25 July 2017

A New England Small Town Escape - Without Leaving NYC!

Sometimes you need to just escape, even if it's for only one day.

Sometimes you have under $100 in your bank account and really cannot possibly afford an escape.

Sometimes these two things are not mutually exclusive.

Enter New York City's best-kept secret. And yes, I know NYC calls a lot of things its 'best-kept-secret' and the term is overused as hell, but this? This really might be it. It really does feel like an escape from New York without ever leaving New York, and I've been unable to stop thinking about it since Sarah and I visited.

I'm talking, of course, about City Island.

Technically part of the Bronx, this small island community is connected to the mainland by only a bridge, and feels like it hasn't changed since perhaps the 50s or 60s. Rather than Starbucks and skyscrapers, City Island has seafood restaurants, bait-and-tackle shops, and a charming diner; as well as a lone five-story-high building as the tallest in town. It feels like a small town where everyone knows each other's names. It feels like a fishing village, perhaps one transplanted from the Massachusetts coast. It does not feel like anything I know about the Bronx, or like anything else in New York City.

And Sarah and I fucking loved it.

14 July 2017

An Aura Reading in Chinatown

For those of you not in the know, my birthday was a couple of weeks ago - on Sunday, 2 July, I turned 27. And I did quite a lot for it, including many things I hadn't yet done or seen in New York City, from finally visiting Historic Richmond Town in Staten Island and the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, to seeing "Indecent" with my roommate. (Which was excellent, and I highly recommend it for anyone who happens to be in New York before it closes in August!) But as of a few days ago, I still had a bit of birthday money left over.

I'm not used to having extra money. I do tend to try to live frugally. But since it was from my birthday, I wanted to do something with it. Something unique, something I'd never done before, something completely self-indulgent and slightly bizarre.

So I made my way to Magic Jewelry in Chinatown to get my aura photographed and read. Because why not?

Behold, my aura
I went in with an open mind and no expectations other than expecting to pay the $20 they charge. I don't know a lot about auras or chakras or the like - these things are not part of my own spiritual practises, personally. Even now I still don't know what I believe. But I wanted the experience, and it did not disappoint.

11 July 2017

It's Been 213 Years

It's... difficult for me to come up with the right words for today. How do you mourn a man who died centuries before you were even born? Do you have any right to that sorrow?

213 years ago - 11 July 1804 - Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton dueled in the early morning, in Weehawken, New Jersey - a short walk from where I live now. Hamilton had written a friend ahead of time to state his intention of firing off to the side or into the air. And when it came down to it, Hamilton's shot did go into the trees. And Burr's shot went into Hamilton.

Alexander Hamilton died the next day - 12 July 1804 - after an agonising thirty hours of bleeding out.

Weehawken holds reenactments of the duel each year, but as 11 July fell on a Tuesday this year, I am unable to attend, as I am stuck at work.

But it didn't seem right to do nothing to commemorate it at all. Not when the man is so important to me. Not when, even after 213 years, he's had such a profound effect on my life.

So here's to you, Hamilton. Rest in peace and all that jazz.


22 June 2017

A Modern Victorian Retreat Day

My teatime spread
 God bless the Wayback Machine, honestly.

One of my favourite websites that I discovered back in my early twenties was a website called "Eras of Elegance", one that appealed immensely to my history-loving sensibilities. It was divided into sections such as "movies" and "fashion" and "lifestyle", and gave not only brief overviews of historical eras and trends (i.e. the Ancient era, the Medieval era, the Regency, the Rococo, the Victorian period, etc.) but also gave lists of fiction that took place in these eras, historically inspired recipes, and ways one could translate historical fashions and hairstyles into a modern street look.

I loved that website so much. I was heartbroken when it disappeared from the internet. Thankfully, on the internet nothing is gone forever!

The Eras of Elegance homepage
One piece of the website that I had completely forgotten about, that I rediscovered again thanks to the Wayback Machine, was the ideas the site's author(s?) had for a "Victorian Retreat Weekend". That is, a weekend where one turns off all modern technology and does activities predetermined by the website (I assume the schedule is to be printed before the technology all goes off) to live in the spirit of the Victorians, if not quite historically accurately.

This idea intrigued me and would not let me go. I knew, now that I discovered it again, that I had no choice. This idea was gripping my mind. I couldn't stop thinking about it for weeks. I just had to do it. But there was no way for me to get an entire weekend off - so I consolidated it to just a day, combining the suggested schedules for two days into one:

7:00 am: Rise and shine, get ready for the day
8:00 am: Make breakfast from scratch.
9:00 am: After cleaning up from breakfast, morning devotional activity or reading.
10:00 am: Housework, crafting, or family time.
11:30 am: Prepare a picnic lunch.
12:00 noon: Picnic lunch at a local park.
1:30 pm: Afternoon excursion - possibly a local historical museum or antiquing.
4:00 pm: Afternoon tea. Once tea is cleaned up, reading, crafting, or writing in a journal.
6:30 pm: Prepare dinner.
7:30 pm: Dinner and clean-up.
8:00 pm: Family time.
9:00 pm: Back to the future.

I set rules for myself. I would make historically inspired recipes, I would dress historically-inspired (in a vintage Gunne Saxe dress - Victorian by way of the 1970s), and I wouldn't use any appliances that they did not have in the Victorian/Edwardian eras. My phone was only used as a camera (they did have cameras) and a phone for 8pm family time (my family lives in California and it's my sister's birthday, I couldn't not call just because I wanna escape modern life for awhile).

So then how did it go?

19 June 2017

My Weekend Back in Time

According to modern science, time travel (as fiction portrays it) is technically impossible. That doesn't stop history buffs like me from secretly wishing and dreaming that it were possible, from planning where I would go and who I would meet.

This last weekend (the 17th and the 19th) I got the chance to do some of the things I always secretly wished and dreamed for. I got to visit the late 18th century and brush elbows with both Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. And I got to go to the late 19th/early 20th century Lower East Side and take in some of the immigrant cultures of the area. And it was really fun!

And I brought my Polaroid!
Okay, okay, I didn't literally go back in time. Hamilton Grange had an event on Saturday called "the Feuding Founding Fathers" and invited reenactors from the American Historical Theatre to come debate the issue of a national banking system as Jefferson and Hamilton. And on Sunday, the Museum at Eldridge Street, one of my particular favourites, held their yearly "Egg Creams, Egg Rolls, and Empanadas" Festival - a celebration of immigrant cultures in that area of the Lower East Side, particularly Jewish, Chinese, and Puerto Rican culture.

15 June 2017

15 Places in the Bay Area I Never Got to Visit

I love where I live. I love it a lot. But lately, I've been getting pangs of severe homesickness. I miss San Jose. I miss the Winchester Mystery House, and Kelley Park. I miss eating at La Villa and Chaat Cafe. I wonder constantly - Did Sarah Winchester ever get homesick for New Haven? Did Alexander Hamilton ever get homesick for Nevis or St. Croix?

I have an advantage that they didn't have, of course. I have the internet. It allows me to at least look at photos of these places I've loved and left behind. But this, too, is both a blessing and a curse. Because the internet, you see, also allows me to discover places that I never got to see in person. Not just in San Jose, but all over the Bay Area, which will always be my home, even as I make a new home for myself in New Jersey.

This list is meant to serve not only as a place for my wistful longing, but as a plea to my friends back home who are reading this. I never got to see these places, but I encourage you to go look at them! Take lots of photos and send me photos, tell me everything, let me live vicariously through you!!!

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.