Friday, November 19, 2021
Today was a travel day, on Jetblue from San Diego to NYC, the first day of 3+ weeks of vacation. This time had been consecrated to a total solar eclipse in the Southern Ocean and a 3 week long return with Greg to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic peninsula, which was indirectly derailed by Covid-related issues.
We had thought, since all passengers and staff would be vaccinated, that our trip would be a go, so this news, coming in late September when we were in NY, was a surprise:
“Amidst continuing uncertainties, we regret that we must cancel this voyage. We understand and certainly share your disappointment about this; no one wants to operate more than we do. Compounding this, quarantine restrictions imposed by the Falkland Islands would have forced us to create an awkward itinerary for this cruise that we feel is less than ideal and does not meet our standards for delivering an exceptional experience.”
We could reschedule to later in the season, with a 20% discount, but for us, having such a large block of time off at such short notice is virtually impossible. We quickly considered a variety of options, including Iceland for ice caves and aurora, as well as diving in Florida, combined with Art Basel, but ultimately decided on a return to Paris, after a long hiatus, 6 years. Reports from summer to fall from Cindy and Gerry , Vivian and Joe, Margie and Mike and Mayde and Jon encouraged us. We ended up deciding on using New York as a springboard to Paris, the better to deal with jet lag and much cheaper as two round trips (a trip within a trip) than as a multi-city itinerary. Our final week would be relaxing in Arizona.
My American in Paris friend Patricia, who was so helpful preparing for this trip, recommended Alexander Lobrano’s My Place at the Table. which I continued reading on the flight. He is an American food critic and long-time Paris resident whose prior work, Hungry for Paris, I had hugely enjoyed. My Place at the Table grabbed me immediately with its autobiographical tales and conversational tone. He recalls his upbringing in Connecticut and culinary education as a young free-lance writer finding his way in Paris and life.
I also had a chance to nearly finish watching Mare of Easttown, starring Kate Winslet as a detective in a small Pennsylvania town where everyone knows everyone else, investigating a series of disappearances and murders of young women. I had watched 4+ episodes on the plane back to San Diego from NY in late September and had wanted to know what happened ever since.
Once installed in the apartment, we hit the pavement in search of food. We walked past Kaia but were discouraged by the cold from sitting outside and by the hubbub from inside. I was thrilled to discover Drunken Monkey was still in business. We sat at the bar, shared a green mango and cucumber salad, with chicken biryani (served in a bowl with a naan cover) and short ribs with haricot verts and mashed potatoes. Aviator and Pimm’s cup cocktails smoothed our travel day edges.
Saturday, November 20, 2021
Having a timed entry for 10 am at the nearby Jewish Museum ensured we were up at a timely hour. What prompted this visit was an exhibit designed around the netsuke collection highlighted in the The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, one of my bookclub’s selections which we listened to together years back. The author tells the story of an extraordinary Jewish family, the Ephrussis, who rose from being grain merchants in Odessa to banking impresarios in Vienna, only to be scattered and their possessions confiscated when the Nazis rose to power. The tiny, intricate carvings from Japan were acquired by Charles Ephrussi as a collection when he lived in Paris, where he was an influential art collector and critic, on whom Proust modeled the character of Swann in In Search of Lost Time.
When his cousin married in Vienna, the collection was sent in a glass vitrine as a wedding present. Housed in the wardrobe of Emmy, her children were allowed to play with the figures as she was being costumed to attend social functions. Emmy’s maid, Anna, was able to smuggle out the collection in her coat, a few pieces at a time, as the Nazis were occupied dismantling the family’s furniture and art collections.
It’s a fascinating story of an extraordinary family, for which scattered paintings formerly in Charles’ collection have been united with family mementos in an exhibition designed by Elizabeth Diller of the architecture firm Diller Scofodio.
A tall spectacled familiar silhouette appeared at my elbow as I was listening to the commentary, our San Diego friend Cliff! Once again, we were catching Cliff and John on their last day in New York of this stay, as they were leaving the next day for Washington, D.C. for their annual Thanksgiving family reunion.
We were surprised to find Russ and Daughters downstairs closed-possibly permanently from the look of it-so walked with Cliff and John a few blocks south to Eli’s for brunch.
We had plenty of time when we parted to walk to the theater district, but the autumn leaves were so colorful and the crisp cold day so sunny and special that we dawdled and just managed to slip into our seats for the 2 pm matinee of Girl from the North Country with but minutes to spare. This Depression era drama, written and directed by Conor McPherson, makes use of songs from Bob Dylan’s catalog to highlight the loneliness of the characters and despair of the era. It takes place in a run-down boarding house, run by Nick Laine (Jay O. Sanders) who tries to keep it together, tending to his family as well as a variety of down-on-their-luck guests. His wife Elizabeth (Mare Winningham) is a little off, prone to lapses and sudden and startling outbursts. Their adopted daughter Marianne (Kimber Elayne Sprawl) is pregnant. The transitory addition of Joe Scott (played by handsome, tall Austin Scott, who formerly played the title role in Hamilton) into the household makes for a volatile mix.
A stop at the midtown Proper Cloth saw Steve being measured for custom fitted pants. Our final touchdown was for dinner at a Persian restaurant, Persepolis, on the UES (subsequently, we obtained recommendations from our friend Yasi, for Sofreh in Brooklyn and Razagh on the UES).
By then, our feet were feeling beat up. Back at the apartment, we cued up a documentary which was touching and funny, despite its name, Dick Johnson is Dead, in which filmmaker Kirsten Johnson chronicles, with her father’s cheerful participation, his later life decline and imminent mortality by enacting possible (and sometimes outrageous) scenarios of his future death.
Sunday, November 21, 2021
We walked a lot today, starting before 10 am, heading through north Central Park up Malcolm X Blvd (6th Avenue) to just beyond 125th Street to Red Rooster for an 11 am brunch with Sarah and Aaron. We shared starters of collard greens, corn bread and deviled eggs, before tucking into glazed roasted cauliflower and shrimp and grits.
Afterwards, we checked out the Harriet Tubman Memorial a few blocks away, at 122cd Street and Adam Clayton Powell, a work by Alison Saar, whose stained glass pieces had caught my attention back in the summer at the Metro North Station at 125 Street. This commercial thoroughfare had occupied my mind since finishing and discussing in my most recent bookclub Colson Whitehead’s Harlem Shuffle. Ray Carney is a seemingly respectable businessman operating a furniture store in the 1960s on 125th Street. He also does some less than legitimate work on the side.
Steve and I walked south through Central Park, me heading to the Metropolitan Opera for Porgy and Bess, he heading back to the Jewish Museum for their stolen art exhibition.
Our friend and opera lover Les had told me I would love it and he was right. The lead roles were sung by bass-baritone Eric Owens (Porgy) and soprano Angel Blue (Bess).
Tenor Frederick Ballentine was irresistible as the scoundrel Sportin’ Life . The other scoundrel in Bess’ life, Crown, was sung by Alfred Walker. After noticing during the first half that I was missing some of the lyrics, despite it being sung in English and being familiar with the music, I made use of the sub-titles in English available in the back of the seat in front of me.
My feet were glad for me to be seated for 3.5 hours for the performance, before heading back north again on Columbus to meet Steve, Ted, Yasi and their sons Liam and Theo for dinner at Flame, a hibachi joint near them on the UWS. Seated in our area was an attractive black couple and a family of 4, including a birthday boy named Daniel Joseph, which as it turned out, was also the name of the African-American man as well. We enjoyed our freshly chopped and flamed vegetables, fried rice and lobster (for me) and lobster and filet (for Steve). The show was amusing too, with fire emanating from the Chef’s toque, as he displayed his knife skills and tossed chopped zucchini morsels into willing mouths (Ted and Yazi showed their prior experience here) as well as squirts of sake.
We didn’t even realize until the end of the meal that they had their small and quiet dog (an Italian miniature greyhound) named Scout with them.
We were off to Paris the following evening, for 9 glorious days, before returning for another long weekend in New York. There was just enough time to meet up with our apartment designer, Benjamin. Paris will be the subject of its own post, bien sûr. For now, I’ll resume with our 2-stage New York trip.
Thursday, December 2, 2021
Today was a smooth travel day, starting with walking in the dark to the St-Michel station. The final approach was blocked by an early morning trash truck, causing me to turn off one street earlier to avoid it. There, to my amazement, I made a lucky discovery: an elevator leading from the street level right to the platform of the RER, no difficult wrestling with the luggage over multiple flights of stairs. We had bought round-trip tickets on arrival, so we were set there. There was a surprise at the CDG end, when the train stop at the first CDG station, not our terminal. Although we encountered no difficulties, there were so many steps (Detaxe, immigration) that we didn’t end up having much extra time before boarding our flight.
A French literary thriller, Les Traducteurs (The Translators), written and directed by Régis Roinsard, was highly entertaining. The flight also gave me the distraction-free space to read the screenplay for A Strange Loop, a musical by Michael R. Jackson, in which a character named Usher tries to write a “big, black and queer-ass American Broadway show”.
Most of the day was spent at the UES Apple store, ordering a new laptop ahead of a “use it or lose it” deadline looming for spending my education funds.
This was the perfect opportunity to pick up dinner at Xi’an Fine Foods (noodles and dumplings), just down street from Orwashers on 78th Street.
Friday, December 3, 2021
Jetlag had me up earlier than usual. I had made an appointment for a 10:30 am manicure, but I managed to find a neighborhood salon open earlier. I listened to music from A Strange Loop while Esther at Carnegie Nails tamed my neglected nails and exfoliated my calves. The complementary 2 minute shoulder massage was a good advertisement for more but there was no time.
We walked across Central Park to the Upper West Side Apple store for the new Iphone 13 Pro Max I had ordered. This phone, with its much improved camera, had not been available the day before on the UES but the advice to check online after closing (when they restock) located this phone. This put us in good position to catch a 4 pm showing of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car at Lincoln Center. This film, based on the short story of the same name by Haruki Murakami, would subsequently appear on both New York Times film critics Top 10 films of the year lists, as well as many others. That a 3 hour film can fly by is a feat, even as it unfolds at an almost leisurely pace.
Saturday, December 4, 2021
We subwayed down to Hudson Yards to pick up the Highline to walk to David Zwirner gallery in Chelsea for a show of Ruth Asawa, including her wonderful sinuous hanging wire sculptures.
Every piece was pre-sold, not that we could afford ant of her work, which has been (re)discovered in recent years (her larger hanging wire sculptures have sold at auction in the millions).
Her work was featured in postage stamps issued in August 2020. Steve made fun of me when I made special trips to the post office to procure some for us and enough to give my work girlfriends (Ugne, Amy, Rosa and Vivian) a sheet. “You’re giving people stamps?!” Now, they are sold out and being resold on Etsy! Little did I know how much this exhibition would cost us. Steve was obsessed and quickly found online the work of D’Lisa Creager, who learned the wire crocheting technique from Ruth’s daughter and whose work takes up where Ruth’s left off. We had a quick lunch at Chelsea Market, which was thronged with shoppers and tourists, at the new pandemic picnic benches outside.
We continued our walk to IFC to see Benedetta in the afternoon, a film by Paul Verhoeven, whose last film Elle was unforgettable. To say his films feature interesting female characters, at least based on this limited sampling, is an understatement. Benedetta is based on a real-life 16th century nun whose life is explored in the 1986 non-fiction book Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy by Judith C. Brown. Virginie Efira is the passionate, willful and possibly divinely inspired (or manipulative) nun Benedetta whose involvement with another nun occurs during a time when Italy was terrorized by the spreading black plague. The parallels between life and art keep mounting.
After the film, we walked through Soho, but found it too crowded with shoppers for enjoyment, with a line to get into Prada. We had a little time to hang out at the cafe at Angelica before an early dinner with Sarah and Aaron at Arturo’s on Houston, a long-time favorite which still gets my vote for the best pizza in New York.
Caroline or Change at Studio 54 (book and lyrics by Tony Kushner of Angels in America fame) and music by Jeanine Tesori, who we know best for Fun Home, for which she won a Tony award for Best Score.
The star of the show is Sharon D. Clarke, embodying an embittered black housemaid in Louisiana who labors in the basement of a Jewish family, the Gellmans. Her major daytime company is the Gellman’s young son, Noah, with the washing machine (Rheaume Crenshaw), the sultry dryer (Kevin S. McAllister) and a radio trio (Nasia Thomas, Nya, Harper Miles) chiming in from time to time. The moon floats by overhead on occasion to lend a soothing presence (Arica Jackson). The story takes place in 1963, just before and after JFK is assassinated. The conflict revolves around change, both physical, as in the coins Noah regularly leaves in his pants pocket, and societal, as in the burgeoning civil rights movement. The $30 Caroline receives as weekly wages are hard pressed to cover her rent and the needs of her 3 children. Her oldest, Emmie (Samantha Williams) dreams of a better future with more opportunities, a television and other wants the family can’t afford. The small sums Noah leaves in his clothing become the fulcrum around which the narrative revolves, when Noah’s stepmother (Cassie Levy) rules that anything Caroline finds in the wash she can keep. In another intersection of life and art, we saw this during Hannukah, which is celebrated by the Gellmans during the play. We were in the second row, close enough to receive a shower of Hannukah gelt, as well as bubbles from the washing machine.
Clarke won an Olivier award for this role (England’s equivalent of a Tony award). This Broadway transfer was supposed to open on March 13, 2020, but the pandemic shutdown of March 12, 2020 delayed its opening until October 8 of this fall.
Sunday, December 5, 2021
My day started at the UES Apple store at 10 am, where eager shoppers queued up to stream through the doors as soon as they opened. My new laptop was ready to pick up. I had left my old one there to have the data transferred. While paused to see if they had an Apple watch I liked in stock (my 6 year old one stopped working), I noticed my old computer was in the bag. I wanted to have it dealt with, the data scrubbed, so I was there a while and finally managed to connect with a new watch as well.
We met Lenny and Arleene for lunch at Island. We have a number of San Diego-New York friends who we see more regularly in New York, probably because we are on vacation when we are in New York. We dined outside, where a repugnant street smell wafted up periodically. The service was prolonged and the cuisine uninspiring. Lenny and I both had the miniature crab cake sliders.
The classical guitar concert at the 92cd Street Y in the afternoon was far more satisfying. I thought of our guitarist friend Dave as we listened to Croatian Ana Vidovic, playing works by Bach (Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major) and standards by Isaac Albéniz (Granada and Asturias) and Francisco Tárrega (Recuerdos de la Alhambra). Lenny found her poise and reserve lacking in passion, but we did not agree. Catching up with Dave a few weeks later on a virtual dinner date, he in Seattle and us in San Diego, as suspected, he was well acquainted with her oeuvre. Surprisingly, other than get acquainted visits to consider joining the gym, this was our first time attending an event at this venerable venue so close to the apartment.
That street smell cropped up again in the evening, as we dined outside with Ralph and Gail at Piccola Cucina Uptown, near the southwest corner of Central Park. We had never dined at this location, although we knew their sister location in Soho from a prior meal with Lenny and Arleene. I fondly remembered the insalata finocchi e arance (fennel and orange salad), which Steve and I shared. Having their starter parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant) as my main course worked perfectly for me.
Monday, December 6, 2021
I met Clarissa at 11 am for an early lunch to exchange Christmas presents at via Carota in her neighborhood. She and Jason were on deadline with a project, but she could get away for a meeting near her place. I left early so I could jump off the subway early and walk, as later, I’d be cooped up in a plane on the way back to California. I have enjoyed every meal I’ve ever had here, as they do vegetables with exception élan and this meal was no exception. We shared broccoletti (broccoli rabe, garlic and chiles), a sardine special , an orange, olive and onion vinaigrette salad and porri alla cenere (charred leeks in vinaigrette with sheep’s curd). My walks to and from the subway to the restaurant took me past Christopher Park in the West Village. I didn’t know this triangular park was actually now a National Monument, established in 2016, just across from the Stonewall Inn, site of protests in 1969 against the criminalization of being gay. The Stonewall Inn itself is considered a National Historical Site for its role as the locus of the struggle for full civil rights of the LGBT community.
As I write this (January 2022), I can only marvel at how lucky we were in our timing. Within days, the numbers of Omicron-driven Covid numbers began galloping up, closing multiple Broadway shows as cast and staff began to test positive, making it seem like New York was again not the place to be. For a strange change, I was happy not to have any travel scheduled for the latter half of December, as weather and staffing issues led to wholesale cancellations and delays of flights. We encountered no delays, bad behavior, lines for testing or any of the other miseries which began to mount as the month progressed, making it seem like our nearly normal, almost completely carefree stays in New York and Paris had been a delightful dream. For now, we’ll live on the happy memories and look forward to truly carefree times ahead.