Author Archives: Michele
We found it. A beautiful house.
It is centrally located in Manhattan. It is furnished, spacious and has seven fireplaces.
The best feature is perhaps the courtyard garden, a perfect place to relax and spend a few much needed peaceful moments. When we visited, we didn’t want to leave. It just felt right.
There is only one problem. The house is not open to inhabitants.
The Merchant’s House Museum (29 East Fourth Street) is the elegant house of a former merchant constructed in 1832 that has been transformed into a museum. Much of the furniture and objects belong to the family that once lived here. When crossing the threshold, I was transported to another era. It is possible to take a self guided tour of the house. The guide book offers information about the different rooms and also explains customs and traditions during that period in New York’s history.
The museum also highlights the contrast between the well off merchant’s family and the staff that kept the house running smoothly.
We spent a lot of time in the garden, enjoying the crisp autumn weather. It was reminiscent of a secret garden as large buildings can be seen surrounding the courtyard and the garden itself seemed hidden away, protected. I would recommend this to anyone who wants a glimpse of New York’s past.
I really like corned beef. This salty meat is great in a sandwich with a juicy pickle on the side.
I realize that we frequently speak about food, but, it’s true that food can say a lot about a culture.
As I am in New York now, I am able to go to well known Katz’s Delicatessen when I am seized by a corned beef craving. At Katz’s, there is a bit of a ritual surrounding the purchase of a corned beef sandwich. Upon entering, everyone is offered a ticket. Make sure not to lose it as anything you order will be written on the ticket, and it will be checked when you leave. Next, you have to carefully choose your counter to place an order. Behind the counter, skilled and focused employees cut generous slabs of corned beef or pastrami based on your order. A sample is offered, leaving you hungry for more.
Don’t forget the pickles! Katz’s offers large pickles, real pickles. Pickles are actually an ongoing subject of debate between myself and Damien. Damien prefers little, spicy “cornichons” that are often found in French grocery stores. I grew up eating big, thick pickles. Damien tells me I eat cucumbers and I retort that his version of pickles are too small This is what can happen when you’re married to someone who grew up in a different country and has different tastes! In the end, though, our differences make life more interesting.
Enough about pickles, back to Katz’s. Over one of the tables, there is a sign proclaiming that a famous scene from Harry Met Sally was filmed at the table below.
If you are hungry, head to Katz’s.
Sunday afternoon, we took the A train all the way up to the North of Manhattan. After getting out at 190th street, we crossed Fort Tryon Park and finally arrived at the Cloisters. Complete with a tower and portions of French cloisters, this is not something that you would expect to find in Manhattan.
It is a tribute to the art and architecture of the Middle Ages. I really enjoyed the lovely little gardens. Signs explain the different types of plants and what they were used for in medieval times. Inside, there are also some very beautiful stained glass windows and the magnificent and well known unicorn tapestries. The Cloisters are a bit hidden away, but this only serves to enhance the museum’s appeal. It is a great place to spend a sunny afternoon.
One sunny afternoon, Damien and I went for a walk along the High Line. This elevated park is located in the Meatpacking District, a neighborhood previously known for its slaughterhouses which today boasts restaurants and stores. Abandoned freight rails were transformed into a park. No attempt was made to hide the tracks and instead they serve to enhance the High Line’s appeal. A structure that narrowly missed being demolished is something now enjoyed by many people.
My favorite part of the park looks a bit like an open air theatre facing a large glass window and offering a view of the street below. The window serves as a frame making a typical New York street suddenly seem different. The street becomes a stage with an ever changing décor. Here, the passage of time is measured by the number of taxis that zip past below. The High Line allows visitors to see New York from a new perspective.
I love hugs. This is one of the little things that I missed when living abroad. In France, I never really got used to giving a kiss on each cheek in greeting or farewell. For one thing, I wasn’t always sure how many to give. In most places, it is two kisses, but I have been kissed three or even four times depending on the region. Some people just touch cheeks together while others give loud, moist kisses. « You don’t give kisses on the cheek right, » I was told by a friend in Burgundy. « You have to make more noise. Don’t just touch cheeks. Give a real kiss, with real noise.» In France, the kiss is apparently an art. Once, we spent New Year’s Eve with friends at a ski lodge and when the clock struck midnight, I had not only to kiss all of our friends, but all of the other people staying at the lodge. That was well over 50 kisses! After so many kisses, all I wanted to do was retreat to the bathroom to wash my face.
I will stick with the hug, this gesture of human warmth. Hugs are great because they are so multipurpose. A hug can mean nice to see you, I’m there for you, congratulations, this is so exciting, see you soon and just about anything else. It is amazing how much can be conveyed with a mere clasping of arms. Now that I am back in a country of hugs, I really appreciate this friendly gesture. I am a fan of the hug.
This morning’s destination : Williamsburg, Brooklyn
We decided to visit the Williamsburg Flea. This colorful flea market is home to food stands, city artists and antique vendors. A lot of the artwork features New York. There was even one artist who draws city scenes on post-its.
Overlooking the water, this flea market offers a beautiful view of Manhattan (see photo). Many people were gathered along the sandy shore and the grass to chat or sunbathe while looking out at the city skyline. As it was very hot, we started with a refreshing glass of cool lemonade followed by a dish of pupusas (see photo). Intrigued by the name, we tried this for the first time and were told that it is a dish from El Salavador consisting of a tortilla like dough stuffed with cheese or meat.
After the flea market, we decided to visit the neighborhood. While strolling casually through the streets of Williamsburg, we made an important discovery, at least for Damien, a cheese shop! Of course we couldn’t resist and found ourselves in front of a large cheese display. The Bedford Cheese Shop offers different products from cheese to jam to chocolate. Everything looked tempting, but I let Damien choose. Not surprisingly, he opted for French cheese and selected a tomme des Pyrénées and a tomme de Levezou. We really enjoyed our time in Williamsburg and finding good cheese was the perfect way to end a pleasant afternoon.
Living with someone who didn’t grow up here has allowed me to see New York differently. Sometimes, I feel as if I am seeing it for the first time. « Why are the eggs here white? » (French supermarkets normally offer brown eggs.) “How many feet are there in a meter?» I am supposed to have an explanation for every cultural query, but I don’t always have the answers.
Several years ago, a French friend in New York asked me, « What are those things on the roof? » We were standing by the window and admiring the view. I looked out at the SoHo rooftops, but didn’t see anything in particular. What was my friend talking about? « Right there, on the rooftop, » she insisted. Ok, I saw the roof, but it looked normal to me. There wasn’t anything there. As I was about to tell my friend that it was just a roof , I suddenly understood. She meant the water towers which are situated on many apartment building rooftops (see photo). I had seen them so many times that I didn’t even notice them anymore. The conversation only lasted a few minutes, but I think about it often. It served as a reminder that I could look at something without really seeing it.