Lens on July 2018

Somehow, the calendar magically changed over to August, with July just creeping right on by, and with it, most of summer! While there’s still plenty of sweltering hot weather to be had here in New York City, something about it being August brings back ‘back-to-school’ feelings, and that the mystical time of relaxing and long summer nights is soon to be over. Looking back, July was a busy month, with some weekend trips and taking advantage of a ton of free concerts, plays and other city events.

The month started out with a trip up to the Adirondacks and Lake Placid, which you can read about more in my previous post. The rest of the month I stayed mostly in downstate New York, so read on!

Restaurants

A mix of American cuisine and international, one of my favorite things about NYC. Any time you want food from anywhere in the world, you usually can get it. This month I ate my way around the globe, without leaving Manhattan!

Mamoun’s Falafel (East Village) -this Middle Eastern joint is a favorite standby on St. Mark’s Place. So many options for vegetarians, and the prices cannot be beat. I definitely recommend if you’re looking for a filling and cheap meal.

Mel’s Burger Bar (Upper East Side) – I went here after work for happy hour and dinner. Among our group, everyone got a different burger. One of them was piled so high with toppings. I liked the environment, where there is plenty of seating and no pressure from the wait staff.

malaproject
Mala Project dry pot

Mala Project (East Village)this Chinese restaurant is a cut above. My friends graciously ordered a vegetarian version of the dry pot, adding a mixture of veggies, tofus, mushrooms and other tasty ingredients. You can customize the spice level and the ingredients of your creation.

Van Leeuwen (East Village) -a NYC staple, for vegans and ice cream lovers alike. We went to their EV location but one recently opened up on the Upper East Side so you bet I’m planning a trip there soon.

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Decorations at Thai Market

Thai Market (Upper West Side) -probably one of my favorite Thai restaurants in the city. Go for the lunch special (which at the time of writing is offered on weekends, a rarity) which is an appetizer and very generous portion of a main dish. I took half home and had a full meal for lunch the next day.

Dorado Tacos (Union Square) – my second time visiting this place. I had gotten the quesadilla last time, in the winter, and had been wanting to try the tacos. I was not disappointed. Another reasonably priced, quick bite in a very convenient location.

zoma
Vegetarian platter at Zoma

Zoma (Harlem) – love, love, love Zoma. Nice ambiance, service, location, and most importantly, the food! My friend and I have been there more than once and this time we perfected our order – the vegetarian combo with lentils, chick peas, green beans, potatoes and carrots. SO GOOD. We shared it and ate every bite.

Parks

A few highlights of parks I’ve visited over the past month, as I love to explore NYC’s green spaces.

Open Garden Day – for the first time, GreenThumb, the gardening ‘branch’ of NYC Parks, coordinated gardens across the five boroughs to all be open at the same time on a single Saturday. It was a blistering hot and sunny day, and my husband and I did a slow self-directed Garden Crawl of five gardens in East and Central Harlem. He definitely gets extra credit. Read more about that in my review of the day.

morningsidepark
Morningside Park

Morningside Park – this narrow strip just northwest of Central Park is so beautiful with walking paths, picnic areas, a pond, and ballfields.

Festivals and Events

Weekends and weeknight were packed with many incredible (and mostly free) NYC events, and some fun concerts beyond Manhattan. Here are the highlights!

heavenlybodies
A costume part of Heavenly Bodies

The Metropolitan Museum – Thanks to a gift membership (thanks mom!) I often go to the Met Museum, which is a quick subway ride down from Harlem. My friend and I wanted to see the latest costume exhibit, Heavenly Bodies. I loved how the costumes were interspersed within the religious art. We also popped in to Visitors to Versailles, which just closed at the end of July, which was an interactive exhibition where through headsets you can listen to snippets of what visiting the great palace would have been like. We also saw History Refused to Die, which is on til September 23, 2018, a powerful look at African American art from the south. Now that I’ve seen what feels like most of the permanent collection (if that’s even possible), I have been focusing more on the rotating exhibits.

wsgconcert
Live jazz in the garden!

Jazz in the Garden – After our fun afternoon at the Met, my friend and I walked across Central Park to the West Side Community Garden to see the Marc Irwin Quartet. We found a seat behind the musicians and enjoyed a lovely performance.

classicaltheatre
Classical Theatre of Harlem’s amazing set

Free Performances in HarlemClassical Theatre of Harlem’s performance of Antigone in Marcus Garvey Park was visually stunning and timely. I’ve been going to CTH’s free, annual summer festival since I moved to the city. By incorporating African Dance, singing, and reimagining classics to take place in more modern times (or putting their own twist), the company makes the plays relevant and fresh again, and accessible for audiences of 2018. (You can read my reviews of their 2014, 2015, and 2016 performances, once I started blogging. I didn’t review last year’s performance of Three Musketeers.)

caramoor
Trumpetist (left, I wish I caught his name) and Patrick Bartley Jr. (right)

Caramoor‘s annual Jazz Festival – I used to see concerts each summer at Caramoor when I lived upstate, and this year, I wanted to bring my husbands to see the lush gardens and enjoy music outdoors away from the bustle of the city. We started off the day with an incredible performance by Patrick Bartley Jr.’s ensemble playing the music of Cannonball Adderley. We popped into the Rosen House to see the estate of Caramoor’s founders. We then lazed about the grounds, enjoying our picnic and checking out other acts, drove into Katonah to explore the little town, and then came back in the evening to see headliner Dianne Reeves.

doggies
Bonus: doggies in a stroller.

Notable mentionsSummer Stage in Central Park, where I saw a lively performance by a Chilean reggaetón artist; BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, in Prospect Park with a mind-blowing performance from Spanish rapper Mala Rodriguez, and New York Classical Theatre’s performance of Romeo and Juliet in Carl Schurz Park.

Books

I’m well on my way to reading more than 52 books this year. I read a lot this month and also started listening to audiobooks again, which means I can ‘read’ more while on the road.

Map of Salt and Stars, Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar – this tale of two girls separated by centuries but still being brave in the face of tribulations was timely and heart wrenching. I love a good quest novel, and Syrian American author Joukhadar really made a stellar one here. The protagonist tells the story of mythic Rawiya to comfort herself as her family crosses multiple boundaries during the Syrian War. The book really sucks you in with great depictions of scenery, colors, sounds and scents, and the strong women portrayed in the book are refreshing after many novels with male characters. It is also a good view into the lives of some refugees; how your life can be normal one moment and then everything ripped away from you the next. Highly recommended. I would LOVE to see a movie of this.

merryspinster
Creepy, fun cover of the Merry Spinster on a summer’s day.

The Merry Spinster, Daniel Mallory Ortberg – this collection of twisted short stories was a really fun read. I follow Ortberg’s column on Slate – Dear Prudence, and it was fun to see this author’s work in a different format. Each tale was familiar, but not quite. By gender-bending, changing names, and giving some characters a triumphantly bloody or sinister finish, this was a treat for anyone looking for some grown up fairy tales.

The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle – I absolutely loved LaValle’s book, The Changeling, but this shorter tale fell a little flat. I did love the view of old NYC and Harlem, especially, and that this book could have been written about today’s trying times. But if you’re looking for a magical window of the city, try his newer material.

Am I There Yet, Mari Andrew – what a lovely collection of art. Andrew’s Instagram postings are always so relatable and sometimes put into words thoughts I didn’t even know were bubbling in my mind. The story of her father’s untimely death was most heart wrenching, and the pages cataloguing her experiences abroad were a great look into her travels.

Mating in Captivity: A Memoir, Helen Zuman – reading this book was like watching a train wreck. Ivy-league educated Helen accidentally falls in with a cult, while searching for some free-spirited commune to join. She gives one of them the money she won from a large grant and the story spirals out of control from there. It was horrifying to read that such an educated, idealistic, inquisitive woman could fall into the clutches of a cliquish cult. I’m glad she got out but it is really awful to read what she went through. Some of the editing could be a bit tightened up as the flow was confusing at times. Regardless, I couldn’t put it down!

Dandelion Wine (Audiobook), Ray Bradbury – I recently downloaded Libby,  an app for eBooks and listening to audiobooks, which means I can listen to books while I’m walking – which is quite often. Game changer! The first audiobook I listened to was Dandelion Wine, for book club. Unfortunately, I did not take to it. It could have been the story, or perhaps the narrator, but overall it felt contrived. It could be that it was written in 1957, and it was a nice pleasant window into the summer of 1928 (90 years ago).  Each chapter was a short vignette of the characters in the town. The standout chapters included:

  • 12, Lawns of Summer, where young Bill Forrester buys grass for the main character’s grandfather that never grows above a certain height. Grandpa lectures him on the small pleasures of life, and Bill doesn’t plant the grass. Wikipedia tells me no such grass exists.
  • 28-29, The Swan, where Bill Forrester strikes up a friendship with 95 year old Helen Loomis. He courts her for a few weeks. As their time together draws to a close, she imparts on him her wish that in their next lives, they find each other and gives him certain instructions. This one brought a tear to my eye.
  • 30-31, The Whole Town’s Sleeping, where three girls are frightened of a serial killer loose in the town. The chapters document their journey to the movies, and Lavinia’s brave venture alone to her house. With a surprising twist at the end, this one worked well in audio format with jump scares and a terrifying moment. Not to be listened to late at night.
immortalists
The Immortalists, with a plant I’ve kept alive for almost 3 years now. Hooray!

The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin – This book came recommended, and for good reason. Four siblings visit a fortune teller to learn when they will die, and then struggle with how to live their lives: to the fullest? to succumb to the inevitable? to confront your reality? to try to defeat the odds? I loved the character development, and how each story unfolded slowly and then with a twist at the end, just believable enough to leave you in shock. How would you live your life if you knew when it would end? That is the question you should be left with at the end.

Station Eleven (Audiobook), Emily St. John Mandel – I had read this book in 2016 and a friend mentioned it recently so I checked out the audiobook. This was WONDERFUL as an audiobook. It’s such a captivating story, the way the characters lives weave together before and after the collapse of society following the pandemic “Georgia Flu”. The author’s interpretation of how society shuts down after the flu spreads like wildfire was intriguing and felt eerily a possibility, should the worst happen. The characters are multi-dimensional and as the book progresses, you learn more as if removing layers one by one. But this wasn’t just some post-apocalyptic book (to be honest I haven’t read much of that genre – if I’m wrong please suggest more for me to read in the comments!). What my friend liked about this book was that even after the end of society, art remains, and that is an important aspect. “Survival is insufficient.” This book gives hope for the future that even if something catastrophic occurs there is still a possibility of rebirth and culture.

Have a book for me to read? A restaurant I should check out? Leave a comment below!

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