Crazy Fantasy

Stumbled upon some local history during a rabbit hole of link following which started at a dissection of the neon signs in Google’s New York office.

There are two of these signs; each is unique and spells the word “Google” in lettering emulating famous New York signs from the past and present. It seems that the right-most “g” in the sign pictured above is modeled on a restaurant formerly located at the corner of West 4th Street and Sixth Avenue known as “Groceria”.

If you know this corner then you probably also know that the stretch running along Sixth Avenue from West 4th Street down to Bleecker Street is something of an anomaly in the leafy West Village: the best description I encountered is that’s

a little piece of old Times Square, hearkening back to a delightfully crummy cacophony of sex shops, tattoo parlors, and hot dog stands

Papaya Dog, Fantasy Tattoo, Fantasy Parties, and – until recently – Crazy Fantasy rest incongruously at the foot of the 333 Sixth Avenue, an elegant Flatiron-like structure straddling West 4th Street, Sixth Avenue and Cornelia Street.

It seems that Groceria formerly occupied all of this space; a bright sun-lit Italian trattoria sporting elegant brass fixtures and frequented by celebrities such Frank Sinatra, Eli Wallach, and Nancy Walker. With its espresso machine and supermarket-like offerings it sounds like it was well ahead of its time and would thrive in today’s West Village.

Now, it seems the new owner of 333 Sixth Avenue is attempting to remodel the block by buying out the current tenants, Crazy Fantasy being just the first to go. Will they attract another neighbourhood asset like Groceria? As Vanishing City notes, it’s more likely we’ll get another frozen yoghurt option.

I’m just struck by how the redevelopment of the undesirable seedy block around the corner from my apartment may be what causes my own rent to rise to the point where I’m forced out of the wider neighbourhood altogether. Careful what you wish for!

Weekend Report

This weekend I:

  • investigated a hot coffee shop tip: Bar Infinito, on Sihlstrasse. With no less than five grinders nestled together on the counter, I had high hopes: although the espressos were fresh and short, the flavour was pretty mild. I would have liked to choose which of those five I got, in addition to turning down the piped music before settling down to read. Still, a nice place and the first decent coffee place I know of opening late near the main station.
  • finally called into Record Warehouse, a large second-hand CD and vinyl store near Central which had heretofore been closed on the previous few occasions I passed by. It was worth calling in: a large jazz section offered two albums with tracks from a much-listened compilation album I picked up a few years ago. Just when you think you’ve explored every little nook and cranny, the city throws up another little nugget of interest.
  • hopped on the #6 tram bound for Fluntern Cemetery, to finally see James Joyce’s grave. Reminiscent of Sihlfeld cemetery in the city centre with its neat rows of ornate graves and gravel pathways, Fluntern is much smaller and less trafficked, despite its proximity to the zoo and well over a dozen famous graves. Joyce rests towards the back, a simple marble tomb embedded in the ground alongside a statue of the man himself. I had been under the impression that Joyce spent many happy years in Zurich, which was not quite right: although he did leave Dublin for Zurich in 1904 with the promise of a teaching position with Berlitz, the job offer was a fake and he ventured further to Trieste, settling there for almost a decade until retreating to Zurich for the First World War. Unhappy with the post-war Trieste, he settled in Paris for almost twenty years before retreating – again, finally, and for just a few weeks – to Zurich to escape the occupation of France.
  • spent a day skiing at Pizol, near the Austrian/Lichtenstein border at the far end of the Wallensee beside Sargans. It was a gloriously sunny day with a lovely group tackling some surprisingly challenging new blue slopes. Though the skiing was wonderful, the highlight of the day had to be the brass band celebrating Fasnacht at the summit. 30 musicians of the Pelzchappni Brass Band bedecked in traditional garb blasting out German pop and rock favourites for the patrons of the restaurant at the top of a mountain in the middle of the Alps. You might think the sound would dissipate in the thin bright 2200m open air…but no. I was rarely so happy.

Weekend Report

This weekend I:

  • attended a public PhD défense and subsequent party at the EPFL
  • took a Saturday morning wander around Lausanne – this is one Swiss city I could actually like: with its crazy hills and soaring bridges, Saturday morning vegetable market bringing crowds into the old town centre, lots of nice fun little shops and views of Lake Geneva, it’s really the San Francisco of Switzerland
  • got very distracted in a really nice comics shop – all the comics were in French but I got a little “Destination Moon” Tintin model and a weird comic book-inspired guide to Rome from Lonely Planet as a present
  • tasted some very nice local beer on the streets and bought a few bottles for afterwards
  • went to see “Toy Story 3″, in Geneva, in 2D and a small screen but – crucially – without any intermission; nothing less than a masterpiece
  • visited Yvoire, a popular little village in France just across the lake from Geneva, and marvelled at how the shops were open, service was even worse than in Switzerland, ate some nice ice cream and caused much amusement at a hat store trying to find anything at all that fitted me – Irish people have apparently not evolved heads suitable for hats (are 64cm hats even possible?)
  • sat on a lot of trains

Contrast

One of my favourite things about visiting San Francisco is simply walking the streets and part of the attraction of the streets is the street art found on buildings all over the city. Mission District is the most famous and probably has the most murals but I stumbled on these contrasting efforts in the Tenderloin and Haight areas, respectively.

IMG_4869

Saturday in Sausalito

I first visited California about five years ago on a music trip and two thoughts have remained with me:

  • how much I preferred San Francisco to Los Angeles
  • the lights on the hills crossing the Golden Gate on our way to Sausalito

Ever since, I’ve avoided Los Angeles and vowed to explore those Sausalito hills. Today would be that day!

I started out at the Asian Heritage Festival taking place nearby in Civic Center. Things were just getting going but I picked up a t-shirt, had a coconut waffle and tried some Kona coffee (none of which having much to do with Asia) before daring to try Dottie’s True Blue café. Overhearing a member of the middle portion of the queue tell his mobile phone that “yeah, we’ve been queuing here for an hour and a half now; but, you know, it’s kind of a famous place”, I started to look further. 45 minutes of wandering the Tenderloin later (as close to the streets of “The Wire” as I’m likely to find on this trip and a bigger contrast with the streets of Zurich would be hard to imagine), I settled on a guidebook-recommended Indian and Pakistani eatery called Shalimar (embarrassingly enough, as it turned out, right next door to Dottie’s).

The weather has been terrible on this trip so I didn’t venture out with any plans for a day trip but, by now, the sky was clearing up so I decided maybe it was worth heading out to Sausalito after all. Rough plan was to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, take the bus to Sausalito, wander about for a bit then take the ferry home. Approaching the bridge, this plan seemed a little optimistic: the sky turned grey again; fog appeared: the bridge walk was cold, foggy and blustery. Atmospheric, certainly, and definitely worth seeing the fog billowing in from the sea…but not something I’ll be doing again soon.

Stepping off the bridge…sunshine. Talk about micro-climates! Like a character from a Beckett play, I wait a while for the #10 bus to come before (unlike a character from a Beckett play) starting to walk. It’s just a couple of miles to Sausalito and I’m in the town at least half an hour before I spot the bus sailing past.

Sausalito turns out to more or less as expected: a small town on the bay with a single main street (Bridgeway) hugging the water and lined with upmarket shops and restaurants. Nothing remarkable except for the location which altogether makes it a very pleasant place to while away an afternoon. The weather was warm and sunny, with the fog rolling over the hills making for some impressive pictures.

Bridgeway offers some wine shops offering, in turn, wine tastings. The assistant at the first turned out to have Swiss parents and to have visited Zurich several times down the years; the second – Bacchus and Venus – is less chatty but offers particularly generous portions (that they also inexplicably have a branch in Truckee, Nevada, is worth mentioning because it’s so bizarre and a rare opportunity to use the word “Truckee”); I sampled four reds before staggering back onto the street. A little later, I grab a quick delicious flame-grilled burger at Hamburgers Sausahlito (“where the customer is rarely right”) before hopping on the 6.30 ferry back to the city through the mist, Golden Gate nowhere in sight.

Weekend Report

This weekend I/we:

  • Booked a flight and hotel for San Francisco. Barring volcanic ash, I leave Thursday.
  • Started building the wooden drummer model kit I picked up at the Science Museum in London. I like the idea of these and like having them in the house but can’t help feeling a little concerned that it means I’ve just got too much spare time on my hands.
  • Wandered into town on Saturday and discovered another crazy Zurich shop, dedicated coincidentally to modelling but paper modelling. Paper planes, paper model houses (entire model towns, in fact), paper theatres depicting well-known scenes from popular plays, even paper coffee pots. I was very tempted.
  • Watched a late-night showing of “Mulholland Falls”. I’d seen this before, one very very late night at someone’s house just after finishing a run of a musical, however I fell asleep towards the end and have never known what happened at the end. Having now seen the complete film, I’m none the wiser. Some wonderful scenes but overall it wasn’t a repeat of the “Magnolia” experience (also at Xenix – great cinema) I’d hoped for and walking home in the rain at 2am wasn’t much fun, either.
  • Enjoyed lunch with friends/colleagues at Bohemia.
  • Checked out the design and fashion weekend in and around Langstrasse. After a monster brunch we only had time to explore one small stretch of Josefstrasse but did uncover some very cool shops, like einzigart, that I might never have otherwise found. They’re the kind of places I’ve been visiting based on the Prime Zurich Guide but I reckon now there’s far more of them than I thought. Great for idling away a Saturday afternoon and with the prices it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever actually spend any money. Though I’m sure it means society will soon crumble (the seventh day in Switzerland is for church, family, quiet reflection and skiing), it was very nice having some shops open on a Sunday.
  • Visited the Rieterpark’s “Fiesta Mexicana”, an outdoor festival dedicated to everything Mexican. This was presumably scheduled to tie in with the Mexican exhibition at the museum that I visited last Sunday. Funnily enough, I did vow to return once the weather improved but, unfortunately, today the weather was even worse. We had one very nice cocktail before deciding the whole thing was a little ridiculous (tragi-comic, perhaps) and trudged home through the rain.

I still did not cut the grass, though I did finally find the lawnmower in the basement. With my upcoming trip to San Francisco, I now have a deadline (of sorts – maybe they’ll kick me out and I won’t have to worry).

May Day Weekend

This May Day (Labour Day) weekend,

  • I saw Dianne Reeves at the Tonhalle. If I had to sum her up in one word, it would be “energy”. A wide range of styles, from skat through gospel through standards. She sings her band introductions, she recounts (with great fondness) being directed by George Clooney in “Good Night and Good Luck” and recounts some of the odd things she’s seen in Zurich. The band was excellent, too, especially their opening number.
  • I enjoyed the “holiday”, which unfortunately fell on a Saturday this year; Switzerland is unique among civilised countries in not bumping holidays falling on a weekend onto the following Monday. 2010 is the worst year this decade as 2nd January, May Day, 1st August (Switzerland’s National Day), Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day are all lost to the weekend. 2011 won’t be much better.
  • Mostly stayed in because of the miserable weather. This meant I avoided the riots on Helvetiaplatz, which I was really curious to see. This subject sparked a few conversations at work; a co-worker mistook our chattering for concern and thought it funny that “a couple of Irish guys are afraid of a Zurich riot”. Maybe next year I’ll be more energetic but I can’t help feeling the most dangerous activity will be little more than somebody crossing the road at a red light.
  • Attended a friend’s housewarming party. This was very enjoyable. I was more than a little impressed by his interior decoration skills and vowed to (finally) hang up my pictures.
  • Installed Ubuntu 10. It’s black and purple but at this stage I’ve basically completely stopped following what’s changing beneath the desktop so I’m just happy that it installed without incident in 15 minutes flat and every piece of hardware works fine; beyond that, I don’t know what else to say.
  • I still did not cut the grass…because of the rain. It leapt about 50cm while I was away from Zurich and is now threatening to rise over the hedge, alerting the housing company to this rogue tenant. Perhaps it will continue to rain all summer and I won’t have to bother.
  • Against all expectations (that’s another story), I really enjoyed the “The Time of Angels” Doctor Who double episode. I like the new doctor and really like the new assistant but still thought the first few episodes were pretty dull; these two episodes, however, were excellent. I chanced upon this blog post from The Guardian which makes me want to chase down a couple of other episodes from the same writer.
  • Watched the remainder of the snooker world championships.
  • Visited the Mexican exhibition at the Rietberg Museum, along with some of the permanent exhibition. I felt the exhibits were very good but there was very little in the way of explanation, so I had a ton of questions. I really hate when audio guides cost extra (especially when you’ve already paid a 16 CHF entry fee) because I err on the side of caution and avoid, as I don’t like carrying them around and almost always lose interest with them anyway. I especially liked the Mexican fire god, a grumpy hapless character squatted with a coal bucket perched on his head, the Chinese ink drawings and some of the African statues and masks. I didn’t even see half of the permanent collection or the (fantastic looking) grounds, so will have to return.
  • Finally updated this blog.

Before I wrote this is it felt like just a long and uneventful weekend (which was fine, considering it’s been a few weeks since I was in Zurich) but I guess it wasn’t so bad.

Goldberg Variations

Man walks out onto stage, sits down at the keyboard, plays the entire Goldberg Variations from beginning to end, gets up and walks back in again.

At least, I imagine that’s what happened: I missed the first couple of variations and, being new here and all, opened the wrong door into the church in – of course – the noisiest manner possible. A lovely church, great playing, no asking price; a good night! Part of a little-advertised Bach season at the Bühlkirche that I only learnt about because I walk past it every morning and spotted the poster in the nick of time.

Swiss Gingerman

A little bundle of joy appeared on the doorstep this morning minutes before leaving the house for a weekend in Amsterdam. Sure, the management company charges 50 CHF for a few postbox and doorbell name tags but then they go and do this.

Weekend Diary

I hope to slowly work my way through my copy of “Prime Guide Zurich 2008/2009″, which I picked up at Pile of Books (#92) a few weeks back. This afternoon, thanks to an early furniture delivery – which unexpectedly included delivery – I had time to visit a couple more:

  • #1 – 1000 Objekte
    A nice shop to wander about for a little while admiring the design (both of the shop and the objects) but the prices are stereotypical Zurich “who on earth buys this stuff?” material. Of course, while I was there, somebody was actually buying this stuff.
  • #30 – Chocomotion
    A beautifully designed small chocolate shop with a central circular display of well chosen chocolates from around the world. There’s also a tiny café which I was devastated to discover serves only the “real chocolate melted in hot milk” variety rather than the true pure melted chocolate variety; albeit, the best I’ve ever tasted. When I ask for some chocolate with ginger in, I’m presented with at least four totally unrelated options: ginger pieces rolled in chocolate, ginger paste in chocolate bars, raw cocoa flakes mixed with ginger…

Again, I’m reminded that there are some beautiful streets here in the old part of town, such as Spiegelgasse, dotted in the guide with about a dozen markers for cute interesting little independent shops like the above pair. Of course, being interesting cute little independent shops like the above pair, they close at 4pm on Saturday. Next weeekend: get out earlier.