more about “Stuyvesant Town and Alphabet City“, posted with vodpod Click here to view on Flickr.com and see captions.

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Blerg, blogging is getting to be a bit of a chore! But when you consider that I recently finished a 48-page thesis and got accepted to be an assistant teaching English in France for next year, there are obviously things on my mind besides this blog. In fact, I’m worrying that I won’t finish all the neighborhoods before I graduate, because I’m moving back to California on May 15th. That leaves only five weekends for 17 neighborhoods. :( I think I may have to pick the ones I am most serious about investigating and leave the rest for another time. I considered bequeathing this project to friends who are staying in New York, but I know that it won’t be the same. Weighing the options, I think I will just leave this project open-ended for a while and hope that life leads me back to New York after my time in France so that I can finish it!

I went to Stuyvesant Town and Alphabet City on February 21st. I knew that Stuyvesant Town was not the most happening neighborhood in New York, and that’s the reason there aren’t many photos of Stuy Town in the photo set. (I actually took a lot more, but the pictures are mostly of buildings and trees, so I thought I would spare you and just keep those to enjoy for myself. :D) However, Stuy Town looks to be a great place to live, and I have heard from friends that it is really a wonderful experience. I did see some cute things, like kids playing on an astroturf field (a little sad haha) and a scarf warming up a chilly pole.

Scarf on a pole

What an adorable pole-warmer!

Business Casual Lady

I've seen this face before...!

So, although there wasn’t much to see, I was glad that I got out and saw a new neighborhood that I otherwise would never had bothered to explore. And, because Stuy Town was so small, I combined it with Alphabet City for the day’s adventure. One of the first amazing things I saw upon crossing the border from Stuy Town onto 14th St. was this window display.

It may look totally innocuous to you. But I know this lady’s face. The weird part is, I do not know this woman. I know her face and business-casual-dressed torso, because I once used that face and torso in a blog post (whose location I will not disclose) about my summer internship last year! She was on page 6 of my search for “business casual” but since those results change all the time, here is her individual result page. The name of the image on that site is “BCstylishwoman.jpg” hahahaha. If only this lady knew how much I feel that I know her.

Fearless 2: Sam

Click for source.

Anyway, Alphabet City is great. It is named so because it encompasses Avenues A, B, C and D (the D is for Dangerous!), which run north-south on most of the east side of lower Manhattan. I remember reading about Alphabet City in Francine Pascal’s Fearless book series in my youth. Oh, there are so many things I could say about those books. I think they were a fairly crucial part of my decision to come to NYU, which may not say anything good about that decision haha. The main character in Fearless is named Gaia, and she was born without the gene that makes people feel fear. Her father raised her to be a fighting machine, taking advantage of her natural fearlessness to make her the epitome of girl power. Gaia’s first love interest, Sam, goes to NYU, and I think I fell in love with him and with their relationship, too. When I first came to NYU, I realized that I lived in the dorm that Francine Pascal vaguely describes Sam to live in in the series. It made me giddy to walk down the same streets that Gaia ran down in pursuit of secret agenty evils in a New York City that, although purportedly belonging to the early 2000s, recalled the danger and crime of a very 1980s Manhattan. All of this is to say that, in Fearless, Alphabet City is the site of some very shady and scary dealings, and walking down the empty but safe streets there brought my mind back to the imaginative fervor I felt in losing myself in the books.

Today, Alphabet City is a very Puerto Rican-dominated neighborhood, and there is pride all over the place, which I love! You can look through the slideshow above to see some of the murals using the Puerto Rican flag. After I finished my wandering, I met up with a friend for Pommes Frites (Belgian fries with absolutely glorious sauces) and bubble tea in the East Village, one of my favorite neighborhoods. I actually inadvertently recreated the Pommes Frites experience at home tonight, by seasoning and baking some potato wedges and sampling them with a ginger-carrot dressing my roommate got with her afternoon sushi. Survey says: A++.

Pommes Frites

The blurriness obscures the real quality of these fries and sweet mango chutney sauce. Also, super cute: the cone of fries is sitting in a hole in the table made especially for cones of fries!

I will leave you now with my most interesting find, which actually kind of spills over into East Village territory: Obscura Antiques. This video mostly speaks for itself, but I had an interesting conversation with the store attendant, who said that none of the pieces in the store was most recent than I think 1870 or so (I hope I have that right). They had everything from Victorian shoes to old pharmaceuticals and period jackets. Enjoy, and see if you can hear the German music playing in the background. And don’t hate on my poor video editing skills.

Also, I would just like to say that the next blog I create will be using Blogger. WordPress is far too interested in making me pay for things like custom template support and detailed analytics tracking, among other things! Plus, I had to use my Google account to upload the video to YouTube anyway, so why not keep everything under the same roof? (Blogger is owned by Google.)

P.S. I planned to plug/discuss the cool walking tours offered over at SoundWalk.com (who, incidentally, is great at PR and Twitter outreach), but attention spans are only so long! Stay tuned for that next time!

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more about “Chinatown“, posted with vodpod

Excuse excuse excuse apology apology apology! Ok, you know what that was for. Now, on to Chinatown!

My friend C and I went to Chinatown on Valentine’s Day as a nice alternative to the typical lovey-dovey outing. It was the day of the Chinese/lunar new year, so this normally packed little neighborhood was even more crowded than usual. My friend said we absolutely had to go have dim sum, which I had never tried before. But the first place we tried even ran out of the numbers for take-a-number! That was unfortunate, but our tummies had a little wait in them, and we enjoyed some of the necessary must-sees…

Dragons

The parade dragons!

Confetti STOP

The confetti-strewn streets! Does this mean "STOP celebrating!"?

We meandered around streets I had never explored in Chinatown before, despite living very close to the neighborhood for two separate years. Bayard St., Pell St… they were all full of people! Finally we made it to Golden Unicorn Restaurant (here’s them on Yelp, too) and enjoyed some AMAZING food. Dim sum is apparently like Spanish tapas—many small appetizers that you eat and sample for a group experience. C said that you usually have dim sum around brunch time. My favorite little goody was the pork bun, which brought back memories of my childhood eating adventures in San Francisco Chinatown!

Pork buns

Aren't they adorable?? I could eat these for the rest of my life.

C said they weren’t up to par with her normal pork bun experiences, but I was still in pork bun heaven. These are my mom’s favorite, too! When she and my grandfather are here in May, I’ll have to drag them down to one of the Chinatown bakeries that sell quality pork buns for 80 cents.

Snack samples

Some fishy snack samples

There were a lot of food adventures on Chinatown day. We fleshed out our dim sum with selections of shumai dumplings (pork, shrimp and mushroom? C, correct me if I’m wrong on this) and some delicious buns with fruity jam inside (a mysterious, honeylike flavor that we both LOVED).

Later, we also stopped by an Asian snack foods store. This store used to be on a corner I passed regularly—I was so upset when it “closed,” thinking it was gone forever. But it turns out it had just moved to Mott & Pell Streets! We dared each other to try some of the dried fish snack samples, picking the weirdest ones for each other. They weren’t all that bad! Don’t think I’d buy a whole bag of them, though…

People were following the parade processions and popping poppers all over the place; kids were clutching little dragons and roaring from inside their own tiny dragon costumes. We decided to indulge our inner children too, and make a stop at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. What a great end to our day, even though the weather was chilly. They had quite a variety of flavors, but I chose a combo of almond (anyone who reads this should know that almond is my favorite flavor by now) and green tea. Perfect!

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory fare

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory fare - almond and green tea (underneath)

More about “Lower East Side/Little Italy/NoLiTa“, posted with vodpod. View on Flickr for captions.

Oh I love this neighborhood. There is nowhere else I know that has as much to explore as the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Little Italy and NoLiTa are like sweet little cake toppers on this delicious smorgasbord of visual and cultural delight. I went to the Lower East Side for these pictures on February 7, and then I went back today for a spontaneous detour from groceries to Doughnut Plant (if you’re wondering, I got one tres leches in tribute to Spanish Harlem, and one crystallized ginger in tribute to their Chinese New Year special) and I discovered even more here that I didn’t capture weeks ago. Add to this the fact that any neighborhood has a completely different character when covered in mounds of snow, and it was like seeing the LES through new eyes.

On the eve of the Chinese New Year, some sights on my route to the Lower East Side.

Of course on my way to the LES proper, I took a detour down Grand St. to Quickly for my favorite snack, almond bubble tea and those little cream cakes shaped like whatever they’re shaped like (?). The LES is such a fantastical mishmash of cultures – I once toured an old tenement house there from the early days of Ellis Island immigration, and although history isn’t my favorite thing, it was really interesting to learn about poor immigrants’ lives.

Cogs and wheels in public art on the LES.

This neighborhood also has some great public art, notably in the Hispanic area. Avenue C was even given a second name, Loisaida Ave., for the Hispanic pronunciation of “Lower East Side.” I believe the display at left was at ABC No Rio, whose website says, “ABC No Rio is a collectively-run center for art and activism. We are known internationally as a venue for oppositional culture.”

Some other stuff I came across down there were the housing projects mentioned in a book called Small Victories, about a teacher in the slums of the LES in the 80s, which really impacted me; I recommend it to any aspiring teacher. I also came across the Clinton St. Baking Co. (they had a Pancake Month for February, with amazing dishes like the one my suitemate and I got: pancakes with fresh blackberries, pecan streusel and maple butter… HEAVEN), Les Enfants Terribles restaurant (a little pricey but had a great name – “The Terrible Children“), and this fascinating blue building (below).

Bernard Tschumi's blue tower

You can read about the blue tower here; it is an apartment complex (!) designed by Bernard Tschumi, and some of the pictures at that link show some amazing views from the inside looking out. Some people hate it, because it’s a symbol if the gentrification in the LES. But I am really over whining about gentrification, so I like it. Those windows look just as amazing from inside! I saw this work of art from several different vantage points and finally got this amazing shot from Rivington St. and Essex St., or so. I stood on a corner where the building behind me had a neon light saying, “NEVER SLEEP.” It was so New York.

One of the greatest things I happened upon the LES was Café Charbon, which I stumbled upon two years ago on a leisurely walk and adored. But I had never gone back. This is one place I vow to return to even after my appointed Lower East Side day, because it is so adorable and French. I mean, look at this window of (fake) cheese!

Café Charbon's tribute to French cheeses.

But I didn’t stop to eat at Café Charbon because I had already had both lunch and bubble tea/cream cakes, and my mind was set on the highly-anticipated end note of the trip: Rice to Riches. Rice pudding and snark bundled together like you and your favorite blanket on a cold day. I got the hazelnut (tasted a little like plain chocolate, but still good), with whipped cream, but the flavors and topping possibilities are endless (Cinnamon Sling? Fluent in French Toast? Good thing this place is 3 blocks away from my dorm…). I leave you with this delightful image from the inside of Rice to Riches. Now… did I miss anything? ;)

"Eat all you want... you're already fat."

More about “Upper East Side“, posted with vodpod. View on Flickr to see captions.

The Upper East Side adventure was my first “reserved” neighborhood – Chelsey recently transferred to a school up there, so we figured we’d explore and perhaps find her some new favorite haunts. I’m excited for some of the other neighborhoods I reserved for people; among them are Chinatown and Hamilton Heights.

Classy shopping in the Upper East Side.

On January 30th, I got up to 59th Street a little early and ducked into H&M to see if I could buy a hat, because I had forgotten mine and it was FREEZING! And I had decided to press on even though I realized upon leaving the dorm that it was going to be a bitterly cold day. Sadly, I didn’t find a hat. But I observed some other shoppers loading up on spring gear, which apparently gets sold in January. Practical, except for the part where I want to have winter things available while it’s still winter! N.b. 2/17: Looks like The Sartorialist shares my chagrin.

Gossip Girl

Click for source.

The Upper East Side, despite what you may have gleaned from Gossip Girl, is not all fashion and rich people running about. Or at least it wasn’t at 1 p.m. on a Sunday. I wasn’t particularly interested in recreating any posh vibes from the show, although I enjoy the silliness of GG just like anyone else. I also decided to pass on the Met, because I’ve already been there several times. Don’t let that turn you off though – if you’re new to New York or visiting, it goes without saying that you should take a gander.

Speaking of Gossip Girl, though, if you are interested in popping up to the infamous neighborhood, Jaunted has put together a very comprehensive Gossip Girl map.

Chelsey and I had a nice time catching up and stopping to warm up in random stores, such as Pylones, where they had a squid whisk! Theoretically, there are plenty of interesting things one can make a conscious effort to go do in the UES, but a lot of them involve bars or fine dining or… museums. So we chose to see the more everyday side of this classy neighborhood. This involved me admiring the architecture a lot and wishing I could live in an old brownstone or mansion. We also took a look around Hunter College. The small differences between Hunter and NYU are amazing – I was allowed in without needing to flash my ID at any point. We went on a high floor balcony and weren’t blocked in by alarms and barriers.

UES Building

Someday... this shall be mine...

We had a lovely brunch at the Lexington Candy Shop Luncheonette. I had cinnamon raisin French toast and a vanilla egg cream. If you have never tried an egg cream because of the name, you’re not alone. But it’s actually just flavored syrup (chocolate or otherwise), milk and seltzer. That kind of sounds gross, too, but trust me – it’s not! It was a great place to try something new, in the vein of this whole project. We wandered around some more as the gloomy sky darkened, rounding off the adventure with delicious hot chocolates at another diner.

Now I’m curious… have any of you done or wanted to do a Gossip Girl tour of the UES? I feel that somehow this blog would be more popular if that is what I’d done…

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Wikipedia's map of Manhattan neighborhoods.

I’m sure it seems mysterious that I should arbitrarily decide there are 31 neighborhoods in Manhattan. Indeed, Wikipedia says there are far more! That map has about 55. Now, some of those are literally WAY too small to merit me spending more than five minutes wandering around. I mean, the Diamond District? I’m sure there are some native New Yorkers who don’t even care about that place.

Originally, yes, I was going to combine a bunch of those minuscule neighborhoods and just do the whole shebang. I do like Wikipedia-based formulas, after all. But then I had a genius idea. Here’s how I got it.

Over the holiday season, the Brooklyn Flea Market set up shop in Manhattan, in a space that used to be home to Tower Records. I meandered in one day, looking for gifts, and spied some amazing prints of New York boroughs and neighborhoods by Ork Posters (they do other metropolitan areas too!). With a mixture of selfishness and goodwill, I purchased the map of Manhattan and its neighborhoods for my roommate’s Christmas present. It is a great conversation piece, and it also covers an unfortunate blemish in the plaster where a sticky hook went awry. You see how I am not quite all-benevolent in my gift-giving.

Artisan Map of Manhattan

That thing on the right is a homemade Christmas bow. This color combo not currently available on orkposters.com :(

The map, although I don’t know if it is to scale, has a far more reasonable depiction of the island’s neighborhoods, and the total clocks in at 31. Here it is, in all its glory (I love it and wish it were mine! Anna deserves it more since she will not be staying in New York after this year). They are, north to south (bold are neighborhoods I have already been to – posts coming soon of course :D):

  1. Inwood
  2. Washington Heights
  3. Hamilton Heights
  4. Morningside Heights
  5. Harlem
  6. East (Spanish) Harlem
  7. Upper West Side
  8. Upper East Side
  9. Yorkville
  10. Clinton
  11. Times Square
  12. Midtown
  13. Hell’s Kitchen
  14. Garment District
  15. Murray Hill
  16. Chelsea
  17. Kips Bay
  18. Gramercy
  19. Stuyvesant Town
  20. West Village
  21. Greenwich Village
  22. East Village
  23. Alphabet City
  24. SoHo (South of Houston St.)
  25. NoLiTa (North of Little Italy)
  26. Lower East Side
  27. Little Italy
  28. TriBeCa (Triangle Below Canal)
  29. Chinatown
  30. Battery Park City
  31. Financial District

Please, please, dear filthy-rich citizens of obscure places like Astor Row and jaded folk of Koreatown, excuse my oversight of your home neighborhoods. I am open to considering smaller neighborhoods! The small ones would be pretty easy to include in all this, but unless somebody convinces me, 31 is the number… because I like symmetry. :)

more about “East (Spanish) Harlem“, posted with vodpod. View in fullscreen for captions.

A mural of the Barrio's history on 104th St. & Lex. Click photo for a site with another version and a suggested walking tour route (not the one I chose).

On the very first day of my project, I made my roommate Anna choose a random neighborhood out of the jar where I keep each neighborhood. Horrible picker that she is, she chose East (Spanish) Harlem for me! >:(

Of course, it was actually not a horrible pick at all. Anna even pretended that another neighborhood had stuck to it, saying I could choose that one instead. But this was actually a great way to start off 13 Weeks of Shutter. There is so much culture up in Spanish Harlem and I was excited to get a faraway neighborhood out of the way early on.

Because I like formulas, I looked up the street boundaries of Spanish Harlem the night before I went, thinking I would walk the perimeter and then hang a diagonal to get back to the subway when I was ready to leave. This of course, was highly impractical, and it is a lucky thing that I don’t swear by formulas.

Click for the New York Times article this image came from.

Spanish Harlem is really big, and some neighborhoods are even bigger, so I probably won’t get to use my formula ever. It’s ok though. I ended up taking the 6 up to 125th St., walking over to 2nd Ave. on 128th St. and then meandering south on 2nd and 3rd Aves. until lunch down on 105th St. When I first arrived, though, I panicked briefly because I hadn’t even considered that I might be getting myself into some trouble in this neighborhood. It’s not the safest, and although it was actually fine, I momentarily wondered, “What if there is a DRIVE-BY??! I could DIE TODAY!!” Common sense got the better of this irrational fear and I headed promptly to one of the busier streets, snapping away.

I resisted giving in to my hunger at one of the sad little bodegas and fried chicken spots, and I was so glad I waited because I came across El Paso. It was very affordable (although I gorged myself on a huge entree and dessert, spending $24 including tip – you can avoid this by not being a fatty like me), and the service was wonderful. The hostess sat me by the window, where I could gaze out at the dreary Sunday afternoon, waiting for my chicken enchiladas with mole and, later, a tres leches cake with vanilla ice cream and a fried tortilla chip!!

DELICIOUS!!!

I chatted with my friend Emma on the phone while I had lunch (she had some juicy stories :P), bubbling over with happiness at my great adventure. It had been raining when I’d stopped at El Paso but by the time I headed out again, the rain had stopped, so I made my way to the Museum of the City of New York.

Museums are the kinds of things that you are just supposed to do when you go to or live in New York. I think in any big city, that’s an implied necessity. I hadn’t been to many, because art museums are not really my favorite. But this type of cultural museum, oh! To give you an idea of how much I enjoyed it: I watched their documentary, Timescapes, about the history of the city, and got EXTREMELY misty-eyed! I was really on the verge of some uncalled-for tears there. But it was wonderful. I recommend the MCNY; admission is an amazing $6 for students ($10 for adults), and Timescapes is great.

The gift shop also had this awesome New York Soundtrack. It was a little expensive (of course), but I’m sure some of these songs will somehow make their way into my iTunes library…

I spent about three and a half hours in Spanish Harlem and still felt I only scratched the surface. I’m sure there are many more hidden gems to be found, but I was proud and satisfied at the end of the day. A great start to this exciting project! If you have suggestions for future neighborhoods or questions about what I’m doing, please comment!

This project was inspired by a lot of things. My friend Caitlin, my last semester at New York University, Project 365, my old project 13 Years of Clutter, The Manhattan Street Corners

For the next thirteen weeks, I will be snapping the shutter of my digital Canon PowerShotA620, attempting to capture my own special time capsule of New York before I potentially leave it forever. These past four years have been wonderful, but I don’t know this city as well as I’d like. Daily trawls through the neighborhoods always reveal new surprises, and I want a way to keep those treasures forever.

Me

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