Did you have a good weekend-before-Halloween? One of our favorite harvest festivals in the city happen to be in the Meatpacking District and that’s where we spent our morning on Saturday. It’s held in the little plaza off of Gansevoort and the activities and even some of the food is free as local businesses in the neighborhood donate their time and goods. The kids are at an age, as Mia rather begrudgingly observed, where they are aging out of some of the holiday events in the city, but this harvest fest is still fun and age appropriate. I like it too because it’s small and very neighborhoodly and I guess I still get a kick out of the irony of this very family and kid friendly event held right in a neighborhood that was known for sex clubs, slaughterhouses and prostitutes even as recently as 15-20 years ago. But you know…NYC has changed, yada yada.
I guess Mark has now lived in the city long enough to even wax nostalgic about the old days. He started working as a pastry cook in Soho when it had long turned touristy and expensive in the mid to late 90s, but the Meatpacking District was nothing like it is now when he took a job at a new restaurant in 1999. Fressen was one of 2 restaurants that opened in the meatpacking district at a time when you could walk around and still see blood stains and grease on the cobblestoned streets. Meatpacking plants and butcheries still remained in the area, but down from the few hundred that existed when the neighborhood got its name. It was kind of exciting to go down to the restaurant in those days when Mark worked nights. There was really nothing there – just dark streets, hand lettered signs from the meatpacking plants, and the iconic sidewalk overhangs where sides of beef hung on large metal hooks that characterized this neighborhood. All of it is gone now of course, and all replaced by high end boutiques, hotels and restaurants. Probably the last nail on the coffin to any connection in the neighborhood’s namesake was when Western Beef closed in the mid-2000s.
But I think the closing of a little restaurant called Florent in 2008 was the most devastating blow to the area to New Yorkers who liked to lament on changing times. I loved Florent. I didn’t go there as often as I would have liked, but I loved its story: the owner, a Frenchman who named the restaurant after himself and put his name in lights – pink neon lights in the front window – took over a luncheonette on Gansevoort Street in 1985. Florent was much beloved, but its fate fell like so many businesses like his; the rent was reportedly increasing to 30k a month (30k!).
I might very well be destined to become one of those old people who sit around in outdoor cafes remembering how things were back in olden times, but I admit I still rather enjoy the new Meatpacking District, especially on a brilliant October morning like this past weekend. Ironically, some of the early retailers and restaurants who moved into the area in the late 90s and early 2000s as the first wave to gentrify the area have closed up or moved on to other neighborhoods because the rent has gotten so high (Stella McCartney comes to mind, and Fressen closed some years after it opened). Seems like only the big chains like Apple can afford the rent these days.
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Fall isn’t quite the same without a drive up to the Hudson Valley – and specifically the town of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. At Washington Irving’s cottage we watched a shadow puppet rendition of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and took a walk around the grounds with a fantastically animated storyteller who retold Irving’s “The Devil and Tom Walker.” Basically, your perfect mid-October day in the way that only the Northeast can do. Why is Halloween SO fun? Fall is the best time of year, especially around here because the NE basically owns Fall as far as seasons go. The abundance of activities, harvest festivals, holiday paraphernalia and the anticipation of the actual holiday itself rivals Christmas at this point.
It was a much needed break and a really great Saturday. But then the next day the girls and I had one of the worst days. I don’t want to indulge in a pissing contest about how hard things are because everyone has their own issues to deal with, but it’s been rough around here I’ll tell you that. It’s pretty naive to think that if you take on too much, nothing will suffer, but something usually always does. In this case it was family because I placed work first. Sometimes it’s a choice that you feel you have to make, however, because there is something to prove, lost time to make up for or money that needs to be earned so you feel like you’re making the right choice. I felt like I had won at life when I successfully juggled clients and had a great design review at a presentation last week after being concerned that I had taken on too much, but I pretty much lost it Sunday in a swirl of stress and pressure and sleep deprivation. In the end, I didn’t win at anything.
I remember the first time I saw my mother cry. It was sort of terrifying and for a kid, the world became a little more confusing. I suppose it’s for that reason I try to hold it together – and I’m not saying that I am stronger than my mother; our circumstances in certain ways couldn’t be more different, but I do remember at that young age how heavy life suddenly felt. Some days prove to be too overwhelming though and it takes very little for things to crumble. So your children see a side to you that you never want to show, but it happens sometimes. I don’t think it’s bad, but I don’t think it should happen often.
Today felt like the first day in a long time where things felt less hectic. There was still a lot to do, but the pace wasn’t urgent and deadlines weren’t stifling. I helped C with her math homework after the girls came home from school and then ate dinner with the family rather than at the computer as I have done many days before. Afterwards we lounged on the bed and we talked. This is the kind of day that you chase after, the balance that is often elusive. The girls and I put Sunday behind us (them a little quicker than I). You move on and accept that there are good days and bad days and hope that the next day will be a good one.
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There’s no better way to usher in Fall than apple picking (though admittedly, late summer weather has been hanging around). It had been about 2 years since we last went and we definitely missed it (we missed strawberry and peach picking this year too. We’ve been such slackers). This year we tried Masker Orchards up in Warwick, NY and I can’t recall ever visiting an orchard this big that had so many rows of trees and was this prolific with fruit. There were apples everywhere – growing in clusters like grapes on branches, collected on the ground near the base of trees, and piled in every tree hollow. So many apples that they didn’t care if you plucked and ate them right off the branch (though they do briefly look in your car when you exit to make sure you’re being honest about the number of bags your picked). The orchard was like a maze and you needed a map or you risked getting lost and then resorting to leaving a trail of crumbs to find your way back to your car. The good thing about going apple picking this early in the season are the full trees. There’s nothing more disappointing than going late in the season and picking through some sad looking trees. The disadvantage is that there aren’t as many varieties ripe yet.
But what’s with the tailgate parties? Being as huge an orchard as this was, there weren’t any dedicated parking fields, so cars were directed to some of the widest rows for makeshift parking. This would have been fine, but some people decided to park their car anywhere in random places. Mark said it felt like an apple orchard had grown in the middle of a parking lot. I’d never seen a set up like this before and I’m guessing since you can park your car right next to a row of trees in certain areas, tailgate parties somehow became a thing (for those of you who don’t know what tailgate parties are – and why would you unless you’re American because I think this is an American thing? – it’s basically partying with food and booze in a parking lot, usually at a sporting event or a concert, with the back of your vehicle open. Damn, it sounds kind of stupid just typing it out.) We saw groups of families and friends hanging out by their SUVs, trucks and wagons with huge picnic spreads. Sometimes you heard music in the distance. I even saw one dude sitting under an apple tree in a folding lawn chair watching a movie on his laptop (yeah, I dunno). But for as many of these tailgating groups that we saw, we stumbled upon as many rows of trees where we didn’t see another apple picking soul.
When we had filled our bags with apples and decided to go hike back to our car, we did what any other curious person who had never tailgated would do. We popped open the trunk door on our Subaru wagon, sat on the edge and took big gulps of water from our bottles. We sat like that for awhile, shielded from the sun by the shade of the trunk door. Yeah I must admit, it was kind of fun.
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There are days when plans just come together and midway through the day you realize that you’ve constructed one of those perfect NYC days. We had one of those days over the weekend. It ended with a sunset view of the Manhattan skyline that was so incredible, that it couldn’t have been scripted better.
We also explored a small corner of the city that we have never been to before. As big as the city is, we often tend to stick to places familiar to us. It was a good reminder that the city is big and there is so much out there we have yet to see. I had never been to Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens before and when I saw that they were hosting free sculpture workshops every Saturday during the summer with a different artist and theme each week, I made sure to put it on our summer list of things to do.
It’s kind of hard to describe Socrates. At first impression it’s an odd little park that feels a little rough around the edges, but when you dig a little deeper and see all the art that’s happening – on view and in progress – you realize that it has a creative energy that you don’t see very often in public view. Aside from the free weekly art workshops for kids and adults (and outdoor movies in the summer too), there is a network of cargo containers and an open air workshop that make up artist in residency studios that the Park grants to select artists and architects. A small farmer’s market sold local and regional produce just a few meters away from where artists were working on their sculptures, and a dance company was working their way through choreography as part of a week-long residency program for dancers this month.
While we sat there watching the dancers rehearse, I realized that I felt like I was on an art school campus. It had that type of creative energy that we used to be surrounded by when we went to school, but haven’t really been immersed in since. It made me miss that free spirited energy back in college days when all we did was create and make things. In a city where there is so much art to take in, it’s somewhat unusual to have access to view works in progress like this. In the boat making workshop that we participated in last Saturday, it wasn’t just the kids who wanted to build and create; I saw a fair number of parents constructing their own boats alongside their kids. It’s hard to just stand idly by when there are so many fun and tactile materials to play with. It just goes to show…creativity can be contagious.
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This right here might be my favorite thing in NYC this summer. Governor’s Island is the first American stop for this rare collection of 19th and 20th century French vintage carnival rides and Fete Paradiso is every bit as charming as it looks. Even the background music of accordions and the mix of occasional cuts from the Amelie soundtrack that’s pumped in through the speakers adds to the atmosphere. I often think that attendants dressed in costume can be overdone (like in the Punk: Chaos to Couture show at the Met), but everything just works here, right down to the roped off pavilion where you can sit under strung lights and chandeliers and order food from the French cafe, Le Gamin.
The vintage rides are truly spectacular and it’s amazing that they’re still functional. You almost have to keep reminding yourself of just how old these rides really are and it seems like a privilege to be able to take a ride on museum quality pieces of art. Maybe the most glaring reminder that these date back to the 19th and 20th century is that the rides don’t have seat belts. The girls rode one dragon ride that went quite fast, backwards and forwards, and as they took off I heard them yell, “but where are the seeeeeatbelts!!!”
Fete Paradiso runs on Governor’s Island until September 29.
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