Monday, June 20, 2011

Saints & Sinners

The week before last I went to a reading by Edna O'Brien and Gabriel Byrne at McNally Jackson in Soho. In a sea of Barnes & Nobles, (though admittedly, and perhaps ominously, a dwindling one) this is one of the city's real gems of a bookshop. It's not huge, but what it has is well selected and well priced and even in the trendiness of Soho it has a neighbourhoody feel, or at least a feeling of having a loyal crew of regulars. In addition to great books and greeting cards and coffee, they do a good series of literary events.

The reading was lovely; engaging and intimate, and followed by a warm and engrossing Q&A between Gabriel Byrne and Edna O’Brien. It was strange to be sitting in New York City in 2011, and hear this veteran Irish writer speak about an Ireland which seemed very far away. Not just geographically, but chronologically. When O’Brien’s The Country Girls was published in 1960 it was seen as scandalous, and was banned, burnt, and denounced from the pulpits of Catholic Ireland. In a time and city where it feels like anything goes, its supposed evils seemed so laughably tame, and the reaction it garnered so impossibly unfair.

Fifty-one years on, I picked up a copy of the author’s 30th publication Saints and Sinners and while getting it signed I had a few words with the gracious (and at 81, extremely elegant) Ms O'Brien. It has been just one in a glut of really pretty amazing Irish arts events I’ve seen recently, under the banner head of Imagine Ireland. I was on my way out the door when I fell into bad company, and ended up enjoying a few post-reading plastic cups of wine with a very entertaining assortment of acquaintances and new faces. A bunch of us continued the merriment after our polite eviction from the bookshop, and long, long past what would typically constitute the sort of time you’d get home from a literary reading. It was a great night, and introduced me to lots of smart, fun new people.

Among the grouping was Gwen, a journalist who lays no claim to Irish-ness other than a love of it, particularly as a fiddle player. A few months ago she set up her New York Irish Arts blog as a forum to cover many of the great events going on in the city. I had met Gwen just a few days previously, at the Irish Film Institute’s Revisiting the Quiet Man film series at MoMA (another event at which our apparently indefatigable Cultural Ambassador was also actively involved, including a very funny interview with Jim Sheridan. And all this in the same week as the man found time to impersonate Jedward on The Late Late Show!)

Gwen’s commitment to the blog and passion for Irish arts has her keeping a very busy schedule and between, quite literally, the jigs and the reels, she wasn’t able to cover one concert she’d very much wanted to, Julie Feeney in Joe’s Pub at Lafayette Street last Wednesday.
So last week I went to see Julie Feeney. For my thoughts on the gig, and for lots of great write-ups of all of the other interesting things of an Irish arts bent that are going on about the city at the moment, check out I hope to be keeping it up – both getting to more and writing more!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Maybe it’s boring to talk about the weather.

But I am Irish, after all, and so it’s my birthright. And living through a first season somewhere, weather is so much part of the fabric of your experience of a place. Weather’s ability to still deliver something new, when you feel you have already lived in all its many shades and colours, is really quite surprising. Of course, the temperate damp of Ireland’s Atlantic coast does not prepare one for real extremes: there have been days here where the forecast range seems to run in 24 hours the full breadth of an Irish year.

Yet never have I lived somewhere where the seasons have been so firmly delineated. It’s like a classroom illustration of a year: a different quarter of a circle showing a tree with leaves budding, blooming, falling, bare.  It was by all accounts a long, hard winter. And then overnight! The trees all erupted into blossom, and the narrow residential streets of West Village redbrick and brownstones became lacy and pink. When a breeze picked up closer to the river, confetti petals tossed and blew in a manner which it is simply impossible not to be fanciful about. The temperatures soared, and suddenly my snow boots and down coat seemed like relics of some ancient world.  As if this were not rude adjustment enough, in the space of a weekend the ubiquitous black tights of the New York business woman had been stripped away in favour of bare legs. I know I was not the only one recoiling in horror.

Memorial Day Weekend, and it is as if the weather received a memo to commence Summer immediately. While the previous couple of weeks had been warm and pleasant, now it is just plain hot. It is hot in a way that rarely ever happens in Ireland, the temperatures lasting into the evening and night even after the sun has dropped, and the air remaining balmy and still. Going out in the evening there is no need for a jacket or cardigan.

Last week everyone had told me that I would be amazed at how the city empties out for Memorial Weekend. Those who can jump ship to their Long Island pads typically mark the official arrival of summer by decamping en masse and swapping sweating concrete for coastal breezes. It  felt however as though every single other person left in the city without the luxury of a Hamptons bolt-hole had the same idea as I did in heading to the opening weekend of Governor’s Island. Serviced every 30minutes by a free ferry service, I have never seen such queues – interminable lines of daytrippers and picnicers and bicycles and strollers. It seemed as if getting everyone on, much less off, the island was simply not possible. But that is the saving grace of New York – they know how to deal with numbers. The ferry carries 1200 people. And boy was it was full – 12 times over.

Despite the lenghty wait, the island itself is only about a 5 minute trip from the tip of  Manhattan; an old army barracks which is now given over entirely as an outdoor amenity for the city, located alongside Liberty and Staten Islands.  It is a curious experience in a city of such ceaseless industry to be transported to somewhere that is solely dedicated to leisure. There is a beach, a bar, a castle to wander through, cycle lanes all around, aritst studios and installations, open greens to lounge on, trees to shade under, ice cream trucks, and the Hudson lapping gently at its edges. It is a brilliantly well conceived and maintained civic space. On this weekend, of course, there was also an awful, awful lot of people. But for better or worse, that’s what it means to live in this city.

The weekend ended in true Memorial Weekend style, with a rooftop barbecue. Burgers and hot dogs sizzled in the heat haze as my Scandinavian and Latino neighbours poured Manu Chao into the evening. The cityscape palette eased from blazing sunlight to dusky greys, and gradually the daylight faded and the electric and neon lights of skyscrapers formed a new picture entirely, traffic pulsing up 7th Avenue to an invisible horizon; the outline of the Empire State Building lit up in red, white and blue. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Return from hiatus

So, this is not going to be a full new post. Not just yet.
I need to dip my toe back in, and not let ...gulp... an entire 5 weeks without posting a single word become too much of a mental block.

By way of apology, I thought this Time Out New York article on whether social media is bad for nyc was interesting, and worthy of consideration. I was at a great exhibition in MoMA a couple of weeks ago and it really was full of people too busy photographing art to bother looking at it. Made me glad I didn't have my camera. Anyway, it's not excuse-making, but I think it's an interesting thing to ponder in these hyper-connected days of ours. The flip side is of course that I have often quite simply forgotten to take photos or gotten my act together to sit down and write a few words at the end of the (many) fascinating days I have had of late, but the actual living of the fascinating days seems to have gotten in the way...

So, my old year resolution - I think I need to master the art of little and often.  Less diary keeping, more observation. And thanks to everyone who has cajoled and clamoured and coerced me to get back to this.

And for any non-facebookonians who are concerned I might still be homeless, I got an apartment. The very day after the previous post. And it's wonderful. More to follow.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

high notes, low places

It is an oft-cited piece of folk wisdom that New York is ‘just like it is in the movies’. In many respects, this is true. When you gaze up Fifth Ave through the Washington Park Arch, or stand amidst the neon of Times Square, or have an ice-cream on a sunny day at the Bethseda Fountain in Central Park, it is often hard not to conjure up so many of the scenes which have become part of the fabric of popular culture.  However there is one particular area in which this is not true, and this is in the realm of accommodation. How can it be so tricky to find a place, you may wonder? Ross and Rachel, Carrie and Miranda, Betty and Marc...they all had great apartments! The Friends page on Wikipedia may come close to a confession on this great media conspiracy:
‘When the series was criticized for incorrectly depicting New York, with the financially struggling group of friends being able to afford huge apartments, Bright noted that the set had to be big enough for the cameras, lighting, and "for the audience to be able to see what's going on"’.

So there you have it folks. It’s fictitious. Obviously I'm only a live studio audience away from finding a nice place to rent in Manhattan. In keeping with the Friends theme, here’s a Season One collection of some of the apartments I have viewed: The One With the railroad room (NYC real-estate speak for ‘no walls or doors’) between the illustrator’s home and her studio. The One With the Japanese girl and the incessantly-barking, jersey-wearing chihuahua (with time, I may have eventually understood what the dog was saying). The One With the three guys who were so immersed in a football game and a chemical haze that they didn’t even say hello. The One on the seventh floor of a walk-up (NYC real-estate speak for ‘no elevator’). The apartments in this city (unless of course you’re minted) are as riddled with idiosyncracies as the people who live in them. A friend consoled me with the story of a friend of his who viewed a place...with no bathroom door.

In short – I’m still looking. I’ve widened my search, and am looking a little North (of my budget), a little South (of my desired neighbourhood).  And I am very lucky indeed that I continue to be welcomed in Hoboken, where my bedroom is probably larger that the entire apartment I will ultimately end up in. Pat and Art have been unendingly generous and supportive and always pepper the day with fascinating conversations. Nora has shared not only her former bedroom but also her many wonderful friends with me. While living out of two exploded suitcases grows wearisome, it is a much, much better option than unpacking them anywhere I’ve seen so far.

So when not spending large tracts of time pursuing gainful employment and the least unperfect apartment I can find, I have of course felt it only right that I squish in as much New York as I possibly can. Last week was a no holds barred cultural smorgasbord, prompted largely by  the presence of friend John, conductor and musical director extraordinaire, who was en route to darkest Canada.  The week’s attendance included: the New York Philharmonic performing Brahm’s Violin Concerto and Fourth Symphony, which had me enthralled for the entire evening. Hearing Bernadette Peters sing Send in the Clowns and seeing Elaine Stritch (still performing at 88) in Sondheim’s A Little Night Music on Broadway.  And having my socks blown off by La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera. I have always considered myself an opera philistine, but this? Every single thing about it was so lush and beautiful; the set design was utterly breathtaking and looked like it went on forever, as well it needed to as there was one point when I think there were literally 300 people and a horse on stage. I’ve never seen anything that comes close to production values and talent like that, and I suppose it's what makes it world class. The staging, the costuming, not to mention the astonishing singing and orchestration...It was just all on such an amazingly lavish scale. I wanted it to go on forever.

In all cases our ‘cheap’ seats had us either tucked under the armpit of one of the violinists, or sitting along a piece of scaffolding looking in through a skylight. I’m really only exaggerating a little. I do think it may have been one of the first times in my life when I have fully contemplated how nice it would be to be truly, wildly wealthy. With good opera tickets typically running to $300, you would need to be if you wanted to make a habit of it. Meanwhile, I’m just happy to be soaking up all the absurdly amazing experiences this city has to offer. On the cheap perhaps, but even without ever buying a ticket, there’s always something intriguing to be discovered. By the weekend I honestly felt almost overwhelmed by so much sensory overload. For now, lunch in Bryant Park as they start to get the ice-skating rink set up beside the ping-pong tables is performance enough to tide me over til the next Broadway and Lincoln Center visit.

The next post, if you all keep your fingers crossed tightly enough, will I hope have apartment news. And I’ve been amassing some Hallowe’en photos for your perusal too. And then there’s the Rally to Restore Sanity this weekend...Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Well, the bad news first – I didn’t get the apartment. I didn’t even get to view, she just simply never got back to me. There had been a few people viewing ahead of me and I guess they snapped it up – you really have to be quick off the mark around here. I still have not managed to find a place, and my daily trawl is confirming that Craig’s List is proof of the many bewildering, alarming and hilarious housing and room mate options in this city. I am most certainly not a vegan.  I don’t own any furniture here, but describing my style as ‘minimalist’ is, I fear, a bridge too far. I’d as soon not rent out your living room to sleep in, thanks.  All things considered, I don’t think I’ll wire you money by Western Union to Nigeria and await you to send me back the keys by post (really, this is one of the more common scams – it takes a few posts before you start to recognize them straight-off). And no, I don’t want to take on a bedroom that doesn’t have any window (absolute deal breaker).

So the hunt continues.  Thus far I’ve been fussy about the where and how much bracket, but if there’s nothing promising arising soon I’m going to have to look further afield. Meanwhile I have spent some utterly lovely days wandering (in the interests of researching ‘farther afield’). Wednesday took me to the Upper West Side, complete with lunch in Zabar’s of soup and half sandwich which could give the Pav a run for its money, though I suspect Zabar’s cheese blintzes with rhubarb conserve are better! Not, however, the Barry’s tea…which sure enough was tucked in among the other wonders on display in this marvelous Jewish deli, but at $10 for a small box I decided my need had not yet reached such a crisis point!

Thursday night I overnighted in Brooklyn thanks to the hospitality of Katie and Chris in their wonderful turret apartment, after a lovely evening over drinks in Chelsea, and Dylan Thomas’ old watering hole, the White Horse. This felt well deserved, after a seemingly endless afternoon spent in the social security office where I had to sign in with my visa. There is a very particular kind of ‘hurry up to wait’ bureaucracy which in fairness is an apparently international condition, and did at least let me practice my aural Spanish a lot. When I did make it to the desk, there was one slightly amusing moment at which she asked if I had previously held a social security number in the US. Upon which cue I produced the paper receipt from the social security office when I was here on my J1. Momentary silence, half smile, and raised eyebrow from the clerk. “Honey, are you telling me that you still have this dog-eared ole bit of paper since 1997?” I admitted rather sheepishly that I wasn’t quite sure whether I was either proud or embarrassed at this indeed being the case. But it did help get my paperwork sorted! Eventually….

Friday afternoon was a ramble around Williamsburg, ably guided and entertained by Katie. Vintage shops forever; with row upon row of eighties varsity t-shirts, soft flannel shirts, delightfully garish dresses and every shade of denim blue. Brunch: I now know I like my eggs done over-medium, with rye toast. (Tea ordering is still problematic, you have to be very explicit that you mean hot breakfast tea or else it comes with ice.) Great big tables of second-hand books in their lovely matte US editions along Bedford Avenue which are very, very hard to resist. All the trendy young hipsters (do they actually allow non-myopic boys into Brooklyn?) And a pleasant slump in the park, admiring the Chrysler Building and Manhattan’s skyline from across the East river. This was followed by a mad subway dash under the self-same river and up to the Lincoln Center to catch a film in the New York Film Festival with Jeff. The film in question, for those of you who are interested, was Meek’s Cutoff– equal parts enthralling and deadly dull, and definitely less enjoyable than it was to just soak up the buzz of a full house in a great auditorium.

This afternoon I joined the great multitudes of joggers and strollers and loungers and readers and pampered pooches and cyclists and skaters who were out in force to enjoy the glorious sunshine along the Hudson River Park. It really is delightful, with boats out on the water and that weirdly community vibe which you get in good public spaces in large cities. The jumble of shiny skyscrapers and whoosh of traffic are really not that far from you, but they seem at a remove somehow. At around 11th Street I left the water’s edge and headed in a few blocks to the High Line Park. This ingenious park has been developed on an old raised railway line which cuts along the West Side above Chelsea and the Meatpacking district (now a very trendy area; the labour which gave it its name was what led to the creation of the railway line in the first place). Now there is a stretch of 14 blocks (they’re currently working on the next section) of walkway and greenery, with brilliantly designed benches and viewing spots, where you can stroll along and look down on the streets and stores and cars and goings on below. It’s a really enjoyable perspective, as you’re level with about the third floor of most of the surrounding buildings and really can see the city from a new angle.

This was the view from the Hudson Park to my left:

And this was the view from the Hudson Park to my right:

And this was heading back to Hoboken on the ferry, looking back at where I'd just come from:

There has of course been boringness too, but I will spare you the dirge of CV reformatting, job searching, endless emails, transatlantic ordering of optician prescriptions, etc etc. I suppose right now is sort of a transition period, the feeling of ‘oh, maybe I’m just on holidays!’ is wearing off (together with my bank balance!) and yet real life has not taken hold. I am now really looking forward to having my own place, and to starting to get my teeth into work as it’s obviously the key to the sense of ‘I live here’...The Martinez continue to be the most wonderful hosts imaginable, and I feel both completely welcome and included and utterly independent at the same time. But I do hope the next couple of weeks will see me getting set up on my own.

Thanks so much everyone who sent such positive and encouraging responses to the first blog. You’ve willed it to continue!

First foray into adding photos I just need to remember to start taking more!

This post is, of course, still too long.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Late and long...but started!

Well, here we are, eight days after my arrival. My first post and it’s going to be a long one! This is mostly a gathering of thoughts from this week and not a day by day account. You'll have to bear with me while I get into the swing of it.  I will try and write a little on last week at a later stage too...

The idea of a blog is something I’ve resisted for quite a while, for most of the usual reasons. That I find the concept egotistical, that the minutiae of one’s daily life can’t really be all that interesting. But then I suppose facebook categorically throws this theory out the window.  The lateness of this post is largely because despite the many wonderful attributes of my temporary foster home in Casa Martinez, wifi is alas not one of them. Also part of the reason I wasn’t online much was simply that not having to check email daily was such a nice break. Ironically, while I spent almost 3 days entirely web free, facebook has been INESCAPABLE here at the moment.  Zuckerberg just donated $100m to the Newark education system so the news is full of chatter about that. There’s also masses of hype about the film The Social Network, which opens today, with ads and billboards all over the place.  Justin Timberlake was on the Daily Show, Aaron Sorkin on Colbert, and they're both in town for the New Yorker Festival which is screening the film tonight with Q&A after. It is, predictably, sold out so I'd say it'll be the cineplex for me. But I'm really looking forward to seeing it, and have also been craving a cinema trip.
I digress. The arguments in favour of blogging seemed to far outweigh those against. There is undoubtedly a kind of wide-eyed observation which comes with moving to a new place (perhaps one which truly great writers can keep alive while remaining in one place?) and I very much wanted to keep a record of my thoughts and reactions to this year. I like the idea of there being some sense of imperative on me to post relatively frequently, thus preventing my usual journal-keeping methods which involve letting it descend into a void of procrastination. Lastly of course is probably the most compelling reason - that it's a great way of keeping in touch, and there was a loud and gratifying chorus in favour of my keeping a blog. Group mails aren't always welcome, and masses of individual newsy mails was never going to be realistic. So this way people can check in and see what I'm up to in their own time, and I hope maybe, as the title suggests, enjoy a little slice of Big Apple every now and then.
Enough of the back-story. To NYC.
On Wednesday I went to see a matinee showing of This Is What we Sang at the Synagogue for the Arts in Tribeca. This play centres around the lives of three generations of a Jewish family in Belfast, hence the venue. My interest had been piqued both through a good review in the New York Times, and a desire to check out a few of the offerings of the currently running Festival of Irish Theatre, and it seemed a nice combination of themes for a new resident of NYC. Besides, the ability to go to a matinee showing of anything still feels like a delicious perk of my hopefully temporary unemployment! There’s something very decadent about deciding to go to something for pure pleasure at 3o’clock on a midweek afternoon. Even browsing in a bookshop in the middle of the day feels like a taste of what it must be like to be either a shameless trust fund kid or else a very contented retiree. 
I had bought my ticket online and was giving my name on the desk, when I heard in incredulous tones behind me “Lucy?!" And lo, who is it only the lovely Ken Wardrop, director of this summer's marvellous His & Hers. I can tell you that a random meeting with someone from back home within only a week of being here was thoroughly delightful. Now admittedly this was an Irish Theatre Festival, so the odds weren't that low. But still, I think there is something so Irish about being in other countries and bumping into people you know. The play, incidentally, was very good - an engaging story, well told. I hope to get to see a couple more in the festival over the coming days; Hue & Cry has also been getting thumbs up from the Times, and I'm also drawn by Graham & Frost. For those of you who are interested, see
The other portion of my day was spent obsessing over an apartment which I had found on Craig’s list. I thought that an apartment in Greenwich Village - hands down my first choice of 'hood - would be well beyond my budget, but it turns out that there are in fact a few possibilities. My Brooklyn-resident friends and acquaintances are shouting loudly for its infinite coolness and affordable and spacious rentals. Nora, a self-confessed Jersey girl, thinks that that's all hype and that Jersey city has all of the same benefits and none of the pretentiousness. Amidst all this, I am still harbouring hopes to actually live in the city, and I think if it's do-able at all- without having to pay a fortune or live in a complete shoe-box - then I'm going to try.  Which in why the place on Waverly and W 10th, in the space of 24 hours,  went from somewhere I had a passing interest in to be absolutely convinced it was the key to my entire future happiness. That can happen with house hunts, in my opinion. My mild indifference was stoked by email correspondence with the owner, and revved up to the point where I’m now at the fully fledged, fever-pitch, starry eyed stage where I am frantically trying to curb, as it were, my enthusiasm. I have stalked the area. I have tried to identify which one it might be from the street, going by the windows from the interior photos I was sent. Presently, a complete stranger called Betty holds my (residential, anyway) future in her hands. It is a funny thing and one which I think is experienced more when you are a newcomer to a place - being so utterly at the whim of people who know nothing whatsoever about you nor you about them. 
The weather since Monday has been decidedly weird. My first few days here were hot and sunny, unseasonably but enjoyably so. Now however, it is uncomfortably warm mostly because the air feels tropical, soupy and laden with humidity. And then the rain started with these sudden heavy downpours that seem to come and go from nowhere - again, strangely Caribbean.  And then the wind started - these great cold gusts that pick up and shake the leaves off the trees, and make you feel like transportation to Oz is nigh. But they still don't manage to make the air any less soupy. As Nora's husband, a high-school teacher, put it, "I spent the day teaching in a swamp". The gusty wind means I can't leave the bedroom window open at night anymore as it makes the bedroom door rattle in a very unnerving way. So instead (despite my eco-annoyance at this paradox) I have to keep the windows closed and the ceiling fan on, which is pleasingly old fashioned and languid, and at least just stirs up the soup a little...
One of the most amusing outcomes of this weather, for me, is sartorial. New Yorkers seem to take a very pragmatic approach to fashion. So at the moment the place is full of all these stylish women in little DKNY shift dresses and Longchamp bags….and they’re wearing wellies! It’s like the entire city is dressed for the Electric Picnic. There are of course lots of Hunter wellies, but also funky patterned ones, shiny patent effect ones, ones with lace-ups, and even Ugg wellies. And it’s still a million degrees! There are people literally in denim mini skirts and vest tops, or office skirt suits – and Ugg wellies. And they are not queueing for Pieminister, or going up the yard to let the cows in. They are on the subway, on Fifth Avenue, and having brunch. This strange hybrid of the wacky and the sensible, and a confident indifference to what anyone might think, is I think a very New York trait and part of what makes me love this city.
Eavesdropping in New York is the most spectacularly entertaining activity. People talk, loudly, all the time, and so eavesdropping is often pretty unavoidable. There are conversations which you simply would not hear anywhere else, either because of the subject matter or the idiosyncratic neuroses of the place. Such is the entertainment factor that Overheard in NYC actually has is its own website, This not withstanding, I am going to make my own occasional contribution to the oeuvre in this blog. 
Overheard in NYC 1: (Hipster girl to friend in restaurant in the Village, on explaining why it ended with her boyfriend): “He doesn't encourage my flamboyance. I want someone who can celebrate that.”
Ok, I don't want to set a precedent of insanely long posts, for either myself or you reading! This is a scrappy hodgepodge of unrelated thoughts - future musings will I hope have a bit more flow. Photos may also feature shortly when I get my act together...