't shipped to me yet. But I'm pleased with how it's going so far. It's nice to finally love my room so much.

30 April 2017

Visiting the Grave of Sarah Winchester

Yesterday, three former Winchester Mystery House tour guides (myself, Sarah, and Hannah) took a journey that I have been meaning to take since moving to the East Coast. We met in Grand Central Station at noon, boarded a train to New Haven, CT, and went to the Evergreen Cemetery to find the final resting place of the woman who built the House we all loved working in so much - Sarah Winchester.

12 April 2017

Nym's Guide to the Jewish Lower East Side

It's officially Passover, that special time of year to have "Da-Dayenu" stuck in your head for 8 days straight and to eat so much matzo that by the end of the week you never wanna see a matzo ball again. It's time to commemorate the "passing over" of the Jewish people from the slavery of Egypt to the promised land by attending a Seder or two, and/or by (and this is my own yearly tradition) watching your favourite movie adaptation of the Exodus story. (For the record, I'm team "Prince of Egypt", and all you team "Ten Commandments" people can bite my ass.)

But while all that that is certainly worth commemorating, it's not the only "passing over" that the Jewish people have experienced. And lately (thanks in large part to Sarah who enables me) I've been thinking a lot about a different time period's "passing over".

Namely, when Eastern European Jews fled the pogroms and prejudice in the Pale of Settlement, passed over the Atlantic Ocean, and settled in the United States. Many of them in the Lower East Side neighbourhood of New York City, as dramatised by another appropriate movie for this time of year, "American Tail." (I like animated movies, so sue me!)

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service
With the current political "debate" surrounding immigration (in my opinion there should be no debate - human beings are not illegal, you fucks), this Passover is a perfect time to find connections with our immigrant past, and the Lower East Side is the perfect place to do that, whether or not you are Jewish. (This place was also home to Italian, Polish-Catholic, Irish, German, and Chinese immigrants. This post is focused on the Jewish experience in honour of Passover.)

Now unfortunately, the historic Lower East Side is changing fast nowadays. Gentrification is pushing out family businesses - There's a Whole Foods on Houston Street, and I heard recently of plans to completely overhaul the Seward Park area, which I am completely against as it completely changes the historic character of the park, which is one of the few places left where one can still imagine what life was like for these immigrants. And even putting gentrification aside, Chinatown is rapidly expanding, pushing into the area and covering up Hebrew signs with Chinese ones. (Though the two communities do mostly live in harmony, thankfully.)

However, there are still quite a few remnants of the neighbourhood that the Eastern European Jews of the early 20th century knew, if one knows where to look. And they're all within walking distance of one another, so it's quite easy to form a walking tour of all of them! Of course, I won't tell you which order to visit all of these - I think it's much more fun to wander the streets and take in the sights until you stumble across them rather than try to hit every stop in order like some sort of grocery store checklist. I'm simply presenting them in alphabetical order.

06 April 2017

The Sad Tale of Angelica Hamilton

Every so often at the Grange, I get asked "what's your favourite story about something in this house?" I never quite know how to answer. It'd be simpler if they asked what my favourite story about Alexander Hamilton was - I have lots of answers to that one. But about the Grange itself?

Usually, I answer, "I don't know if I would call it my favourite, since it's completely depressing, but I can tell you the most interesting one..."

This is the story that I tell.

02 April 2017

Happy Birthday Prospect Park

This weekend was the 100th anniversary of Prospect Park, which, being in Brooklyn, is not one of New York's most famous parks. (Though Brooklyn has been getting far more attention in recent years, Manhattan - and Central Park - still get most of the glory.) The park had quite a few fun events going on in honour of their birthday and, having never been, Sarah dragged my depressed ass out of bed to go, and wow am I glad she did.

Look at this beautiful place
Guys? I love Central Park. I do. When I moved to New York City, I quickly found that Central Park not only was one of the few tourist attractions that lived up to the hype, it completely surpassed it.

But... I think in some ways I might like Prospect Park better.

See, Central Park is, for the most part, completely tamed. It's all controlled and manicured for premium aesthetics. Prospect Park isn't like that. In fact, Prospect Park is one of the few areas in the city that hasn't changed much since the Revolutionary War. This is land that the Battle of Brooklyn took place on, and when you walk through the park, you can picture the soldiers running through this terrain rather easily.

The other thing is that Prospect Park is in Brooklyn. I love Manhattan and its skyscrapers, I do, but sometimes I need to feel like I'm getting out of the city and I can't afford to go to Albany every time I get that itch. Central Park is beautiful, but in most of it you can still see skyscrapers. You are always aware you're in the middle of New York City. Prospect Park doesn't have many tall buildings surrounding it, so when you're walking around - especially in the woodsy areas - it really does feel like you've escaped, either to a faraway forest or to another time.

It really is lovely.

14 March 2017

My Weekend in Albany

A couple weeks ago, Sarah approached me with a proposition - I get a weekend off of working any of my jobs (including my beloved Hamilton Grange) and we could go stay with her aunt and uncle in Kinderhook, a small town near Albany. I shit you not, the way she actually convinced me to go was telling me, "we can go see Schuyler Mansion."

Stars in my eyes, I could only reply, "that's where Alexander Hamilton got married..." How I would love to see that!

We did see it.
And New York City, I love you, but sometimes you bring me down. The city can be stressful, even for someone that loves it. And let's face it, it's expensive. It'd be nice to go somewhere where we don't have to even pay for lodgings and food (I can't remember the last time I had a weekend where I spent zero dollars). It'd be nice to take a break sometimes. (Okay, okay, I'll stop with the songs.)

So we booked the vacation, and on Friday we boarded an Amtrak train to Penn Station to make our way upstate!

I cannot tell you enough how non-stressful it was. How quiet. Not only that, the room I got to stay in was adorable:

Antique wooden furniture? An old 1940s book of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales? A charming patchwork quilt? An affectionate cat? (His name was Shoelace.) Sign me the fuck up.

Sarah and I spent most of the weekend just relaxing at her aunt and uncle's house, watching old episodes of "Bob's Burgers" and playing Clue with her cousin and petting Shoelace a lot. Her uncle is a professional chef so we were well-fed. It was nice to do nothing for once, though on the first day I didn't really know what to make of it. I'm used to NYC being so fast paced, being so "what can I do next?!"

That being said, we did make room for a few excursions into Albany...

27 February 2017

Top 10 Reasons to Go Into Midtown

"Ugh, Midtown?"

Such is the cry of many New Yorkers, be they natives or transplants. Even I roll my eyes when one of my jobs forces me to venture into Midtown, or when I have to leave Port Authority bus terminal in the morning for any reason other than getting on a subway. For most New Yorkers, the only reason to be caught dead in Midtown is if you have "Hamilton" tickets and you don't have a choice but to brave Times Square's sensory overload in order to get to the Richard Rodgers Theatre!

Downtown is cool. The East Village has hip restaurants, the West Village has great architecture and shops, the Lower East Side has culture and history, and even the Financial District has a lot of historical treasures to find.

Uptown is cool, too. The Upper East Side is home to so many museums, you guys, as well as lots of cool shops. (For some this means Bloomingdales, for me this means Shakespeare and Company.) Central Park is a gem that locals and tourists alike adore. No one can deny the charms of the Upper West Side and Harlem. And, well, I don't mean to brag or anything, but my beloved Hamilton Grange is uptown.

But Midtown. Poor much-maligned Midtown, forever doomed to be condemned as "but that's a touristy area!" For something to be deemed 'touristy' is a bigger curse than you may think - I've met New Yorkers who would rather ride to the Bronx in a subway car that someone shit in than spend even one second in the vicinity of Times Square.

But wait! Midtown is more than just Times Square, the Rockefeller Center, and the Empire State Building! And if you are stuck in the area (perhaps while waiting to see if you've won the "Hamilton" lottery, you're sticking close just in case) then there is still a lot to do! Never fear, my friends - here are my top ten reasons to venture into the cosmic horror that is Midtown.

For the purposes of this entry I am defining Midtown as above 20th street (because I'm sorry, Union Square is not Midtown) and below Central Park.