Weekend Adventure: The East Coast Chamber Orchestra & Rescuing Cheesecake

The Announcer introducing the East Coast Chamber Orchestra at Washington Irving Highschool

The Orchestra

Saturday we attended a synagogue service and ran into an acquaintance of ours who had two tickets for an orchestral performance he wasn’t going to be able to attend. He didn’t want to waste them by throwing them out, so he gave the tickets to me and my wife. I imagine he wasn’t planning on attending because of the cold. We weren’t sure we were going to go either, but we’d never seen a live orchestral performance so we figured this was too good an opportunity to pass up. Bundling up and heading back downtown after warming back up at home was a great decision!

The Announcer introducing the East Coast Chamber Orchestra at Washington Irving Highschool
The Announcer introducing the East Coast Chamber Orchestra at Washington Irving Highschool

It was a great experience that we’re both looking forward to repeating in the future. There’s something about hearing classical music performed live that is electrifying in a way that mp3s just can’t convey. I suppose it has something to do with the huge crowd of people all being there for the same reason, seeing the exertion and passion the artists are pouring into their playing on the stage, and experiencing the energy in the room as the crowd claps and cheers after sets.

The chamber orchestra we saw is called the East Coast Chamber Orchestra. They were performing as part of the Arens series of the Peoples’ Symphony Concerts 2013-2014 season. ECCO is a string orchestra that plays without a conductor. The member that introduced the group said they take turns leading. I’m not sure how they do that, but they managed to pull it off extremely well.

The venue itself was odd, I thought, because it was in a high school, but Washington Irving High School’s lobby and performance hall is very attractive. It has an old style of architecture that is very classy. The seats were hard though. By about halfway through I wished I’d brought a cushion. I probably should have just folded my coat and sat on that.

The best part of the concert was when ECCO performed Virtuosity: Five Microconcertos for String Orchestra. The composer, David Ludwig, happened to be in attendance so he gave an introduction to the piece. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the music was very engaging and the artists’ performance was amazing.

The concert was eye opening for me and gave me a new appreciation for classical music. I suppose I had gotten used to the idea that complex and powerful music was something that could only be achieved with computers. We’ve been in New York City for about two years now, and we kept talking about going out to do something like this, something new, but because of our routines and schedules we never quite got around to it. So, we were introduced to an amazing new form of entertaining just by chance, because someone had extra tickets and couldn’t use them. Sometime soon, we’re going to have to go see the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Animal Rescue: Saving Cheesecake

After the concert, we walked over to Veniero’s Pasticceria on 11th Street and 1st Ave. We figured, why not finish off a great night with a great dessert and some a wine? It was getting late, though, so we got our order to go and got on the train. When we got home, we put the pastries in the fridge and went out with the dog to walk him. That’s when the evening took an unexpected turn.

We were walking past the narrow little alley next to our building where the next building over stores garbage between pick-up days. There was this orange cat sitting there in the snow, crying and pacing back and forth. The opening of the alley is blocked with a steel gate. I can only imagine the cat jumped down into the alley from behind the buildings and couldn’t get out. We couldn’t just leave him stuck there. If we did, he might have frozen to death. He was so pitiful and every time we talked to him he cried even more loudly.

I got on the phone with 911, because I expected them to send animal control. I figured, even if he goes to the shelter and runs the risk of being euthanized, that’s better than the cat dying of a combination of starvation, dehydration and hypothermia.

That call didn’t go quite as planned. I grew up with this idea in my head of firemen with ladders getting cats out of trees. I thought that was probably a little naive but at the last I thought they would send an animal control person with a ladder to get over the gate and get the cat out of the alley. The 911 operator instead transferred me to a “more appropriate agency for this situation” and I was disconnected before the call went through.

So, I called 311. After explaining the situation to the operator, she tried to transfer me back to 911 via a conference call, which ended with the 911 operator asking the 311 operator if she had any sense, since animal control issues are handled by 311. For some reason, the 311 operator was trying to pass off responsibility for doing her job onto 911. I literally had to threaten to report her to a local news station and the ASPCA as letting cats die of exposure because she was too lazy to do her job before she took the call seriously and agreed to submit the report and have police sent over to address the situation.

Keep in mind this was after midnight and I was on the phone for about 30 minutes, standing in the street, with it only being about 23 degrees outside.

Right about the time she finished taking my info and was about to submit the report, the cat made a loud yowling noise and launched himself vertically at the gate and managed to catch hold of the grating and haul himself to the top. He almost fell back in, but he eventually jumped down onto the sidewalk.

Cheesecake spending the night in our travel carrier in the bathroom.
Cheesecake spending the night in our travel carrier in the bathroom.

Of course, it didn’t end there. I couldn’t leave the cat in the cold. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep. So, I called to the cat and he followed me upstairs where I put him in the bathroom of our apartment. I dug a big animal carrier we have from our international move with our cats back to the US out of the closet and put the cat in it for the night.

Today we took him to New York City Animal Care and Control. We tried to get him into a few no-kill shelters, but all of the NK shelters in NYC are not accepting cats. So, we’ll keep up with his progress and try to make sure he doesn’t get euthanized, but at least he’s not freezing to death.

Cheesecake in the NYCAC&C during his intake process.
Cheesecake in the NYCAC&C during his intake process.
Cheesecake in the NYCAC&C during his intake process.
Cheesecake in the NYCAC&C during his intake process.

He is a very good cat. Very well behaved. I had my gloves on, but when I picked him up he didn’t even try to fight back. He seemed very happy just to be warm and to have something to eat and drink. According to my wife, he was very behaved at the shelter as well.

When the intake person asked for the cat’s name, my wife called him Cheesecake. So, now Cheesecake is in the shelter, going through a health assessment. I hope this turns out well.

This is just a frozen strawberry and a chunk of ice I found on the sidewalk. It seemed oddly out place.
This is just a frozen strawberry and a chunk of ice I found on the sidewalk. It seemed oddly out place.

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden (Photo Galleries)

Brooklyn Botanic Gardens Map
Brooklyn Botanic Gardens Map

Last month on the 29th my wife and I went to the Brooklyn Museum. Since we were there, we decided we should take a look at the Botanic Gardens, which are right next door. It wasn’t really the season for it. The place is supposed to be a lot nicer when all of the flowers and trees are all in bloom, but it was still a nice place to stop and look around. It’s quiet there. You can almost forget you’re in a city for a while. Some of the roses were still in bloom, which was nice, but I think my favorite part of the trip, which I unfortunately have no pictures of, is the Fragrance Garden. You get to walk around and touch different plants, each of which naturally produces strong fragrances like lemon and spearmint. The odor sticks to your fingers. It’s a great spot for kids and probably for blind people as well, and they had that in mind, because most of the signs in that area are in braille.

Grilled Squash and Zucchini Sandwich with Hummus
Grilled Squash and Zucchini Sandwich with Hummus
Butternut Squash Soup
Butternut Squash Soup

The food at the Botanic Garden was surprisingly good, even the butternut squash soup. It tasted real, if you know what I mean. Not that it necessarily was, but it was thick and was spiced just right. Expensive, though, just like all museum/park cafes. The next time we go, we want to take a picnic lunch to eat on the lawn under the trees. I’m not sure if it’s allowed, but this is one of those things where I don’t think I’d feel bad about it unless I got caught.

Now, for some photo galleries:

The Japanese Garden

The Cranford Rose Garden:

The Bonsai Trees:

Other parts of the Gardens:

Kuala Lumpur Trip: Day 2

Our second day in Kuala Lumpur was very fun, but also very tiring.

Our first stop of the day was the Batu Caves.  The Batu Caves are a Hindu temple that has been in use since the 1890s and is still a major tourist attraction today.  It is also still used for worship, especially during the holy festival of [insert festival name here] at the end of January.  This celebration draws about a million visitors over the course of three days.

When you approach the Batu Caves the first thing you’ll notice, likely before you even notice the entry arch decorated with Hindu gods, is the giant golden statue that stands at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the caves.  The thing is huge!

After that you might notice the monkeys.  When we first walked up to the stairs we saw a few hanging off the bars and walking on the concrete because people were feeding them.  As we began to ascend the stairs we realized that there were monkeys everywhere.  Some were fighting, some were begging, a few were playing, and we even saw one pair having wild monkey sex on the staircase handrail.  Ya, really.  Later, on the way down we also saw a monkey snatch a lady’s bag away from her to get the food inside.  They can be pretty mean when you have food and don’t give it to them.

The caves themselves are fairly impressive.  The statues weren’t anything we hadn’t seen already, except for the huge one out front, so we were mostly there to see the caves themselves.  When you get to the top of the stairs (there are 272) you’ll be at the entrance to the first cave.  You descend a short flight of stairs into the first chamber and then, when you’re done looking around, you walk up another flight of steps to the next area.  I wouldn’t quite call the next spot a cave since it’s completely open to the air on top.  It’s very cool to look at though.

What disappointed me about the Batu Caves is that they’re in a serious state of disrepair.  I’m not sure what’s going on in there, but the edges were all littered with garbage.  The lower portions of the walls were also covered with graffiti.  I also noticed that a lot of the small stalagmites within arm’s reach were broken off.  I wonder if they were broken into pieces and sold to pilgrims in the past?  Regardless, it makes the lower portions of the caves look really cheap and filthy.  Don’t let that discourage you from going though.  The upper portions are still really nice.  Click through on the photos for a better look.

Oh, and be careful on your way down!  The stairs are very small and steep!

After leaving the Batu Caves we went back to the guest house we were staying at and relaxed for a while.  Those stairs are tiring!  It had started raining too, and who wants to walk around in that?

After a few hours we got back up and went to Bukit Bintang.  We had no clue what was there, but saw it listed as a place tourists should visit so we stopped to check it out.  It was only a few stops away from Chow Kit on the monorail.  It looks like a small version of Singapore’s Orchard Road.

Across the street from where you exit the monorail is a very posh mall called Lot 10, which was almost completely deserted.  The place didn’t seem all that popular.  I wasn’t surprised.  The stores there all seemed to carry very high end items that most people wouldn’t want to be bothered with anyway.

The one cool place we did see there was Jackie Chan’s tea and coffee cafe.  Jackie Chan must like his tea and coffee with a little kick because there were bottles of Grey Goose vodka lining one side of the bar.  Other than the fact that the place had Jackie Chan’s name on it, the couches you sit on are incredibly luxurious.  The bottom portion is very long, so you remove your shoes, climb up, lean back and relax.  Each sitting area has a set of small tables that swivel so you can arrange them the way that’s comfortable for you.

The mall across the street, called Suleng Wang (sp?) was jam packed with people.  It’s huge too.  You wouldn’t be able to tell from the outside but there are hallways running off from the central area that seem to go on forever.  It was definitely the more popular of the two malls and it was so packed it was hard to walk around without having to constantly sidestep people.  I got the impression it was a popular hangout location.

By the way, what’s up with KFC in Malaysia?  There was a KFC in Suleng Wang mall that was huge and it seemed like there was a KFC at every monorail stop.

On the bottom floor of the main area there was a small manga event for what seemed to be local artists.  There were black dividers set up with manga storyboards on display.  There was a stage with figure cutouts, a case with manga style swords, and booths selling manga and merchandise.  I’ll post more about it tomorrow, including photos of girls in maid cosplay!

We spent about 4 hours wandering around the Bukit Bintang area.  It seems to be a major shopping hub.  We saw another mall that I can’t remember the name of that was full of electronics stores.  If you’re from Singapore, think Sim Lim but with the looks of Tampines 1.

After that, it was about 10pm so we took the monorail back to Chow Kit station where we kicked back and relaxed in the guest house for a while.  We wound up going back out at around midnight for more satay!

More tomorrow!