August 6, 2014 Leave a comment
An international scavenger hunt
January 29, 2011 1 Comment
As the car slowed, a mangy grey tabby emerged from behind a tombstone and started a quick trot towards us. We were sitting in the backseat of one of Greenwood Cemetery‘s patrol cars.
“That’s Maisie,” M. explained. “I sometimes let her ride up front with me.”
Ten minutes ago we had been trying to get out of Greenwood Cemetery. It was lunch time, we had been walking for two hours amongst mausoleums, cenotaphs and tombs, but the exits on the western side were locked. My friend stopped a patrol car and asked for directions. The officer told us to get in and he’d drop us off at the main entrance. “That’s where Al Capone’s right hand man is buried…” The car stopped at a fork in the road. “You know what, I don’t need to be back for half an hour. There are some things you have to see.” The car jerked back into motion. In our attempts to leave, we had somehow found ourselves on a guided tour of New York’s largest cemetery.
M. was our guide. A young blonde haired Brooklynite with dark sunglasses. This was his second job. He had worked at the cemetery for two years. He’d bought a burial plot there. “It’s real estate.” His true passions were photography and acting. One year M. played an Englishman in the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Brooklyn. He had a musket. “It was so much fun! Someone forgot to notify the police there would be cannon going off and the bomb squad turned up…” In two years, M. knew the layout and the history of Greenwood like he was born in it.
Suddenly the cemetery was populated with over 900,000 burials including General Washington’s soldiers from the Battle of Brooklyn, mobsters, murderers, inventors, victims of plane collisions, Titanic survivors and M.’s grandparents. M. knew which plots of land had been released, which stained glass windows were designed by Tiffany and where they used to store bodies in the winter before they had machinery to dig through frozen soil. We were introduced to the cemetery’s living inhabitants – Shelley the prehistoric turtle who lived in Sylvan Waters (one of the cemetery’s lakes), her offspring and of course Maisie the cat.
I looked back at Maisie, who sat in the middle of the road and watched us leave. Behind us was a perfectly formed pyramid nestled in the hill. New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town.
M. dropped us off at the main entrance and told us to check out the history books. We went inside, we picked up a map each and my friend signed the petition to save the line of sight between Minevra, a statue in Greenwood, and her sister the Statue of Liberty. Just as we were about the leave, M. rushed over. “Get in. There’s one last thing I have to show you.”
My friend and I exchanged glances and got back into the patrol car. “This,” M. announced as he pulled up infront of a slab tomb, “is where the man who invented carbonation for Coca-cola is buried!”
The Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) puts one percent of its subway construction budget towards public art. The mosaics, sculptures and other assorted artworks that resulted from this policy are found throughout New York’s transit system. A guided tour of the Transit Museum provides a detailed history of the subway network and provides photos of conceptual art behind the many artworks. Wish some of the world’s cement carparks would follow the MTA’s example.
Those who know me will know that I have little to no musical appreciation. I am frequently getting into trouble for not successfully identifying which Beatles are alive and asking questions like “Is Marvin Gay a one-hit wonder?” Despite an aversion to noise in general, I sometimes find myself listening to music. This occurred on several occasions in New York. I don’t know how to write about music so I’ll write about where I heard music and conclude that I liked it.
The Jazz Vocalist Series at Zeb’s
We walked up some narrow stairs to a large Manhattan apartment. The room had wooden floor boards, cream-coloured walls and wood panels attached to the walls to absorb the sound. it had been fitted out as a music studio. About sixty plastic fold out chairs were set out in rows in front of a microphone, piano, double bass, jazz guitar and assorted audio paraphernalia. There was a portable metal coat-rack – the kind you get at Ikea – and a little side table with a bowl of potato chips, a plate of cookies and bottles of wine and cranberry cordial. A “Private” sign hung over two double doors that led to the rest of the apartment. This is Zeb’s and every Wednesday night he holds a jazz vocalist series followed by open mic. Zeb (jazz guitar) and his friends backed up the night’s lead – Gregory Porter. Three days after accepting the gig at Zeb’s Porter was nominated for a Grammy. He can often be found singing in various venues in Harlem. Porter sang. The band played. I liked it a lot. I particularly liked Be Good, the chain-gang song and 1960. What? Afterwards, many other jazz singers stood up for the open mic. It’s hard to believe I paid only $10 for the privilege.
Cedar Walton at the Village Vanguard
It was 10pm and cold and necessary to have a coffee from the Roasting Plant with its hi-tech grinding roasting coffee machine. We walked to the Village Vanguard, arguably one of the most famous jazz venues in New York and down some stairs to the basement. The room was tighly packed with chairs and tiny drinks tables. Photos of jazz legends hung on the walls. The decor was highlighted by warm but slightly dank green paint. Cedar Walton, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ piano player, was performing that night. We had booked months in advance for the 11pm set. But only 25 people were in attendance. Some turn out for the old jazz guard. Cedar Walton, now in his 70s, was joined on stage by David Williams (double bass) and Willie Jones III (drums). I became fixated by the bass and the bass player. The bass looked handmade. It was made from a lightish wood.You could see the hinges and the glue between the panels. A washer was stuffed beneath the bridge next to a faded pinky-red leather bow sheath. A strap wrapped around the upper part of the instrument. You could see dints and scratches. Am very sorry I didn’t find out the bass’ story or get a photo. The Cedar Walton Trio played and it was good. I liked it a lot.
We found ourselves at the entrance to Wall Street. I hoped to find pyramid schemes, if not pyramids. We swiped our credit cards at the turnstyles. Two authoritarian security guards dressed in black coats spoke. “You cannot enter here. Your credit cards are not platinum.” I looked around me. Smug men sucked on their cigars and pushed through the turnstyles to the promised land beyond*. I could work a second job, pay my income into a rent-controlled studio apartment ($1200 a month in Hell’s Kitchen), accept one of American Express’ generous credit card offers and buy a box of cigars. With these shibboleths, perhaps I could persuade the guards that I was in genuine pursuit of happiness. Instead we caught the Staten Island ferry for free and saw Lady Liberty waving in the distance.
Later we went to the Skyscraper Museum. It focused on the built structures of the financial district, rather than the construction of Manhattan as a whole. The surly receptionist ungraciously took our money, snarled some instructions then snapped when we went the wrong way. She must have been having a bad day. Maybe her pyramid scheme fell through. The museum was as disappointing as the receptionist. The highlight was an old documentary on the construction of the original Twin Towers. I found a miniature of the city. No pyramids in that cityscape. I may have to change the scale of the quest and look for slightly smaller pyramids. Or maybe start searching for the meaning of life. I’m running out of pyramid jokes.
*This may be fictional. To my knowledge there are no such turnstyles or restrictions to entering Wall Street.
The quest for pyramids is hungry business. Fortunately there is a lot to eat in New York. There is so much to eat that the city of New York has had to enlist the entire population to eat it. The exact chain of food supply, distribution and waste management is not well understood. In 2010 Columbia University published a brief study trying to identify the basic elements of food supply for New York City. City Harvest collects 35,000kg of leftover food a day and redistributes it to New York’s hungry.
Our contribution to consumption was modest. For those who appreciate vegan food, I recommend Ozu’s almond cream, azuki mousse, chocolate tofu pie and jasmine tea; Peacefood Cafe‘s peanut butter cheesecake, chocolate ganache, dumplings, soup and Daiya ‘cheese’; Wild Ginger‘s menu in general and; Quantum Leap’s Big Leap Burger. Happiness indeed for the vegan in New York City.
In the non-vegan category and in general there were many many cheesecakes, cheeseburgers and cheap pizza slices of happiness. Good coffee was hard to find. Roasting Plant Coffee on 7th Avenue had some groovy pneumatic tube grinding and roasting contraption that resulted in tasty coffee. Ecopolis in Brooklyn on Smith Street was also above par. I didn’t partake but who can object to street stands selling milkshakes and cupcakes…