Monday, July 21, 2008

My Weekend in Chicago

So I visited Chicago this past weekend, Thursday to Sunday, for a whirlwind first trip there. My only two plans were to stay with a friend of mine and spend some time at the Pitchfork Music Festival. ( Of the festival, I didn't know much except in regards to the few bands I had wanted to see. Of Chicago, I've heard various bits of hype over the years.

I was immediately conscious of being in a distinctly Midwestern city upon my arrival. How so, exactly? The streets, neither bustling with pedestrians nor cars, and marked by a mish-mash of uber-modern and retro stores, were the first and largest signal to me: you are no longer in NYC. And so I wasn't. And it was nice to get away for the weekend, as in love with NYC as I am, to a city a little more mellowed out. Taking in my fair share of culture while there, from a lovely drink inside the John Hancock Tower, to a sampling of the Chicago cuisine and beverages, to the Pitchfork shows, I left pleasantly satiated on Sunday morning. I couldn't have had a better host in the city for this kind of spontaneous adventure.

Of Pitchfork, I very quickly grasped that the event was not entirely focused on the music. Yes, it was the bands that had brought us (and me, specifically) there, from Public Enemy, to !!!, to Vampire Weekend and Animal Collective, but it was the ambiance that made the festival so special. Probably populated by several thousand festival-goers, the festival featured three stages and row of booths with food, show paraphernalia, and various commercial promotions and activities. This was definitely the largest and longest outdoor concert I have been to, and it has only whetted my appetite for more.

My appetite also now has a reawakened hankering for spontaneous travel adventures. But that, at least, will soon be satisfied again my by upcoming trip to San Francisco at the end of this week. Hopefully it will be as lovely as my Chicago expedition.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Broadway -- Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy (Indeed)

So I bought three tickets to see Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy on Broadway last month as a surprise gift to my father who was visiting right around Father's Day. His flight was supposed to be arriving about an hour and a half before the show, and my sister agreed on the plan. She hesitated though: wasn't there a possibly sub-optimal weather forecast for that evening for both NYC and his departure city? I waved this off and spontaneously bought the tickets, feeling clever and proud of my plan.

Sure enough, his flight was delayed and, because of my ongoing questioning of when he thought he would arrive and so on, we neither saw the show nor did he arrive without having a very good hunch of what I might be scheming. Still, I suppose it's the sentiment that counts; my father did indeed appreciate the thought, and hopefully another time I will be able to surprise him with a show. Regarding the tickets: the theater allows past-dating, and my plan is to see Cirque Dreams tonight finally! To see a little clip:

I will report back later on how the show is tonight!


I was very skeptical and anxious at the show's outset that it was primarily geared towards kids. A glimpse at the row in front of us, all girls and their moms/chaperones, further confirmed this suspicion. Yet, very quickly, the show developed to reveal a breathtaking spectacle for the enjoyment of children and adults alike. Yes, there was even adult humor in the show. Initially embarrassed by the childlike humor of the show, the over-the-top costumes, and the very typical musical theatricality of the performance, I was soon deeply, if not fully, enraptured.

Full of unbelievable contortionism, acrobatics, glittering and glowing costumes of a variety of jungle creatures (from frogs to ostriches to giant flowers), and amazing acts featuring a variety of largely very original props, the performance soon exceeded not only my initial response but my earlier optimistic expectations. Sitting there watching the absolutely polished choreographed performance, I was enthralled by the potential flexibility and aerodynamics of the human body.

Not being particularly fond of show tunes, my only criticism of this show was the soundtrack. This annoyance, however, was not only diminished by the otherwise entirely stunning performance, but also by the live violin player on stage. This musician livened and enhanced the theatrical music; furthermore, he had a spirited stage presence and even provided impressive interactions with other performers, including the few instances when dancers fully wrapped themselves neatly around his torso and he simply continued his energetic playing.

If you are particularly interested in acrobatics, circus performances, and/or costumes, or simply want to see an energizing performance, this show comes strongly recommended.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Williamsburg Festival: Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Yes, yesterday I attended not one but two street festivals. Such, I guess, is the nature of NYC in the summertime. The same day I attended the Bastille Day block party in Manhattan, I also wandered through the Our Lady of Mount Carmel festival in Williamsburg. For a full background on the festival, see the description given by NY1: This festival, though attached to the church, felt much more like a block party than the Manhattan festival I'd earlier attended. Each had their own charms. The charm of this festival is not all the cute cultural booths but rather the rides, the scene, and the festive, even romantic, illuminated appearance that these streets take on.

This Williamsburg Festival, reminiscent of the San Gennaro festival in Little Italy (San Gennaro), spans a few blocks in different directions and features several rides and games as well as countless booths with zeppoles and other Italian festival food. Open for another week, it is worth a stroll through. You can ride a ferris wheel, play to win goldfish, watch the evening's perfomance, and people-watch the mostly Italian and Puerto Rican crowd interspersed with the occasional hipster.

Manhattan Bastille Day Festival

So, the Bastille Day Festival in Manhattan yesterday, July 13th, was both very cutesy French chic and kind of a run-of-the-mill street fair at the same time. The "block party" spanned 60th Street from Lexington St. to Fifth Ave. and featured a disparate mix of French-language booths, from cuisine to spa products to informational cultural booths. However, intertwined with these booths were also the generic, omnipresent street fair vendors with their freshly-made juice smoothies and such.

Of the many crepe booths at the festival, several were the kinds you see at any street fair, and one had to question the authenticity and quality of these more street-oriented vendors. I arrived at the fair with my friend at around 3:00 pm, exactly mid-way through the festival, and it was in full-swing. Navigating our way through the crowds and the heat, we eventually decided to purchase food: I had my eye set on a crepe while she had hers set on a Belgian waffle. After arming ourselves with orange-flavored French Volvic water, we scouted for the best options, bypassing several of the more "authentic"-looking crepe vendors because of the long lines and high prices (a savory crepe here was priced at $9). I settled on, yes, you guessed it, a street-oriented "creperie," where I purchased a $6 mushroom-and-cheese crepe after being informed that they were out of spinach. Already setting myself up for disappointment after not having my first option available, having to wait to order as the chef chose exactly that moment to begin preparations for the following five crepes, and seeing the very scantily filled crepe, I somewhat skeptically began nibbling on my freshly-made crepe as I waited for my friend to purchase her own meal. Ok, I decided, swiss and mushroom was a winning flavor combination, if not as nutritious or complete of a meal as I had fantasized about for my crepe.

I held off on eating my food as my friend, waffle purchase in hand, and I went in search for some warm, savory food for her. She eagerly headed towards Le Souk, a restaurant and club featuring Northern African cuisine. Very shortly afterwards, with purchase in hand -- a heaping plate of rice, vegetables, chicken and spices -- we went to sit with other festival-goers on a sidewalk curb to enjoy our meals. Her meal, the same cost as mine, presented the opposite predicament for her: it was entirely too much food. So our problems were both easily solved as she scooped some of her food onto my plate and we settled into our meals. Having been to Le Souk several times for dancing and drinks (and even once sharing a group's hookah with them), but never for a meal, I have always been impressed by it as a very posh, chi-chi sort of place that even occasionally features live drummers and/or belly dancers as part of the evening's entertainment. Now, having tried a very well-priced sample of their cuisine, I am even more enthusiastic about this place. Visit it sometime, for a meal, a drink, a night of dancing, or just to pop your head in. Le Souk is located on Ave. B between 3rd and 4th Streets: Now, stuffed but refreshed by the food and the water, we continued our browsing.

My friend and I probably stayed here no longer than an hour. The highlights of the festival, besides my friend's delicious food, included such sights as the delectable French pastries, the accordion player, a booth devoted to the French Metro system, and the general sense of cheer and cultural pride. I succumbed slightly to the dessert offerings, though I was continuously tempted to buy other fancy pastries. My purchase was two chocolate bouchons, a steal at only $1 each, which were as delicious as they were enticing (see above picture). There was also also a stage with performances, though we missed seeing anything, as well as a $5 wine and cheese tasting at the French Institute (originally advertised on the website as $12 for non-members and $10 for members). All in all, I think this Bastille Day "block party" was worth it as an experience, and at its best had hints of something truly special.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Coming Soon: Bastille day Block Party Reflections

I will be attending this tomorrow!

BLOCK PARTY: Bastille Day
The Alliance Française takes over its home block for an annual salute to France’s national celebration. Les enfants will enjoy the usual fare like music, arts and crafts, face painting, and storytelling plus Franco-centric amusements like a "Tour de France" stationary bike race and pétanque and French food. (French Institute Alliance Française, 60th St. bet. Fifth and Lexington Aves, noon to 6pm) [description courtesy of Gemini and Scorpio (]

From the french institute alliance française site (see link above):

From Fifth to Lexington avenues, enjoy the sights, sounds, and flavors of French culture at FIAF's annual Bastille Day celebration presented by the Comité du 14 juillet!

Sample the cuisine of France and French-speaking countries and share this wonderful food with the French-American community at picnic tables en plein air. Partake in the pétanque competition; race away the afternoon at the New York Health & Raquet Club Tour de France cycling center; and sample wine & cheese in the FIAF Gallery. Also, the FIAF Language Center will sponsor a Kids Corner, where children can play together.

Musicians will perform throughout the afternoon on the Bastille Day stage and prizes will be raffled off, including a trip to Paris and a three-night stay at the Four Seasons in New York.

For more information and a complete schedule of events, visit

S. Williamsburg Evening: Mixel Pixel/Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery

After I met my friends at Rose Bar, a cute, semi-hidden bar on Grand and Marcy with regular live music, we proceeded to an art gallery I hadn't previously known of, on Marcy Ave and Hooper St., described by my friend as the store-front with an old Coca-Cola banner up top. The gallery, which I later learned is called Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery, consisted of a series of rooms with captivating and well-done -- if generally somewhat generically post-modern and hipster -- sculptural/installation art (see pictures above).

After wandering alone in the inside of the gallery while my friends had made a beeline to the outdoor area where the crowd waited and mingled and the band was preparing to perform, I made my way 20 minutes and several pictures later to find my friends (with some difficulty) outside. The band, Mixel Pixel (, soon began; and their giant projection onto a brick wall behind them, initially displaying a psychedelic black-and-white spinning image foregrounded by a "LOADING" logo, soon showed similarly psychedelic, avant-garde, disjointed video clips. After a short detour away from the intensity of the scene, which was fun but slightly overwhelmingly crowded, warm and loud, I returned to relax more and absorb -- and appreciate -- the music and video clips. I was taken aback when I realized how intricately the videos were designed to perfectly correspond to and complement each song. While the music was pure pop-fun and somewhat endearing, it was the videos that most blew me away. The specific video/song combination that impressed me:

I asked two friends how they would describe Mixel Pixel's music after having pondered over it for a bit myself and deciding that they sounded like a contemporary, hipsterfied version of the B-52's, with vague hints of similarity to current bands like CSS and Sonic Youth. Without first telling my friends my initial impression of their sound, the first one responded, "Um, electro-pop?," to which I agreed and told him my own analysis. He agreed on the pop-music label but wavered on the B-52's attribute, saying that he would argue that it sounded like something derivative from the Cure. This comment was punctuated with: "But then, doesn't everything?"

A while later, I asked my other friend there the same question; incidentally, she hadn't heard our discussion yet so far. She seemed a little uninterested in answering and then replied, "Um, post-modern?" So, finally: Mixel Pixel is: a post-modern, electro-pop hipster band with hints of the Cure and the B-52's. According to their Myspace profile (, their band's style is "freestyle"; and according to their Youtube profile, their style is "mariachi."

I didn't see any of the other bands that performed that night, though after checking out the gallery's website tonight, I learned that the music performances and parties are a regular summer feature there. If you have interest in checking out local, indie and under-the-radar bands and visual artists, as well as enjoying a low-key gallery/outdoor party, I recommend checking out future events at this space. By the way, the title of the summer music series: garden of earthly delights.

Friday, July 11, 2008

First Blog Entry: Swoon Magazine meets the CSV!

Hello and welcome to my new blog! After waking up at 11:00 a.m. from the previous night's adventure, I decided to finally embark on this blog adventure to start honing my writing craft and get my voice out there. I am still a little skeptical, as I have this stereotype of blogs as all-too-personal, in a similar vein as Facebook, yet more detailed, self-gratuitous and very possibly embarrassing or simply giving the public TMI (too much information!). So I will try to refrain from that, or do it in only the most interesting/amusing way possible...

Last night I checked out Swoon Magazine's Summer Issue Release Party -- -- a publication I really don't think I previously had even heard of. The event took place at the CSV Center (, a cultural center at 107 Suffolk Street that hosts cultural events as well as parties very reminiscent of the Williamsburg loft party scene.

The crowd last night was largely comprised of very hip, young guys and girls mostly in their early 20's, with varying types of asymmetrical hairstyles and pretentiously casual attire. The party itself consisted of several indoor rooms and a little backyard area. The main indoor scene had live performances and well-known DJ's, as well as stations of little white helium balloons, some with permanent markers attached for the drawing pleasure of the public. At one point my friends and I decided to check out this little station, first looking at some of the already illustrated balloons. A few of them had vulgar images, and my friend simply responded, "Go for it," when I suggested I pop a balloon with a particularly crude drawing. I proceeded in doing this, and much to our surprise, no one apparently noticed! I ended the night taking a cab home with a balloon illustrated by yours truly attached to my wrist.

I can't really complain about the evening!