Category Archives: Culture

My New York Bucklist: Top 40 Must-Dos in the Big Apple

In no particular order, a girlfriend and I have amassed a gigantic list of all the top things to do in New York City, some of them popular, some of them less known about. This list of best New York attractions is based on information I have been given by locals and other city transplants such as myself. Those crossed out have been completed!

1. Eat artichoke pizza at Artichoke Pizza, walk the Chelsea High Line, go to the Chelsea Market

2. Go to a Yankees and/or Mets game (I heard if you take the water taxi sometime the captains let the girls drive the boats).

Chelsea High Line

3. Run Brooklyn Bridge back and forth

4. Have a picnic at the Bronx Botanical Garden

5. Climb the 354 stairs to the top of the Statue of Liberty

6. Have drinks at the rooftop bar at The Met

7. Go to an open air concert at Central Park

8. Go to a concert at Madison Square Garden (Saw Prince and Simbad)

9. Attend a church service in Harlem on Sunday and photograph all the women in their beautiful hats.

10. Take a “free” wine and art tour of all the Chelsea galleries

11. See the secret subway station off the 6 local uptown.

12. Run the perimeter of Central Park

13. Shove my face at Shake Shack

14. Get into the Boom Boom Room at The Standard Hotel

15. Take a trapeze class

16. Go to the Fulton fish market early in the morning and meet the legendary fish mongers

17. Take the gondola to Roosevelt Island

18. Visit the China Town ice cream factory

19. Tour the Chrysler and Empire State buildings

The Chrysler Building

20. Take a dance class at Broadway Dance Center

21. Go to a charity ball.

22. Kayak the Hudson River

23. See a freak show at Coney Island, then ride the roller coaster and eat a hot dog at Nathan’s

24. Get waited on by transvestites at Lucky Cheng’s restaurant

25. Find out about New York’s connection to the bagel and write a story about it

26. Get pampered at the Spa Castle and then visit a Hindu Temple in Flushing, Queens

27. Take singing lessons with someone who trains for Broadway

28. Tour the real Little Italy in the Bronx, stroll Arthur Avenue

29. Do a jazz tour in Harlem

30. Have summertime fun at a water taxi beach

31. Eat at the Latin American food trucks in Red Hook, watch a soccer game

32. Rent a row boat in Central Park and ride across the river

33. Live it up in the Hamptons

34. Gamble in Atlantic City

35. Participate in an Improv Everywhere stunt

36. Volunteer to help replant oysters in New York waterways

37. Participate in at least 10 New York Caresprojects

Coney Island

38. Photograph hipsters in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

39. Take a Bollywood dancing class then eat Indian food in Curry Hill

40. Dance salsa under the stars in front of Lincoln Center during the Midsummer Night Swing series. Visit http://midsummernightswing.org/ to see the line up.

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Sam’s Top Ten Sao Paulo

By Sam DeMello

In his last post on teaching English in Sao Paulo, Sam DeMello recounted his success story on how a bold journey became a life change. Now, after having lived in Sao Paulo, he shares with us his favorite things in the city he loves.

1. Hanging out at the Mercado Municipal

The central market of Sao Paulo is awesome. It’s in the center of the city, surrounded by 20 square blocks of street vendors selling everything from pirated movies and fake Gucci to illegal fireworks. I’m pretty sure that if you knew where to look, you would find human organs. Be sure to scarf down a mortadella sandwhich as featured on No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain.

2. Eating Feijoada
Feijoada is the traditional dish of Sao Paulo. It’s a super heavy black bean stew with lots of different pig parts, most of them unidentifiable. At local restaurants it’s only offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays. And since it sits in your stomach like a rock afterward, I would recommend going on the weekend when you have time to relax and digest. For me dining in Brazil is an experience: go out with friends, start drinking at 11 a.m., arrive at the restaurant around 1 p.m., eat and continue drinking until 3 p.m., return to a friends house and pass out until 6 p.m., wake up slowly and watch a soccer game, continue drinking, then go out to a bar or club. Now that, personally, I think is the perfect Saturday in Sao Paulo.

3. Going to Soccer Games
There are three big soccer teams in the city proper: Sao Paulo FC, Palmeiras, and Corinthians. Without a doubt, I think the best game to go to is Corinthians. They are like the Oakland Raiders of Brazil, the team of the favela.  The tickets are cheap, the beer is cheaper, and the food outside the stadium is awesome, although sometimes a little risky. You’ll spend the entire time on your feet dancing, singing, chanting as loudly as a howler monkey, and, if the home team scores a goal, getting bear-hugged by every beer-bellied lunatic in the vicinity. Also, soccer games are the best places to learn how to properly curse in Portuguese. Bring your notebook.

4. Going to the Beach
The closest beach to the city is in Santos about 40 minutes away, but I would recommend venturing even a little farther out. It doesn’t really matter where you go, everywhere the beaches are awesome, and the eye candy is as well. As I’m sure everyone knows already, there is nothing smaller than a Brazilian bikini; however, every girl wears one and I mean … every girl. So, even grandmothers show a lot of skin. A note to the ladies: the tsunga (men’s speedo) is also in fashion, especially the white one if you’re a real boss tycoon.

5. Eating Sushi!
This might sound kinda strange, but Brazil actually has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. The first Japanese immigrants came to Brazil in 1908 in search of better living conditions after the end of feudalism, which had worsened living standards for poorer populations in Japan. Many of them sought jobs on Brazilian coffee plantations. Today, this immigration influx is reflected in the number of Sushi places in Sao Paulo. The quality is great, but the price is even better.  They have a system here called Rodizio where you pay a flat price, usually about $25 US, and you eat all you want, usually until someone throws up.

6. Chilling in Parque Ibirapuera
This pseudo-natural wonder resembles Golden Gate Park or Central Park as it is filled with museums, soccer fields, basketball courts, and music venues. My roommates and I like to have picnics there, which usually involves a five-liter jug of Sangue de Boi (Bull’s Blood), as far as wines go just imagine a worse Carlo Rossi.

7. Perusing Liberdade
Liberdade is Japanese Town in Sao Paulo, and it’s especially cool on the weekends when there’s an open air market with crafts and specialty foods. Also a great place to get, as mentioned prior, Sushi!

8. Heading to the Countryside
This one’s a little harder to do unless you know somebody, but lots of Brazilians have Sitios, or small country houses. It’s  a great place to relax, enjoy Brazilian BBQ, and play some soccer. So, start making friends upon arrival.

9. Rocking Out to Live Music
It doesn’t matter where you are, almost every little bar has live music resounding through the streets almost every night of the week. There’s a small neighborhood called Villa Madalena, which is a great place to have a drink and catch some Bossa Nova. Two of my favorite places are Bar do Bardot and Odoborodongodo.

10. Visiting Museums
This one’s not necessarily my cup of tea, but I know other people dig them. MASP, the Museum of Modern Art, is free on Tuesdays. Also check out the Museum of Football, Museu do Futebol located in the Sao Paulo Municipal Stadium.

For more tips on what to do in Sao Paulo, Brazil, check out The New York Times Travel article Weekend in São Paulo.

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Where the Yellow Line Ends…

Now we go where the yellow line ends from cars (with people inside) driving on it. Where the yellow line, worn down, disappears, fades away, diminishes in rubble, begins the end of the road where humans stopped paving it. Instead, it becomes the dusty trail with the houses without roofs falling and crumbling around it, with green land spreading for miles beside it. This is the place where buildings are not built in apartmental layers, but swell with life inside them and overflow with life outside of them. I have become part of that swollen life of shared private spaces.

Sometimes where the yellow line ends there aren’t even cars or people. Other times there are, lost in the dust. But this is what we do and don’t find on the unpaved road: turns turning, bends bending, people peopling–doing as people do along the road. They come and they go. I am out to follow some of them, walk beside some of them, lead some of them, and sometimes to people on my own. 

For now I enjoy the ride. Live. Love the countryside, its breaking-down houses with rusting tin roofs and fading, flaking paint and holes where the concrete was as if war wore it down, but really it all has to do with how it was built. Throughout our youth, we draw simplistic pictures of houses with triangular roofs, square windows, and rectangular doors so that when we are older we know what a prototypical house looks like and understand how to build one. But over time, it can become a breaking down home. With families and stories inside it that we don’t know how to reconstruct because well-built families don’t come with an instruction manual. 

Here, there are holes in weathered doors, gates to backyards that lead to nowhere, and metal wire reaching upward from cement rooftops toward heaven asking God to build the second story. And they remain, the wires, always optimistic. The houses with tin roofs don’t have upward-reaching wires; there’s no hope for a second story. They won’t build upon what was made, only construct a community of people within their existing walls and watch them as they crumble slightly and break down under the humidity and humility of communal respiration and from the rain that leaks in through the space between the cement walls and the tin roofs that no one could fix.

But this is out there, not in the center of the city where the yellow line runs. Where 15 apartment rooms are stacked on top of each other with one person living inside each. And the top story has a terrace over it instead of a cement roof with sticking-up metal wires or a single sheet of tin.

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Enrique’s Guns

We found out the other day that Enrique hides seven guns around his house. One he keeps on top of the large armoire in the kitchen, another I know he keeps hidden somewhere near his pillow at night. The other five I’d have to go on a scavenger hunt to locate because he said they are hidden in places that no one would expect. Perhaps between the collection of Danish butter cookie tins along the shelf in the kitchen; perhaps between the old cigar boxes and alcohol bottles and cigarette packets in the living room; perhaps tucked away behind the things that hang on the walls: large metal pots, an alligator skin, twenty different cowboy hats.

Enrique is a collector, just like his father. He gathers antique memorabilia, gifts, lessons. Objects that tell stories. And he speaks on their behalf as I speak on his behalf, simply passing his words from one language to another so he, and his collection, can be understood.

These things, he hangs them on walls, he lines them in careful rows on shelves, arranges “just so” on tables, and organizes them by shape and color and design and age. One of his most prideful collections fills the entire living room: guns. According to Enrique, he only owns half of the weaponry that he inherited from his father, and it is one of the most important collections of guns in Argentina. His brother, he said, has the other half.

The other night, one of our guests, who was from Vermont, asked Enrique to tell stories which Sofie and I had not memorized. Enrique shoved his chair away from the table making room for his belly, pressed himself up out of the chair, and trotted to the gun room. He came back with an unloaded (thank God) black pistol and passed it around the table.

“This was a gift from my father when I turned 18,” he said. “Whenever I left home, I used to keep it hidden in a canvas sling under my right arm. One night years later, my future father-in-law and I were driving along together and we passed through this small town with one bar in it, and we decided to have a drink. We walked in and took a seat at one of the tables. Behind the bar, the wall was lined with hundreds of wine bottles of different varietals. The cocktail waitress approached the table to take our order. ‘What can I bring you,’ she asked. His father-in-law extracted a gun from his belt, undid the safety, aimed straight at the bar, and POW! Shot one of the bottles behind the bar. ‘I’ll take a bottle of that kind of wine,’ he said. Then, shaken, the waitress turned to young Enrique and asked, ‘For you sir?’ Enrique reached under his arm for the leather sling, extracted his pistol, undid the safety, aimed straight at the bar, and POW! Shot the bottle right next to the other broken one. ‘I’ll take one of those bottles as well,’ he said. His father-in-law leapt up, grabbed Enrique by the fist, jerked his arm into the air, and shouted, ‘This is my future f*cking son-in-law!”  

 We passed the gun around the table, observing the patchwork on the leather case that he claims he made himself.

Enrique is in the habit of showing not only the guns in the gunroom but also his guns.

            “Feel my arm,” he says, “Now that’s solid rock, and I don’t even go to the gym. I have extremely well-balanced blood levels, and don’t have cholesterol.” I reminded him that we all have cholesterol, but his level is most likely healthy and reasonable, although I don’t believe him. For breakfast, Enrique drinks mate, for lunch Enrique eats cow ribs, sausage, and onions, for dinner Enrique eats whatever beef is left over from the lunchtime asado along with mayonnaise and white bread. And every night before he goes to sleep, he drinks at least one glass of whiskey. “I am as strong as an ox,” he says. “Here, feel my stomach, its solid too.” And I poke his round belly with my pointer finger to affirm that it is in fact solid. “Well, at least we know that if someone were to poke you with a pin you wouldn’t pop,” I told him. “Hey!” he shouted, and then punched me in the arm, and it throbbed with the impact of his gun-strength. “I know already that I’m an ugly son of a bitch, but I love myself,” he said.

“You’re right Enrique,” I say. “I love myself too, even though I don’t have guns like you do,” and I flex at him with an adoring smile. “No,” he says, “You love yourself because you are a spoiled, snob from Southern California with a personal chef, a chauffeur, and a limousine.”

I roll my eyes and shake my head, and as always he wraps me up in his guns, gives me a breath-taking anaconda squeeze, and says, “No really, I love you because you are a big son of bitch just like me.”

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Argentine Tortilla Confusion

As a Southern California native, I am certain that if you were to cut open my veins, I would bleed refried beans. So, this year Mexican Food Deprivation (MFD) has left me running my finger nails down walls for spicy tomatillo sauce, and I have gone to desperate lengths to curb my cravings by paying fifteen dollars for a road kill “burrito.” Mexican food in Argentina is, to say the least, a scarce commodity.

By the time I had reached Northern Argentina, MFD had taken over completely, and I started having dreams about burying myself inside a guacamole-doused, grease-dripping, mile-high taco salad and eating my way out.

 One day, Sofie and I trekked from the funny farm to Chicoana in the afternoon to enjoy our daily merienda, afternoon coffee over at the panadería next door to the church. That day, my MFD symptoms were at a level 3. When we sat down to order our usual, café con leche, the waitress asked, “Would you like something to accompany your coffee: cookies, a croissant …. a tortilla?”

 “T-t-t-t-tortilla, did you just say tortilla?” I grunted, salivating. Suddenly, my spine curved over and sprouted gray fur, which bristled from my hips to my neck. Claws sprung out from my fingernails. I grew six inches taller, the waitress screamed. “Bring me a tortilla!” I shouted as my knees clanked together under the table, and I grasped my chair. “I can’t believe it,” I told Sofie, “All this time we have been here, and they’ve been hoarding all the tortillas in Argentina at this little hole-in-the-wall café.” At only hearing the word tortilla, my MFD symptoms had leapt to a level 9. Only because I knew the waitress would be delivering my tortilla in minutes, did I control myself instead of thrashing around the restaurant, knocking over tables with my tail, and ripping apart counter tops with my fangs. That, and I knew that I was with company. Sofie merely looked at me, smiled, and shook her head. “Americans,” she said, as always.

Finally, ten or fifteen minutes later (the Argentines also have a very different concept of time), I saw the waitress walk around the counter with a silver tray above her head. My heart began to beat faster. 

With two clinks, she first set down our coffees. Then, delicately, Sofie’s media luna, croissant. And then … my tortilla. When I saw what was actually on the plate, I felt like a sailor lost at sea who, in a fog of wild disillusionment, had mistaken a mirage for solid ground. My Argentine tortilla was a rock hard, shipwrecked cube of stale, salty, brittle white bread washed up, in its crisp misery, on a white ceramic plate. I took one bite, but would have preferred to have eaten Wilson the volleyball from Cast Away.

 A few days later, with symptoms of my MFD still taking over my mind, Sofie and I decided to improvise a Mexican food dinner at the funny farm. Boldly, I marched into the grocery store just to check one more time if they had anything that was similar to Mexican tortillas.

 “Hi,” I said to the clerk. “Do you guys sell tortillas?” Then I stumbled, remembering what he would probably think were tortillas. “I mean, umm … you know those flat round things you use for making Mexican food?” Puzzled look, clerk unsure of what Mexican Food may be. “Like, um it’s baked dough made of flour, and is really thin.”

“Pita bread?” the clerk guessed.

“No, thinner than that,” I said.

“Empanada dough?” he guessed again.

“No, they’re pre-baked.  You know, you would use them to make tacos.”

“What are tacos?”

“A kind of Mexican food.”

He turns to the other two clerks, relays to them what I had been describing, and then all three of them turn to me and shrug their shoulders.

 That night, Sofie and I wrapped ground beef in Mozzarella-cheese-covered crepes, and prepared a mean guacamole with lemon.

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Down on the Funny Farm in Northern Argentina

Enrique

“Hello, I’m Enrique!” the farm owner said in Spanish.

“Hello, I’m Enrique!” the Dutch girl repeated back, shaking his hand. She, like many guests that come to the ranch to go horseback riding, did not speak a word of Spanish.

“No, I’m Enrique!” he contested, pointing at his chest with a furrowed brow.

“No, I’m Enrique!” she repeated back not understanding at all what she was saying, but contesting it with great confidence and pride. Sofia, the other translator, told her with a little snicker, “Um, you just said that you were Enrique… twice.” The Dutch girl blushed. Enrique pointed at her, and with a quaking, husky belly laugh, bellowed in English, “RED FACE, RED FACE!” The poor girl turned 100 shades of purple.

And so it goes on what I nicknamed the Funny Farm where I have worked as an interpreter since April. Located twenty minutes outside of Chicoana, a small town one hour outside of Salta in Northwestern Argentina, the ranch is that kind of place no one would go looking for you, or know how to get there if they were. When I arrived, Enrique told me, “There are two types of people that stay here: crazies and refugees. We’ll wait and see which category you fit into. I personally am the only normal one. Everyone else is crazy.” He happens to have an entire room full of old guns, claims to love witches, and is afraid of vomit and spiders. Totally normal.

As of now, Enrique has officially diagnosed me as crazy, though I contest that I am not. As a bargaining chip, I do admit that if I were crazy I wouldn’t recognize my insanity because I was … crazy. I attribute his prognosis to this simple, and embarrassing fact: I have broken more things during my short time on the ranch than I most likely have in the course of my lifetime. Here’s the list: two chairs (one metal; one wood), a glass lamp, a cup, the toilet’s external connecting pipe, the toilet’s flusher, a glass, another lamp outside my metal crazy-bin trailer. I also nearly broke my tooth when I crunched down on a rock hidden in my black beans. I also shorted out the electricity in my trailer, not once, but twice! The electrician knows me more by habit now than by name.

But, I think in a way we all are crazy. Sofie, who has years of horse-riding experience, fell down in front of her horse before even getting on it. Nicolas, one Gaucho who works on the funny farm, is absolutely terrified of frogs. Ricardo, the other Gaucho who works on the funny farm, walks with his broad chest as high as his ego and refuses to use words like cute or call his horse Cinnamon as I have named it. But one day, his mother caught him singing “This Little Light of Mine,” which he always makes fun of me for chanting while we are out on the trail.

As Jack Kerouac claims, “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

And besides, we are all just a little bit crazy, except Enrique…

Cooking "Super Panchos," or hot dogs, in the gun room with Sofia and Enrique

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Buenos Aires, It’s the Beef

At Parrilla Buenos Aires Restaurant, there are exactly two types of meat: the type served up on the plates, and the type that grills and serves it. Working as a hostess at an Argentine parrilla has been just as much a study on gastronomy as it has been a study on the country’s men. Everyday, I am confronted with new information about cows and males. And it gets complicated. Frequently.

You may only be able to fold a newspaper eight times, there may only be one way to skin a cat, but Argentines sure have proved that there are not only like 300 cuts of beef but also 4,000 ways to prepare them. Bife de chorizo, bife de lomo, ojo de bife, tira de asado, matambre, vacío, colita de cuadril, pechito de ternera, entrañas etc. etc. etc. And you can have them diced and skewered to make brochettes, hammered then breaded then fried to make milanesa, stuffed into a pastry shell to make empanadas, sauteed, roasted, grilled, boiled, broiled, baked, topped with an egg, accompanied by french fries or bathed in tomato sauce. But undoubtedly, the most popular cooking methodology is simply to throw it on the parrilla and grill it until the cut is well done. I continue to easily confuse the different cuts of meat, despite the parrilleras well-animated efforts to teach me. 

“WHAM!” Carlos the cook slaps a huge slab of raw beef down on the counter. “Bife de chorizo,” he says, pointing out the fact that this cut is edged with a rich, flavorful strip of fat. Piece by piece, he pulls the dismembered cow out of the refrigerator and pridefully demonstrates his knowledge of Argentine cuisine. “Carlos is a real Capo,” my manager says, patting him on the shoulder. Capo is Argentine speak for chief or boss based on the Italian mafia leader Al Capon. 

Argentine men are not only proud of their beef but they are also proud of the fact that they are Argentine men. After working in an environment where I am surrounded by beef and males, I would more so compare the men to pigs than I would cows. This opinion is based mostly on their chauvinistic way of talking about women. It has been said, that the best way to get an Argentine man to commit suicide is to tell him to climb to the top of his ego and jump off.

Their most common show of chivalry is haciendo piropos, a collection of phrases men spout out at women to try and enchant them. “Sos hermosa … you are beautiful,” they might say. “Que lindos ojos que tenés … what beautiful eyes you have.” On a really slow day at work, I was daydreaming behind the hostess stand when an old man in a suit entered the restaurant, took my hand and said, “Había una chica transparente quien salió con un chico invisible para hacer cosas nunca vistas …. there once was a transparent girl who went out with an invisible boy to do things never seen.” And then, he kissed my hand and left.

As much as I enjoy Argentine steak, when it comes to men in this society, I am remaining strictly vegetarian.

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