Bwog went far and wide this fall break. From Paris to New Jersey to Bear Mountain to Brooklyn… well it was only four days, but Bwog made the most of it.
Five weeks ago, you were taking your first midterm examinations; I was shopping for classes. This Monday and Tuesday, you were taking a break; my peers and I, in London, were enjoying the first half of ‘Reading Week,’ a much needed break situated smack in the middle of a ten-week term.
One thing to do during Reading Week is to take the Eurostar to Paris. The Eurostar is like the Acela, only fast; when the Eurostar hits a big bump in the track, it wallows like a drunken hippopotamus for at least half a minute, which is soothing and terrifying at the same time. France is all about terror, and classiness, two things that Americans are awed by. For your benefit, I went to Paris and observed a few of the ways French people are classy:
One, nuclear power makes it cheap to heat the wintry outdoors with glow lamps. Parisians like their sidewalk cafes, and these are available despite the season.
Two, the Paris Metro (or subway) closes early, but nights out begin after one in the morning; fortunately it is possible to ‘rent’ bicycles with something like a Metrocard. Shortly before dawn you can see drunken Frenchmen weaving their separate ways home on borrowed bikes. No word on whether cyclists, like motorists, get ‘controlled’ by the police.
Three, the issues in Paris currently revolve around Sarkozy being a jerk, and the unfortunate upcoming ban on indoor smoking. These issues are handled by drinking copious amounts of wine until (at least) ten in the evening and smoking lots of cigarettes to imbue every wall and jacket with the glorious memory and smell of smoke.
When enough classiness had been observed, I returned to London to see Vampire Weekend open for the Shins. I am proud to report that, due to incompetence on the part of the Shins’ sound engineers, and to the superiority of Columbia University education, Vampire Weekend played a better set than the Shins. You should have been there.
Last fall break, I made the terrible mistake of taking Amtrak up to Montreal in an attempt to rekindle the passions of an old friendship/crush. When my visit backfired, I returned to the city dejected, out of $150 and twenty-four hours’ roundtrip travel time, and missing the spark of naivety that inspired such an idiotic pilgrimage in the first place. This year, I vowed to head off to the less distant destination of New Jersey to the less operatic end of just having a good time.
On Friday afternoon my native companion and I hopped on a bus at the George Washington Bridge terminal; five bucks, an hour, and two stops at the mall later, we had reached idyllic Fair Lawn, NJ, the crowning jewel of Bergen County. This isn’t the overtly vapid, materialistic suburbia of American Beauty, but something closer to Lolita’s vision of the States: recurring restaurants, modern malls, sanitary motels off the 4, cloverleaves turning into jughandles turning into quiet lanes of modest homes. A promenade through a park, with the wind blowing, the children laughing, the parents smiling, was enough to slough off two months of urban neurosis and enter a very Walt Whitman-mindset.
By sundown, engorged on multiple pastries and sandwiches and wandering around a derelict CVS, I thought I’d experienced all Fair Lawn had to offer. But it turned out the town contained multitudes: the native companion led me back to his brother’s room and unfurled an enormous bong. Remember what I said about just having a good time? A new motto for the New Jersey Bureau of Tourism might read “aim low, reach your goals.” The ensuing expedition to Wendy’s was tranquil, blithe, and banal, as suburbia often is and vacation too often is not. I awoke at 3 the following afternoon. “It’s OK,” native companion assured me, “there’s nothing to do in Fair Lawn that’s contingent on the time of day.” In a certain sense, he was right: the bakery closed in three hours, but Wendy’s was still open until 4 AM. And if we missed it, there was always tomorrow.
Although it’s helpful in figuring out how to get places, The New York subway map is particularly adept at two things: denial of the existence of New Jersey (with no apparent terrestrial destination, PATH and Amtrak vanish ominously into the blue), and the reduction of the outer boroughs to a network of tiny black dots. For the Manhattanite, breaking out of this modular tyranny requires a couple dollars, a couple of hours, and usually some goal or another. On Sunday night, mine was to sample the alleged best pizza in the city, at Di Fara on Avenue J.
Di Fara could be one of the last places on earth where the customer is wholly secondary to the product. Owner Domenico DiMarco has handmade every pizza served over Di Fara’s 50-year history and one gets the sense he would be hand-kneading every crust, chopping every tomato, and measuring out every wedge of fresh-cut buffalo mozzarella even if a spot on the cover of the Village Voice hadn’t turned his corner pizzeria into the stuff of folk legend (though there’s already something folkloric about an old Neapolitan in an unassuming pizzeria on an anonymous Brooklyn street corner hobbling over to his brick oven and applying a final touch of basil while crowds of hardened city-dwellers stare in awestruck silence).
Yes, the story would go, the greatest pizza chef of on earth worked in a place right off of the Q train in Midwood–but if you decide to make a pizza pilgrimage, be sure to allow time to check out the Judaica and kosher bakeries lining Avenue J. You wouldn’t know it from its goyiche main attraction, but on Ave J you might hear more Hebrew than English.
For me, this Fall Break was spent mostly in the city, mostly doing midterms, but I did take a mini-vacation of sorts. My boyfriend and I traveled to Bear Mountain, a lovely state park about an hour north of the City. We rented a ZipCar, a truly wonderful convenience that allows members of the ZipClub to reserve cars to use for as many hours as they choose. Each individual ZipCar has a fun (if Teutonic!) name like Mann or Robinson.
Bear Mountain has different hiking trails of all levels that loop around lakes and give you the choice of walking alongside the Hudson or scaling Bald Mountain. There’s also an enormous suspension bridge (the largest of its kind at one point!) that hikers can walk across. One of the hiking trails winds around an outdoor zoo. And more! There’s a carousel inside the hiking lounge and a place to buy hot-dogs.
On our way back from Bear Mountain, we stopped in Nyack for a late-afternoon meal and some coffee. Nyack is a town half an hour north of the City. We read that it was voted “Quaintest Place to Go Ever” or something, but regarding its supposed bucolic charm, it was underwhelming. It was fine for burgers and Starbucks, but beyond that, it’s probably not worth the extra hour in the ZipCar.
Bear Mountain is a quick escape, and it’s fully recommended to anyone with a warm coat and some mittens looking for half-a-day sojourn.
Brooklyn Academy of Music hosted an all-nighter last Saturday where, instead of drinking $3 coffees while wandering through the Butler stacks, you could drink $3 beers and wander through what can only be described as a cultural tableau, which included films ranging from the avant-garde to Mean Girls and bands ranging from hard grooving rock to shoegazing walls of sound. Oh, and there was a dance party upstairs.
The bands were nothing special, but inside, BAM’s elegant opera house allowed an ambiance that is decidedly different from typical hole-in-the-wall nightclubs and outdoor festivals. Speed punk band Be Your Own Pet seemed to feel pretty awkward in probably their first and last opera house gig — but they managed to make it memorable by jumping off the stage into the crowd on more than one occasion. Dirty on Purpose, on the other hand, had a decidedly art school flavor that complemented the domed ceiling with their effect-filled jams.
The real highlight of the night, however, was the plethora of films showing in four theatres, including a Lindsay Lohan Mid-Career Retrospective, concert documentaries, and When Animals Hug. While it is somewhat disconcerting that Lohan has reached the middle of her career at 21, the medley of movies on the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Talking Heads and the Sex Pistols made me wonder whether any band today deserves such immortalizing treatment as David Byrne received in Stop Making Sense. The animals hugging was random to be sure, but several minutes worth tickled the funny bone before the jokes got repetitive. The party raged until 4 in downtown Brooklyn and
completely ignored daylight savings time, leading to many a confused alarm clock.
As Neil Young would tell you, we’ve had mother nature on the run since the 1970s, if not longer. But six hours north of Manhattan, Gaia seems to be hiding out fairly successfully in the Adirondack mountains, where a group of Columbia students has made a pilgrimage the last couple Election Day weekends. I decided to join them this year, and on Friday we boarded a fifteen-person passenger van to head for a few of the high peaks.
Although this year’s fairly mild winter gave us a partial reprieve from the elements, cold weather reasserted itself at the higher altitudes. Many of our summit trails led us up small waterfalls, which progressed to water flowing under ice, and then to solid ice for the last half mile or so. Although Mount Marcy, the highest peak in the state, gave us a great view of the dome-shaped range, the smaller mountains were generally tougher climbs. After we conquered the last two on Monday, the planned short and flat hike on Tuesday seemed boring. We marched through the dark to forgo our last night of camping and get back to campus.
Our decision was heavily influenced by Daylight Savings Time. Although the “fall back” had no bearing out in the woods, it gave us an extra hour to make it to the Noon Mark Diner, which is a hell of a horse in the one-horse town of Keene Valley, New York.
Lying along what is essentially Keene’s only road, the diner not only has regionally-famous pies but is run by good people who run a community bulletin board and welcome travelers. When a group of eleven stinking, dirty, wind chapped, scratched and bruised hikers showed up four minutes before closing, they stayed open for what turned out to be an extra hour and a half before we headed down the road to return to Manhattan before sunrise.
And how was your fall break?