Friday, December 30, 2011

City 14: Detroit, Michigan, or, “How about I buy you a city block for Christmas?”


Our Honeymoon, or, How We Got to the Midwest One Interview at a Time:  The Northeast Cities According to Me, the One Who Wanders the Cities While Peter Completes the Interviews
 
Disclaimer: This should by no means be used as a real resource to the northwestern cities.  While I am an observant person, I have no background in city development, nor do I have expertise on the cultural or historical background on these cities.  For the most part, I am reviewing these cities based on my personal preferences, as we will be moving to one of these cities in the spring.  And, if you are hoping for a lot of artwork (as this is my art blog), sorry to say, but you will be sadly disappointed if you continue to read this blog in the upcoming two months.  Apart from my photographs of the cities, I doubt I’ll get to very many art and craft projects.
 
Our hosts' cat looked like an aye-aye lemur.
Streets of Detroit.
Abandoned.
Used to be a car manufacturing plant.
Henry Ford's house.
Beautiful building down town. 
I have to admit, I’m exhausted.  At this point in our trip, we’ve been away from home for almost 8 weeks.  Eight weeks living out of a suitcase (actually, it’s more like various items used for carrying clothes, including a cardboard box and hamper), eight weeks sleeping on strangers’ beds, friends’ floors, and even once (only for a couple hours), in the car.  It’s been an adventure. 

And yes, it’s been a while since the last post.  We’ve actually been in Minnesota for the past two weeks, and been procrastinating writing this one last post about the trip. Yes, I’ve been busy with other things here in MN, that’s part of it.  But, I also know that Detroit rustled up many feelings within me that I knew would be difficult to express in words, and thus, I’ve been putting off the difficult task.  But let me try.

Detroit.  At first, it seems like you have driven into a scene from an apocalyptic movie.  It seems that more buildings are boarded up than are lived in.  Business seem nonexistent.  People are missing, you feel.  Even some of the tallest buildings downtown are abandoned.  Falling down, forgotten.  And yet—you have been deceived!  You realize that there are new things being built all over the place.  People are in the process of renovating so many of the buildings!  People are moving into these buildings.  There is life, and lots of it!

But my, I feel that I am not adequate to fully describe Detroit and all of the things happening there.  It’s our number one choice for so many reasons (Peter has been obsessed with the city for the past year—he even visited the city last spring!)  There is hope, and as cliché as is sounds, there is a “place” for us as community members.  There is the possibility to personally make a difference because there is no one there right now!  But if you build it, they will come, right?  In Detroit, there’s the possibility of opening a business and become a part of the local economy.  It is the place, as someone that Peter quotes all the time (sorry I can’t remember his name!), “…Where the embers of the American dream still burn strong.”  ModelD does a really good job of highlighting all of the happenings in the city.  100 Abandoned Houses is a beautiful and haunting website that captures the emptiness that you can sometimes feel in the city, but I always see potential as well!!!  HuffPost Detroit is the newest claim to fame in Detroit, as is the new rapid bus system that has been proposed in the city.  That, and the amazing urban farm plans, the beautiful architecture, the cute and clever businesses that are popping up in the area, and the opera.  These are all things that make me excited about Detroit.  Check it out and see for yourself!!!  Meet you in D-Town!!!

Whew!  And with that, I conclude my review of the cities!  We’ll find out where we go in March, and I’ll be sure to let you know where at that time!  Thanks so much for reading, folks!  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

City No. 13: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or, “The land of the dinosaur!”

Our Honeymoon, or, How We Got to the Midwest One Interview at a Time:  The Northeast Cities According to Me, the One Who Wanders the Cities While Peter Completes the Interviews
 
Disclaimer: This should by no means be used as a real resource to the northwestern cities.  While I am an observant person, I have no background in city development, nor do I have expertise on the cultural or historical background on these cities.  For the most part, I am reviewing these cities based on my personal preferences, as we will be moving to one of these cities in the spring.  And, if you are hoping for a lot of artwork (as this is my art blog), sorry to say, but you will be sadly disappointed if you continue to read this blog in the upcoming two months.  Apart from my photographs of the cities, I doubt I’ll get to very many art and craft projects.

Found this in a bathroom in Pittsburgh.  Thought it was hilarious, and of course, needed to share.

Pittsburgh skyline at night.  Amazing!  This is literally what you see as you enter the city.  Photo from http://www.wallmonkeys.com/blog/?p=16

So, I love dinosaurs.  Just something hat I happen to love, I’m a nerd like that.  I happen to love Jurassic Park I, II, AND III, just because they all have dinosaurs in them.  Judge me.  Fine.  I’m ok with that—dinosaurs are AWESOME!  Anyway, when I heard that the Carnegie Museum of Natural History had the largest collection of dinosaur skeletons in the country, I was (obviously) thrilled.  And it was AWESOME!  They had three T-Rexes (one was a female juvenile named Jane—the most complete juvenile skeleton in the world), many long necked Brontosaurus-types (I don’t think Brontosauruses actually are a real species anymore, are they?  They found out they had made up a species out of a combination of bones?), and the largest collection of skulls from the Triceratops family that I’ve ever seen.  So cool.

But enough about the dinosaurs.  You want to hear about Pittsburgh, don’t you?  Well, first off, I must compliment Pittsburgh on its opening act:  The dismount from the highway.  We had been driving for hours.  HOURS, as we had driven directly from Boston to Pittsburgh—a ten-hour drive!  And road weary as we were, we were still incredibly anxious to finally get to Pittsburgh.  But even as we were seeing exit signs for downtown Pittsburgh, there was still no city to be seen.  We kept driving up the hill (picture a small mountain), and under a tunnel, and still no city—just residential homes and a few industrial businesses that were not very impressive to look at.  And then we drove around a little hill, and there it was!  Shimmering in all of its glory, a rather large city!  Skyscrapers and all!  A complete city had been hidden from our sight during our entire drive “into the city” and the final presentation after the buildup was unbelievable.  Pittsburgh was awarded many extra points for that display.   

Despite all of the beauty that Pittsburgh’s downtown provided, the surrounding “boroughs” as they were called were in various stages of disrepair.  Once an incredibly wealthy city, the current state of it requires words like “urban renewal,” “gentrification,” and “up and coming” to describe it.  Much like Detroit (the upcoming city) but not to the same extent, Pittsburgh lost many of its inhabitants, and what has been left for the past decade has been vacant business buildings, boarded-up homes, gang and drug related crimes and homicides, hopelessness.  Until now.  Artists and small business owners have now been coming in for the past few years to make those abandoned buildings their own.  People are moving into neglected neighborhoods, and there is a loyalty and sense of pride that these people have for their city.  It was an amazing experience to see these people’s visions coming to life.  

Coca Café was a favorite, located in Lawrenceville.  They serve breakfast and brunch only, and it was easy to understand why they’ve made this their specialty.  The food was amazing, and the building itself gets amazing morning sunlight. 

We also had an opportunity to check out an art walk called “Unblurred” that takes place the first Friday of the month.  With most of the stops located on Penn. Ave. (an area that feels somewhat shady), it was interesting to see how warm and inviting all of the galleries were, and to see how different I felt about the area once we’d walked the whole thing.  En route, we found an amazing glass-works school, and a great café (that we made plans to eat at later, but never returned to.  Oops) called Quiet Storm

Pittsburgh is definitely one of my favorites thus far.  Creativity, beauty, and a sense of movement fill the air.  There are people living there that care, and who are working with each other to make it what they want it to be.  So inspiring.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

City No. 11: Blanton, Massachusetts, or “How we stayed in a house built in 1760!”

Our Honeymoon, or, How We Got to the Midwest One Interview at a Time:  The Northeast Cities According to Me, the One Who Wanders the Cities While Peter Completes the Interviews
 
Disclaimer: This should by no means be used as a real resource to the northwestern cities.  While I am an observant person, I have no background in city development, nor do I have expertise on the cultural or historical background on these cities.  For the most part, I am reviewing these cities based on my personal preferences, as we will be moving to one of these cities in the spring.  And, if you are hoping for a lot of artwork (as this is my art blog), sorry to say, but you will be sadly disappointed if you continue to read this blog in the upcoming two months.  Apart from my photographs of the cities, I doubt I’ll get to very many art and craft projects.



 
Now this city is not really a city as much as a place where people live—on their own lots—spread out.  Peter had made reservations at this bed & breakfast in Blanton, called “Baird’s Tavern” a while ago, and the stay was meant to be a forced vacation for the two of us.  And it was!  Thank goodness, after all of the moving and shaking, we got a peaceful night’s sleep, and some time to just sit and read.  We did not have internet-connection, and phone service was a little inconsistent, so we were pretty much incommunicado!  Wee! 

Apparently, this bed and breakfast was originally a tavern that had positioned itself very strategically next to the road that connected the towns.  Because people traveled using horses, it would take days to travel from town to town, so people needed pit stops along the way—like this tavern!  And though “taverns” had drink at the time, mostly it was for food and to provide a place to sleep for the night.  The thing about this place that is worth noting after hearing its history, is that the road doesn’t exist anymore.  Now its a parking lot surrounded by trees.  Though the highway is nearby, the remnants of the old throughway and of days past are preserved in the tavern.  A place that, according to the owner, could house 55 men a night (who would sleep on sheepskin laid down on the floor—feet to the fire), where food was cooked in huge fireplaces (after childbirth, the leading cause of death to women—large sleeves are not conducive to safe fire-place cooking—who knew!), where babies were birthed in the “birthing room” (which was also the place where food was prepared… “hopefully not at the same time!” remarked the owner), and where men played “pennies in the corner” (that’s the name I gave it—NOT historically accurate) so much that they rounded large potholes in the corner floorboards, and it had to be re-floored to remedy that specific issue caused by the game. 

The history of the house was incredibly interesting.  Our sleep was very peaceful and quiet, and breakfast was delicious (blueberry pancakes, yum!).  If you ever find yourself in the area of Blanton, Massachusetts (which might be a bit odd, it’s not really a “I was just in the area!” kind of place…) definitely stay here!  The Baird Tavern.  Thumbs up. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

City No. 10: Albany, New York, or, “Gosh, we’ve been on the road for a while”

Our Honeymoon, or, How We Got to the Midwest One Interview at a Time:  The Northeast Cities According to Me, the One Who Wanders the Cities While Peter Completes the Interviews
 
Disclaimer: This should by no means be used as a real resource to the northwestern cities.  While I am an observant person, I have no background in city development, nor do I have expertise on the cultural or historical background on these cities.  For the most part, I am reviewing these cities based on my personal preferences, as we will be moving to one of these cities in the spring.  And, if you are hoping for a lot of artwork (as this is my art blog), sorry to say, but you will be sadly disappointed if you continue to read this blog in the upcoming two months.  Apart from my photographs of the cities, I doubt I’ll get to very many art and craft projects.

The third point is pretty obvious...

View from our hotel.

Brilliant sunset, and satellite dishes.

Periwinkle sky.

Beautiful buildings.

P. in his puffy.

To be fair, we were only in Albany for one night and part of a day.  We had a chance to walk around and see all of the amazing architecture that resides in the city.  People are living in BEAUTIFUL places.  From what we could see from the street, many apartments on the main drag had 10-12 ft. ceilings, elaborate woodwork, and beautiful brick exteriors!  The city itself was small and lived in, meaning we didn’t see many too many vacant store-fronts, and there were many places that looked like if they had been vacant, there were businesses that had the paperwork completed and the plans drawn up to move in soon.  It had a very local vibe—didn’t see many chains at all, and all of the local businesses were really cute!!! 

Albany is really cute.  Not on our list of cities to consider (no interview there), but if I had to consider it, I would consider it worth checking out.     
 

Friday, December 2, 2011

City No. 9: Binghamton, New York, or, “How I finally saw the new Muppet Movie”

Our Honeymoon, or, How We Got to the Midwest One Interview at a Time:  The Northeast Cities According to Me, the One Who Wanders the Cities While Peter Completes the Interviews
 
Disclaimer: This should by no means be used as a real resource to the northwestern cities.  While I am an observant person, I have no background in city development, nor do I have expertise on the cultural or historical background on these cities.  For the most part, I am reviewing these cities based on my personal preferences, as we will be moving to one of these cities in the spring.  And, if you are hoping for a lot of artwork (as this is my art blog), sorry to say, but you will be sadly disappointed if you continue to read this blog in the upcoming two months.  Apart from my photographs of the cities, I doubt I’ll get to very many art and craft projects.

 

This one will be short, as our trip to this city was incredibly short.  But I must mention that it was lovely to spend time with Pat and Corie.  They were some of our closest friends in Asheville and they will be sorely missed.  But that made our visit with them that much better!  We spent Thanksgiving Day with Pat’s family (his mom, dad, aunt, and extended relatives).  Started the festivities by tossing around the Frisbee, then went on to the meal-eating.  Delicious sweet-potatoes, mashed russets, salad embellished with sweet pears and cranberries, dinner rolls.  Then for desert there were many different kinds of pies.  I chose the homemade pumpkin pie.  Delicious! 

To finish off the day, we then went to see the new “The Muppets” movie!  Such a trip back on memory lane.  “Am I a man or a muppet,” was my favorite song.  If you haven’t seen it yet, go.  Or at least rent it when it comes out.  If you loved the muppets at some point in your life, it is worth the 1.5 hours that you’ll spend watching it. 

That’s it for Binghamton!  Nothing really to say about the city itself except that it’s kind of "suburby" and it has a theatre (which was awesome)!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

City No. 8 and 12: Boston, Massachusetts, or, “Boston is a cluster-f_ _ _ (you fill in the rest)”

Our Honeymoon, or, How We Got to the Midwest One Interview at a Time:  The Northeast Cities According to Me, the One Who Wanders the Cities While Peter Completes the Interviews
 
Disclaimer: This should by no means be used as a real resource to the northwestern cities.  While I am an observant person, I have no background in city development, nor do I have expertise on the cultural or historical background on these cities.  For the most part, I am reviewing these cities based on my personal preferences, as we will be moving to one of these cities in the spring.  And, if you are hoping for a lot of artwork (as this is my art blog), sorry to say, but you will be sadly disappointed if you continue to read this blog in the upcoming two months.  Apart from my photographs of the cities, I doubt I’ll get to very many art and craft projects. 

The coolest picture I could have ever taken in Boston.



Well…so here we are.  Boston.  And if we’re going to be straight here (which we are), I would like to just say that Boston is not all it is cracked up to be.  It is quite large and over-populated—much like New York.  Now I know there are many people who disagree with me, but let me put it another way:  We just heard someone speaking about rent prices in the city.  Guess what it was for a two bedroom.  C’mon!  Guess!  Nope.  Too low.  Guess again.  Ok.  You got it.  $2400.  $2400 for a two bedroom. 

Anyway, I should explain why Boston is city No. 8 AND 12, though it is pretty straightforward.  We went to Boston, stayed there for two nights, and then went to Binghamton, NY to have Thanksgiving dinner with Pat and Corie—our friends from Asheville that just moved to NY.  Then we turned around and headed back towards the direction of Boston but first stopping in Albany (hotel), and then in Blanton where we stayed at a cute cute CUTE Bed and Breakfast.  Actually, though I said “cute” three times, it may not be the correct word.  Quaint and beautiful may be the better descriptive statement.  Then, we were back in Boston. 

While in Boston, we saw snow, didn’t ride the train, saw two American Apparels, and discovered the maneuver that we call the “Boston Shuffle.”  Let me describe it to you by telling you a personal story.  Peter and I were on our way to one of his interviews and we were on a two-lane street and waiting at a red light.  Now it had been one of those situations where it was a yellow light and Peter decided at last minute to stop instead of speed through—so we had stopped a little over the line.  Not wanting to hang out in the intersection, he looked into the rear view mirror, and over his shoulder to make sure he had a little room to back up a little bit.  He was clear.  Or so he thought. 

Suddenly we heard a honk, and we looked around befuddled.  We were in no way near the car behind us, so it couldn’t be them…who, then?  I looked over my shoulder, and looked down onto a tiny little black sports car sitting directly in our blind spot (it was so short you couldn’t see it in the mirrors) —doing the Boston Shuffle!  See, the Boston Shuffle is when you turn a two-lane street into a three-lane street for your own personal pleasure.  See, the third lane is typically the shoulder, or even just a little bit of extra room in the right hand lane.  Sometimes there’s room for another car, sometimes there’s not.  But always—ALWAYS will this person cut you off.  It will be sneaky and therefore you may never see them until it’s happening.  In this case, our man honked, or otherwise we would never have known that he was there.  And sure enough, when the light turned green, this guy sped past us in his personal lane, past the next guy, and the next until he cut in front of the car first in line. 

And there you have it.  The Boston Shuffle.  The dangerous, dangerous Boson Shuffle.  Seriously, you can pretty much always bet that there’s someone in your blind-spot in Boston.  Always.  And this makes driving in Boston pretty sucky.  That, as well as the fact that there are just too many people on the road, no matter what time of the day it is.  And, the streets are extremely confusing as well.  Perhaps that is why the traffic is horrible?  Everybody has just missed all of their exits, and are trying to turn around and get back on track.  I wouldn’t be surprised…There are streets upon streets going in all different directions, some have no lane lines, some streets go down to tunnels that last for minutes (we lost GPS satellite connection because we were in a tunnel for 4 minutes!), it’s crazy.  Anyway, I’m just complaining now.  On to other things.  

Another thing to note about Boson is the Trident Booksellers and Café, as well as Raven Used Books.  Awesome places to find good political, cultural, and design books.  That’s it for Boston.  I really wasn’t too impressed.  Too crowded, too expensive.  I don’t think I could ever find my niche here as it is much too saturated with ideas and competition.  There’s no blank slate here to be creative with.  Sorry Boston, thumbs down, but I doubt you care.  You seem to have good self-esteem.

Friday, November 25, 2011

City No. 7: Providence, Rhode Island, or, “The place we thought everyone on the street might be in the mob, and then we found out we were probably right. Should I be writing about this on here? I don’t want a hit put out on me”


Our Honeymoon, or, How We Got to the Midwest One Interview at a Time:  The Northeast Cities According to Me, the One Who Wanders the Cities While Peter Completes the Interviews
 
Disclaimer: This should by no means be used as a real resource to the northwestern cities.  While I am an observant person, I have no background in city development, nor do I have expertise on the cultural or historical background on these cities.  For the most part, I am reviewing these cities based on my personal preferences, as we will be moving to one of these cities in the spring.  And, if you are hoping for a lot of artwork (as this is my art blog), sorry to say, but you will be sadly disappointed if you continue to read this blog in the upcoming two months.  Apart from my photographs of the cities, I doubt I’ll get to very many art and craft projects. 




So Providence, eh?  Well, let me just put it this way:  I felt like we stepped foot onto the set of “Goodfellas.”  If you haven’t seen this movie, it’s a mobster movie, and I think that pretty much tells you all that you need to know.  There were men lining the streets, outside Italian restaurants on their cell-phones speaking in low tones so that you couldn’t hear them, and I can only imagine that they were just putting hits on people right and left.  We finally found a place that we thought might be nice to have dessert at, and we walked in to find the entire establishment void of people with the exception of a table in the back that was full of what looked to be older men and their wives—ALL with very strong mob ties—you just KNEW. 

Now at this point, it was all in jest that we were coming up with these theories.  Because no one is really in the mob anymore, right? …ummm…wrong!  According to our couch-surfer host, the mob is very much still alive in Providence.  Of course I’m sure it is hard to know to what extent they are in power, but it gives Providence an edge that I hadn’t even imagined it would have.  Every time I went into a restaurant, there always seemed to be a bunch of serious-looking dudes just sitting down in the back, having a serious conversation…It was very bizarre. 

Obviously, I had a hard time getting over the “mob” thing…that’s all I’ve been talking about the entire post thus far.  But I’ll get over it and tell you about the rest of the city.  Many parts were very lovely.  I spent some time catching up with an old friend on the phone while looking out onto the water.  It was gorgeous—I really like having that ability in a city—to spend time by a body of water. 

I went to a pretty awesome coffee shop called “Coffee Exchange,” which is so good, according to the people of Providence—that its popularity has outgrown the size of the coffee shop.  The place was actually quite small, and to deal with this they must have thought it was a good idea to get tiny TINY tables.  Which would have been good if everyone followed the rule of “one table per person” but I saw a guy in the corner that had hoarded three tables to provide a larger workspace!  Mind you, not only was the place small, but it was really crowded—people were standing, waiting to get a table—and there is that guy… As far as coffee shops go, it was not amazing.  I think that the place is so popular because you can come and buy coffee beans from practically everywhere, and they’re all sourced from organic and fair-trade farmers.  It really was quite amazing to see their plastic bins that lined the countertop—it seemed like the bins were set up 10x10…which means they had 100 different kinds of coffee (which is impossible, I would think!) but there were many, many different kinds!  Good place to get coffee, maybe not the best to drink it. 

The other coffee shop that I went to was called “White Electric Coffee” and this one was much better.  I know you must think I’m obsessed with coffee shops at this point, which might be a bit true.  But, I’m a firm believer that you can really judge a place by their coffee shops.  “White Electric,” was in a much less developed area (many storefronts abandoned and broken windows everywhere…) but you could feel that the area was moving through a transitional period.  There was the coffee shop, as well as a new youth arts organization and youth pride organization.  If there were a really interesting part of Providence, it was this one.  The people inside the coffee shop were not as young as the other area near the university—these people seemed more artsy, and more grungy.  A stark contrast from the Brown students I had seen all over earlier in the day.  Yes, it’s true.  I had been judging Providence on its college youth.  I have no intention of living in a city full of college (or medical) students and no one else... So it was refreshing to see a grittier side (that wasn’t the mob). 

But I have to say I really didn’t feel a connection with the place.  I am finding myself really searching for things to mention here.  It was a lovely city (the buildings were beautiful!) with many things to offer (like a cool bookstore!  I forgot the bookstore full of art and design books!)…but it didn’t really speak to me in a strong way.  Could I live here?  Probably.  Do I want to?  Probably not. 

I’m pretty tepid about Providence...

Monday, November 21, 2011

City No. 6: Old Lyme, Connecticut, or, “How I finally slept in a house on the beach, and it was wonderful”


Our Honeymoon, or, How We Got to the Midwest One Interview at a Time:  The Northeast Cities According to Me, the One Who Wanders the Cities While Peter Completes the Interviews

Disclaimer: This should by no means be used as a real resource to the northwestern cities.  While I am an observant person, I have no background in city development, nor do I have expertise on the cultural or historical background on these cities.  For the most part, I am reviewing these cities based on my personal preferences, as we will be moving to one of these cities in the spring.  And, if you are hoping for a lot of artwork (as this is my art blog), sorry to say, but you will be sadly disappointed if you continue to read this blog in the upcoming two months.  Apart from my photographs of the cities, I doubt I’ll get to very many art and craft projects. 








 
Old Lyme was exactly what we needed it to be:  peaceful, beautiful, and restful. While we were there, we took a walk by the beach (which was probably 200 ft. away from the house we were staying at), ate some pizza at the local pizzaria/wifi-hub/coffee/anything-else-you-could-ever-want-joint, and later when it got too dark, windy, and cold to be outside, we (Peter and our lovely couch-surfer host, Sarah) watched movies that I had saved on my computer (“Boy A” and the “Hunting Party”—thank you Davie!).  Phone reception was bad, wifi was located nowhere convenient, and so we had a lovely vacation away from all of computer-based-society.  Life seemed simple, slower, and lovely in Old Lyme.  Because most of what Old Lyme had to offer was mostly nature’s own beauty, I’ve included many photos. 

The other great thing we found was just right outside Old Lyme:  BOOK BARN!!!  If you’ve ever been to this place, you know why I have it in all caps, followed by three exclamation points.  This place was and IS amazing.  Picture a barn.  Fill it with books that are all used, and only cost $4.  But they’re good books--books you actually WANT to read, not reject books like you usually find at thrift stores, or other used bookstores that offer books that cheap.  And THEN, picture leaving that barn and going outside where you see another shed-type-building (horse shed?) and a tent, and a few other wagons (wagons that horses pull, not that you might pull a child in—big wagons!) that are also FULL OF BOOKS THAT COST $4!!!  And THEN (yes, there’s more!) imagine that you look down at a flyer posted near the register that says that they have TWO OTHER LOCATIONS IN TOWN!  AND YOU GO TO THEM!  And you see that the buildings are HUGE, and have winding hallways and passageways lined with thousands of books THAT ALL COST $4!!!

Needless to say, we had an awesome time in Old Lyme. 

And maybe, just MAYBE, we saw Joan Allen there at a Chinese restaurant.  She was driving a sports car, and looked like star...

City No. 5: Stamford, Connecticut, or, “Gee, the only thing to do here is to go to the mall…”


Our Honeymoon, or, How We Got to the Midwest One Interview at a Time:  The Northeast Cities According to Me, the One Who Wanders the Cities While Peter Completes the Interviews

Disclaimer: This should by no means be used as a real resource to the northwestern cities.  While I am an observant person, I have no background in city development, nor do I have expertise on the cultural or historical background on these cities.  For the most part, I am reviewing these cities based on my personal preferences, as we will be moving to one of these cities in the spring.  And, if you are hoping for a lot of artwork (as this is my art blog), sorry to say, but you will be sadly disappointed if you continue to read this blog in the upcoming two months.  Apart from my photographs of the cities, I doubt I’ll get to very many art and craft projects. 

"Gosh, Katie, you're the most interesting thing in Stamford."


"Psh, I know..."

I didn't take any pictures in Stamford, CT, hence the photos of ourselves...

I know you must be thinking that I’m exaggerating here, but Peter and I found ourselves so bored with the city that we got excited by the Barnes and Noble and the H&M located in the mall.  And yes, we’re still talking about Peter and I.  People that HATE malls.  And actually, architecturally speaking, it was kind of interesting to look at.  The footprint of the mall was actually quite small, but it was about 4 or 5 stories high!  But that’s all it offered.  That, and an inaccurate map of the mall.  Peter and I spent probably 5 minutes or more riding the escalators up and down (and then back to the map to double-check) because the map said the bookstore was on a floor that it definitely wasn’t.  We probably looked like idiots, but c’mon!  The map was wrong! 

We did happen upon an art gallery that was pretty interesting.  They were exhibiting an artist that worked primarily with earth, and the surrounding concepts (like everything that can be made with it, done to it, the tools used to do all of these things).  It was pretty interesting, and it the owner of the gallery seemed to think that Stamford was on the “up and up.”  He had seen a lot of growth in the two years that he’d been there, and he anticipated Stamford becoming a very important city for the arts.  And if little galleries like his own keep coming into the city, I think he’ll be right!  It’s close enough to New York (40 min on the train) that it could probably get some foot traffic, but it would take people coming to Stamford FOR the galleries.  What came first, the foot traffic that allowed galleries to grow, or the galleries that created foot traffic?  I’m no expert, but I felt a little bit about Stamford the way I did about Wilmington, but with a positive twist.  While there is not much in Stamford now, because everyone commutes to NY for everything that they need (work, art, culture, food), people do live in Stamford.  If they need to in the future, they can make Stamford their home for everything else again, too.

But currently, Stamford—eh.     

Oh, and I must also add (just because it’s hilarious), that when Peter and I jumped into the car and plugged “Stamford” into the GPS, it gave us directions to Stamford, NY.  Which we followed for 40 min.  And then we realized our mistake.  Oops. 

AND--one more thing-- the Goodwill in Stamford was the most expensive Goodwill that I've EVER been to.  They were selling their goods for prices comparable to H&M, and in some cases, were MORE expensive.  Coats were being sold for $25-80.  Sweaters ranged from $10-$25.  Shoes were rarely under $10.  I was appalled.  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

City No. 4: Brooklyn, New York, or, "Though we're not going to consider this city (cause it's huge and expensive), we might as well stop by since we're already here...and of course I have to write a review"

Our Honeymoon, or, How We Got to the Midwest One Interview at a Time:  The Northeast Cities According to Me, the One Who Wanders the Cities While Peter Completes the Interviews

Disclaimer: This should by no means be used as a real resource to the northwestern cities.  While I am an observant person, I have no background in city development, nor do I have expertise on the cultural or historical background on these cities.  For the most part, I am reviewing these cities based on my personal preferences, as we will be moving to one of these cities in the spring.  And, if you are hoping for a lot of artwork (as this is my art blog), sorry to say, but you will be sadly disappointed if you continue to read this blog in the upcoming two months.  Apart from my photographs of the cities, I doubt I’ll get to very many art and craft projects. 
   


This city has many things to offer, one of them being our good friend Hala and her boyfriend Sam—friends from North Carolina that relocated to New York this year.  Our trip there was short but sweet, and had a bit of a hiccup in the middle (more to follow), but we got to experience a delicious vegan Asian fusion restaurant, found the most amazing coffee shop—so good we went there 4 times (no joke!  It was that good!), visit an awesome independent bookstore, and toured the largest antique shop that I’ve ever seen (4 floors!).  All in all, it was a good couple of days, though far from the kind of “New York experience” that we could have had.  You’ll see what I mean in a second. 
           
First, the hiccup in the middle:  We had rolled in to Brooklyn with enough to walk around a bit, find the amazing coffee shop, and then eat dinner with Hala at the vegan restaurant.  Then, being exhausted from the trip, went to bed.  There was not enough time for Peter to workout at the YMCA.  So, he woke up at 7 am, and headed over.  When I woke up at around 8:30, he had still not come back.  I thought it was a bit strange, but didn’t think much about it.  When he finally showed up, he looked a little disheveled, and in hindsight—maybe a bit pale. 

“How was your workout?”  Hala and I asked from the kitchen table, sipping our morning coffee.
 
“Well,” Peter said as he sat down, “not good.  I passed out.” 

And he proceeded to tell his morning adventure.  Apparently, he worked out really hard (without eating breakfast first!) and when he got back to the locker room, he started feeling really dizzy.  Then he realized he was having a hard time seeing—his vision had become dark and tunneled—and he was also beginning to have difficulty forming thought.  “I’m having an emergency,” he finally decided as his world went black...  When he woke up, he was on the floor, and the previously full room was completely empty with the exception of one person—coincidentally, a person he had been working out next to earlier in the morning.  He tried getting up, and with difficulty and weakness he staggered to the person. 

“I think I’m having an emergency, please help me,” he said (though he’s unsure if he actually formed real words, and it wasn’t a bunch of gibberish), and then his world went black again. 

When he woke up again, he was thankful that he was both caught by the person, as well as placed gently on the floor.  A trainer and a few other people surrounded him and they fed him Altoids, a granola bar, water, and made sure he was ok before they sent him on his way home.  Never was an emergency vehicle sent for (which I thought was odd), as the trainer diagnosed him immediately.  No breakfast.  “People pass out all the time in the morning because of that,” the trainer said to Peter.  “Next time, be sure to eat breakfast.”

Peter felt strange all day, suffered from a migraine later on, and all-around didn’t feel like doing anything strenuous (understandably), so we took it easy and watched movies on Hala’s netflix account, Peter napped a bit while I wrote this post, and we literally didn’t do anything all day but eat at a Thai restaurant down the street.  It was the only full day that we had in the city, and we spent most of it in an apartment, but it was a very relaxing day in that way.  It was a much needed resting period after the “go-go-go” that we’ve been enduring for the past two weeks!  But maybe we didn’t make good use of our time in New York, but we’ve already seen so much on our trip, I can’t believe that we missed that much.  Here, I’ll give you the list of things that we DID see, and then things that we didn’t, and you can decide for yourself.     

We ate at Wild Ginger, the vegan Asian fusion restaurant where we had sweet and sour mock chicken, veggie potstickers, and summer rolls.  Delicious.  Building on Bond was the coffee shop that we returned to multiple times.  Their almond scones and apple turnovers were to die for, and their design (using old chemistry lab stools, equipment, drawers, etc.) was AMAZING.  Like nothing I’ve seen before.  The great independent bookstore (damn, I can’t remember the name of it!) has famous people, like Miranda July, do readings and lectures there. 

Here’s what we missed:  Miranda July was scheduled to speak and do readings from her book THAT FIRST NIGHT that we got into town.  The night that we ate the amazing sweet and sour mock chicken.  Philip Glass’s opera Satyagraha was scheduled to play at the Met, or the next night Rene Flemming was performing in an opera by Handel.  We did not ride the subway, and, according to Hala, an amazing exhibit showcasing “Sesame Street”, at a museum in town.  We did not join the protests for Occupy Wallstreet, and we did not see any art at any art museums…

Maybe we did miss out…but poor Peter needed to rest up.  Sorry, New York, we used you as a resting stop.  Maybe we’ll get to see more of you next time, eh?  You’ll always be there…

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

City No. 3: Philadelphia, PA, or, “City of Brah-brah Love and the Land of One Thousand Million Cats”


Our Honeymoon, or, How We Got to the Midwest One Interview at a Time:  The Northeast Cities According to Me, the One Who Wanders the Cities While Peter Completes the Interviews

Disclaimer: This should by no means be used as a real resource to the northwestern cities.  While I am an observant person, I have no background in city development, nor do I have expertise on the cultural or historical background on these cities.  For the most part, I am reviewing these cities based on my personal preferences, as we will be moving to one of these cities in the spring.  And, if you are hoping for a lot of artwork (as this is my art blog), sorry to say, but you will be sadly disappointed if you continue to read this blog in the upcoming two months.  Apart from my photographs of the cities, I doubt I’ll get to very many art and craft projects.   
 
I was amazed with many of Philly's attributes right off the bat—enough so—that I started to keep notes on all that I enjoyed.  But first, I will explain the title of this blog.  Surely the brotherly love part is typically common knowledge (“City of Brotherly Love” comes from the literal Greek translation “brotherly love”), but the cat thing?  While I hope this is a gross exaggeration, I have a feeling that it may not be.  There are cats everywhere.  EVERYWHERE.  Mostly skinny cats, hiding under parked cars, slinking around corners and rustling in the brush.  They meow at night.  And most of them are unapproachable—incredibly feral.  But after hearing about how our couch-surfer’s neighbor deals with the issue (and I suspect she’s not the only one doing it this way), it is not surprising that the situation is not improving.  She adopts some of them (13 at the moment?), and then the rest that she can’t afford to adopt, are fed outside her back door.  And she has comfy crate and pillow that the mamma cats can use to birth and raise kittens in.  But here’s the kicker:  she refuses to get them spayed and neutered, and according to the neighbors, seems to like it when the mamma cats have kittens in her back hard (which grow up to be strays that she feeds but can’t afford to take care of, and who also breed more kittens in her back yard).  The kittens we saw in her backyard had eye infections that had progressed so much that the eye was glued shut with puss.  I understand her wanting to help, but man—those poor kittens…

Some graffiti on the streets.  Pretty sure that little thing is an opossum.  Maybe?
Anyway, so there are many, many cats.  But also there is a subway system, the Mutter Museum (a medical history museum that housed many crazy things including a 70 lb ovarian tumor as well as many books bound with leather made from human skin—ugh!), China Town, as well as that famous bell with the crack in it (ah yes—the Liberty Bell!), an indoor market, and a brewery that uses Thomas Jefferson’s original beer recipe!  Basically, Philly has much to offer in the realm of interesting things as well as in the “uninteresting things” --such as really expensive name-brand stores, trendy gourmet restaurants that cost an arm and a leg, as well as the people that enjoy these things.  Needless to say, it was obvious to see that we were getting closer to NY, NY.  And just as much as I wouldn’t live in downtown NY, I wouldn’t live in downtown Philly. 

The neighborhood that our couch-surfer hosts lived in, however, told an entirely different story.  Once poor (and it still has poor areas), the areas of “East Kensington” and “Fishtown” had their own small-town/urban renewal feel.  Small businesses have moved into disheveled, old buildings and created adorable “shabby chic” atmospheres, and homeowners have moved into abandoned homes and created new and lived-in spaces.  One man has even put up several pre-fab houses that give the area a very strong feeling of transition and progression.  If we moved into Philly, this would be the place to be, as it still has relatively good deals on homes, there’s plenty of room for the community to grow, and it’s on the L Line!  For two dollars (or if you have a token that only costs $1.55), you can get downtown and not have to worry about parking—and feel free as a bird!  Lovely! 

Philly, you’re a-ok in my book!  A little bigger of a city and further along in development than what we are probably looking for, but still a really cool place. 

View from way up on the 27th floor of a building downtown. 

Liberty Bell!  Of course, you can only see the side that doesn't have the crack from outside.
To see the crack, you've gotta pay a few dollerz to actually go inside.  No thanks!

More graffiti. 

This delightful elephant slide is exactly like the one that sat in my front yard as a child.  Brought me back to those
days of zero responsibility.  This slide gave Philly a few extra points in my book. 

Thomas Jefferson's delicious brew!  His original recipe!  He was a great brewmaster.
It was a nice brown ale with a nice caramel aftertaste.  Yum. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

City No. 2: Wilmington, Delaware, or, “Wilmington, how you disappoint me so…”

Our Honeymoon, or, How We Got to the Midwest One Interview at a Time: The Northeast Cities According to Me, the One Who Wanders the Cities While Peter Completes the Interviews.    

Disclaimer: This should by no means be used as a real resource to the northeastern cities.  While I am an observant person, I have no background in city development, nor do I have expertise on the cultural or historical background on these cities.  For the most part, I am reviewing these cities based on my personal preferences, as we will be moving to one of these cities in the spring.  And, if you are hoping for a lot of artwork (as this is my art blog), sorry to say, but you will be sadly disappointed if you continue to read this blog in the upcoming two months.  Apart from my photographs of the cities, I doubt I’ll get to very many art and craft projects.   Lastly, please forgive any spelling or grammar errors.  I'm typing these out pretty quickly, sometimes battling failing routers at these coffee shops.  There's just no time to proof-read. 
  

Just like Baltimore, I knew nothing about Wilmington before we got here.  Unlike Baltimore, however, it was not due to the fact that it is underrated and unappreciated, but rather because there’s really nothing here to rate or appreciate, and therefore nothing to hear about outside of the city.  I’m being harsh, aren’t I?  Well let’s just say that I have not enjoyed my time here.  To emphasize my point, I have included a photo that describes my feelings for the city.  And don’t you worry, it was taken here in Wilmington, so it is a dual-function photo.  You get to see how I feel about Wilmington, and you get to see how Wilmington feels about me. 

Anyway, some things about Wilmington that I must mention: It is about 30-40 min. away from Philadelphia, and about 50 min. from Baltimore, and 2 hours from New York.  These facts are very interesting to the daily routine that Wilmington endures, as the result to being so close to where the “action” and “real cities” are, is that no one actually lives here in Wilmington except for the very poor, and people who don’t enjoy long commutes.  Wilmington houses many bank companies here, and it actually has a very impressive downtown area surrounding the bank buildings.  The bankers and company come down for their 9-5s, eat lunch in the city at the restaurants down the street, and then leave when they’re done with their workday.  To any of the cities that I mentioned above (except for NY, maybe.  That seems far away to me…).  The population of the city plummets at this hour in the day.  We even went into a bar and the bartender told us she would be surprised if she had many more customers after us.  This was at around 7 pm.  “If I ever owned my own business here, I would close at 2.  It’s just not worth keeping it open.  It costs more to pay for the utilities and the employment than to just close.”  This was on one of the main drags in town. 

Now before I keep harping on how much I think Wilmington sucks, I must mention that I was not properly informed on the city before I went in to explore.  Our couch-surfer hosts did not have many suggestions as to where I should go, except for “Trolley Square” which I kept mishearing every time she said it because she said it so fast.  I ended up not finding the “cool” part of Wilmington (which was Trolley Square!  “Aah!  She was saying “Trolley Square!”) until last night.  This was after a day of driving and walking around town TRYING to find the hidden jewel—the hip part—the “redeeming attribute” of Wilmington.  While I came close (I think I was a block away at one point), I just never drove far enough into that section of town to see it. 

Anyway, after I’ve had some time to think about why this happened, as well as having a chance to speak with a local about it, it is because of this:  Wilmington is not localized at all.  While it appears to be formatted like any other city out there (a down town with some close neighborhoods), Wilmington is completely spread out and offers neighborhoods, but they’re quite far away from each other, as well as from down town.  You really have to know where they are before you start trying to find them.  This was my mistake.  Sorry Wilmington, I didn’t quite understand you, but still.  You should know better…

After seeing Trolley Square last night, my opinion was a little more neutral, rather than “I hate Wilmington,” but after thinking about the mentality that is so common in this city, I must stay that I still rather dislike Wilmington.  I’ve lived in a feeder city before (DeKalb, IL), and my experience seemed similar to the ones people here are experiencing.  Because they’re so close to Philly and Baltimore, no one really cares too much about improving this city, which would be an incredible feat.  Instead, the common theme seems to be that people are saving up enough monetary resources so that they can move out of this city, into a better one.  And because this is the overall consensus, people are constantly leaving, and no one is investing into the positive change in this local community.  Also, it appears that the local visual and performing arts are also overshadowed by the arts in Philly and Baltimore (and New York in this case).  Any time anyone wants to go to a good show, they don’t expect it to be local and in Wilmington, they automatically expect it to be out of their city.

Basically, what is great about Wilmington, DE?  Answer:  It’s close to Philly and Baltimore.  Enough said.   
 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

City No. 1: Baltimore, Maryland, or, "Baltimore, you are AWESOME!"

Our Honeymoon, or, How We Got to the Midwest One Interview at a Time: The Northeast Cities According to Me, the One Who Wanders the Cities While Peter Completes the Interviews. 


Disclaimer: This should by no means be used as a real resource to the northeastern cities.  While I am an observant person, I have no background in city development, nor do I have expertise on the cultural or historical background on these cities.  For the most part, I am reviewing these cities based on my personal preferences, as we will be moving to one of these cities in the spring.  And, if you are hoping for a lot of artwork (as this is my art blog), sorry to say, but you will be sadly disappointed if you continue to read this blog in the upcoming two months.  Apart from my photographs of the cities, I doubt I’ll get to very many art and craft projects.   Lastly, please forgive any spelling or grammar errors.  I'm typing these out pretty quickly, sometimes battling failing routers at these coffee shops.  There's just no time to proof-read. 


Harbor!  Sailboats!

I have to say that I knew very little about Baltimore before we entered its city limits.  In fact, as we’ve started this trip, I had to come to terms with the fact that I know very little about the Northeast in general.  Not only that, seem to know nothing about the geography of the area.  I had a long moment of epiphany when I opened the map, and realized that the distance from Baltimore to New York City is very tiny (this encompasses Wilmington, DE, AND Philly!).  Only 5 hours or so (minus traffic)!  Being a Midwestern girl, where things are spread out (Madison is 5 hours away from MSP), this was very shocking. 

I’ve known a few friends who lived in Baltimore for a few years throughout the years, but I guess I never really took too much interest in the details surrounding the city.  Everything was very new, except for its reputation for being poor, and dangerous.  While these things are indeed still very valid attributes of the city, I learned a few new things:

1) Baltimore is a harbor city!  (Who knew!  Big boats!  There’s even a draw bridge!)
2) There are many areas that are totally “up and coming” and will be very important to the revitalization of the city in the upcoming years
3) It is very large, much too large to be totally walkable (believe me, I tried.  Anyone willing to give me a foot massage?)

Also, most of the houses in Baltimore are “row-houses” which makes this city a very interesting one to think about if you’re thinking about buying.  As a musician, and one who tends to be loud-spoken sometimes, I would wonder about the passage of sound through the walls…and there is very little greenspace, as there is little or no yard.  But literally ALL of the houses within the city are row-houses.  The “normal” houses are a little further out of the city in the suburban areas.     

As for being dangerous, I did encounter an area that was a little sketchy, and being on foot, I was a little uncomfortable, as I could not get out faster than I could walk on my little legs.  But, it should be taken into account that this was at 7 am in an area surrounding a hospital.  This tends to be a bad area in any city, and 7 am is a bad time to judge a place as people are not out and about on their way to work yet.  Later, we drove through this same area and shops were open, people were working, and it seemed to be transformed.  But this is not to say that there are not areas that are very dangerous.  We drove through an area that had blocks upon blocks of boarded up rowhouses.  Blocks upon blocks.  No exaggeration.  And this is typical for many areas of Baltimore.  And these areas tend to be very impoverished and, therefore, dangerous.  While there are many efforts to “revitalize” these parts of Baltimore, it seems that there is still much more work to be done. 

There were many “cute” areas around town, each neighborhood with a different character (much like MSP), and each with a feeling of potential for something great coming up in the future, but my favorite (just because of its location near the harbor) was Fells Point.  I could easily see myself wandering down to the docks in the morning, a fresh cup of coffee in hand, to enjoy the fresh air while planning the rest of my day. 

Baltimore has much to give.  Two days was not enough time to get the full experience, I suspect.  Much to many little neighborhood pockets here and there to see everything!  Apparently there are 4 different opera-based groups, a strong art movement--all stuff that I would explore more if there were more time.  Unfortunately our trip did not cover a weekend, and so most arts and entertainment activities were very limited, but I suspect it would have been awesome.  We got a chance to see inside the Schuler School of Fine Art, an incredible hidden fine arts jewel, and it would be a place that I would want to check out to greater depth if we moved here... Baltimore is definitely high on my list, thus far.  

This was a little dock that I fell in love with.  It was so quiet and peaceful that I went back--twice!

There's a boat in the city!

Baltimore at night. 

Some blurry row-houses.  Action shot from the car.

Tree growing out of an abandoned building.  Nature always finds a way...