New York City sits between the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean. At the bottom of Manhattan is New York Bay and somewhere running between is the East River - where it starts and ends has always been a mystery to me.
New York is like Tel Aviv in many ways - busy, dirty, fun, exciting, cosmopolitan- but its relationship to the surrounding waters is very different. In TA the water is a destination, in NY it seems to be something that separates you from another borough or another state. The Hudson and the East Rivers are an univiting brown. The water in NY Bay between Manhattan and Staten Island or Ellis Island and Liberty Island is a roadway. Never in 30 years did I consider jumping in (except in some rather dark times).
Here I am for a few short days beside the sea but not really living by the sea. I do everything "in" the city - in cabs, in stores, in restaurants, in the Meat Market, and today in Chelsea Market (CM).
When Chelsea Market opened it was in no-man's land. Way over on 9th Avenue beside Western Beef and a housing project. The old Nabisco (National Biscuit Company) factory with walls and floors thick enough to support heavy industry and large elevators and empty space were ideal for the downtown originally planned. The water turbine added a nice touch.
Slowly over the years it has become a total eating experience. The Fruit Exchange is still there and the Italian bulk import store. But the rest of the place is filled with exotic eateries and "artesanal products" (What does that mean anyway? If I bake a cake is it artesanal and I can charge a lot of money for it? What if I make it from a Betty Crocker Cake Mix?)
CM vendors realized early on that there was not enough trade to support selling product alone. They needed to improvise. In a brilliant move the foods stores took a lesson from Balducci's. If you can't sell it, cook it, package it and sell it at a higher price and sell twice as much to the people who came in for a kilo of salmon. Why not eat a pllace of oysters or a lobster while you're there? Go to the back of fresh fish bins and order crab rolls and clam chowder. Plan the next party.
I firmly believe that today "takeout" is the single most import word in the English language. I am not exaggerating. Where English is the lingua franca takeout food is essential to the work day and the work week. The economy depends on workers grabbing something and coming back to the screen so people want to eat fast. They want to have a wide variety of choice. And they want it affordable. And if Google Headquarters are upstairs - built-in customers base.
On the weekends people have more time but they do not want to be forced to eat the same thing as their friends or partners or visitors from out of town. So why not go to the place that is built like a giant cafeteria. It is a smart business move that Sarona Market in Tel Aviv should employ. See - NYers want noise and the scene. The scene drives traffic and traffic makes money. Sitting down with your friends and actually visiting is bad for business. Not enough gturn over. Requires agreement on where you eat. Takes time away from shopping. Requires social interaction over and above what's next on the agenda.
So knowing all this Ken and I still decided to take a walk to Chelsea Market to check out the new Israeli Halva store that just opened in CM - Seed and Mill. Cool store. Seem to be doing well.
And of course because we were there we had to eat. We stopped at the fish store to get sushi and Ken went into Chelsea Thai - Isaac's old haunts. I looked through the window and watched the line up of wok cooks cranking out dishes at an amazing rate.
We walked back out in the very crowded hallway and it was clear there was no where to sit. Everyone was eating but the noise level wasimpossible. We parked ourselves outside Amy's Bread. Ken sat on the concrete curb and balanced the sushi. I sat on the floor and managed the napkins, empty trays, soya sauce and chopsticks. We ate our lunch amidst a flurry of tourists. The baseball game was being broadcast from a screen to our left. The food was yummy, but I think I'll wait a couple more years before I go back for a cupcake from Elena's.