Merlex Picks Goes to NYC

It has been almost two years since I visited New York City. My schedule was so packed I had to document a schedule in Tripcase. I followed the schedule precisely. In addition, I learned that starring places of interest in Google maps came in handy. When I searched for directions, it would show the starred locations on the map, reminding me that I was near a point of interest. I needed all the help I could get navigating this small in size yet lengthy to navigate city.  Despite the need to meticulously plan journeys, I was able to recharge on New York’s explosive cultural arts scene while having mini-reunions with friends in between.

Arriving, late Wednesday I wisely chose a hotel near LaGuardia Airport. Despite using points for the stay, Holiday Inn LaGuardia offered me a snack with water or a credit of 500 points. I was parched so went for the water. The hotel was aged but with the free shuttle from the airport and friendliness, I enjoyed my stay.

Thursday was quite a worldwind. I moved to the upper east side to the Courtyard on 92nd street. It was a bit far from the train and did not have a restaurant. My intention was to spend most of the time in Central Park and Harlem but I unexpectedly picked up a hair appointment a Devachun in Soho, so that took up a chunk of my day.

I have had a DevaCut by my stylist Gerri at Planet Curls in Houston. Ultimately, my hair came out about the same. The $50 surplus in the NYC price definitely covered the ambiance and service. I loved the shampoo bowl where I was practically lying down for my wash. My stylist April was very kind and accommodating. She even allowed me to order delivery (because of the slowness of the train from uptown, I made it just in time for my appointment…and hungry). Despite finding 2 eyelashes in my Pad Thai  and it being barely average, I was happy to eat. Overall, I felt like I was treated like a queen, but the frugal in me will continue getting my Deva haircut in Houston.

I cannot go to NYC without going to Century 21, a discount designer department store. When I interned in NYC, I shopped there every day (my take home savings to prove it). Despite not needing anything, it is definitely a part of a ritual to go to the Cortland store. I attempted to squeeze it in before our show. Yet, reality sank in, I did not know the trains like I used to. I followed directions from Google maps. I recalled the directions saying take 2 stops. Yet, somehow, I was on my way to Brooklyn. What was planning to be a quick shopping trip turned into an hour accidental train ride. On the way back, the 4/5 decided to stop service. They finally notified us after having us sit for 10 minutes. I shifted plans to get back to times square as the show was at 7pm with no late seating.

The Houstonian in me got off at Penn Station with the intention of getting off at Times Square. I was able to swing through Macy’s to get a shopping fix (though downgraded from my Century21). I traveled all 7 floors and after seeing a juice bar and Louis Vuitton in Macy’s I quickly realized I  was not in Kansas. I picked up two items. Thankfully, I had my Plenti card on me so received points for the purchase.

I walked what felt like an eternity to 45th street as cabs kept passing me (I do know how to hail a cab) and Uber was surging. I was able to see the Empire State Building ans Madison Square Garden on the way. The Memorial Day holiday weekend was all a buzz, yet New Yorkers were preparing to get out of town. I finally made it to my 5pm dinner reservation still full from my hairy Thai food. Unfortunately, all the food was family style.

I finally settled for eggplant parmigiana and begged my friend to take the remainder home. I was amazed at how fast my food came out. Yet, disappointed that it was very cold. So much that my cheese barely melted. Again, another meh meal. I was near the show which at this point was all that mattered.

I sat in my seat waiting in anxiety almost as high as a few weeks ago for Beyonce’s concert. I was able to glance quickly at the program. There was an insert program for the original production of Shuffle Along. As usual, I had not done any homework. I wanted to take advantage of seeing my favorite actress for the 3rd time before she went out on maternity leave. I was in for a treat.

The play within a play covered a production of Shuffle Along from 1921. The show was the first all black production to make it to Broadway.  Unfortunately, the blaring truth was staring in our faces. Not much has changed in the last 100 years. I was pleased to observe the increased diversity (Hamilton, Eclipsed, The Color Purple, Misty Copeland etc. ) throughout the arts but it feels like the industry is moving in snail’s pace for sustainable changes to occur.  In addition, how many productions are run by people of color on the business side of the house. Like Hollywood, New York is still a very closed network. Shuffle Along was a great reminder that it was pretty much the same in the early 1900s.

The performance was phenomenal. Audra McDonald was clearly showing and glowing. She moved in those tap shoes as if she had wings. I kept thinking, will my joints allow me a few shuffles in my taps. It was very hard to keep still. Savion Glover choreographed with perfection. I learned so much about the writers of the show. The entire time I kept thinking, why have I never heard of this show before!

Shuffle Along

 

Shuffle Along was the first Broadway show written and performed by an African-American cast. The show was written by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles with the score by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle. The show ran for 484 performances . Greats such as Florence Mills, Josephine Baker and Paul Roberson performed in the show prior to their fame.

We were able to spare some time to hang out for autographs at the stage door. As I waited, I noticed the other shows on the street: Les Mis, Eclipsed and The Color Purple. All shows overcoming obstacles, yet surprising mostly with an African-American woman lead. For a split second, I could taste progress.

We were able to get a few autographs. While I waited, I received a push notification from Uber that it would give 50% off 2 rides for the weekend. Perfect timing. As we walked to the Uber giving up the chance to see Audra, a woman told me she snuck out the front doors. I was relieved to miss her but also feeling bad that she must be exhausted with her pregnancy. We were very lucky to see her.

Adrienne Warren
Adrienne Warren

On the way back to the hotel, I saw a whole foods. I asked the  driver to stop. It was 10:30 pm and I was shocked it was still open. It closed at 11pm. Again, I was parched but more so in need of alkaline water. I spent $2.99 on a bottle of Evamor out of desperation. I walked back to the hotel but upon arrival realized it was one of the least favorite hotels of my stay. I definitely, was not happy with their service.

The next hotel made up for it. The Renaissance Midtown was in the middle of everything. It was new, modern and great service. I would definitely stay there again. I was able to get to the train very quickly. A beautiful and hot day was spent at Ellis Island and the statue of liberty. It took about an hour to get through security. Yet, it was all worth it. Despite missing my pedestal tour that I reserved because they stopped allowing people up at 3:30pm, it was fun to be a tourist. I also had a strong sense of paranoia as the statue is threatened daily. The Department of Homeland security has a building there.DSC04767

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I decided to visit Ellis Island first. I was not prepared for the emotion that overcame me. I began thinking about people that came over to this country searching for hope . With the conviction that they have a chance to build their American dream. For many years, I thought being of African descent that we had no connection to Ellis Island. That was until I found my Jamaican grandfather’s name in the records. Yet, while visiting the national park store, there was no reflection of my heritage. There was merchandise reflecting those of European descent. I took a moment to reflect and thank God for giving my grandfather the opportunity to leave Jamaica, come to America at 19 and build a family legacy that lives on.

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On the way back, I walked to Century 21. I had to push back dinner reservations but went against whatever forces that were trying to get me away from my store. As usual, it was a madhouse. I gave up trying to get sunglasses. I was able to pick up a few things but I was definitely rushed. I was also able to get a glance of Oculus from the outside. What a beautiful structure.

The next mode of transportation was the bus. I took the bus to the dinner reservation which was about 20 minutes behind  due to traffic. I rarely take the bus in NyC but it was a bit less crowded than the train. I didn’t learn until later that the MTA now has wifi. I missed several messages while underground on the subway.

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Vegan DinnerDinner was back in Soho and quite delightful. Who would think my best meal in NYC would be at a vegan restaurant. Blossom on Carmine was great. The Vegan Dinnerambiance was calm and being near the open window directly reminded me of dining on patios in Europe. Very peaceful. I was also grateful they let us eat after being 30 minutes late.

 

 

Blossom

 

 

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We had dessert at Dominique Ansel’s kitchen. I loved their new soft serve sweet and savory cone. Yet, people around me gave it mixed reviews. I heard it taste like cold cheese. A passer by said the desserts were terrible. I had the swirl. It was worth every calorie. A complete oasis experience. In addition, I felt their service was excellent.  The location was also close to the 1, making the train ride home very easy after a long day of walking.

Saturday, I was excited to use my Marriott voucher for breakfast at Rockin Roscoe, a restaurant in the hotel. I was surprised to learn their oven stopped working. I settled for the lox and bagel and yogurt with granola. It was pretty good. I actually didn’t need much as the next meal event was only in a couple of hours.

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We ate Rosa Mexicano directly across from our show at Lincoln Center. I recognized the flying men on the wall. I think I ate there before  in Atlanta. Despite the beautiful guacamole preparation at the table, I was very disappointed in the food. I try not to eat Mexican food outside of Mexico, California or Texas. It was borderline school cafeteria food. Not good. Yet, very convenient to the show (there seems to be a trend here).

We left the restaurant at 1:45 for a 2pm show. We had plenty of time to spare. I was so excited to see Misty Copeland. She brought so much flavor to La Fille mal gardee. I realized halfway into act one that it had been a while since I attended a traditional ballet. The soothing music coupled with a carb filled lunch was the recipe for a nap. Despite several nods, the show was great. I even had a chance to stop by another Century 21 on 66th….but was in and out very quickly. Their selection wasn’t anything compared to Cortland.

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I finished the weekend in Brooklyn at a benefit for For Life, Inc. I really wanted to get to Brooklyn earlier as the Dance Africa festival was there but I ran out of time.  The benefit was great as it was the first annual fundraiser to help children in Jamaica and Cabo Verde.The food at the restaurant, Amarachi was very well seasoned and good (finally).

Downtown Brooklyn
Downtown Brooklyn

New York will always be my hub of international creativity. The energy is recharging. Despite being disappointed in most of my meals (Houston spoils me), the access to high quality art outweighed my disappointment. I’m finally back in fat city ready to get my grub on yet happy to be recharged on the energy and culture of wonderful New York.

Remote Houston with Counter Current

This week Counter Current kicked off with a weeklong of outdoor experimental art performances. I have been anticipating many of the events  (s/o to Jason Moran) but somehow forgot I signed up for the Remote Houston event. I received a reminder two days ago with details and realized I needed to shift my calendar to fit it in. As usual, I did not recall the details but figured we would experience art outdoors. What happened during the experience was not anything I ever imagined.

The reminder flyer clued me in that we would be wearing headphones during the performance. I also knew we would be at a cemetery. Any other time, I would be completely freaked out about going to a cemetery….but for the sake of art, it did not bother me one bit. If I weren’t rushing, I would have been able to read a bit more about what we were doing but I read enough to know I had to rush over to get there in time.

We were instructed to be at the Alley Theater by 3pm with a sharp departure at 3:15pm. I am notorious for showing up to everything late (including flight departures) so was very concerned I would get left. I knew we were taking the metro train. Since, I have taken it only twice, I knew I needed to be with the group. I had not even looked at where the cemetery was on the map.

I was going to uber over but realized the Rockets and Astros would be playing. To avoid the surge, I drove downtown arriving exactly at 3:02pm. Thankfully, I was able to find a metered parking space which cost me about $6. I scarfed down the rest of my lunch. I grabbed a plastic bag as 0 of my 3 umbrellas were in the car. I ran to the lobby feeling completely unprepared (especially as they urged there would be a lot of walking and to wear sneakers. I had on clogs with no socks…we will get back to that later).

Upon arrival, we were given a metro card for the train ride and a waiver. I filled it out and noticed we couldn’t sue them for any harm (what in the world is this event) and we had to pay $100 for the headphones if we lost them. We had about a group of 10 people who walked to the train together. I was so happy I made it in time.

When we arrived to the cemetery, we had to fill out a second waiver and I was really wondering if they were going to lock us in the cemetery. We also were escorted from the train platform to the cemetery by a police officer. Do you understand my concern? We signed up for our headphones and stood around until everyone gathered. The crowd grew to at least about 35 people.

Once the performance began, we were instructed we could no longer use our cell phones or talk to anyone. I went into slight panic mode but was calmed down by our computerized tour guide, Heather. We had enough to keep us busy during the performance to forget the restrictions. Our first assignment was the beginning of many that were out of the ordinary.

The cemetery was in the East End. A part of Houston, I had never visited at length. Many of the grave decorations reflected the traditions of the Latino community.  We were told to find the grave that drew us. Instead of finding one with plastic flowers, a cross, or Mary, I found a grave that had nothing but a tombstone (though later so one flower far off in the distance).

Mrs. Curry's Grave
Mrs. Curry’s Grave

My grave drew me as the last name Curry, was familiar. I could not believe what I was reading but Ms. Lizzie was born in 1892. Her tombstone read as the Wife of Willie (I believe) Curry. We listened to Heather as she instructed to us about how to observe the grave. From there, we walked out together. Walking through a fence as she said that “separated the living from the dead”

Neighborhood Art
Neighborhood Art

We walked into the neighborhood as a group which was just the beginning of people observing us trying to figure out who we were. The entire performance turned into a mindfulness workshop. We were observing everything around us which was a refreshing contrast to our normal 2016 customs. She named our group a “hort” I believe (she had a strong robotic accent), as in cohort. We were to do everything together.

Our Neighborhood Walk
Our Neighborhood Walk

We made it back to the train and had to ride that together while still making many observations. We eventually ended up in the JP Morgan Chase building (1929) which was absolutely gorgeous. I had never seen the large restored stained glass windows in the retail bank. We had an assignment there which included a wonderful dance break.

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After our dancing, we somehow broke our “hort” into smaller groups. This is when it really became interesting because we obviously started having different instructions depending on the group. My group left first and we went to the observation tower. Though, this was my second time in the tower, it was my first time I could actually see outside. The first was a terrible bit of fog.

 

We started observing the activity 60 floors below us like I had never done before. Heather talked about how the cars seemed like how our body operates on a molecular level, where the roads represented our arteries. Despite knowing there were people below, you barely saw any.

 

We continued on still not allowed to talk or speak. We were almost 2 hours into this journey and I began to feel like we were one. Heather reminded us on the beginning of our journey that each of us were individuals, looking different, yet we were 99% genetically the same. How often do we focus on our differences forgetting we basically are one.

Looking through our binoculars
Looking through our binoculars

 

When we ended, the only reason I wanted it to end was because my feet were paying for not following instructions of appropriate shoes. They were practically on fire from all the walking we did. Nevertheless, despite me missing the #DrinkingAboutMuseumsHTX event, it was worth all the pain. I felt like I was able to connect with how I used to be as a child. Free, alert and in the moment.  The journey today definitely reminded us to spend time to smell the flowers, despite our adult wiring.

Remote Houston was in partnership with CounterCurrent this week but will operate throughout May 13th. For more information, see here.

Gregory Porter

I contemplated purchasing a ticket for Gregory Porter for a long time. At least a few months. I finally bit the bullet after listening to a few of his concerts on youtube. I knew I would kick myself for not going. I even booked a trip after the show and just planned around it. I had to see him. Apparently, Houston finally got the memo as the show was sold out.

Gregory opened with one of my favorite songs, On my way to Harlem and Be Good. I was thinking where are we going to go from here. You already sang my favorites. Yet, the show continued to be great as time went on. Gregory finds a way to bring you into each song as if it is a new one.  Everything about his performance is intriguing, especially his background behind the story.

One would think that Gregory is from NYC (though he lives there now). Yet, the fact that he is a native of Bakersfield, California threw me entirely off. To  throw my bias of what a jazz musician should have as a background further, he is a former football player. Gregory was determined to be a professional athlete until he had an injury while playing at  San Diego State University, where he had a full athletic scholarship.

Yet, it was not until his mother who was terminally ill asked him to sing professionally that he took her advice. Though he sang in the church most of his life, he is what we call a “late bloomer.” Thank God not too late. Gregory’s success reflects the fact that it is never too late to live in your purpose.  He is a talent much needed in the mundane world of music today. In addition, his live performance engages you even more than listening at home.

I am so happy we were able to experience Gregory in Houston and though it took him a while to get here, we hope he is back soon.

All The Way

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”-Frederick Douglas

Today is the first day of Black History month and Google has created a doodle of Frederick Douglas. His quote is very fitting as it summarizes the theme of the play All the Way by Robert Schenkkan. All the Way covers the 18 months of Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign for re-election. Throughout the entire show, he constantly negotiated with all types of players in order to gain votes for re-election, despite events surrounding him.

Lyndon B. Johnson was the Vice-President during John F. Kennedy’s term and was forced to be President after Kennedy’s assassination. Unfortunately, President Johnson served a small space in my memory when I think about American history. I am not a native Texan and am very weak in our history (working on that), yet, it is interesting how much more I grew up knowing about John F. Kennedy, especially as his family had homes in my hometown.

Watching the movie Selma last year was my first glimpse of Johnson and his role with the Civil Rights Movement. It was not until the movie that I realized that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made several trips to the White House during LBJ’s tenure. Though Selma’s focus was the movement, the play All the Way focused more on Johnson’s re-election.

Despite campaigning from 1963, there were too many things going on in America that could not be ignored. From the country mourning Kennedy’s death to the violence embarked on African-Americans fighting for equality, there was not a dull moment from the day Johnson took office. All the Way did a phenomanal job capturing all of these events while shedding light on LBJ as an everyday human being.

During intermission, I asked an audience member who was a child during the LBJ era if she thought the show was depicting the sequence of events accurately. She recalled though she was young, it is an accurate depiction. She felt LBJ was known for “wheeling and dealing.”

All the way has forced me to dig a bit deeper into the time period of the eclipse of the Civil Rights Movement. It is very interesting how many of the topics are still being argued today, equity in human rights. Yet, many of the results boil down to the ability to vote. In our country, the right to vote is the most effective way to be heard. All the Way also reflected on the fact that though we vote as individuals, it takes a collective power to demand results for true change.

All the Way is a great show and it is clear why it was awarded the Tony award in 2014. It runs at the Alley Theater through February 21st.

Update: Discounted Tickets available for select shows http://bit.ly/1QGtz3q

Jacqueline Woodson in Houston

“I write about black girls because this world would like to keep us invisible.” –Jacqueline Woodson

Yesterday we had the privilige of hearing Jacqueline Woodson, multi-awarded author, share her work and life story with us. We gathered at the Johnston Middle School in Houston to be enchanted about Jacqueline’s life experiences. No one could ever tell us she was 52 years of age by her appearance, but the moment we received a glimpse of her wisdom, we knew that it must have come with time.

It was amazing to see an audience diverse in gender, race and age. The excitement of the students was immeasurable. Ms. Woodson was unapologetic about her authenticity. The richness of her experiences reminded me a lot of myself.

She shared with us about oral history she learned where one of her relatives was a soldier in the Civil War and her angst when she was with NPR at the Civil War museum. The reporter covering her story went ahead of her to look for her relative’s name. She had anxiety as she never verified the story that was passed along orally in her family. Thankfully, the oral history aligned with written. A common misfortune in African-American history is that our history is rarely documented. I felt the same way when I learned I was related to a founder of Morris Brown College. It was not until I saw his name and picture in a book that I finally believed it was true. My family is also blessed that he wrote several books (despite being born into slavery).

Jacqueline shared many nuggets of wisdom while reading her work to us. One that stood out clearly was the disclipline it takes to be a writer. As soon as her children are off to school, she begins writing, often several stories simulataneously. Another tip she provided was that in order to be an effective writer, you must also read just as much. If you are a poet, you should read poetry ferverently for example. It is interesting how we think artists wake up and magically perfect their art. Often, it is from years and years of dedicated work that is often unnoticed.

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What an honor it was to have Jacqueline in Houston. She inspired the entire audience to live their dream to the fullest. She encouraged us to support our children’s dreams despite our agreement with them. So, the next time my brilliant son mentions he wants to be an NBA player, I will smile as suggested and only nod.

 

 

Bullets Over Broadway

I received an email the other day from the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts asking if I would be interested in entering a ticket lottery. I have not been very up to date on new Broadway shows, but Bullets over Broadway sounded like an interesting title. I indicated dates I would be able to attend and waited on results.

I was notified that I did not make the lottery for my first choice and I didn’t think twice about it. I still was not dying to see a show I had never heard. Yesterday, I received a note that I had been granted lottery tickets for the Saturday matinee, my second choice. I jumped on it.

The tickets were $25 and I am pretty sure the market price was in the $80 range. I chose a seat in the center orchestra and looked forward to a show that was still a mystery to me (my specialty).

Unfortunately, I hit some very bad traffic on 59S and arrived at 1:59pm for the 2pm call. I had no choice but to use valet. For $20, I must admit that it is one of the most efficient valet systems I have ever seen. After the show, I was about 7th in line and my car was to me in about 7 minutes. It was a very well organized machine. There is no way, I would see a show and park and for $45 in NYC. Back to the show.

I see Woody Allen on the credits and immediately know two things will be discussed: sex and relationships. The audience advisory stated you should be 13 and up but I would advise at least 18. Though, the language was slightly subtle, I think it is a bit much for the average teenager.  Yet, I rarely watch tv so I may be sheltered a bit.

The cast was no doubt talented. Though the show got off to a slow start, it was not long before some drama hit. A play about a play is always fascinating to me. Incorporating some mafia interactions definitely did not leave a dull moment.

The set changes and costumes were flawless. There were many moments when I forgot I was watching a show. Everyone was believable and I began imagining I was there…in the 20s, NYC along with the cast. It was awesome to see some vintage dancing including the Charleston, soft shoe and a bit of tap.

There is only one more show at Hobby Center tonight at 8pm.  I definitely recommend it if you are in the area. Duration is about 3 hours though so make sure you are ready for the long haul.

 

Velvet Taco

I am a feen for flavor and Velvet Taco delivered last night. I have passed it a billion times and never paid it any attention. Often I was distracted by El Rey but to date, they are the best I’ve had in Houston (except my grilled fish tacos at Pappasitos in the airport).

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Paneer taco tofu taco

I’m not sure if I’m most excited because they were vegetarian tacos with flavor. A friend said they prefer Torchy’s over Velvet. Well, I’ve tried Torchy’s three times with no success. The lettuce always taste like mop water to me. Their guacamole is great though. Yet, Velvet Taco is officially my new spot.