Building Tour at New York Public Library



“Please, no…Wait! Wait! Wait!” I shouted at the top of my lungs, slapping the side of the bus with enough force that the bones in my hand would gradually stiffen and the skin of my palm would radiate a dull, throbbing ember of pain late into the evening. In New York City (or anywhere else, for that matter), bus drivers don’t have a reputation for being especially empathetic creatures. Maybe it’s the nature of the job: long hours, miserable passengers, impossible traffic and a lot of repetition. But the driver of this particular bus—the final one to depart from the gate at ten o’clock—must have won twenty bucks on a scratch-off or had the weekend off, because instead of tightening his sphincter and stomping on the accelerator, he applied pressure to the brakes. And so began the silver lining at the end of a brutal week of work that would extend from the long commute home and through the weekend to come.

If you abruptly shook me awake at eight o’clock the following morning and asked me where I’d like to go and what I’d like to do with my day (WARNING: I wouldn’t recommend doing so without espresso at the ready), I’m absolutely positive that the very last thing that would spring from my lips would be, “Let’s take a building tour!” But then again, I had never visited The Steven A. Schwarzman Building, the flagship of New York Public Library’s four magnificent research centers and eighty-eight neighborhood branches residing in the boroughs of Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx.

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Fairy Tale Fashion at the Museum at FIT

Growing up as a fashion-crazed girl in Malaysia was like being a bread lover with celiac’s.  So when I moved to the United States to go to college, I couldn’t wait to indulge my fashion proclivities.  I happily rocked plaid miniskirts with matching sweaters a la Clueless (I realize I’m probably dating myself here), when one day I overheard a classmate snidely remark, “So nice of her to dress up for class.”  Then I started working, and the whole idea of an office wardrobe beckoned, so inspired by the power suits of Dynasty and Working Girl (okay, dating myself again here), I enthusiastically traded my plaid miniskirts and sweaters in for pencil skirts and tailored jackets.  A colleague rolled her eyes and stated, “I don’t understand why people dress up for work.”  

Time and again I was made to feel like the girl in the ballgown at the ballgame.  I understood that for most people, clothing was simply meant to be functional.  But for me, it always felt like an opportunity to be creative, albeit on a different type of canvas.  I was enthralled with the myriad colors, shapes and textures to choose from.  I was enamored with the way a piece of clothing could take you to a different place and time.  I marveled at the designers who created wearable art, and I yearned to bring a piece of that world into mine.  Fashion was aspirational:  it was a bridge between the the life I wanted and the life I had.  

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Not a Photo at The Hole

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This proverb is often used when discussing art (let’s admit it, usually when we see something we don’t enjoy).  Art appreciation truly is a subjective, personal experience.  We’ve definitely seen our fair share of pieces that have induced that squinty-eyed, cocked-head pose, with a virtual question mark poised neatly above our heads.  While we may not all agree on what constitutes art, whether it’s good or bad, or where it’s headed, we can (hopefully) agree that there’s an abundance of it and we’re better off for it.  We’ve featured street art as well as the more conventional kind found in museums here on the blog, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t also talk about another way to access great art in the city: private galleries.

Although there have always been arguments about culture being only for the elite or art being corrupted by the super-rich, we (who are neither elite nor rich, much less super-rich!) have found no such barrier to entry, and we regularly enjoy visiting the multitude of galleries here in the city that have allowed us to get up close and personal with some stunning pieces of artwork.  For free.  There are bigger players like the Gagosian Gallery who have featured such heavy-hitters as Takashi Murakami and Roy Lichtenstein, but we submit that smaller galleries should not be overlooked. Gems can often be uncovered in these more experimental spaces.  Such was our experience recently when we visited the Not a Photo exhibition at The Hole.

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The City That Gives You Lemons, Also Gives You Lemonade

New York City has mood swings. Really, really bad ones. One moment it can be sweet, seductive, nearly—dare I say it!—tranquil and the next it can be capricious, defiant, and impossibly, impenetrably aloof. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that you have a better statistical chance of winning the Powerball Jackpot (1 in: 292,201,338 in case you were wondering) than predicting which mood you’ll encounter on any given day. This can make planning an infuriating exercise in futility.

Such was the case during one of our recent excursions. We set out late on a Sunday morning with an established agenda: a whimsical visit to a nearby gallery, followed by a properly gluttonous brunch. So easy! And yet the City, from the get-go, simply wasn’t having any of it and wasted no time gesticulating a spirited rendition of it’s signature, passive-aggressive response: thumbs in ears, fingers splayed, eyes glaring, blowing a raspberry.

To start, not one but two buses jumped the schedule. Then, once we descended the steps into the subterranean depths of the station to switch to a train, we immediately noted the ubiquitous MTA Service Advisories, with their prosaic, Helvetica-esqe typeface, haphazardly posted along the platform declaring numerous “service disruptions”. Finally, when we reached our destination—significantly later than anticipated, mind you—the door to the gallery was locked.

Peering through the glass into the dimly lit space, with only the faintest light penetrating the threshold and illuminating sparkling flecks of wafting dust particles, there was the reception desk, with its seat pushed in, empty. We read the stenciled hours of operation on the glass: Wed-Sun, 12-7pm. Then, we revisited their website on our smartphones. Same hours posted there. It was Sunday. It was past noon. What gives? Only after L. (clever woman that she is) called the gallery’s number, was it revealed on their voicemail that they had abruptly changed the days and hours of operation: Sunday—Closed.

We skipped ahead to brunch where the massive number of calories soon extinguished the fire of exasperation in the pits of our bellies. We emerged somewhat pacified, but as we made our way through the East Village down into SoHo, we discovered the following masterpieces along the way:

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The Patricia Field Boutique

The term “Fashion Icon” can conjure up so many varied images, and nowhere is that more true than in New York City. New Yorkers have long had the privilege of having an array of unique style idols to look up to, and Patricia Field is an undisputed member of that class. Best known for dressing Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte, she taught legions of style mavens to mix the high with the low, the hard with the soft, the masculine with the feminine. And it’s that keen eye and sense of whimsy that you can find on full tilt in the unique store that bears her name.

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Pixar: The Design of Story at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

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It’s Sunday. An unseasonably warm morning in December. And, regrettably, you’ve neglected to make reservations for brunch. Suddenly, the grim specter of laundry, errands and preparations for the upcoming workweek threaten to hasten the conclusion of your weekend. What to do? Sure, it’s not quite an existential crisis but it’s a serious dilemma, nonetheless. Fortunately, you have New York City at your disposal, with its staggering abundance of cultural institutions and historical sites. With a quick search, you note that one such institution, Cooper Hewitt, the nation’s preeminent design museum, offers an intriguing lineup of programs and exhibitions. And, voila, you have something on your Sunday agenda.

“The art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art.”  – John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Pixar Animation Studios

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Holiday Train Show at NYBG

Being the proud owners of lush gardens and beautifully landscaped backyards, our parents probably have ten green thumbs between them.  But apparently that’s a recessive gene. Because the two of us?  We’ve killed cacti. (Yes, plural. More than one cactus, on more than one occasion.)  So instead of putting a sad ficus in the corner of our cramped apartment, to get our green fix we make our way out to the New York Botanical Garden and enjoy the Best Pretend Backyard Ever.

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The Hard Nut at BAM

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There’s risk everywhere in New York City—everywhere. That’s a fact.  The promise of success and the threat of failure lurk equally around every corner.  And those who live and work and thrive here embrace that risk unconditionally, drawing strength and inspiration from it. Fearlessness, ingenuity, persistence, perseverance—for artist and entrepreneur alike, these are the tenuous threads that stitch together their dreams. And it’s this frenetic sense of potential that can lead to truly astonishing results—from distinction to disaster to something altogether less interesting (albeit still quite worthwhile) somewhere in-between.

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Manhattan Adirondacks

You weave through the throngs of people, the red, blinking hand taunting you in the distance.  When you finally make it to the street corner, the red hand is stationary and the cabs are leaping out of their lanes towards you. You jump back onto the sidewalk to safety, barely avoiding the murky puddle at your feet, when some unidentifiable cloud of smoke wafts up from the sewer grate and hits you in the face.  Maybe it’s time for a getaway.

To leave the city without actually leaving the city, make your way to the North Woods of Central Park, where it’s so tranquil you’ll believe the subway tunnel was a portal to another world.

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The Curious Case of the Hess Triangle (or something to see on the way to dinner)

“Hey, hey, easy kids. Everybody in the car. Boat leaves in two minutes… or perhaps you don’t want to see the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth, which is only four short hours away?”

-Clark Griswold, National Lampoons Vacation

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