The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens is showcasing its Cherry Blossom Festival at the moment and I wanted to get out there this morning to see it. Unfortunately some silly bunny forgot to set the alarm and sleep held me prisoner until very late this morning. Not that I'm complaining - I'm pretty sure the early start yesterday (thanks to THE Royal Wedding) was to blame, so I must have needed the lie-in.
All was not lost though, and I hit the pavement and wandered over to the Chelsea neighbourhood to look around. It was great not to be under any pressure to go anywhere, or to see anyone or anything in particular. I wandered in and out of vintage and thrift stores, and even visited some local art galleries. The good thing about having horrible hair, dirty sneakers and a foreign accent is that all the snooty art gallery owners thought I was a tourist so they said hello and then left me alone to browse. Sweet!
Unable to resist a good bookshop, I was attracted to the sign for Idlewild Books on West 19th Street and so I headed upstairs to investigate. In the front of the store, at a large dining table, a man was leading a class in discussing an Italian book. Not that a book club is an unusual thing, except that this book discussion was happening in Italian. Groovy! Then as I wandered around, half-listening to the class dissect tenses, explore themes and grammar, I heard a similar discussion happening behind a large velvet curtain - only this time, it was in French! What a great store - language classes AND books, all in one place; I was very intrigued by the whole thing. I wandered around with a couple of books in my hands, but I ended up putting them back - I have a long enough list of 'must read' books back at home so I was glad to show some restraint at lease. All the same, I loved the vibe in that store and I really enjoyed seeing the shelves of kids books in different languages - sure there was "Le Petit Prince", which I would have expected, but I had never before seen "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" in French. Nice one, Idlewild!
Then I found myself amidst the chaos of 5th Avenue chain stores and so I kept striding along aimlessly. A group of young guys - presumably off-duty construction workers - channeled Kit from "Pretty Woman" and told me to "move that booty....work it" as I cut around them (nice!) and pretty soon I found myself in the back streets of Greenwich Village, heading into Soho.
A quick pit-stop for lunch at a grimy cafe restored me (by the healing powers of grilled cheese and strong coffee) and before long I was off again for the long meander home.
As far as I'm concerned New York is a really welcoming, inclusive city. That said, I honestly don't think I belong in Soho. If you're a fashion plate or a bit of a hipster (i.e. not me), then Soho is a really great neighbourhood for you. Cute pubs and wine bars break up the boutiques and funky one-off stores that line the side-streets. Someone like me, rocking the aforementioned "bad hair-dirty sneakers" combo just doesn't seem to fit somehow. So I kinda kept moving through Soho, past the restaurant accessory wholesale places of Little Italy and ended up in Bowery where I totally don't belong. There is a really 'cool' vibe that punctuates Bowery and it's not even a particularly nice part of the city - but I can see what attracts people to it. A slower pace, less traffic, great street art (some of it even in development as I wandered around), and lots of cute little organic coffee shops and brunch spots. Anyway I scooted out of Bowery pretty quickly, but not before giving a gaggle of real NY tourists some directions to the Empire State Building. I know, me giving directions?! The world is totally nuts.
2nd Avenue was having a kind of street fair down in the East Village and I checked out some of the stalls. There are really creative people that exhibit in these street fairs I think, but I really didn't need to buy anything that they were selling - except for the guy with beautifully cold pineapple pieces - those I had to have.
I contemplated stopping for a glass of wine just so I could sit outside and enjoy the sunshine, and possibly read a couple more chapters of the truly terrible Sweet Valley Confidential book that I am battling through. A lot of the outdoor cafes and bars on 2nd Avenue were pretty full already around that time, so I abandoned the wine idea and just kept walking home, soaking up the sun the whole way.
The weather dude on the radio assured me that tomorrow will give me the same sort of climatic conditions that I enjoyed today. So here's to rocking the bad hair and dirty sneakers two days in a row!