Sunday, October 04, 2015

Natural history and the $16 pastrami sandwich

Financial District, Lower Manhattan
The weather had calmed by Saturday morning. The blustery winds were gone and, although the rain threatened, it mostly held off. Wet pavement and cloudy skies greeted us as we stepped off the Staten Island ferry and onto Manhattan.

Intricate architecture
We walked through the Financial District where the streets seemed abandoned, at least by New York standards. It was Saturday and I suppose the financial moguls, stock traders, and white-collar flimflam artists were away at their homes (high-rise apartments on Park Avenue? urban mansions out in Queens?) counting their money.

New York Stock Exchange building
We came upon the famous Wall Street Bull which was being mobbed by a group of aggressive Chinese tourists. They thronged around that unfortunate beast, snapping pictures, jabbering excitedly, and basically boxing out anyone else from getting a photo. "We're hoping they all leave at once," said a young man who stood with his wife, waiting patiently for an opportunity to get a commemorative.

Maty would have none of it. "I'm going to get a picture," she said and waded right into the melee. I followed close behind.

The mob resisted. One particularly obnoxious fellow stood right in front of the bull, snapping pictures as if he alone had the right. A woman screeched at me and pushed my shoulder as I made my way forward. But Maty made it past them all and posed herself next to the bronze beast's snout and I screened off the photo-snapping solipsist. In one swift motion, I focused and shot. You can see the result below.

The Wall Street Bull
As we shouldered our way out of the buzzing, vaguely hostile crowd, we again encountered the couple we'd spoken to earlier. "You just gotta force it," I said to the young man. "Don't worry about being polite. They're sure as hell not." He nodded grimly and I saw them wade into the fray.

George Washington praying for a miracle at Valley Forge
Our first objective for the day was to deposit Maty with her friend, Oomie, who lives in the Bronx. Oomie is the aunt of our dear sister Nadia, and Maty wanted to pay respects. So we found our way into the subway and took the long ride up to the Bronx, where Oomie greeted us.

Maty and Oomie
Rather than go with the women who, I knew, would spend the day chatting in French, I caught the train back down to Manhattan to find a museum. The first I encountered was the famous American Museum of Natural History. I'd been there before, when I came to New York in 2000, but that visit had been rushed and so I was eager to see it again.

Mammoth bones
The American Museum of Natural History is not a place for quiet observation and contemplation.  It soon became apparent that the people who were missing from the Saturday streets had transferred themselves into the museum. It was packed.

Pre-human ancestors
Nonetheless, I spent a good several hours viewing fossils and dioramas. In particular, I enjoyed the Hall of Human Origins. It's a subject I find endlessly fascinating. For some reason, I was saddened by the dioramas depicting Australopithecus, Neanderthal, and early humans. I imagined the people who had made the displayed artifacts and left behind the fossilized bones and wondered what tragedies and joys they must have experienced all those ages ago. It somehow didn't seem fair that we, the people of today, could look back on them with such dispassion and objectivity. Whatever.

A trilobyte
After the museum, I took a stroll through Central Park. I was hungry by this time, and Maty would still be having fun with her friends in the Bronx. So I went in search of sustenance.

Central Park
I found a couple posh-looking places on Park Avenue but a glance at the menus on the windows convinced me that they were not for me.

Alice in Wonderland
I eventually found a deli at 79th and Lexington that boasted the "Best Pastrami in the World." I was famished at this point, and I love pastrami, so I went in. It was a tiny place with 4 small tables, two aproned men behind a stainless steel counter, and another fellow waiting tables. I ordered the house special: pastrami on rye with a dish of dill pickles. The sandwich was $16.

I was taken aback by the price, but having secured a seat at the table I was too embarrassed to walk out. And let me tell you, it was worth it. The sandwich was over-stuffed with pastrami. No lettuce, no condiments, no tomato. Just pastrami on rye. And it really was the best pastrami sandwich I've ever had.
This is how you get around in New York
Afterwards, I got subway access at 77th and Lexington and made my way back to the Bronx to get Maty. By now, I'd become familiar enough with the subway system to have confidence that I wouldn't get lost. (As an aside, I'm learning that a smart phone is essential these days for travel. And there are numerous New York subway apps that will help you plan your route.)

Maty met me at the Prospect subway station and together we made our way back to South Ferry, where we caught the Staten Island ferry back home. A long, rewarding day and we were both exhausted.

Another day in New York City. Let's see what tomorrow brings.

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