Author Archives: portsarecalling

Nightly Terrors & Treats

 

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Halloween treats came early last night at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn. Raised on all things spooky, when I learned the New York Chapter of Horror Writers Association would be dropping in to host an evening of Night Terrors, I rang my brother who responded with “we’re there!”

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A chilly day outside the museum

Founded in 2014, the Morbid Anatomy Museum is a non-profit with a dark dance card of events and lecture series that are often sold out.   The idea for this popular space grew out of the Morbid Anatomy Library, a cabinet of curiosities created by Joanna Ebenstein’s blog. Situated near the murky waters of the Gowanus Canal, this somewhat desolate location beyond the strollers of Park Slope is an inviting spot for anyone looking to convene with other like-minded souls.

Last night six authors shared their tales, including Tonya Hurley, a New York Times best-selling author and the museum’s founding board member. Her popular novel series Ghostgirl is being adapted for the big screen.   In between readings, prizes were distributed to the audience member who had the best scream, or belted out the best zombie rendition of Happy Birthday, or who could name the actor who played Frankenstein in the 1931 film, for instance.

But it was the presence of the last writer, Jack Ketchum, which cast the biggest treat.   Ketchum, who’s been crowned “the scariest guy in America” by Stephen King, held us spellbound as he read his short story Bully. A four-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association, last year he was honored with the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award…so you get we’re I’m coming from.

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Jack Ketchum

With the, dare I say, holiday season approaching the museum is a unique place to buy unusual gifts. It’s worth visiting to check out their offerings of t-shirts, classic and contemporary horror literature, Victorian jewelry, housewares, and one-of-a-kind animal taxidermy. While I find that last item kind of creepy, this type of collectible sells out quick.

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Kittens Wedding ceremony.

Some upcoming events to get your ghoul on include Psychedelics of Death, Minder Reader: An Evening With Vinny DePonto, and Bram Stoker: Something in the Blood (which I’ll be at for sure).   Their current taxidermy exhibit, Art, Science & Mortality Featuring Walter Potter’s Kittens’ Wedding, closes on November 6. If you find the idea of dead kittens from the 1800s all dressed up in frills and ready to party off-putting, you might rest easy knowing it’s owned by, and on loan, from Sabrina Hansen, the founder of Aslan Cats, a sanctuary in the Catskills.

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Local Spring Escape Plans

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With a constant barrage of cool and interesting things happening in and around New York City, choosing what to see and do can be like trying to figure out what to watch on Netflix. Now that winter seems to really be behind us, here are some good excuses to shed the coat and leave the house

Transitional Object: (PsychoBarn)
When the weather’s nice, it can be hard to commit to sticking yourself inside a museum. The recent installation on the Met’s Roof Garden is the perfect solution. British artist Cornelia Parker’s inspiration for her latest project came from the house in Hitchcock’s Psycho. Part barn, part movie set, the rooftop setting offers a killer view.

Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk
With their fast and furious punk songs, the Ramones didn’t just influence a movement but pop culture and art as well. For lovers of this band, the retrospective exhibit at the Queens Museum isn’t just a bittersweet walk down memory lane but a unique experience to surround yourself in everything that made you come alive when you bopped and bounced around to music from the guys from Forest Hills who became the house band at CBGB. It’s also a great way to introduce your kids to really good music!

Tulip Festival
Spring has been on the calendar for weeks and if the forecast holds out for the rest of the month we may finally be clear of winter’s long and icy fingers.   With over 13,000 tulips in bloom, alongside other flowers and blossoming trees, the Westside Community Garden is the perfect place to be in the thick of it. Located on West 89th between Amsterdam and Columbus, visiting the garden for a horticulture tour, flower arrangement class, or just strolling the grounds offers a lovely way to celebrate the season.

Smorgasburg
For food lovers, anytime is a good time to eat and Smorgasburg makes it so damn easy. With two Brooklyn locations, one in East River State Park in Williamsburg, and one in Prospect Park, this giant food festival showcases a market of up to 100 local and regional food vendors. This gastronomic outdoor extravaganza is a great entrée into the season and yet one more reason to hang out in Brooklyn.

Tribeca Films Festival
Now in its 15th year, the Tribeca Film Festival is a New York City experience. The project’s goal to revitalize lower Manhattan in the aftermath of 9/11 is still going strong. This festival gives emerging directors the chance to showcase their goods alongside more established colleagues and it gives festival-goers a pick of classic films, new films, foreign films, documentaries, and more. For tourists, it’s a chance to experience the city on a local level.

So what are you waiting for–get outside!

Sounds For the World.

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It’s been five days since we learned of David Bowie’s death. I’d bet that no matter where you’re traveling these days, except maybe the desert, you’d hear his music streaming from a radio, iPod, or some other device. And even in the desert, someone just might surprise you with a ring tone delivering a few chords from a Bowie song.

Wanderer. Outsider. Misfit. Changeling. If at any time in your life you identified with any of those labels than his music struck a chord for you. That’s why so many people around the planet are still in a bit of shock grieving his loss these few days later. I don’t think that’s going to subside anytime soon. I keep thinking of the old jazz standard There Will Never Be Another You when it comes to this man. That tune has traveled through time as well.

Walking through my neighborhood in Brooklyn or on the streets of Manhattan, Bowie’s music blares from boutiques and bars, delis and donut shops. Quotes from his songs are displayed on café blackboards. We just can’t let the man go.

Stepping down onto the subway platform this morning on my way to work I heard a musician strumming the opening chords to a song. Even with the rumbling of the train that had just pulled out of the station I could name that tune. It was Space Oddity and while I was already late for work I was willing to let a few trains go by just to enjoy the entire performance and get close to Major Tom.

It was a gravelly and low and lovely rendition. I threw a buck into the guy’s cardboard box and soaked it all in. I wasn’t the only one. A few commuters had gravitated near the music and for a few brief moments it kind of felt like a state of grace had fallen on the gritty subway platform. Like we were anywhere but within the bowels of the New York City subway system.

Magically, and weirdly, I did not have to let a few trains go by because not one appeared until the guitarist played the closing chords. All of us listeners got to soak up the full benefit.

That was lovely, I told him and asked his name. Jessel, he said. Then he wished me a beautiful day while others shouted “really beautiful” and “thank you” to him. Dollar bills fluttered into his box before we packed into the tin can that jolted us out of that reverie, jettisoning us into the city towards the reality of the daily grind.

That’s the great thing about music. Like travel, it’s takes us places, lodges itself in our memory bank, gives us refuge. That’s the thing about Bowie. No matter where you are, he can still take you out of this world. No ticket required.

Get Crackin’

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With unseasonably mild temperatures hanging around the Big Apple these days, Jack Frost isn’t nipping at anyone’s nose. If the balmy weather has put a damper on your holiday cheer, a visit to a magical production of The Nutracker might put you in the spirit. With the mixed bag of productions performing across the New York City area there’s one for every age, making it easy to go nuts. Here’s a small taste of what’s out there:

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
For some, this performance at the New York City Ballet is the one true nut. The grandiose scenery and gorgeous costumes are breathtaking and the dancers are superb. It’s sugar plum fairy city. Through January 3, 2016.

Tickets: From $75 to $265
David H. Koch Theater
20 Lincoln Center
Midtown Manhattan

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The Hip Hop Nutcracker
The name says it all! Kurtis Blow is the special guest MC who mixes it up for this holiday classic. A DJ, an electric violinist, and digital scenery infuse Tchaikovsky’s score with an urban note and contemporary spirit. Now through December 19.

Tickets: $39-$59
New Jersey Performing Arts Center
1 Center Street
Newark, NJ
1-888-GO-NJPAC

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Gelsey Kirland Academy of Classical Ballet
A different take on the classic, this production offers a bit more drama than Balanchine’s version. Former New York City Ballet principal dancer Kirkland trained under Master Balanchine so you’re definitely in for a treat. Now through December 20.

Tickets: From $20-$59
GK Arts Center
29 Jay St
Dumbo/Brooklyn
(212) 600-0047

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The Hard Nut
Based on a book by E. T. Hoffman, The Nutcraker and the Mouse King, this comic book tale set in the 1970s comes to life through the Mark Morris Dance Group’s clever modern dance and choreography, colorful costumes and winter wonderland in a wild and witty way you’ve not seen before. Now through December 20.

Tickets: Starting from $25
Peter Jay Sharp Building
30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn
(718) 636-4100

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The Knickerbocker Suite
This stripped down version on the time-honored classic delivers a modern twist. Performed by the Manhattan Youth Ballet at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, the first act features an animated film, the second act weaves iconic New York City landmarks into favorite Nutcracker moments. At only 70-minutes it’s a refreshing take on the traditional production and the city’s pigeons never looked so good!

Tickets:  $20-$35
Manhattan Movement and Arts Center
248 West 60th Street, NYC

Cider Shines.

cider-550x500Nothing beats a glass of cider over ice on a hot summer day.   Its sparkling spirit is the ultimate balm when your internal thermometer has heated past its breaking point. Those scorching days may be behind us but that doesn’t mean you still can’t enjoy a glass of the hard stuff.   For anyone who’s never sipped this tasty beverage because they think it’s sweet, 2015 Cider Week NYC will crush that conception.

Kicking off today, an idea whose seed was planted in 2011 has grown to dozens of events across the city this year. If you’re a cider virgin, a good place to start is Applelooza on Lafayette Street where lots of tempting tastes await you. Featuring more than 40 different hard cider and apple spirits, you’re bound to fall for one or two.

Since its hard times during Prohibition when cider apple trees were destroyed, the beverage is having its moment and New York’s Hudson Valley and Catskill regions are a big reason behind it. Farm-made and craft ciders feature large during Cider Week, making for a great way for urbanites to connect with an agricultural movement typically associated with large farm production across the country.

Like beer and wine, cider offers a versatility in flavor which is probably why its gaining popularity as the fastest growing alcoholic beverage. The events taking place around the city bring the orchards to the city’s streets.

Cider Week NYC runs from November 6-15. A great reason to take out the Big Apple’s apples!

A (Wee) Taste of Edinburgh.

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If anyone had told me that my first meal in Scotland would be porridge, I’d probably have said, “Yeah, right.” But after a night flight from Newark, I needed some comfort. The June solstice may have been looming but that early Edinburgh morning greeted me with raw and rainy weather. I suppose that was my first Scottish experience.

History, fishing, golf, hiking the Highlands, pubs, whisky, kilts, haggis, Outlander. All of these things—and much more—are part of the Scottish experience. I didn’t particularly have one in mind when I arrived but it was so nice to see tourism alive and kicking here. If you’re looking for a large helping of history and culture, with a generous side of fresh air, wonderful hospitality, good grub and beautiful scenery—Edinburgh has it.

After taking the tram into the city center (and spying all the motorway traffic from my comfy £5 seat), I dumped my bags at the hotel and went in search of breakfast. I didn’t have to look far. A few steps from the hotel a sidewalk chalkboard beckoned me the message, “I would walk 500 miles for CAKE.” Warm and welcoming, Pep and Fodder serves up fresh-baked goods for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A cluster of croissants and other assorted goodies flirted with my attention but when I saw porridge with honey and cinnamon on the menu board, I just went for it.

You know when something is downright delicious? Well this was it, pure comfort food perfection. As my spoon swirled around to catch every creamy bit it struck me that on some future cold and crummy day I’ll be saying, “I could murder a bowl of Pep and Fodder porridge.” So that was my first tasty Scottish experience.

Edinburgh Castle, the jewel in the city's crown.

Edinburgh Castle, the jewel in the city’s crown.

The majesty of Edinburgh is striking. From my tram seat I saw the giant rock of Edinburgh Castle. Staying in the New Town area, it was an easy 15-minute walk to the city’s most famous and glorious attraction. I’d hooked up with a friend from Ireland and our visit coincided with the setup of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, an annual extravaganza of historical ceremony and entertainment. Scaffolding and bleachers were underway with the castle serving as the backdrop to the grand celebrations that will unfold in August.

After paying an entrance fee, we opted for the do-it-yourself castle tour. The majesty of this fortress, which dates back to the 12th-century, happens outside as much as inside its walls. Entering through a clock tower door, we joined a moving stream of visitors gazing upon the Crown Jewels. America doesn’t have this kind of history. After hearing the term used as an expression for so long it was a wonder to see the real deal gleaming, the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles.

Secrets of the Royal Mile, a small group walking tour with Mercat Tours, provided a fun intro to Edinburgh’s history. Led by a cheeky historian who accented our route with tales of crime and culture, this 90-minute journey offered a bit of a workout as we navigated through the Old Town’s steep stairs and hills. For commitment phobic travelers, it’s an easy way to dive into history without blowing your day.

Sweet songs on a summer night from Daniel Docherty.  (Photo: C. Reilly)

Sweet songs on a summer night from Daniel Docherty. (Photo: C. Reilly)

The ancient cobblestone streets call for walking shoes, my ankles were glad I’d worn mine.  This road runs the length of the Old Town that surrounds the castle and bustles with pedestrian, buskers and souvenirs. It’s very “ye olde” and close alleys tease your curiosity. Chasing history down the tiny lanes wedged between buildings that squeeze out the light is a good way to explore the area. Colorful candy shops draw you in and liquor store windows blaze with beautiful bottles of whisky of all ages. Along all the main drags, stores market a massive offering of cashmere sweaters, kilts and tartan.  It’s a wonder there’s any wool left.

With its incredible architecture and heritage, Edinburgh invites walking. It has world-class museums and the badge of honor for being the “world festival capital” so you don’t have to go far to indulge yourself. Relaxing in a sidewalk pub is great for people watching. Old world meets new as bridal parties proudly don kilts.

Get me to the church on time. (Photo: C. Reilly)

Get me to the church on time. (Photo: C. Reilly)

But what would a visit to Scotland be without a pot of tea? It’s kind of a must for a first timer. Whether you’re looking for an elegant or shabby chic atmosphere, Edinburgh is stocked with teahouses offering freshly baked cakes and sandwiches. Clarinda’s kitschy tearoom on Canongate, where I made quick work of a slice of orange cake, suited me just fine. With an abundance of cafes, pubs and restaurants refueling is easy.

Do you like it smoky? That was the question the ginger-haired bartender at The Balmoral Hotel’s Scotch bar posed when I asked for a whisky recommendation. We’d just come from a deliciously memorable feast at The Witchery, an award-winning restaurant at the gates of Edinburgh Castle. This dining destination attracts visitors as much for its magical atmosphere as for its menu. I’m still thinking about the hot-smoked Loch Duart salmon that I tried to eat very slowly.

The evening began with cocktails at The Scotsman Hotel. Walking over the North Bridge around 9PM the solstice sun lit this Edinburgh institution up like golden ale, making it way too inviting to pass up. Its bar buzzed with locals and tourists and we found prime real estate at its brass rail.

Solstice sun warms The Scotsman. (Photo by author)

Solstice sun warms The Scotsman. (Photo by author)

By the end of the night I wasn’t going home without a proper whisky. Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to whisky tasting in Edinburgh. Yet I couldn’t bypass the Balmoral Hotel. Its Scotch bar is known to have one of the largest collections of whisky in Edinburgh; it’s also a very comfy place to hang out. After chatting with me, the bartender unlocked a walled cabinet and carefully weighed the options before presenting me with his recommendations. I’m no expert but I did fall for the Glen Elgin 12-year and my nightcap turned into a night hat.

Warm and welcome whisky hospitality at Scotch. (Photo: C. Reilly)

Warm and welcome whisky hospitality at Scotch. (Photo: C. Reilly)

Strolling along Calton Hill the next morning rewarded us with stunning views of the city. We even saw hikers on Salisbury Crags. The city’s magic and majesty also lays in its proximity to the coastlines and mountains that surround it and which are easily reached by foot. Hiking boots I did not pack.

Cutting downhill through an old cemetery, we headed towards the Palace of Holyroodhouse where a long line of royalty reigned, including Mary, Queen of Scots. Today, Queen Elizabeth entertains there when she’s in residence. We lingered in the remains of its original foundation, an Augustinian abbey where it felt as if the history of the world was contained within its crumbling walls.

The Abby. (Photo: C. Reilly)

The Abby. (Photo by author)

That afternoon on a Virgin-Atlantic fast train to London, the Scottish countryside appeared like a never-ending painting of verdant green fields, with clusters of black-faced sheep and cows lazing around. Trees with tops flattened by the winds resembled acacia and bright yellow wildflowers popped from the fields. The train slowed through Berwick where the remnants of an old stonewall stood on the edge of a riverbed. Old stone cottages evoked house envy and a band of horses gathered on a hill appeared like a page from a storybook. Solstice sunlight pierced angry clouds as we barreled south. It was the longest day of the year and it was all part of my Scottish experience.

Celebrate National Park Week.

Point Reyes National Seashore.

Point Reyes National Seashore.

In case you haven’t heard, April 18-26 is National Park Week. Each spring the National Park Service and National Park Foundation invite travelers near and far to celebrate the beauty and diversity of America’s parks.

With events happening across 400 of these beauties, finding one should be easy. If you’ve been looking for a unique getaway, consider one of these wide-open spaces.   There might be one not too far from your own backyard. If you’ve never taken the time out to explore your nearest national park, this might be the perfect week to do it.

For instance, Jamaica Bay Natural Wildlife Refuge is offering a free walk and talk on how to tell stories through photos. For New York City dwellers, it’s the perfect inspiration to go into the great wide open.   Point Reyes National Seashore in California is offering Journey of the Whales, where visitors learn about the migration routes of these animals. At Stones River National Battlefield in Georgia, a bicycle tour will take riders through the Civil War battlefield where they’ll hear stories and learn about this historic site. And at Hovenweep National Monument in Colorado, a new astronomy programs takes visitors on a celestial telescope tour as they check out the gold tier night sky. These events are a just tiny sampling of what’s being offered this week, there are loads more events happening in parks across the country not just now but throughout the year.

The great news is that if you can’t get out this week, you’ve got the rest of the year to plan a visit to one of America’s national parks. Stepping into spring, National Park Week is a great incentive to appreciate what we’ve got in our country’s backyard.

From California to the New York Island, go find your park!