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The Global Gourmet

Times Square: A Piazza It Ain't

Times_square_dt
Public square face off: Siena's Piazza del Campo vs. New York City's Times Square
Photos: Michele Ferretti (Siena) and nickdigital (NYC) on Flickr using Creative Commons

by Clive Irving

New York City's Times Square is a misnomer. It never has been a square, in either form or function. It's okay, if you wish, to call it the Crossroads of the World, although that too is grandiose. Occasionally, on New Year's Eve or to mark epochal events like the end of a world war, it is appropriated for mass celebrations. Otherwise, it's a traffic intersection. This week, however, Mayor Mike Bloomberg has cleared a section of Broadway of traffic in an attempt to create an urban space where people can sit and . . . do what, exactly? Stare at one or two nice old buildings and a lot more really ugly newer ones? Nice of them to provide some cheap lawn chairs, but this is so not a square.

A square, or piazza, or plaza, should be a place where cafés and bars line each side, where people-watching is the great sport, where every current of a city's life meets, converses, flirts, and is inspired to flights of philosophy and fancy. Somewhere, for example, like the Piazza del Campo, in Siena, that jewel of a Tuscan city. As you approach the Campo from a curving side street, long before you see it you can hear the hum. It's not traffic. It's the light, gaseous exhaling of pleasured voices and laughter wafting to the heavens. It's everything a real square should be, and then some.

To be fair to New York, there is a very handsome public space only a block east of Times Square, Bryant Park. It too is a confluence of activities--people eating snacks, sharing stories, and gazing across an expansive lawn. There's even an old-time carousel for kids to ride. But it is not a square.

So, as I gaze down from the offices of Condé Nast Traveler on the lawn chairs in Times Square and despair at the sight, I invite you, dear reader, to send in your own pictures of favorite squares, piazzas, and plazas from your travels so that we may remind ourselves (and Mayor Bloomberg) of what composes a true public space. Upload your photos to the Condé Nast Traveler Flickr Pool. Or go ahead and e-mail your pix to thinkagain@condenast.com. We will publish some of our favorites on the Daily Traveler in the days to come.

The Global Gourmet

In Wine, Beware of Rare

Tres Picos
A good kind of "rare" wine.

by Clive Irving

One of the most deceptive terms used for a wine is "rare." You can usually find the word being deployed at two extremes: the expensive and the affordable. One of the world's greatest wines, Romanée-Conti, is rare because its vineyard is less than four and a half acres in size and produces only about 450 cases of unequaled pinot noir a year. A bottle of the 2005 vintage could set you back a cool $9,500. To die for, literally: One sip and you've gone to heaven.

At the cheap end, you can find wines that are rare not because of small acreage but simply because few people know of them. But beware the kind of hype you find--for example--on an airline wine list with this kind of language: "The Pecksniff family has been cultivating this small vineyard in Amador County for six generations, producing a Zinfandel rich in mineral power, a real find." Translated, that means the wine buyer has been able to get 400 cases at a bargain price.

It is heartening to find a wine that is still relatively under the radar and yet notably full of local character. The Campo de Borja region in northeastern Spain was given an official denomination in 1980, but nobody noticed until recently. The Global Gourmet enjoyed a bottle of the 2005 vintage with the Tres Picos label last year in Valencia. Recently, he introduced the 2007 vintage at two small gatherings in the offices of Condé Nast Traveler, to much acclaim. One sign that the wine maker is serious about the condition of his product is the weight of the bottle itself: It has the heft of a gold-plated Burgundy's bottle, despite what this must add to the shipping costs. The deep, dark wine is an astonishingly deft mingling of fruit, spice, and tannins that delivers the finest qualities of the grape, Garnacha (otherwise known as Grenache). Even better is the price: between $14 and $16 a bottle. For the 2007 Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha Campo de Borja, see klwines.com.

Further reading:
* The Global Gourmet talks Bordeaux
* Catch of the Day: International noshables

The Global Gourmet

A Pissoir by Any Other Name

Urinal_rising_dt
The Urilift emerges.

by Clive Irving

The Global Gourmet served his apprenticeship in the art of eating and drinking in the Paris of the early 1950s. Only six or seven years after World War II, family-run restaurants were numerous, cheap, and devoted to classic French cooking. Six- or seven-course dinners, with several bottles of good wine, were normal. Something else also seemed integral to the city's nocturnal amenities--the pissoir. Facing a long ride home on the Métro, many a replete gourmand found relief in these street urinals, which were part of the urban iconography along with magazine-vending kiosks and the Art Deco subway stations.

Now, like the cheap restaurants, the pissoir has become a scarce relic of less-sophisticated times. So it was with some surprise that the Global Gourmet discovered that the pissoir has been reincarnated in a new, high-tech form called, mysteriously, the Urilift.

Strolling through Smithfield, London's still fully functioning meatpacking district, he encountered a small excavation in progress. A sign announced the imminent arrival of a Urilift. Further research revealed this to be a retractable street urinal. It rises from a cavity at night and retracts at dawn, leaving no trace except a circular panel embedded in the pavement.

The Urilift, say its makers, "is the underground solution to indiscriminate urination." Smithfield, like the old Les Halles district of Paris, is a nexus of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. In other words, a serious challenge to peripatetic (and indiscriminate) bladders. The Urilift can accommodate three patrons at a time, and in the case of "people who may have trouble with their co-ordination" is generous in its drainage and hygienic in its disposal methods.

The name is awful, isn't it?  Given the technology, it should be renamed the iPissoir. For a complete account of the device's rationale and gifts, go to Urilift.com and watch the video.  No kidding. 

Further reading:
* The Global Gourmet on London's Modern Pantry
* Clive explores the unique chemistry of Europe's most innovative architecture ("The Fame In Spain," January 2008)


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