Every day life, food & strangeness in a big city

Month: May, 2013

The Cronut

Just as I was thinking that my meetings with strangers have dwindled to an unsatisfactory degree, something that surprised even my blasé self happened this Saturday. It started with me going to my favourite bakery very, very early in the morning. It was around 8:15 when I left home and 8:45 when I got there, and quite an experience to walk through the empty streets of Soho at that time of the day. I had to go this early, you see, because they had only a week before come up with a new sweet that was an instant hit.

It’s called a Cronut, and it’s a weird breed between a croissant and a doughnut, which is apparently pretty hard to make – deepfrying all those layers of pastry is a bummer, or so say the experts.  Now all the reviews were raving about it, and since I love all their stuff I was literally drooling to get one, but the first two times I got there last week (around 1 pm and 12 respectively) they were sold out. I was helpfully told that these things need to be prepared 3 days in advance, and so the bakery has only a limited number, which usually sells out within the first hour of their opening. And that there’s always a line when they do open (at 8 am) and that some people just get the whole tray. This mythology predictably just contributed to its allure and made me want it more.

So then, here I was, on that fateful Saturday morning, and miraculously, here it was, too…Well. As I was queuing for my cronut, I must confess to my shame I did listen carefully to what the three customers ahead of me were ordering, praying fervently they wouldn’t be one of those “tray people” … when I got to the counter, and I ordered a cronut, mentioning it was the third time I came and the first time they had it, the guy smirked and uttered the dreaded words: “we’re sold out!” But no, it was just a joke (one in very bad taste!). Anyway, just to be on the safe side and get my fill of this little wonder, I ordered two. I ate one…

IMG_1905 IMG_1907 IMG_1910but  – shock! horror! – didn’t actually enjoy it so much. It’s ok, but filled with a lot of cream – which if you remember from my other post is not my thing. I actually had to force myself to eat it, and would not buy it again. Give me a DKA anytime. So anythow, now I was thinking what to do with the extra one I had, which was in a paper bag. I didn’t fancy carrying it around with me – to the NYC ballet box office, and then up to The Cloisters. The bag didn’t even have handles! So then I figured I might offer it to a homeless person, who might enjoy it and would probably not pay over $5 dollars for an over-hyped type of pastry.

Little did I know that fate had something else in store for me. Briefly after getting on the subway to go uptown, I noticed an interesting ad and got up to take a photo. As I was doing so, this girl sitting underneath it piped up to tell me she liked my dress. I smiled, thanked her, and retreated back to my seat and my book. A few minutes later, still concentrating on my reading, I had the niggling feeling that someone was trying to capture my attention. I looked up, and lo and behold! it was indeed the selfsame girl, who had been saying “hey, how are you” to me a few times now. I looked to my left, and then to my right… yep, no one around. Interesting that she would not be deterred by my book – or by anything else!

The short conversation that followed was along the following lines: she asked me where I was from – I replied Europe. She wanted to know what I was doing in NYC and how long I had been here for (a bit like an immigration officer, come to think of it). If I had made many friends. If I went to many parties. If I would like to go to parties with her. If we can hang out, since I looked very cool. If I could give her my phone numnber. If we could be friends on facebook. I did answer all her questions truthfully, and we ended up talking about what she was doing in town, and shopping, and all sorts of things. I had to disappoint on the hanging out front though, since I revealed I was about to leave New York in a few days. So I declined sharing my number … but instead,  I asked if she would like a cronut.

I’d like to think the second cronut has found a happy home. And that there are more people who would fearlessly approach strangers they deem cool.


Museum of the Moving Image

I spent 4 hours in the Museum of the Moving Image today and could have blissfully spent more, but I was tired and they were closing. This is a fantastic place, spread on 3 futuristic-looking white levels.





It’s choc-full with everything from magic lanterns to Cher’s wig worn in that movie about witches…

magic lanterns

television sets



master Yoda before he went digital


doll used in the Exorcist for the spinning head scene


make-up stuff


De Niro’s wigs in Taxi Driver

miniature of the Tyrell skyscraper from Blade Runner

There is a comprehensive exhibition about the history of movie-making, but what I found most remarkable was the focus on music videos – a real eye-opener. Also, there are plenty opportunities to have fun because of all the interactive choices – you can choose the soundtrack to Vertigo, create your own animation, dance your way in a light show, or even dub Babe… the sky’s the limit, as they say.

Johhny Cash art project

Johhny Cash art project


Carole Lombard


James Stewart et al.


“Everybody would like to be Cary Grant”

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Kayne West – Power music video


interactive dance room

The Cloisters

Opinions on The Cloisters – that branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art all the way up North near 190 Street, so out of the way that I doubt casual visitors to NYC ever reach it – are divided. I’ve heard lavish praise – and I have heard the European-born naysayers who question the point of visiting what is essentially a complex built in the 1930s pretending to be medieval monasteries. What the latter category doesn’t seem to know is that The Cloisters is actually assembled from architectural elements that largely date from the twelfth through the fifteenth century – 5 different original monasteries in total, and has a rather impressive collection of original art objects – the most notable of which being the Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries. It’s also very pleasantly situated, especially if you take the meandering path through the park with the view of the Hudson river to the side, and fragrant, colourful blooms on the other. It all conspires to make you realize that this is not NYC as you know it.

The Cloisters should not work but it does. There’s obvious excess – all the arches and doors for one thing are naturally more than an actually monastery would have or need.  There’s also an abundance of art pieces – from illuminated books, to tapestries, paintings, sculptures, church treasures and stained glass – if you can think of it in conjunction with medieval sacred places, they’ve got it. Very much in the manner of the British going off and returning with cultural loot from all over the empire, the Americans bring all that is typical of the 12th to 15th century period in Europe back home, mix, stir, and add a twist of lemon. Yet The Cloisters, as the MET – I would argue, not coincidentally – does something very well: it creates spaces that give the sense of a fundamental reality, despite (or perhaps because of) the jumbled array of pieces juxtaposed and mixed within.

It is a lovely place no matter how you look at it – although it does get rather crowded in the afternoon. I recommend the Garden Tour which is about plants in medieval times; apart from seeing the actual quaint little garden, the energetic guide imparts a wealth of information on everything from the language of flowers to what monks really cared about. Or something like that.

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A Tale of Two Bakeries: Lady M and Dominique Ansel

I have been to the famous Lady M Confectionery a grand total of one (1) times. That should be a singular, but that would make for a weird sentence, don’t you agree? Anyhow, Lady M has a super-high score of 29/30 on Zagat, the US rating and review system for restaurants and such places, and an overblown-reputation. It’s actually this tiny place up on E 78 Street, close enough to Central Park. And the location and the hype dictate its prices, which are rather steep – think $6 for a coffee. It’s also frequented only by Asians for some reason (for those of you living in the UK: that’s Chinese / Korean Asian, not Indian). And there’s this intriguing Cynthia Rowley shop next door. Anyhow, I had the recommended original Millecrepe which I unfortunately found nauseautingly rich and creamy so had to give up half way through… and tasted from my friend’s green tea one, which was marginally better. Most people seem to love it though – you’ll have to decide by yourself.




In contrast, the Dominique Ansel Bakery on Spring Street in Soho has become one of my haunts – I’ve been three times this week already.  The reason behind this is actually because I was trying to get my paws on their elusive new concoction – the Cronut – but more on that later. This is a very nice place with all sorts of delicious pastries and cakes – something for everyone. They also do wonderful salads and sandwhiches – I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve tried most things on their menu and I did find everything exquisite. Their DKAs (a sweetly glazed type of pastry) are out of this world. Also, they have cheap(ish) coffee for around $3 and a lot of tables – I especially like the winter garden and the back yard. It’s rather low-key though – no silver cutlery or proper plates here, all is plastic or paper and disposable – but the interior is pretty and fun. Bonus: they’re a very friendly bunch.





Glamourous Fashion at the MOCA

Today I visited the two mini-exhibitions on fashion at the Museum of Chinese in America in NYC. They are small, but as the saying goes, perfectly formed. Radiating elegance and style, the pair creates the sense of the old and the new, and also highlights a thread of sartorial sense Chinese-style across decades and continents.

Shanghai Glamour: New Women 1910s-40s takes a look at Shanghai fashion at the beginning of the 20th century, by presenting a selection of dresses, accessoires, printed media, and short clips from movies (including a Chinese version of Lady Windermere’s Fan). Through eloquent and to-the-point descriptions, the visitors comes to understand the world of these new women, from sparkling socialites to free-spirited students to actresses and hostesses. There are also intriguing glimpses into the changesin fashion introduced by some leaders of the set – such as the “trimming” of the qipao – as well as the glamorous life of the international set, and the influence of Western dress on the Chinese style, as well as the Western fascination with the allure of the Chinese dress.















Front Row  in contrast focuses on contemporary Chinese American designers living and working in New York – famous names such as Anna Suy, Derek Lam, Philip Lim and Vera Wang are present and accounted for. The display is eclectic and well-illuminated and set against a white background; there are also videos of catwalk shows, featuring some of the pieces on exhibit, and the experience is accompanied by the soundtrack of the designers’ interviews, who speak about their life in one of the most vibrantly artistic cities in the world.








Newsies: the Marxist Musical

Newsies is by no means a fresh addition to the Broadway repertoire. In fact, it started last year and already won numerous prizes and accolades, which might make my review a tad superfluous. Fact is, I knew very little about it before I decided to go tonight. I had not a clue that it was based on a moderately-rated movie starring a young Christian Bale (of all people). I had no idea that it was a Disney production. So, because of my complete lack of information, I had no expectations whatsoever. Or very low ones. It’s rather difficult to say, in hindsight.

But go I did, and I am mighty glad of it. Not to spoil it for everyone, this is Disney at its best (or worst, as some would have it): the coming of age of a young man, the overcoming of obstacles, a fight of good versus evil, a spunky heroine, a love story, and a happy end. There are songs, and dancing, and jokes, and cheer, and a few weepy moments. Even better, it’s upgraded Disney, with a nod to disability and race. The first, represented by the heart-warming character of Crutchy (Andy Richardson),  the second by the black bubbly theatre star Medda (LaVon Fisher-Wilson). Although in the latter case, points are substracted for not only pairing blackness / theatricality with the stereotype of promiscuity, but taking that a step too far (here’s looking at you, backseat joke!). One could argue that the only group lacking representation is the LGBT community, but I was personally satisfied by the beginning scene, where I felt the homosocial bordered strongly on the homoerotic. Plus, let’s face it, statistically speaking, among that many young boys, some are sort of bound to be gay.

Yet this, as interesting as it may be, is not what captivates the audience. There are two main reasons to see this show, and they are deeply interconnected: one is the brilliant, jaw-dropping choreography, and the other is its unashamedly marxist ideology. “Revolution” is the name of the game for Manhattan “papes” sellers who are forced to organize into a union by the unreasonable raising of prices by the media magnate Pulitzer (John Dossett). Led by charismatic Jack Kelley (Corey Cott), they go from coming up with a sketchy mission statement, to striking, fighting with the police, attracting new members, and receiving re-inforcements from Brooklyn and all other surrounding areas. The struggle against the patriarchal figure of Pulitzer is typical, and against all odds, this David wins against his Goliath.

A David who is unapologetically marxist – so much so that I swear you can hear old Karl happily humming “workers of the world unite” somewhere in the polyphony of it all. There are dance sequences almost conceived around the motif of the clenched fist, and the symbol’s poignancy is elevated to new levels by their uncontestable energy and grace. Yes, this is the underdog, but it is one who writes a manifesto – sorry, a “banner” – and bands together with all others of his kind, and beyond. It is the underdog with a raised fist who uses the capitalist’s tools and and gets his way.

It is perhaps significant that the villain of the piece turns not to be too bad after all.  In the end, Pulitzer even offers a (better) job to Jack – who seems to accept and re-integrates himself in a sort of rat-race, firmly placed under the big boss’s thumb. And capitalism, while briefly challenged, is never in real danger as a system. Yes, the “refuge” where children are abused gets closed down, and the newsies get better working conditions – but what about all the boot polishers and elevator attendants who went on strike? They have served their purpose, and are invited to crawl right back in their holes, one assumes.

If the ending of the show is so Disney it would’ve made Walt proud, the rest of it struck me as a departure from what the house stands for, which are typical American, not-exactly-socialist values. But the show’s popularity must have to do with more than its technical aplomb. Perhaps its undercurrents speak to current disenchantment with the system brought on by the US economic crisis; perhaps it resonates with the Occupy Wall Street movement – originating in NYC in 2011 – and fighting for the 99%; or even more indirectly brings to mind media scandals exposing the corruption and lack of morals of the top figures of the industry (see the British “Hackgate” of recent years). In that sense, Newsies is hitting all the right (sore) spots. Its message and solution to the can of worms it cracks open is that of a social impetus blended with a good dose of “we’ll stand our ground no matter what” New Yorker spirit, a pinch of love and pride in one’s city and  one’s job, and a solid sprinkling of “let’s all get along and make the system work”.

This is not necessarily a show for children, although they will enjoy the exhilarating singing and dancing as much as the adults. It’s also not a show that is too glamorous set-wise, although a lot of clever things are done with metal frames, and there’s a moment where drawing in real-time is made visible to the audience in an astonishing way. It is a show with a lot of talented young performers, and while Corey Cott as Jack dazzles, it is the cast working together that makes the whole thing work so well. Strength in numbers… pun intended.

NYC: 4 museums in a day

Yesterday I left home early and came home late. Apart from spending two to three hours in Central Park, I visited four museums along the NYC museum mile.


I started with the Frick Collection – which is situated in a ravishing building, former home of Henry Clay Frick. The mansion, built in 1913–14 by Thomas Hastings of Carrère and Hastings, has a delightful set of gardens – the one on Seventieth Street to the east of the Collection was designed by Russell Page, and can be spotted from the street. Unfortunately, no access to them is permitted – although they do have a charming inner sanctum filled with plants, stone benches, and fountains, complete with two little frogs spouting water. The rooms are beyond stately, they are gorgeous in a well-proportioned and impeccably decorated manner and the art collection is excellent, especially since it has a focus on French painting, which I adore. What I found particularly striking however were the Turners – simply exquisite capturing of the play of light on water. Needless to say, I relished every minute of the 90 I spent there. Sadly, no pictures allowed.

It rather went a bit downhill from there. I next went to the Museum of the City of New York, which has a rather catching installation at the entrance, and a few interesting exhibits.



The Stephen Burrows exhibit on fashion was actually good, but situated in a cavernous space that didn’t manage to do it much justice.




There was also a 20-minute film on the history of NYC narrated by Stanley Tucci which was highly enjoyable and contained a fascinating selection of period photos. The rest was a bit yawn-inducing, although the section on urban planning for the future – “Making Space in New York” is naturally a challenging topic and the micro-unit example was fun. Generally, it rather lacked panache though.



Next, I went to the Museo del Barrio, New York’s “leading Latino cultural institution”. Well, I was not impressed. The exhibition space was similarly dark – which I suposed could be explained by the need to protect the paintings and or / to create a better viewing experience for the video-viewing, of which there was quite a bit… but still. I felt like a mole. And it smelled rather weird inside, too. The works, somewhat unlovingly exhibited, were partly interesting, partly just so. More to the point, there were just not so many of them – I sometimes wished there had been more than one work from each artist, especially when I stumbled across something good and that was clearly part of a series. Representational, yes, but when I like something I am rather curious to see more from that person, and in this I was disappointed. What I liked best was a photograph of a plastic model of David’s Michelangelo, submerged in urine/blood/milk (unclear if all, I suspect yes). It was radiant and captivatingly beautiful, in quite a shocking manner.

Last but not least, I went to the Guggenheim, where I had to join a 1 1/2 block-long queue since it was “pay as you wish” Saturday evening. Suffice to say I was very glad I had decided to go at this time, as I think I’d have been rather mad if I had paid the full entrance fee. Contrary to expectations, there was little in the way of a permanent exhibition – with the exception of a few very nice Picassos, Van Goghs, Gauguins and the likes in the wonderful (yet small) Thannhauser collection. Instead, there were a couple smaller exhibitions – “No Country – Contemporary Art for South and South East Asia” eclectic and satisfying, “Danh Vo” plagued by an immense queue for what seemed like a rather self-indulgent project of collected items that anyone might find in their grandma’s attic or under their own bed. Can’t say for certain though, as I just glimpsed the room from outside.

But the “pièce de résistance” were a few gazillion levels on the Gutai movement. Now, I am a huge fan of most things Japanese, but this got pretty old pretty quick even for me. It was just… not very exciting. I understand concrete art, and am all in favour of the movement towards the conceptual; but this was frankly too much and too bland. That wasn’t the worst part of it though: no, it was that the impetus of the Gutai movement was apparently to facilitate contact, interaction, and a joint productivity of art between viewer and the objects; the viewer was supposed to become participant (hence the subtitle of the exhibition, “Splendid Playground”). Yet so many of the works which were designed to be touched, sat on, or interacted with, had a restricting cord / glass wall / barrier around asking the visitors to refrain from doing so. It wasn’t like that with all of the exhibit pieces, but I sensed a strong tendency – another case of art being created “for the people” and ending up in a museum behind a locked case.

As a person visiting the reknowned Guggenheim museum for the very first time, I was also struck by the inexplicability of the no-photo policy. Almost every second, I could hear a click or hear a flash near me, and also hear the reprimand of a guard yelling “No photos!” I found it sad and funny at the same time – obviously, photos were being taken non-stop, and people weren’t asked to delete them, so what was the point of the policy (besides probably managing to give the guards laryngitis?) It mainly created an unfriendly, prohibitive atmosphere for no clear purpose.





So there you go, my four museums in a day. All opinions entirely my own, and if I’ve stepped on any toes, I promise to buy you some band-aids.

Spring in Central Park