Chinatown Update

No trip to NYC is complete without our last minute shopping spree.  My birthday celebration in the city was no different.  We ventured out from our Mott Street apartment into the daytime bustle of Chinatown.

Pig headsI worry about the endurance of this neighborhood.  Just today I read in the Times “that New York needs to be lofted back into global competitiveness. That the city isn’t modern enough.”  And that the Department of City Planning is “envisioning a taller, denser, shinier future for the neighborhood around Grand Central.”  How soon before the entire city is one tall, dense, shiny complex dotted with gentrified neighborhoods for the super-wealthy and not so-super wealthy?

At least not yet.

We scurry from one stall to another buying baby bok choy, Chinese broccoli, mangoes, cherries, pomelo and whatever else we see that looks good.  The cost is always considerably less than what one would find locally.   But the biggest incentive to shop is that it is so much fun to be part of the activity on the streets.  Lee is a pro and his interactions with the vendors are swift and smooth.  He can’t speak the language but he’s got the brusqueness down pat.

We bring home more produce than we think we could ever eat but always seem to consume it all in one stir-fry and soup after another.

Then we pop into the markets for all kinds of noodles, sesame oil, sauces, and black beans.  Lee has his favorites.

2013-04-22 13.01.39

We go to Kam Man on Canal Street when we need more tea blossoms, a teapot, or other kitchenware.  I’m more at home there.  The store has American structure with check out lines and cash registers, and now New Kam Man has a web presence, but we still pay in cash, which is the norm in Chinatown.  Hank C, the “Perpetually Hungry,” on Yelp says he see more tourists in Kam Man than locals, and that could be. The store is  doing something right, at least for me and the other tourists. Hank recommends the Hong Kong Supermarket and other shops on Elizabeth Street and perhaps we’ll give them a look-see when we are down again next week.

Yee Li

Our last stop was Yee Li for lunch and to stock up on meals to bring back home.  We were delighted to see that our favorite restaurant is freshly painted and has earned its “A.”  The ambiance is still the same however.  We were tickled to see two men carry a large glass canister to one of the tables.  They dumped out a big pile of cash and started to count the bills.  No pretense here.  No fear either.  The waiter smiled when we took our photo.

We learned from Lee’s Chinese family that this was the tip jar.  And of course since they grew up working hard in their family’s restaurant they added, for their enjoyment and ours, a few stories of their childhood in the business.

The future is what it is all about, but when life seems meaningless and we feel lost, these small vibrant connections to our past can help us remember the way home.

#66

My birthday was at the end of March.  One of my dog-walking neighbor pals had her birthday last week, and yesterday we had a birthday lunch with a third dog-walking neighbor who celebrates hers later in April.

It seems like it has been my birthday for quite a while.  Because it has been such a happy experience, I have wanted to write about it.  Until today tho, I hadn’t found the way, hadn’t the time, and hadn’t wanted to bore people.   But if it isn’t on paper it will fade from memory.

charles lloydMy celebration began two weeks before the big day when my sons treated Lee and me to dinner in the city.  That was a whirlwind trip – we saw them Thursday.  We attended Charles Lloyd’s 75th Birthday concert at the Temple of Dendur in the MMoA on Friday, after a few hours of frustratingly looking for each other among the exhibits.  We topped Friday evening off with a drink at Duane Park in their new digs in the Bowery.  We’ll go back for a late night Saturday dinner when we can meet up with my son, a piano player in the band. We met recently acquired friends (the female half of which was celebrating her 70th birthday) for lunch on Saturday and then drove up to Rosendale for a party that night.  Even a meter maid gave me a present.  We spent the next two days catching up on sleep.

Most of that activity was not related in any way to my birthday but usurping the purpose and fun of these events for my own hurt no one and gave me great joy.  I enjoy joy.

Lee doesn’t believe in birthdays, so I don’t fuss about his.   I’m 99% sure, however, that this is all talk, as I am sure it is for most of those who belittle birthday celebrations and Valentine’s Day.  He certainly got into the spirit of mine this year.

When I suggested going up to Sunset Hill House in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire, where we had spent a wonderful night when were “courting,” he said do it.  We weren’t the only guests in the inn this time, the cat no longer prowled the halls, and we were visiting New Hampshire at its worst.  Mud season really does make for dreary landscape.  We had so much fun that we’ll go again.

chutters

We spent one day in Littleton, stopping at Chutters.  My husband Clark and I had scoped out the store as an alternative business venture back when we were looking for our retirement b&b.  It screamed out to us:  “You will regret this.  I am more work than any b&b!”  Chutters has lost its old time general store atmosphere, but the famous candy counter is still there. The store-as-it-once-was probably did prove to be too much work.

IMG_0744As we started our walk on the main street, a carved chair in the window of The Art Works caught Lee’s eye.  We went in – what else do you do when you have nothing to do?  Lee admired the workmanship that had gone into the chair and we asked its history.  The owner’s sister had found the chair on the side of the road, restored it to its former glory.  I sat in it and we left.

We continued down the street, popped into a few more shops, had lunch, and then Lee took me to buy my birthday present – a new old handsomely carved, caned, and pillowed chair to go in front of my new old desk which I had found on the side of the road while walking the dog.  A matched set.

The next morning we left for Concord.  We were hoping to find Dan Dustin, New Hampshire’s colorful and uniquely talented wooden spoon maker.   First stop – The League of NH Craftsmen.  Happily Suzie, the executive director, was in.  I had organized the League’s archives and image collections.  Susie gave me a hug and gave us a whirlwind tour of the new gallery, education facility and headquarters.   The League should be so proud that people believe in it and have demonstrated their support by helping to provide it with this crisp, comfortable home.  Long live the League and its annual craft fair!

IMG_0746Dan is a member of the League. They called him, we talked, and we were off to his studio/home.  Lee knew him from his craftsmen’s fair days.  I knew of him through the League.  He showed us his “gallery” of hand crafted treasures bought and bartered for.  Each had its own intriguing history.  His enthusiasm for his collection helped me put Lee’s clutter into perspective.  Lee and he shared craft fair gossip.  We left with four gorgeous “spoons found in nature” that we will use as door pulls in our Spoon Cottage addition, and Dan had an unexpectedly good day.

The next morning we were off to Mass MOCA.  We traveled down Route 2, which turned out to be the scenic leg of the trip.   I seemed to see my life go by as I remembered different drives down that road – fitting for a birthday vacation.  The best views were of little clumps of windmills, stark against the blue sky.

If you look real hard you can see them through the trees.

If you look real hard you can see them through the trees.

Not knowing what we would find at the museum, we wandered around looking at   installations and art  — some creative and interesting, but some not.  Then we entered a room lined with large packing cases and encountered Xu Bing’s Phoenix, a masterpiece with a fascinating story attached to it.  At least one of the two homeless birds is scheduled to roost in at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York in October.  If it does, be sure to visit.  Can you imagine?  From factory to Gothic revival.  It will be a whole new experience. I’ll be there.

Xu Bing Phoenx : Art Evans: Globe

I like to treat myself kindly on my birthday, especially those years when nobody else does.  Sometimes I even buy birthday cards for myself.  I used to think they were for friends but recently I noticed the ones that spoke to me have been accumulating in a box.

As years go by I’ll remember #66 as one of the finest, that is, if I can remember to read about it here.