Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
To look for AmericaI had only been away from Indianapolis for a little over a month. Back in June, unexpected circumstances had brought me back to the states for a ten day stay, so now, in early August, it felt like my month home in Italy had just been an extended visit, and now here I was, landing back home. Maybe that's not the best way to start a 3-week vacation, but my perspective changed as soon as I saw New York City rising above me outside of the train car window.
Antonello and I landed in New York from Rome, and the first two days back in the states were dedicated to seeing family who lived in the area and spending one good day, just the two of us, wandering around the city before catching a flight to meet up with my parents and brother in Chicago. This was Antonello's first ever trip to New York, and I was determined to make it memorable. We had one entire day to spend combing through the city on our own (we were coming back this way too, so at the tail end of the trip, we'd have another two full days in New York), and what did Antonello want to do? I asked. He shrugged. I said, "Well what about cheesecake?" knowing he was a big fan of the Junior's Cheesecake recipe that my aunt had used to make our wedding cake two years before. "Oh yeah--definitely Juniors." So we ahead of us we had a full day, and only one thing underlined and bolded on our itinerary: lunch (and dessert!) at Junior's in Brooklyn.
Getting off the train in Manhattan, we began the walk toward Brooklyn. I wanted to take Antonello over the Brooklyn Bridge by foot, and after a few failed attempts to find the pedestrian walkway over the bridge, we were finally on our way. Once in Brooklyn, we followed my cousin's directions: "Go left. Then there's a busy street. Go right. Walk a ways." Um...we're in the middle of New York, isn't everywhere a busy street? I was sure we'd get lost, but somehow those directions were the key, and we arrived in front of the orange and white striped awning without any problems.
We enjoyed our lunch, and we savored the mega slices of cheesecake that came out afterwards. Antonello, taking big gallopping bites, stopped to say that, in all honesty, the cheesecake I make is better (it's the same recipe!). And as we finished, we both looked at each other. The day's one goal was accomplished. All of New York lay ahead of us, waiting to be discovered, and we only had an afternoon left. Where to next?
The rest of the day in New York was a whirlwind. Thinking back on it now, there must've been a better way to plan things, but Antonello is a seat-of-his-pants sort of guy, and one day is all we had. The next day would be spent recovering lost luggage (Northwest airlines lost 4 of our bags, and then delivered us the wrong bag the next day) and waiting around Penn Station for a train out to Long Island to catch our flight to Chicago.
So after lunch at Junior's, we got a call from my cousin about meeting up for dinner with the whole family just a few short hours later. To make the most of those short hours, we took the subway to Times Square, marvelled at the crowd, ran over to the Chrysler building, snapping some photos, and hopped another train for the East Village just late enough to make the excuse, "Sorry, for being late, but we live in Italy!"
At the end of the night, taking the van back to New Jersey where my aunt lives, I reflected on our day in New York. It was a crazy, run-around day. My husband was left not knowing what exactly New York was--to him it was just traffic and endless crowds. He was trying to find out what this part of America--this mega-metropolis version of it--meant, and he ended up with cheesecake, a long bridge to walk across, a couple of frantic subway rides, and dinner with my family at an Indian restaurant. It was a good day, but it wasn't necessarily the best first impression of a city that I had fallen in love with years ago.
A couple of years back, Corrie and I took my friend Eric on a tour of Rome, after Eric had made it clear that he was visiting Rome only to check it off his list, and to tell his Italian-American friends back home that, yes, he had finally visited the eternal city. Eric wasn't a city guy, and it's hard to appreciate Rome with just a few days if that's the case. But somehow Corrie and I managed to win him over. Despite starting the trip by taking the wrong subway train and shoving through crowds around the Termini, we soon got to our hotel, began wandering around the side streets, and found ourselves dining at a charming restaurant in Trastevere, trying as many local dishes as we could. Corrie and I wanted Eric to love Rome as much as we had learned to. And it worked--Eric walked away from Rome sorry that he had doubted it, in love with the history, the art and architecture, the churches and palaces, and the laughter and moonlit roads that led us back to our hotel each night.
So I knew that I had to show Antonello this other side of the city, and I had only two days left at the end of the trip to do it.
Flying back into New York at the end of August, we took a cab to my cousin's apartment. I have two cousins in the area--the one in New Jersey who we visited at the start of the trip, and this cousin, Jason, who lives in Queens. When we got to Queens, we discovered the little ethnic neighborhood where Jason lives, and I liked it right off. It was after midnight, and restaurants were open, people were strolling the streets--there was a lot of life. I smiled. So it wasn't Trastevere, but it was darn near it.
The next day would come to be our best day in the city. That morning, Antonello found a kiosk that sold Italian newspapers, and he snatched up a copy of La Repubblica. Finally, Italian words to read! The neighborhood that was so lively the night before opened up to us with new colors and flavors, the morning scenes replacing those of the nigh before. Once in Manhattan, we went back to familiar places: the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Station, and we also made our way toward destinations we had yet to see. Exploring New York's Public Library was a highlight--with its quiet corridors of sleek marble, plus rooms that were dazzlingly ornate and frescoed, and of course--this is a library--large halls of books and people researching and studying.
Finally, we got to the Empire State Building. While the wait to go to the top was a long one, and the organization was ridiculous, standing out on the balcony overlooking all of Manhattan and beyond made everything worthwhile. We took in everything--the sites, the crowds of people around us, and the feeling of being in the middle of New York.
Ears popping on the elevator ride down, we realized that it was mid-afternoon, the day was only halfway over, and we had to meet up with my cousin for a late lunch. When we met Jason, it was later than we had hoped, but we decided we'd go ahead and find a place for late lunch or early dinner anyway. In the Flatiron district, we stumbled upon The Mesa Grill, a restaurant owned by chef Bobby Flay (famous for those Boy Meets Grill Food Network programs). Jason had been wanting to eat there for a long time, and this was perfect--we were standing right there in front of it.
Dinner was delicious. I had been a little bit wary--all of these celebrity chefs opening so many new hot spots each seems too much like fancy versions of standard chain restaurants--but the food was really wonderful. Even Antonello, who had fearfully assumed that this was yet another Mexican restaurant (okay, so we'd been overdoing the Mexican food a bit), was happy to get a pork tenderloin dressed up to the nines and some sweet potato tamales. And the evening continued in such a way--leaving the restaurant, we found a quiet cafe on the corner with pastries in the window, and we enjoyed exquisite slices of chocolate raspberry cake, eclairs, and, finally, good espresso. Here we were, after a busy morning, and my cousin Jason was taking us through his New York, with jazz venues and little shops, charming restaurants and quiet squares and buildings.
My cousin is a trumpet player, and one thing that we had hoped to do was see him play a jazz gig before we left New York. Unfortunately that wasn't to happen, since he didn't have any gigs those two days, but he said he did know where some good jazz music was playing that night, so we decided to go. The basement restaurant he took us to was cozy and dark, and we settled in for an evening of jazz in the middle of the city. It was actually perfect. I couldn't believe how our trip had turned from chaos to this--an evening of music and drinks, chatter buzzing through the tiny space as Antonello watched intently, drumming his fingers on the table in front of us as the band played familiar tunes.
While New York can't be conquered in three days, we at least made a start. The next day would be another good one, including dinner with an old friend and her baby boy, a morning at the Guggenheim, and a walk through Central Park. Maybe discovering this city is about discovering parts of the city, one at a time. It's got all sort of aspects to it, each one as different as cheesecake at Junior's and sweet potato tamales at Bobby Flay.
And isn't that what we had shown Eric two years ago in Rome? That there are different sides to a city. Cities can't be just one thing. It's those sides, all of them mixed together to create a place, that make us always dream of returning.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Macerata Monday! Palazzo BuonacorsiIt's been a while since my last Macerata Monday post, and I thought I'd start it up again in an attempt to get myself a little more disciplined about blogging.
This photo of the front door to Palazzo Buonacorsi in Macerata was taken today, after a long, yet rewarding, day of being an urban spelunking guide in the cantina of the same palace yesterday, related to the Trekking Urbano event held throughout Italy: a chance to visit the more rugged paths in some of Italy's most beautiful cities and towns.
Palazzo Buonacorsi had been under construction since I arrived in Italy nine years ago, and friends of mine say that the construction started long before that--some people don't remember ever seeing the palazzo NOT under construction. So when they finally took down the scaffolding a few months back, one of the treasures revealed was this beautiful door and its fancy cherub door knockers. There are surely a myriad of treasures to behold inside too, but I have yet to see them. Yesterday I spent the day UNDER the palace, not in it :).
More about my Trekking Urbano experience soon.
Long RunCongrats to my brother Paul who ran in the Chicago Marathon today, even though it was shortened due to the heat and heat-related injuries. Read what he has to say about the shortened race here.
Paul--Antonello and I are so proud of you for participating! Wish we could've been there to cheer you on!