May 02, 2003

New York, New York

New York. New York? Didn't you just get back from Australia?

Yes, it's true. But after my return I made a slight detour to visit my family over the holidays, which included a day trip to New York with my grandmother and mother. In a mild attempt at keeping with the dietary restriction of not eating bread, our day had an Asian theme. I know, you're asking again, isn't Seattle on the Pacific Rim, and New York on the Atlantic? Well yes, but New York is still the Big City, and the museums and galleries there can easily compete with much of Seattle.

First stop? Lunch. My mother wanted to visit Kai, run by the major Japanese tea importers Ito En. Stylish. Formalized (though not really formal, at least at lunch.) The space is three stories: street level tea shop, with glass jars of tea along the wall, many of which are unusual. Green teas. Powdered green teas. Twig teas. Flower teas. Upstairs is the restaurant, black and almost suspended in the space with glass railings with a live bamboo screen. Slate place settings. In a word, stylized. Like the service--the staff (which was largely not Japanese) acted almost in a stylized manner, way too polity for my liking, almost hovering obtrusively although that was not the goal.
The menu is organized as a series of set menus, with the added twist that most choices come with a matching tea. I ended up with a soba and chicken set: buckwheat soba noodles served over ice (there goes that diet out the window) and hot chicken soup. Add the cold noodles to the hot soup and chicken, and you get, uh, well chicken noodle soup with a Japanese twist. Given the high polish on the setting, I was unimpressed--not bad, but then again I've had poor luck with strange Japanese soups. should have tried the sushi. My mother and grandmother had the udon soup/shrimp tempura set, the not so adventurous option. We finished with a pair of desserts-tapioca/lentil pudding (eh? I'll hold the lentils next time) and a cake (oops again) topped with sencha, for a strong bitter contrast.

Then it's too the basement, where there is an additional dining room of some sort and bathrooms fancy enough to be worth a check in the 'bathrooms worth visiting column in Zagat. Back to the main store for an attempt to buy something (the 'knowledgeable staff guy was mentioned when we asked a question that they never get to eat in the restaurant. odd.), and back into the cold.

Next stop was China. Well, the China Institute to be exact, for an exhibit of textile. This is a small two room exhibit in a larger institute which I know nothing about; that makes three 'Asian institutes' I've been to in NYC over the past few years: the Asia Society's fancy new digs, the Japan Society's medium sized exhibition space, and now here, in a converted townhouse.. Two weeks later, a few things come to mind about the exhibit. First, the air in the first room was so moldy we all mentioned thoughts of SARS after we left. Second, in the second room, they had a scroll. It appears to be a normal scroll of some sort of Chinese literature, written in black brush strokes. But yet it is not, but rather embroidered silk, an illustration of mastery. The third was a set of two striking works from the late 19th or early 20th century; they stood out from all the rest because of their distinctly modern feel. Rather than dragons or scenes or writing, they appeared to be architectural rubbings. Imagine if you will round roof tiles, horses, and other elements you'd expect to find on a building, but arranged like a collage in silk embroidery. A print would have a hard time doing them justice, as the detail extended to the direction of the stitches to add textural depth to images.

The final stop was a few blocks further down town, at Kaikodo Gallery. Both the galleries we visited that day had been mentioned in blurbs in the New York Times, and it dramatically upped their attendance, even though we were mostly alone both places. The last was the biggest surprise. Someone either built or rebuilt a five storey townhouse in spectacular fashion. All wood floors and details, wood elevator with different materials on each floor, even a small garden visible out the back. The Times had directed us here for a collection of Chinese fans, from 50 years old and much older. The fans were primarily on the 2nd and 3rd floor of the gallery, mostly mounted, and some on tissue. Since this is a gallery, everything is for sale, and the 'affordable' fans ranged from 1k to 15k. Apparently I have no visual memory of them, other than the delicacy of some. Clearly architecture is what catches my eye.

The gallery and staff have sufficient depth that they publish their own rather large and apparently scholarly researched catalog as a journal; due to the current economy, they haven't published one in a while, but it is something I'd like to seek out in a library to peruse. And again SARS raised its head, as there was mention of upcoming Hong Kong auctions being cancelled; or maybe it's time to buy?

After returning uptown, across the park, and up the elevator we got to watch a few of the stations of the cross both in Spanish and English. A different world, and different yet again from the New Jersey turnpike and the trip home.

Next visit? Perhaps the recently created Scholar's Garden on Staten Island.

Posted by MBlain at May 2, 2003 11:38 PM

hey Matthew...sound intersting your stories..i have read them through,
wonder how you doing now????


Posted by: jane at June 8, 2003 07:26 AM

Interesting to read your impresssions, which are very cogent. You are an excellent observer, especially of the built environment.
Planning any updates...?

Posted by: HIB at August 3, 2003 05:42 PM
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