We go to NYC regularly, since we both have family living there, but it never ceases to amaze. Although I have probably been there 50 times ( figuring twice a year X 25 years being married to Steve), there is no end to the discoveries to be made, the sheer impossibility of seeing/doing/experiencing it all. This trip was action-packed as usual, punctuated by a delightful mix of shows (6), museums (only 4), artist studio visits (3), too numerous to count great meals, despite continuous cold and intermittent snow.
We often mix it up, intentionally choosing hotels in different parts of the city in order to experience different neighborhoods.
We’ve stayed from the Upper West Side down to the tip of Manhattan, but only once before in Soho, in the loft of friends of my sister’s. We were recently traveling in Mexico with MOPA, including our friends Ralph and Gail, and after learning we would be there at the same time , they graciously invited us to stay with them in their commodious, very comfortable and beautifully appointed space in Soho. Ralph and Gail are Tony voters and very knowlegable about the Broadway theater scene, so staying with them had the added benefit of augmenting our ongoing theatrical education.
Our departure on American’s daily nonstop to JFK was populated by a strange assortment of bulkhead passengers, including one understandably VERY disgruntled woman. Turns out she had been bumped out of First Class, after boarding and settling in, after being upgraded several days prior . She got into a power struggle with the borderline belligerent, definitely authoritarian, flight attendant over a water bottle she had been given but left behind when ejected from First Class. Steve and I had adjacent aisle seats in the row behind the bulkhead, which we had reserved. After realizing we were together, a lanky man in the middle seat next to Steve asked me not once, but twice, if I wouldn’t prefer to take his middle seat next to Steve. He then called a female traveling companion, muttering “I’m so drunk” (it was only 7 am) and persuaded her to change places. The man in front of me kept his pillow in its plastic bag, which escaped roughly every 5 minutes, falling to the floor and skittering away, whenever he lifted his head even slightly.
We made great time, arriving early. We were met by delightful Dubbie from Dubrovnik, who whisked us into town painlessly. For dinner, we headed with Ralph and Gail to a Japanese restaurant we had liked the year before (another of their on-the-spot recommendations), Bohemian. It’s a small place, hidden, unsigned on Great Jones St, behind a Japanese butcher. The small dining room is furnished with mid-century modern chairs and sofas, with a tokonoma at one end (a recessed alcove displaying art objects in a Japanese style home). The overall effect is of being in the living room of Japanese hipsters . We supplemented the tasting menu with Japanese premium beef. The pan-roasted branzino was again a stand-out, sizzling in cast-iron, surrounded by roasted and carmelized mushrooms, zucchini, asparagus, and brussel sprouts, as well as a mellowed roasted head of garlic.
The next morning, we rendezvoused with Steve’s younger sister, Sarah, for brunch nearby at Jack’s Wife Freda. Steve and I shared a matzo ball soup and an eggplant sandwich. Afterwards, we headed north in the car with Sarah to the Cloisters, just in time (the last day) to experience their first ever contemporary art installation.
My mother-in-law Mary, who died earlier this year and is sorely missed, was always suggesting excursions for our visits and the Cloisters was a destination she mentioned frequently that we never made it to together, to my great regret.
Another impetus was an exhibit we saw recently at MCASD La Jolla, Lost in the Memory Palace, of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, art and life partners, whose multimedia installations incorporate music and sound components, as well as built environments. This seminal work of Janet Cardiff, the 40 Part Motet, consisted of 40 large speakers arrayed inside the twelfth-century Fuentidueña Chapel, each speaker recording individual lines in the forty-part motet “In No Other Is My Hope” by Tudor composer Thomas Tallis (ca. 1505–1585).
This gorgeous piece of choral music was new to me, but I can hardly imagine a more beautiful version or better setting in which to hear it. The experience was transplendent, like being in the midst of a heavenly chorus, and varied depending on where one stood, with a group of child sopranos piping up behind you, then a baritone in front . I was transported back to my adolescence, the last time I sang regularly with other people. It was personally very moving, and the room full of last day visitors seemed equally transfixed. We stayed through 3 of the 11 minute cycles, only stirring to reposition ourselves to experience different environments, before being able to tear ourselves away to view other offerings of the Cloisters, namely the famed unicorn tapestries.
I love textiles and tapestries, although had never been particularly drawn to Medieval tapestries, until now. This series of tapestries, created 1495-1505, tell a story cycle of a hunt for the mythic unicorn, from panels depicting noblemen with their dogs setting off on the hunt in a remarkably verdant forest, to the discovery and attack on the animal, its defensive reaction, the unicorn captive in a floral glen, to the killing of the unicorn. These works are stunningly beautiful, a real revelation, extraordinary in their artistry and execution. Much has been written about the symbolism, both secular and religious, associated with the mythic creature. Unicorns have regarded since antiquity as symbols of purity, grace and invincibility and the horn as a source of powers ranging from the ability to render poisoned water potable to healing sickness. Christian scholars have recast the doomed unicorn as a metaphorical Christ figure. Whatever significance one attaches to the unicorn, it seems fair to say these extraordinary Medieval works of art are as rare and fine as the mythic creature depicted.
We left at 2 pm, thinking that was plenty of time on a Sunday to shoot back down the Westside Highway for our 3 pm curtain for Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie. That is, until we were ensnarled in a traffic snafu, trying to exit at 56th Street, 11 blocks north of the theater and 5 long cross-town blocks west. There had been an accident, closing part of 12th Avenue, which we had to cross to enter Manhattan. Our “plenty of time” dwindled, as light after light advanced us closer to the intersection, but not through it, which we could see was wide open if only we could cross it. When our half hour became 15 minutes, it was time to spring into action. Disembarking in the middle of a sea of cars in the intersection, we sprinted as fast as our feet would carry us down to 11th Avenue, and luckily, flagged a cab down immediately. The cabbie raced south, and all was well until we stalled in another jam-up, this time only 3 blocks north of the theater.
“Let us out, NOW!”
Throwing money at the driver and exiting, we were again on the run. We think we’re reasonably fit, but I haven’t run but a few steps to cross a street since residency. In addition, dodging throngs in Midtown near Christmas is a test of one’s cutting ability. Panting, we collapsed into our seats at 2:59 pm, with time to spare. Ralph later told me the shows start, at the earliest, at 4 minutes after the hour.
The Glass Menagerie is a classic, in which a unicorn also figures largely. Laura, daughter of Amanda and sister to Tom, is so painfully shy, she effectively can only occupy herself with her glass collection, the centerpiece of which is her most special piece, the unicorn. She is crippled, both literally and figuratively. She has been unable to stomach even attending business school, one of her mother’s last hopes for making her self-sufficient. The family’s financial situation is precarious, barely kept afloat by poet Tom’s dream-stifling work in a warehouse. Cherry Jones personified Amanda Wingfield, the former, now faded, Southern belle, as an unintentionally oppressive, smothering mother, full of best intentions, but overwhelming in her concern. The entire cast was terrific. Zachary Quinto played Tom, the smoldering poet who is being suffocated by his dead-end job and the weight of familial expectations. Celia Keenan-Bolger was very effective as the ephemeral Laura. The cast was well complemented by Brian J. Smith as the Gentleman Caller, the repository of Amanda’s hopes for Laura, as well as Laura’s high school secret hearthrob, whose high school hero promise has not flowered as expected.
Laura’s prize animal, the glass unicorn, figures prominently in the second half of the play, especially metaphorically, its uniqueness and fragility standing in for Laura herself. Both are creatures who are very “other” than their fellows.
Strange and unique as unicorns, it was surprising and wonderful to see two works of art on the same day with this metaphorical and mystical creature as central motifs.
Snow flurries accompanied us back to SOHO, where friends from San Diego, Gad and Suzan, joined us for cocktail hour before heading off to Great Jones Street to Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria. We enjoyed our meal so much, from crispy artichokes and seppia (squid) to start, a colorful salad of sea urchin, turnip and radish, a standout Caesar salad and another delicious version of branzino, that it immediately came to mind later that week when casting about where to go for a light meal near La Mama Theatre.
The next morning, the F train conveyed us to the DUMBO section of Brooklyn, where we met John Cyr in his 6th floor studio. We had acquired a work of his earlier this fall at a MOPA benefit auction. We were drawn to the piece for its formal rigor, learning afterwards it was one of a series of images of photographers’ developer trays. Of course, being photographers ourselves, this seemed very appropriate. Developer trays, of course, are increasingly a relic of the pre-digital era of photography. Used over and over in a particular photographer’s habitual way, they can take on a fingerprint-like specificity unique to its owner. It was interesting to hear John’s stories about how this project evolved. Some of the works were created with him visiting the photographer’s studio and shooting on site. Other photographers mailed him their trays. We recognized many of the represented names, having met them at prior MOPA events, trips or studio visits, including Andrea Modica, Gary Schneider, Jerry Uehlsmann and Alison Rossiter. This young and personable photographer and master printer has a book coming out next spring of this body of work, which will be exhibited at a museum in Santa Fe in 2014. It was a pleasure meeting him, seeing more images from the series, as well as seeing the developer tray itself of which we have an image (below).
We were especially drawn to images of the trays of Adam Fuss, Linda Connor, and Barbara Mensch, as well as a vintage tray from the Smithsonian.
While in the building, we kept climbing the stairs to the 10th floor roof deck, urged on by grafitti in the stairwell pointing us up to “perfect views” of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan. Afterwards, we headed down the street to John’s recommendation for good coffee, Brooklyn Roasting Company, perfect for warming up after the rooftop cold.
Despite the cold, we sought out large scale murals Steve had read about, part of the DUMBO walls project. We always enjoy Shepard Farey’s work, and a pair of Yuko Shimizu designed opposing 80 foot long murals spelling out “Yes!” were particularly spectacular, especially one in which Yes! is spelled by whorls of a giant octopus’ tentacles, set against a Japanese woodblock print-like background of stylized waves.
In the afternoon, we met Gail at Sharan Elran’s gallery in a less gentrified part of Brooklyn. This Isreali artist (only the second Alfred University alumnus I’ve met, after Steve) works with ceramics as lighting fixture elements, wall reliefs, etc, often using perforations to cast interesting shadows (Gail has one in NYC).
In the evening, we did dinner and a movie. The movie was at Film Forum, Leo Carax’ 1984 film “Mauvais Sang.” Arresting visuals and a post-Goddardian sensibility recalled the film of his we saw last year, “Holy Motors.” Just down the street, a longtime favorite, Arturo’s pizza on Houston Street beckoned. It was the first time I can ever recall getting into Arturo’s without a wait. Being a cold, Monday night at 9:30 pm undoubtedly helped. The warmth of being inside and the broccoli rabe and eggplant pizza were enhanced by a nice vocalist and jazz band playing.
The next morning, the flurries flying outside were heralded by the Iphone, the first time I’ve ever seen the Iphone’s weather icon showing active snowing!
After Gail’s signature breakfast of peanut butter (home ground from Trader Joe’s lightly salted peanuts) on toast, we made a quick run uptown via subway to the Metropolitan Museum for a couple of hours to see a gorgeous glass show of Carlo Scarpa (works from 1930s and 1940s, preceding his work as an architect), and a photography show of the quotidian since 1969, Everyday Epiphanies. We zipped back down to SOHO in time to walk with Gail to the nearby studio of Ryan McGinness, a young, but established artist whose work derives influences from his graphic art background, hip-hop culture, and just about anything his obviously feverish imagination lights on. His wife Trish was there as well. He may be the most organized person/studio/artist on the planet: notebooks neatly record the recipes for paint colors, others record motifs, even his daily to do list is cataloged. He works in a variety of media, with experiments in material stability all over the studio: enamel, cyanotype, even a project using the NYC transit authority’s sign department and materials.
We staved off hunger with a pre-theater light nosh at Bar Centrale (shrimp cocktails for Ralph and Gail, shrimp and chinese mushroom dumplings and pan-roasted broccoli for Steve and me) before the 7 pm curtain for Betrayal, a Pintor play, with husband and wife protagonists Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz. Interesting play recounted in reverse order about a marriage in which the wife is having a long-term affair with the husband’s oldest friend. Some mental gymnastics were necessary to keep straight which year it was and which partner was involved with who and who knew about it when. Another great NY day concluded with an omakase dinner of toro, perch, white shrimp with sake at Ushiwakamaru, near the apartment.
Wednesday was cold, but sunny. We were booked for a double bill at the theater that day, so we counterbalanced the prolonged sitting by walking up to the theatre district.
We wound our way north by way of City Bakery (18th street, between 5th & 6th avenues), taking in a pretzel croissant and a shot of hot chocolate while assessing the incoming lunch options. A pumpkin seed “burger”, accompanied by a selection of amazing salads of carrots, raddichio, and napa cabbage, fortified us to continue north via the Highline,
over to pick up Steve’s new Zipcar membership card, before meeting Ralph and Gail for the 2 pm curtain on Shakespeare’s 12th Night. This offering originated in London and is playing in repertory with King Richard the III, both featuring Mark Rylance, who was so astonishing in La Bête a few years back. As in Shakespeare’s day, all the roles are played by men. Rylance was equally astonishing as Olivia, a countess in mourning who has sworn off men for 7 years to honor the memory of her deceased father and brother. A typical Shakespearian comedy, there is mistaken identity underpinning the events, here between brother and sister twins, the young woman Viola impersonating a man after being shipwrecked, unaware her brother has survived. As “Cesario,” in service to a Duke wooing the Countess, Viola arouses the interest of Olivia. Some mental gymnastics were again required of the audience to keep straight that Viola/Cesario is a woman disguised as a man, being wooed by a woman who is unaware “he” is a “she.”
After the play, we stopped by brother-in-law Aaron’s nearby firehouse at 8th Avenue and 48th Street, but he was out on a call (actually stuck in traffic, we learned by text). So on in the freezing cold to Yakitori Totti, a recommendation from Greg we enjoyed last year during another freezing cold double-up theater day, punctuated by pelting sleet and snow.
The perfect choice for before theater, close enough for easy access, but just far enough away to be available without a reservation for early dining. It was almost empty at 5 pm, but quickly filled up. It is small, cozy and warm, especially sitting at the counter, where we had a good view of the precision grilling on mini-skewers of chicken’s knees, okra (okura in Japanese), shitake mushrooms, onigiri riceballs, duck with scallions. They recommend 6-8 skewers per person, we reluctantly stopped at 20 total. On the way back down 8th Avenue, we again stopped by Aaron’s firehouse. Initially we were told he was already in the truck, just gearing up to roll out the drive. As we were standing around to wave as the truck left, he suddenly materialized. We were in house seats again for another repertory work, of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in another Pintor play, No Man’s Land. Two old men of letters seem to have met earlier in the evening at a pub and ended up back at the comfortable home of one. Or perhaps one has intentions of landing a post working for the other? In a second act revelation, it directly references Betrayal, which we saw the night before. The performances were terrific, and we both strongly preferred No Man’s Land to Betrayal.
Thursday was sunny, but piercingly cold, with oh so penetrating wind. We wound our way north by way of the West Village, fortifying ourselves with a pain au chocolat and coffee chez Patisserie Claude, stalling just long enough to stage our arrival just after opening at Taim Falafel, a few blocks north.
We’d heard about this place from Sarah. I tried a harissa seasoned falafel on whole wheat pita and Steve an eggplant sandwich with hardboiled egg, both with pickled cabbage and very fortifying and satisfying. Then, onto the subway for a short visit to MOMA,
just long enough to take in the always interesting photography shows on the 3rd floor, before heading up 5th Avenue to 70th Street to meet Gail at the Frick.
To evade the timed arrival required to see the special exhibition of 15 paintings from the Mauritshuis in The Hague, including Vermeer’s masterpiece, the “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” Gail had purchased a membership with guest passes. To our surprise, this proved unnecessary. Arriving first, Steve learned from the guard that our “North American Reciprocal” sticker on our MCASD cards (which I had packed at the last minute) also offered us carte blanche entry.
We headed back downtown to Il Buco Alimentari on Great Jones, just one street away from the evening’s theater, La Mama on 4th Avenue. We shared crispy artichokes, a cuttlefish appetizer, agnoletti with spinach sauce and hazelnuts and a huge, expensive and very rich but delicious short rib secundi. Clarissa was already at the theatre when we arrived, Jason being delayed by not being able to find an open, working docking station for the bicycle until the 3rd try, further and further away from the theatre. Clarissa’s theatre maven, OBIE voter and Francophile friend Bob, who I’ve heard about for years, made a pleasant addition. La Divina Caracatura Part 1, The Shaggy Dog is the brainchild of Lee Breuer, who Basil Twist collaborated with for the Comedie Française production of “Un Tramway Nommé Desir” which Clarissa and I saw in Paris a few years back. The protagonist is a hypersexed dog named Rose who is obsessed with her owner. The staging was quite inventive and multi-media, with video projections, musicians, and a double circular, lazy Susan type stage for the puppets. Billed as a bunraku puppet pop-opera, it was overlong, but unforgettable. The singing, particularly by Bernardine Mitchell, who sang the role of Rose, the dog, was outstanding.
Afterwards, we had a tasty nosh just down the street at a Francophile restaurant (mussels, swiss chard, zucchini carpaccio, cidre de Normandie) named Calliope.
We’re not really superstitious, but…here’s what happened on Friday, December 13. We had signed up for Zipcar, with an eye toward zipping out to New Jersey to visit Steve’s middle sister, in case she wasn’t up to coming into the City. That being the case, we headed to a nearby garage to pick up a small blue Mazda. Despite texting the garage in advance as instructed, there still was a bit of a wait until the car materialized from the bowels of the garage. Our escape from New York occurred in record time, as we were only blocks from the Holland Tunnel, just down Canal Street. We picked up lunch (epic eggplant parmigiana sandwiches, delicious side salads) from A & A Fine Foods in nearby Lincoln Park, and had lunch and hung out with Karen. Our return to NY reinforced my growing impression that driving in NYC is to be avoided at all costs. Although we breezed over the George Washington Bridge and south on the Westside Highway, the few blocks on Canal were a crawl, and the last block on Wooster was agonizingly slow. Unlike a cab, we couldn’t bail when the traffic bogged down.
We met Jason for dinner before the show. He was waiting at the bar at Rouge Tomate, but it was completely booked, so off we went to Bottega del Vino on East 59th Street, just east of 5th Avenue, just down the street from the 59 E. 59th St Theatre. Clarissa joined us after finishing work across the street. We noshed on pasta dishes. My salmon stuffed ravioli softened by butter and sage was lovely.
Le Jazz Hot (How the French Saved Jazz) was great fun, an intimate caberet show by a quintet of musicians, including two brothers, Peter and Will Anderson, who resembled each other so closely they could be twins. They both play saxophone and clarinet, and were accompanied by guitarist Alex Wintz, drummer Luc Decker and bass player Neal Miner. Will summarized the organizing principle of the evening by quoting Quincy Jones as saying “If it weren’t for France, jazz would be dead.” A drole running commentary and video outlined how American jazz musicians found larger audiences, better pay and greater appreciation for their craft in France in the post-WW II years. Many black American musicians spent long sojourns in France, finding the French appreciative of their music and more racially tolerant, notably Josephine Baker. Other jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington, recorded film soundtracks there. The music was a tour of jazz standards by, among others, Django Reinhardt, Sidney Bechet, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clark and Bud Powell.
As we exited the theatre, Clarissa suggested an appropriate tie-in, after dinner drinks and dessert at Chez Josephine, on West 42nd St west of 9th Ave, owned by a son of Josephine Baker, one of her multi-racial “rainbow tribe” of adopted children. We headed into the cold, only to come to an abrupt stop some blocks later when Steve realized he no longer had his phone. We called the theatre, with no answer. I suddenly recalled having Steve’s phone out at the restaurant (mine being very low on battery) to show some pictures from our recent trip to San Miguel de Allende. I could imagine it lying still on the banquet where we had been sitting. Our call to the restaurant was answered-they were already closed but obligingly searched to no avail. We decided we could do nothing more that night and decided to resume the search in the morning.
Chez Josephine is a charming Art Deco tribute to Ms. Baker, filled with large vintage posters featuring the namesake entertainer. The desserts were a cut above the usual, including an apple-rhubarb crepe “cake” (actaully a stack of folded crepes in the shape of a wedge of cake) and a lemon creme brulée.
Our electronic search for the phone began in earnest on returning late that night to the apartment in Soho. Steve sent a message to the phone asking the finder to call mine. Using “Find my phone,” we could see Steve’s phone’s electronic signature very close to where we imagined it to be still-but 2 blocks further north, on 61st St, instead of 59th where the restaurant and the theatre were. It was stationary-hopefully, waiting quietly, discretely, on the floor, unnoticed? We went to sleep determined to resume the search in the morning.
We were awaken early by a text from American Airlines, with the unwelcome news that our non-stop flight to SD was cancelled and we were rebooked via LA, turning an already long journey (6.5 hours traveling west) into a much longer one. It was snowing again, cold and blowy. Checking back on the phone, it seemed not to have moved…when we could see it, which was intermittent. Was it losing battery? To wipe it or not? We conferred with Ralph and Gail, and then made a futile dash by subway uptown to the scene of the phone signal (61st street), looking without much hope in planters rapidly being covered with snow, eyeing the mailbox suspiciously. We were spurred on by a story Aaron told us of a firefighter friend of his who successfully pursued his stolen phone to Harlem, bellowing in the street outside the signal until the phone was produced.
We met Sarah and Aaron for brunch at Jane on Houston, a place evidently quite popular as all the available standing room quickly filled up with hungry diners expanded by down coats and swaddled in scarfs. We were lucky to snag seats at a corner of the bar while waiting for a table, which materialized only after we gave up after 45 minutes waiting for it and ordered. My “last supper” before the long journey of roasted salmon with portobello mushrooms and a side of brussel sprouts was delicious.
A very last minute upgrade for one of us (Steve graciously insisted it be me) came through just after we settled into coach, already anticipating/dreading the 6.5 hour journey. The already longer than anticipated journey was further extended by a prolonged period of de-icing, keeping us on the tarmac at least an extra 1.5 hours. In business, I settled in comfortably with my Samsung tablet and Bose noise cancellation headphones and indulged my Tennessee Williams obsession by watching Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” I also worked toward finishing the current selection of my bookclub, Dear Life, reading a few more of the Alice Munro short stories. To my surprise, the entertainment system also contained books, including the just published new novel by Amy Tan, Valley of Amazement, which is our book club’s selection for the next session. I couldn’t resist reading the introductory pages, which already have me looking forward to delving into it.
Landing in LA, I turned my phone on, and was surprised to see a voice mail from NY. Calling it, it turned out to be the house manager of 59 E 59 Theatre, with the overwhelmingly welcome news that Steve’s phone had been found, after presumably slipping off his belt and slithering down under our table in the dark theatre. We had sent a message to the phone to call mine if found. Finally, a technological pay-off! I felt vindicated, having felt vaguely guilty the entire past day, thinking I had inadvertently caused Steve to lose his phone.
Our journey had a strange denouement, a bookend to the strange on-board interactions which accompanied us to NY. As we exited the commuter terminal in SD, towards midnight, a female passenger about our age, fairly well dressed, also waiting at the curb, looked down at her phone and suddenly erupted into a series of ear-splitting epithets:
“F*#%! F*#%! Fu*#! G#!damn you!” (This directed at the phone…repeatedly, accompanied by foot stamping, head and arm swinging, at an unbelievable volume and pitch). I wondered if this was a sudden onset of Tourette’s, but supposed her car or whoever was supposed to pick her up had left her in the lurch. Although judging from her response, this seemed completely justified.
A funny postscript to this post: We received this email from Sarah after our return: ” i wanted to show aaron something on my phone and couldn’t find it. i figured i must have left it in the car and would get it when we walked back up to the restaurant. so i didn’t worry. a bit later got to the car and it wasn’t there. so i searched my bag again and it really wasn’t anywhere. some woman called to me and said oh, dear there’s a phone in the snow. is that yours? and it was! it had been sitting in the snow in the road behind my car for almost an hour. no one ran over it, and it still worked!”
What are the odds of 2 siblings losing their phones in snowy NY (and recovering them) in 1 day??