Kinokuniya Books, one of our favorite places

Kinokuniya Books next to Bryant Park in Manhattan is really great. It’s full of all sorts of books, magazines, and stationery that you won’t find anywhere else, at least outside of Japan. It’s inspiring to go there because you’ll always find something new to catch your eye.

Their first floor is full of English language novels, some Japanese cookbooks in English, and some unique graphic design books and things, but I’m going to skip over all that for now, since it’s stuff that you can mostly find in the library or another bookstore.

The basement is full of really unique magazines. Compared to your usual bookstore, they have a ton of options with a guy’s aesthetic, on topics from music, to fashion, to interior design.

The basement floor has books for learning Japanese and Japanese culture. There’s also books in Japanese for learning foreign languages.

The top floor is Japanese and English language manga, graphic novels, and books on illustration. They also have a Studio Ghibli section, as well as those collectible anime figurines, if that’s your thing.

If you’re a frequent customer, they have a $20 annual membership that gives you 10% off purchases and access to periodic 20% off members only events. It includes periodic gift certificate “rebates” and in our case has already paid for itself.

Finding weird and wonderful album covers

Since I just repaired our turntable I’ve been going to record stores to expand our collection. So far Princeton Record Exchange (PRX) in Princeton, NJ and Generation Records here in New York have been my favorites. PRX is well worth the trip if you’re starting a collection because they have so many classics for under $10 and Generation has a great budget jazz section and some unique stuff on the walls.

In some cases, I’ve taken a chance and bought great music and at other times just took photos of odd and interesting covers that I didn’t buy. Here are some photos from the last few weeks:

Looking at construction through the “Kyle windows”

Paola calls these “Kyle windows”. I’m always poking my nose in these clear plexiglass diamonds to see what’s going on beyond the green plywood barriers. Construction is fascinating and I think it brings out the little kid in all of us.

My theory is that these windows have been put there for liability reasons so that curious people like myself will know what they’re getting into before they decide to jump over the top of the wall and explore. I could be wrong.

Anyway, here are some photos of a backhoe and other adults enjoying the view of the giant hole in the ground that will soon be One Vanderbilt, adjacent to Grand Central Terminal.

Volkswagen Beetles Live on in Mexico

Since I was a kid, I’ve always liked the VW Beetle: small, cartoon-like, and iconic of ’60s culture and music that I grew up with, thanks to my parents. I was further fascinated when, back in college, I found that the Beetle was produced in Mexico all the way up through the millenium, with production ending with the 2004 model year. In fact, a version of the original Beetle was exported to Europe after production ended in Germany!

The Beetle Sedán, known as the vocho in Mexico, was also produced in Brazil for the Brazilian market through the 1990s. This led me to write a class paper comparing industrial policy in Mexico and Brazil through the lens of the Beetle, which you might as well take a look at, since I still had it saved. It’s actually fairly fascinating, if you like history and Cold War-era politics, though you’ll have to trust me. Read it here.

There are thousands, if not millions, of these old Beetles still circulating in Mexico, thanks to skilled mechanics, cheap replacement parts, and the car’s practicality. When I first went to Mexico, I remember being told that you can get a reconditioned engine swapped out in your VW for the equivalent of $250 US.

Passing through the mountains on the way back to Mexico City from Tepoztlán, where many of these photos were taken, in some towns half the vehicles on the streets were vochos. It turns out the engines handle the hills better than other vehicles in their class, so they’ve clustered in towns with steep inclines.

When I first came to Mexico, in 2007, they were ubiquitous as taxis, though now are entirely phased out due to emissions restrictions and safety concerns. In the face of progress, it’s surprising to me to see the vocho‘s staying power. Nostalgia and usefulness mix as this workhorse of a vehicle powers on through another decade.

The photos included below are a collection from our last trip to Mexico City and surrounding towns.

A Walk on 36th Street

Thirty-sixth street in Manhattan is dim and hurried on a warm December evening. It isn’t neon-lit like Kerouac’s Greenwich Village or illuminated by billboards like Times Square a few steps uptown. Cutting across Midtown only two blocks north of the lights and consumer glitz of thirty-fourth street, it is tame in comparison to the shopping  and tourist districts alongside it.

These photos are hastily framed, reflective of their surroundings. Unlike the slow-moving crush of Times Square where photography is expected, the solitary homeward-bound commuters walking briskly around me on the narrow sidewalk and the countdown of the walk timer on the wide avenues rush the point-and-shoot routine.

Certain colors repeat: the green of streetlights, particleboard construction barriers, Christmas trees, and greenery surviving through the mild pre-frost Fall weather; the glint of fluorescence, headlights, and shimmering asphalt.