Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Weekend Adventures and Lens Shopping in Manhattan


After Leena and I got off the phone in the morning I got dressed and made the dry cleaner my first task, to pick up this week's clean laundry.  I also set up the humidifier with a completely full reservoir to run while I was out so the room wouldn't be too dry when I returned.

After getting my laundry I packed up my camera with my best general use lens, put the MacBook into its neoprene sleeve and my backpack, put on my sweatshirt and jacket and headed out to the subway station.

The train felt slow, like it wasn't running fast and spending longer than usual at the stations, with the announcement that "we are being held momentarily by the train's dispatcher, please be patient."  I got off at 14th Street - Union Square, where much of the station was full of people dressed up like Santa Claus, whooping, hollering and jumping over the turnstiles, then walked a few blocks to the Apple Store on 14th.

I ran into roving bands of Santa Clauses, many drunk and drinking, all the way from Union Square throughout my walk up to Times Square, but none at all farther up than Times Square.  The largest groups of them were smoking and drinking outside all the bars between Madison Square Garden and Times Square.

In the Apple Store, I started asking one guy for help, who got another guy, who got another guy.  In the end, it turned out they didn't have RAM for my "legacy" computer in stock (legacy being two years old) at the store, where they keep only things like that for the current models.  The final guy I talked to recommended I go to another store, Tekserve, on 23rd & 6th, and said they'd definitely have it.  He gave me detailed instructions to get there on the subway and said when I got out to look for the red Apple logo.

Instead of the subway I walked, since my plan was to walk all day, except for time in the store.  It wasn't too hard to find, except their big flag with the Apple logo was blue, not red.  It wasn't an Apple company store, but another dealer that specializes in Apple.  At the front information desk they asked what I wanted and I said RAM for my MacBook installed so I got a blue ticket and was told to go and wait by the big fish tank.

I waited.  The iPod help desk went through five or six numbers while I was waiting by the fish tank, and after about fifteen minutes of not hearing any calls for blue tickets, and noticing another whole row of seats on the opposite side of the fish tank, possibly all people waiting for computer service, I gave up and left.

From there I planned to check out all the grey market camera, computer and souvenir dealers that are all around the Times Square area and look for the lens a friend recommended, which also has really good reviews on Amazon and other camera sites.

Beginning around Broadway & 34th, by Herald Square, I started popping into every one of those shops I saw and asking for the Tokina 11-16mm lens, and every one of them shook their head and said they didn't have it.  A few were pretty hardcore salesmen who then tried to sell me other lenses.  One salesman asked, "why would you trust your friends' opinion instead of a pro, like me, would you smoke marijuana if your friends suggested it?"

I stopped at the north end of Times Square to climb up the red staircase and take some daytime photos of the crowds there, and the continued on..

Finally, after around 20 shops, at one shop the guys there said they had one, and did some digging around and some phone calls and said it was in their warehouse.  He asked if I wanted the f/2.8 or the f/3.5 and I said the f/2.8, which confused me.  I thought I'd done my homework on this and didn't know there was another one.  The price he quoted me was very, very low, too.  Maybe that was because it was grey market, but still, that was only 2/3 the regular price from all the legitimate dealers.  He asked if I wanted anything else and I said "no, that's all that's in my budget for now," to which he asked "so, what is your budget?" and I explained it wasn't fixed, just all I'd budgeted for was one lens and he kept on, "come on, tell me your budget, we've got lots of other stuff..."  I didn't, but I gave him my phone number and he gave me his card about when he could get the lens from the warehouse on Monday or Tuesday...

Back outside I kept walking up, in the direction of Central Park, still checking out more shops and all of them saying they didn't have it, eventually I got into a neighborhood with more classy sorts of shops and fancy hotels and no more grey market electronics dealers and started enjoying the walk a bit more and site seeing.

I made my way up to Central Park, but didn't cross the street to go in.  Just walked on Central Park South.  All the fancy hotels had big heat lamps set up over the sidewalk by their entrances and that felt nice, very noticeably warm.

On 5th Avenue, on the opposite corner from Central Park was another Apple store.  I'd seen it before, but never gone in.  It's so busy there it has a line to get in.  The store is below ground and on street level all that's visible is a big, glass cube with a big Apple sign and the elevator to go down.  The elevator is circular and all glass, with the glass bent into a circle.  Fortunately there were stairs spiraling around it, so I went in to check it out without waiting in line for the elevator...  But it was super busy and I didn't stay long, almost straight back up to the street again because it was crowded it was hard to move around.

From there I felt like using a bathroom, so I figured I'd just walk back down to 42nd Street and use the one at Grand Central Terminal.  It was quite a bit of walk.  On the way, St. Bartholomew's Church had a big Christmas shopping fair set up on the sidewalk, and some orange juice company was giving out free samples so I got a bottle of that for quick refreshment.

I walked down Park Avenue because from a distance I was curious what the buildings were that were sort of blocking the street.  That turned out to be the Helmsley Building and the Met Life Building, and though I didn't figure it out at first, Grand Central Terminal.  After going under the Helmsley Building I found out where I was and entered Grand Central Terminal, but a door I'd never gone in before and I got lost inside and couldn't find the bathrooms.  I exited it so I could see where on the streets I was and walk around to a place I knew, so that worked out.  Inside the line for the ladies' room stretched some way into the food concourse, with probably at least 50 women waiting...

Back on the street again I decided to walk up Lexington Avenue.  I watched the movie, The Seven Year Itch with the iconic photo of Marilyn Monroe standing on a subway grate, enjoying the wind blowing up from underneath (in the movie it's summer and the wind is cooling).  I figured out where that was and figured I'd walk up there.  The buildings are all different, or completely renovated at street level, so nothing looks the same and the older shops and restaurants, visible in still photos, are all gone.  But in the cold, the warm air blowing up from the subway, sure does feel good!

After that, on my way back down to a restaurant I saw on Lexington and thought might be good for dinner, if it wasn't crowded, I passed a good looking camera store, Camera Land, a real camera store, not a discount, grey market camera and computer dealer.  So, I went back and stopped in and asked if they had the lens I wanted.  One guy directed me to another, the "lens expert" who said he did have one stock.  I said I'd take it.  He had to search around the store a bit to find the cabinet key, but he got it out and rang me up and I walked out with it.  So, that was great, after all that searching and not even most online dealers having it.

A couple of blocks from there I stopped on a bench and swapped lenses, putting the new one on the camera and sticking the old one in the new one's box.  My first photos with the new lens ended up being the same St. Bartholomew Church where I got the orange juice earlier, simply because I was on the same street again, but the lens was great in the evening light.

I worked may way towards Times Square.  Last week, when those women on 5th Avenue in Brooklyn asked me about Rockefeller Center, I looked it up online and found out there was some park like stuff there and thought I'd go check it out.  And that was a mistake.  Because of the Christmas tree there, the crowd was insane.  I ended up in Rockefeller Plaza and packed in so tight I couldn't move at all some of the times, and couldn't not move some of the times as the whole crowd would just sweep me along.  A few times when a stream of people were actually moving, my camera strap would get caught in other peoples' accessory straps because we were all so close and it would take a bit of quick untangling to get loose.

It took around half an hour to move just over a block and get out of the worst of it.  Fortunately my camera, backpack, wallet and phone were all still with me.

It was a relief to get to the relatively uncrowded Times Square again.  Relative, of course, as it was as crowded as normal, but Rockefeller Center was just that much more crowded!

I wanted to test out the new lens at night in Times Square and see how it performed.  I worked my way up the red steps on the north end and had some fun playing around.  I tried various settings on the camera to compare how they came out.

Once I was done up there, I hit the streets.  I worked my way down, on Broadway, 7th, and 6th Avenues and some of the cross streets.  I stopped at Madison Square Park around 23rd Street to take some photos.  I thought I'd grab a quick bite at the Shake Shack there until I saw the line and decided not to bother.  Instead I continued my way down Broadway to Union Square, where I stuck my camera back in my backpack and hit the subway to Brooklyn.

Getting off at 53rd Street, I dropped my backpack off in the apartment and headed up to buy groceries, thinking I'd fry up another salmon fillet, but when I got to the store around 7:40pm, it was closed and shuttered.  I got a couple of slices of pizza next door instead.

When I returned to the apartment I found the bedroom, which I'd left closed hours earlier and the humidifier on, was quite warm and tropical.  I don't know if it was the door being closed, since I'd never actually closed it before, or if the humidifier really put out that much heat.  It was nice..


Okay, a bit less today...

I didn't mention it one way or another, but I had a light migraine in the morning when Leena and I talked on the phone, and was in the "denial" phase of hoping it'd go away on its own (which is extremely rare).

It was raining heavily while we were talking, but after I finished with shower after we called and stuffed my camera with the new lens into the waterproof, underwater camera bag, got my shoes on (first time I've worn shoes instead of sandals in a couple of weeks) and my double layer of sweatshirt and jacket, the rain pretty much stopped...  It wasn't obvious from inside, with the rain splattered windows, though...

I got outside and took the R train towards Manhattan.  I almost gave up, as the train was running so slow.  The announcement was a problem on with signaling on the Manhattan Bridge, which was backing up train traffic with all the trains that share lines with ones that go over the bridge.  It took much longer than usual to get to Manhattan.

My first goal was to try out the new wide angle lens at a neat plaza, with an interesting configuration of circular and spiral benches, outside the Javits Federal Building, a few blocks up from City Hall, so I got off the train at City Hall and walked up.  I'd been to that plaza once before, but tried a funky program on the iPhone to take panorama shots, which didn't work well.  Only this time it was blocked off with fences.  I walked around it and found a notice on the fence that it was closed for construction, with an expiration date of the construction permit in April.  No idea when it'll be open again for photos.

A little bummed out, and no rain to try out the waterproof bag, I worked my way up and west towards the High Line.  It was fun walking through neighborhoods like TriBeCa, Greenwich Village and whatever else there was.  I stopped by at Washington Square Park, near NYU so I could use the public bathroom.  On a bench there I also removed my camera from the waterproof bag, giving up on any possibility of rain by then, as there wasn't even a drizzle from the sky...

Once I got to the lower end of the High Line, I took my camera out of my backpack and started taking pictures.  It was fun.  I walked the length of the park, trying out different settings on the camera to see how things would come out.  It's the first time I brought such a wide angle lens there, so my pictures are a closer approximation of what I see when not looking through the camera.

Fortunately everyone seemed to be up at Rockefeller Center, so it wasn't crowded at all.  I was even able to get down to the windows in the "Living Theatre" part of it, which is a set of benches going down to some windows that overlook 10th Avenue where it the High Line crosses it.  I got a bunch of photos of cars going by underneath.

After getting to the end of the currently open section of the High Line I went back down to the street.  It felt like it was getting a little late for a Sunday, especially given how slow the subway was getting to Manhattan, so I worked my way down to 14th Street.  On 14th I stopped for a quick frozen yogurt, then grabbed a train at Union Square back to Brooklyn.

In Brooklyn again, I got off at 59th Street, a stop past mine, so I could hit the grocery store on the way back and pick up another salmon fillet.  Fortunately it was open this time and I got what I wanted.

In the apartment I fried it up, pretty much like last time, but with a lid.  This time, though, I let the pan really heat up before I dumped stuff in.  I had the gas on kind of low, but the butter scorched the instant I put it in.  It was already turning black and smelling burnt after I put it in and before I even got the wrapper in the trash bag.  The fish got a bit burnt on the outside, and still undercooked on the inside, but less so than Friday's.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday - Long Island City in Queens

So, Leena and I got off the phone I took a longer than planned shower because the hot water just felt so good, then got dressed, picked a couple of lenss and tossed the camera and a bottle of water into my backpack and out I went.

Even heading out the door I still wasn't sure what I planned to do with the afternoon, or where I planned to go.  The train ride felt slow, and I fell asleep somewhere in Brooklyn, waking up when we hit the sunshine of the Manhattan Bridge, and dozing again before the train went back underground.

I got off at 42nd Street - Times Square, then walked up 42nd to Grand Central Terminal to use the public washroom there (it's good to know where the handy public washrooms are in the city, and this is one of the nicest).  That's when I decided to take the 7 train from Grand Central under the East River to Queens and check out Long Island City, a neighborhood there with a state park, Gantry Plaza State Park I wanted to see.

Getting out of the subway station I didn't know exactly which direction to go at the intersection, so I made a guess based on the shadows from the sun, which turned out to be the right way.

The Gantry Plaza State Park is built from some old piers and industrial stuff for unloading cargo ships, but it's no longer used for that purpose.  Each of the piers has a slightly different theme, like one has a long, long bench, another has metal seats that look like a bar, another has more lounge-like wooden seating and so forth.  It's really cool!

Unfortunately, it was also really cold!  As it's on piers sticking out into the East River, there was a biting cold wind whipping down from the north and my fingers got kind of numb.

A few other people were there, but not very many.  It looked like a wedding party went there, too, for post-wedding photos, as the elderly groom was dancing and twirling the bride around, and a few bridesmaids had flashy, shiny satin dresses peeking out from under long, heavy winter coats.

I took a bunch of photos until my camera's batter ran out, then a few more with the iPhone.

A couple of the piers in the park are lined up just right so you look across the river and straight down 42nd Street in Manhattan.

Near the park are some new, modern, fancy looking high rise apartment buildings, too, that look like they could be nice to live in.

Once I was cold enough I went back to the subway station and back to Grand Central Terminal.  I out there and walked back to Times Square where I caught the subway back to Brooklyn.  It was another long subway ride, with a lot of stops, and at a couple waited for each of the parallel trains to stop and go for people to switch between them.  Some elderly woman was sketching pictures of people and showing a couple of little girls how she did it.

I got off at 45th Street, one stop before mine, and went up to 5th Avenue to get a couple of slices of pizza.  On 5th Avenue & 46th Street a couple of women stopped and asked if I could help them.  They asked "where's the Christmas Tree?" and I was puzzled and asked "tree?" and they said "the big one at Rockefeller Center?".  I explained they were in the wrong borough, that Rockefeller Center was at 5th Avenue and 40-something Street, in Manhattan, and they were in Brooklyn.  I gave them directions to get there on the subway (which is pretty easy, go down one block to 4th Avenue and both trains that stop there will go to Times Square...).

Then I got my two slices of Sicilian plain cheese and a small soda at Charlie's Pizzeria and walked back to the apartment...  Since my camera ran out of batteries I can't get the photos off it till the battery is recharged and I can turn it on...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What makes a book?

Nearly every day on the subway I see ads for audible.com, selling audiobooks, of mostly pretty popular titles.  Some trains have ads all the way across, from one end to the other, like this:

But one thing it got me wondering is...  

What is a "book"?

I've always thought of books as paper with printed words or pictures or combinations, and more recently with ebooks, electronic versions of printed words and pictures and combinations.  But the key thing to me is that a book is words.

But these audio books, are they still books?  Where's the dividing line between a book and a performance?  How often would we go to a play and after it's finished say "wow, that was an amazing book!"?  We might say it's based on an amazing book, but we don't refer to the play as the book.

I've only ever listened one audiobook, a performance, definitely a performance, of The Hobbit, performed by one of my favorite actors, Nicol Williamson (more famous for playing Merlin in Excalibur). This is something done long before audiobooks were commonplace, so I don't know if modern ones are similar.  In it, he did all the narration and all the voices, giving each character a distinctly different voice.  I've listened to it a hundred times or more since my mother got the tapes in the late 70's.  Williamson has probably become my favorite actor simply because of how many times I listened to that through my child hood...

And I sometimes wonder what a modern audiobook might sound like.  But I expect to be disappointed if I ever listen to one, because I can't imagine many actors doing as good a job as Williamson did for my favorite story.

But back to the original question in my mind, I have no doubt that the one I have heard was a performance, not a book.  I never thought of it as a book, but only as a dramatic performance of a story.  And maybe that's part of why I don't want to listen to an audiobook, by calling it a book instead of a story or a performance, my expectations are set for disappointment.