Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Amsterdam Social

When I moved into this apartment the nearby storefronts were churches, laundromats, convenience stores, used stuff resellers, Chinese takeout, fried chicken, and The Amsterdam Social. It was the only table-service restaurant for 5 blocks north or south, maybe farther. Its menu was inventive and international, its decor ambitiously architectural and geometric. The clientele, needless to say, appeared distinctly more affluent than the neighborhood average.

The word is “gentrification”.

I don’t actually know what this word means. It sounds like it’s meant to describe a universal phenomenon, maybe something to do with landowners (the gentry), but I’ve only ever heard it used to describe White people moving in and Black people moving out, for very particular definitions of White and Black that don’t seem to have much to do with The Landed Gentry.

In New York, conventional wisdom says that gentrification proceeds by anchor points. Someone sets up a bar or a coffee shop with prices high enough to keep out the long-time residents, leaving only the new arrivals. New people move into the neighborhood, comforted by the presence of a familiar bar and coffee shop. One block West of me are The Harlem Public (pub) and The Chipped Cup (coffee), serving exactly this function.

The Amsterdam Social was a favorite of mine, which is to say that in 11 months I went there twice, and ordered takeout once. I was therefore disappointed when, after returning from Seattle, I saw they were closed. A sign on the window bid us a fond farewell.

It might have been a speed problem; service and preparation were too slow for a restaurant without tablecloths. Or, it might have been because they lost their liquor license and converted to BYOB.

My personal favorite explanation is that “gentrifiers” are by definition people who are trying to find more space for less money than their first-choice neighborhood, so they’re more likely to have room to cook at home, and less likely to spend money on dinner out.

Maybe gentrification is not monotonic curve … or maybe bar and cafe really are the two magic categories. The Monkey Cup, a coffee shop with its own Instagram feed, just opened two blocks South, on a row otherwise populated by three hair salons, a hardware store, convenience store, and fruit stand, all primarily Spanish-speaking.

She Stoops to Conquer

In the summer in New York City, there are often half a dozen different theater companies performing Shakespeare in various city parks. This week, the Hudson Warehouse company decided to shake things up a bit by putting on She Stoops to Conquer by Not Shakespeare Oliver Goldsmith. Like all of their productions, it was held on the north side of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, with the wide stone staircase serving as seating and the north patio (which appears suspended over an unseen chasm) as the stage. It’s a dramatic setting … almost too dramatic for this play, which is a light, bawdy comedy verging on slapstick.

I can see why a Shakespeare company would choose this play. Like so much of Shakespeare, it traffics in aristocratic romances, mistaken identities, deceptions that work a little too easily and a little too well, and sexual humor carefully euphemised. Unlike Shakespeare, it’s written in mostly-comprehensible modern English, having been first published in 1773.

Euphemisms seem to have a shorter half-life than the language average, with the result that the most salacious parts of old literature are the first to become obscure. That effect works to the advantage of this play today; the jokes about prostitution and virginity that might shock a modern audience in plain language, instead sound like this.

The cast was phenomenal, confirming my theory that New York City is uniquely chock full of extraordinary stage actors. They put on an incredibly energetic vocal and physical performance, nonstop for two hours, including occasional a cappella minuet interludes. It felt like a whirlwind in tricorner hats and petticoats.

Next up for the Hudson Warehouse company is Titus Andronicus. I can’t imagine it could possibly be so entertaining.

Cartel Land

Saturday evening, after tubing, I went back to my hotel, and found myself with nothing to do and no reason to go to bed early, one block from the Seattle Film Festival theater in Queen Anne. I decided to take a leap and go see a movie … by myself. Maybe for the first time.

I watched Cartel Land, a documentary that follows two groups of vigilantes, one in Southern Texas, the other in Mexico. The parallel is entirely false (the Mexican group is larger by at least two orders of magnitude), but both stories are made compelling by the two groups’ flawed, charismatic leaders.

The plot carries tremendous suspense, and runs inside a frame device with a twist ending … ingenious, much like the trick cinematography (probably quadcopter-based) that adds high-tech flair throughout. In fact, the plotting and filming are so ingenious, and the access so stupendous, that one wonders how much of the premise to believe. Could the Texas vigilantes really have intercepted a half-dozen immigrants crossing through the desert, on camera? Would the Mexican self-defense force really have allowed a cameraman to film their abusive interrogation of a father while his daughter screams for mercy?

Maybe!

Sno Tube

I spent Saturday afternoon floating down the lazy Snoqualmie River, on an inner tube purchased for the purpose at Fred Meyer the night before, rafted up with a few good old Seattle friends. It was a hot, clear summer day, perfect for relaxing in the clear cold waters.

From the river, we saw not a hint of human civilization, nothing but water, rocks, trees, sky, and a thousand of our most beloved bros sailing identical Chinese-made inner tubes from Amazon.com.

Also, it turned out that after a dry winter, the river was feeling especially lazy, and the warm summer wind was blowing precisely against the current. We often found ourselves floating up the creek without a paddle, and our progress was fueled by old-fashioned elbow grease.

A great deal of exercise was had in these stretches, mostly not by me. I spent the three or four hours chatting, sipping my mixed berry smoothie, reapplying SPF 70 sunscreen, and occasionally rewetting my kerchief-turned-keffiyeh.

I highly recommend the trip, on a hot summer day, especially for the occasional hair-raising rapids. But bring a paddle.

Fred Meyer

In the eponymous song, Glen Phillips describes Fred Meyer as selling “everything from fruit to tires”. I’d never been, before tonight, but I’d heard legends from the Seattle locals.

It’s amazing.

The Manhattan perspective helps. In the city everything is compressed. Not so at a Fred Meyer. The grocery store portion of a Fred Meyer might be bigger than any grocery in the city, and the shoe section is vastly larger than JC Penney’s in New York.

In the end, Glen Phillips was right. Among the many prizes I claimed were both bananas and an inflatable inner tube.

Portland experience

I’d never been to Portland (OR) until this week. I’m working during the days, but so far I’ve still managed to experience

  • Being harassed by an overly friendly stoner
  • Paying for everything with Square on an iPad
  • Eating inventive and traditional cuisine from a “food cart”, like a food truck but in trailer form, often packed into tight rows on the edges of various parking lots here
  • Paying a lot of money for dinner, even by New York standards (Clyde Common)
  • Locally sourced meat everywhere
  • Bicycling across a bridge and past a giant beautiful graffitiesque mural
  • Getting obsessively authentic Thai cuisine that was so spicy as to be totally inedible (Pok Pok)
  • Waiting in line for 20 minutes for ice cream, with strange flavors like Olive Oil and Black Pepper (Salt and Straw)

30

My birthday was last weekend, which is an awkward time for a party. Lots of people are traveling, overbooked, or just worn out. I polled my NYC friends, and ultimately threw a little party a week early in my tiny apartment. Not everyone could make it, so I made sure to spend Independence Day weekend with some people I’d missed. Then I flew to Seattle, and spent this weekend catching up with my whole crew there. Considering the weeks before and after together as a birthday-fortnight, I managed to see a shocking number of good old friends. Add one more week on either end, and even some of my hardest-to-find friends are on the list.

Birthday-month is not yet over, but so far I’d say this has been a much better way to celebrate than cramming dozens of people into one crowded crazy evening.

Things I had Forgotten about Seattle

The crows. There are so many crows here, and almost no pigeons. I heard someone in a park today complaining about the “rats with wings” … talking about crows, not pigeons or seagulls. I think of crows as smart and slightly otherworldly, which maybe is also how I think of rats, but somehow I am much more kindly disposed toward crows.

Seaplanes. I woke up this morning, looked out the window, and saw a seaplane landing on Lake Union … a sight so frequent as to be invisible to a Seattlite.

Sammamish River Valley. I went to a cookout in Redmond today, and rode 25 miles back to the city on a borrowed folding bicycle. Our path took us through the river valley I’d ridden many times, most recently almost exactly a year ago. The valley is bizarre: a shockingly, perfectly flat plain squeezed between steep forested hills, the only flat ground for miles in any direction.

EDIT: Also cracked sidewalks and spiders.

July 4th excursion

I met some out of town friends yesterday afternoon, who, being from out of town, parked at the lower east corner of the Lower East Side, and declared that they were here to see the High Line, along the west edge of Chelsea. We walked the whole length of the High Line, which I hadn’t done before. Then some of us walked back to the East side to watch the fireworks (nice but no match for Boston with the Pops), where we had to walk South to 15th street to find an open patch of pavement on FDR drive, which was closed for the occasion.

In total, I walked at least 8.2 miles.

Good thing I got those new shoes.