28 November 2009

Black "Black Friday"

Here in the US Black Friday is traditionally the most important shopping day of the year. As hoped and wished for by retailers, Thanksgiving Day is merely an opportunity for families to meet and discuss their Christmas gift lists, so they can be acted upon the following day. This year in particular, I’ve noticed advertising going straight from Halloween to Christmas, with hardly any mention of Thanksgiving Day at all – I guess corporate America will be working to make Thanksgiving a gift-giving day as well ... Anyway, some stores opened at the stroke of midnight, some more conservative ones at 4:00 or 5:00 Friday morning. And of course there are throngs of people waiting, clamoring for the chance to spend their money.

Black Friday was black for me for a different reason: one of my cats died. He had been struggling to breathe for a few days, and I hesitated to take him to the vet, because he turns into a demon cat from hell when there, leaving both the vet and me with bite and scratch marks. He literally had to be wrapped into a towel each time so the vet would be able to examine him. So I waited, because I did not want to unnecessarily stress him out on top of him feeling bad already, thinking that maybe he just had a cat cold, which would go away after a while.

Yesterday he started breathing through his mouth, and when I saw that I knew it was bad ... we took him to the vet immediately, who told us that a tumor was leaking fluid into his lungs - he was suffocating. Possible treatment would have been to drain his lungs (which would have to be repeated several times), have an oncologist take a look at him, and have him undergo chemotherapy – all of which, of course, would have stressed him at every single visit. He would most likely not last another day or two.

So we decided to have him euthanized, only he fought so hard when they tried to put a catheter in his arm he suffocated from the stress. I wish he would have died a bit easier.

He was a very unique cat: Ten years ago he showed up in the back yard, facing down my own and my roommate’s cats, refusing to leave. So he stayed. I often thought he must have grown up with dogs, because his tail was constantly swishing back and forth, even when he was lying down and when there was no other cat around. He also never moved when he was (deliberately, I think) sitting in the way – he just knew we would never step on him. He was a fierce protector of his territory and often had scratches on his face; his right ear was permanently nicked. He was a lot of fun to play with and - in total contrast to his behaviour at the vet's - the most social of our cats – always the first to greet any visitors and vocally demanding to be petted – and in general a real sweetheart at home. I’ll miss him.

As soon as we had buried him yesterday afternoon, it started to rain, and then (a rather rare event here in the SF East Bay) a thunderstorm passed through. Afterwards the porch was bathed in a rather eerie light. It matched our mood.

15 November 2009

Fall and Honeybees

Hi there,

Autumn now has truly arrived here in California:

Our porch is under a tree - this is about 3 days' worth of leaves. You can see the cat thinks it's a nice cushion for lounging around in the sunshine.

Monsieur L. enjoying the sun on his belly fur

Honeybees shawl: I finally gave up on changing the construction (I wanted to make 4 square center panels, with bees and a lily-of-the-valley in each) - when I had two panels done I seamed them together, but did not like the end result. So now I'm actually following the instructions as written, and have finished the bottom faggot border, plus a few rows of the center panel - then on to the central swarm of bees.

Faggot border plus the first few rows of the center stockinette section
I'm also creating my own Personal Footprint (for Insouciant Sock Knitters by Cat Bordhi), because I have a lot of sock yarn stashed and want to make some more socks. Having a foot model will be a great help. I like Cat's Sock Knitting books - very creative.

08 November 2009

New York - Day 4 and 5

Sun, Nov 1: Feet are now starting to feel a bit better. After arriving at Times Square again, we walked around and took advantage of the Visitor’s Pass in the oldest and biggest Macy’s. (Show your driver license and get a pass good for 3 days entitling you to 10% off).

Entrance to Macy's

After that we wandered around some more, because we still had about 2 hours to kill before meeting two other friends of my husband’s (also into animation) for the Hair Revival show at the Hirschfeld theatre. Quite by accident, we passed by the Discovery Museum which hosted the Titanic: The Artifacts Exhibition. This was one of the best exhibits I’ve seen. It started with the construction process of the Titanic, had short biographies of some passengers and crews, showed the differences between First, Second, and Third Class accommodations, and also the statistics of how many people of each Class survived vs. perished. The experience is quite real, because even the floor moves slightly so you have the impression of actually being on a ship. You see a replica of the grand staircase, and of a hallway with doors to the different cabins, and menus for the three Classes, along with a lot of other recovered artifacts. The price for the First Class ticket was $2500 (= $40.000 in today’s dollars). But even the First Class passengers had to pay extra for the Turkish bath (!) and the squash court!

We were barely finished with the exhibit when it was time to meet our friends for the show. The Hair Revival Show was excellent – much more emotionally charged than I expected.

A great show!

Afterwards we all had dinner together and then we wandered the streets a bit more, because we were wired on caffeine, and by the time we got to Staten Island, we barely caught the last bus going towards the hotel – btw, you can use your subway Metro Card for the buses on Staten Island as well – we did not know that!

Mon Nov 2: Last day! Went to Brooklyn, but ended up in a rather questionable neighborhood (Prospect Heights) – so after a short walk we turned back and went back to Manhattan to see the Empire State Building. It costs $20 for the general ticket to the observation deck on the 86th floor, another $15 to go up to the 102nd floor (glass-enclosed only), $8 for a “commemorative” round, laminated map that shows the sights of NY in all 4 directions, and/or $8 for an audio tour. So that amounted to a total of 2x20+2x15+$8+$8 = $86 for 2! But the view is incredible, and the building itself is a gem. Most of the time, however, you spend waiting in lines:

First, of course, you have to wait in the line for the airline-type security check (just as for the trip to the Statue of Liberty). Then you wait in line again to actually buy your tickets. Then you wait in line for the “mandatory”, commemorative picture taken against a green screen. Then you wait in line to get to the elevator to the 80th floor. Then you wait in line for the elevator to the 86th floor where the open observation deck is.

View south - Financial District

Another view

View up to the mast, which was meant as a mooring mast for dirigibles

Then you wait in line for the elevator to floor 102 which was apparently meant as the waiting room for zeppelin passengers. Then you wait in line to get back down to floor 86. Then you wait in line for the elevator down to the 80th floor. THEN you wait in line to pick up your commemorative photo. Then you wait in line to pay for it. Then you are automatically led through the gift shop (they have a lot of stuff that is actually of a little better quality than the usual junk you find in gift shops – I bought a replica of the poster advertising the original King Kong movie!) Then you wait in line to pay for everything. Then it’s back to the line for the elevator down to the first floor. That was a total of 13 queues! But I have to say that the lines moved fairly quickly, and everything is organized very well.

It’s worth it, definitely ... just to see the inside of this beautiful building … even the floors are beautiful (they look like sealed-over gold-leaf, copper-leaf, and other colors).

Empire State Building - Lobby

There was no food sold during the tour – no wonder! We saw a poor worker meticulously scraping off a sticker someone had stuck to the floor.

After that we found a sandwich shop and bought a few more souvenirs. On our way back to the hotel, in the 34th Street subway station we came across a really good musician playing his electronic violin: Michael Shulman – we liked the music so much that we bought his CD.

Final thoughts on New York:

Unless you have business on Staten Island – do not stay there! It’s a rather run-down looking area, and you are too dependent on either the hotel shuttle (for which you have to wait, and whose driver really likes to hear himself talk, and often says things that are patently wrong (and whom you have to tip!). Or you have to take the bus to the ferry station, which is a longer ride but "free" if you have a MetroCard. The one-way trip from our hotel in Staten Island to Manhattan via the ferry took us over an hour (waiting for the shuttle, waiting for the ferry, and the actual rides).

New Yorkers are much friendlier than expected. Twice someone saw us fumbling with our map and they came over asking whether they could help us! On the other hand ... you better get out of their way on the street (if you can!), otherwise you’ll get run over – everybody is in a rush! But this is contagious ... after a few days I found myself getting impatient when the person in front of me was walking slower than me!

There is a definite difference in outfits betwen NY and California: The women often have big, long hair, wear large (really large!) earrings, and half an arm full of bangles. And now I know who buys those Ugg(ly) boots! And almost everybody is wearing black this season.

Everybody will recognize you as a tourist! You will get hustled by ticket sellers, street vendors, and taxi drivers (at the ferry station in Staten Island). But they are not persistent - just ignore them.

New York is a very energetic, lively city - what a contrast to mind-numbing life in the suburbs! There is always something to see or to do, and so much culture all around ... theatres, museums, parks, exhibits ... We enjoyed our time in NY very much, and will return again!

And here is the most ignored street sign in New York:

Yeah ... right!

As an aside: This was our first trip without checking any baggage – all we had was one carry-on bag each. I was actually surprised that I was able to cram everything I needed for a week into one small bag – we even had enough space left to pack souvenirs (T-Shirts and mugs mainly)! That’s the way to go – no waiting at the baggage carousel any more! And you are much more flexible to go where you need to go.

New York - Day 2 and 3

Fri Oct 30: Our feet are SO sore from all the walking and stair-climbing! But, eventually, we crawled out of bed, took the ferry across to Manhattan, ate a hot dog at Nathan's ...

Nathan's Hot Dogs - supposedly the best - but nothing special imo

... and then started the first loop of a Grey Line city sightseeing tour. There are ticket hustler for these tours on every street corner around Times Square.

Ticket Hustlers - they spot a tourist half a mile away!

You can see a lot better from the top of the double-decker bus, but the wind really blows, and it blew cold today! The first part of the loop (going south) started at Times Square, through the Fashion District, around Madison Square Garden (Sting was performing that day) ...

Madison Square Garden

... by the old Post Office ...

Typical traffic around the old Post Office building - with mail carrier's motto inscribed above the columns ("Neither rain, nor snow ...")

... in that area you also have a good view of the ubiquitous water towers on top of many buildings ...

... then we passed by the Empire State Building ...

... the Flatiron building, then along Broadway through SoHo (= South of Houston street (pronounced "House-ton", not like the city in Texas! - there is also NoHo!), past the WTC site:

Ground Zero - 8 years after the fact ... the Empire State Building was built in only 13.5 months!

... and to Battery Park. There we foolishly took the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. Big mistake! You buy your ticket ($12), then you stand in line - security is just like in an airport – before boarding the ferry. The trip takes maybe 10 minutes, then you are hustled from the ferry ("Step it up, now!") - the waters were a bit rough, many people were apparently hesitating too long to step onto the moving ramp.

You can walk around the statue, which looks a bit more squat from close up:

Statue of Liberty, up close and personal

We did not climb the inside, and access to the crown was closed that day, anyway. The worst part, however, was waiting for the return ferry - it must have been 30 minutes of standing, crowded together like sardines, - standing and waiting, and waiting, because they apparently want to cram the return ferry as full as possible. People throw coins into the crossbeams of the pier waiting area, hoping to return, I guess. We won't be returning - it's too much like a Disneyland ride: You pay and then wait in interminable lines. Besides, the view from the Staten Island Ferry is quite good (see earlier photo) - just zoom in a bit if you want a closer-up. So my recommendation is that you skip the trip to the Statue of Liberty island, and simply take the (free!) Staten Island ferry back and forth and photograph it from there. Saves you not only money, but also a lot of time! And it's a LOT more comfortable.

After (finally!) returning to Battery Park, we completed the downtown sight-seeing loop by going back up north. This part of the trip was a lot more interesting, because of the East Village area, and it covered a lot more points of interest. The second part of it went along South Street, Chinatown and little Italy (nice views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge, across which we walked yesterday, then through East Village where you can see shops and restaurants catering to almost any ethnicity - then along towards the United Nations building, turning left towards the Rockefeller Center with its flags and the ice-skating rink.

Ice-skating rink at the Rockefeller Center

Then along Central Park (seeing some very posh hotels and buildings along the way), and back to Times Square. Even though it was a lot colder and windier than earlier in the day, I still enjoyed this leg of the sight-seeing tour more than the first one.

Back in Times Square we went to the Hershey's and M&M shops out of curiosity ... imagine! ... three-story shops dedicated solely to a particular type of candy (and candy-paraphernalia!).

Statue of Liberty - M&M style

Sat Oct 31: By coincidence, a colleague of mine and his wife were spending this weekend in NY as well, so we met them for breakfast. Then we took the subway and walked to The Highline, an abandoned elevated train track, which has been converted, rather nicely and stylishly into a garden. See here. You can easily walk the whole length of it. On leaving the park, we saw this parking lot:

Must be for long-term parking only ...

Afterwards we meandered a bit through Chelsea and the meatpacking district (now home to some swanky shops and restaurants) and caught a subway back to Times Square, which, even at this time, was beginning to look more and more like a zoo – the Halloween Parade was taking place that night, and you could see people in costumes everywhere. After saying Goodbye to my coworker, we finished our tour of the uptown area, which took us along Central Park into Harlem, and back along the East Side of Central Park. But this time the bus was stifling - there was no double-decker available at the time and apparently the air conditioning did not work in the bus, so we hopped off after two stops at Central Park and walked around it for a while (do not buy any pretzels there! Ours was so dried out, that we threw it away after one bite.)

We got off the bus close to the memorial for John Lennon:


Central Park is a wonderful contrast to the bustling street life:

In Central Park and throughout NY they were preparing for the NY marathon, taking place the next day, so there were a lot more people around than usual at this time of year (I think). Many runners were staying at our hotel, because the race starts in Staten Island and then winds its way through all five boroughs of New York.

We caught the bus tour again where we hopped off, and this time we were in luck – it was a double decker, and the tour guide was the most knowledgeable of all. Whew! Our feet were still terribly sore. At least we could sleep one hour longer tonight, because the time changed back to regular time!

Continued ...

New York – Arrival and Day 1

Hello again,

It's been a while since I posted ... so here are 3 posts at once, covering our trip to New York! I had to attend the Translators Conference in New York, so we added a few days and explored the city a bit.

Wed, Oct 28: We took off with JetBlue (which is no longer as comfortable to fly as I remembered it), and after landing at JFK we were going to take the bus/subway to our hotel - we had it all planned out, but once we finally figured out where the buses are, and schlepped ourselves and our carry-ons there, we found out that the buses here apparently ONLY take change! We had the correct amount, but in bills and change and couldn't take the bus because of it. Grumble! So we schlepped ourselves and our carry-ons back to the airport exit area where we booked a taxi – luckily it was less expensive than we feared to go to Staten Island. Contrary to recent reports about NY taxi drivers having become friendlier, we had one who was not only grumpy, but who was also a bad driver.

Around 7:00 pm we arrived at The Staten Island Hotel - an oldish hotel with good service (but they really try to push their a la carte breakfast menu on you. The hotel advertises its free “continental” breakfast (coffee and a danish); but you have to ask for your danish (the puniest one I’ve ever seen, of a diameter of maybe 2.5 inches and somewhat dry) and you don’t get milk with your coffee, just the packaged dry stuff). Even though the room was quiet and clean, I would not stay there again (read on).

Thu Oct 29: In the morning we took the Staten Island Ferry (free!), which passes by the Statue of Liberty ...

... and Ellis Island, landing at the southern tip of Manhattan:

Staten Island Ferry approaching Manhattan

There we bought a weekly pass for the subway system ($27.00 – totally worth it!) and took a ride north into Manhattan where I showed my face at the Translators Conference. Later we went to Times Square (Las Vegas pales in comparison!) to meet a friend of my husband’s, who is also into animation. Based on seeing it many times in New Year's Eve shows, I expected it to be much larger – it looks more like a small clearing in a forest of skyscrapers.

Times Square, seen from the red steps

Even the NYPD has flashing neon signs!

Really, how can anyone take seriously a police station with a Las Vegas-style sign???

The friend showed us around the Financial District, Brooklyn, SoHo, Manhattan - in and out of subways, up and down countless subway station stairs, even walked us over the Manhattan Bridge ...

Rooftops seen from the Manhattan Bridge

Along the way we took a look inside the Museum of Comic and Cartoon art (MoCCa). In the evening we had the best pizza EVER at Grimaldi's in Brooklyn ...

Best Pizza, EVER!

... we only had to wait in line for about 10 minutes which, we were told, is an extremely short wait. On the same block, there is also a very good chocolate shop, Jacques Torres:

Jacques Torres Chocolates

Continued ...