I study him. He wears no shirt, just cut-off faded jeans, a white flower behind his ear. A hand-rolled cigarette resides in one hand. His bony frame leans forward to look at a calico cat hopping like a rabbit across a garden. The air is silent and moist. Mopeds sputter periodically. The sky darkens, the ocean joins it, and the moon finds a place in the folds of blue. With salted hair and feverish eyes and burnt shoulders and moles polka-dotting his back he is the most astounding creature I have ever seen. I won’t let him know, he wouldn’t believe me anyway. So I look away and ask him what we should do about dinner.
After dinner we share a bottle of the second-cheapest whiskey we can find. Bantering, hopeful, we sit on the whitewashed stairs and observe people trotting by. Goat roasts somewhere and cigarettes are smoked. The beach extends itself into my mind. We hasten.
The sun rises revealing a beach full of people intertwined. Kicked off sandals sleep next to green beer bottles in the sand. The waves seem hesitant in their approach. Everyone is silenced by immense concentration. We look at each other, aware of our ongoing solitudes. He shrugs. We walk to a bus stop. Kissless times last longer.
I was born and raised in New York City. I've fed my head with Frank O'Hara and my eyes with Nan Goldin and my ears with the Ramones since i first acquired a walkman. My favorite thing to do used to be walking through the streets at all hours. The sidewalk kept me company. The trees were rare. The city was a symphony.
I used to think New York was the greatest metropolis on earth. When I was 16 with my French library card as a fake i.d. i snuck into Sound Factory and the Tunnel and some long gone bar run by the irish mafia. I was uprocking and exploring until the morning trailed in ruefully...
photo source:newyorkisafriendlytown blog
Last summer in nyc I was lying on my bed, deep in equal parts solitude and procrastination, when a friend from L.A. called to say he was in town for a few days and staying on the lower east side. I threw on a half-buttoned silk man's shirt, tight trousers, heels, and my grandest spectacles, and headed downtown.
We went by bars I had frequented just a few months before. It was ghost town all around. Even pianos was slim pickings. Curse of Monday night or part of the exodus of the avant garde? And when did all these wine bars pop up? I called my sister. She informed she hadn't hung out on the l.e.s. in three years. 90% of my friends here moved away- with good reason it seems. Ok, so I've been out of town for a few years. Has everyone interesting fled to brooklyn? Is there a heartbeat left in this city? A dancefloor worth sticking to? If so, fill me in. Or it'll be me and my mixtapes and Gary Snyder every night i'm back home.
So that's what I was thinking in September. After my last trip to nyc, in January, I decided it's not so bad. The sidewalk still glittered (ground-up crack pipes from the early 80s? erosion? city magic, who knows?) Best food in the world. Pedestrian. Sky not as grey as London town. (Though you forget about it with the 'scrapers hiding it.) The subway for 24 hours, though you better bring a paperback out if you're taking the 4 o'clock in the morning train...and still a few interesting people kicking around.
Still, nyc has lost the urgency and excitement I remember growing up there. The sleaze (which encouraged hedonism and creative freedom) has been replaced with conformist/mass market establishments. Saint Marks Place, once the haunt of Sid Vicious, is now an extended branch of Hot Topic. Everywhere cards. does anyone else remember Coney Island High? Berliniamsberg at Luxxx? Filthmart around 13th st?
Despite its changes, New York is an amazing city with a crazy past. You'll have a good time there. If you're planning a trip there soon, read on past the video clips for a few recommendations:
Some good old-skool NYC Movies: The Warriors, Wild Style, Krush Groove, Downtown 81, Afterhours. NY has changed a lot but they’re fun to get in the city mood.
Downtown 81 a.k.a. New York Beat is a fantastic movie. Basquiat's a teenager, playing himself...
"Meet me at the turnstyle?" fuck yeah. I love Blondie!
Rakim is legendary too...
Some amazing beats and style...
Once I went to a house party in L.A. and this was on in the living room...
And some classics:
MARGO'S GUIDE TO NY
SHOP The best places to buy stuff is in SoHo, the Lower East Side, and Brooklyn.
One of my favorite stores is The Strand: on 12th St & Broadway, take any train to Union Sq, the best and sometimes cheapest bookstore in the world. Check out the pulp fiction, vintage books, and art books.
FOOD NYC has some of the best food in the world, especially when it comes to Indian and Italian food. Stay away from any touristy place, in Little Italy, etc.
Chennai Garden: 129 East 27th St, between Park and Lex, fantastic Indian Food. Dim Sum a Go Go: Order the vegetarian Dim Sum Platter. It’s beautiful. Café Habana: 17 Prince St, by Elizabeth St. If you go to the Take Out Café, next to the restaurant, it’s cheaper and faster and you can sit there too. Order the Tlacoyo con tres Maria and Tostones and Corn. Or split that with someone. H&H Bagels: on the Upper West Side, best bagels in the world. Order with cream cheese. londoners, if you think those places on brick lane are good, this will blow your mind. Pommes Frites: 123 2nd Ave, between 7th & 8th st. Amazing frites. Try the rosemary sauce. Katz’s Deli: if you eat meat, they have a famous pastrami sandwich you should try. Serendipity: just go here if you love sweets. Famous fot the Frrrozen Hot Chocolate and the ice cream sundaes. Andy Warhol used to come here and trade his work for food. Zabars: More of a fancy market, but they have great pain au chocolate, and David Glass Chocolate Cake. Two Boots Pizza: downtown, best pizza.
Google the addresses. Check Time Out and Paper magazine for listings.
OTHER FUN STUFF TO DO IN NYC: See the life-size blue whale in the Natural History Museum. I’m serious. Go to art galleries in Chelsea. Or visit the MOMA, the Whitney, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Walk through Central Park.
N.B. Cops in nyc are assholes so don’t get caught pissing in an alley/ jumping a turnstyle in the subway (metro), smoking a joint in public, or even drinking outside. My friends and my brother have gotten tickets or arrested for all of the above.
Also, read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. and Catcher in the Rye, if you haven't already. Feel free to add to this reading list...
I painted this portrait on linen for the upcoming exhibition Art Against Knives, (though the subject matter is not specifically related to the event.) Vivienne Westwood and Jeurgen Teller, as well as numerous other talents are contributing to this exhibition, which will raise awareness, and money for Oliver Hemsley who was attacked last August in East London. The show and auction take place May 4th and 5th, 2009.
"it is hard to believe when i'm with you that there can be anything as still as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it in the warm new york 4 o'clock light we are drifting back and forth between eachother like a tree breathing through its spectacles"
-frank o'hara, 1960
"You cannot describe it, you cannot picture it, You cannot admire it, you cannot sense it. It is your true self, it has nowhere to hide. When the world is destroyed, it will not be destroyed."
- probably wumen huikai, around 13th century
"it isn't gentleness that you and i are looking for in the hills and valleys, it is the cliff, the gorge, the scraped ocher on the knees of the slopes and the red crevice in which the land shows too, the brilliance of its wound."
Painting by Gerhard Richter, oil on board, 1991
ECSTASY OF CHAOS
"when the immense drugged universe explodes in a cascade of unendurable colour and leaves us gasping naked, this is no more than the ecstasy of chaos: hold fast, with both hands, to that royal love which alone, as we know certainly, restores fragmentation into true being."
-robert graves, 1960s
"Etoile qui brille regard humide fil de la vierge pitie flotte au vent cette compresse sur mon coeur trop vite trop vite et quel delire quelque chose vient de se casser dans la mecanique de ma vie."
-paul dermee, dadaist
"It was a crinkled feeling -a recognition of stiff joy pleating: a gentle iron stifling discoveries and nudging calm into the folds.
Hot disquietude burned holes in me like scorching cloves bearing your name. Your invisible flames broke my stride and forced me to decompose in shudders.
Everyday presented that familiar alley, Where I would wander lost but certain of my eventual collapse... I could only turn my head to hide my pupils screening the humility of love. "
photo by scott payne
"Par les soirs bleus d'été, j'irai dans les sentiers, Picoté par les blés, fouler l'herbe menue : Rêveur, j'en sentirai la fraîcheur à mes pieds. Je laisserai le vent baigner ma tête nue.
Je ne parlerai pas, je ne penserai rien : Mais l'amour infini me montera dans l'âme, Et j'irai loin, bien loin, comme un bohémien, Par la Nature, -- heureux comme avec une femme."
Stockholm: we basked in the bright bluish light/ bought shiny old records in perfect condition/ walked around a massive, splintery 17th century ship/ watched wolves run through the forest/ bought design magazines and Finnish vodka/ befriended cordial Swedish boys who cooked us a fantastic dinner that ended with mango sorbet and inky lingonberries/ drank spicy mulled wine on curved orange metal chairs in front of Victorian style wallpaper as 1950s rock & roll played/ walked in the midnight silence and heard the snow crunch beneath our feet/ threw snowballs... my aim is true. but terrible. stayed with a sleepy eyed friend with elfin locks who cooked us scrambled eggs and flatbread in the morning/ meandered in the clean quiet snowy streets.
It’s not the intensity of London, or the restrained chic of Paris, or the energy of New York, or the beautiful madness of Naples, or the Shangri-la of Los Angeles…Stockholm is politeness, fresh air, efficiency, and tranquility.
I went to Stockholm last week with my friend Mike. We stayed with his aunt and uncle, who were pretty wonderful. Surprisingly, everyone thought I was Swedish.
One afternoon we met up with Eli, a friend of a friend, at Copacabana filmkafe. The three of us sat around a cozy table, sipping steaming fragrant drinks. I warmed up by telling a story about an action-packed night outside a warehouse party in Dalston. Then I asked the local about elves in Sweden. He looked at me like I was nuts. “Maybe that’s a Norwegian thing,” he replied. “Cos I had this friend who was quite into them…” I trailed off. “Though they say if you’re in the country, in the summer, before dawn, if you look in the grass, in the dew, you can see fairies. And, at Christmastime we leave food out for the gnomes,” he mentioned casually. Ok, so no elves in town, but we have got gnomes running around somewhere? I buttered a soft slice of bread. Then the conversation moved to morphine and 80s bands. Afterwards, we went outside, past the water glinting in the 3 o’clock light, up a narrow street, to an ace record store.
Here are my suggestions.
TO DO: Stockholm rivals Paris for the number of museums. Paris has the classic Greatest Hits of Art History whereas Stockholm wins the quirky points. In addition to a fantastic Modern Art Museum and various contemporary art and design venues, the Swedish city has a museum of spirits, a museum of the history of drunkenness, a museum of matches, postal stamps, miniatures, customs (as in the airport kind) the list goes on and on…
Take the ferry to Djurgarden and visit Skansen. Skansen is an amazing open air museum that houses traditional Scandinavian architecture, live reindeer, a pack of wolves, and other exciting beasts. There are loads of other cool stuff to see, including the Vasamuseet, which is walking distance from Skansen. Vasamuseet houses an enormous 17th century ship if you’re into that sort of thing.
If you like holding hands in narrow alleyways and old houses, walk around Gamla Stan.
Go vintage shopping. There are several second-hand stores around Sodermam: Modern Retro Vintage Store, Wollmar Yxkullsgata 9, Södermalm, +4686407292, Mon - Fri 12:00 - 18:00, Sat 12:00 - 16:00
Beyond Retro, Åsögatan 144, Södermalm +4686413642 Mon - Sat 10:00 - 18:00, Sun 11:00 - 17:00
Judits, Hornsgatan 75, metro stop (a.k.a. T-bana) is Zinkensdamm.
Other cool stores are bookstore Bokmagasinet, Hornsgatan 80- near Judits- and there is a fantastic, cheap, vegetarian place next door, and design store Designtorget, Gotgatan 31, metro stop: Slussen.
GOING OUT Drinks are really expensive in bars so if you’re on a budget I recommend buying some raspberry juice and vodka (try Koskenkorva Finnish vodka-it’s less expensive than Absolut and tastier) and having a few cocktails before you go out. Instead of liquor stores/off licenses, they have Systembolaget, which close quite early on Saturdays (there’s one near the Central Train Station at Klarabergsgatan 62.)
I got carded at some places so bring your i.d.
Södermalm is the coolest area in Stockholm, especially for nightlife.
Bars/ Clubs: Pet Sounds-a bar that’s run by the nearby record store. Order the apple/cocoa cocktail and go downstairs. The music was excellent, though no Beach Boys. Skanegatan 80, metro stop: Medborgarpatsen.
Nada- a cozy but boisterous bar, Åsögatan 140, Skanegatan 80, metro stop: Medborgarpatsen.
Indigo- one of my favourites, modernist décor, obscure music, try the vin chaud (mulled wine), Götgatan 19, metro stop: Slussen. Monday to Friday 5pm-1am, Saturdays 3pm-1am.
Carmen-a lively joint, Tjarhovsgatan 14, closes at 1 am Mon-Sat and 11 pm on Sundays.
The subterranean, kitchy Vampire Lounge has excellent cocktails and drink deals on Mondays. Östgötagatan 41 metro: Medborgarpatsen. Closes at 1 am.
My flatmate informed me that Stockholm has quite a sharp minimal techno scene too.
TO EAT: Let’s talk about the numerous vegetarian options in Stockholm. Check out: the Copacabana café at Rio Cinema. I ate the lightest, most favourful falafal of my entire life with crisp roasted potatoes, and a tasty yogurt sauce that was a cross between sadziki and raita. Mike had a rich hot cocoa with a dash of chili. There’s also a fantastic record shop nearbye but I can’t remember what it’s called so just explore the area. (Hornstulls Strand 3 , Södermalm Mon - Thu 09:00 - 20:00, Fri 09:00 - 19:00, Sat - Sun 10:00 - 19:00, metro: Hornstull.)
Check out the low-key vegetarian place next to Bokmagasinet, Hornsgatan 80.
Go to a bakery and buy the short, bright green marzipan roll and the small sugary hear shaped cookie. The cookie is paper thin and tastes like Cinnamon Toast Crunch. You might also want to try the soft, twisty cardamom bread.
Across from Zinkensdamm metro stop, there is an unusual supermarket. When you get to the dairy section, you start hearing cow sounds and goats muttering. Are there creatures lingering behind the freezer doors? In the nuts and seeds section, birds tweet. Basically, they have a soundtrack for varying sections. It has a huge selection, especially in the organic/health food department.
All the food I tried in Stockholm was delicious.
ADVICE FOR PRACTICAL CATS +Before you go, check out the Lonely Planet Stockholm guide from your library. +Sometimes SAS has better deals than the easyjet style airlines. +Most things (clothes, alcohol, shampoo, etc…) are surprisingly expensive so pack whatever you need instead of buying them once you arrive. +Buy a three day bus/metro pass or longer, it’s cheaper. Also, it works for the ferry to Djurgarten. +Shops and attractions close quite early, between 4-7 pm, though the hours differ in the summertime. +Check the internet at a 7-11 convenience store. They’re open all night and you buy a voucher for an hour. If you don’t use the whole time, save the voucher and use it at another 7-11. +Take off your shoes as soon as you get inside someone’s front door. You probably knew that if you have Swedish friends.
SWEDISH MIXTAPE (spread some cheese on your flatbread): Peter, Bjorn & John “The Chills”, Lo-Fi Fnk “City”, Slagsmålsklubben, “Sponsered by Destiny” The Ark “Calleth You, Cometh I”, The Shout Out Louds “Impossible”, Abba “S.O.S.”...I know there are cooler bands out there, so please make me a mix/ tell me about them.
Margo Fortuny is a writer and artist based in New York and Madrid. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Exit, Flaunt, Buffalo Zine, Vice and Metal, and online at Dazed Digital and SHOWstudio.com.
She also writes short stories, scripts and comes up with award-winning apps and digital platforms. Check out her photography on Instagram @thefortunyverse and drawings: @margofortuny .
Send your thoughts and any writing assignments to pensforeverything (at) gmail.com .
All text and photographs are by Margo unless otherwise specified. Get in touch first if you'd like to use any images or excerpts.