Sarasota vs. New York


For decades, my mother has been nagging me to read Celia Garth, by Gwen Bristow.  The book was published in 1959, making it just about the same age I am.  I’m not sure why I never got around to reading it, but now I could kick myself for not having read it when Mom first mentioned it.  In short, I loved it.

We meet Celia herself right away.  She is a 20-year-old orphan who is working as an apprentice seamstress for the best dressmaker in Charleston, South Carolina.  The year is 1779, and the American Revolution has been going on for several years.  Celia really doesn’t care one way or the other about the war; all she cares about is having some excitement in her life.  But circumstances draw her in, and soon she cares very, very much about the war and the participants.   She gets engaged to a rebel captain, she becomes a spy for the rebel cause and, along the way, she and the people she cares about face real danger and real sorrow.   As has been said, “War is Hell,” and young Celia learns this first hand.

Real historical figures play important roles in the story; we get to meet Francis Marion (the “Swamp Fox”), and we learn about the King’s commanders Cornwallis, Clinton, Tarleton, etc.

At first, I found Celia a little annoying, but I guess a lot of 20-year-olds are, and she did grow on me.  I loved the supporting characters as much as Celia does, and felt her joy and her pain as her world went all topsy-turvy around her.  Celia grows up because of her experiences, and I am glad I got to go along for the ride.  I cannot recommend this book enough for anyone who likes a good historical novel with lots of romance and action.  It’s just wonderful and it’s a book I can see myself reading again over the years.

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OK, now for the reason I’ve been away so long.  I took the plunge and became a homeowner.  Neither side used a realtor, so I got a crash course in home buying and it consumed so much of my time and emotional energy (and cash!) that I didn’t have enough to spare for reading, stitching, movie-going, blogging, etc.  But now I’m settled in and am getting used to living on my own again.  No parents, no dogs, no “partners-in-crime” just across the street or down the block.  It’s very quiet, but I am remembering how much I like quiet when I’m not at work (odd for a City Mouse, but true).   In my 100+ year-old NYC apartment building, the walls were so thin that I could practically hear my neighbors boiling water (and we all heard things we wish we hadn’t!).  But this is a 7-year-old building made out of cinder block, so I hardly know I even have neighbors now.  I still need a ton of stuff — book cases, living room couch, coffee table, etc.   I had “issues” with the washing machine, and the ice maker that I bought in December to go with the refrigerator  I bought at the same time was just delivered and installed this morning.  The guest room still has a lot of boxes, but the living room and dining room are looking good.  My handyman will be back next weekend to help out with some stuff I can’t do myself, and the “official” housewarming is in 2 weeks.  It’s a small townhouse, and all but 2 of the 20-something invitees have said they’ll be here.  Yikes!

Anyway, so now you know “The Rest of the Story.”

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Or, more accurately, I don’t think we’re in New York anymore.

I was out taking a walk at lunch the other day, and I happened to pass by the local courthouse.  There’s some construction going on right now, but the plaza is still a place where people congregate.  There are tables where workers gather for lunch, while others cut across the plaza to get somewhere else.  The complex takes up 2 blocks in the East/West direction, so there is plenty of open space.  Anyway, while I was cutting across the plaza to head south towards the bank, I passed by this little guy:

Taking a stroll

In New York, you don’t see beautiful birds like this taking a stroll about town. The only wildlife I’m accustomed to is rats, squirrels (rats with good P.R.), mice, sparrows and pigeons (rats with wings), so I have no idea what kind of bird this is.  I think he may be a heron or an egret, but I’ll have to do some research to find out for sure. Regardless, I think it’s kind of cool.

Speaking of birds, sandhill cranes are tall, gray-ish birds that take walks around my neighborhood.  I’ve passed them on the sidewalk, and they don’t scare easily.  I don’t have any pictures of them handy, but here’s one I found online.  They are monogamous, and I’ve seen entire families (Mom, Dad and 2 “colts”) out for a stroll on a lazy Florida afternoon.  I’ve seen traffic stop in all directions while a family is crossing the street.   It’s almost as if they know they’re a protected species and they can get away with anything because of it.

I’ve never been much of a bird person, but Florida birds just fascinate me.  There’s a pond in back of our house, and the dogs go wild every time a bird stands on the bank stretching out his wings to dry them.  We also get alligators, turtles (I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had to hit the brakes to avoid a turtle), bobcats, panthers and rabbits.

It would appear that there is more to wildlife than just scavengers.  Who knew?

Last night was spent at KC’s annual Christmas party (church was this morning).  The spread was excellent and a fine time was had by all.  Afterwards, a handful of us sat around the pool and talked.  It was about 70 degrees and pretty much everyone was in shorts.  We called some friends who were visiting relatives in Maine, and it was 9 degrees Fahrenheit with snow on the ground. There are still times when I wish I were back up North for Christmas, but I really don’t want to ever see 9 degrees Fahrenheit ever again.  Today our family is heading over to D’s family’s house for dinner.  We should have at least 15 people, including 3 children under the age of 8.  We spend every Christmas at their house, and it’s become a cherished tradition.

Too many people of my acquaintance had a rough 2011 and I wish them and you a joyous Christmas and a blessed New Year.

I got back from my 7-day vacation late on Thursday night.  Outside of the fact that Delta Airlines seemed to be trying very hard to make my trip as difficult as possible, I did manage to get to and from my vacation in one piece, and (hoorah!) with all my luggage intact (they forced me to check my luggage but didn’t charge me for the “privilege”).  KC earned herself a whole lot of new friend points for picking me up at SRQ at 11 p.m. when my original arrival time was 9 p.m.

The first leg of the trip was to my 30th college reunion.  I attended a small liberal arts college in the Northeastern US — small enough that I knew everyone in my graduating class by face if not by name — and every 5th year we convene on campus to catch up, eat junk food and make merry.  We’re old enough now that alcohol alone doesn’t guarantee a good time, and that’s a Good Thing.  Some of us are married with young children, others are married and are empty-nesters (or will be soon), and others of us have never married and/or had kids.  But we still find enough to talk about every 5 years that we all leave each reunion looking forward to the next one.  One of my classmates is the proprietress of “A Book a Week.”  Check it out.  It’s really good.  It’s being added to the “Links I Like” section of this blog.

After reunion, my classmate K and I went to her house in New Jersey and hung out for the evening.  We went to see “Bridesmaids” in Princeton and laughed until we ached.  It’s a gross, vulgar movie, but it’s also hilarious.

Then, on Monday morning, I boarded a New Jersey Transit train for Manhattan.  I got off the escalator at 32nd Street and 7th Avenue and almost cried. I knew I was home.  Why I would choose one of the least attractive spots in all of Manhattan to think that is beyond me, but that’s what I did.  I savored every minute I was there.  My “New Yorker-ness” came back to me.  I navigated the sidewalk traffic without bumping into anyone. Nobody tried to get me to ride the double-decker tour buses.  Nobody tried to get me to take a carriage ride in Central Park.  Nobody tried to hand me flyers.  I was back, and it felt good.

And, of course, I did my share of “souvenir eating.”  Before meeting up with my dear friend AAEdible, I went to Kossar’s to investigate their bagels and bialys.  Mom is craving bialys and, since I’d heard that Kossar’s ships around the country, I had to go see if they were worth it. They were.  So, when Mom gets back from her summer vacation, we will be ordering some bagels and bialys to be sent here to Florida. Once AAE and I found each other, we visited John’s of Bleecker Street for their amazing pizza, and then headed off to Economy Candy for dessert. We had tickets to the Mets/Pirates game that night and, after a “for-old-time’s-sake” beer at the Pine, we walked across the street to Citifield. I’d only seen it while it was under construction, and it’s just gorgeous.  I’m not amused by all of the tributes to Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers (after all, Robinson never played for the Mets, and the Dodgers are in LA now), but it really is a nice place to watch a game. I bought a couple of souvenirs and we headed up to our seats.  It’s a good thing we were full from the pizza and beer because our seats were in the last row of the upper deck and trekking up and down multiple times was just not an option.  The Mets won thanks to a barrage of hits by players I’d never heard of before this season, and I almost lost it when we got to the subway platform and the time came to say good-bye.  It was the not the first time I got weepy during this trip, nor was it the last.

Tuesday morning involved a return trip to New Jersey to visit Where Victoria’s Angels Stitch.  I bought 2 Teenie Kits: J is for Jack-O-Lantern, and another one with the initial for my last name.  Tuesday afternoon was the Met’s “Savage Beauty” exhibit, which is all about Alexander McQueen.  The clothes were weird, but also fascinating. Some of the videos at the link above are also part of the exhibit, so you’ll get to share some of what we saw at the museum. Granted, nobody actually wears haute couture, but it’s still interesting to look at.  While it’s hard at first to wrap one’s head around the concept that the mind that dreamed up these clothes inspired the mind that designed Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, I now have an easier time doing that (as an aside, I bought these for myself at the Met gift shop — the picture does not do them justice; they are much nicer in person). After the Met, I visited Glaser’s Bake Shop, an Upper East Side institution since 1902. I’m particularly fond of their black-and-white cookies, their chocolate eclairs and their apple/cranberry pies, but pretty much everything they make is wonderful and worth the trip to 87th and First.  Being on the Upper East Side necessitated a visit to Annie and Company, the needlepoint/cross stitch/knitting shop in Carnegie Hill where I used to spend hours stitching and/or knitting with my fellow customers.  There, I bought this for myself, and another pattern that I can’t show you because it’s going to be a gift and I don’t want the intended recipient to see it.  Dinner that night was with BookishNYC who has, alas, retired from blogging about books, but who has not stopped reading them or wanting to discuss them.  So that’s what we did.  We compared notes as to what books we’ve been reading.  Between the 2 of us, the list was rather long.  She gave me some great ideas, and I hope I gave her some in return.

Wednesday was lunch with former work colleagues, followed by the only touristy thing I did all week — I bought a last-row ticket to see Harry Potter, er, Daniel Radcliffe as J. Pierrepont Finch and John Larroquette as J.B. Biggley in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”  I loved it.  So did the large numbers of adolescent girls who were in the audience squeeing whenever Daniel did something.  Here is a video with some of the musical numbers.  The play was so much fun that I decided to watch the movie with Robert Morse and Michele Lee thanks to Netflix’ streaming video.  I’ve seen it before, but it’s been ages, so it was fun to compare the play with the movie.

Dinner on Wednesday night was with Karen 2L; I’d been dying for good Indian food, so she found Taj Tribeca.  It was excellent, and reminded me once again why I love Indian food.  I walked back to the hotel (mid 30s off Park) and stopped off to buy chopsticks.  I have never seen them for sale here, so I decided to take the bull by the horns and bring some home with me.  2 packages each containing 10 pairs for $8.  Not too shabby.

Thursday morning was difficult.  I woke up in time to go to Daniel’s Bagels for breakfast, went back to the hotel, packed, read the paper and had a good cry.  My former boss took me to lunch at the Capital Grille on 42nd Street, and then he escorted me to the bus stop so I could get to the airport.  I spent the entire trip to the airport fighting back tears.  Once I got to the airport, I was angry at Delta rather than sad about leaving, so I guess that’s a step in the right direction.

No, the trip wasn’t all about food. But if I can eat foods I can’t get down here while spending time with people I care about deeply then why not do it?  One thing the trip made me realize is that I really am a city girl. I’ve thought that many times since I’ve lived here in the Land of Suburban Sprawl, but it really hit home. I don’t hate it here — I like my job and I love my friends — but despite all the things to like about this place, I still do get homesick for New York.  It’s in my blood.  It’s in my soul.  It’s a part of me. I felt more alive than I have in a while. What this trip did was to guarantee that I’ll be back as soon as I’m able. Being back at work today was tough but, despite the fact that it felt like Monday, it was really Friday, so I have 2 full days to recuperate.

I hope some of you get to try out the places I recommended.  I won’t guarantee that everyone will love them (because, after all, to each his own), but I’m betting that some of you will.

Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve ranted about how much I hate people.  Not that I’ve stopped hating them — it’s just that my ever-evolving sense of “island time” has raised the bar.  It takes a little longer for me to spew the hate than it used to.

KC and I took my car up to Tampa last night to see the Lightning host KC’s Devils.  The Lightning won, and former Islander, Dwayne Roloson, played a good game.  Another former Islander, Sean Bergenheim, is also on the Lightning, and he was another reason I rooted for them.

I’m very glad I didn’t end up having to work in Tampa.  It’s a 50-something mile drive each way, and downtown seems to be perpetually under construction.  And the signage is very, very, VERY bad (it makes New Jersey signage look good, and that is not easy).  We were promised free parking, but that lot was full and we ended up having to pay $15.

We took I-75 to get there, and found not a single sign telling us how to get back home.  We did, however, see a couple of signs for I-275. We even saw one that promised to take us towards the South, and so we innocently trusted the sign and made the turn.

Unfortunately, that was the only sign with an arrow heading South and, after a good 20 minutes alternately spent cursing and laughing (that maniacal laughter one does to avoid crying), we headed onto I-275 North with the intention of getting off at the next exit and turning around.  The exit for which we were in the exit-only lane led directly to MLK Boulevard (Road?  Street?  Avenue? who cares?).  We looked at each other and realized we could be having a true-life Bonfire of the Vanities experience, but luckily all it required was a U-turn to get us headed in the right direction.

But I digress.  The above is a good reason to dislike people (the city planners, the construction workers, etc., of Tampa), but it’s  not necessarily a reason to hate them.  My reason to hate them came a little later in the drive home.  We were cruising along the interstate when we approached the toll plaza for the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.  I got into the far-right lane because there was only 1 car in it, as opposed to 3 or 4 in the other lanes.  We sat there for at least 5 minutes, watching the toll-taker do something that looked suspiciously like filling out forms.  Then the car in front pulled up a few feet and the toll-taker wrote down the plate number. They futzed around for long enough that KC threatened to reach over me to honk the horn, proving without a shadow of a doubt that, even though you live in Paradise, and even though you can take the girls out of New York (or, in KC’s case, New Jersey), you really cannot take the East coast ‘tude out of the girls. When I finally pulled up to the booth, I asked the man what happened.  Apparently, the person in front of us had no money, and that he was the 3rd person of this man’s shift who had no money.  This is insane.  I can understand not having exact change (especially if you’re not from the area and have no way of knowing), but this driver didn’t have any money at all on him.  It’s not like he’s on the GW Bridge and they want $8.  The Skyway is only $1.  How hard is it to come up with $1?   How can you get in your car and drive on a major thoroughfare late at night with no cash at all on you?  To say that we were gobsmacked is putting it mildly.

How much do you want to bet that he’ll get the bill in the mail and ignore it?

Last night, “KC” and I decided to drive around our general vicinity and check out the Christmas lights.  Some of them were pretty normal, but others were just crazy.  Given that there’s no snow around here, it’s a little weird that people put up those lights that look like icicles, but it’s even weirder that they put up snow men, reindeer, penguins, polar bears and igloos.  I tell you this, nothing says Christmas like penguins, polar bears and igloos.  

One yard was particularly amazing.  They did the whole thing up to honor A Charlie Brown Christmas.  We saw Snoopy on his dog house (complete with a wreath), Lucy’s psychiatric help booth, the text of the section of the Gospel According to Luke that Linus recites at the end, and they even had the movie itself  running on a screen set up on their front porch.  I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  I wish I could have taken some pictures, but I honestly don’t think the Droid’s camera could have done justice to it all.

I wish all of you a joyous Christmas and a blessed New Year.

Sarasota is a lovely city with a lot of things to see and do, but it’s a place I am still, after one and one-half years, getting used to.  It’s not easy being 1,189.2 miles from The World’s Most Convenient City, where pretty much everything I wanted was close by. I didn’t have to order L’Occitane products from Drugstore.com because one of their stores was a 15-minute walk from my apartment.  I didn’t have to be a member of Netflix because my mom-and-pop video store had all the foreign films I wanted…and they delivered.   I passed 2 Barnes & Nobles on my way to the subway, 3 movie theaters, and some genuine dives with some great food.

Every time I meet someone from New York or Philadelphia or Boston (and there are a lot more of each here now than there were when I came down to visit my grandparents in the 1960s and 1970s), the first topic of conversation is how hard it is to find decent food at a decent price.  You can eat well here —  it just costs an arm and a leg — but we’re all used to being able to find holes in the wall with great food.  It’s definitely culture shock.

So, in order to help out any new Sarasotans (or anyone planning on being a tourist here), here are some of the best places to eat well for not a whole lot of money.  One former New Yorker owns Bonni Bakes; she is searching for a recipe that will allow her to produce a good knish (I don’t know if she has good bagels, because I haven’t found one yet).   I would love to visit her restaurant in Bradenton’s Village of the Arts, but she’s not open often enough hours for someone who works down in Sarasota, so I have not yet been there.   Il Panificio, on Main Street in Sarasota, has the best pizza in the vicinity (the owners are from New Jersey).  “Soprano’s of NY” on SR70 in Lakewood Ranch has melt-in-your-mouth garlic knots (the owners are from north of NYC) and very good pizza.  Next door, the Big City Grille (owned by a native Philadelphian) offers up incredible chicken wings and a variety of “signture sandwiches” from around the country.  “South Philly” on 34th Street West has excellent cheesesteaks, and you can drink Yuengling or Rolling Rock while you eat.  It’s enough to make a transplant weep.   You can call me a snob, but let’s face it  — Northeasterners know food.

Honorable mention goes to TooJays, a deli/diner with several locations around Florida.  Sarasota’s is in the Westfield Southgate Mall along the Trail.  I don’t know who owns them, but they serve up all sorts of comfort food: bagels, corned beef and roast beef sandwiches as tall as the ones in New York, rugelach, chicken soup, black-and-white cookies (no, they’re not nearly as good as those at Glaser’s on First Avenue in Manhattan, but they’re better than anything else you’ll get down here), whitefish salad, shrimp salad…  It’s well worth the visit.

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