Travel: Taking a Bite Out of the Big Apple—My Guide to New York City.

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A month ago I returned from my first, three-week jaunt to New York, a city I’ve been dreaming about since childhood. Recently, a friend whose sister is traveling there soon asked me if I could recommend some sights to see in the city that never sleeps. What follows are my favourite neighbourhoods, shops, restaurants and tourist attractions.

Neighbourhoods.

I stayed on the Upper East Side on 82nd Street between 1st and York Avenues in what can also pass for Yorkville. I wanted to be in a safe, central location that I knew well from pop culture (Gossip Girl, I’m looking at you). It’s only five or so blocks from Central Park, where I jogged to most mornings.

I also loved Chelsea, and the East and Greenwich Villages. They’ve got much more of a European or even Melbournian vibe than some other parts of Manhattan and there are plenty of unique, vintage stores that won’t necessarily break the bank. Next time I visit the island I want to stay in one of those neighbourhoods.

View from the Highline.

One attraction that will take you through Chelsea, the Meatpacking District and drop you off in the West Village is the Highline park, a repurposed walking track on an old freight train line.

Broadway.

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You can’t go to the Big Apple and not see a Broadway show. I had my heart set on Wicked, Book of Mormon, Matilda, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark and Sleep No More, all of which I was lucky enough to see. Broadway lotteries are the way to go if you don’t want to spend exorbitant amounts of money for tickets to the hottest shows. And while hundreds of people can enter their name into the lottery on any given night (Broadway goes dark on Mondays and there are matinee performances in addition to evening ones on weekends), take it from me: it’s easier than it may initially seem. On our first try, my friend April and I won tickets to Matilda, followed by Wicked a few tries later, and Book of Mormon after four entries, the most amount of times we had to enter before we won tickets. You still have to pay if you win the lottery, but at $32 versus $200+, it’s a no brainer. Having spent three weeks in New York, we had ample nights to enter, but we managed to see everything within a week and a half! Our failsafe system saw April and I splitting up and putting one entry for each show we wanted to see; when we’d seen everything except Book of Mormon, we put two entries in the barrel to up our odds. Lotteries open two and a half hours before curtain, and are drawn two hours before curtain; that means you need to get to the theatre between 4:30 and 5pm for a 7pm show, for example, put your name in the barrel, and be present for the drawing from 5pm. Some theatres take credit cards for payment of lottery tickets, but it’s best to have cash just in case, along with photo ID. If you’re splitting up to enter multiple lotteries like us, it’s best to stay in contact via phone so you don’t end up winning multiple shows! Find out more about lotteries here.*

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Souvenirs from Sleep No More.

Sleep No More is not your typical Broadway fare. Instead of sitting down to watch a performance on a stage, Sleep No More takes place at the McKittrick Hotel, a fictional hotel spanning six floors of a warehouse in Chelsea. Attendees wear masks and are sworn to silence upon entering, while the cast members are differentiated by being maskless. The audience is encouraged to split up from their parties and explore, touching sets and props as they follow the actors around the hotel in an attempt to piece together the storyline, based on Macbeth and Hitchcock, amongst others. It is a very popular show not for the faint hearted but for theatre-goers interested in something different. Tickets aren’t always available, but my friend Marilyn and I managed to get tickets for about $80 a few days beforehand via the show’s website.

Food.

To be honest, my trip to New York wasn’t a gastronomical one. I have a pretty ordinary palate, so reliably Western chains were my eating-place of choice. I did find a wickedly good Mexican restaurant just near my apartment on the Upper East Side: Cascabel Taqueria. (They also have a venue on the Upper West Side.) If you ever have the pleasure of eating there, I recommend the chorizo burrito served with sweet potato fries. I can’t speak of anything else ’cause that was the only thing I ordered during the four times I ate there!

The Heavenly Rest Stop café at the Church of the Heavenly Rest on Fifth Avenue in the centre of Museum Mile does lovely cakes and sandwiches at a reasonable price.

In terms of coffee, I never really found anything of the calibre of Aussie caffeine but Starbucks is a fairly reliable source. I frequented a store on the Upper East Side on 81st Street and 2nd Avenue.

The Meatball Shop has locations all over Manhattan and one in Brooklyn that’re worth checking out.

Another chain for lunch or snacks is Au Bon Pain, which does really nice soups and salads.

Shops.

My main motivation in New York wasn’t to shop, but having said that I do have some recommendations. The Strand bookstore in the East Village is a book lovers’ heaven and somewhere I definitely wanted to visit. I managed to get $100 worth of rare and out of print books I’d been salivating over for years on my second day. This also meant I had to carry them around for the next four weeks… If you do have some hard-to-find titles on your list, I suggest you scout those first as many new releases you can purchase at home. Bluestockings Books is a feminist and intersectional bookstore on the Lower East Side where I got a book by Jessica Valenti and a “Feminist Killjoy” necklace that’s worth checking out, as is Housingworks Bookstore and Café in NoLiTa.

Bond No. 9 perfumery in NoHo is another place I spent up big. If you’re looking for a personalised perfume experience different from your typical celebrity and designer scents, Bond No. 9 is Mecca. I spent about an hour being catered to by the Bond Street store manager Jeanette, who hooked me up with three scents—Manhattan, Scent of Peace and Highline—after sampling possibly the whole collection! The cool thing about Bond No. 9 is that the scents are inspired by New York, they’re vegan and their bottles are like artwork.

Not too far away is Stella Dallas vintage, in Greenwich Village. I’d been to a few other vintage stores whose prices were astronomical, but Stella Dallas has a superb range of  items on the dressier side for under or around $100. I was umming and ahhing over a turquoise beaded top for around $50, a midnight blue, long-sleeved beaded dress that was reminiscent of something Nicole Richie would wear for about $80 or $90 and don’t even get me started on their ample selection of skirts and sweaters. They also have stores in Brooklyn if you’re in the area.

Museums.

I visited most museums in Manhattan, including the Museum of Natural History, the Jewish Museum and the Biblical Museum. The ones I recommend, however, are more on the artsy side of things. You could spend days in the Met and not see everything, and the Whitney and MoMA were standouts also. It’s worth checking out the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s website to see what’s on when you’re in town as the two that I saw, RetroSpective and the Queer History of Fashion, were some of the best exhibitions I’ve attended. The Museum of the City of New York was stellar and really gives you a taste of NYC life. The Superstorm Sandy photographic exhibition is particularly affecting.

What I Missed Out On But Will Be Ticking Off My List Next Time…

Two things I didn’t manage to fit in were New York City’s last remaining lighthouse, Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse in Fort Washington Park and the Elevator Shaft museum on Cortland Alley in Lower Manhattan. Both are free of charge, and the museum is open weekends but is available to view through windows at all other times.

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In Central Park on my birthday.

If you’ve been to NYC, what else do you think should be included on this list?

*Edited to reflect that Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has finished on Broadway as of Saturday 4th January, 2014.

Book Review: My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike by Joyce Carol Oates.

 

My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike had me at hello its first two sentences:

“Dysfunctional families are all alike. Ditto ‘survivors.’

“Me, I’m the ‘surviving’ child of an infamous American family…”

My favourite book being a fictional account of the O.J. Simpson murder trial, Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne, I’m a sucker for true crime and conspiracy theories.

My Sister, My Love is the fictionalised account of the JonBenet Ramsey murder of Christmas 1996, a story that has captivated me since it hit the newsstands some fifteen years ago.

It is written by the awesome Joyce Carol Oates, whom I’ve never read in novel form before, but whose articles I have come across online. Since its publication in 2008, I’ve longed to read it, and serendipitously came across it in a secondhand bookstore earlier this year. It has taken me since then to read it!

But coming in at 562 pages, it’s not exactly light reading, both in size and subject matter.

The book focuses on the life of Skyler Rampike, brother to child ice-skating prodigy, Bliss Rampike (nee Edna Louise Rampike), and he and his parents’ struggle to come to terms with her murder.

The book is somewhat longwinded, but thoroughly enjoyable. Some parts before and after the murder could have been spared, but it’s all part of Oates’ effort to build the story and the characters within it.

The story is written from Skyler’s perspective, but switches rapidly from first- to second- to third-person narration, which can be jarring at first but ultimately lends itself to the insight we get into the twisted and troubled mind of Skyler.

Oates also borrows from other high-profile pop cultureisms, like the Simpson murder (Skyler’s boarding school for troubled/famous children girlfriend is most definitely supposed to be Simpson’s daughter), Wicked (“Popular! In America, what else matters?” [p. 152]), and The Catcher in the Rye, with Skyler calling faux snow “phony-looking” (p. 319). In fact, I think Oates’ key inspiration was probably J.D. Salinger’s most famous fictional outing.

It’s hard to separate the fictional Rampike family Oates has so expertly crafted from the real Ramsey family, which has fallen to pieces since JonBenet’s murder. As in real life, mother Betsey died, and father Bix remarried. But what do we know of Burke Ramsey, whom Skyler was based on? Nothing much.

And that’s where Oates saw an opening: to tell one of America’s most fascinating unsolved murders from the perspective of the person who, by a lot of peoples’ accounts, is the prime suspect.

Related: Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

Book Now, Bendigo.

Stacked.

It’s All About Popular… Lar, Lar, Lar, Lar.

The Ten Books I Wanted to Read This Year But Didn’t.

Event: Rock of Ages Review.

The last few musicals I’ve been to I haven’t enjoyed. West Side Story, Hairspray… My friends keep telling me I need to stop comparing them to Wicked! Fair call.

So I went into Rock of Ages last Tuesday night with trepidation. I was looking forward to the music and the ’80s campy quality, but I wasn’t expecting a storyline and character development of Gregory Maguire proportions.

And I was right. While the music and the one liners are great, Lonny (to be played by Russell Brand in next year’s big screen adaptation), the chubby, mullet-sporting narrator, admits ten minutes into the production that they should “probably introduce a storyline” to keep the audience invested.

This is where Drew aka Wolfgang von Colt (played by Justin Burford), aspiring rock star and busboy at Dupree’s Bourbon Room on the Sunset Strip (a nod to The Viper Room, perhaps?), and Sherrie, a small town girl looking to make it big as an actress in Hollywood, come in.

While Sherrie is the most vapid character I’ve seen in a musical for a long time ever, her representation is typical of women in the male-dominated rock music industry at the time: just a piece of ass.

This is all mega rock star Stacee Jaxx sees her as, and acts accordingly. Jaxx seems to embody guys like Bret Michaels from Poison, Steven Tyler from Aerosmith and perhaps Jon Bon Jovi (but he just seems too nice!), as the quintessential egomaniac douchebag who forgets where he got his start (hello, Bourbon Room!). The role is a good one, and I can really see Tom Cruise excelling in it in the film version, however I thought Michael Falzon overplayed the role. If he’d just kicked in down a notch and acted like he took himself more seriously as the best front man to ever walk the earth, I think the character would have been more effective.

In fact, if the production itself employed this tactic, I would see nothing wrong with it.

But all in all, the costumes were fab, the majority of actors killed it, the set “broke down the fourth wall”, both literally and figuratively and, of course, the music was pure ’80s hair rock and power ballads.

It’s the best thing going in Melbourne at the moment and, since the last musical I saw at the Comedy Theatre, Avenue Q, for a while.

Image via Crikey.

Fictional Friends.

Last week, Alissa Warren on MamaMia listed her top five fictional friends. You know, people you’d be friends with… “if they were real.”

Let me know in the comments who you’d be fictional friends with but, until then, here are my top picks:

Elphaba Thropp, Wicked.

It’s no secret Elphaba is my favourite fictional female: someone you can look up to, who rises above hatred and discrimination, and who will stand up for her beliefs no matter what. Plus, she’s a witch! Galinda wouldn’t be too bad either…

Elle Woods from Legally Blonde.

She’s fun, she’s quirky, she’s got a cute little dog and an awesome wardrobe. And underneath it all, she’s not as ditzy as she seems. Awesome friend material.

Cher Horowitz, Clueless.

Again, someone who seems carefree and Clueless on the outside, but whose heart is in the right place. Maybe she’ll let you come over and program your wardrobe into her computer. Just think of the outfit-planning time you’ll save.

Gus Bailey.

The fictional version of the late Vanity Fair columnist and man about town Dominick Dunne, Gus Bailey, would always give you the inside scoop, and probably feature you in his gossip columns! Anonymously, of course. You’ve got to keep up appearances.

Blair Waldorf/Dan Humphrey, Gossip Girl.

I’m not sure which one I’d like better as, personality-wise, they’re pretty much the same person. They exchange emails and phone calls whilst ploughing through their identical Netflix queues. They enjoy art, foreign films, being “in” with the “in crowd” and bygone eras. You could borrow Blair’s clothes, but Dan’s nice to look at… I can’t choose!

Kat Stratford, 10 Things I Hate About You.

She’s everything I’m not. She’ll shun the prom (but actually ends up going!) due to its patriarchal confines. She’s musical. She loves the riot grrl scene. She ploughs through feminist literature whilst listening to Spiderbait. And she don’t give a rats what anyone thinks of her. Total. Feminist. Icon.

Heather Mooney, Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion.

Anyone who openly tells people they don’t like to “fuck off” is someone I want to get to know! Plus she’s hilarious despite her best efforts to come across as cold and callous.

Scout Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Sure, she’s a little young to be best buds with, but maybe I could be her babysitter?!

Related: Women in Fiction: My Favourite Fictional Females.

Women in Fiction: Are Our Favourite Fictional Females Actually Strong, or Stereotypes?

It’s All About Popular… Lar, Lar, Lar, Lar.

Strong Female Characters in the Land of Oz.

Pop Culture Power Women.

So Misunderstood.

Pop Culture Role Models.

In Defence of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

Images via Freewebs, IG Style, Abhishek Tiwari, USA Today, TV.com, Inspired Ground, Flickr, The Hero Construction Company.

TV: Glee Season 2 Final in Pictures.

 

In last night’s Glee final, New Directions make it to New York! (New York! I love New York!)

They eat designer sandwiches on the steps of some landmark that escapes me at the present moment, reminiscent of Blair, Jenny et al. having lunch on the steps in Gossip Girl.

From here, they sing a mash-up of “I Love New York” and “New York, New York” in Central Park while Santana gets her flirt on with a cop.

Finn is inspired by the group’s songwriting efforts (that they’ve come to the Big Apple with nary a song to sing at Nationals only days before the competition speaks volumes about the laissez-faire attitude of both the New Directions and their leader, Mr. Shuester), and asks Rachel out on a date now that he and Quinn are toast. He takes her to Sardi’s, where they run into Patti LuPone, who Rachel accosts, telling Patty she’s one of her idols. Patty tells Rachel to never give up (or something), and that Finn is cute. Sage advice there!

Meanwhile, the other man in Rachel’s life (no, not Jesse St. James Douche), Kurt, wakes Rachel up to go have Breakfast at Tiffany’s, followed by a Wicked duet at the musical’s home theatre, the Gershwin, of “For Good”, harkening back to their season one sing-off of “Defying Gravity”. It was a teary rendition for me!

Mr. Shue also has his Broadway moment, singing a song from April Rhodes’ musical, CrossRhodes, which can conveniently be found on Matthew Morrison’s debut album! He later chooses to shun his New York dreams in favour of staying on at McKinley.

Cut to Nationals, where the New Directions perform their two hastily composed original songs, “Pretending” and “Light Up the World”. During the former, Rachel and Finn share an impromptu kiss in the heat of the moment, which the whole club berates and blames them for losing the competition.

Oh, Sunshine also makes an appearance. No doubt to segue into a cameo or recurring role in season three.

Back in Lima, Kurt and Blaine are having coffee when they encounter Mercedes and Sam, who claim they “ran into each other in the parking lot”. When they think Kurt and Blaine are out of ear- and eyeshot, they hold hands whilst waiting to be served. New couple alert!

In the hallway of McKinley High, Will and Emma marvel at the banner erected to congratulate them on their twelfth placing in the competition, and Mr. Shue presents the class with a trophy for their (dismal) efforts. Until next year’s Nationals…

Related: Glee Gets Down on Friday at the Prom.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Born This Way” Episode.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Original Song” Episode.

Gwyneth Paltrow Addresses Tabloid Culture & Her Haters.

Glee “Sexy” Review.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Blame it on the Alcohol” Episode.

How to Make a Woman Fall in Love With You, Glee Style.

Glee “Silly Love Songs” Review.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Furt” Episode.

The (Belated) Underlying Message in Glee’s “Never Been Kissed” Episode.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” Episode.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Duets” Episode.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Grilled Cheesus” Episode.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Britney/Brittany” Episode.

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] Glee: Can’t Make it There, Can’t Make it Anywhere.

Images via MegaVideo.

It Don’t Matter if You’re Black or White… Or Green.


From “The Theme of Good VS. Evil” in Wicked: The Life & Times of the Wicked Witch of the West on Shmoop:

“Good vs. evil really is the ultimate (and original) theme of Wicked. But the twist is that the theme doesn’t focus on a showdown between a hero and a super-villain. Rather, the focus is on good and evil residing within the same person (which Nietzsche would probably approve of). No one is simply good or evil here. Not surprisingly, evil often trumps good in the book. Or at least a philosophical concern with evil gets the spotlight more often than any musings on goodness. The book is about a Witch after all.

“Ultimately, neither good nor evil is clearly defined or clearly separated here, which may be precisely the point. If the people and places of Wicked are not black and white, why should huge concepts like good and evil be anything other than hard to grasp and gray [Scarlett Woman note: or rather, green]? Goodness is seen as something elusive or hard to find, while evil is depicted as much more complex than a cackling green witch in a pointy black hat. In the end, evil may be nothing more than the absence of something else: awareness, constraint, goodness. Goodness requires intent and consciousness, but evil can be done subconsciously and even unwillingly; it’s a sort of default setting in people, witches or not.”

Related: Idle Hands.

Strong Female Characters in the Land of Oz.

The Wizard of Oz VS. Wicked.

It’s All About Popar… Lar, Lar, Lar, Lar!

Women in Fiction: Are Our Favourite Fictional Females Actually Strong, or Stereotypes?

Women in Fiction: My Favourite Fictional Females.

“With a Gun Between Her Legs” Take 2.

“With a Gun Between Her Legs”: Why “Strong” (AKA “Sexy” Whilst Being “Strong”) Female Characters Are Bad For Women.

Elsewhere: [Shmoop] The Theme of Good VS. Evil in Wicked: The Life & Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Image via Picky Nikki.

Idle Hands.

 

From “Good VS. Evil Quotes in Wicked” on Shmoop:

“‘But maybe there’s something to what you say,’ said Elphaba. ‘I mean, evil and boredom. Evil and ennui. Evil and the lack of stimulation. Evil and sluggish blood.’

“The idea of evil as some sort of emptiness, or lack, recurs a couple of times in this book. Elphaba here seems to have taken on some of her father’s religious ideas. The connection between boredom and evil is reminiscent of the maxim that ‘idle hands are the devil’s tools,’ which dates back to Chaucer. The moral here is to be careful the next time you’re bored, or you could become evil. Or a Wicked Witch.”

Related: Strong Female Characters in the Land of Oz.

The Wizard of Oz VS. Wicked.

It’s All About Pop-U-Lar.

Women in Fiction: Are Our Favourite Fictional Females Actually Strong, or Stereotypes?

Women in Fiction: My Favourite Fictional Females.

Elsewhere: [Shmoop] Good VS. Evil Quotes in Wicked.

Image source unknown.