Encrypting Email

I have been reading the book I bought at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC, The Snowden Files by Luke Harding, and I have actually learned something from it.

The book mentions that Snowden used PGP to encrypt his emails. I am somewhat familiar with encryption since we encrypt the social security numbers stored in our databases at work. But I never did figure out how to encrypt my email. Recently I have found something that works, Gpg4win (GNU Privacy Guard for Windows). This software has an Outlook plugin which makes it easy to decrypt email in Outlook. The documentation is great and tells you exactly how to get started using this software. There is even a German robot that you can exchange encrypted email with to ensure that everything is working.

Unfortunately I doubt that I will find anyone to exchange encrypted email with. Setting it up is still technically challenging and most people won’t want to go to the extra bother. I think my clients should send me login information using encrypted email at the very least. But that probably isn’t going to happen. However, it isn’t a complete waste of time to learn how PGP works. Some web sites will communicate with you using encrypted email. I found this to be the case with a financial web site which offered the option of using PGP for its emails. For some reason, the Outlook plugin would not decrypt its email but I figured out how to save it as a text file which the Gpg4win program Kleopatra can still decrypt. I plan to use PGP to encrypt some text files on my laptop which contain the financial data I need while travelling.

PGP encryption might not be good enough to protect your data from the NSA. I still think you should use something peculiar that you have developed myself. That may not be 100% secure but somebody would have to devote resources to break the encryption. I have found some code that does encryption using a source text like a book which must be known to decrypt the message. In other words, you have to know what book was used by the program. This would be unconventional enough to frustrate any casual snooping.

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Washington Spy Mission

Yesterday I made my annual bus trip to Washington DC. I keep going to Washington DC in April because the local bus company offers a trip for the Cherry Blossom Festival. I may go on an overnight trip to the Washington DC area in the summer. My goal is to spend less time in the museums and more time exploring the city itself. But on this trip I did go to the International Spy Museum because I found it on a previous trip. The International Spy Museum is close to the Smithsonian American Art Museum which I visited on that previous trip.

I made more extensive use of the Metro on this trip. The bus left us off in front of the National Air and Space Museum and I walked to the Smithsonian Station. I happened to notice that there is an entrance to this station on the National Mall itself so I did not have to walk a block to the entrance on the corner of Independence Avenue and 12th Street. I bought a One Day Pass for $14.00 and got $1 coins in change for a 20 dollar bill. You rarely see $1 coins in circulation so this was a bonus. It took me several attempts to use the paper fare card. Eventually I figured out that the magnetic strip needs to be facing up. I will scan the fare card and update my notes. I made three different trips on the Metro. To get to the International Spy Museum I took the Blue Line going in the direction of Largo Town Center to the L’Enfant Plaza Station. There I transferred to the Green Line going in the direction of Greenbelt to the Gallery Place Station. I tried to look at the Metro map in my notes using my smartphone but it was a PDF and my smartphone does not display PDFs. So I have to convert that into an image.

International Spy Museum

I noticed a Shake Shack next to the International Spy Museum. Shake Shack is a famous burger joint in NYC which is expanding into other East Coast cities. There is always a long line for Shake Shack in NYC so I only ate there once at their Madison Square Park location. Although many Smithsonian museums in Washington DC are free, it costs $20.95 to enter the International Spy Museum. But I figured I better learn more about counter-espionage now that we are living in a mass surveillance police state. The museum’s exhibits cover spying throughout history with an emphasis on Cold War spies and spying during wartime. The ground floor was devoted to James Bond. I have most of the Bond films on DVD but I saw some unfamiliar clips and memorabilia from a Pierce Brosnan film. It may have been the Die Another Day film which I have so I’ll watch that movie soon.

At the spy museum bookstore I bought two books; The Snowden Files by Luke Harding, because I have been following this story in the technology forums of Reddit. And I bought an autographed copy of Among Enemies: Counter-Espionage For The Business Traveler by Luke Bencie. This was a book I saw on their web site but it took me awhile to find it in the museum store. I don’t suppose I need to worry on my trip to Italy since I am a tourist and not a business traveler. Programmers can potentially be the victims of targeted espionage if they are math geniuses working in cryptography, but I don’t do anything terribly advanced. 

After leaving the International Spy Museum I used the Metro to go to Dupont Circle, my first venture into a Washington DC neighborhood. I took the Red Line in the direction of Shady Grove to the Dupont Circle Station. I forgot to mention that it can be difficult to tell if you are on the right platform for the direction you want. I think the top part of the signs tell you in which direction your platform will take you while the bottom part of the sign indicates the direction of the opposite platform. But I find this a little confusing. In the NYC subway the signs only pertain to your platform.

When I emerged at Dupont Circle I was quite close to where I wanted to be so I only had to get my bearings. First I had lunch at Raku, an upscale Asian Diner. I had considered a French restaurant called Bistrot du Coin but Raku was right there and I was parched. I tried to order Saki but had to settle for a glass of beer. I also ordered their Bento Box special of the day; an interesting candy box of exotic Japanese food. There was some raw fish which I did not care for, but also some fried chicken and one fried scallop. The pickled cucumber shavings were tasty. And of course there was some sticky rice. I had to eat everything with chopsticks but fortunately they were the kind of chopsticks that are stuck together making them easy to use as a clamp. That meal came to around $27.00 with tip.

Kramerbooks

Then I went just around the corner to Kramerbooks where I bought Living Language Italian: Essential Edition for $29.95. They were having trouble with their cash register and could not accept credit cards, but fortunately I was planning to pay with cash. It is a bit late to be learning basic Italian for my trip but I did make a custom CD on Italian numbers. This CD combines audio ripped from videos, spliced audio snippets, and children’s songs on the numbers. Making the CD presented several technical challenges so I added a few tips and tricks to my media notes. So far this CD does appear to be effective in training my ears to hear the numbers. I listen to this CD on the drive to work.

Before leaving Dupont Circle I walked around the park and took photos of a few mansions and the fountain. There was a Books-A-Million store on Dupont Circle which tempted me but I had just been in a bookstore. Books-A-Million replaced the Borders at our local mall so I know what sort of selection they have. I could have walked along Embassy Row taking photos of the embassies but the interesting embassies like France, Italy, and England were all far away. I decided to head back to the National Mall because I wanted to see some Titian paintings at the National Gallery of Art. Just the day before I finished reading the book Titian: The Last Days by Mark Hudson. I bought that book on my trip to London. Titian was one of the most famous painters in Venice so I was reading that book to prepare for my trip.

I spent around two hours at the National Gallery of Art. I rushed through several galleries without looking at anything until I found a gallery filled with paintings by Titian. A few of these paintings were described extensively in the book so it was thrilling to see them in real life. You appreciate things more when you know their history. I also found a few other Italian paintings mentioned in the book like The Feast of the Gods by Giovanni Bellini and Titian. The National Gallery of Art has a recently acquired Van Gogh which had a crowd around it. I unexpectedly came across The Family of Saltimbanques by Pablo Picasso. I recognized this painting immediately because I have a framed print of this Picasso. However, I framed it myself and not very well. I did not know that the National Gallery of Art had this painting in their collection.

Capitol Hill

I also saw the Garry Winogrand special exhibit. I’m not very familiar with professional photographers so I’ve never heard of Garry Winogrand or seen his work. But he took lots of interesting photos, mostly character studies of average people in America’s major cities during the 1960s and 1970s, so that was entertaining. My favorite photo was the monkey in the convertible on Park Avenue. A monkey in your photo will always make it a more interesting shot.

Before leaving the National Gallery of Art I bought a book on Titian at their store. Titian by Ian G. Kennedy, published by TASCHEN. I wish I had this book when I was reading Titian: The Last Days by Mark Hudson because it has many full color photos of the paintings which I had to look up on the Internet. I buy lots of books on my trips but I don’t always get around to reading them. There are several books I bought on previous trips to Washington DC which I have not read yet.

In conclusion, I should mention some observations that may be of interest to anyone planning a trip to Washington DC. The scaffolding has been removed from the Washington Monument but you still can’t go up the Washington Monument. They are building a new museum near the Washington Monument. It will be a Smithsonian museum on African Americans.

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First Trip to New York City in 2014

Yesterday, March 15, 2014, I made my first trip to New York City in 2014. I have not gone anywhere since my New Orleans vacation in October. I have been very bored. I have been busy preparing for my major trip to Italy in two months so I didn’t do much preparation for this trip to NYC.

I did visit another borough of New York City this time. I went to Queens to visit the Museum of the Moving Image. I took the R train from 7th Avenue and 49th Street to Steinway Street in Queens. The museum doesn’t open until 11:30 a.m. on Saturday and I arrived over an hour early. I wandered around a few blocks trying to find the museum. I did find the Kaufman Astoria Studios and the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts High School while looking for the Museum of the Moving Image. I had a cheese danish and a coffee at a nearby Starbucks while waiting for the museum to open. I also made another unnecessary walk around the block. I don’t think there is much to see in Queens except an endless number of shabby storefronts, but the Queens Plaza might be interesting.

Kaufman Astoria Studios

The Museum of the Moving Image wasn’t terribly interesting. I would rank it as one of the minor museums in New York City which you should only visit after seeing all the major museums in Manhattan. Only one floor of exhibits was open so I probably only spent a half hour there. They did have lots of old movie industry photos which were interesting. They had a collection of video arcade machines which doesn’t seem to have a relationship to the movie industry. Well I guess that qualifies as “moving images”. The neatest thing I saw was a model of a movie theater in the design of the old movie palaces. It would be cool to own such an elaborate theater model for puppet shows. I wasn’t going to buy anything at the museum bookstore but I did see a small book on Samurai Films. I have a collection of samurai films on DVD so I bought this book for under $20.00.

After leaving the museum I walked to the elevated train tracks for the subway and took the N train back to Manhattan. My next destination was the Rizzoli Bookstore where I wanted to buy more Italian language materials. I bought a copy of Chi and Gente magazines, Italian gossip magazines. Chi is the Italian question word for Who? and Gente is Italian for People as in People magazine. I am mildly fascinated by foreign gossip magazines since they reveal who the contemporary celebrities are in that culture. I also bought a Michelin Guide to New York City published in Italian. This book cost me $40.00 which is ridiculously expensive. I should have checked the price before buying it. I can obtain any Italian book or DVD at a reasonable price from Amazon or Deastore. A few Italian companies sell things on Amazon without charging extra for shipping and Deastore offers free international shipping. Anyway, I bought this Italian guidebook to New York City because it will give me the Italian vocabulary for many things that I am very familiar with.

I continued my book shopping spree at Kinokuniya Bookstore near Bryant Park. I bought a thin Eyewitness Travel guide for Tokyo. I don’t have any plans to make a trip to Japan. I wouldn’t be able to read anything in Japan. You can’t even guess what something means. But I do like various aspects of Japanese culture and you can experience Japan in New York City by going to various Japanese establishments. I know you can really expand your knowledge of the world by reading travel guides and discover lots of obscure things.

The final bookstore I visited was the good old Drama Book Shop which I now visit on every trip to New York City. This time I bought a thick paperback book from the bargain bin, Ridiculous!: The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam by David Kaufman. I’ve seen this book in the bargain bin on every previous visit to the book store. The sales clerk said something I couldn’t make out but he was probably glad they finally got rid of this book. I’m somewhat familiar with the Ridiculous Theater Company because I read a book of their plays. That book was one of the first theater books I ever bought and it made New York theater seem like a wild and wacky world of strange, creative people.

Since I did not prepare for this trip, I had nothing else on my itinerary after the book shopping spree. I did locate the Gotham West Market and took some photos since this building is too new to appear on Google Street View. I was tempted to have lunch at the Ivan Ramen’s Slurp Shop but it looked too crowded with no place to sit. I did discover that they have public restrooms downstairs, always good to know. Another building I located was the Strand apartment building where there was a fire that killed a gay playwright. You can still see two boarded up windows in this high rise where the fire started. I took some photos of that because it is tragic if you go to New York City to pursue your playwriting dreams only to die in an apartment building fire.

The Strand

I have been doing a little research on Little Italy since I plan to visit Italy this year. So I walked to the Times Square subway station. I intended to take the Q train down to Canal Street but I accidentally got on the N train and got off at 8th Street – New York University when I realized my mistake. I should have stayed on that train to Canal Street. But I managed to walk down Broadway to Broome Street anyways. Broome Street is definitely in the Little Italy neighborhood so instead of walking to Canal Street I followed Broome Street to Mulberry Street and found the entrance to the Little Italy neighborhood where there is a large sign strung across the street. I took photos of Italian restaurants until I reached Canal Street and then I decided to see a little bit of Chinatown. From there I reached the Bowery so I decided to walk up that street to find the site of CBGB. I had recently watched the Alan Rickman film on Hilly Kristal and CBGB. This film made me a little sad because in the mid 1980s I was a big fan of Blondie and eventually New York City punk rock. Contemporary New York City is a completely different experience from anything the punk rock era suggests. I did walk pass a heavily graffitied building which is also seen in the movie so that was cool.

Bowery

After photographing 315 Bowery, the site of what was once CBGB, I found my way to the East Village to see more vestiges of the New York City punk rock era. Of course, this was just a repeat of my other trips. I did get some great photos of the futuristic skyscrapers and buildings which have gone up in this neighborhood. I stopped in at Pinkberry again for some frozen yogurt and ate it outside while staring at Search and Destroy across the street. I saw an old punk rocker with a professional camera. He looked like a rock photographer but he wasn’t taking any photos. I didn’t spend too much time in the East Village. But I didn’t take the 6 train to get back uptown since I now know how crowded that train can be on a Saturday. Instead I walked all the way to Prince Street until I found another subway station entrance.

Tout Va Bien

I needed to be uptown by 6:00 p.m. for my reservation at a French restaurant, Tout Va Bien, on West 51st Street. The bus which takes me to New York City always passes this place so I was curious about it. I took the subway all the way up to 49th Street but I was still early so I decided to locate the Osteria al Doge restaurant first. I don’t have a good photo of this restaurant so I wanted one for my notes. They serve Venetian cuisine so I thought of eating here but ultimately decided on the French restaurant. By the time I walked up to the West 51st Street I was almost late for my reservation. I realized I was far east of Broadway when I reached the St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Tout Va Bien is west of Broadway.

Tout Va Bien is an authentic French restaurant where French is spoken. I read that this place is popular with the French expatriates in New York City and this seems to be the case because many of the customers were speaking French. The waitress spoke English with a heavy French accent, especially the word reservation. It is a very small restaurant with only a few tables so you better make a reservation. I ordered the Scampi Mediterranean, a sauté of shrimp and tomatoes. For some reason I was expecting scallops. I guess I don’t know what scampi is. I also had a glass of Coke instead of wine which was probably a mistake. For desert I had crème brûlée. At the end of the meal they placed a huge punch bowl filled with wine and fruit in front of me as if to tell me something. That meal cost $40.00. I have to admit, that after New Orleans, I’m not impressed with New York City fine dining. I’ve never eaten anything in New York City that was really special and worth $40.00. But I liked Tout Va Bien for its ambiance. French is still the language which I am the most committed to learning. I did understand the waitress when she used the verb commander, which means to order, so she was asking me if I had ordered yet.

After that meal I had to wander around the Theater District for an hour and a half until it was time for the bus to leave. This is getting kind of old but I don’t want to be left behind so I always need to be in the area after 7:00 p.m. I am now extremely familiar with everything in the vicinity of 7th Avenue and 51st Street.

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Halloween In New Orleans

For my final day in New Orleans I decided to visit Magazine Street. I began my day with breakfast in the hotel courtyard since they left me a card to order it again. I then walked to Canal Street and took the streetcar to Audubon Park. Actually, I had to transfer to a bus before I got there. I walked around the park for about an hour and saw many of the old live oak trees. I saw the Audubon golf course and the entrance to the Audubon Zoo. Maybe I should have visited the zoo but it wasn’t going to look like the zoo in the movie Cat People. Instead I wanted to go to the Maple Street Book Shop. The book store didn’t open until 10:00 a.m. so I found a nearby PJ’s Coffee shop again and had an iced coffee to give the book store time to open. I bought an "Eyewitness Travel Rome" guide book at the  Maple Street Book Shop. Rome is the city I am actively researching at the moment and I plan to concentrate on expanding my travel notes starting this week. I would love to see the ruins of Ancient Rome and the Baroque architecture.

Audubon Park

After leaving the bookstore I found my way to Magazine Street. I had to walk several blocks around Audubon Park just to reach this street and then I began an arduous trek along its entire length. Eventually I came across Casamento’s Restaurant where I had a half dozen charbroiled clams and Abita Gold beer. I should have ordered more of the clams because they were really good. I then walked countless blocks along Magazine Street until I reached Washington Avenue in the Garden District. I had plenty of time so I revisited many of the places I saw on Sunday. I found the Ann Rice house again and then stopped in at the Garden District Book Store. There I bought a book that caught my eye on Sunday, "Roma Osservata" by Errol Barron. This is a book of drawings of Rome published by the Tulane School of Architecture. It appears to be a companion volume to New Orleans Observed: Drawings and Observations of America’s Most Foreign City also by Errol Barron. I think my copy might be autographed by the author but I can’t tell if the signature is printed or written. I then revisited the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and took more photos just to be sure I had some good photos.

Lafayette Cemetery

I returned to Magazine Street and continued to look at the small shops along its entire length. I had an iced coffee at a Community Coffee House on Jefferson Avenue but that would have been before I reached the Garden District. I finally left Magazine Street at Felicity Street and walked north to St. Charles Avenue where I found the Eiffel Society building and the Pontchartrain Hotel. I took a very crowded streetcar back to Canal Street. I had to stand for most of the ride which didn’t do my feet any good after walking the entire length of Magazine Street. Once on Canal Street I went to Royal Street and stopped at Café Beignet. I was infuriated when they gave me a small cappuccino instead of the iced cappuccino I ordered because I needed a cold drink, not a hot drink. Eventually I made it back to my hotel room where I rested my sore feet. I must say that my padded socks, Dr. Scholls shoes, and gel insoles did a great job of keeping my feet from getting blisters even though I did way too much walking.

I had dinner early at Pere Antoine Restaurant were I ordered a Royal Berger and a rum drink. By this time I was tired of spending so much money on fancy meals so I tried to cut back on the extravagant spending. I then walked to Frenchmen Street to see what was going on for Halloween and then back to my hotel. At around 6:00 p.m. I went to Jackson Square to see the Jim Monaghan’s Halloween Parade. A few film crews were there to catch the action. I followed the parade down Decatur Street until I saw Peaches Records which tempted me for a final bit of shopping. I bought a Die Antwoord CD. Die Antwoord is a South African rap-rave band formed in Cape Town. I only bought the CD because the cover looked kind of gothic.

I still wanted to catch some more of the Halloween party so I walked down Bourbon Street and saw lots of people in costumes. Eventually I came to Voodoo Authentica near my hotel and watched a live voodoo performance which had attracted a small crowd. Then it started to rain so I reluctantly returned to my hotel room and started packing to leave the next day.

In conclusion, New Orleans is a great place to spend Halloween. I saw people in wacky costumes all week and the French Quarter was full of spooky old buildings. I got to met the horror writer Anne Rice and saw the Garden District landmarks described in her novels. The New Orleans cemeteries were fantastic and reminded me of the old goth rock photo spreads which made New Orleans seem so enchanting. I have to admit that I sort of forgot the French origins of New Orleans and didn’t experience much Cajun culture. But I’m sure this experience will enable me to appreciate any novels I read which are set in New Orleans. The next American city I would like to visit is San Francisco. As long as I’m going to take a plane I might as well go all the way to the West Coast and see one of  the most important cities in American culture. 

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Wednesday In New Orleans

On Wednesday I visited another art museum. I walked to Canal Street and took the St.Charles Avenue streetcar to Julia Street. From there I walked to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Once again I arrived an hour too early so I had to walk around the block. The Lee Circle was nearby so I took some photos of the Robert E. Lee Monument. The World War 2 Museum was also in the area but I wasn’t interested in that. I’m not sure if that museum has a future since the World War 2 generation is dying off and that era holds little nostalgia for many elderly people now. Eventually I found a PJ’s Coffee shop and slowly drank an iced coffee before the museum opened at 10:00 a.m.

Ogden Museum of Southern Art

At the Ogden Museum of Southern Art I saw unfamiliar artwork including folk art, photos of The Underwater Mermaid Theater, photos of the Mythology of Florida, and amusing redneck art. Although the museum has five floors, taking the stairs seemed to cause me to skip floors. It probably only took me an hour to see all the artwork. I took the streetcar back to Canal Street after figuring out that you need to catch it at Carondelet Street if you are going in that direction. I walked to the Shops At Canal Street and bought an expensive dress shirt at Banana Republic for over $80.00. That is way more than I usually pay for clothing. I checked out the prices at Saks Fifth Avenue and their dress shirts were even more expensive at over $200. I would have gone to Wal-Mart’s but I didn’t have clear directions on how to get there in my travel notes. In the future, I will need to pack more shirts. I only brought two shirts and they got a little soiled from all my sweating.

I walked back to my hotel on Royal Street to drop off my purchase but my room had not been serviced so I went back out. I walked to Beckham’s Bookshop on Decatur Street and searched through two floors of books before finally settling on a paperback copy of the Henry James novel "The Europeans". Then I found the Louisiana Music Factory store on the same street and bought a Zachery Richard CD "Le Fou", a Cajun CD in French. While walking back towards Jackson Square I came across Napoleon House where I ordered a Strawberry Irish Cream Soda and a quarter of a Muffuletta sandwich. That was the cheapest meal I had in New Orleans since it was less than $10.00. But Napoleon House is a very atmospheric bar. It was built in 1814, almost 200 years ago, and looks its age with centuries of tarnish on everything. After that light meal I walked back to the Andrew Jackson Hotel and found my room ready.

I then went to the Madame John’s Legacy which was just around the corner. It is a free museum run by the state but there was only some Newcomb Pottery to see. For some reason I was expecting this house to be furnished in period pieces but I can see in my notes that there is nothing about the interior. After resting in my hotel room I walked to the French Market and the levee, more accurately Woldenberg Park, the riverfront "Moon Walk" across from Jackson Square. I returned to my hotel room and read my Kindle ebook until 5:30 p.m. when I had a reservation at Cafe Amelie, a place right across from my hotel. I ordered an Orange Blossom cocktail and the jerk spiced pork tenderloin with mango pepper jelly, mashed potato, and green beans. I had my meal in their courtyard which was full of lush vegetation. I love the palm fronds and tropical plants you see everywhere in New Orleans. However, the potted plants you see hanging off balconies can drip water on you in the mornings when the residents water their balcony plants.

Walgreens At Night

I was running out of things to do so I walked to Canal Street and took photos of the skyscrapers and neon lights.I was wondering how they could build skyscrapers in New Orleans since it was built on a swamp. The ground shouldn’t be able to support the massive weight of tall buildings. I found the Ignatius Reilly Statue and took  a few photos of it.

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Tuesday In New Orleans

On Tuesday I walked to Walgreen’s and bought a bar of soap and some sunscreen lotion. On future trips, I may pack more supplies instead of relying on local pharmacies. I bought three more Jazzy Passes from the convenience store across the street. Then I walked to the Community Coffee House at 941 Royal Street and bought a croissant with ham and Swiss cheese and a coffee because my hotel stopped giving me breakfast. Unfortunately the table wobbled and I spilled my coffee twice and made quite a mess. After breakfast I walked to Canal Street and took the City Park streetcar to the New Orleans Museum of Art. I arrived at City Park early so I spent an hour waiting for the museum to open. I was uncertain about where the entrance was located because I did not see anyone waiting to go in, but eventually I discovered that you enter through the front entrance as you would expect. I saw all three floors of artwork at NOMA. I especially liked the French Art, the small number of modern art masterpieces including one Picasso, and the Japanese Art on the third floor. But the museum wasn’t very big so I think it only took me an hour to see it all. I then took the streetcar all the way back down Canal Street.

New Orleans Museum of Art

I went to the Librairie Book Shop and bought "The Eternal City: Roman Images in the Modern World". After my New Orleans trip, I plan to focus on the preparation for my trip to Italy. I may go on the Reflections of Italy tour offered by Susquehanna Trailways and Collette Vacations. That packaged tour would not require much preparation. But I plan to learn more Italian and research several major cities in Italy anyway.

I walked to the Beauregard-Keyes House just in time for the 1:00 p.m. tour. The Beauregard-Keyes House is one of the many old creole residences you can tour in the French Quarter. This house used to be the residence of the writer Frances Parkinson Keyes. She wrote many best sellers in the 1940s but I had never heard of her novels. I did read most of Dinner at Antoine’s before my trip, a surprisingly well written murder mystery. I was given a free copy of her book "The Royal Box" just for visiting the place. Apparently they get plenty of copies of her old book club editions so they invite all visitors to take one. The tour of the house was interesting because it is furnished with antiques. It is an old house with creaking floors. The personal belongings of Frances Parkinson Keyes made it seem like a visit to your grandmother. It just so happened that I had a reservation at Antoine’s Restaurant that evening so it was appropriate to see the Beauregard-Keyes House first.

Later I went to the 1850 House and went on a self-guided tour of even more old Creole rooms. That was only $3.00. There was a book store downstairs so I bought yet another book, New Orleans Goes To The Movies, but I sort of regretted this purchase since I don’t need to do more research on the city. At this point, I had bought too many books for my suitcase. But then I did something really smart. I gathered up my books and walked across the street from my hotel to Royal Mail Service where I shipped them to my home address. I shipped six books using USPS Media Mail. This is definitely an option when you are traveling in your own country and have access to familiar shipping services. I don’t think I would try it in foreign countries where the language barrier would create difficulties. It would also cost a lot more to mail something to another country. But this was not a problem for me in the United States. This allowed me to continue to go shopping for the rest of my trip without exceeding the capacity of my luggage. My package has not arrived yet but I have a tracking number so I know it is on its way.

1850 House

After sending off those books I resumed my sight seeing. I tried to find the Boutique du Vampyre, but apparently they moved after I added their store to my notes so I was puzzled when I did not find them where they were supposed to be. So instead I located the Avart-Peretti House where Tennessee Williams wrote A Streetcar Named Desire and the Gardette – Le Prete House which is a famous haunted house in the French Quarter. I returned to Community Coffee House and got a free refill of my iced coffee even though I hadn’t kept my cup. I visited the small Voodoo Museum  next. After leaving the museum I noticed that I had somehow cut my hand on something even though I didn’t touch anything in the museum. Maybe I scraped my hand on the door as I was leaving. Anyway, I had a small drop of blood on my hand and a bloodstain which seemed like voodoo to me! I went to the French Market for some idle browsing and stopped in at Funrock’n to buy a windup Dalek toy. That was the most pointless thing I bought. Then I walked almost all the way to Canal Street and bought an expensive DVD at the only video store to be found in the French Quarter. I could watch a DVD on my laptop.

I finally stumbled across the Boutique du Vampyre store where I bought the novel Bride of the Fat White Vampire by Andrew Fox. I was reading the Fat White Vampire Blues by Andrew Fox on my Kindle while waiting for my planes. Eventually I finished the book before getting home. That novel hasn’t always gotten good reviews but I thought it was hilarious. Fat White Vampire Blues is the perfect blend of A Confederacy of Dunces with Interview With The Vampire. Seeing New Orleans really helped me to appreciate the many references to local geography.

My next goal was dinner at the old Creole restaurant, Antoine’s Restaurant. My reservation was for 8:00 p.m. so I decided to sit in front of the St. Louis Cathedral before then but I was pestered by a hustler. She gave me a sob story about Hurricane Katrina and tried to sell me a CD or a cheap Voodoo doll. I eventually bought a Vince Gill CD just to get rid of her but the encounter put me in a foul mood. I went to Antoine’s Restaurant early just to get off the street.

At Antoine’s Restaurant I ordered soft-shelled crab, cafe au lait, and desert. The service was very attentive but a bit confused so I got coffee instead of cafe au lait although they immediately corrected that mistake. The soft-shelled crab was kind of mediocre but I think I just ordered the wrong thing. I looked up soft-shelled crab on the Internet and found that it is considered to be an over rated delicacy. I only looked it up because I was wondering if I should have been eating the legs. Yes, you can eat even the legs of a soft-shelled crab! I kept my receipt and the entire meal cost me $43.63.

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Monday In New Orleans

My second day in New Orleans began with a phone call informing me that my complimentary breakfast was ready in the courtyard. After breakfast I explored the French Quarter and located 722 Toulouse Street where Tennessee Williams once lived. Then I found the LaLaurie Mansion which is famous in local folklore. I also walked further downriver on Royal Street and found the Old Ursuline Convent and the Beauregard-Keyes House.

At 10:00 a.m. it was time for the Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 Tour which I signed up for the previous day. I might have been able to visit this cemetery on my own but it is north of North Rampart Street which is supposed to be a bad neighborhood. The tour was conducted by Haunted History Tours and left from Rev. Zombie’s Voodoo Shop, at 723 St. Peter Street. The sun was very fierce this day and I got sunburnt. On the other days when it was a little cloudy the weather was not that bad. It would be very warm but not really hot. Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 is the closest cemetery to the French Quarter and probably the most famous of the cemeteries.

Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 Tour

The tour ended around Noon and I walked to Crescent City Books where I bought a copy of Tennessee Williams play "Fugitive Kind". It was just a New Directions paperback and not a collectible book. I continued my book shopping at Arcadian Books & Prints which was a very cramped book store. However I managed to find the Japanese novels and took a chance on "And Then (Sorekara)" by Natsume Soseki. I took my purchases back to my hotel room. It was very convenient to have my hotel near to where I did most of my shopping because it meant I did not have to carry things around all day. I had an iced coffee at the nearby Community Coffee House. This became my favorite way to slake my thirst without spending a lot of money or ruining my dinner plans.

At around 2:30 p.m. it was time for a cruise on the Steamboat Natchez. I bought a ticket earlier in the day. The Steamboat Natchez departed from the Toulouse Street Wharf. I sat at the back of the ship overlooking the paddlewheel. I was sitting next to some French tourists. I could tell they were French because they had French travel guides for Louisiana. I’ve bought a few of the Routard travel guides myself to familiarize myself with French travel guide vocabulary. One of the French tourists had a huge video camera, the kind you lift to your shoulder with a large microphone wind screen. I thought he was a TV cameraman since his gear was too professional for a tourist. The steamboat cruise lasted two hours and I took lots of photos. We passed a Navy ship, cargo ships, ferries, tugboats and an oil refinery which looked very surreal, like an industrial forest of steel smoke stacks. When the Steamboat Natchez returned to its dock a Carnival cruise ship pulled out so I got many photos of that ship.

Oil Refinery

I did not have dinner on the steamboat because I was warned that the food would be mediocre. Instead I walked to Canal Street and then took the St. Charles Avenue streetcar to Julia Street. From there I walked several blocks towards the river to find Mulate’s Restaurant, a Cajun restaurant. I ordered two Louisiana Lemonades and the Cajun Grilled Seafood Platter. The two cocktails were enough to make me a little drunk. The seafood platter was a lot of food but I was hungry enough to eat most of it including a delicious baked potato. Unfortunately there wasn’t any live music or dancing. Mulate’s Restaurant is famous as a Cajun dance hall in New Orleans but it was quite dead while I was there with only a few customers.

Instead of taking the streetcar, I walked back to Canal Street and crossed Lafayette Square where I took a few photos. On my way back to my hotel I stopped at Walgreen’s again and bought Pepto-Bismo, shoe insoles, and a small notebook. Later that evening I walked downriver to Frenchmen Street and found Yuki Izakaya, a Japanese bar that really celebrates Japanese culture. I ordered the crab dumplings but I didn’t like them. I don’t think I care for Asian dumplings. They taste like something wrapped in wet cardboard. I was given chopsticks but I found them easy to use as long as I didn’t separate the sticks.

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New Orleans Sunday–Anne Rice Book Signing

My first full day in New Orleans began with a walk to Walgreens on Royal Street. I had to buy some shaving cream, anti-acid pills, pain reliever, and a few Jazzy Passes. Walgreens was sold out of Jazzy Passes so I had to go to a convenience store across the street. I had breakfast in the courtyard of my hotel but this only consisted of a large croissant and some coffee, the sort of token breakfast served to meet the “bed and breakfast” description.

After breakfast I walked to Canal Street and took the streetcar to the Garden District. This was my first trip on a streetcar. The driver took my Jazzy Pass and inserted it into the fare box slot which printed the time on it. So there wasn’t that awkward moment of figuring out how the fare card works. I got off at First Street in the Garden District and walked to the Brevard House which used to be owned by Anne Rice. This is the house that inspired the Mayfair Manor in Anne Rice’s series Lives of the Mayfair Witches. It has been years since I’ve read the novels; The Witching Hour, Lasher, and Taltos so I’ve forgotten many of the details but it was still thrilling to see this fictional haunted house. Many of the mansions in the Garden District are impressive but I didn’t need to go so far away to see something like that. Williamsport has many mansions on Millionaire’s Row which are fine examples of Victorian architecture. In fact, if you like stately old homes you can find them in many cities. I know Lancaster has some grand houses in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood. Maybe I should write a ghost story set in one of Williamsport’s old mansions to put the city on the map.

Anne Rice House

After finding the Brevard-Rice House, I quickly found Commander’s Palace. I was undecided about trying to get a table at such a fancy restaurant but I had time so I decided to try it. Commander’s Palace is one of New Orleans’s oldest and most famous restaurants. I was just in time for Sunday Brunch with a live jazz trio. I ordered a Mimosa, their famous turtle soup, Cochon de Lait Benedict, and Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé. It was exactly the kind of meal I’ve read about in a Anne Rice or Poppy Z. Brite novel. However it was very expensive, over $50.00 just for one person. When I left the restaurant I was able to visit Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 which is right across from the restaurant. I think the cemetery should have been closed on a Sunday but it was open so I was able to get the full Garden District experience. I have seen many photos of New Orleans cemeteries in the old Goth fanzines that were published in the 1990s so it was thrilling to wander around the tombs. I didn’t see too many Goths around New Orleans but there were many Crusties and people dressed for Halloween.

Commander's Palace

The Garden District Book Shop is just around the corner from Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and I was able to buy a copy of the new Anne Rice novel "The Wolves of Midwinter" with a ticket for the book signing. It was a real stroke of good fortune that Anne Rice was in New Orleans for a book signing during my visit. I have been planning this vacation for over a year and did not expect to see Anne Rice. But I suppose I improved my odds by choosing to visit New Orleans on Halloween and for an entire week. What really inspired my trip was New Orleans’ French heritage which intrigued me after my trip to Montreal.

I had an hour to kill before the book signing so I located the “Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel” just down the street. Anne Rice once owned this property too and I think Nicolas Cage then bought it. The most interesting house I saw was on 1331 First Street, the Morris-Israel House. This double-galleried town house struck me as being the finest example of what a Southern Gothic mansion should look like. It really looked haunted. Eventually I found a Starbucks where I waited in a long line for an iced coffee. Then I returned for another stroll through Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 before it was finally time for the Anne Rice book signing.

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

The line for the book signing was not too bad. I got in line just outside the front door. Once in the Rink shopping center, I saw a table piled with Anne Rice books so last minute fans could get something for her to sign. I should mention that her son, Christopher Rice, was also there to sign his books. The line snaked all the way to the back of the Rink shopping center and then circled around to the front of the book store where there was a table set up for the writers. So I was able to see Anne Rice for a long time while in line before I reached the table. I snuck a few photos since everyone else was doing that. I saw a cameraman with a large video camera who must have been filming the scene for the evening news but he was gone by the time I got to the table. I think I saw the president of the Anne Rice Fan Club. She was talking to someone in front of me in the line for quite awhile. The Anne Rice Fan Club held a Lestat Ball earlier in the week with Anne Rice but that was before I arrived.

While I stood in line I thought about my writing. I will probably never have a book signing since I’m mainly interested in writing plays. I am tempted to write a few horror stories though because I like how horror writers attract fans. I could write a serious horror story about the things that really haunt the soul. One story idea I’m keen on is what would happen to ghost hunters who disturbed a hermit witch haunted by the sacred mysteries. There should be clash between the sacred and the mundane as the ghost hunters are only trying to exploit the hermit for entertainment.

While standing in line I saw a specialty shop for a photography selling fine prints. Unfortunately I did not catch the name. When I finally reached the table, Anne Rice asked me how I was and signed my book. That really made my trip to New Orleans worthwhile since the Vampire Chronicles provided much of the inspiration for my Halloween vacation.

Anne Rice Book Signing

After the book signing I wandered around the Garden District for awhile trying to find the St. Charles Avenue streetcar. It started to sprinkle just before the streetcar arrived so I was afraid I would get my autographed book wet. Fortunately it did not rain. When the streetcar did arrive it was very crowded. I had to remain standing but at least the streetcar did not drive right by me. It drove right past other people waiting for it when it could not longer contain any more passengers. A football game must have ended at the Superdome because crowds of people were streaming across the streets downtown and further delayed the streetcar. I got off at Canal Street and then walked along Royal Street to my hotel.

I then continued my literary tour of New Orleans. I went to Faulkner’s House Books on Pirate’s Alley and bought a copy of "The Awakening and Selected Stories" by Kate Chopin. I was familiar with the name Kate Chopin from my research for my trip but I still haven’t read anything by her. Then I went shopping at the flea market in the French Market. It was not much of a flea market since the vendors were entirely devoted to selling tourist crap. But I bought an alligator’s head and a Kermit Ruffins CD, 1533 St. Philip Street. I also made a reservation for a Saint Louis Cemetery tour.

That evening I had diner at the Green Goddess, a restaurant associated with the horror writer, Poppy Z. Brite. I ordered a Louisiana Lemonade, a delicious brown sugar lemonade cocktail, some sort of fish which I can’t remember or find online, and an insanely delicious Bacon Sundae. The bacon bits made the ice cream slightly salty and more flavorful, like adding sea salt to ice cream. Afterword’s I had an expensive Kübler Absinthe at the Old Absinthe House for $16.00. This drink left me feeling a bit drunk. It was prepared by lighting the alcohol on fire which was interesting to watch. According to Wikipedia, that was the Bohemian Method; a sugar cube is placed on a slotted spoon over a glass containing one shot of absinthe. The sugar is pre-soaked in alcohol (usually more absinthe), then set ablaze. The flaming sugar cube is then dropped into the glass, thus igniting the absinthe. Finally, a shot glass of water is added to douse the flames. I later bought a book at  book at Marie Laveau’s House Of Voodoo, The Voodoo Queen by Robert Tallant.

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Trip Down To New Orleans

I began my week long vacation in New Orleans by driving down to Philadelphia International Airport. I think I left at 5:00 a.m. and stopped at the Hickory Run Travel Plaza at 6:48 a.m. to buy gas and breakfast at Burger King. My ticket for the economy parking lot at the airport shows I entered at 8:46 a.m. So it took me about four hours to drive down to Philadelphia. My flight to Miami Florida departed at 12:15 p.m. I don’t think I bought anything to eat or drink at the airport. I read a novel, Fat White Vampire Blues by Andrew Fox, on my Kindle Paperwhite while waiting for my flight. I didn’t see much of Miami but I did have a window seat and the plane flew over the city. I saw a downtown core filled with skyscrapers and rows of condominiums along the shore. There was also a huge expanse of suburbs with miles of track housing. I didn’t spend much time at the Miami International Airport because my connecting flight to New Orleans left soon after I arrived. I had to use their Skytrain to reach my gate in time. I flew American Airlines for this trip and all of my flights were short and on time. But it still took most of a day at airports to travel across the United States so I don’t know how foreign tourists can stand their ambitious trips across country.

When I arrived at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport I had to go down to the lower level to collect my luggage and then walk outside to find a long taxi line. I don’t fly often so it is worthwhile to note that baggage claim is usually on the lower level and there are hotel shuttles, taxi stands, and buses to the parking garage or lots just outside of the baggage claim area. This was my first visit to a major American city which required air travel. In the future, I may visit San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Boston as major trips. It cost $33.00 for a taxi to the Andrew Jackson Hotel in the French Quarter. I gave the driver $40.00 to include a nice tip.

Checking into the hotel was quick and painless. I thought my room was a little shabby for the price but the hotel is conveniently located in the French Quarter. The Andrew Jackson Hotel is even included on some ghost and history walking tours so I would often see a group of people across the street. The Cornstalk Hotel was right next door so I saw that place often. According to my hotel bill I checked in at 6:18 p.m.

I didn’t have much time to do anything for my first evening. First I walked to Jackson Square and took lots of photos of the St. Louis Cathedral, the most iconic landmark of New Orleans. Then I went to Café du Monde and had their famous café au lait and beignets. I just happened to catch a Halloween parade which started as I was eating. I think this was the Boo Krew parade, with Mardi Gras style floats for Halloween. After that I wandered down Bourbon Street to Canal Street. I had trouble finding a restaurant which didn’t look too busy but eventually I went to Sbisa’s Café, an old historic restaurant that recently reopened under new management. The staff seemed eager to please their customers and the place was half empty so I was able to get a table. I got the impression that they were trying to establish their reputation. I think I ordered the Seafood Decadence which was fish smothered in cream sauce and grilled asparagus.

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New York City For Japanophiles

Yesterday I made my 28th trip to New York City. This trip was sponsored by the Williamsport Area School District Alumni Association so I did not have to park at the transit center. Instead the bus picked us up at Cochran Elementary School. This school is located deep within a residential area that I’ve never visited before so I had to do a reconnaissance drive before the trip to see where to park. But the bus was still a Susquehanna Trailways bus. They were already playing the movie "Just Go With It" starring Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, and Nicole Kidman when I got on the bus.

My focus on this trip was Japanese establishments in New York City. Recently I have been struck by a mania for Japan. This is inconvenient because I should be focusing on my upcoming New Orleans trip or my future trip to Italy. I’m not really planning on ever visiting Japan because the language barrier is very intimidating. I am completely baffled by their writing system which does not use Roman letters. But there are enough Japanese establishments in New York City to pretend it is Tokyo and I needed something new to do in the city.

We arrived in New York City at 10:00 a.m. I took the 1 Train downtown to Penn Station – 34th Street. The 50th Street Station is very close to where the bus left me off but I never realized this subway station was there because it is hidden in the southern sunken courtyard of Paramount Plaza. At the 34th Street Station I emerged from Penn Station and walked to West 30th Street. I took a photo of an innocuous building on this street for my custom travel guide. I also saw the Image Anime store but it was closed. I’m not very interested in Japanese anime. I would prefer to watch live action films about contemporary Japan. My actual goal on West 30th Street was the entrance to High Line Park. High Line Park is a new public park built on the remains of an elevated railroad line.The High Line Park has become very popular and it is frequently recommended to tourists so I finally decided to see it. I walked the entire length of the High Line and didn’t get off it until Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District which is the southern end of the park. It was an unique experience but the views weren’t that great unless you like to see urban decay.

High Line

I didn’t explore the Meatpacking District. Instead I entered the first subway entrance I found which must have been the 14th Street Station. I took the A Train Uptown to the 42nd Street Station and emerged from the Port Authority Bus Terminal where the Jackie Gleason statue is located. I have never been able to get a photo of the Jackie Gleason statue because there is always some scary homeless bum sitting beneath it. I quickly made my way to the Drama Book Shop for my ritual purchase. I bought a collection of Theresa Rebeck’s plays as planned and the cashier told me she would make an appearance at the store on Monday. It is a shame that this was a day trip. I am almost always in New York City on Saturdays only.

After that I did some more shopping at another bookstore, the Kinokuniya bookstore on 6th Avenue across from Bryant Park. This Japanese bookstore sells a lot of books in English and Japanese. I saw mostly English books on the first floor and found books on Japan towards the back. I bought an overpriced paperback, The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture, because I definitely want to explore their pop culture. I didn’t see what was on the second floor. The cashier was a cute Japanese girl with dyed hair who handled money like it was something sacred. Since the New York Public Library was nearby I decided to go there next and visit the Gottesman Exhibition Hall on the first floor which I overlooked on my previous trip. The exhibit was on children books and featured books from various cultures including Japanese children books. I saw a few children books set in New York City which I’ve never heard of before; Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. I saw a copy of The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden but I’ve read that book.

New York Public Library Entrance

Next on my itinerary was the play “Philip Goes Forth” at the Mint Theater. I didn’t intend to see a show on this trip but I was tempted by this play because it is a very obscure play which I happened to have read last year. I was quite surprised to find this play being given a production and considered it a sign since the chances of seeing this forgotten play by George Kelly so soon after I happened to read it were very slim. I reviewed this play on my blog (see http://williamsportwebdeveloper.com/cgi/wp/?p=1392). I wonder if someone at the Mint Theater happened to find my blog entry, since this play was long forgotten. If you had done a Google Search for “Philip Goes Forth” before the Mint Theater staged this production, I bet my blog entry would have been virtually the only search result.

I had to wait at a little street park on West 43rd Street for a half hour because I walked to the area too early, but didn’t want to wander far. The Mint Theater is hard to find. It is located in a non-descript brick building with no signage. The building is being renovated so the entrance was enclosed in a construction shed. Fortunately, the theater emailed me some instructions the day before. They are located on the third floor and you have to take an elevator to reach the theater. I was very impressed by the set design though which was quite elaborate and realistic. There was one change of the set which was equally impressive because it was a small stage, yet they managed to completely change the set design from one elaborate room to a completely different room with a lot of furniture. I think they may have deviated from the script to avoid another change of scene but I’m not sure. The costumes were also very well done in the fashions that were popular in the 1930s.

“Philip Goes Forth” is a play about the playwright’s aspirations. Even though George Kelly was a successful playwright, he adopts a strangely severe view of the profession in this play which makes writing a play seem like a foolish notion. As an aspiring playwright, I don’t care for the message of this play. George Kelly seems to think that most people aren’t cut out to be artists. Although he offers one example of the true artist, a demented poet, he portrays other creative spirits as silly bohemians. One character is so discouraged that he commits suicide which provides the most dramatic event of the play. There is something very old-fashioned about this play and its sensibilities. It was written after the Crash which caused the Great Depression so people must have been disillusioned back then.

Maybe I shouldn’t mention this, but I was distracted by a constant need to urinate. I was worried that I might be coming down with a bladder infection. But I’m not sure if I should see a doctor because this discomfort is very sporadic. It was bothering me during most of the trip except while I was walking around. However I felt fine on the ride home and I still feel fine. My right knee has also been bothering me slightly but I was able to walk all day on this trip. I hate aches and pains that come and go and worry you even though they are probably nothing.

It was around 4:00 p.m. after the play and I had not eaten all day. So I walked several blocks north to Sapporo Restaurant on West 49th Street. This was one of the Japanese establishments I was particularly eager to visit. I ordered Tokyo Ramen which is classic Tokyo-style shoyu Ramen, topped with scallion, cha-shu pork, menma, naruto (fish cake) and seaweed. Menma is a Japanese condiment made from lactate-fermented bamboo shoots. Menma is a common topping for noodle soups, notably ramen. Naruto is a type of kamaboko, or cured fish surimi produced in Japan. Each slice of naruto has a pink or red spiral pattern, which resembles the Naruto whirlpools in the Naruto Strait between Awaji Island and Shikoku in Japan. I saw a slice of something in my ramen with a pink swirl pattern. I thought it was some sort of radish. Anyway, this came in a large bowl with a wooden spoon. I managed to finish the entire bowl except for some broth. It was a lot to eat but I was starving. I also drank an entire can of Asahi Super Dry, a Japanese Rice Lager style beer brewed by Asahi Breweries Ltd in Tokyo. I don’t usually drink beer since I don’t like it but this beer showed up often in my limited research on Tokyo. I almost forgot my books at this restaurant, but fortunately I missed them while considering a few Japanese publications I could have picked up at the door.

After that meal I did some more shopping. There was a 49 Street Station right down the street from Sapporo Restaurant so I took the R Train one stop north to the 57th Street – Seventh Avenue Station to go to the Rizzoli Bookstore again. I managed to find this Italian bookstore without any problem since I went here on my trip last month. This time I bought a copy of Chi magazine, an Italian magazine on celebrity news and gossip, like People magazine. I also bought a Japan Culture Smart book and a book in Italian, Beppe Severgnini’s Italians. Although this book is available in English, I wanted the Italian version to help me in studying the language. After my trip to New Orleans I intend to concentrate on learning Italian and researching Italy. This level of preparation may be unnecessary if I go on the Collette Vacations trip. I have to admit that I’m finding it difficult to get inspired by Italy. That is probably why I feel drawn to Japan. Italy just doesn’t have a pop culture that intrigues me, although I may need to dig deeper to find something interesting. I have been exposed to Japanese pop culture for years. I remember watching Ultraman and Johnny Socko and His Flying Robot on television back in the late 1970s. I also have a decent collection of Godzilla films on DVD and Samurai films on DVD.

When I left the Rizzoli Bookstore I walked along West 58th Street to take a photo of something on that street. I still had several hours to kill so I decided to just walk back to 50th Street rather than take the subway for just one stop. Eventually I came to the Radio City Music Hall and decided to explore the Rockefeller Center basement concourse. The basement concourse is like one of Montreal’s underground malls. It would be a good place to hang out if it were snowing or raining. The Rockefeller Center isn’t too far from where the bus always picks me up. They also have public restrooms which are hard to find. I’ll have to add a map of the Rockefeller Center basement concourse to my notes.

I still had hours left in New York City so I decided to go to another restaurant, The Delta Grill. This restaurant serves New Orleans cuisine, i.e. Cajun and Creole food. I’m going to New Orleans next week so it wasn’t strictly necessary to preview the cuisine now, but what the hell. I ordered the Alligator and Smoked Pork Sausage appetizer  because I wasn’t very hungry after eating all that ramen a few hours previously. The sausage tasted more like pork than alligator but it was good. I also ordered a Delta Hurricane since I wasn’t driving myself home. I was surprised that this hurricane on top of the beer a few hours earlier had no effect on me. I did not feel drunk but I might have been slightly more relaxed. That was a pretty quick meal so I also found a video store to buy a few Japanese DVDs. On the way to the bus pick up spot I saw a loud protest of the Church of Scientology on West 46th Street. The protestors were boxed in by a crowd control fence which appeared to have been provided for them. There was a young police officer nearby looking on so the protest appeared to be sanctioned. The protestors had video cameras trained on the church across the street. They held up their signs and loudly jeered at anyone leaving the building across the street. I think I saw someone inside the Church of Scientology with a video camera trained on the protestors. I was tempted to walk across the street and face the protestors. I feel a bit ambivalent towards the Church of Scientology. I slightly sympathize with them because of their anti-psychiatry crusade, but ultimately they are even worse than psychiatrists and just as big as frauds. But I don’t totally despise Scientologists since I hate psychiatrists even more and appreciate the enemy of that pseudo-science, especially an enemy wealthy enough to challenge psychiatry.

Church of Scientology Protest

By this Saturday I will be on my way to New Orleans for a week long vacation. This will be a great way to spend Halloween since I associate New Orleans with the supernatural. I was originally inspired to visit New Orleans because it is the only place in the United States with an extensive French heritage. French is still the only language I am committed to learning.

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A Slightly Amusing Thing Happened On The Way To Forum

On Thursday I saw the musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at the Community Theatre League in Williamsport. This play was particularly interesting for me because I am planning a trip to Italy and I’m currently doing research on Rome. Italy requires a lot of research because it is hard to pick just one city to represent the county. If you just visit Rome you will miss out on Venice, Florence, Milan, Naples, and Pompeii. I am also studying Italian but so far I can only read it a little. I may not be able to afford a trip to Italy next year but that will just give me more time to prepare.

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”. I didn’t like the songs except for "Comedy Tonight" which is a familiar song. I can’t fault the production. I just wasn’t in the mood. But during the play I daydreamed about ancient Rome and dreamed of vast temples and huge statues of pagan gods. In the musical, a slave schemes to gain his freedom. I have heard that the Republicans want to bring back slavery. Technically slavery was never completely outlawed since anyone who is incarcerated may be forced to work with little or no payment. The Republicans simply propose a work release program which will allow you to bring a convict into your home to work as a domestic. So you can have a maid or a gardener in shackles. They will probably be Hispanic rather than African American. Some local Republicans are so confident that slavery will be brought back that they are building slave quarters behind their mansions. Many slave quarters are being built on Grampain Boulevard but they are not visible from the street.

Next month is my week long trip to New Orleans. New Orleans should be fun on Halloween because it is the most supernatural city in America. There should be lots of freaks wearing costumes and partying like it was Mardi Gras. I’ve even heard that Anne Rice will be in town for a Halloween Ball but unfortunately I am unlikely to meet her unless she visits a bookstore. I will go shopping at all the bookstores.

My New Orleans trip will probably be the last of my traveling for this year. I need to concentrate on my finances and I don’t like to travel during the winter. I will also resume my playwriting after this trip. I’m tempted to write a few horror stories since horror writers are so celebrated.

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New York City Steuben Parade Trip

Yesterday I made my monthly trip to New York City. This was my 27th trip but I still managed to see more sights in the city. Luck seemed to be on my side during this trip because I caught several lucky breaks which I will describe when I come to them.

Susquehanna Trailways had five buses going to New York City on Saturday so we stopped for breakfast at a McDonalds in Danville PA instead of the usual one in White Haven. I kept my receipt because it has the address and Danville is a city that I may need to visit in the future. The Geisinger Medical Center in Danville is an important regional medical facility which even comes up often in my job.We arrived in New York City pretty early at 10:00 a.m.

The first item on my itinerary was the New York Public Library. Although I’ve seen the New York Public Library on previous trips I had never gone inside. I walked down Times Square to 42nd Street since the New York Public Library is located at 5th Avenue and West 42nd Street. It looks like I missed the main exhibition hall on the first floor but I did see the Jill Kupin Rose Gallery on the second floor and I found the main reading room and the Edna Barnes Salomon Room on the third floor. There were many tourists taking photos in the reading room where regular library users were working. This struck me as a little awkward but I took a few photos as well.

The New York Public Library

After leaving the New York Public Library my next goal was the Rizzoli Bookstore on West 57th Street. To get there I walked to the 42nd Street subway station and took the N train to the 57th Street Station near Carnegie Hall. I found it slightly difficult to get my bearings there but I soon found the Rizzoli Bookstore. Rizzoli is an Italian Publishing company and this store carries many magazines and books in foreign languages. I found the foreign magazine section towards the back on the first floor. I bought a copy of L’Espresso with Silvio Berlusconi on the cover. On the third floor I found Italian books. I bought La pagina breve which appears to be a collection of Italian readings for the intermediate student of Italian and an audiobook in CD of The Wizard of OZ in Italian. I will try to make a trip to Italy next year but I still can’t afford an international trip. In the meantime, I need to concentrate on learning Italian and researching Italy’s major cities. Currently I am working on my custom Rome travel guide. I am also slowly expanding my knowledge of the Italian language.

The next item on my itinerary was a play at 2:30 p.m. but I had plenty of time before then so I walked to Central Park. Although I have visited Central Park before I had not seen all of it so I explored the lower half of the park. I bought a map of Central Park for $2.00 because my notes did show me where the Literary Walk was located. I saw the Wollman Rink, the Literary Walk, the Bethesda Terrace & Fountain, and the Alice in Wonderland statue. A photo of the Literary Walk is the photo for September on my New York City calendar so it is appropriate that I saw it on this trip. I made sure to take a photo of the Shakespeare statue. There seemed to be a major chess tournament going on at the Bethesda Terrace since it was full of tables covered in chess sets. Taking a photo of the Alice in Wonderland statue was a little awkward since there were someone else’s kids crawling all over it. I heard a marching band as I neared the edge of Central Park on Fifth Avenue.

Central Park Literary Walk

In a stroke of luck, the German-American Steuben Parade of New York was taking place at Noon on Fifth Avenue and I just happened to be in the area. I didn’t even realize that this event was taking place on the day of my trip. I found a good spot along the parade route and took several photos of the German bands, parade floats, and various marchers. There were several German food establishments with floats and a few German language schools marching in the parade. I found it interesting even though my trip to Berlin was years ago and I’m not actively keeping up on my German language study. It was still great to see a New York City parade under excellent conditions.

Steuben Parade

Unfortunately I could only spend an hour watching the parade. I had to walk all the way back down Central Park to the 59th Street Station and take the N train to Times Square – 42nd Street. I did have time to go shopping at the Drama Book Shop before my play began. I bought the Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo, an Italian playwright, and Art and Decadence Plays by Caridad Svich, a Latina playwright associated with Primary Stages. I managed to walk to New World Stages on West 50th Street just in time to catch my play. There are several stages in this theater complex and they even have an escalator to the lower level. New World Stages may be the only theater in the world to have an escalator.

The play I had chosen to see was Tennessee William’s The Two-Character Play. I could have seen the Glass Menagerie at the Booth Theater starring the actor Zachary Quinto who plays Spock in the new Star Trek movies but The Two-Character Play is rarely performed. I also thought it would be cheaper to see this play but a ticket cost me over $100.00. The Two-Character Play starred the famous actors Brad Dourif and Amanda Plummer. I was more familiar with Brad Dourif. He is sort of a character actor  you see in many movies without knowing his name. But I think I remember him best from the movie Dune. I was sitting only two rows from the stage so I had an excellent view and he was close enough to see his facial expressions. I thought his performance was masterful. He should be given lead roles in major movies. I am not very familiar with Amanda Plummer but she has been in many movies too.

The Two-Character Play shows Tennessee William’s usual obsession with insanity and his sister but I thought it was an excellent play and just as good as Tennessee Williams’ poetic masterpiece The Glass Menagerie. The critics have been too harsh on Tennessee William’s later work. Maybe his work will be re-evaluated in the future and plays like The Two-Character Play will rank among his masterpieces. The stage set was interesting with a framework of a house exposing the back of the stage. The antique furniture managed to invoke an image of a old southern mansion. The costumes were shabby but fancy, creating a sense of decrepitude. Brad Dourif began the play wearing a frock coat and Amanda Plummer wore old furs. The subject of the play was also interesting; two abandoned actors getting lost in a play with the same title. It was very meta-theater-ish.

After the play I had dinner at Sardi’s Restaurant just like the theater program recommended. Sardi’s is probably the most famous restaurant on Broadway and a real treat for any theater enthusiast. I would have dined here before but I was worried that the place was too swank for me. Sardi’s is a little too fancy for my taste but they are not too formal. I don’t think you need a coat and tie and a platinum card to eat there. I made a reservation for 5:00 p.m. and arrived 15 minutes early. The restaurant was almost empty with just a few diners. I think there were more waiters standing around than customers and the service was extremely prompt. I ordered a special of the day, Seafood Cobb Salad Shrimp, Jumbo Lump Crabmeat and Sautéed Calamari over Mesclun Greens, Roasted Corn, Red Onions, Tomato, Carrot and Avocado drizzled with Orange Lime Vinaigrette $26.00 and a glass of prosecco, the Italian white wine popular in Venice.

That was as far as my planned itinerary went so I had to improvise for the last few hours of my trip. I walked to the Times Square – 42nd Street and took the 1 train downtown to Houston Street. I was annoyed to discover that I did not have the 1 train stops in my notes so I will have to add that. I then proceeded to walk east on Houston Street to see whatever I came across. I did manage to snag a copy of Chopsticks NY from a newspaper box although the first one I came across only had wet copies. Chopsticks NY is a great guide to all the Asian establishments in  New York City. I then came across the Feast of San Gennaro which I knew was taking place, but didn’t plan to visit. I had heard that the Feast of San Gennaro was a disappointment but I thought I might find some Italian CDs, DVDs, or books being sold. Unfortunately, the rumors were right. The Feast of San Gennaro was insanely crowded with a line of people that could barely advance against the crush of people. The vendors were the typical New York City street festival vendors and most of them were not Italian or selling anything Italian related. I struggled along for a block or two and then got tired of the jam packed crowd.

Feast of San Gennaro

I found myself on Price Street so I entered McNally Jackson Books which I remembered from a previous trip. I bought a DVD of La Commare Secca by director Bernardo Bertolucci. This Italian film was made in 1962. I think I prefer more recent Italian films which give you a better sense of contemporary Italian culture. I’m not a time traveler after all, so I don’t need to familiarize myself with the ancient Romans.

Eventually I found my way to the East Village and quickly walked to Kim’s Video and Music which sells many art films and foreign movies on DVD. I found a DVD of A Policewoman in New York, an Italian movie which I thought would be fun to watch. Unfortunately the DVD was loose in the case and the cashier insisted on checking it for scratches. The DVD was scratched so I left the store empty-handed. I ordered a DVD of that movie on Amazon today. Before leaving the East Village I had a mango-pineapple shake at Pinkberry. At this point it was getting late and I was worried about catching my bus home so I rushed to the Astor Place Station to catch the 6 Lexington Avenue Local train uptown. The 6 Lexington Avenue Local line is notorious for its ridership being over its capacity. I found a New York Times article about the problem; When the Train Is Too Crowded to Board. This was definitely the case on Saturday when I found myself so squeezed in the subway car that I had people crushed against me. You could hardly board the train but I didn’t have time to wait for a less crowded train. Fortunately the car became less crowded by the time it reached 51st Street. I think I will avoid the 6 Lexington Avenue Local train in the future. I had to walk several blocks crosstown to reach 7th Avenue. I only had 45 minutes to walk that far but fortunately it only takes 30 minutes. I’ll put that in my notes because I was cutting it too fine to make my bus. I also need cards with my cell phone number on it to give to the bus escort. I don’t think the bus company has my cell phone number. I do carry a cell phone with me now that I use Tracfone which is affordable.

My next trip to New York City will be on October 19th. This isn’t exactly a Susquehanna Trailways trip. The trip was organized by the WASD Alumni Association but they will certainly use a Susquehanna Trailways bus. After that will be my vacation in New Orleans for Halloween. I really need to concentrate on preparing for that trip now. For some reason I am not psyched for this vacation. My custom travel guide for New Orleans has many topics but it is not quite complete yet. I still need to book a flight.

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Niagara Falls Ontario

On Saturday I made my second trip to Niagara Falls. I wasn’t going to blog about this trip, but it does represent a rare excursion north into New York state so it is worthwhile to record some notes. The bus only made one pickup after Williamsport, at the Landing Strip Family Restaurant in Liberty PA which is in Tioga County. We stopped for breakfast at a McDonalds in Bath, NY which is not far from the Pennsylvania border but pass Corning NY.

On this trip I crossed over the border into Canada. I had my passport and some Canadian currency left over from my vacation in Montreal last year. To reach Niagara Falls Ontario, you must walk across the Rainbow Bridge. The entire process of making the border crossing is not well documented and I saw people getting into trouble due to their confusion. One woman ventured out into the middle of the Rainbow Bridge and got yelled at by the police. Another woman went through a turnstile by mistake and couldn’t get back. I observed both of those incidents on my return.

To walk across the Rainbow Bridge to the Canadian side, just go through the turnstile. It is unnecessary to show anyone your passport or to speak to anyone until you reach the Canadian side. Once on the Canadian side you must go through immigration (stop in front of the immigration booth) and answer a few questions. There is no metal detector and your bags will not be searched. To return to the American side you must pay a 50¢ toll. It is unnecessary to show anyone your passport or to speak to anyone until you reach the American side. Once on the American side you must go through customs and answer a single question about what you are bringing back from Canada.

Once in Canada I walked to the Skylon Tower. I had bought my ticket online but I just had a printout. It turns out that you need to redeem the printout for an actual ticket so I had to go through the line to the elevator twice. You should probably not bother buying a ticket online. I went to the observation deck of the Skylon Tower. It was just like several other observation decks I’ve seen with the usual waiting to squeeze between people to take photos. So far, I have been to the following observation decks; Eiffel Tower, Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Center), Fernsehturm (Berlin TV tower), the London Eye, the Olympic Tower in Montreal, the Empire State Building, and the Skylon Tower. Before leaving the Skylon Tower I went to a Starbucks and ordered an iced coffee since the building had no air conditioning. Then I found an ATM and used my debit card to get $100 more in Canadian currency (all new $20 bills).

Skylon Tower

My next destination was the Table Rock Welcome Centre where I wanted to do on the Journey Behind the Falls attraction. There are four attractions you can do with an Adventure Pass including Maid Of The Mist but Journey Behind the Falls was the only one which is unique to the Canadian side. I bought my ticket at a welcome center closer to the Skylon Tower and then walked to the Horseshoe Falls. A huge cloud of mist rises from the Horseshoe Falls and you begin to feel the mist as you get closer to it. I had a little trouble finding the entrance to Journey Behind the Falls attraction. You actually have to enter the Table Rock Welcome Centre to get to the Journey Behind the Falls attraction. Then you stand in a line and get your plastic raincoat before being admitted to the elevator. The Journey Behind the Falls attraction consists of tunnels and observation decks. The tunnels lead to an opening behind the Horseshoe Falls but all you see is a solid wall of water. The observation decks give you a great view of the Horseshoe Falls from up close. You get sprayed with a lot of water on the observation decks. I took a few photos but the mist is likely to get on your lens. My glasses got clouded over with mist.

Horseshoe Falls

After that I walked all the way back to Clifton Hill, a steep street of tacky tourist attractions. There were many haunted houses and wax museums to choose from. I’m not sure what a haunted house and a wax museum have to do with one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. It seems a little bizarre to me. It is as if the Canadians decided to build a funhouse version of American culture right on the border of the authentic American experience. It might make sense if they get a lot of international tourists who can’t actually cross the border into the United States. I was heading for Victoria Avenue because I wanted to have lunch at an Italian restaurant. Once on Victoria Avenue I quickly found the Antica Pizzeria & Ristorante but I had to walk a long ways to find a place to cross the street. Eventually I scurried across without using a crosswalk out of sheer frustration. At this point I dropped my camera but fortunately it did not break even though it fell on hard pavement.

Antica Pizzeria & Ristorante was a classy Italian restaurant with plenty of tables. They had many posters and huge photos of Italy on the wall. I was particularly impressed by a huge photo of the Bay of Naples which covered an entire wall. You almost felt you were there. I picked this place for lunch because I need to resume my preparation for a trip to Italy. So far I have spent most of this year improving my notes on domestic destinations; New York City, Baltimore, Washington DC, New Orleans, etc. I really couldn’t afford a trip to Europe this year but I should be using the time to learn Italian and research its major cities. For lunch I ordered some bruschetta and a strawberry frozen daiquiri. I didn’t even pronounce daiquiri properly. The strawberry frozen daiquiri was the only drink I’ve ever had with whipped cream on top. The bruschetta is slices of bread soaked in olive oil and covered with diced tomato and sprinkled with cheese. This wasn’t a full meal. I plan to visit several local Italian restaurants for further inspiration.

Clifton Hill

After lunch I wandered the streets looking for something to do. I bought a souvenir at one of the many souvenir stores. There were also many smoke shops selling bongs. I can just imagine trying to bring a bong through customs. It is as if the Canadians want to get you in trouble! What I bought was a Quartz Geode Crystal in a wooden stand. It was $46.00 which is kind of expensive but it is a nice souvenir. Everything else was tacky junk. I also stopped in at a Tim Hortons, the famous Canadian coffee chain, because I forgot to visit one on my trip to Montreal. I ordered a Tim Hortons Iced Cappuccino because I needed to cool off. Right next door was the Canada Trading Company with a slightly better selection of fine souvenirs. I bought a small Canadian Mountie teddy bear for $20.00, pretty expensive for such a small stuffed animal. I did get rid of several $2 coins but I wound up with even more Canadian small change.

Rainbow Bridge View

I walked back across the Rainbow Bridge with plenty of time to spare just in case I were detained but it was easier to return. For several hours I wandered around Niagara Falls NY. There was a Blues Festival taking place in front of the Seneca Niagara Casino so I watched a little of that. I saw many boarded up storefronts in Niagara Falls NY. I might be tempted to see this as a sad comment on the American economy but the truth is that the Canadian side is more built up because the views of the falls is better over there. Most of the restaurants and hotel chains over there are American companies so it is just a question of were the investment money went. On the trip home we stopped at Pembroke Travel Plaza on the NYS Thruway. So where was this? The New York State Thruway is Route 90 so we must have been east of Buffalo, New York.

My next big trip will be a week of vacation in New Orleans for Halloween. I need to concentrate on my New Orleans research for the next two months although a considerable amount of preliminary work has been done. This will be my first major domestic trip and there are a few things to consider. For example, I could do a lot of shopping if I mail my purchases from New Orleans rather than buying an extra suitcase. I can also see a play while I am in New Orleans but they don’t have much theater. But after New Orleans I really need to focus on Italy.

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FringeNYC and Brooklyn Museum

Yesterday I made yet another trip to New York City. This time I finally took everyone’s advice and ventured into Brooklyn but only to visit the Brooklyn Museum. I also attended a New York Fringe Festival performance which was an important goal.

Although everything went as planned, I did discover a few more deficiencies in my travel notes. I don’t think my Android smartphone is capable of displaying PDFs so I don’t have a large scale map of New York City which can be zoomed. I was looking for a map because I forgot to add a topic for my first subway entrance. I also need topics on the F subway line and the 3 subway line.

The bus arrived in New York City at around 10:00 a.m. but I had to be downtown for the New York Fringe Festival by noon so I didn’t waste any time. I walked west to the Rockefeller Center and found the subway station entrance for the F train. I’ve never used this line before so I had to hunt for the subway entrance and find the right platform for the F train heading downtown. Neither of my MetroCards from my previous trips had enough for a fare so I had to buy a new MetroCard. I think you can just add money to your MetroCard but I have not tried that yet.

I got off at the 2nd Avenue station in the Lower East Side and then walked towards the Red Square apartment building. That building is an useful landmark because it has a large clock on the roof and a statue of Vladimir Lenin. I think it is funny to see a statue of Lenin in New York City so I took a few photos of that. My destination was on Clinton Street, The Celebration Of Whimsy a.k.a. The C.O.W. performance venue. This theater used to be the famous Living Theatre which finally had to close. I arrived an hour before the show started so I went to Katz’s Delicatessen which was nearby. This restaurant is famous for a scene from When Harry Met Sally. I found the method of ordering food to be annoying since it is based on a ticket which you have to hand to the cooks and counter persons. I ordered a cheeseburger, a hot dog by mistake, and a Diet Coke. The food was quite unremarkable. It was like eating at a picnic. But I did use their restroom.

Katz

After that I walked back to the Celebration Of Whimsy performance venue and waited outside until they were ready to start the show. Because of my schedule I saw Manic Pixie Dream Girl: A Graphic Novel Play by playwright Katie May. This play was originally developed by a Playwright Incubator theater in San Francisco, the Playground. Since New York City is the center of the theater universe, lots of theater companies jump at the chance to present a show in New York City and the fringe theater festival is considered to be a great opportunity. I wanted to see at least one fringe festival show because they tend to be edgier than mainstream theater. I thought Manic Pixie Dream Girl: A Graphic Novel Play was slightly edgy but still very professional. The actors were quite attractive and talented so it did not look like an amateur production. The stage design was simplistic but they projected graphic novel panels on a screen which gave the show a little more visual appeal. There was a discussion with the cast after the performance but I left because I had other things to do.

Celebration Of Whimsy

My next goal was to visit the Brooklyn Museum. Most visitors to New York City don’t visit the Brooklyn Museum because they stick to Manhattan. Although this scarcely counts as a trip to Brooklyn, I did determine how long it takes to get to Brooklyn (around 45 minutes) and which subway lines to use. For this journey, I walked west to the Broadway – Lafayette Street Station and took the D train. The D train went above ground to reach Brooklyn by running across a bridge. According to my notes this would be the Manhattan Bridge. I do remember seeing the Brooklyn Bridge through the window and I could even see the Statue of Liberty which looked larger than I remember from this vantage point. I’m sure I saw the Statue of Liberty while walking across the Brooklyn Bridge in 2010. I got off at the Atlantic Avenue – Barclays Center station but I almost didn’t because it wasn’t as modern as I was expecting based on the redesigned entrance upstairs. Then I followed the signs to take the 2 train to Eastern Parkway – Brooklyn Museum station.

I didn’t really see any of Brooklyn. The subway station entrance is right in front of the Brooklyn Museum so I didn’t have to walk anywhere. The admission fee was $12.00 but that was only the recommended fee. I guess you don’t have to pay anything if you want to be cheap. The Brooklyn Museum has been on my to do list for a long time so I’m glad I finally managed to visit it. This museum has an excellent collection of Egyptian artifacts and minor collections of American and European artwork. The first thing I did was grab a free copy of The Brooklyn Paper to wrap around my theater program because I was afraid my souvenir theater ticket would fall out of it.

Brooklyn Museum

It was slightly difficult to figure out where to go. But I guess the Great Hall is to the right of the Museum Shop so just look for the sign that reads Art. Once you see the galleries on that level you must take the elevator to the second floor. I went through the Brooklyn Museum in a rush because I wanted to be back in Manhattan before 6:00 p.m. I can tell by my receipt that I arrived at 2:00 p.m. and left at 4:00 p.m. so I only spent two hours in the museum. I did visit all five floors though. I bought an out-of-print Brooklyn Museum Guide book before my trip so I’m sure I saw all the major pieces. I especially liked a Giovanni Bellini portrait from the era of the Belle Époque. The Belle Époque has begun to fascinate me after I read about the marchesa Casati. Giovanni Bellini also painted a portrait of Luisa Casati. Romaine Brooks also lived during the Belle Époque and after seeing her paintings at the Smithsonian American Art Museum I ordered a biography of Romaine Brooks which arrived during my trip to New York City. I found the book in my mailbox when I got home. At least I am finally following up on something I saw at an art museum. Usually I find a visit to an art museum very inspiring but I never do anything with that inspiration. I make no effort to learn more about the art I see or the artists who created it. I never even do the audio tours so I have no idea what I’m looking at except for modern art.

Before I left the Brooklyn Museum I went to the Museum Shop and bought two books; 100 Best Paintings In New York (although I’ve probably seen most of them by now) and Weekend Walks in Brooklyn which will be handy in planning future trips to Brooklyn.

I left the Brooklyn Museum at 4:00 p.m. because I wanted to leave myself plenty of time to get back to Manhattan. I wanted to visit the Drama Book Shop before it closed at 6:00 p.m. and I had a reservation at a restaurant at 6:00 p.m. I took the 3 train from the Eastern Parkway – Brooklyn Museum station to the 42nd Street Times  Square station which must have taken only a half hour since my Drama Book Shop receipt is dated 4:43 p.m. At the Drama Book Shop I bought Plays from Primary Stages which was exactly the book I wanted because I’m taking an online course offered by Primary Stages.

Zuni

After making that token purchase at my favorite store I wandered up 8th Avenue taking photos of various establishments along the way since I’m always in that area waiting for my bus to leave. Eventually I reached 51st Street where I found Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt, the frozen yogurt café I visited on my last trip. I had some frozen yogurt there since I now know the procedure for using their self-service machines and it cools you down after a long, hot walk. But I probably shouldn’t have done that since I then walked all the way back to West 42nd Street for my reservation at the restaurant. I had diner at Zuni which is not far from Theatre Row because I had read that this place was popular with the Off-Broadway theater crowd. This restaurant is on 9th Street, not 8th Street so I was slightly confused while trying to locate it. Zuni is a great place to eat. The food is “New American” so it is inventive twists to familiar dishes. And it really is a hangout for Off-Broadway theater workers because I overheard a guy talking about his idea for a musical. He is working on a musical based on the The Thing with Two Heads starring Rosey Grier and Ray Milland only featuring a Tea Party conservative joined to a Puerto Rican transvestite. Yeah, I’m totally stealing that idea! Not!

My next bus trip will be to Niagara Falls. I plan to visit the Canadian side since I’ve already seen the American side. On my next trip to New York City I may explore Brooklyn itself if there aren’t any plays I want to see.

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Seventh Washington DC Trip

Yesterday I made my 7th bus trip to Washington DC. On the long ride I read Six Days of the Condor by James Grady. This book is finally available as a Kindle ebook which is good because paperback copies are hard to find and expensive. Six Days of the Condor is set in Washington DC. It was a short book so I managed to finish reading it long before we arrived in the city. I also watched a movie on my smartphone.

I spent most of the day at the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum which are in the same building. Although I visited this place on my last trip that was kind of rushed. On this trip I took my time and saw all three floors of artwork. I walked all the way from the National Air and Space Museum where the bus dropped us off but I still arrived before the place opened at 11:30 a.m. I think we arrived in Washington DC at 10:30 a.m. I did stumble across the Goethe-Institut while walking around the area. I also saw the Washington DC version of a BikeShare station and found the Friendship Arch in Chinatown.

Chinese Friendship Arch

At the Smithsonian American Art Museum I saw a major exhibit of the work of Nam June Paik, the video artist. I even saw his famous masterpiece, Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, which looked kind of familiar. I must have seen that in one my modern art books. According to Wikipedia, this piece is on permanent display at the Lincoln Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. However, the museum was also running a special exhibit of his work so I saw additional stuff like his TV Cello.

Electronic Superhighway

I guess it is worthwhile to do some research on the artwork I saw. For example, I definitely saw Woman Eating by Duane Hanson even though the web site claims it is not currently on view. I saw Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting Manhattan. I also noticed the painting Bar in Hotel Scribe by Floyd MacMillan Davis featuring Ernest Hemingway and caricatures of other World War 2 war correspondents.

Woman Eating

Another special exhibit I saw at the National Portrait Gallery was the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2013. I also found the Luce Foundation Center for American Art, a study center and visible art storage facility. The only artwork I recognized there were two paintings by Romaine Brooks; La France Croisée (The Cross of France, 1914) and Peter, a Young English Girl (1923–1924), a portrait of the artist Gluck.

Bravo Exhibit

I had lunch in the Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard after buying some food at the Courtyard Café. There wasn’t much of a selection so I had an egg salad sandwich and some chocolate milk. Before I left the museum at 3:30 p.m. I stopped in at the museum store. I didn’t find anything I particularly wanted to buy. I might have made a token purchase but I decided to go to the Barnes & Noble Bookstore on 12th Street where the book selection would be better. In fact, that is exactly where I went after leaving the museum. I found plenty of books to buy because they had a good selection in their Drama section. I bought Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom by August Wilson, and The Playwright’s Workout by Michael Bigelow Dixon. They even had the magazine American Theatre so I bought a copy.

Now I have a few minor details to note for the sake of future trips. The Washington Monument was covered in scaffolding to repair the earthquake damage. I noticed lots of food trucks parked along the National Mall so I bought a popsicle at one. The popsicle was three dollars which was outrageous. It started to rain a little but fortunately I had my umbrella. If you use Capital Bikeshare you should be careful where you ride the bike because I saw some people get yelled at for riding through the Hirshorn Museum’s Sculpture Garden.

On the trip home we stopped at a Bob Evans in Frederick, MD. I drained the battery on my smartphone while listening to music so I finally used my portable battery which did a good job of partially recharging my device. My smartphone, cell phone, and Kindle Paperwhite all use the same type of connection so I only need to bring one plug with the portable battery.

I don’t know when I will make another trip to Washington DC but I should try to visit the International Spy Museum, the Kennedy Center, and the Folger Shakespeare Library before finally exploring the rest of the city. Next week I am going on another bus trip to New York City.

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Writing Goals

Getting a reading of a ten minute play has not proven to be very difficult. So far I have managed to get three of my ten minute plays read. I even have video of the readings. Now I need another goal since my initial goal was to have anything at all done. My new goal will be to have a one act play read or performed.

The theater does not offer fame or fortune to the playwright. Most playwrights cannot make a living at it so playwriting remains a hobby even for the most talented writers. I have noticed that even successful playwrights receive very little feedback on their work. A published play on Amazon will have no reviews and a video of a reading or performance on YouTube will have no comments. This makes playwriting seem like a thankless and unrewarding activity.

I have been giving some thought on how to maintain my interest in playwriting since it can be so discouraging. I would not have written as much as I have if it had not been for a breakthrough in my understanding of motivation. The writer is often encouraged to write for the sake of writing. Unfortunately the muse will not cooperate when you write for no real reason. Writing for the sake of writing is like driving for the sake of driving. If you get in your car with the intention of just going on a joy ride, you will probably just sit there because you can’t think of where to go. The same thing happens to writers who don’t have anything in mind. Writing must serve some purpose. Writing should be seen as the means of achieving a goal. You need to envision a positive outcome or you won’t be motivated to do the writing.

So to maintain my interest in playwriting I need to have a clear objective. Since you cannot achieve anything by writing a play, the objective will have to be an artistic objective. In other words, I can’t expect to make any money at it or even receive much attention or recognition. Therefore whatever there is to be achieved must be achieved through the work itself. Just writing a play as great as The Glass Menagerie would be a good artistic objective. The sheer eloquence of your writing can be highly satisfying if you manage to express something noble. So that is one thing to shoot for.

Although theater is ephemeral, it can be exciting to see your vision brought to life. I was a little thrilled at how well my second ten minute play was performed. Although it was only a reading, the actors put some emotion into their reading and made the play work. I filled this ten minute play with many intriguing hints of great secrets. I don’t think anyone took that seriously but it was still exciting to see an actress read it with passion. That was pretty cool. So another objective would be to write something that I really want to see performed. I could fanaticize about the ultimate theater experience; a surreal experience of bizarre drama, fanciful costumes, garish makeup, and a sublime significance. I’ve never seen an ideal play that combines the surreal with the sublime but I can imagine it and I could strive to get such a play performed. It would be worthwhile just to see my conception of an ideal play. So that is another artistic objective.

But as a practical matter, it is hard to keep yourself inspired. My trips to New York City are certainly inspiring. I am trying to work more theater shows into my trips. Unfortunately I can’t afford to go to New York City too often, although I’ve managed to go once a month. I am currently taking an online course in playwriting and that is exciting. I should probably look for other writing workshops. There are always starving writers teaching writing workshops. I don’t think the workshop itself is very useful but participating in a workshop engages you in the writing life.

However, the most important means I have to maintain my interest in playwriting is through my own imagination. I can choose to invest more significance into theater than it deserves. I’ve become very good at heightening my sense of an object’s significance. I can choose to see theater as a sacred place. I can choose to inflate my slightest involvement with the theater into a matter of great import. For example, I can take a photo of a theater’s exterior and see that as a tragic gesture, an attempt to capture the magic of a cultural institution as an outsider. It is all a matter of subjective interpretation. After all, every minor event is a symbolic act to the writer.

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New York City Performing Arts Trip

I have made yet another trip to New York City to advance my knowledge of the city and its cultural resources. Currently I am visiting New York City at least once a month. The tourist in me is tired of New York City but since I have an interest in the arts there is still a compelling reason to go. This particular trip had a performing arts theme.

I kept a bunch of receipts since they are a convenient form of documentation. For example, I know I ordered breakfast at the McDonald’s in White Haven PA at 7:31 a.m. This means it took the bus two and half hours to reach Exit 277 on Interstate 80. This fact is worth noting because this is also where you get on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for Philadelphia. Now I know this is two and a half hours from Williamsport.

I guess my digital camera photos also have a timestamp which is useful for figuring out when I was at someplace. My first photo was taken at 10:00 a.m. so the bus must have arrived at New York City shortly before 10:00 a.m. Another thing I want to note is that I saw lots of construction along The Helix, the New Jersey approach roadway to the Lincoln Tunnel. It looks like some buildings are going to obstruct your view of the New York City skyline as you approach the Lincoln Tunnel.

The first item on my itinerary was to photograph the High School of Performing Arts on West 46th Street. This was the high school that inspired the film and TV show Fame. I think I watched that TV show when I was in high school. The building wasn’t used in the film and it no longer houses the High School of Performing Arts. I also took photos of theaters on West 43rd Street which I missed on previous trips; The Town Hall and Stephen Sondheim Theatre. So I have located and photographed almost every Broadway theater in the Times Square Theatre District.

High School of Performing Arts

After that I walked to West 42nd Street and 10th Avenue just to take a photo of a CVS Pharmacy. There wasn’t much point in this except I am familiar with CVS Pharmacy and I couldn’t find any photos online of this particular street corner. I wanted the photo for my custom travel guide since I may want to find a CVS Pharmacy on a future trip. The CVS Pharmacy in my neighborhood built a new store to move into so they were sort of on my mind.

Once I had my precious CVS Pharmacy photo I retraced my steps to the Times Square subway station and followed an endless series of corridors to find the N train platform. A Q train showed up and based on experience I decided to board it rather than wait for a N train. Sometimes it seems to be a mistake to wait for a train with a particular letter. The Q train only went to 57th Street where I transferred onto a N train for one more stop, Fifth Avenue – 59th Street, my actual destination. The Fifth Avenue – 59th Street Station is on the south end of Central Park.

I was going to take photos of the Plaza Hotel but it was covered in a massive mural during its renovation. See Fake Facade Mural Covers Plaza Hotel Amid Renovation. But I did see the Pulitzer Fountain and an Apple Store glass cube nearby. I walked to West 60th Street and West 59th Street where I hanged around the neighborhood for several hours waiting for my show to start. I tried to find the Cinema Café where I planned to have lunch but I could not find it. Now that I am home I have discovered that this restaurant had closed. This pisses me off because my online research did not reveal that the restaurant was closed. They still have their web site up. It was only when I searched for “Cinema Café closed” that I discovered it was closed. So I guess I need to add the word “closed” to my search terms to make sure someplace hasn’t closed.

Anyway, I found some nameless café on West 60th Street where I had an almond croissant and a can of carbonated lemonade to keep hydrated. I accidentally left my umbrella here, but later on I came back and sat at the exact same table to casually retrieve it without anyone noticing. I was inordinately proud of this “save” even though it was only a minor annoyance.

I found Bloomingdales and Serendipity 3 along West 60th Street, places associated with Andy Warhol. Unfortunately Serendipity 3 was too crowded for me to drop in. But I did find the Roosevelt Island Tramway and since I had time to kill, I decided to ride the tram to Roosevelt Island. The fare was the same as a subway ride and you can use your MetroCard. I’m glad I did this because the Roosevelt Island Tramway gives you a specular view of the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The cabin slowly rises through the nearby high rises so you can see their roof gardens. Then it follows the Queensboro Bridge over to Roosevelt Island where you have an excellent view of Manhattan’s skyline along the East River. I walked halfway down the island to take photos of the United Nations’ Secretariat building before making a return trip.

According to a receipt, the only meal I had on this trip was at Fresco Café at 250 East 60th Street. I had a bagel with Nova Scotia salmon (aka Lox) because this was a New York City culinary specialty I’ve been meaning to try. I ate rapidly in order to be on time for the show The Year I Was Gifted by Monica Bauer at 59E59 Theaters. This was technically the highlight of my trip. I wanted to check out the 59E59 Theaters because it is the theater used by Primary Stages, the theater company running the online playwriting course I’m taking. So if I understand things correctly, 59E59 Theaters is basically just an Off-Broadway performance space used by multiple Off-Broadway theater companies. I have to admit that I did not understand the distinction between a theater company and its performance space before I began to delve more deeply in the world of theater. Doing your research is important. Otherwise you get confused about whom you are dealing with.

The Year I Was Gifted was a one woman show performed in Theater C. Theater C was a black box theater. If you read the Wikipedia article on black box theaters you will see it mentions the Edinburgh Festival Fringe which is exactly where this show is heading. So if I understand things correctly again, 59E59 Theaters presented an East To Edinburgh festival of plays bound for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In other words, any performer or theater company planning on appearing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe could have arranged to appear here in New York City first. I want to understand all the relationships here because it is possible that Monica Bauer was just an independent playwright/performer unassociated with anyone else. The Year I Was Gifted was an entertaining show about Monica Bauer’s youth. I’m assuming it was autobiographical. She managed to get out of Oklahoma to attend the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan where students were expelled for homosexual behavior. The Interlochen Arts Academy reminds me of the High School of Performing Arts I mentioned previously so I could relate to this show. I kind of envy anyone who was considered gifted enough to be pulled from regular school in order to attend a special school for the arts. It seems like such a significant validation but I suppose you are too young to really benefit from it. Monica Bauer appears to be a moderately successful playwright. In other words, she is more successful than me but still hasn’t received any real attention. Keep in mind that I’m a poor judge of such matters. For example, I’ve been studying the work of María Irene Fornés because she was on the reading list for my online playwriting course. Apparently María Irene Fornés was very influential in New York City’s Off Broadway community but I still get the sense that she is some obscure and forgotten playwright.

59E59 Theaters

I almost fell asleep during the show because air-conditioning makes me sleepy and the black box theater was dark enough to encourage a little rest. New York City was like a sauna. Eventually I lost so much weight through sweating that I could not keep my pants up. Seriously, I must have lost an inch from my waistline because I had to remove all heavy objects from my pockets to keep my pants from falling down. My belt was tight enough in the morning but by the afternoon  I could not pull it tight enough. I was sweating buckets!

After the show was over I walked to Columbus Circle and took the subway uptown to the Lincoln Center. I went to the Lincoln Center on a previous trip and took the tour. But I didn’t visit the Library for the Performing Arts so that was my objective on this trip. The Lincoln Center fountain was on so I took some photos of the fountain. I also saw many dancers practicing around the Hearst Plaza even though it was way too hot for such physical exertions. I’m not sure if they were rehearsing for a show or taking an outdoor class. Anyway, there wasn’t much for me to do at the Library for the Performing Arts. I examined some display cases on the work of the Kronos Quartet, an American string quartet I’ve never heard of.  I think I will explore their music even though discovering them at the Library for the Performing Arts is a random encounter. I then walked across the street to the American Folk Art Museum which moved here from West 53rd Street. I was expecting the museum to be bigger than it was when I visited it on West 53rd Street but it was even smaller with just two galleries devoted to a single artist. Admission to the American Folk Art Museum is free and I can see why. I didn’t even bother to make the $5.00 suggested donation for such a meager display of artwork. But I did buy a book on the work of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein. I mentioned this artist in my play on visionary artists so I wanted to buy this book for its personal significance to me.

Lincoln Center Dancers

Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything planned after that so I just took the subway back downtown to Times Square. It was way too hot to be running all around town. I went to The Drama Book Shop and bought a couple of books by Adam Rapp, a well known playwright. Most people probably don’t know who the hell Adam Rapp is. However the New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood has refused to review any more of his plays and this has given him a kind of fame. For the rest of the trip I just wandered around the theater district taking even more photos of Broadway theaters. I noticed a very heavy police presence in the West 42nd Street area but I didn’t see anything going on. I bought a lot of cold drinks to keep myself hydrated. I didn’t spend much money on this trip because I didn’t go to a formal restaurant but I did buy lots of liquids. There was a brief thunderstorm with some heavy rain which provided the only justification for carrying around an umbrella all day long. I did discover that the Booth Theater will be showing Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie. That is one of my favorite plays so I’m tempted to splurge on a Broadway ticket for that. My next trip to New York City will be on August 10th. I plan to see a NYC Fringe Festival play entitled Manic Pixie Dream Girl: A Graphic Novel Play because there is an Noon matinee.

Library for the Performing Arts

I was going to finish this blog post here but it is bad writing to leave out the summation. There must be some reflection on my experiences. I think the lesson of this trip is that while the grandeur of New York City may lend a certain majesty to its cultural life, the artist’s work may actually be very modest and unimpressive in other surroundings. I’ve realized this after seeing the birthplace of punk rock. Many of the New York punk rock bands were terrible and played in cramped bars but they became legendary simply from being based in New York City. A lot of the theater in New York City also takes place in shabby performance spaces and isn’t very impressive. But it is difficult to disentangle the experience from its context. Everything that occurs in New York City takes place in the company of skyscrapers and seems to tower over everything else. The Year I Was Gifted was part of my extraordinary day and became entangled with my visit to Lincoln Center and pilgrimage to the original High School of Performing Arts. So even though it was a randomly encountered performance it seems meaningful. It was kind of magical to see dancers practicing around the Lincoln Center afterwards. And where do I fit into all this? My vision of New York City does seem to stretch beyond its own mystique. My imagination becomes entangled in the experience and lends its own majesty to the island of the skyscrapers. After all, I researched this trip and gathered the threads to weave it into an extraordinary day.

The Glass Menagerie

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YouTube and Theater

I’ve noticed that theater is making excessive use of YouTube. So far my scripts have made it onto YouTube more often than the stage. It seems like every theater company is videotaping their staged readings and productions to post on YouTube. Sometimes this is done to promote the show or reading and sometimes it is done to give the actors a video clip for self-promotion.

I’m not complaining, but theater is supposed to be a live performance on a stage. Something isn’t right if plays never make it onto the stage, but exist as YouTube videos. The playwright who finds himself writing scripts for video isn’t a playwright. He is a script writer. He should be writing screenplays.

It is important for playwrights to realize what is going on with the theater’s use of  YouTube. I’ve seen some playwriting competitions which appear to be thinly veiled excuses for video production companies to drum up business. And I’ve seen playwriting opportunities which only serve to give an actor a YouTube video for self-promotion.

A playwright may need to change his writing if the script is sure to be videotaped. A scene will have to work on the small screen as well as on the stage. And a playwright will need to change his strategy if his portfolio consists entirely of YouTube videos.

Since I was very involved in the YouTube community before turning my attention back to the theater, I ask myself what am I doing back here? But fortunately I am very familiar with online video. Maybe I should reconsider online video. I remember that a lot of actors were using YouTube for self-promotion and there were many web series created by video production studios. Frequently you could not determine who was involved in producing a slick video. There was the famous incident of LonelyGirl15 posing as a vlogger when her videos were actually a work of fiction created by a screenwriter, a filmmaker, and a professional actress. And I’ve also seen videos by marketing agencies, theater companies, aspiring actors, aspiring comedians, amateur filmmakers, independent film producers, etc.

In the world of playwriting, I’ve come across some playwrights writing for online web series. It appears to be the actors in theater companies that start these kinds of projects. On YouTube the boundaries between theater, video production, filmmaking, and television become blurred with dramatic writers crossing into other areas almost by accident.

So how should I use this as a writer? First, I should search for theater artists who are active on YouTube and subscribe to their channel to interact with them. Second, I should study screenwriting since it appears to be impossible to avoid getting roped into that type of dramatic writing. I spent a considerable amount of time learning After Effects so maybe I should offer my video composition services to theater companies as a means of establishing a relationship. And finally, instead of producing my own plays maybe I should consider producing them as videos.

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Billtown Sideshow Extravaganza

Last night was the most memorable evening I have ever experienced in Williamsport! I attended the Billtown Burlescapades at the Pajama Factory. I decided to attend this event because I’m always looking for an excuse to visit the Pajama Factory. The Pajama Factory has become the artistic hub of Williamsport. Also, this event qualifies as theater.

This was a showcase of the best burlesque, circus, and carny performers on the East Coast according to the program. There were actually several shows with the entire event running from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. so it was a long evening. The first thing I noticed was a genuine, funky old circus bus parked in front of the Pajama Factory. The bus itself was very interesting and conjured up fantasies of traveling circus troupes. I think this bus brought the Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Revue. It had a trailer for their stage and equipment. According to the program it was a red prison bus and definitely belonged to the Hellzapoppin troupe.

After a few brief magic acts in the courtyard, we moved into one of the many buildings of the Pajama Factory for a lengthy burlesque show. There were a few unusual aspects to the burlesque show. For example, there were artists working on sketches inspired by the performers. This was a nice touch. I’ve never seen theater try to involve artists like that. A few of the performers were from Washington DC and Philadelphia which I think is worth mentioning because it is evidence of the Northeast megalopolis, the concept of the East Coast being one huge urbanized region with a shared culture. Part of the show was an aerial dance with a dancer wrapping herself in a sheet suspended from the ceiling. I don’t know much about modern dance so I don’t know what you call that. It looked like some kind of performance art. The burlesque show also included some variety acts like the song "Anything You Can Do" from the Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun and the old Abbott and Costello patter routine "Who’s on First?" starring Bob Taylor of Custom Taylored Productions. I recognized Bob Taylor from many Community Theater productions. He has mounted a few shows at the Pajama Factory.

The final part of the evening was the Hellzapoppin Sideshow Revue which was a sort of steampunk sideshow act. There were three performers; Bryce “The Govna” Graves, Chelsea NoPants, and Trixtah Rodriguez. Their show included fire breathing, sword swallowing, break dancing, walking on broken glass, and balancing acts. I loved the presentation which was very theatrical and clearly inspired by steampunk. They even used a Rammstein song.

The Billtown Burlescapades elevates my opinion of the local arts scene because it was genuinely awesome. I usually assume I have to travel to one of the East Coast’s major cities to find any alternative culture. Of course, some of the performers were not local but at least we finally have a venue for wacky creative people.

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New York City Scouting Mission

Yesterday I made yet another trip to New York City. The purpose of this trip was a sort of scouting mission because I wanted to locate various establishments where I might have business. But due to my varied interests, I had a long list of places to visit.

After visiting the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh last month, there were a few places listed in the book Andy Warhol’s New York City which I wanted to see. One place I particularly wanted to see was the site where Max’s Kansas City used to be. Unfortunately Max’s Kansas City is long gone but you can still see the building. Besides being associated with the Warhol crowd, Max’s Kansas City also played a big role in the New York Punk Rock scene. It was where Deborah Harry worked as a waitress before forming her rock group, Blondie. I’ve recently read the book Blondie: Parallel Lives.

But the first order of business upon arriving in New York City was to check out various theaters to the east of Times Square and Broadway. On previous trips I tended to concentrate on the side streets to the west. So I located the Belasco Theatre where President Obama once saw a performance of August Wilson’s play Joe Turner’s Come And Gone. Think about that for a minute. A major playwright might write something that will be seen by the President of the United States. I also found the Hudson Theater, which is no longer a theater, but it is still noteworthy for being one of the places where Andy Warhol would show his films.

I took a few photos of random things that were of some interest. For example, a Martz Trailways bus was interesting to me because that is the bus company which services North-East Pennsylvania. There may be circumstances under which I would want to take one of their buses to New York City. Last week I made a brief trip to Wilkes-Barre and saw where the Martz Trailways bus station is located. It was sort of hidden away and not where I expected it to be so that was a worthwhile excursion. Travel is frequently a difficult, vexing business so I’m always thinking ahead to make it go more smoothly. I also saw the new CitiBike racks of bikes for the public to use around New York City. I don’t intend to bike around the city but this new bike sharing scheme has been in the news and it is helpful to know where they are located.

There were three establishments further downtown which I wanted to locate because I may actually need to find those places on personal business. First, there was the Producers’ Club, a performance space located in the Times Square Theater District. I entered a short play in a playwriting contest. If they select my play it will be performed at the Producers’ Club. At first, I thought the Producers’ Club was the name of the theater company but it is actually just the performance space. It could be rented out by anyone.

The Producers Club

Another building I photographed is 311 West 43rd Street. This is a non-descript building that apparently nobody has ever bothered to photograph before, but it is where the Lark Play Development Center has their offices, on the 5th Floor. This non-profit organization provides many services to playwrights so I wanted to find the place for future reference.

Lark Play Development Center

The final establishment I found is 307 West 38th Street, where the Primary Stage Studios is located. I’m taking an online playwriting class offered by the Einhorn School of Performing Arts (ESPA) so I have a definite relationship with this organization. But I didn’t have any reason to drop in so I only confirmed my sense of where they are.

Einhorn School of Performing Arts

After exploring the Times Square Theater District, my next goal was to have lunch at El Quijote in the Chelsea Hotel. This restaurant is open to the public and it is about as close as you can get to the Chelsea Hotel without booking a room or renting an apartment. Andy Warhol and the members of the Factory dined here often, according to the book Andy Warhol’s New York City. The Chelsea Hotel was many blocks downtown so I took the subway. I think I took the 7 Avenue Local from Penn Station. I remember a long journey through the corridors of Penn Station trying to find the subway lines. Unfortunately the 7 train was an express train or wasn’t following its normal schedule because it took me to 14th Street without making any stops. So instead of going directly to the restaurant I had to walk several blocks uptown.

Fortunately I was able to find where Max’s Kansas City once was because it is between East 17th Street and East 18th Street. Max’s Kansas City is now a Bread & Butter restaurant at 213 Park Avenue South. I think there should be a shrine at this address considering how important Max’s was to the history of rock music and the fine arts. This Bread & Butter boutique restaurant should be invaded by aging punks and art history majors wearing leather jackets so nobody forgets what was once here. The most I can do is post my photos on Flickr and tag them with “Max’s Kansas City” so other cool tourists can find it and leave flowers or something.

Max's Kansas City

I also walked to Gramercy Park. Gramercy Park is a private park so I wasn’t able to get in but I did take a photo of the Edwin Booth statue. It does not really make sense to erect a statue to a man in a private park where the public cannot see it properly and reflect upon his legacy. It may make a good symbol for the elitism of the theater. I was also disappointed to find the Player’s Club covered in scaffolding so I was unable to take a photo of that exclusive social club whose members included Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, and a long list of celebrities.

By that time it was Noon, when the El Quijote should be open, so I walked all the way to West 23rd Street. El Quijote wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It is a slightly formal Spanish restaurant. The wait staff all wore jackets and could speak Spanish. But the customers were not so formal so I didn’t feel underdressed. I ordered the mixed seafood with green sauce. It was shrimp, oysters, scallops, and mussels covered in a thick sauce with onions and chives or something like that. It was an excellent choice because it wasn’t a ridiculous amount of food to eat. It was just right if you want a light meal without fancy, microscopic dishes that cost a fortune. It only cost me around $25.00 including the tip. Unfortunately, the Chelsea Hotel was also covered in scaffolding so I didn’t get any good photos of this historic hotel.

After lunch, I went further downtown to the East Village to locate some Off-Off Broadway theaters. I took the Lexington Avenue Local 6 train to Astor Place. The 6 train was very crowded. At Astor Place I emerged from the subway entrance in front of the Starbucks. I took lots of photos of the subway entrances here because this was something I was updating in my notes. Although I’ve been to the East Village on a previous trip on a mission to see the historic Off-Off Broadway theaters, I wanted to do a more thorough job this time.

One of the major theaters I located was Joseph Papp’s Public Theater. I think this was the theater that produced Jason Miller’s That Championship Season which later transferred to Broadway. I also found New York Theatre Workshop, La Mama Experimental Theater, Theater for the New City, Theatre 80, and the Orpheum Theatre which is still devoted to STOMP. I think it is irritating to see theaters doing the same show forever to the point where you think of them in terms of the show. For example, Winter Garden Theatre has been running the musical Mamma Mia! ever since I’ve been visiting New York City and I’m sick of seeing its giant billboard. Anyway, I don’t know if the Orpheum Theatre will ever do anything besides STOMP. I think the Orpheum Theatre only exists to do STOMP.

Public Theatre

The East Village now has many futuristic skyscrapers which look totally out of place so the area must seem very different from what it looked like during the era of New York Punk Rock. I’ve read a lot about how this area is being gentrified. But I recently learned that the East Village is Little Japan and I saw plenty of evidence of that. If you look closely you can see many Japanese restaurants and establishments in the East Village. I even saw Japanese women in kimonos on the streets. There was a street fair taking place where I saw quite a few booths from the Japanese community.

After wandering all over several blocks taking way too many photos, I finally decided to actually enter a few establishments. First I went to St. Mark’s Bookshop where I bought two books; Lovely Head and Other Plays by Neil LaBute and The Art Lover’s Guide to New York. The Art Lover’s Guide to New York may give me some ideas for future trips to New York City. Right now I am repeating myself by revisiting places I’ve already been to. Then I had an Italian beer at Jimmy’s No. 43. I don’t usually visit bars but this place interested me because it is sort of a hangout for the Einhorn School of Performing Arts where they do readings of student plays. Finally, in a rare nod to geekdom, I went to Toy Tokyo where I bought a $100 Godzilla figure. I kind of regret this purchase because it was way too extravagant and unrelated to the serious purpose of my trip.

Eventually I began to get too hot and tired to keep up my exploration of the East Village. I actually walked all the way to Madison Square Park by following the street fair. I took the Lexington Avenue Local 6 train up to Grand Central. I got off there, at 42nd Street, because I intended to go to the Drama Book Shop on West 40th Street. Before I reached that store I passed the New York Public Library and Bryant Park. I really covered a lot of ground on this trip and saw most of the landmarks all over again. A purchase at the Drama Book Shop is becoming part of my New York City trip ritual. This time I managed to obtain some real finds. I headed directly to the B authors where I found Steven Berkoff’s Agamemnon and The Fall of the House of Usher. This is the British playwright’s work which I was searching for on a previous trip. More importantly I found Hunting and Gathering by Brooke Berman, the instructor of the online course I am taking. This book is totally unavailable for purchase online unless you want to pay $500.00 which is what some bookseller is trying to get for a copy.

I pretty much squandered the last few hours of my trip because I was exhausted from all that running around. I just took lots of photos around Times Square as usual. I was shocked to see a totally nude woman panhandling on Times Square. She was covered in body paint but she wasn’t wearing a g-string or pasties like some of the other “Nude Cowboy” panhandlers. Apparently this is legal because it qualifies as performance art. Times Square is getting to be like a open air strip club where you can have your photo taken with a nude girl for a few dollars.

Tom Hanks Lucky Guy

With this trip I am finally breaking away from being a tourist. I am beginning to use New York City as a resource to further my own ends. A lot of the photos I took will be added to my custom travel guide for future reference. Maybe I’m still acting too much like a tourist, but a lot of what I do may prove useful later on. For example, taking a lot of photos gives me a stockpile of images which I can use for self-published book covers or artwork which will require copyright free materials. I may use a few of my observations in my plays. And my research on the New York City theater community will definitely be useful in evaluating playwriting opportunities. But I think I need to explore Brooklyn next because the vast majority of the creative community lives there.

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