Friday, December 10, 2010

Free Monday Nights: Howard Williams Jazz Orchestra, The Garage NYC

Monday is apparently muso's night off, and here in Manhattan some of the best Broadway musicians get together and jam "for fun". The 16-piece (looks a lot bigger from the wings!) Howard Williams Orchestra plays Monday nites 7-10pm at The Garage - a really cool and jazzy multi-tiered space.

Roger, whose brother pays the double bass in the band, says it has been a tradition at the space for 15 years.

"My brother carpools in from Philly, every Monday. If musicians can't make it, they have to find a stand in."

So fun it may be, but this is serious. I'm not actually a fan of this kind of jazz, but hearing and seeing it live like this has a presence and power that is hard to convey. I've been quite a few times, so I take that back - I guess I am a fan.

There is food, but the menu is somewhat pricey unless you stick to a fairly quesadilla or salad for around $10-15.

There's no cover, but please support musicians and businesses like this by being a good consumer and tipper if you visit.
99 7th Ave SOUTH (not 7th Ave), near Christopher St, with a subway stop a block away.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pretty much free yoga in Chelsea and beyond

Free yoga on Pier 64 offered by Chelsea Piers Fitness Center.
Yoga in NYC doesn't come cheap. Classes hover around $18 unless you buy some kind of package. But here are some options in Chelsea and a little further, that can tide you over 'til you get that Wall Street job and can afford a membership at Equinox and wherever else you please ...

Free summer yoga at Pier 64, offered by Chelsea Piers Fitness Center
August/Sept only, before the snow comes in ...

Donation only Community Class at Laughing Lotus, 19th and 6th Ave, M-F, 2.30pm-3.45pm. Ongoing.
For Summer only, Lotus also offer a free Wed 7-8pm class on a grassy knoll near 15th and the West Side Highway.

Easy Yoga with the Galfromdownunder, Chelsea Rec Center, 25th bet 9th and 10th Ave. Tuesdays 6-7pm.
Ongoing. Yes folks, this is my completely free, 'tude free class, part of Boomberg's ShapeUpNYC initiative - you don't have to be a center member to attend, make sure you tell them that if the front desk gives you grief.

Easy Senior Yoga with the Galfromdownunder, Hudson Guild Community Center, 9th Ave at 17th St, Manhattan. Tuesdays 11am-noon.
Ongoing. My completely free, 'tude free Senior class - you have to be 55+ to gain admission to the center.

The Sivinanda Yoga Center ,  24th between 7th and 8th Ave,  has relatively affordable $10-12 classes daily. None of the teachers are paid - it is karma or "selfless yoga. Wonderful, donationa-appreciated Kirtans (meditation, chanting, discourse) Wed and Sunday - a real, 'tude-free oasis in the Manhattan maelstrom.

Yoga to the People: The original donate-what-you-can-but-$10-is-nice yoga studio, with several locations. The one with 3 floors in the village does get mighty crowded ...

Are there more?

Monday, January 25, 2010

$10 seats: World Class dance diversity at the JOYCE THEATER, Chelsea, Manhattan

The Joyce, a neighborhood dance theater in Chelsea, Manhattan,  reminds me of Dr Who's Tardis: a modest, low key, retro frontage that opens up into a giant internal world of global dance entertainment. It's not that the theater is huge - the tremendous variety of shows simply makes it seem that way.

In recent times they've started offering $10 seats, thereby putting world class dance within reach of a huge and recession-strapped audience. And if you've never been to a dance performance and experienced the psychological boost it gives you, you're in for a treat.

$10 buys you seats in the very front row, "the bleeding nose seats", where, unless you're tall or sneak a cushion inside, you will possibly see the show from the dancer's ankles up. But choreographers make sire a lot of action happens above the ankles, so for the amazing price, it's a no-brainer.

I might be the only person on the world that believes watching dance actually has a positive physical effect on your body - even though you're just sitting in a seat. Having spent an hour or more immersed in  a display of the human body moving with levity and grace, you actually float up out of your seat and walk different. I remember watching mogul skiing championships on TV for hours, then experiencing a boost in confidence when I stepped onto skis (and I'm no skier). So you can consider the $10 like a visit to a dance-exercise class. Well, an adjunct at least.

I absolutely love the retro neon sign, which I sincerely hope they never, ever 'update'.  It's even maintained its retro lettering for each show - I happened to stroll past when the sign guy was hanging the letters up for the next act:

Photo by Andrew Collins at this link

One area that could really do with a bit of revamping, is their downstairs bar area. It seems like a dead end, so people tend to congregate upstairs. My 72 year old mother enunciated the problem: "Teal, ugh, they need to repaint it and maybe put some mirrors on the back wall." I thought of initiating a Joyce community initiative to help refurb it - in fact, a stroll around the streets of Manhattan often reveals enough discarded designer object d'art to redo the dingiest dive ...

From my Galfromdownunder Uncut blog, May, 2009: 

Last night we scored $19 frontish-row tickets to the most amazing, trippy, surreal, illusionist dance performance I've seen since Philippe Genty - MOMIX's 'Botanica' at the Joyce Theater. OK, I saw PG a looooong time ago. Perhaps this stuff is now par for the course...

"It's like Circ du Soleil before the latter went all commercial," said mum. Google MOMIX and you'll see it's commandeered by a truly Dali-esque character-choreographer, Moses Pendleton.

It opens with a stunning multimedia closeup of a rose that recedes slowly into deep space. Then this ghostly 30' (40?) tall plant costume wafts on stage, opening and closing like a giant jellyfish on a stalk. Three maidens in white virginal dresses rise from the billowing sheeted floor to frolic with its fuzzy tentacles.

Then there's an eye-popping blackout scene where only the bobbing and twisting lace-covered arms and shins of dances are illuminated in glowing green light, resembling caffeinated glowworms going troppo in a dark cave.

A gal did this amazing spinning thing with a hoop of floor-length beaded strands on her head. Mum dryly remarked "now if we tried that spinning beaded lampshade trick we'd end up with it wrapped around our necks."

Her favorite was the gal who did a conceptually simple but stunning piece where she writhed in a skincolored bodysuit on a tinted, tilted mirror surface - a 'hall of mirrors' idea pushed to the max.

A jaw dropper was this enormous, rubbery and anatomically-correct Triceratops skeleton ridden slo-mo-rodeo style by a semi-naked goddess, while in the background a bunch of rock-like creatures engulfed and cavorted with naked bodies. The museum of Natural History oughta get this act into their lobby to jazz up their dinosaur bones exhibit ... in short, A MUST SEE. Our cheapseats were quite acceptable, as some of the scenes best viewed from further back appeared on video simulcast on a giant screen at the back ...

Momix are coming back mid 2010. I'm so there!

Joyce Theater

175 8th Avenue
New York, NY 10011-1694
(212) 242-0800

Friday, January 15, 2010

$3.50: MUJI's minimalist metrosexual toothbrush

TWO MONTHS after returning from my whirlwind bike+bullet train visit to Japan, I'm still turning Japanese. I'm cooking up a nabe storm in my Kyoto nabemono, I'm drinking sencha+matcha at all the wrong moments (like before going to bed) and I'm leafing luxuriantly through the copy of The Aesthetics of the Japanese Lunchbox by Kenji Ekuan "one of Japan's foremost industrial designers".

Ekuan-san romances the minimalist, orderly tension of the bento box with such a lyrical reverence I wouldn't be surprised if he had something to do with the design of this toothbrush.

This is just toothbrush. Thank god.  It's not an mp3 player to groove along to while you floss. It's not a vibrating wand with meat-seeking infra-red technology to hunt and destroy trapped flesh of dead animal from your fajita binge. It's not an exercise in Pantone mayhem and ergonomic design overkill that typifies the average Oral-Turbo-ABC.

It's actually even less than your average, ugly, overwrought toothbrush. It's a barely-there, colorless handle, smooth and minimally sculpted, with no weird kinks and bends, ending in a brush that can actually duck behind the molars in the balcony seats. In fact, the bristles themselves are "rounded" to further reach those spots where floss fears to thread, although Muji also sells a slightly cheaper, "flat bristle" version - why, I have no idea.

The complete absence of color is restful. Perhaps it really is designed for die-hard metrosexual bachelors, who have no need for a pink or other colored version sitting in the rack to know which is theirs.

Radical idea: Imagine using merely the dictionary definition as a design brief?

toothbrush |ˈtoōθˌbrə | noun
a small brush with a long handle used for cleaning the teeth.

Before spotting this piece of marvellously modest Muji minimalism, both Stateside and Tokyo-side, I went to the usual place - a drugstore - to buy a toothbrush.  I was bailed up for several minutes trying to reconcile the bewildering array of contorted, technicolor offerings. Like these:

I mean, holy cavity, what is that? I feel like it came from the 8-and-under section of Toys'R'Us, like the bristles are going to give me blue or purple teeth, and how much extra am I paying for some fancy die-cutting machine to sculpt all those graphical swooshes and dots? Have you not heard of "blue and green should not be seen, without a color in between?"

Now don't get me wrong - I am as much a lover of color and and bling and out'n'out maximalism when done right. But the Sagrada Familia these ain't.

In my FastCompany blog I wrote about Feldenkreis and the perils of escalation - otherwise known as "overkill". The product of overkill is ugliness. An overloaded piece of "pizza sushi", as my Japanese friend calls it - groaning under the weight of avocado, fish roe, mayonnaise, mango, tempura - is flavor ugliness. A boss that says "and if you do it again," after you've said "It will never happen again, boss", is personality ugliness. An overproduced studio track is ... Barry Manilow (no personal offence to Bazza, he's a good guy). OK, make that Celine Dion.

No doubt the manufacturer of the above blingy brushes will insist that focus groups like them. Well, when you force people in a fluorescent-lit, carpeted-partition room on a Tuesday night to focus on a bunch of objects on a white table, they'll eventually end up growing on you like a wart. How many of you have flicked though the unfathomable dross in an airplane duty-free catalog;then, for god's sake, ended up actually buying some bling at 30,000 feet in a frenzy of boredom?

Visual and aural escalation creates an environment of cacophany, causing dizziness, confusion, irritation and stress, ultimately leading to the consumption of happy pills, alcohol, therapy and television shopping. Include in this, road rage, stripmalls edged with awful neon lighting, Build-A-Bear - you get the idea.

Overwrought technicolor toothbrushes like this must be stopped.

Thank Buddha I can gaze through the barely-there, unobtrusive handle of my Muji toothbrush, and feel a sense of calm and clarity wash over me like ripples over pond of fat koi. Throw away your meds, buy a Muji toothbrush and notice a visible difference to your life in just three gargles.

Now about escalated dental floss - that's another 20 minutes in the aisle ... don't get me started.

toothbrush |ˈtoōθˌbrə | noun
a small brush with a long handle used for cleaning the teeth.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Cheap'n'Choosy Shoesies: DSW Shoe Warehouse, Union Square, NYC

A new spin on the dowdy old Aussie UGG (sheepskin) boot - a decidedly Caucasian geisha by Ed Hardy 

Oh woe is me.

The signs of ageing are happening at both poles - I'm plucking out the first strands of gray hair, and ... carting the nth pair of perfectly good shoes to the Salvation Army.

Yep, my feet have slowly but surely spreading over the years, from a petite size 5 at age 17 to almost a 7 (!) at age 47. Does gravity really suck that bad?

Now in my younger years I'd be rejoicing - what a perfectly legitimate excuse to follow in Imelda Marcos' stiletto-steps. I challenge all but the most die hard Tomboys to deny they had a personal warehouse of both silly and sane shoes between age 20 and 40.

Lately, I'm just disgruntled because it means having to replace perfectly good shoes that seemed to fit two years ago with new ones - just so I can walk more than a block without ending up hammer-toed.

But it's not all bad. I've come to genuinely believe that shoes are the single most important item in your wardrobe. Unlike clothes, they have to fit very well, because all your weight is distributed over them. Your arches and ankles are like the basement parking lot of a skyscraper - holding the whole thing up on stilts. If you're unhappy way down there, the rot will rise to the top.

With this in mind I dropped off 6 pairs of my most treasured shoes at the local Salvation Army. These included my beloved Harley Davidson boots, size 5 1/2, that I bought in London in 1997 and did most of my early travels in them. There was an extremely versatile pair of size 6 DKNY Gestapo boots (that's not the model name but it's what I call them) I bought only two years ago and wore everywhere but in the shower (yes, I even slept in them once). Plus some terrifically quirky other shoes I'd been hoarding for 20 years. The one thing in common - they were all now too small!

I then headed to DSW, a very large discount shoe store in Union Square, New York City.

Now I've been shoe shopping in Singapore, Japan, and Italy and beyond. I, and seems like many other women I talk to, concur - there is nothing like New York for shoe shopping - for both price and selection. Wandering around Rome, it was like all the interesting stuff had been exported somewhere else, and everything was $200 Euro. Imagine a price in NYC, replace the $ sign with the Euro sign, and leave the number part intact. That's what it costs to be in Europe.  In Japan, someone bailed me up while on my bicycle and asked about my DKNY boots. They claimed they could not get the same subtle styling and quality, in Japan. This I find hard to believe, but there do seem to be a lot of buttons'n'bows on basically everything in Japan ...

DSW, which stands for "Designer Shoe Warehouse" is a virtual shoe-nami of shoes. The aisles of shelves are arranged in the longest rows you have ever seen, but no higher than chest height, with the shoes perched on top. This enables you to stand at the door and survey the entire sea of footwear in a single glance. You can then head straight for the boots, the sneakers, or whatever you're looking for. From a merchandising point of view, I think it's brilliant. It's as if the company realizes that people don't actually want to spend time shoe shopping, they just want to land on the right shoe for the right price - the faster the better - then get out of there, and get a life (wearing the shoes).

Ugg Boots from Australia and all their lookalikes are the current rage everywhere in NYC. Downunder we use them for scuffling around the house in winter, or looking tough if we were actually one of the tough kids at school (I wasn't). In NY it's high fashion. I don't like them because they tend to slump after while and resemble a tired old dusty donkey, only not as appealing. But they're sellin', for $150 or more.

Here at DSW there were stickers on everything ranging from 30 to 80 percent off. I spotted a pair of Kenzo flats previously priced at $400 or something ridiculous, now half price and 80% off that. No wonder, slipping my foot into them  I could not imagine a less comfortable shoe.

I even spotted some Gucci loafers, which I found fascinating for their lore. I felt compelled to buy them just as a collector's item, a relic of the excessive 80's to go with my clapped out Tizio lamp. Then I discovered a whole pile of them, with uncharacteristic hiking soles, at 40% off - as if mass produced purely for the label-conscious Asian market.

You can see the rest of my shoe-capade in the above movie. I ended up walking out with a $55 pair of fake fur boots size 7, 30% off. which I returned the next day because they were too hard for my poor old feet. I need more cushioning too. The no-questions asked 30-day return policy is one good thing about DSW and a lot of places in America. Here's to spreading feet, and spreading the word!

DSW (Nationwide locations)
40 East 14th Street
New York, NY 10003
Sun 10am-8pm, Mon-Sat 10am-10pm