Last year, on Tuesday, June 8th, I had an opportunity that I simply could not pass up. The opportunity was to meet Anthony Bourdain at a book signing at a Borders bookstore in lower Manhattan, where he was signing copies of his newest book called Medium Raw. Now, like many people I know, I have become a huge Anthony Bourdain fan, having first encountered him while watching the second season of of Top Chef (of which I am also now a huge fan) in 2006/07, just after we bought our house here in Beacon.

Anyway, here’s Anthony Bourdain.

So, hearing about the book signing, I made my way down to Borders that morning, excited to meet the one and only badass chef-turned-author in the flesh. On the way from the subway stop up Broadway, I even walked past another celebrity – CNBC financial analyst Jim Cramer

who was out on the street, right at the corner of Wall Street, doing a live segment there. But I don’t idol worship financial analysts. I kept on moving 🙂

Inside Borders, I purchased my copy of the book, and got directed to the room where the signings were to occur. There were already about twenty-five people ahead of me. The store staff, just before Bourdain arrived, were setting up and gave us slips of paper to write down our names if we wanted our book autographs personalized. Purchasing two books, one for me and one for my nephew, also a huge Bourdain fan, I certainly did. The staff also advised us about photos, saying that if we wanted a photo taken with Mr. Bourdain, they would take it using whatever camera we may have brought. That sounded good to me.

As I was waiting, I was skimming through the book itself – and it was an enjoyable read, as usual, filled with wit and honest opinions about food, restaurants, the food industry generally, and integrity vs. hype and commercialism. I laughed out loud, reading through it, when I got to the bit about McDonald’s and about his master plan to sabotage this fast food giant.

Finally, the room exploded in applause and cheers as Anthony Bourdain came walking in the room, wearing a Chicago Black Hawks T-Shirt under a blazer and sipping a bottle of Brooklyn Lager, to basically a hero’s welcome. The line toward him then started moving rather quickly.

Finally, my turn to shake the man’s hand and to get my picture taken.

A slightly awkward pose we me leaning against the book table and trying to get as close to Bourdain as possible without it being too awkward for either of us, I realize, but at least the photo has an “I was there” documentation quality to it 😉

Here, also, is what his inscription on my book copy looks like.

Also, even though this was clearly publicity work for Anthony Bourdain, he seemed to be enjoying himself and was very nice and friendly toward his fans. People were asking him various sorts of questions and he was answering them, occasionally jokingly. When it was my turn, I asked him whether he had recently visited the Jersey shore; he hadn’t. It would have great to be able to have an actual conversation with him, but that was clearly not what this event was all about.

One last bonus. Borders was also handing out coupons for 15% off a meal at Brasserie Les Halles, the restaurant where Anthony Bourdain had been the executive chef until fairly recently. Since the downtown location was very nearby, I had my lunch plan.

The lunch crowd was pretty busy when I walked in, but I was seated right away, happily, right at the bar. I also had a brief exchange with two young women who were also at the book signing and who were sitting right near me .I ordered a fairly simple lunch – the Moules and Frites lunch (a plate of mussels with a white wine, shallot and garlic sauce and a side of fries) and a beer. Very satisfying!

I managed to get one shot of the place, from my vantage point sitting at the bar.

After lunch, I did a bit of walking around the Wall Street area, which is also the location of the World Trade Center site. I thought I’d go check on the construction work taking place there.

It’s coming along, for sure.

I then decided, following this activity to get to the subway and to  spend a bit of time in one of my favorite New York City locations, the East Village.

It was a nice sunny day and I wanted to be able to take advantage of it. So, on to Astor Place

At Astor Place, walked past the famous cube sculpture (The Alamo), which was installed there back in 1967. The cube is also a popular gathering spot and thus good for people watching.

Then, heading east, toward St. Mark’s Place, where the street vendors were out selling their wares, including this guy offering used LPs for sale.

and past some street light poles covered in mosaic tiles. I had, on one other occasion, encountered the mosaic artist who does these. He’s an older, sort of hippie-looking guy, who likely lives nearby.

St. Marks Place is a small commercial strip, loaded with bars, restaurants, street vendors, a variety of shops and lots of history.

Lower Manhattan/the East Village is certainly an art filled place, so walking around is bound to lead you to lots of interesting pieces of public/street art, as well as landmark locations and expressions of local community culture which is something that certainly interests me. So here’s a bit more of what I encountered that day.

One spot, as I walked east down St. Mark’s Place were the buildings for 96 and 98 St. Marks; fans of classic rock might recognize this architecture as providing the base for the album cover for Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti LP or for the video location to the Rolling Stones’ “Waiting on a Friend.”

Also along St. Marks is the boutique shop called Trash and Vaudeville which has been around since the days of 1970s  punk and has supplied many a NYC band of aspiring rock stars with their performance wear.

As I got down to Avenue A, I walked over toward the Joe Strummer (from the Clash) mural, painted on the side of the Niagara Bar. The mural was later featured in a very touching tribute video to Joe Strummer, who passed away in 2002, and is set to his cover version of a great Bob Marley song.

Following this, a short walk through Tompkins Square Park.

Tompkins Square Park – a one time salt marsh turned city park, has had a long history and is a central gathering place for this neighborhood. There are usually families, chess players, dog walkers and musicians there during the day, and this day was no exception. I once watched an incredible salsa jam session there involving a group of Latino musicians who were joined by what appeared to be a young Japanese student guitarist who joined in. The park is also now a central location for the annual Howlfest, which celebrates the very rich cultural legacy of the Lower East Side of NYC. Anyway, here’s a video of the festival from one of its years.

Also – here’s some street/graffiti art from around the neighborhood.

Here’s an example, with the inspiration of my surroundings, of me trying to get a bit artsy in taking a kind of sociological photo of a gathering spot from inside a neighborhood Starbucks.

Finally, a visit to the East Village would probably not be complete with at least a quick stop at a community garden. There were two nearby, so I paid each a visit. These are remarkable places – some of which heavily reflect the very pronounced Latino legacy of “Loisada” –  that allow residents and visitors a connection to nature in the midst of so much urban space. So, like with Bourdain and his travels around the world, my afternoon spent in NYC  traversed culture and nature, a balance that I happen to really like.