Friday, January 9, 2015

Not Entirely Happy New Year

Monday, January 5, 2015
Today, I begin my sixth year in New York Supreme Court’s law department, a pool of attorneys supporting over 50 judges handling civil actions. It also marks the beginning of my sixth year exploring the restaurants of Chinatown during my lunch hour, an adventure that has resulted in eating in over 300 separate joints, separated in name, ownership, or location from each other or any antecedent. In the first year or so, I found three or four new restaurants every week without effort. Now, I patiently wait for spaces to be renovated or, at least, a new name appearing on the front door.

By contrast, today is marked by discontinuity at home, as the renovation of Palazzo di Gotthelf, necessitated by the flood we experienced in August, gets underway, and we take up temporary residence at the Hotel Lucerne on West 79th Street. Although we moved an ample collection of clothing over to the hotel yesterday, we spent one last night at home in order to meet and greet the carpenters this morning. We have to treat the next two weeks as a combination of something like an out-of-town business trip, a vacation from normal housekeeping duties and routine, and an extended faith healing session, that is, we must have faith that our wounded floors and psyches are soon healed.

The first Chinese restaurant that I went to on January 4, 2010 was Wah Kee, 150 Centre Street. When I went back to that location on July 19, 2011, it had become Red Square Café. By September 16, 2013, it had mutated into Maid Café NY, with waitresses dressed like French maids in a soft-core porno flick. While I chose to reach back on this anniversary, I skipped the frou-frou and went to Nom Wah Tea Parlor, 13 Doyers Street, the oldest dim sum joint in the United States. I had their "Original" egg roll, a fat cylinder of vegetables rolled several times in a thin crêpe-like wrapper, then deep fried, producing a very flaky casing. It differed from past visits (March 8, 2011, April 26, 2012, November 20, 2012, February 6, 2013) when the wrapper was closer to an omelet. Also, what cost $3.95 for two is now $7.

I also ordered shrimp and chive dumplings (3 for $4.25) which were very good, although they could have easily appeared on a vegetarian menu, in the absence of shrimp. True to its roots, Nom Wah offers a choice of teas – 10 varieties at $1 per person, and 8 premium varieties at $3 or $4. Unlike almost all other Chinatown restaurants, Nom Wah was populated mainly with tourists. I observed no Chinese truck drivers.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015
We awoke this morning at 79th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, exactly a half mile, 10 city blocks away from our normal home. The surrounding area is familiar; Zabar’s, Staples and Barnes & Noble are around the corner on Broadway. However, settling into the neighborhood, even for a short term, differs from passing by, and surprises have begun to appear. On the way to the subway this morning, I saw Voilà Chocolat, 221 West 79th Street, which labels itself a Chocolatiering Atelier. It provides opportunities for creating your own chocolate treats, alone in a serious fashion, or in groups, where giggles must surely mix with creativity. Voilà, open only two weeks, has the trademarked slogan, "Where Happiness Lives."

I went into Voilà after work. About 2/3 of the space is devoted to the work area, centered on a long white marble slab which is presumably conducive to having chocolate slopped all over it. No one was trying her hand at creative chocolate expression, and I had no intention of engaging in any do-it-yourself effort while a collection of truffles were on display for immediate purchase at $2 each. I bought five pieces, champagne, coffee, praline, banana rum and I-don’t-remember. Believe it or not, after a nice dinner, we allowed the five pieces to remain undisturbed, so I can’t comment on their quality. But, tomorrow is another day.

Here’s another one of those fascinating graphics-illustrated, data-intensive articles that the Times has been producing regularly, this time concerning how unemployed adults spend their time.

As in so many other areas, men and women differ. Men spend much of their waking hours watching television and movies, along with other leisure activities, while women are doing housework and caring for others. Generally, job hunting plays only a small role in the sample of 147 men and 147 women, even less a factor for the women, whether due to futility (the bleeding heart liberal view) or laziness (the cutthroat conservative view). Men spend more time on education, while women socialize more. As I understand it, reading things on the Internet and passing the information along to others, is registered under "Other leisure."

I was surprised to see Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, almost empty at midday, but pleased to recognize one of the few customers sitting alone in a booth. Dennis, an art historian, is a non-denominational believer, from a distant Roman Catholic background, who regularly visits West End Synagogue’s Saturday morning Torah study sessions. Of course, he was on jury duty, another version of the search for truth.

By coincidence, he had ordered pork egg foo young and brown rice just moments before I ordered shrimp egg foo young and brown rice even as I walked in the door. He has a lively mind and an appreciation of Chinese food, so our lunchtime proved highly satisfactory at several levels.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015
Speaking of dinner, although normally I keep my focus on lunch, last night we ate at Burke & Wills, 226 West 79th Street, which labels itself an Australian Bistro. With only a slight pause to consider adorableness, I ordered the ‘roo burger ($17); the kang is silent. First off, it doesn’t taste like chicken, or much like beef. The ground ‘roo came closest to the taste of a cafeteria meatloaf. Don’t regard that as entirely negative unless you spent three or four long years sitting alone in your high school cafeteria. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015
The terrible events in Paris yesterday were the result of a single-minded devotion to certainty, leaving no room for doubt, nuance, or hesitancy. Some orthodoxies and institutions deny educating their young in critical thinking. Is that a freedom of choice that a free society should not impinge upon?

I ate Voilà’s chocolates last night after dinner. Dinner, by the way, tasted like chicken. It was chicken. Actually, I had 3 truffles and my young bride had two. They were small, carefully made and subtly flavored, so much so that I-don’t-remember became I-can’t-tell. In summation, my faith in Teuscher’s champagne truffles or random pieces by Jacques Torres remains unshaken, and I don’t think that many sober adults want to get up to their elbows in chocolate. I think that it will soon be adieu to Voilà.

Friday, January 9, 2015
New York City is facing a crisis that, in some ways, is more dangerous than the current events in Paris. The Policeman’s Benevolent Association and other organizations representing police officers are actively hostile to Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration, because he admitted that he has cautioned his interracial teenage son about his behavior around police officers, and de Blasio has shown sympathy to public protests against the unpunished killings of unarmed black men by police. The dispute turned toxic when two police officers were assassinated in Brooklyn by a black man madly professing to be motivated by police misconduct. Now, police officers show overt disrespect for the mayor on otherwise solemn occasions, and have stopped doing their jobs to a large degree, using the excuse that their normal actions will evoke abnormal reactions. 

The PBA is remarkably tone deaf. It consistently fails to recognize a long-term national pattern of police conduct that has treated black lives, sometimes those of women and children as well as grown men, cheaply, a pattern that manifests itself in New York, too. Regardless of the weight of evidence, the PBA seems never to have detected even one bad apple in its barrel. Yes, it is a union, and solidarity is a virtue of union membership. However, effective policing ultimately requires more than a preponderance of force. Community trust and cooperation should ease the burden on the beat cop and provide greater security to the population. PBA leadership, by contrast, seems to propagate the divide in society, Them vs. Us.

Mayor de Blasio also is notoriously tone deaf in allowing Al Sharpton to appear as a de facto member of his administration. Sharpton, who has undergone an extraordinary and commendable physical transformation, remains, in my view, an ugly deterrent to effecting racial harmony. He has never stepped back from his shameful crusade in the Tawana Brawley matter, and his outrageous conduct there discredited him, in my eyes, in all subsequent public affairs. The fact that, today, the rich and the famous embrace him does little for my regard.

And, if I can’t stand Al Sharpton, imagine the feelings he arouses in the average cop.

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