Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Up and Comer...In Manhattan!

Several years ago, on a crisp fall evening, Paul dragged me up to the western end of Canal Street to see Lou Reed perform.  Who?  Paul, outraged, informed me that Lou Reed is a legend, the singer in the seminal band Velvet Underground, a major figure in music history.  

We made our way up to Canal to see the living legend, and arrived at what was actually a dedication and celebration of a small park on the street, and the local residents, many of whom are prominent (and not so prominent) artists, were performing in honor of the occasion.  When I say park, I am actually referring to a small triangle in the middle of Canal Street just next to the West Side highway that is planted with trees and a few bushes.  Really more of a parklette than a park, but nice nonetheless.

Anyway, we see upon our arrival a small stage set up in the street, with some sort of modern dance troupe performing.  The "performance" consisted of a few small women clad entirely in black spandex having what appeared to be epileptic fits on the stage.  It reminded me of a Saturday Night Live sketch that Mike Myers would have starred in during the 90s.

After they had recovered from their fits, the head "dancer" told us to turn our attention to the park at our back.  They wanted to unleash some "ephemeral sculptures".  These sculptures turned out to be structured balloons with open bottoms.  Almost like hot air balloons.  The first was launched with some sort of air compressor with limited success.  The sculpture went about three feet in the air and then fell straight back down.  The second had a much more successful launch.  It went high into the air, floated above Canal Street for a moment, plummeted towards earth, landed on the hood of a police car, and then rolled east on Canal Street like a giant white tumbleweed, causing endless confusion for those attempting to drive in either direction on the street.

At this point, I felt that it might make sense to take cover, so Paul, Sharon (who had joined us halfway through the epileptic fit) and I headed to the only store in the area, just behind the stage.  It was a general store I guess.  It stocked items such as toilet paper, sundried tomatoes (come to think of it, there were a huge number of tomato based-products, and I think the name of the store may have been Tomato something), cornichons, pate and toilet bowl cleaner.  

In the back of the store was a takeout foot counter.  I was cold and traumatized so I settled on some hot apple cider and a cupcake.  A moment after making my purchase I went back to the food counter to ask for a knife to split up the cupcake so I could give my compatriots a piece.  In response to my request, the mad frenchman who was manning the counter cried "Oh, a knife!  A knife!  I will be stabbed!  Through the heart!" while miming stabbing himself in the stomach.  I settled for one of the flimsy plastic knifes available for self-serve at the front of the store.

Confident that the ephemeral sculptures had finally met their end, we decided to take refuge from the Twilight Zone and head back outside.  Just beside the store's stoop we spied Lou Reed (actually Paul did, I had no idea who he was) doing calisthenics in preparation for his set.  Now I feel that I should give you a bit of background here.  This is Lou Reed:

The man has aged only slightly better than Keith Richards, and has maintained a lifestyle not too dissimilar.  The idea of him doing lunges, in leather pants no less, is incongruous to say the least.  In person, it was hilarious.  I feel like he may even have been smoking while doing them, but I could be mistaken.

So the legend got up and sang four songs...recent works that bore no resemblance to Velvet Underground.  At all.  It was kind of like Bon Jovi showing up for a concert and playing nothing but their most recent country-themed album. 

With the finale (such as it was) done, Paul and I headed down to Bubby's for some chicken soup and pie.  After the night we'd had, comfort food was in order.  And we ended up sitting next to one of the storied former heads of Sony Music so Paul got his music legend fix.  

I have good memories of the was a New York experience, and not in the "Ohmigod, I was at the Beatrice the other night and saw so and so and she was sooooo ridiculous" but more in the "Well, it was art.  I'm not sure I liked it, but it was interesting." way.  Hard to come by these days.

Anyway, I was out for a wander the other day and found myself near this neighborhood again.  I hadn't been in the vicinity since the aforementioned night, so I was curious to see how it had evolved.  Turns out I love it.  North Tribeca, as it is called, is the corner that Tribeca forgot.  They're just now getting around to converting warehouses to condos here so you're not yet running into the Pilates moms with the kids in the Swedish strollers yet, and the (admittedly, limited) retail options tend more towards the practical than the silly (if you call a wine store and florist practical, personally, I do).  

The demented general store is now a gallery, so that little gem is no longer there to add funk to the area, but just across Canal is an interesting, vaguely industrial, extension of this mini-neighborhood.  You've got the Ear Inn, a charming old tavern with good food at extremely reasonable prices, a shop called Cookbooks, which specializes in out of print, you guessed it, cookbooks, and Jacques Torres, which is a great stop on a cold rainy day for a whiff of warm hot chocolate.  Or if you're up to the task, I suppose you could actually drink it.  But let me give you fair warning, it is rich.  AND you have the Fire Museum.

I'm a bit late to the party on this one, as the young privacy-seeking celebrity set already seems to have discovered the area.  Apparently Mary Kate lives around here, I believe Beyonce and Jay-Z are local residents, and I just read that Justin Timberlake bought a unit in the Pearline Soap Factory building.  Having toured the fourth floor unit in this building, I can safely say that if you have $5 million to spend, this is not a bad option.  The corner, window lined master bedroom made me very jealous.  Probably because I have exactly zero windows in my bedroom.  Ah, Manhattan real estate.

Anyway, it's my dream neighborhood of choice.  It feels new and a little underground, but without the drawbacks generally associated with a gentrifying neighborhood.  Safety doesn't seem like it would be an issue (aside from the odd mad miming frenchman), and since the surrounding neighborhoods are already firmly yuppified there's not too much local opposition to new residents.  So go hang out there, tour apartments you can't afford, and tell me you don't wish you could live there too.

1 comment:

wambalus said...

Ah! You'd never heard of Lou Reed? Walk on the Wild Side? One of my favourite songs of all time.

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