Sunday, February 5, 2017

279. Village Shops: Chocolate High Heels, Tibetan Singing Bowls, Himalayan Salt, and 1970's Jumpsuits

         For me and my books, and the whole sordid story in a nutshell, click here.

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         The West Village is full of little shops, many of them unique, that make shopping here great fun, and show the varied tastes and interests of New Yorkers.  I’ll start with one I have never set foot in, and for good reason: it sells chocolates, and I don’t want to be tempted.  This is Li-Lac (“Chocolates since 1923”), which exists at five locations in the city, the one I know being at 40 Eighth Avenue, only a few short blocks from my apartment.  It boasts of being founded in 1923, when George Demetrious, a Greek chocolatier trained in Paris, came to the U.S. and opened a small shop here in Greenwich Village; today it’s still going strong, given the almost universal human urge to devour chocolate.

         I often pass by the store and see its seasonally appropriate displays in the window: a jumbo turkey ten inches high for Thanksgiving; chocolate Santas for Christmas; heart-shaped boxes of chocolates for Valentine’s Day; chocolate Easter Bunnies for Easter; I’m not sure what for July 4; and witches holding out a tray of chocolate goodies and asking, “Sweets, my pretty?” for Halloween.  In my naiveté I used to think the giant Santas and turkeys were cardboard imitations, but glossy Li-Lac literature that comes to me in the mail assures me that they are for-real solid edifices of chocolate, available for a price: the jumbo turkey (4½ pounds of gourmet chocolate that can feed 35 people) for a mere $75.  Also available are life-size chocolate high heels (yes, that’s what I said: high heels) for $46, a life-size chocolate soccer ball for $75, and a chocolate chess set likewise for $75.  Though I’ve never entered the store, I have sampled its offerings, for our friend John used to bring my partner Bob and me little balls of chocolate that matched his budget: a dollar each, but delicious.  So if you want handmade specialty gifts in chocolate, or just ordinary little runt-sized chocolates, Li-Lac is the place to go.  And their goodies are kosher certified, too.

         A  store that I frequent regularly is Integral Yoga, my health-food store, at 227 West 13th Street, which in 2016 celebrated its fiftieth year, having opened in 1966, when the neighborhood – now scrubbed-up and safe --  was a ma gnet for drunks and drugs.  When I was first initiating myself into the mysteries of vegan dining, I would walk slowly past the entrance and peer in, without quite having the nerve to penetrate the arcane precincts of this mysterious emporium.  Finally, having taken some courses in vegan cooking that acquainted me with the basics of a vegan diet – whole grains, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), fruits and vegetables, and sea vegetables – I dared to venture in, and have been venturing there ever since.  Integral Yoga has given me foods that in my young years in the Midwest I didn’t even know existed: kale, collards, pinto beans, chickpeas, chard, granola, tofu, tempeh, kombu, arame, millet, bulgur wheat, quinoa, and countless others.  Without instruction I would never have known that sea vegetables – these dried-up, skinny-looking tangles of fibers – would expand and soften into delicious edibles, once soaked briefly in water.  Nor would I have known that tofu, a bland food much maligned and scorned by the foes of vegan dining, could become delicious if properly prepared and seasoned.  But in time I learned that these exotic foods, and organic versions of familiar ones, could be made into tasty feasts every bit as satisfying as the conventional meat dishes of most Americans.   And all this is offered with a 10% discount for seniors and students.

         And right next to the food store is the Integral Yoga Institute, where I have rarely ventured.  Available there are books galore on appropriate subjects (meditation, yoga, etc.), not to mention classes in chanting, healing, breathing, massage, gongs, drums, Tibetan singing bowls, and Ayurvedic medicine.  There are even sessions in shamanic womb healing; laughter and sound healing meditation; and “Chair, Chi and Prana: Multidimensional You.”  If all that is too much for you, keep in mind the slogan on the wall of the food store: TRUTH  IS  ONE / PATHS  ARE  MANY.  I’ll admit that I’ve confined myself to a vegan diet, and simple yoga exercises with a touch of meditation.  Putting me off just a bit is a brochure for a workshop on nutrition and yoga, with the healer’s picture flashing a beatific smile that I find just this side of insipid – all that health and happiness stretched from ear to ear.  Which probably shows my unenlightened Western mind, feeding my body appropriately while starving my spirit.  I’m convinced that laughter heals and that Tibetan singing bowls do wonders, but I’m not quite ready to face a Multidimensional Me, having my hands full with my current one-dimensional me.

         A Village store of a different kind is the pet portrait store at 545 Hudson Street, where the proprietor, Mimi Vang Olsen, holds forth, usually busy painting a commissioned pet portrait inspired by a photograph, while listening to opera on the radio.  I went there several times with my friend John, who, having recently been hosted by a friend with felines, wanted to buy a thank-you card featuring cats; in the back of the store are numerous dog- and cat-themed cards.  The front door is always locked, but once a quick glance reassures her, Ms. Vang Olsen opens it and welcomes you warmly.  As for her last name, her husband is Danish, though she herself grew up in the West Bronx in the 1940s, the daughter of an Armenian immigrant who had a portrait-photography business.  So if you want your pooch or tabby immortalized, this is the place to go.

          Another store, quite unique, at 523 Hudson Street, just a short ways south (downtown) from Mimi’s, is The Meadow, where I was taken last fall by a young friend who used to live in the West Village.  The name may invoke a weedy field full of summer wildflowers, but in fact the Meadow specializes in salt.  Yes, salt – every kind you can imagine.  In the front of the store are salt blocks of every size, ranging from small ones at $5.00 up to big blocks at $50.00.  Why one would want blocks of salt of any size or price eluded me, but my young friend assured me that he used salt blocks in cooking. 

         Further enlightenment came to me from the Internet, where The Meadow’s website urges viewers to throw away their table salt, and save their kosher salt for de-icing the sidewalk; gourmet salts, it insists, are infinitely preferable, each kind working in a different kind of cooking.  So here I am again, an unenlightened initiate – or non-initiate – peeking into another realm of mystery, of which the West Village seems to offer a profusion, whether we’re talking about chocolate or tofu or Himalayan salt.  And far in the back of the store, for a note of contrast, is an offering of bitters, since what salt is to food, bitters are to cocktails – a few dashes adding depth and complexity to a drink.  One can leave The Meadow anticipating tasty food and zesty drinks.

         Finally, I’ll end with a store I’ve never set foot in, and only recently heard about, but whose name intrigues me: Screaming Mimi’s.   And what do you suppose it purveys?  Rock music?  Parrots?  Unmuzzled prostitutes?  Wrong, wrong, and wrong.   It has vintage clothing like you couldn’t find anywhere else.  But what would you want with out-of-date apparel?  Stuff for theme parties: a 1920s wedding, a 1980s prom, a 1940s bar mitzah – or any period event you can invent.  And many consider its racks and racks of clothing, and tables adorned with hats, as the ultimate in cool.  Fashion students drop in, and costume and fashion designers come by for inspiration.  And where else would you find a “Cape” section or one labeled “1970’s Jumpsuits”?  It’s all there at its new address, 240 West 14th Street, the parlor floor of a brownstone between Seventh and Eighth Avenues (nearer Eighth), between a liquor store and a nail salon, where it took refuge after gentrification chased it out of its former location on Lafayette Street.  Alas, the purple banner with bold white lettering that proclaimed SCREAMING MIMI’S on Lafayette Street is not in evidence.  Instead, if you look up at the front parlor window, you see a sign:

What the world needs is

Who can argue with that?  But to experience love in the form of vintage clothing, you have to climb a steep brownstone stoop, but since when has accessing the good life been easy?  And by the way, who is Mimi?  No idea; the proprietor goes by the name of Laura.

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          BROWDERPOMES:  For two new poems of mine, on ninny serene versus deep, and proverbs for the wicked, click here and scroll down to pp. 34 and 35.

For my short poem “I Crackle” and a stunning photo of me, go here

For five acceptable poems, click here and scroll down.  

To avoid five terrible poems, don't click here.  

For my poem "The Other," inspired by the Orlando massacre, click here.  

          BROWDERBOOKS:  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World, my selection of posts from this blog, has received these awards: the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016.  For the Reader Views review by Sheri Hoyte, go here.  As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), my historical novel about a young male prostitute in the late 1860s in New York who falls in love with his most difficult client, is likewise available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

         Coming soon:  Anyone’s guess.  Maybe a reprint of a relevant earlier post.

         ©   2017   Clifford Browder


  1. Hi Mr. Browder,

    I am a history PhD student working on a project on Madame Restell. I have a question about Anna Maria Purdy's deposition. Could I contact you via email? I would very much appreciate your help.

    Many thanks,

    1. Hello, Caitlin! I just caught up with my comments and found yours. My e-mail: Feel free to contact me.