Thursday, April 29, 2010

twelve thirteen things I ate two weeks ago: part 3: Flushing

I go to New York regularly but I seldom venture out of Manhattan and even more seldom into Queens. I may complain about increasing gentrification of  the Lower East Side or the Sexandthecitification of The Bowery but I never run out of things to do there. Well for once I was at a loss for things to do, and maybe the few hours I spent in South Philly gave me a taste and yearning for a big city that was not losing its regional character. Forty-five minutes on the subway, to the eastern terminus of the 7 train, I found that character in Flushing, where the advetrtising was predominantly in Chinese even before I got out of the station.

Whenever I watch Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations,  I always salivate over at least some of the regional dishes he tries, and no less so than when he devoted a program to New York. Still, as I tend to do with things I see on tv, I forgot about it. But my friend G., whom I've run into in several different neighborhoods in New York over the years, strongly recommended The Golden Mall in Flushing, not just for the food but for the sensory overload. Thanks, G.

Xi'an Famous Foods, was easy to get to but not that easy to find - I saw at least four different entrances to Golden Mall, and couldn't reproduce how I got there. There is basement entrance to 41-28 Main Street on the corner, and if you can find that, you'll find the liang pi (cold noodles, $5, pictured) and the lamb burger ($2.50, not pictured - it looks like a sloppy joe, but, laced with green chilies and cumin,  it tastes much more fantastic), and have an outrageously good and spicy meal with change from a sawbuck.

About a block down and across the street from Golden Mall is the Tai Pan Bakery. Wouldn't animal cupcakes be an intriguing variation on the cupcake craze? The mobile cupcake van could tweet that they're running out of goat. This ram was made of two layers of tiny sponge cake with a creme filling. Not as sastifying to eat as it was to photograph.

See the sidebar on seltzer in part 2. This can of agua con gas is courtesy of the cafe at PS1, the Long Island City affiliate of the Museum of Modern Art, which are both currently exhibiting surveys of performance art - in general at PS1, and, specifically, Marina Abramovic's at Moma. Also recommended at Moma: the work of found poem/collagist/ Manhatan Project scientist Bern Porter, which I found more inspiring and much less crowded  (I was the only one  there) than the Cartier-Bresson show upstairs. Peppy, a performance artist in his own right who travels with me frequently, is courtesy of my homes. The patriotism is from one of the dollar stores (real cost $2.99) in one of the sensory-overloaded malls along Main Street in Flushing.

Finally, it took me years of visiting New York before I found a chocolate chip cookie to go back for.  Within stumbling distance of  Eisenberg's is this chewy, vanilla-soaked answer to your cookie questions, from The City Bakery, which is home to an annual hot chocolate festival and the sippable cuppa cocoa you see here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Daido Moriyama: Stray Dog of Tokyo

Article as  first published on

Daido Moriyama, along with Nobuyoshi Araki, was part of a new wave of Japanese artists to break out of photographic traditions in the late '60s. For Moriyama, these traditions included things like focus and a level camera; his high-contrast, grainy black and white images are pure street photography, but he's just as likely to print images that are all blur and texture as he is to point his lens on disaffected youth and the banalities of everyday life. Whatever the subject, or lack thereof, his best work is full of energy, and pushes the limits of the form and what constitutes photography.

Moriyama has largely avoided the media, but that changes with the feature-length documentary Stray Dog of Tokyo (a reference to the title of one of his books), which includes extensive interviews with Moriyama as well as with the often hilarious Araki, and Japanese magazine editor and photography critic Kazuo Nishii. More intriguing for photographers, like myself, a single camcorder follows Moriyama on a photo shoot wandering around the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo, not unlike the titular stray. The camera also follows Moriyama to the darkroom, though he shares none of his developing formulas, perhaps not even to himself. Nishii recalls an exhibit which required an enlargement of one of Moriyama's prints, but after a photo lab was unable to replicate Moriyama's print, a consultation with the artist revealed that he himself couldn't remember how he printed that one.

Photographers like me will also be curious to know what equipment he uses. Araki explains that his friend almost always ends up borrowing a camera, which then becomes his. Moriyama's first was a toy camera made of Bakelite (the rugged substance that makes up any number of Brownies and other plastic cameras), and has always felt that you can make a good picture with anything. Then again, the 35mm point-and-shoot he uses on screen appears to be a Ricoh GR1s — no Leica, but not exactly a cheap camera either. But the small, wide-angle compact is perfect for his "no-finder" aesthetic; instead of looking through the viewfinder, he looks in one direction while pointing his camera in the other - from his chest, from his side, even from below his waist. In this manner, the wide-angle lens is likely to pick up whatever it was in that direction caught his eye, be it a businessman out on the town or a group of schoolgirls.

Stray Dog of Toyko also shows Moriyama shooting his very first digital still and video footage - the documentary was shot around 2000-2001, when digital was not nearly as ubiquitous as it is today. The results are funny, and, despite high-resolution color, recognizably Moriyama. But don't think that he's abandoned the analog. In addition to a steady stream of monographs, Moriyama has lent his brand name to a pocket-sized toy camera that uses 110mm film and is packaged with a small print of his signature stray dog.

In a perfect world, a documentary about Moriyama would be shot in grainy, hi-con 35mm film - something along the lines of Let's Get Lost, Bruce Weber's now classic documentary of the defeated and soon to be dead Chet Baker. Stray Dog was shot on video, but is edited well enough to rise well above the usual level of documentary as DVD extra. Students of photography and observers of modern Japan alike will learn a lot from 84 minutes with Daido Moriyama.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

twelve thirteen things I ate two weeks ago: part 2: Manhattan

My next stop was New York, where my usual first stop after getting off the bus or train is for the double katsu at Go-go curry, the sole American outlet of a Japanese chain that honors New York Yankees star Hideki Matsui with a gorilla mascot and an excellent roux-based curry. But I was heavy laden and saved my Japanese jones for the Tan Tan Men @ Menkui Tei in the East Village. I don't know how many times I'd walked by this place before finally venturing in last year, but  since I've discovered it, I haven't been to New York without stopping by. The ramen noodles and spicy ground pork are perfect for a cold winter night. The $4 Sapporo draft makes it fine for all seasons.

Depending on the browser you're using to read this, about here you'll see what layout designers call trapped white space. I learned about trapped white space, and that it was something to avoid, from, if memory serves,  Mr. John Bailey, the contracted liaison between the high school yearbook staff I worked with and whoever our publisher was. I never forgot the lesson, and in fact much of what I learned about photographic composition comes from cropping photos for the yearbook, even though I wouldn't pick up a camera for some years after that. So if you happen upon a 1983 or 1984 Aetonian, and find a photo of my friend Jim waving from across the school library, his hands strategically, and unintentionally,  spread from a vortex formed at the base of a crucifix (thank you, Society of Jesus, for the strong education); well I didn't mean to crop out the top part of the crucifix - it was an editorial decision made above us.

As this digression may have entirely negated the trapped white space I was  afeared of, let us continue apace.

New York hotels don't often have the "continental breakfast" that many chain hotels offer guests, but The Mave (on Madison Ave) had good coffee and okay pastries available from 7-9 every morning. But getting up before 9 in the morning in New York isn't something I normally do. So to fuel up for a morning of browsing in the Antiques Garage, I wracked my brain and then Google to find the name of the sandwich shop I'd seen written up in the blog Jeremiah's Vanishing New York for their exemplary formulation of the iconic New York drink, the egg cream.

Eisenberg's is the name, and at 22nd and 5th just south of the Flatiron Building it's another of those places I've probably walked right by a few dozen times, blissfully unaware of the deliciousness within. When I found the place, I couldn't even remember resting my eyes upon it for even a glance before. I had the pastrami and eggs: juicy, spicy, tender pastrami, the best I've ever had (and that include's Katz's Deli).

That's the egg cream. I haven't had enough egg creams to maneuver the nuances of seltzer-to-syrup proportions, but I can vouch for its tastiness.

Not pictured: the cortado from Joe's the Art of Coffee on 23rd St. near 9th Ave; the best cuppa joe I've had since returning from a trip to South America last year. Which reminds me. Among the culinary discoveries I made in South America, besides the fantastic $9 steaks to be had in Buenos Aires and the revelatory bacon cheeseburger I had in, of all places, a Ruby Tuesday's at the Santiago airport, was agua con gas. In restaurants, diners are offered the choice between agua con gas or sin gas, the latter being regular tap water and the former being the carbonated water known here by the brands Perrier or San Pellegrino, and the generic seltzer.

Me gusta!

In DC it's easy to get Perrier or San Pellgrino or club soda in single-serving bottles. But seltzer is a rarer bubbly animal.  Merriam-Webster defines it, with endearing circularity, as water from the German town of Selters (what genius added the "z"?!), and if I am reading the wikipedia article correctly, there appears to be no real difference between seltzer and other carbonated water. But seltzer is a lot more fun to say and write, and hear, which you can do right now from the disembodied neutral voice of Merriam-Webster online. And it is part of the regional lore of New York, so much so that the city was abuzz when the last remaining seltzer-delivery man had to take time off to recover from an injury in 2009.

Which is a long way of saying I get seltzer, be it in egg cream or in its raw form, whenever I'm in New York. Your corner bodega chooses Canada Dry, but the seltzer syndicate is in completely different territory in Penn Station, where Hudson News proudly stocks only Seagram's seltzer.

The foodstuffs pictured above and adjacent to these spring-watery passages are, first, what remained of the fish special at Cucina di Pesce. I never got what the name of the fish was, despite hearing it at least three times from my friendly waiter Sal; and the beginnings of a heavy night's sleep brought on by the same restaurant's tiramisu. I wish there were an Italian restaurant this good in DC, but I know that if there were, it would cost twice as much.

Apologies for the trapped white space.

Part three: Flushing and back again.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

twelve thirteen things I ate two weeks ago. part 1: Philadelphia

For my 1400th post on The Bloggy, Bloggy Dew, and by popular demand (two people asked!) I'll tell you about a weekend that started out as a Timothy Carey tour and ended up a foodie tour of two cities - three if you count the concubine's beef I had for lunch at Pete's Diner back home the day before I left.

I was in Philadelphia for a limited amount of time and wanted to make sure I had one known quantity of cheesesteak before heading north. I'd been to Cosmi's Deli in South Philly once before with my homes. Theirs was the highest rated sandwich in the "Ultimate Cheesesteak Taste Test," conducted by Richard Rys of Philadelphia magazine for Frommer's Philadelphia & The Amish Country, 2007 ed. To give you an idea of the reviewer's local cred, he rated the most famous cheesteak stands, tourist-magnets Pat's and Geno's, at the very bottom of his list. I walked two miles to get there, from 14th and South Street, past a Little Vietnam in South Philly (I saw a couple of bahn mi joints) to get a cheesesteak with whiz, and it was worth the walk.

[Not pictured: a crappy late-night carry-out cheeseteak with scrambled eggs. It wasn't even as good as the cheesteaks I can get at the corner Chinese carry-out back home.]

My hotel was close to the Reading Terminal Market. A sidebar in Frommer's suggested DiNic's as a decent purveyor of the Other Philly Sandwich, the roast pork (John's Roast Pork, rated high in the Frommer's cheesteak list, is reportedly The place to go) . I got one (right) with sharp provolone. It tasted healthier than a cheesesteak, but wasn't *that* much less greasy. I'll have to get broccoli rabe next time. Nice touch: The Thank You for Shopping Here bag.

I don't remember the name of the place whose siren song called me with this display of the Drunken Orange, a rich nutella/whiskey/truffle topping - which made its home on what was, alas, a medicocre shortbread base. Proper shortbread would have made it worth the heavy feeling in my tum tum.

Next stop: New York.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Timothy Carey's 57 Varieties

I went up to Philly last weekend for a four-hour program of films featuring Timothy Carey, the late great character actor who hammed his way through dozens of bit-roles. I've written about him previously. Some of his movies you've seen and love - notably his significant supporting roles for Stanley Kubrick in The Killing and Paths of Glory (his famous scene in the latter involces a cockroach); some you haven't seen and wouldn't love if you had (Chesty Morgan, anyone?) A contrary fellow if there ever was one, he turned down roles in all three Godfather pictures, because, he claimed, he didn't want to be one of those actors who was in it for the money. Chesty Morgan, anyone? I tease, but in my search for the Timothy Carey mysqtique I've watched a lot of bad movies, and the only one I couldn't get through was the so-called sex comedy Chesty Morgan. Which is too bad, because the director let Carey go on at length during a dinner scene where you can clearly see his fellow actors becoming uncomfortable with Carey's riffing.

Carey was also a director, most famously of The World's Greatest Sinner, a film whose reputation was such that Elvis Presley asked to see it (Carey has an uncredited role in the Presley/Mary Tyler Moore vehicle Change of Habit, as a hulking, massive grocery store clerk.) Carey's son Romeo presented a documentary about the making of TWGS (Mike White, who administers the Timothy Carey page on Facebook, writes about the documentary, and the other films shown that evening, here.) and answered questions at the screening. One of his remarks hit on why I'm so drawn to Carey - the guy simply didn't care what people thought of him. If this can be seen in his supporting roles in other people's movies, it goes in spades for his work as a director.

TWGS was rarely seen until it ran on TCM Underground last year. Carey plays Clarence Hilliard, an insurance salesman who up and quits his job to follow his own strange path - as a God. He enters politics as God Hilliard, and also tries his hand out as a rock star. One of the talking heads in the making of documentary notes that Carey has no proficiency on the guitar before making the movie, but claims that he got by on charisma alone, and could have opened for Elvis. That may be overstating things:

The film is a mess, but has a few remarkable scenes. As hard as Carey is for other directors to rein in, he's even less inhibited here, which isn't always a good thing. His performance relies too often on shouting - from streetcorners, from stage. The most memorable scenes are softer, or at least, not as loud: a seduction scene with an elderly former insurance client; and the final revelation.

TWGS has been difficult, but not impossible to see, until recently. Much rarer is Tweet's Ladies of Pasadena, a collection of footage, shot between 1969 and 1974, that was slated for a tv pilot in the 70s. This train wreck makes TWGS look like Citizen Kane; my first reaction was that it was unwatchable, but as it went on and I laughed hard at one and then another ridiculous scene, I couldn't look away, always wondering what the hell he might do next. Carey stars as the roller-skating, bib-overall wearing Tweet Twig, caretaker of a menagerie of animals including goats, chickens, ducks, dogs and kittens (all of which belonged to the Carey family). Who talk. Yes, Timothy Carey made a talking animal picture, and naturally, the German Shepherd has a German accent.

After the four hours of films were over, Romeo Carey, who expressed surprised that more people didn't walk out on Tweet's (several in the audience did) took questions from the audience. I asked if he knew about this newspaper item:

New York Times, May 8, 1957
Missing US Actor is Found

MUNICH, Germany, May 7 (Reuters)--Timothy Carey, 31-year old Hollywood actor who disappeared from his hotel here sunday night, was found gagged and handcuffed on a lonely road outside Munich this morning, the police said here today. They said the actor had hitched a ride in a car driven by two English-speaking men, who held him at gunpoin, robbed him of $40 and finally dumped him by the roadside.

Romeo Carey did know about it. After shooting for Paths of Glory had wrapped, Timothy Carey had been frustrated with the publicity around Kirk Douglas and his other co-stars. So he faked his own kidnapping. In another incident around that time, the crew had gone to a burlesque show one evening in which one performer ended her act in a buble bath on stage. Timothy Carey walked right up to the stage and got into the bubble bath with her.

Carey's son painted a picture of life with father that was funny and uncomfortable. Romeo admitted that he used to be tremendously embarassed by the Tweet's footage. Toward the end of his life Carey became obsessed with the artistic possibilities of the fart. His last, unfinished project was a play called The Insect Trainer, about a man convicted of murder by farting. Carey liked to fart in church, just before reaching out to greet his neighbor in a sign of peace.

Timothy Carey's fart chastity belt
The screenings were held at the International House of Philadelphia (amiably known as IHOP) in conjunction with the show "Dead Flowers" at Vox Populi (link NSFW), where it will run through the end of the month before moving to New York's Participant Inc. Gallery in May. The curator was inspired by the work of Timothy Carey and his refusal to compromise his artistic vision. The show assembles a group of transgressive artists who work with the body: Genesis P-Orridge, Kembra Phfaler, Cynthia Plaster Caster, among others, and a selection of ephemera from Carey's career - film stills and other promotional materials, and, pictured above, a fart chastity belt. The other artists' connections with Carey seemed tenuous to me, other than their shared fixation with their own bodies, but it was a treat to see the Carey ephemera at hand.