Saturday, August 20, 2016

Midsummer East Coast Tour, The U.S.

File under "offer you can't refuse": my agent, David, asked me what I was doing around the beginning of August. His wife is from Hawaii, and every year they head down that way with their kid and visit the in-laws. Would I be interested in house-sitting for him in Jersey City? Oh: and cat-sitting a ten-year-old cat. How hard could that be? Jersey City is a couple of stops on the PATH rapid-transit system from Manhattan, and although it was August, there'd be stuff to do there. My publisher for The History of Rock & Roll, Vol. 1 was having a typical publishing August -- ie, not doing much -- and wanted to sit down and chat about the book. Playing around with Google Maps with a vague idea of renting a car and going somewhere for a day came up with all kinds of interesting suggestions. And best of all, it'd be free, at least up until the last day, when I'd hop on Amtrak and head to Montreal for a few days.

So I said yes.

David's house is about a mile from the PATH station, Little India, and many other attractions. I was determined not to over-plan anything, except to nail down a lunch with the publisher and explore JC. I'm still planning to leave Austin as soon as it makes sense -- ie, not for a while yet -- and wanted to see what the place was about.

After a conversation with last-minute details (which I should have taken notes on) I went back to the Ramada (the only hotel except for that weird Indian one I stayed in a couple of years ago in that part of town) and crashed. The next morning, I checked out, carefully picked my way down JFK Boulevard, and arrived at the place I'd be occupying for the next ten days. No sooner had I arrived than Maud, the cat who I'd been assured would mostly sleep while I was there, emerged and started yowling, hissing, and spitting at me. No matter that, over the rest of my stay, I would feed and water her and clean her litter box, she didn't ever warm to me. Far from it.

Maud, none too happy
I actually had no clear plan for touristing, except I did want to go to the Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum's collage of medieval buildings in Ft. Tryon Park at Manhattan's northernmost point. I hadn't been there since I was a teenager, and by now I've seen lots of stuff of the sort it contains, as well as having visited the church in St. Guilhem le Désert where they got one of their cloisters. Plus, I heard they had a piece by the Master of Cabestany.

My first day, though, was spent finding a grocery store and familiarizing myself with the surrounding neighborhood. There would be a farmer's market the next day at the PATH terminal in Journal Square. Didn't expect much from that, but it'd be worth looking at. I took a quick look around Lincoln Park as the sun set and walked back to the house.

Monument to the early settlers of JC who fled the Irish potato famine, Lincoln Park
There was no doubt where I wanted to eat that night: Deccan Spice in Little India is one of the best Indian restaurants I've ever enjoyed. Thing is, I forgot something important about them: as you approach Newark Avenue from JFK, you see their sign, so naturally you suppose the restaurant on which it hangs is Deccan Spice. It's not. Deccan Spice is two doors down, and if you're walking up Newark Avenue, there's a sign facing your way on the right building. I chose the wrong restaurant, and paid for it: it's called Home Kitchen, although it also has another name, too. The menu is confusing, but not as confusing as something I thought I spotted on the way in: a Bible, a picture of Jesus, and a rosary with a crucifix on it. The chicken dish I had was very ordinary, except for the effect it had on my intestines an hour later. That was impressive.

That farmer's market was also a surprise the next day: only one farmer was represented, along with a Puerto Rican food truck and a bakery, but the vegetables looked top-notch. With the idea of making a salade niçoise, I bought lettuce, a red potato, some green beans, and some black cherry tomatoes. Now all I needed was some good tuna and I was ready to rock. And I knew where to get that: David's printed guide to JC mentioned Carmine's Italian Deli, where he said cops and firefighters went to get sandwiches. It wasn't far.

Not, that is, if you read the address right. Instead, my brain told me it was on a nearby street, albeit a fair walk down that street. So, after walking the mile back to the house and resting up a bit, I started walking down that street. And walking. And walking. Finally, a sign I was looking for came into view, but not Carmine's. Cool Vines was the wine shop David had mentioned, so I went in and looked around. They seem to import everything in the shop themselves, so there was nothing I recognized, which was good and bad. The proprietor was a bit sniffy, but I bought a couple of interesting-sounding bottles and walked all the way back to the house. I sat around until I got hungry and realized there was no vegetable steamer in the house with which to make the salad. I consulted the list again, and started walking down that same street to downtown JC in search of Razza, an upscale pizza joint. For some reason, pizza was just what I wanted, and there was apparently no old-school pizza joint in JC any more. Razza more than fulfilled my expectations. Let's just say that I rarely eat all of the crust. I ate all of the crust. The heirloom tomatoes with a chive vinaitrette was also a perfect opener. And let's face it: after all that walking, I was ravenous. I took a cab back and collapsed into sleep.

JC Astrology #1
I was annoyed enough the next morning that I'd made so many mistakes that I decided to do something I knew how to do: go to the Cloisters. And I did. It was a beautiful day for it, too: the Hudson's palisades were as lovely as I remembered them, and Ft. Tryon, or at least its site (Washington thought he could invade New York City from there and boy was he wrong), a cool and quiet place to spend time.

Note to Founding Father: you can get there from here, but it's not a good idea.
The Cloisters' collection had been added to considerably since I was there last, and I was gratified to see that I could pick out pieces from places I'd spent time, most notably Catalonia, Germany (a bunch of Tilman Riemenschneider wood carvings) and of course the Eastern Languedoc.

And there it is: the cloister from St. Guilhem le Désert!
There was a lot of stuff to see, and yet the place was small enough that I believe I saw it all. One note I made was that the familiar yellow Valencian pottery that had unexpectedly entranced me all those years ago in Castellón was using identical colors to Moorish pottery made in the same vicinity. I found this exciting because I will be in Valencia in a little over a month and am hoping fate steers me into more information about this. I realized after visiting the Cloisters that I seem to have picked up a hobby after all these years: figuring out the three-part society of pre-expulsion Spain, as the Moors, their fellow North Africans the Jews, and the Spanish worked out a way to live together, albeit with some tension. I attribute this to the pieces that clicked into place this spring in Girona.

And here's the Master of Cabestany's piece, considerably larger than I thought.  If he existed, this is by him. 
I left the Cloisters feeling great: between the weather, the views, and all the stuff I'd just seen, I was in a good mood. I pulled out my phone to send the Cabestany picture to a friend in Austin and a grandmotherly black woman with a teen in tow asked me if I were playing Pokémon Go. I told her no, I was trying to send a photo, but had just discovered I couldn't, and also told her that seeing me with my phone was a rare sighting indeed. She clearly approved. I walked a bit further and came upon a setup where a photographer was erecting lighting and tripods and such and a tall, thin black man had a drone in his hand. A couple in full wedding gear were sitting waiting and suddenly I put the pieces together. "If you don't mind," I told the drone pilot, "I'm enough of a geek that I'd like to watch this." "Sure, just stay out of the shot." Easily done from the bench once the couple stood up and too their places. The drone hovered in front of them and then shot out over the Hudson River. Then it hovered a bit and he brought it in, more slowly, as they waved. Man, they don't do wedding videos like they used to.

Bride, groom, drone

1 comment:

  1. Trot on down to the Village, visit Matt Umanov and his guitar shop.


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