Friday, June 29, 2007

Wilco at Warsaw: Happenstance Has Changed My Plans

Jeff Tweedy singing with Nels Cline in the background. Photo from my cell phone since I couldn't bring in my cameras.

After listening to Wilco's live in Chicago album Kicking Television over and over again, I knew Wilco would be amazing live. I needed to see Jeff Tweedy sing and play his guitar accompanied by guitarist Nels Cline, bassist John Stirrat, guitarist/keyboardist/maracas shaker/etc. Pat Sansone, drummer Glenn Kotche and keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen.

With that, Josh and I bought tickets to see Tweedy & Co. at Brooklyn's Warsaw on June 26th, which during the day serves as the Polish National Home. This became obvious with the food sold inside—kielbasas, pirogies and cheese blintzes.

After waiting in line, talking to interesting people and almost not getting into the venue because of unclear camera rules (thank you cafe next door), we were inside the small venue. The opening band, Low, took stage. Their music was alright and I'd probably like at least one or two of their songs, but I wasn't in the mood for it. They loosely reminded me of an extremely more mellow Explosions in the Sky, but with vocals and unnecessarily-long-long songs.

Then, finally, Wilco came on stage.

Opening with the low-key but still beautiful "Sunken Treasure" (But there is no sunken treasure/Rumored to be/Wrapped inside my ribs/In a sea black with ink), Tweedy led the band and the audience through perfectly chosen songs from their expansive discography, with songs from Being There, Mermaid Avenue, Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (of course), A Ghost is Born, and the featured album of the night: Sky Blue Sky.

Sadly, I'm not too crazy about their newest album. While I've listened to the songs and can recognize them if played, I find myself intimately family with only a few, of which they did perform. It was the twangy guitar that led up to the wonderful solos that made both "You Are My Face" (now also featured as a car commercial jingle) and "Side with the Seeds" for me.

That is what makes Wilco for me--the knowing way they handled their instruments so perfectly and intimately.

Wilco finished the first main set with "On and On and On," which was the perfect song to end with. Tweedy, the spotlight right on him and without a guitar, sang so sincerely without any hints of that dangerous sentimental sap that could potentially arise. He held the microphone close to his mouth and sweetly sang, "Please don't cry/This world of words and meanings makes you feel outside/Something that you feel already deep inside/You've denied/Go ahead and cry." I honestly love this song.

Because I've listened to Wilco so often, I anticipated the guitar solos and change in beats. Even with this sense of predictability for my part, they still surprised me with unexpected twists. This was especially so with "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," a song created for live performances, demonstrated beautifully on Kicking Television. With the rhythmic thrumming guitars and drums, Tweedy got the audience to clap along. As the instruments die down, the sound of steady clapping remained. Thinking it was the end of the song, the audience cheered, but, wait. There was a pause. Then with a flourish they started again, guitars and drums roaring through the heart of the song.

Standing in the front (or in this case, near front) is the only way you can truly enjoy concerts. Being just that close to the band makes it so much better and you get to witness all of their exchanges. I saw Tweedy's smirks, Cline's air guitar moves, Tweedy beckoning Stirrat to join their guitar-solo-menage-trois rock out during "Hoodoo Voodoo" (which became a guitar conversation/exchange, with each guitarist putting in their two cents), their sweat soaked hair, just, everything.

Tweedy was great at commentary--talking about Brooklyn and Greenpoint, introducing the macrame owl presiding over the stage, leading a happy birthday singalong to a crew member. He loved how enthusiastically the audience sang along and even stopped singing sometimes, letting the audience take over.

Other highlights: They sang "Jesus, Etc." and "Hummingbird" with some of my favorite lyrics (respectively "Skyscrapers are scraping together" and "His goal in life was to be an echo/...But in the deep chrome canyons of the loudest Manhattans/No one could hear him/Or anything"). Warsaw didn't have a curfew so Wilco performed for as long as they wanted. This resulted in two encores and they didn't take as long as other bands would in between sets.

Closing the night, they unexpectedly sang "Outtamind (Outtasite)" (not to be confused with "Outtasite (Outtamind)"), another favorite song if only because Justin Kirk sang it to me during an interview. The song is pure fun, with a catchy beat and Tweedy's energy.

I kind of wish they played "At Least That's What You Said," "ELT," "California Stars" and (this was a long shot) "Feed of Man," but it's okay because that night was amazing and I know I will see them perform again.

[Actual setlist: "Sunken Treasure," "You Are My Face," "I am Trying to Break Your Heart," "Handshake Drugs," "Pot Kettle Black," "Side with the Seeds," "A Shot in the Arm," "Wishful Thinking," "Impossible Germany," "Sky Blue Sky," "Why Would You Wanna Live," "War on War," "Jesus, Etc." "Theologians," "Walken," "I'm the Man Who Loves You," "Hummingbird," "On and On and On." ENCORE 1: "Either Way," "Ashes of American Flags," "Reservations," "Spiders (Kidsmoke)." ENCORE 2: "Hate it Here," "The Late Greats," "Hoodoo Voodoo," "Outta Mind (Outtasite)."]

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Croton Point-Pier 40 Camping & Rowing Adventure

For myself I choose to listen to the river for a while, thinking river thoughts, before joining the night and the stars. — Edward Abbey

The first row from Mother's Beach. Photo by Rob.

Riding along the Hudson in the MetroNorth heading to Ossining on Saturday, June 26, I smiled every time the sun (appearing after a spontaneous thunderstorm and being drenched in Tompkins Square Park) gleamed on its water. Instead of taking the train back, I would be in the Hudson with nothing but panels of wood between the water and I.

Since taking/joining Lang on the Hudson and with my newfound desire for adventures, I've been wanting to go on a huge camping and rowing trip, going somewhere far from New York and rowing down waters that are not (that) familiar to myself. I was pushing for this through the class since January.

This was finally accomplished June 17th through the 19th. Led by Rob Buchanan, the great man who does everything, I, along with my friends, Lang kids, Floating the Apple-affiliated people, and a a guitar-playing, dumpster-diving, bike-riding guy named Roger who stumbled upon us in Westchester, rowed about 36 miles from Croton Point Park (in Westchester) to two stopovers in New York, then to our camping site in Alpine Picnic Area, New Jersey, and finally to Pier 40 in Manhattan over the course of two days.

Being the smart girl that I am, I wore a dress because I wanted to look cute (sometimes, my girliness just needs to show off) and I forgot we were rowing that Sunday. I rowed anyway because I wouldn't let that stop me, but I am also never wearing tube tops again. After loading up the boats, we rowed a little further south down from Mother's Beach in Croton Point and landed on a small strip of beach, complete with a nearly-broken-down picnic table and a family with a little boy playing with a dog.

Croton Point sunset.

Lugging our bags and various equipments, we climbed up a steep trail to the camping ground, where we set up our tents and grill and dined for the night. Taking a walk back to the beach, Jon and I started a campfire, ate marshmallows and Hershey Kisses and waded in the river. Later on, Josh and I wandered up the river along the coast where we sat, talked, threw rocks and sticks into the river and looked at the stars. One of my goals in life is to see so many stars in the sky that I won't know what to do with myself. That night was getting closer.

The next morning, the sun rose slowly, coating the sky with pale oranges and pinks until the deep summer skies took over. After our breakfast of bagels, breads, and not-sweet-enough coffee, we were off on the
Hudson again heading towards the call of the city. This time, I got to coxswain which is always fun. After a quick stop at Hook Mountain, we continued on to Nyack for groceries for the night and a little "upstate" wandering. Even if it's 8 a.m., it's never a good idea to walk around in a bikini top.

Crossing under the Tappan Zee Bridge. Photo from Frank.

We rowed under the ever-gorgeous Tappan Zee Bridge (which, from the distance at night, is merely a flat line of lights. You’d think they’d want to play up the design features of the bridge, but it makes for less light pollution and that’s always a good thing). Because Rob wanted to wait for the tide to go out way, we stopped for four hours at the Italian Gardens south of Piermont Pier within the Palisades Trail in New York.

The heat was getting to us, so a bunch of us jumped in the water. Now, rocks along the Hudson tend to be covered in algae, making the rocks slippery. (I should know—in Nyack, I tried walking along this swamp/still water inlet, and I slipped on a rock, cutting my knee and elbow.) Walking in the Hudson with these rocks didn’t seem like a good idea, but it didn’t matter—the water felt so good. And once we got out far enough, we walked along cool and soft mud. Jon tried teaching me how to swim, and I think I could possibly save myself if I had to.

Peanut Leap Falls.

Then Jon, Peter, Eva, Cade, Frank and myself wandered up the Great Stairs next to Peanut Leap Falls (more on that later) where we followed the white blaze up and up. We were in search of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory for water, but Jon and I headed back to Peanut Leap Falls. Standing under the falls, the sun was right above the top and shone down on us perfectly. Also, I saw a chipmunk (I get excited with I see non-New York City creatures). Jon and I wanted to drink out of the Peanut Leap but we decided not to. This was a smart decision because later, when Rob, Suresh and Frank were lounging under the Falls, they drank the water. When they looked up, they found a dead fawn stuck in the rocks.

After unsuccessfully trying to take a nap and read (Cervantes’
Don Quixote, it seemed fitting), Josh and I walked up towards and through Jersey by way of the Giant Stairs, or the Rock Scramble. Josh pointed out a dead hawk lying right on the rocks. Of course, Josh picked up the bird with his stick. This trail was tough because I wore flipflips, but I kept on. We ran into Rob and he told us about four kids who were lost further south. They were going to head over to our camp for water and food. Then we headed back and sprawled in the boats, chatting and eating cookies. The Lost Boys, as we dubbed them, found us and ate and drank happily. Wandering up the Palisades, they were ill-prepared and soon were lost and didn’t know how to get back. We found out they were parked at the Alpine Boat Basin/Picnic Area which was our next stop. We offered them a lift in our boats back and they gladly took it. We put them to work and made them row as well. The water was tougher and choppier because of the wind, but we managed.

Relaxing at the Alpine Picnic Area.

At the Alpine Picnic Area (we got permission to spend the night there), we set up our tents/sleeping bags/blankets and soon got to work on our delicious dinner of sausages (chicken, thank you Jon), eggplant, corn and other various veggies and all washed down with beer. Then Jon and I started and combined a new fire with the grill fire and it was spectacular. Everything was wonderfully tinted with campfire light. Roger strummed away on his guitar, Jon and I played Thunder Log (companion game to Thundernova), Rob, Josh and I took pictures, and we all munched on sweets and just talked.

Jon and I decided to get as close as we could to the George Washington Bridge past the Alpine Boat Basin. The deep orange glow of New York City was in the air, tainting the darkness of the sky. There were fewer stars out here, it was kinda sad.

Campfire at Alpine Picnic Area. Photo by Josh.

With our last 4:45 a.m. wake up call, we ate as much as we could so our boat load was lighter. Once again, we shoved off and our goal this time was to reach Pier 40 at 11 a.m. Since I’m competitive, I wanted to beat the other boats. Sometimes, I was successful, other times, I was not. Rob’s boat tended to lead the way though.

As the morning ticked by, more and more barges and water taxis floated by, creating more wakes for us to cut through. Getting hungry and in need of a break, we tried to dock our boats at some Whole Foods in Jersey across Manhattan. Because the tide wasn’t high enough, Rob and Josh were kind enough to jump out of their boat and trudge through that wonderful and aromatic New Jersey sledge and get everyone coffees and croissants. Then we were on our way again.

Taking a rowing break by the George Washington Bridge. Photo from Frank.

Rowing along the river, I realized how unattractive the Jersey coast is. Being waterfront land, it has a lot of potential for great things. Instead it is home to overdeveloped and underdeveloped properties. There was a row of houses tried really hard to look San Franciscan and many other architectural disasters.

With a quick bathroom break on Hoboken Beach or Maxwell House Beach, we crossed the river and finally arrived at Pier 40. With callused hands (including two water blisters) and bruised, injured, insect-bitten and sore bodies, we accomplished our mission. And afterwards, I got a haircut because it seemed proper.

It was just great being out there outside out New York City proper without any of its everyday distractions and conveniences. I didn’t use my cell phone at all during those two days and it felt good. I barely noticed what time it was, looking at my watch only occasionally. This trip was something I wanted badly and I think everyone should hazard at attempt. Now I need to do something else along those same lines.

Pausing at Hoboken Beach. Photo by Rob.

Links for more:
My pictures

Rob's Take

Peter's Take

Josh's Take

Josh's pictures

Sunday, June 17, 2007


'"It is clear," replied Don Quixote, "that you are not experienced in adventures."'

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Trekking Through Bear Mountain State Park

The view from atop.

Covered with bug bites and cuts and with sore, sore legs, I returned from my very first camping/hiking journey on Saturday, June 9th.

Jon, my hiking/camping partner/connoisseur and I, his hiking/camping novice, set out from Ossining to Bear Mountain Park, Rockland County, rocking out to The Office theme song and Cake. Parking in the Hikers' Parking Lot, we made our way through the 1777 W trail which eventually turned into the double-blue-blaze/single-blue-blaze/the Appalachian trail. We trekked on and upwards—our goal was the top of this mountain, but it seemed to continue on and on. Every time we reached a ledge, there was always another ledge off in the near-distance. And, being the kind of people we were, we had to reach that ledge. Then the next ledge. And the next ledge after that. And so on.

Despite all my city walking and Hudson rowing, I tired quickly. Thankfully, I wore sneakers (a first for this summer—I've been sticking to flip-flops, casual flats and low-heels or fancy red heels for special occasions/job interviews) which made it much easier. I convinced myself to march on. Instead of thinking of where we were going (which would have been useless anyway, since we didn't know where exactly we wanted to stop), I concentrated on the right-then-&-now. I just focused on where my feet landed. I tried to not ask for breaks—I wanted to continue on, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do something like this. And I did.

Sunlight through the woods.

Everything had brilliant shades of green and brown with touches of colors—white, pink and yellow flowers, brightly colored (and probably poisonous) bugs and occasional red berries. The rays of the sun leaked through the trees and hit everything at just the right angle. The air was heavily humid—we were drenched with sweat and drank water often. I had the urge to take my shirt off, but I don't think it would've been appropriate to walk around in a bra.

We took breaks and sat on huge rocks, enjoying the views and munching on cranberries, peaches, granola and chocolate chips (you gotta have chocolate) and drank water. We passed by several creeks and, once again being the kind of people we were, we refilled our bottles with the mostly clean and more refreshingly cool water.

This tree fell against the other tree. It made creaking noises because of the wind.

I was surprised when my cell phone rang, but it turned out to be a wrong number. On our way through the Appalachian Trail/blue blaze trail, we ran into a guy who has been on the Appalachian Trail since May 14th. He was aiming for the Delaware. Jon and I took a break and let him pass by. When we continued, I noticed the holes left by his hiking poles. I also found an animal skull, though we're not sure what animal.

Hazy sunset.

Jon explained to me what blazes and cairns were. He also pointed things that I would have missed because I have bad vision (tiny, brown toads and deer off in the distance). He showed me what poison ivy looked like, since I've never encountered it before. I probably stomped through poison ivy and as of yet, I’ve felt nothing.

When we realized the trail was leading us down the mountain, we decided to go off the path and explore a little more. Walking through bushes and deadened, bleached trees with mostly open skies above us, we wandered up and up and finally decided to settle on a nice patch of soft moss. Jon showed me how to set up his tent. We used a tarp and rain fly because it was supposed to thunderstorm that night. Looking around, we realized despite our efforts to stray from the path, we were on another marked trail, the red circle blaze.

Cooking dinner.

Then we walked over to another clearing, with a better view of the sun. Jon set up our campfire using the New York Times sports section as I gathered dry, dry wood. The sun was beginning to set and the sky was hazy and getting darker ever so slowly. The sun was huge and red and surrounded by thinly-stretched clouds. The heat from the fire felt nice against our dried-sweat skins. Using a flat branch, we warmed up the steak we brought and tried to roast carrots. Venus (I believe that's the planet visible in the sky now, if not, then, I don't know) was clearly there. Alas, there were no stars. Well, there was one star but it kept fading in and out.

Playing with embers.

We let the fire die down to embers a couple of times, and because of the wind, the fire randomly started up sometimes. The smoke was getting to us too, making our eyes water. When we decided to head back to our tent, we killed the fire and turned on the flashlight. Because the air was so thick and hazy, the light didn't shine far.

When we were inside the tent, we read for a little bit—it was only 10 p.m. and we woke up late that morning. As we tried to fall asleep, it started to rain, though the wind was louder. The next morning, my neck hurt.

Glorious Hudson River.

After striking camp, we proceeded to follow our new trail—the red circle blaze. We circled around the mountain and found a gorgeous view of the Hudson (oh, how I'm drawn to it) and the rest of Bear Mountain. We proceeded to circle the mountain, but it became too rocky for us (or at least me) and so we headed down the mountain. Our plan was to walk in between the two mountains until we reached the vicinity of the parking lot and hiked up. We actually didn't know where we were going. We followed the new trail we found, the red dot, and somehow that turned into the white blaze as well. When we headed down the mountain, we figured we were off the path, but there we were in the red cross blaze path.

Doodletown map.

We found our way onto that handy 1777 trail, somehow. As we continued on the trail, the path became tidier and the greenery seemed more picturesque in a molded way. Jon kept singing something along the lines of, "I think we're in Doodletown." I thought he was just being silly, but actually, he was being serious. Doodletown is an abandoned village (1762-1970s) and the few broke-down houses that remain act as far-off attractions to tourists and hikers alike. We passed by a group of people and I figured they were bird watchers because of their binoculars and the way they kept looking up. Annoyingly, two park rangers whizzed by us on their off-road vehicles.

Bear Mountain Bridge.

We finally left Doodletown and found the main street, which led us to the the car. We were done. I threw my stick into the park as hard as I could. Extremely satisfied with our journey, we drove across the Bear Mountain Bridge and talked about pizza and showers and naps. We accomplished all three.

Next Sunday, we (along with Floating the Apple, Lang kids and random people) will be camping in Croton, then rowing to the Palisades for another camping night and then finally rowing all the way back to Pier 40 at Housten Street. Woohoo!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Rowing to Governors Island

Rowing in The Quixotic. Photo from Frank at Floating the Apple.

On June 3rd, Floating the Apple, Lang on the Hudson kids (myself included) and random people rowed three Whitehall Gigs to Governors Island, home of Fort Jay, deteriorating former Coast Guard homes, lots of flowers, trees, and grass and, of course, gorgeous views of downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Ellis Island and Lady Liberty.

Governors, closed from September to June, opened to the public on June 3rd, but in a restricted sense. According to its website, people must go on the guided tour from Wednesday through Friday. On the weekends, people are allowed to explore the island a bit more, but only the northern half. The southern half is closed off to the public.

The ferry (only way to reach the island, besides rowing or flying in somehow or even swimming, if you're up for that) leaves lower Manhattan (next to the South Ferry) every hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and leaves Governors Island every hour from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with a final boat at 5 p.m.

We left Pier 40 (where Floating the Apple is located) at around 8 a.m. The water was perfect--calm and smooth. Being early, we killed some time at Louis Valentine Park in Red Hook. After getting water or coffee and looking for the bathroom, we launched out once again and continued our row to the dock that Rob's friend built on Governor's Island.

Docking at Governors Island.

After docking all three boats (tying them up, something I haven't done before), we explored the island. On the grassy lawn near the dock, there were kayakers lounging next to their row of kayaks.

Water on Governors isn't potable according to many signs featured prominently throughout the island. This is also expressed on its website and even in forms regarding permission to film and photograph on the island. This is due to its faulty water system. However, they are attempting to correct this, amongst other problems, with the Governors Island Land Use Improvement and Civic Project. There was one food/beverage vendor we stumbled upon. He told us about the other vendor, but we didn't see him.

Walking around the island, Rob showed us Governors Island's sliver of a beach (there is one under the Brooklyn Bridge and in Hoboken as well) that, in his opinion, would make a perfect landing/launch spot, if they just threw in a ladder and a couple of things (sorry, I don't know the technical term) to tie the boats to.

Governors Island's beach.

Despite not being "allowed" to enter any buildings, we managed to find an unlocked door to the basement of the Admiral's House. We wandered through the desolate, mostly unlit rooms and found a working bathroom, a closet filled with new Christmas decorations, rooms with what appeared to be elementary school chairs, empty water bottles and various construction items. I took what I think is a door stop, at least, according to Josh. We wanted to wander upstairs but we thought someone would see us and kick us out. Next time...

The row back to Pier 40 was choppier but we still made it. The idea behind this trip is to show New York City/Parks Department/Governors Island that there is a demand and desire for more access, especially boating access, to the island (as well as other parts of New York, but that's for another time), and there is. It's just a matter of spreading the word. Every person I've talked to becomes interested in rowing and I've already taken most of my friends down to Pier 40.

After a call for proposed redevelopment plans, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation settled on five plans featured in New York Magazine. Thankfully, according to the 2006 Status of Planning for Development, no permanent housing is allowed on the island. What is also interesting is the educational uses requirement. Of the plans, I suppose I'd have to pick the Mollusk, though I don't know how sensible outdoor heated baths are.

View of downtown Manhattan with a hint of Castle Williams.

One of their main concerns is trying to make the island enticing enough so people will WANT to take the ferry over. I would think this would be the least of their concerns--wouldn't people want to island hop in New York? There's already interest in the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and I know people are intrigued by Roosevelt Island, so why not Governors? It just makes sense.