Above, "Miss Octavia," at Suite, a bar near Columbia University, Saturday, April 9, the night of my arrival in New York City. She started her set by busting out "Seasons of Love" from the musical RENT, a song in search of a NYC that exists now mostly in the imagination.
This is New York, in "new winter," 2011. This is my New York diary.
SUNDAY, APRIL 10.
Above, the egg-and-bacon sandwich at Coral Spanish Restaurant on Broadway in Washington Heights. This place was the bomb. Dope server from Guatemala treated us with real warmth, and she knew right away what to grab when I asked for a salsa, "any salsa" -- the stuff they throw in their burritos.
We told her we were Mexican, without providing all the crisscrossing details (one paisa from Sinaloa, one from L.A., one from the border) and she surmised: "Se les fue el acento."
Hadn't been in New York since 2004. No one prepared me for this. Television screens inside cabs. Corporate news anchor Brian Williams on-screen talking to me about "hipsters" in Brooklyn.
They're still using the word "hipster" around here as if the term wasn't the artifact it's been for years now. "Hipster" is pretty much a meaningless word now, kinda like "Latino." How can it be that in New York they still throw it around so much? Guess people need their boogeymen.
Two days in, I went to WFMU in Jersey to select songs for an hour with Jace Clayton, aka DJ Rupture. Had a good time. Joven Will, being a native of Atlantic City, tagged along. The hallways in the station are decorated with weirdo album covers, like "Dinner in Mexico City," which sounds like a bad idea today but it must have sounded amazing in 1965.
(Once more, here's the link to our hour on Rupture's show Mudd Up!!)
Getting over there was a trip, of course. Jace gave me directions to where to get off on the train, "right at the World Trade Center," but nothing could have prepared me for the missile to the chest that was coming up a narrow staircase from underground to the gaping dark wound that is the WTC site. I could feel its deadened energy even before I realized what I was looking at.
The entrance to the PATH station into New Jersey was a parade of people walking in single file in opposite directions, everyone in line, everyone grim in the face, everyone moving. Like choreography, like performance art. There were police officers in shades and a helicopter hovering overhead, raising the sense of paranoia and loathing.
They want to build another tower there? This hole is a graveyard of ghosts.
TUESDAY, APRIL 12.
Tuesday took me early in the morning from Williamsburg into Penn Station in Midtown for the Long Island train way out to SUNY Stony Brook, where Froylan Enciso of the Stony Brook history department invited me to present the book. Great, really fruitful talk and discussion with Froy and with Pancho Westendarp, video artist and a native of Querétaro, and Melixa Abad-Izquierdo, Puerto Rican chilanga-at-heart researcher who works on telenovelas.
It really was a wonderful, organic conversation. But Stony Brook, the bit I saw of it, also confounded me. They have stop-signals for bikes and pedestrians, so that cars, I guess, can drive safely into parking lots.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 13.
This is 125th Street near Broadway in Harlem. Five days in and I still was not acclimated to the frigid cold of the mid-spring in New England. I was walking around with Ricardo and Cesar -- Cesar is from D.F. but grew up in Harlem since he was five years old, the "first Mexican family on the block" -- and we were looking for some decent BBQ or Jamaican food. Lotta options looked unappealing. The projects rose like vertical prisons all around us.
Man oh man, it's cold. I wanted a smoke, just a single to take off the edge, but then they told me a pack here costs $12. That's dollars. No wonder ...
A living room in Harlem.
By mid-week, little gems started making me warm up. I saw this black elixer in a fridge in a deli in Williamsburg -- with mexicanos behind the counter. "Espresso Coffee Soda, since 1895." Went down so good with a deli sandwich for lunch. Amped and ready for Thursday night, the Columbia panel and after-party.
* Next up, Part 2 ...