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Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

My New York

In beauty, behavior, cities, culture, immigration, life, travel, U.S., urban life, US, work on August 21, 2015 at 12:49 am

By Caitlin Kelly

“On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy. It is this largess that accounts for the presence within the city’s walls of a considerable section of the population; for the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail. The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.”
E.B. White, Here Is New York

I agree.

The railings have lacy, gilded dividers and the diamond-like lights repeat in the exterior and hall interior

Lincoln Center, where I’ve been watching ballet for decades (and once performed!)

I arrived in New York, with no friends or family or job or connections here, just in time for the first recession in my industry, journalism. To find my first job here, (which I finally found through an ad in The New York Times), I made 150 cold calls to total strangers.

I cried a lot.

After a terrific few years working for major Canadian daily newspapers, it was rough on my ego, and my aspirations, to realize that what I’d accomplished meant nothing here because it hadn’t happened in the U.S., let alone within the city’s five boroughs.

I finally did find a position, as a senior editor at  a well-respected, now-long-gone monthly magazine called World Press Review, at a salary $5,000 a year lower than what I’d earned in Montreal two years before as a reporter for the Gazette.

Welcome to New York!

Who doesn't need a pop-up Building and a few taxis?

Who doesn’t need a pop-up Empire State Building and a few taxis?

Why did I want to move here?

I’d been visiting since I was 12, so it was not wholly unfamiliar.

My mother was born here and was married at St. Bartholomew’s, a huge Romanesque pile on Park Avenue, where her grandmother lived. I was legally able to move here from my native Canada because I obtained my green card through my mother’s American citizenship.

As an ambitious journalist, I dreamed of being published and by the major American magazines and book publishers I grew up reading — Vogue, Glamour, The New York Times. I also knew that sustaining a 30+ year career in Canada, with a much smaller set of professional opportunities, wasn’t for me; I’d feel bored and always have wondered, what if…

We've survived this...

We’ve survived this…

Reinventing my life in New York was hard!

In some ways, it still is. For every full-time job or freelance opportunity, there are hundreds of ferociously determined and well-prepared competitors. Socially? I still find it lonely, although I’ve made a few friends; people focus on their families or their work and have long, tiring commutes.

If you arrive here without one second of American education — especially elite feeders to the best jobs, like prep schools and the Ivy League — you arrive severely deprived of crucial social capital. You need a lot of talent, drive, skill and luck to shove open some of these very heavy doors.

But the city is also a source of tremendous pleasure for me, even as I live in a small town north of the city, where I own an apartment; I’m easily in town, by car or train, within 40 minutes.

My first book, published in 2004

My first book, published in 2004

I’ve had some of the best moments of my life here, like picking up the galleys for my first book at the Sixth Avenue offices of Simon & Schuster, and clutching them to my heart in ecstasy. I’d achieved my dream! A book published by one of the country’s biggest houses (Pocket Books.)

Here’s a link to it, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns.”

What are some of the things I still love here?

Culture:

Hard to imagine what you can’t find here, whether music, dance, opera, theater, fine art, museums…My favorites are a little obscure, like the Mint Theater, (which revives earlier works and which is housed, oddly, in a midtown office building), and the Japan Society, which mounts small, excellent shows in a lovely, quiet exhibition space in the east 40s.

I have a favorite painting at the Met I like to visit, this painting of Joan of Arc, first shown in 1880, by the French painter Jules Bastien-Lepage.

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This image stops me cold in my tracks — hung in a busy hallway — every time. It’s enormous.

I feel as if she’s standing right in front of me, close enough to touch. I love how dazed she looks, the overturned wooden stool, and the ghostly image of her, in armor, floating behind her, her awaiting future.

I love everything about this painting: its colors, details, mood and subject matter. And am so lucky I can see it when I want to.

Another favorite is a pair of gold Roman earrings at the Met, tiny cherubs riding astride birds, exquisite in every detail.

You must get to Lincoln Center, both stunning visually (the fountain!) and culturally. I recently treated myself to a $65 box seat to see Joshua Bell play Bach and Mozart. Swoon!

Food and Drink:

If you can’t find a decent meal here, (and in Brooklyn and Queens as well), you’re not paying attention, from elegant old-school venues like Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle Hotel, Sardi’s, the Campbell Apartment, the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis and La Grenouille to the newest, trendiest spots. (If you can’t afford a meal, you can probably afford a cocktail just to enjoy the atmosphere and history.)

The bar at Fanelli's

The bar at Fanelli’s

I tend to return to old favorites like Red Cat on 10th., Balthazar on Crosby St;, The Lion on West 9th, Toloache on 50th., and Cafe Cluny and Morandi in the West Village. I love Caffe Reggio and Bosie Tea Parlor for a long chat with a pal over coffee or tea and Grey Dogs, east and west versions, for breakfast.

Buying food is a joy in places like Eataly, Chelsea Market, the Union Square Greenmarket and the city’s many specialty stores, from Kalustyan’s (spices), Murray’s Cheese, Russ and Daughters to Porto Rico Coffee and Tea.

Porto Rico Coffee and Tea, Bleecker Street, NYC

Porto Rico Coffee and Tea, Bleecker Street, NYC

Walking:

The smallest few blocks here will reward your attention, especially with amazing architecture and fenestration. The shaded and cobble-stoned streets of the West Village are lovely. So are the funky bits of the East Village, East 9th being a favorite for shopping, eating and looking.

The city has many extraordinary churches well worth a visit, like the second-oldest church in Manhattan, St. Mark’s in the Bowery, on East 10th. street.

The parks are an obvious choice and so is the Brooklyn Bridge, especially at sunset; I bet fewer than 5 percent of anyone in New York knows that the Brooklyn Bridge would never have been completed without the skills and determination of a 19th-century woman — Emily Roebling, wife of the engineer, Washington Roebling, whose job it was to design the bridge and who fell ill halfway through the project.

My favorite park is Bryant Park in midtown, filled in summer and fall and spring with folding dark green chairs and tables, plenty of shady trees, even a carousel. In winter there’s a skating rink with cheap rentals and great music.

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Schools:

I attended The New York School of Interior Design in the 1990s, intending to leave journalism and change careers. I didn’t, but now teach writing there. It’s an honor to head back through those huge red doors as a member of their adjunct faculty. (I’ve also taught at NYU [adults] and Pratt Institute.)

Columbia and many other schools are always putting on panel discussions and lectures open to the public, offering tremendous, free opportunities to keep learning.

Shopping:

Sigh. From indie spots like my favorite vintage store, Edith Machinist on Rivington to Saks, Bergdorf Goodman and Barney’s to bookstores, specialty shops, (one selling nothing but umbrellas, for example), and pop-ups. Saks’ shoe department has its own zip code, a fun spot to watch oligarchs and their wives buying bagfuls of $1,500 stilettos and squealing girls from the heartland swooning over their first in-person sighting of Jimmy Choos and Manolos.

Ignore the stuff you can find in any other city, like Big Box and chain stores, and seek out treasures like Bigelow’s, the oldest apothecary in America.

If, like me, you looooooove unusual and exotic fragrances, (men’s and women’s), you cannot miss Aedes de Venustas on Christopher Street. Buy a box of this soap, (3 bars for $42), and sniff it happily all the way home.

History:

For a city so known for modernity and speed and haste, there’s much history here to savor as well. One of the quietest and most out-of-the-way places to visit is this, Manhattan’s oldest house — built in 1765 — the Morris-Jumel Mansion.

Check out the Tenement Museum for a truly immersive feel for NYC vernacular history and the Museum of Immigration on Ellis Island.

I love the atmosphere of the city’s classic 100-year-old-plus bars or restaurants, including Old Town Bar, Fanelli’s, the Landmark and the Ear Inn. If you sit in The White Horse, you’ll sit where my namesake — Caitlin Thomas, wife of the poet Dylan Thomas — once sat as well.

You can’t miss the cathedral of commuters, Grand Central Terminal, on 42d Street. It is breathtaking in its beauty and scale, with details from carved marble fountains to gleaming, enormous chandeliers and a brilliant turquoise ceiling with gold-painted constellations. Built in 1913, renovations were completed in 1996.

The water:

It’s too easy to forget that Manhattan is, after all, an island. Get to the western edge and enjoy the sunset at one of the many pier-side restaurants and bars. Take a Circle Line ferry around the island. Rent a kayak.

Or jump on the Staten Island ferry and head out as the sun is setting to watch the city light up.

What do you enjoy most about living in — or visiting — New York City?

Rockefeller Center, as seen from Saks Fifth Avenue

Rockefeller Center, as seen from Saks Fifth Avenue

A landscape forever altered

In beauty, business, cities, design, nature, urban design, urban life on June 15, 2015 at 12:06 am

By Caitlin Kelly

A walk along the Palisades, on the western shore of the Hudson River

A walk along the Palisades, on the western shore of the Hudson River

I’ve lived — which stuns me — for 25 years on the same street, a steeply hilly winding road that has raccoons, deer, coyotes, raspberry bushes and still has a clear view, however unlikely, of the gleaming towers of Manhattan 25 miles due south.

When I moved here, the corporate headquarters for Hitachi on our street, a vast expanse of orchards and green lawns, was ringed by split-rail wooden fences. Those fences are gone now and I miss their rural charm.

Across the street from Hitachi, all this time, has been a thick, impenetrable woods, deep, dark, leafy and green, a lush and powerful natural sight and sound barrier dividing our quiet street from a busy four-lane highway running east-west a block away across our suburban county.

I’ve always marveled at how rustic and quiet it’s kept our street — it has never felt suburban to me because of this — and been grateful for that.

Gone.

Here are some images of the sudden changes that began this month. Changes that have now forever altered the bucolic character of our street. Now, in an unwelcome change, we can see not only the office buildings on the north side of that road, but clear through to the south side.

 

Before...

Before…

After...

After…

The world is intruding.

It’s inevitable. Undeveloped land often holds potential commercial value. Land offers developers profit and the town added tax revenues.

But landscapes unaltered retain their own beauty, silence, natural life and history.

Once they’ve been altered, they’re gone for good.

Here’s a cool way to guesstimate the age of a tree non-invasively — if you see me out there this summer hugging trees with a measure tape, you’ll know why!

I often wonder what our suburban New York landscape was like before the Europeans arrived — as it is, we still have New York State’s second-oldest church a mere 10 minutes north of our home.

Dating from 1685, the Old Dutch Church, Sleepy Hollow, NY

Dating from 1685, the Old Dutch Church, Sleepy Hollow, NY

Who remembers what lay there before?

And there I was recently, in a shiny, new-ish TD Bank in Elmsford, NY, one of the least lovely towns in Westchester, NY, a sadly industrial mish-mash of office complexes, car washes, big box grocery stores. You wouldn’t think, seeing it today, there would have been much very attractive to miss.

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And there was a photo mural — here’s a poster they’ve printed and keep in a stack for us to take — of what was there before.

I found this deeply moving and so unusual. A multinational bank caring about what its local customers might have remembered of that landscape, of their town’s history?

I love this Japanese word — yugen – a profound mysterious sense of the beauty of the natural world.

I’m at an age now where too many places I’ve known and loved are gone for good.

In Manhattan, the extraordinary profits to be made in real estate have closed many well-loved spots. One of the most recent was a pharmacy, Avignone, on the southwest corner of Sixth and Bleecker, which was one of the city’s oldest.

The lovely Cafe Angelique, barely a decade old at the corner of Grove and Bleecker, closed this year when the landlord suddenly demanded a monthly rent of $45,000. You just can’t sell that much coffee or that many cupcakes.

Gone.

20131114134802Here’s Neil’s, on the same corner of Lexington and 70th for 50 years.

If you, like me, are a fan of the TV show Project Runway, you might mourn the loss of this midtown New York City Building.

From The New York Times:

It is only 53 years old, but the cornerstone of a doomed building in Manhattan’s garment district reads like an impossibly hopeful sentiment from a distant time, from a world that can never be recovered.

“Dedicated to the ideal that, through better human relations, understanding and good will among peoples, the supreme dignity and indissoluble brotherhood of man can be achieved.”

This was once Brotherhood House.

At the end, the six-story building at 560 Seventh Avenue, at 40th Street, was barely remembered by that name, or as a crucible of social advocacy in the 1960s.

But it was nationally known as the home of “Project Runway,” a television program in which aspiring fashion designers endure excruciating competition and withering critiques as they try to make their mark. In the series, the building played itself: the David M. Schwartz Fashion Education Center of the Parsons School of Design.

Now, it is vacant. The departure of the last tenant, the Garment Center Synagogue, has allowed asbestos abatement to begin. Demolition is to start this year, followed by the construction of a 29-story, 238-room Dream Hotel, opening in 2018.

In my hometown of Toronto, a beloved landmark, The Coffee Mill, closed this year after a 50-year run. I will miss their goulash and strudel, their cappuccino — and the memory of my childhood visits there when they first opened.

It’s one thing to mourn a lost restaurant or shop.

It’s another entirely when our natural landscape, as it is every day anyway, is forever changed — and possibly destroyed.

The Grand Canyon -- whose profound silence makes your ears ring

The Grand Canyon — whose profound silence makes your ears ring (photo: Caitlin Kelly)

I fear for one of my favorite places in the world, The Grand Canyon, threatened by major development. From The New York Times:

On the South Rim plateau, less than two miles from the park’s entrance, the gateway community of Tusayan, a town just a few blocks long, has approved plans to construct 2,200 homes and three million square feet of commercial space that will include shops and hotels, a spa and a dude ranch.

Among its many demands, the development requires water, and tapping new wells would deplete the aquifer that drives many of the springs deep inside the canyon — delicate oases with names like Elves Chasm and Mystic Spring. These pockets of life, tucked amid a searing expanse of bare rock, are among the park’s most exquisite gems…

Less than 25 miles to the northeast of Tusayan, Navajo leaders are working with developers from Scottsdale to construct a 1.4-mile tramway that would descend about 3,200 feet directly into the heart of the canyon. They call it Grand Canyon Escalade.

The cable system would take more than 4,000 visitors a day in eight-person gondolas to a spot on the floor of the canyon known as the Confluence, where the turquoise waters of the Little Colorado River merge with the emerald green current of the Colorado. The area, which is sacred to many in the Hopi and Zuni tribes, as well as Navajo people, would feature an elevated walkway, a restaurant and an amphitheater.

Maybe it’s the result of having spent my childhood summers at camp, canoeing through landscapes unchanged for centuries, possibly millennia — granite outcroppings, wind-whipped pines, dark, deep, cold lakes.

I am most moved, sometimes to tears, by places of timeless natural beauty: Corsica, Thailand, the Arizona and New Mexico desert, northern Ontario.

We’ll soon be renting a seaside cottage in one of the most rural parts of one of the most rural countries, Co. Donegal in Ireland. Can’t wait!

Here is one, of Ontario's Georgian Bay

Here is one, of Ontario’s Georgian Bay

I love the paintings by The Group of Seven, Canada’s equivalent of the Impressionists, whose images of our land, from the Arctic to the crimson trees of autumn, always make me homesick.

Do you have a landscape you’re deeply attached to?

Where and what is it?

Has it changed much?

Visiting London, Paris or New York? Some helpful tips

In behavior, cities, culture, Fashion, life, Style, travel, urban life on February 4, 2015 at 1:27 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Remember to take a break -- and just enjoy being there!

Remember to take a break — and just enjoy being there!

I recently re-visited Paris, staying three weeks, and London, staying for one. I live just north of New York City, and have for decades, so know the city well as I am there several times a week.

As three of the most popular cities in the world for tourists — and enormous, bustling multi-borough metropolises — they’re also tricky, costly, tiring and confusing for the unwary or unprepared.

Here are 20 money-saving tips from a young woman who has traveled Europe on a budget; many of hers are the same as mine, like renting a home, walking everywhere and slowing down to truly savor your meals.

Here’s a super-trendy/stylish list of things to do/see/try in the Marais from lifestyle blog Lonny.

Here are a few of my tips…

Transportation

Getting in and out of these three cities, and around them while staying there, can feel overwhelming. It’s not. Download whatever apps work best for you (I am not an apps person!) or, as I do, grab a few really good maps, including separate maps of the bus and subway systems. Study them in bright light at your leisure — i.e. not in the dark/wind/rain when you look like a gormless tourist inviting thieves to snatch your purse, backback, phone or suitcase.

In London and Paris, the lines have names; in Paris for the final destination, and in Paris they also have numbers. In NYC, they have numbers or letters — the L, the Q, the 4. The problem with NYC? Sometimes they go express and you’ll have to get out before the stop you had planned.

I was heartened in Paris and London to see sliding glass panels at some station platforms that open in concert with the train’s doors — which prevent the horror of suicide or homicide. In NYC, which has nothing so civilized, be careful. I can’t say this too strongly; people have been shoved onto the tracks and killed by mentally-ill people standing near them. Stand as far back as possible from the platform edge and be aware of who is near you.

In Paris, you might take a horse-drawn carriage

In Paris, you might take a horse-drawn carriage

Cabs cost a fortune in London, less so in Paris and are not terrible in New York. In NYC, you’ll see bright green cabs — they won’t stop for you if you’re in Manhattan as they are designated for the outer boroughs. You’ll also go crazy around 4:30 p.m. trying to hail a cab as that’s the time of shift change and many are racing to the garage.

Take the bus whenever possible. You’ll see so much more of the city and start to understand its geography. Buy a weekly transit pass in each city to save money and speed you up; in New York, you slide your Metrocard to enter the subway, dip it when entering a bus.

Spent my life on the Underground, using my Oyster card. Love this shadowy reference to Sherlock Holmes

Spent my life on the London Underground, using my Oyster card. Love this shadowy reference to Sherlock Holmes

Remember that others work there and are weary/late/in a hurry. Don’t hog seats/space with your bags and packpack!

When walking do not, ever, walk slooooooooowly and in a large pack of bodies that spans the width of the sidewalk. It’s rude, dangerous and obstructive. Nor should you abruptly stop dead in the middle of the sidewalk or stairs or the entrance to the subway. We’re in a hurry, dammit!

This was our dinner for a few early nights at home...

This was our dinner for a few early nights at home…

Lodging

It’s too easy to assume your default setting of hotel/Air BnB/couchsurfing. How about house or apartment-sitting? A home exchange?

As I blogged here earlier, I spent my three Paris weeks in two people’s homes, both of them professional photographers and photo editors, (hence, great taste!) It was so much more relaxing for me to lounge away my mornings at the kitchen table or dining table, reading the paper or a book. I was able to spread my stuff out, do laundry, cook my own meals — and listen to music as loudly as seemed prudent.

In short, I felt truly at home in a foreign city. I loved food shopping, coming home with my baguette and gooey hunk of Reblochon (cheese) and some fresh figs for breakfast. I bought several sorts of loose tea and enjoyed it as well.

Unless I can afford a really lovely hotel, I’d rather rent a place.

Shopping

A whole set of blog posts on its own!

If you love antiques as much as I do, you’ll quickly suss out the best vintage stores and flea markets in these three cities; in Paris, I scored a gorgeous fedora and 80s earrings at Eponyme in the 11th and was deeply disappointed by the sky-high prices at the flea market at Clignancourt. In Manhattan, check out the East Village — East 7th and East 9th — for lots of vintage and some great indie shops; I just discovered Haberdashery on East 9th. Heaven! It has one of the best-edited collections of serious vintage I’ve ever seen.

All three cities offer boatloads of style from smart, savvy retailers, whether the fabric department in London at Liberty (swoon) or the jewelry in Manhattan at Barney’s (bring a Brinks truck full of money.) Pick a cool/chic neighborhood and spend a leisurely afternoon exploring it, whether Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Marylebone High Street in London or the 6th or Marais in Paris.

Don’t forget — you can, (as I did twice on that trip) — box and ship home your new things from the local post office or a bunch of your less-needed clothes/shoes to make room/reduce weight in your suitcase; mine weighed just one pound below the limit when I returned!

 

Dress

These are three of the world’s most stylish cities. Sure you can schlub around in baggy pants and white sneakers and bright pink nylon, but you might as well wave a flag shouting “Tourist!”

Stop by this terrific chain store in Paris and select a few gorgeous scarves, for men and women

Stop by this terrific chain store in Paris and select a few gorgeous scarves, for men and women

Many of their residents take serious pride and pleasure in how they present themselves, whether the hipsters of Willamsburg or the Sloanies of London. In NYC, assume that wearing black makes for good native camouflage; women favor a good, fresh manicure (easily acquired in many affordable nail salons), and haircut, with polish in cool dark non-frosted shades or pale.

Parisian women, and men, are justifiably known for their style and it’s easy enough to fit in if that’s fun for you. Women rarely wear prints or leggings and many sport truly eye-catching accessories — an unusual hat, a terrific muffler, interesting shoes. I rarely saw anyone wearing high heels; cobblestone streets chew them up. Many men, of all ages, also wear mufflers or scarves to add a dash of color and texture. Look for unusual color combinations and flashes of wit — a lavender sock, a tangerine pair of gloves.

Looking down the stairs at Fortnum & Mason, London

Looking down the stairs at Fortnum & Mason, London

London men, especially, dress with care: narrow-toe, highly-polished leather shoes, narrow trousers, a great briefcase. Women dress more eccentrically and playfully there than in Paris or New York — all black in London and Paris just feels sad and lacks imagination, while the pom-pom-studded skirt I saw on the Tube in London would raise dubious eyebrows in much of New York.

Staying dry/warm

Bring an umbrella to all three cities! In a month, (late December to late January), I faced a frigid low of 33 F to a high of almost 50. London was more humid. A small umbrella, (with a sealable Ziploc bag for when it’s soaked and you need to tuck it into your bag or backpack), is a must.

To stay warm, I’m a big fan of cashmere, even socks, mitts, scarf and/or hat. Light and silky, it’s super-warm but not bulky. Add a thin layer of polypro or silk beneath your clothes on the bitterest of days. Woolen tights aren’t easy to find in the U.S. but also make a big difference.

Oh, go on!

Oh, go on!

Eating and drinking

London will bankrupt you! I have little great advice other than…expect it and bring money. I save hard for my vacations and refuse to make myself miserable, so I mix up splurges, (a cup of tea at the Ritz in London [not the full tea!] for about $10) and a cocktail in their gob-smacking gorgeous bar for $30), with a quick cheap sandwich for lunch.

Keep in mind that museums and art galleries often have excellent dining facilities; I loved my lunch at Tate Modern,

A cup of tea at the Ritz in London

A cup of tea at the Ritz in London

Paris restaurants typically offer a plat du jour, always less costly than dinner.  For about $15 to $20, you can enjoy a hot meal of two or even three courses. Wine can be a little as five euros a glass — about $7. Enjoy!

New York City has a terrifically wide array of options, from the hautest of elegant bars and restaurants to the usual national chains like Olive Garden, Friday’s, etc. The city excels at diners, old-school, all-service restaurants whose enormous laminated menus go on for pages. Few things make me as happy as settling in at the battered Formica counter, (look for a shelf or a hook beneath it to hang your purse or pack so no one can grab it and run), and eating there. Try Neil’s, at 70th and Lexington, or Veselka, on the Lower East Side, in business since 1954.

Mix it up! In New York, dress to the nines and savor a cocktail at classic spots like Bemelman’s, The Campbell Apartment or the Oyster Bar. Go casual to a 100+-year-old bar like Fanelli’s , Old Town or the Landmark. The city also offers lovely, quiet tea-rooms like Bosie in the West Village and dozens of cafes. Head uptown to the Neue Galerie’s Cafe Sabarsky. Heaven!

For breakfast, head to Carmine Street and enjoy The Grey Dog.

Whatever you do, flee midtown: boring, crowded, filled with tourists.

When you’re a visitor with limited time, it’s tempting to rush around all day and forget how tired, hungry and thirsty you’ll end up.  Allow for a two-hour lunch or a glass of wine or an espresso sitting outdoors in a Paris cafe — which has heaters for the winter. Slow down.

And do not keeping staring into your bloody phone. Just….be there.

One of my Paris faves...

One of my Paris faves…

 Read about your city!

These might be histories, or fiction or guidebooks. I always take my London A-Z, (a highly detailed set of maps), and my Plan de Paris, (ditto), both of which are small and slide into a pocket or purse easily.

I treat myself each time to a new and quirky specialist guidebook; this one breaks huge, overwhelming London into its many villages. 

There are, of course, dozens of great blogs written by savvy, stylish people living in each of these cities whose posts will be timely and give you all sorts of fun ideas; I like Small Dog Syndrome for London and Juliet in Paris (whose August 2014 posts about London were super-helpful and detailed.)

Pick up the local newspapers; in New York, compare the New York Times, New York Post and New York Daily News to get a real picture of this city’s diversity; in London, the Guardian, Times and Daily Mail; in Paris (if you read French), Le Monde, and Liberation. The letters to the editor, alone, offer some serious insights into what people all around you are thinking and care most about.

Yes, you can read online but don’t. Go old-school and savor it.

Gives you something to tuck under your arm, and look like you belong!

 

Twenty more things that make me happy: lilacs, tea and B’way tix

In beauty, culture, design, domestic life, life, nature on June 1, 2014 at 12:48 am

By Caitlin Kelly

(all photos mine)

 

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Lilacs in bloom

Looking at gorgeous (affordable!) fabric and planning projects; available for sale here.

 

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Starting Saturday mornings with reggae on WKCR, the radio station of Columbia University

Doing developpes to B.B. King live at St. Quentin my Monday morning jazz dance class

Scoring a $41 fifth-row orchestra seat for “Once”, a Broadway musical nominated for eight Tony awards (value $100+)

You can attend a mid-week matinee!

You can attend a mid-week matinee!

The tree-shaded path beside the reservoir, a five-minute drive from our home in suburban New York

This delicious macaron — named Ispahan, rose-flavored! — at Bosie’s Tea Parlor in the West Village

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Manhattan’s many subway buskers, like this literal one-man-band playing in the 42d Street station

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My Moomin mug (anything Moomin!)

 

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The visible history found in Manhattan, like this cast-iron building on Prince Street in Soho

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Found art, like the graphic design of this weathered metal piece also on  Prince Street

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Driving on the FDR — the highway on the East River of Manhattan — with tugs, barges and FDNY fireboats spouting fountains beside me

A steaming pot of fragrant tea, sipped slowly from a bone china tea cup

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A Bloody Mary and the cheese and Ritz crackers at Sardi’s sitting at the bar with my husband on a Sunday afternoon

Ritz crackers and their tart cheese spread

Ritz crackers and their tart cheese spread

Making a great Sunday lunch for dear friends

Finding bits of eccentricity where you least expect them, like this tableau in a Soho clothing store

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The comfort of small, well-loved portable pals

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Patina…on just about any surface

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Early stained glass — this, from a Philadelphia church

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Heading north/home to Canada — family, friends and vacation. Yay!

Do you speak Canadian?

Do you speak Canadian?

 And you, my dears?

Coming to New York City? 10 tips

In behavior, cities, culture, life, travel, urban life, US on May 27, 2014 at 12:18 am

By Caitlin Kelly

You’ve seen it in movies and on television and maybe read about it for years. Before you head into Manhattan (or Brooklyn, probably the only two of the five boroughs that make up NYC you’ll visit), a few tips. I’ve lived here for 25 years and you can spot the tourists a mile off…

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Dress the part!

You can always tell the out-of-towners — the teen girls and women have…unusual…hair color, wear heavy  make-up, nude hose, pastels, bright colors and sequins. They have French manicures and pedicures, or chipped nail polish. All of which mark them immediately as someone not from here. A fresh manicure (nude polish on hands) and pedicure are key. New York women are well-groomed!

Like Paris, New York has its own visual style, and understated elegance is a good option, for men and women. Yes, we all wear black, all year round. It’s easy to accessorize and moves easily, if it’s the right clothing and style, from day to evening, usually with a change of shoes. (Bring ballet slippers or flats for comfortable/stylish walking — we walk everywhere. Men might consider a stylish suede or leather lace-up.)

Also not very city-friendly: bulging, enormous backpacks (everything here is small and crowded); chunky white or black sneakers; ripped or super-baggy (or super-tight) jeans; farmer or baseball caps, especially worn backward, logos all over everything, fanny packs.

Get to/out on the water

It’s too easy to forget that Manhattan is an island, and some of the loveliest sights are found on its edges — the bike and walking paths along the East River and the Hudson. The Circle Line takes hours, but the round-the-island boat tour will give you a terrific appreciation of the city, as will the (much cheaper!) Staten Island ferry, which commuters ride to and from their homes on SI. (Rent the classic movie Working Girl, with Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver, to understand the importance of the ferry.)

Get onto the water at sunset to watch the city lights come up — and the Statue of Liberty at sunset. You can also rent kayaks and sailboats here.

Walk faster. No, even faster!

No kidding. Nothing is more maddening  and selfish than huge packs of tourists walking abreast — i.e. completely blocking a subway stair or sidewalk — sloooooooooowly.

Move it, folks!

The people who work here have places to go and no time to get there.

Enjoy a drink at one of the city’s vintage bars

Fanelli’s, Old Town Bar, Sardi’s, McSorley’s, The White Horse Tavern, The Landmark. Manhattan offers some fantastically old, weathered taverns with deep wooden booths, pressed tin ceilings and decades, even centuries of history. Settle in and enjoy.

(If you want to go seriously upscale — and dress well! — splurge on a cocktail or two at The Campbell Apartment, the King Cole Room at the St. Regis or Bemelman’s.) Yes, cocktails can cost $12, $14 or more. It’s New York, kids.

Keep your Metrocard filled

Taking the subway or bus is often a lot quicker and cheaper than trying to find a cab and getting stuck in traffic. Keep your card topped up. When you get on the bus, dip your card quickly in and out of the fare box. Then move to the rear!

Ride the bus

There’s no better way to really see the city. Skip the tourist buses and spend a few hours riding the M104 (Broadway) or the M5 (Fifth Avenue.) Comfortable, safe, cheap.

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You will not find a cab at 4:00 p.m.

That’s when all the drivers change shifts and all those cars are going to whiz right past you, no matter how much you flap your arm. We know it. Take a bus, or subway or walk.

But…if you beg, nicely, you might still hitch a ride if someone is heading that direction.

If you take a cab, tip at least 15 percent

Or prepare to be brow-beaten.

Carry a small umbrella

Few things are more frustrating than getting caught in the rain and not finding a cab to rescue you. Be prepared.

Eat at Shake Shack

Forget the calories and the lines. Just do it. So damn good!

Bleecker Street: cupcakes, coffee and guitars

In beauty, business, cities, culture, life, travel, urban life, US on April 26, 2014 at 3:07 am

By Caitlin Kelly

When people dream about visiting New York City, they usually think of Times Square, (noisy, dirty and horribly jammed with other tourists), or Fifth Avenue, (now depressingly lined with Big Box retail names, with a line-up to get into Abercrombie, selling the same schmatte you can find in Iowa or Kansas), or maybe 42d Street — all movie theaters and junky restaurants.

I always urge visitors to head instead for one of my all-time favorites, Bleecker Street.

It runs the width of the city through Greenwich Village and goes from a north-south axis on the west side to a west-east, (or vice versa!) route after dog-legging at Seventh Avenue.

Those of us who’ve lived here a few decades remember the old, funky, dusty Bleecker, with the Japanese store and Afghan store, Nusraty’s, filled with jewelry and rugs and Leo Design, now a few blocks west on Hudson Street, which sells a wonderful mix of early boxes, mirrors, pottery and decorative objects, much of it English.

Here’s how bad it’s getting:

Bleecker Street Records was reportedly ousted from their space at 239 Bleecker by a rent increase that would have required the store pay $27,000 a month in rent. Fortunately, the store has found a new place in the neighborhood—no small feat given the escalating rents and the competition from stores intent on replicating the vibe of an outdoor shopping mall or a high-end highway rest stop: the advertisement for Bleecker Street Records’ former space boasted of its proximity to Amy’s Bread, David’s Tea, L’Occitane and 16 Handles.

Here’s an excellent post from one of my favorite blogs, Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, detailing the huge and rapid gentrification of this once charmingly bohemian street:

New York Magazine publishes a major profile of the Bleecker boom in an article on micro-neighborhoods: “Soho took fifteen years to become a handbag colony. Bleecker took only three.” One local shopper complains, “I’m not so happy about the Guccis and the Polos coming in here. It seems like we’re losing our neighborhood feel.”

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Today, the western bit of Bleecker is crazy expensive, a long line of spendy designer shops like Ralph Lauren, Lulu Guinness and New York jewelry-maker Alexis Bittar, whose distinctive work is beautiful indeed; here’s a pair of his earrings.

Here’s a blog post naming it one of the world’s best shopping streets; true if you’re planning to drop serious coin. If you like perfume, French perfumer Annick Goutal recently opened a shop on the street.

The original Magnolia Bakery — which opened in 1996 purveying cupcakes — is still there.

But stay with it and head east, and you’ll find the block between Seventh and Sixth a fabulous mix of food to buy and food to eat: Murray’s Cheese, Amy’s Bread, Rocco’s pastry and Porto Rico Coffee and Tea, in business since 1907, with the most wonderful store interior — enormous battered tins of tea and dozens of huge burlap bags of coffee beans beneath a pressed-tin ceiling.

Don’t miss it! You can find every imaginable kind of coffee bean and loose tea, mugs, string shopping bags, even some spices and candy. It’s one of my favorite places anywhere.

And Blind Tiger, an ale house I used to drink in in the 1990s when it was on Hudson Street.

At the east end is this theater, which I recently visited for the first time.

And this elegant restaurant, Saxon and Parole, where Bleecker ends at the Bowery. It’s a great-looking space but expensive; the cheapest entree was a $18 hamburger.

Here’s one of my favorite songs, by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, about it:

Fog’s rollin’ in off the East River bank
Like a shroud it covers Bleecker Street
Fills the alleys where men sleep
Hides the shepherd from the sheep

Voices leaking from a sad cafe
Smiling faces try to understand
I saw a shadow touch a shadow’s hand
On Bleecker Street

A poet reads his crooked rhyme
Holy, holy is his sacrament
Thirty dollars pays your rent
On Bleecker Street

I head a church bell softly chime
In a melody sustainin’
It’s a long road to Caanan
On Bleecker Street
Bleecker Street

Here’s a fantastic, photo-studded blog post detailing Bleecker Street.

 Is there a street in your city or town that you especially treasure? (In my hometown, Toronto, I like Queen Street, East and West, Kensington and Yorkville/Cumberland.)

Tell us about it!

The man in the chair beside me at the hair salon

In beauty, behavior, business, cities, life, men, urban life, US, work on February 26, 2014 at 12:36 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Alex’s salon is smaller than our living room, barely 200 square feet, with a large window facing north onto Grove Street, a quiet part of the West Village of Manhattan. He used to be on Carmine Street, a few blocks east, but, as it always does in New York City, the rent went up.

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So he moved into this space — once a clock repair shop — and re-made it, adding black rubber flooring, a long, narrow metal bench and all the newest magazines.

His salon has three chairs. Such a tiny space, situated on an unusually short, quiet city block, with one assistant sweeping up hair or shampooing, creates a sort of immediate, comfortable intimacy. Strangers a few minutes earlier, clients often end up trading business cards, sharing jokes, laughing together at silly videos on our phones.

Here’s a young executive about to take his pregnant wife on a “babymoon” to the Turks and Caicos. Here’s a woman in her 50s scrutinizing the edges of her pixie cut. Here’s a woman in her 70s, regal and serene, her hair a mini bouffant.

Some men — like my husband (who used to go to Alex when Jose had hair) — prefer a barber shop: quick, in, out, cheap.

Some women prefer the girly refuge of an all-female salon, where they call you honey and bring you cups of tea and it feels more like a dorm room than a business. And some women really don’t like being seen by men, let alone men they don’t even know, with a head full of foils or their eyebrows slathered with dye, mid-tint.

Let alone running across the street looking like a crazy person in this deshabille to plug the two-hour parking meter.

I also like supporting a man who’s stubbornly stayed in business for decades, holding out against brutal rent increases and, this year, a bitter, snowy winter that kept many clients home instead. His shoulders, he once confided, ache every day from the physical demands of his job.

So much of quirky, small-business, independent Manhattan is disappearing beneath the boot of greed and real estate development; streets like nearby Bleecker — once filled with dusty, intriguing shops — are now jammed with tourists buying pricey crap from the Big Name Designers who have totally taken over.

Regulars like me — more than a decade — still ask after Alex’s earlier assistants, like Bree, who long ago moved to San Diego and got married, or Eddie, a gentle soul with bright blond hair, who now works at a salon uptown.

Everyone comes to Alex: gay, straight, Wall Street execs, fragile old ladies from Queens, museum curators, publishers, writers. Few places in New York City — where every zip code has its own tribal markings and style codes and few stray beyond the precincts where they fit most comfortably, whether in Dockers or Prada — bring together so many different kinds of people, generally happy to chat with one another.

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Last week, the man sitting beside me quoted Chaucer in Middle English, an experience (of course!) I loved and could identify with, as I’d read Chaucer in Middle English when I was in college.

Everyone is welcome here.

He has a young autistic client who freaks out if he sees the odd mask on the salon wall, so Alex makes sure to cover it up when he comes in. I’ve seen very old, very fragile women in wheelchairs, their patient attendant waiting for them, come to him for their color and style. I’ve seen him lean in and quickly offer one a gentle kiss even though he talks a tough game, and he brooks no bullshit. Make no mistake.

It’s New York City, filled with hundreds of more-glamorous competitors for my business.

I could get my hair cut and colored anywhere else.

But why would I?

20 lessons New Yorkers learn

In behavior, cities, culture, life, travel, urban life, US on January 27, 2014 at 12:06 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Have you visited or lived in New York City?

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It’s a great place, but — oy!

The city resembles a small child, at best bursting with charm, all winning smiles and irresistible, 24/7 energy. At worst? Projectile vomit, much throwing of small, sharp objects and/or prolonged shrieking at high volume.

You never know which city you’ll get.

After 25+ years of living and working around New York City, here’s a random list of 20 things I’ve learned:

— After an exhausting day at a conference or trade show at the Javits Center, a hulking structure on the western edge of town, your poor feet are raw, since there’s almost nowhere there to sit down. Food is crazy expensive and not very good. When it’s time to go home, you head for the taxi rank, naively expecting, (hello, it’s a taxi rank), to find…you know, taxis! Lined up, lots of them, eager for business. Wrong! You will give up and trek long blocks in the pouring rain in search of one, praying you don’t miss your flight home.

— If you actually need a NYC taxi between 4 and 5:00 pm. — also known in most cities as rush hour — fuhgeddaboudit. There are 20 percent fewer cabs on the street then, as that’s the drivers’ shift change. But, if you beg, really nicely, sometimes a driver will in fact take you. Will you get a safe and experienced taxi driver? I once got into a cab, barked “Laguardia” and got a quizzical glance. (It’s one of NYC’s two major airports.) I directed him to the right tollbooth where the collector said “Take the BQE”, (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a major artery). That didn’t register either.

— NYC — huh? — has shockingly lousy radio. We have WNYC, and the fab Brian Lehrer, (talk, call-in, 10-12 each weekday morning),  and Leonard Lopate, (talk, culture, noon to 2pm, weekdays), and Jonathan Schwartz (American songbook, Saturdays and Sundays.). We have WFUV and WKCR, Columbia University’s station,  (love their eclectic schedule — from troubadours to 60s reggae and ska),  and WQXR. Then…WBGO, a jazz station from Newark, NJ.

— Be very, very careful if you choose to cycle or even cross the street here; a shocking number of people, including children, are killed here every year by careless drivers. Don’t be stupid and focus on your device while trying to navigate the crosswalk, if there even is a crosswalk — that text you’re reading or sending could well be your last.

Here’s a heartbreaking story about a family whose 12-year-old son died this wayAnd a bicycle deliveryman. Four people were recently killed by vehicles in just one weekend.

— Getting a traffic or parking ticket of any kind in New York City is really expensive; I recently got my first-ever ticket, for going through a stop sign — $138. (If I’d run a red light in Manhattan, it would have been $270.)

— But the cop who slapped me with my $138 fine also confided, since it was my first offense, how to get out of paying it. (I paid anyway.)

— If you see a taut line of fishing wire atop lamp posts along certain streets, an eruv, it was placed there, at a cost of $100,000 by several Jewish congregations, for religious reasons.

— To enjoy the terrific skating rink erected for a few winter months in Bryant Park without being knocked down by people who can’t skate, get there as soon as it opens for the day. It has great music and an easy-to-reach midtown location. It’s also gorgeous at dusk as the city lights up all around it. I like it much better than the costly, tiny rink at Rockefeller Center or crowded Wollman Rink in Central Park.

— Tourists. Gah! We hate freaking tourists, especially when they walk three or four abreast, slowly, entirely blocking the sidewalk for the rest of us. It’s totally awesome you have all bloody day to stroll, chat and stare. We don’t. Speedupalready!

— Yes, we can tell just by looking that you’re tourists. It’s not just your maps and foreign-language guidebooks. It’s your hair color/cut, choice of pastel clothing and/or white sneakers and/or lots of purple and pink and/or the volume of your conversations. Also, that glazed look.

— Please, do not whine about what things cost here. Yes, the prices are insane — $50 to park for four hours in a garage or $20 for a midtown cocktail, $8 to cross the George Washington Bridge, $10 for dessert or $15 for an appetizer. We know how expensive it is. We also pay a shitload of taxes to a state and city government forever sending its elected officials to court or prison for fraud, sexual harassment or corruption. I once simply drove my mother to the airport — $13 for tolls and 20 minutes parking. Puhleeze.

— The suggested donation at the Metropolitan Museum really is only a suggestion, no matter how intimidating its full fare of $25. If you can muster the chutzpah, offer 25 cents or a dollar.

— Even the most mundane blocks offer fascinating bits of history. This midtown firehouse, on its upper stories, has deeply incised salamanders — which have a deep and historic link to fire. Isn’t it glorious?

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— The city has a few early cemeteries where you’d least expect to find them, like these three ancient Jewish graveyards, all within walking distance of downtown shops, homes and modern day offices. Bronx students recently found a possible slave burial ground.

— Two places you can always find a bit of peace? The many pocket parks and plazas dotting the city and the pews of any church.

— You’ll see an entirely new city with each season, and softer or sharper, less or more angled sunlight it brings. I was walking south on Park Avenue the other day — at 2:30 on a sunny January afternoon — and passed a 1960s building I’ve seen hundreds of times. But I saw it wholly anew, as the light’s angle created pockets of shadow clearly intended by the architect, in metal indentations below each window. It was lovely.

Do you know about Manhattanhenge? Very cool!

— Museums charge a fortune, like $14 or $18 admission, but they all have a night of free admission.

— Here’s a terrific daily update of free/cheap/fun stuff to do in the city, The Skint, created by my friend Elizabeth who, natch, is also the lead singer in this amazing band playing 1920s tunes, The Hot Sardines, who often play at the Standard Hotel and Joe’s Pub.

You can even, for a week in late January every year, watch world-class champions playing squash in a glass-walled court inside Grand Central Station. Crazy!

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— There  is beauty in almost every single block, if you look carefully. It might be a hanging lamp, a brass marker inlaid in the concrete, a gargoyle, a church spire, leaded windows, exquisite ironwork, a tiny snowman with pretzel hair. Despite its insane rushrushrush, New York City is actually a place that rewards a slower pace, (off the busiest streets!)

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— New Yorkers may look mean, tough, unfriendly. We’re really not. We are usually in a hurry, (knowing the taxi, if we can even find one, will take forever to get there or the subway will break down). We’re probably rushing somewhere to get more something: money, opportunities, friends, whatever. But so many of us have come here from somewhere else that we get what it feels like to be scared, overwhelmed, lonely — and thrilled to finally master this place, even for a while.

Or…am I completely meshugannah?

Feel free to argue loudly. Hey, it’s what we do!

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The great pleasure of old-school dining

In business, cities, culture, food, life, Style, urban life on December 29, 2013 at 12:39 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Fogey alert!

If you consider thick white tablecloths and enormous floral arrangements and black-clad waiters who wouldn’t dream of introducing  themselves to you by name stuffy and boring….this post isn’t for you.

But if, like me, you adore a fine, old restaurant that still does things right, here’s a lovely paean to them, from The New York Times Style magazine:

In an age of studied casualness, of competitive waiting in line and chef-stalking and meal-Instagramming, of pedigreed pigs and forced intimacy with your neighbors’ elbows, it is novel to be served by a dignified career waiter in a jacket who knows his business. It is relaxing to look at a menu and (with the exception of certain démodé concoctions) know exactly what you’re getting. And most magical of all, it is astounding to be transported to a time when people not only dressed up, but also when your chair was pulled out for you and your cigarette (yes, cigarette!) was lit before it had reached your lips.

The writer, Sadie Stein, names a few old-school spots I’ve been lucky enough to eat in as well:

"The Sower," Simon & Schuster logo, ...

“The Sower,” Simon & Schuster logo, circa 1961 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

— After a meeting at the offices of Simon & Schuster, on Sixth Avenue in midtown Manhattan, on a bitterly cold, wet winter’s day in 2002, I knew they were going to buy my first book. I was insanely excited but had no one, at 4:00 p.m., to share that moment with. My agent had rushed back to his office downtown. So I went into the “21” Club, at 21 West 52d,  and ordered coffee and profiteroles and sat by the fire and cherished this wonderful moment I had longed for my whole life. It was the perfect place to seal the deal.

Galatoire's Beer Dinner

Galatoire’s Beer Dinner (Photo credit: rdpeyton)

— I’ve been to Galatoire’s, a New Orleans institution, several times. The most recent, in late January 2012, was three days before I would lie on an operating room table to get a new left hip. I needed a good stiff drink and a delicious meal. What if they were among my last? I’d been in town to address a conference of liquor store owners, offering my suggestions how to hire, manage and motivate their workers, (the topic of my second book.) Galatoire’s was absolutely perfect, filled with elegance and celebration and fantastic food.

English: The main dining room of Galatoire's, ...

English: The main dining room of Galatoire’s, a noted restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

— I’ve only eaten (so far!) once at La Grenouille, one of Manhattan’s true legends. It opened Dec. 19, 1962 in a townhouse in midtown. We ate upstairs, at L’Ardoise, and it was amazing. Here’s my post about it, from October 2009, a celebration meal in honor of my second book sale, treated by my father visiting from Canada:

Upstairs is a narrow room, with white-painted brick walls, lit by three 20-foot-tall lead-paned windows. A huge rug in the lightest shades of yellow, cream and green. A highly polished dark wood table marks the entrance. There are only five white-tableclothed tables, with another at the top of the stairs beneath a skylight, shaded by palms. Each has a small, perfect floral arrangement. There are paintings and drawing everywhere. You feel as if you’ve stumbled into someone’s private home, and you have. For many years, this was the home and studio of French painter Bernard LaMamotte — and before that, in the 1800s, the stable housing the horses of the owners of the mansion across the street, now the Cartier boutique. Those tall windows were once used to bring in hay.

It is, wrote Vanity Fair last year, “a private dining room of such beauty that one could be talked into becoming bedridden as long as one’s bed were there.”

Have you had a memorable meal in a place like this?

What was it like?

Does Dasani’s NYT homeless story leave you angry? Sad? Indifferent?

In behavior, children, cities, culture, domestic life, education, family, journalism, news, parenting, urban life, US on December 12, 2013 at 1:11 am

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s a story that took a year of reporting and writing to produce, prompting more than 600+ comments after the first day — by 5:30 p.m. yesterday, more than 1,713 readers had weighed in.

English: The New York Times building in New Yo...

English: The New York Times building in New York, NY across from the Port Authority. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The New York Times is running a five-part series on Dasani, an 11-year-old African American girl living with her siblings in a squalid New York city shelter that has sucked up millions of tax-payer dollars already.

Her parents take methadone, do not work and have seven other children sharing a 500 square foot room.

Dasani is smart, capable, liked by her teachers, and burdened by caring for her brothers and sisters. She, like them, has nowhere clean, quiet and comfortable in which to do her homework. Their room has no desk. One wall has a hole where mice run freely.

Here’s an excerpt from the first instalment:

Dasani is among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belongs to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America.

Nearly a quarter of Dasani’s childhood has unfolded at Auburn, where she shares a 520-square-foot room with her parents and seven siblings. As they begin to stir on this frigid January day, Dasani sets about her chores.

Her mornings begin with Baby Lele, whom she changes, dresses and feeds, checking that the formula distributed by the shelter is not, once again, expired. She then wipes down the family’s small refrigerator, stuffed with lukewarm milk, Tropicana grape juice and containers of leftover Chinese. After tidying the dresser drawers she shares with a sister, Dasani rushes her younger siblings onto the school bus.

Dasani guards her feelings closely, dispensing with anger through humor. Beneath it all is a child whose existence is defined by her siblings. Her small scrub-worn hands are always tying shoelaces or doling out peanut butter sandwiches, taking the ends of the loaf for herself. The bond is inescapable. In the presence of her brothers and
sisters, Dasani has no peace. Without them, she is incomplete.

I spent more than an hour reading the comments, which came from social workers, past and present; from New York schoolteachers; from the formerly poor and homeless able to escape a difficult past; from the fed-up-with-generational-welfare crowd.

A few readers simply shrugged — the entire United States, not just New York City, is deeply pockmarked by poverty now, with the second-highest rate of child poverty in the developed world.

As one commenter said…wait. This story will soon be only one of many. She is hardly unique.

Reader reactions, predictably, are mixed:

outrage at the shelter’s squalor; dismay at the parents’ inability or unwillingness to work, earn money and set an example for their children; anger at the tens of thousands of tax-payer dollars supporting a couple of adults who have made repeatedly poor choices, including producing more and more children they have no way to support; disappointment that the U.S. allows children like her to live in such appalling conditions; confusion as to what can be done to alleviate this kind of poverty.

As I’ve blogged here before, I was a Big Sister in 1998 for 18 months to a 13-year-old child whose family was also deeply dysfunctional.  (For readers outside of North America, Big Sister/Big Brother is a national program that matches volunteers — usually middle or upper middle class, employed and well-educated — with struggling youngsters. The idea is to foster relationships that will help poor children and teens survive and thrive.)

I found the process deeply frustrating, as much because I expected far too much from it and because, I thought, the organizers expected far too little.

My “little sister”, like Dasani, was bright and very likeable, apparently eager to flee the clutches of poverty.

But, sadly also highly unlikely to do so. I saw frightening and destructive behaviors within her family I’d never before encountered en masse — abandonment, laziness, welfare dependence, neglect and passivity — that boded ill for her future.

The desire to flee poverty can also create an impossible choice — between the bosom of a chaotic family a child knows well, and a larger world they don’t. You’re not going to get very far saying “axe” instead of “ask” a question.

I saw this play out with my “little”. The more I tried to find her better options, (even, yes, a scholarship spot at a private school barely 30 minutes drive from her family), the more they shrugged it off.

I admit it. After 18 months, I burned out and walked away.

Children need consistently healthy role models if they’re going to succeed and avoid the pitfalls of addiction and/or teen pregnancy. Dasani’s mother teaches her to fight — physically — which, as the Times reports, gets her suspended from school.

The series’ pathos has left some readers eager to “help” — but what, exactly, can they do?

Donate to charities? Pay even more taxes? Volunteer individually with a child on their own? Foster a child or several?

What do you think?

What — if anything — would change (for good/better) a life like hers?

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