We tend to avoid New York City in the summer. The place may be a summer
festival, but the weather is simply East Coast summer which means hot
and sticky. This year, we just couldn't weasel out of it, so we made an
early September trip, and we loaded up on urban summer gear, including
a pair of remarkable Cool Vests.
These are rip stop nylon vests loaded with cold packs, but not the food
cooling kind. These cold packs were made from modified chicken fat, or
so we were told, and they kept one cool, not frigid. The only downside
was that we couldn't take the subway. Wearing a padded vest on a hot
day does make one look like a bit like a suicide bomber. Instead, we
took taxis, and even then we had to explain our vests to at least one
As it turned out, we were lucky with the weather. The temperature
didn't get out of the mid-80s, which means it wasn't much worse than
one of the outer rings of hell. The humidity was also moderated, so we
didn't have that step out into a wall of steam effect that we associate
with Queensland and New Hampshire. The vests don't keep one from
feeling the heat, but they do keep one from suffering from it, and they
lived up to their advertising well. We got a bit over two prime hours
of cooling and then another half hour or so before meltdown. They chill
with ice water in the sink at the hotel, and many restaurants would
just pop them in the freezer for us while we ate. These vests are
definitely in our urban wardrobe now.
Thanks to our protective environmental gear we were able to wander
around a bit, including a nice long walk
along the Hudson River where a really fine park is emerging.
They've cleared out a lot of construction gear along the route, so the
views are better than ever. Down at the Battery, we got to see Oudolf's Memorial Garden
in full bloom, or perhaps in full awn. Oudolf uses a lot of grasses in
his gardens to create a broad tapestry of colors and textures. They are
pretty enough in the winter, but in the summer, the grasses are in
blossom, and the effect is quite spectacular.
We also checked out Madison Square Park which was overrun by the U.S.
Tennis Open coverage including a giant television showing the match and
refreshments from Danny Meyer's Shake Shack and from his Tabla which is right across the street.
was a cultural trip, so we walked up to the American Museum of Natural History and
saw their new dinosaur exhibit which emphasizes the new research
techniques being used by paleontologists. Radioactive dating is old
hat. Researchers are now using GPS tracking, CAT cross sectional
scanning, finite element analysis, and environmental reconstruction to
learn not just the beasts themselves, but how they lived. Figuring out
how a dinosaur moved requires understanding bones and linkages and
energy budgets. The dinosaurs didn't have magical muscles. They used
chemical power just as we do. They also didn't drag their tails, or we
would have found tail tracks, and their footprints reveal how they
walked and how they congregated.
We were particularly impressed by a number of Chinese fossils, many of
which revealed distinct skin and feather patterns. We had seen pictures
of some of these in magazines, but there is nothing quite like pressing
one's nose against the glass and marveling at the 100,000,000 some odd
year old feather prints in stone. Some of the skin puckered like
ostrich skin, just like the skin on the Hans
Koch bag we were carrying, though the evidence was still out as to
whether dinosaurs were ever chartreuse.
day we trooped uptown to the Extreme Materials
exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. This is a design oriented
museum, so a lot of the exhibits are a bit esoteric for us, but we are
interested in materials technology. After all, this is the golden age
of materials science. In truth, the exhibit was fun, and they did
gather a lot of neat materials and even let us touch and play with some
of them. It lacked a bit from our point of view since it was almost
completely usage oriented. The exhibit explained what the fabrics could
do and how they could be used, but didn't talk much about how they were
made and how they worked as materials. Still, it was fascinating, and
we could fill in many of the blanks from our outside knowledge.
We stayed at the
Sheraton St. Regis figuring that it was worth burning down some of our
Starwood points now that the Essex House, our favorite Starwood
property in New York City, was being sold to Jumeirah, a Dubai based
chain and the operators of the Wild Wadi Water Park, which sounds kind
of neat. We are sort of wondering if Sheraton is planning to sell the
St. Regis itself. The hotel sort of had that disinvestment feel that
one gets when the main corporation is losing interest in the property.
The service was as good as ever, but the remodeling in progress lacked
a certain sense of place. The St. Regis has been a flagship property
since the 1930s, and our first stay back in the early 80s was rather
unpleasant, what with the loud party next door and all the marijuana
smoke blowing under the door.
Its most recent incarnation in the 1990s was quite impressive, but it
is always a bad sign when they put a canopy over the head of the bed.
We know that this may sound romantic, especially if you are fond of
drapes, but we remember the Stanford Court in San Francisco among
others going the canopy route and things flowing downhill from there.
Consider the St. Regis. The draping of the canopy made it hard to read
using the bedside lamps. To fix this, they put in a weird snake-like
lighting system with a brightly glowing box at the base and two long
light pipes running out of it at the head of the bed. We never could
figure out how to use it, and the fact that the base unit had been
pulled out of the wall by brute force before we arrived suggested that
some previous occupant of the room had similar problems.
Our criteria for a hotel are rather simple. At night, when we sleep, we
like it to be cool, dark and quiet. There are hotels that can do this
for $50 a night, and there are those that cannot do this for $500. In
fact, our first stay at the St. Regis was as refugees from the Four
Seasons which did not run its air conditioning plant during the
shoulder season. The St. Regis does do quiet very well. If you are on a
high floor or away from the street, the triple glazed windows keep out
most of the noise of the urban canyons.
It used to do dark and cool very well, but this trip it shows signs of
slipping. The new air conditioning controller arbitrarily stops the
cooling at 65F which means insufficient drying during the shoulder
season. It was almost cool enough, but way too humid in the room. If
they had simply let us set the cooling on maximum, that is, cool until
the room is as cool as the cooling water, we would have been fine.
The real prize is the new lighting system. This consists of from six to
eight LEDs located around the room and a new room lighting control
system that is not quite there yet. We always travel with duct tape, so
we were able to block out the TV controller LED, the room light LED,
the "Do Not Disturb" LED and a host of others. Unfortunately, there was
that snake-like lamp we never figured out, and several times it turned
itself on around two o'clock in the morning waking us.
made our obligatory trip to Kalustyan's
and bought all sorts of herbs and spices, including some dried
Christmas lima beans, candied anise, za-atar, Indian Chinese mirch,
Italian farro and La Perdida paella rice. Mirch is a chili spice mix
associated, we gather, with Chinese food in India. We also discovered
that barhi dates were ripe and bought a few twigs of them. The fresh
ones were crunchy and a bit astringent, but they get much sweeter as
they ripen, and they ripen rather suddenly.
We also tried out two new restaurants, Cru and Esca. We didn't actually
eat at Cru, though we did try, but we did have three of our meals at
Esca. With Cru, the problem was with the structure of the menu, though
we are going to give it another go. Esca, an amazing Italian fish
restaurant, has turned into our favorite Italian restaurant in New York
City. Read our reviews of Esca and Cru to find out more.
This isn't to say that all we do in New York is go to museums, sleep in
our hotel, shop in stores, and walk around in Cool Vests. We also saw a
couple of plays, visited family, and came home exhausted with a two
week sleep deficit. Despite the physical toll, we had a great time, but
CoolVests or no CoolVests, we are going to come back when it's cooler.