Saturday, April 21, 2018
The second half of our first ever 2-week stay in NYC was devoted to catching up with old friends who live in the NY area and plunging into the Tribeca Film Festival offerings, while maintaining a brisk theater schedule. For years, I’d heard about Steve’s final year in college, living on the outskirts of Alfred, NY in a log cabin, with 2 friends and roommates, Kevin and John. Their accommodations sounded primitive-especially after the pipes froze in the winter. The frozen-solid ground being too hard to access the pipes, they were reduced to hooking up a garden hose to the next cabin uphill, which had to be drained nightly by the last one up, lest it freeze.
So, I was understandably curious to meet another member of this stoic triumvirate. Kevin was also a fraternity brother. It had been since Steve’s grad school days since they had last seen each other. Kevin is on the cusp of retiring, having worked all these years supporting the scientific endeavors of Nobel laureate Eric Kandel. Kandel studied the relatively simple nervous system of the California sea hare (Aplysia californica) to gain insights into the biological basis of learning and memory. Kevin came into the city by train from his home in Connecticut, although he normally makes the lengthy weekday trek by car. He brought photographs from their college years, including this favorite:
At a great brunch at our neighborhood favorite, Eli’s Essentials and Wine Bar, Steve and I shared an amazing pastrami sandwich and sensational roast beef hash. This has quickly become our local go-to spot. As the day progresses, it morphs from a grab-some-pastries and coffee breakfast spot, to a weekday prepared salads and soups quick-lunch to a wine bar and small plates evening destination. The owner, Eli Zabar, apparently is a neighbor. The corner spot is nice for hanging out and people watching. The building dates to the 1890s, and the decor incorporates vintage elements, including a parquet floor from an 1870 Parisian house and a staircase from an 1890 Harlem townhouse.
Taking advantage of the sunny weather and trees in bloom, we walked south through Central Park with Kevin toward 42cd street and his return train, while we continued on to Chelsea for our first Tribeca Festival films. The first was selected with Clarissa and Jason’s recent trip to Stockholm in mind. Titled Amateurs, it was a surprising Swedish film directed by Gabriela Pichler, showing Sweden isn’t all just tall gorgeous blonds, but increasingly an amalgam of influences from the immigrants making up a growing slice of the population. Pichler is the daughter of Bosnian and Austrian immigrants to Sweden. A small town in need of an economic reboot tries to lure a German supermarket (Superbilly) to choose it as their next location. The town council decides a film showcasing the town’s attributes is in order but a depleted arts budget leads to recruitment of students at the local high school to produce suitable films. Two friends, Aida (Zahraa Aldoujaili) and Dana (Yara Aliadotter), go to town with the project, which they avidly pursue, continuing even after the town council engages a professional documentary filmmaker from Stockholm. The film was poignant, occasionally funny and interesting as a portal into evolving Sweden, although a trifle disjointed. Many scenes are hand-held, presumably playing on the amateurish quality of the films within a film.
Although we both enjoyed Amateurs, our second selection, You Shall Not Sleep (No Dormirás), displayed more accomplished production values. It was a convoluted but absorbing and scary drama, in which a celebrated theater director drives young actresses to near-insanity by depriving them of sleep, all in the name of pushing through artistic and emotional barriers, while mounting a theatrical recreation of an infamous incident on the grounds of an abandoned insane asylum. The lines between performance and reality become increasingly blurry as the hours pass toward a mythic 108 hour threshold of sleep deprivation.
Sunday, April 22, 2018
All of New York seemed to be out and luxuriating in the spring blossoms as we traversed Central Park via an alternate route further west, en route to Part 2 of Angels in America. The flowering trees were approaching their peak of beauty.
The second half of Angels lived up to the promise of Part 1. Part 1 is titled Millenium Approaches, and the second half is Perestroika. I found the opening scene of Part 2 puzzling, as the World’s Oldest Bolshevik rails against too much change too rapidly. The rest was as expansive, ambitious and free-ranging as the first half and was more exhilarating than exhausting.
To keep from traversing the length of Manhattan repeatedly, I had scheduled us for evening Tribeca films, reasoning that we would be halfway there coming from the theater district.
We couldn’t get into Momofuku Nishi, around the corner from the Chelsea Cinepolis, without a reservation, but the nice Asian hostess gave us several ideas for alternates, which we tried on subsequent returns to the theater during the festival. One of her ideas was across the street, Foragers. Although Steve thought his burger was “too tightly packed”, I greatly enjoyed my 5-spice honey glazed Long Island duck breast with roasted celery root , oyster mushrooms, sauteed rapini and rhubarb sauce.
Like the night before, out double feature was a little uneven, with The Great Pretender a convoluted drama of a play within a film, in which a playwright stages a work based on her relationship with her ex, only to get involved with the actor portraying her ex. The Hollywood Reporter’s succinct review summary says it all: “hipster navel-gazing”. This served as a warm-up to a more polished feature film, State Like Sleep, which we both really liked. State Like Sleep was written and directed by Meredith Danluck, and features Katherine Waterston as a grief-stricken photographer trying to unravel the circumstances of her actor husband’s death of apparent suicide a year later. She is emotionally unmoored and adrift as she tries to piece together mysterious facets of his life.
Monday, April 23, 2018
Our friend Roz, who decamped from San Diego a few years ago to bucolic upstate New York, drove down from Bovina to visit. After lunch down the block at Eli’s, we walked around the reservoir in Central Park, marveling at the spring weather and abundant blossoms.
All too soon it was time for Roz to head north and us to get dressed for opening night on Broadway of Summer, the Donna Summer musical, which originated at La Jolla Playhouse last year. To fortify ourselves for the proceedings, we met up with Ralph and Gail for a pre-theater dinner at Bond 45 (my branzino was delicious!). Steve and I were up in the mezzanine, which was a nice vantage point. The reception by the audience was energetic and rousing, in stark contrast to the critical reviews, which were savage, as expected. We enjoyed it even more than we had in La Jolla. Of course, Donna Summer songs are the soundtrack of my college years. I have fond memories of dancing with Yuma Hall dorm-mate Rosemary and Greg off campus at some disco. Donna played by 3 women, portraying her at different ages and segments of her career, with Storm Lever as the budding adolescent Duckling Donna, Ariana DeBose as the young Disco Donna, and LaChanze as Diva Donna in her later years. Both DeBose and LaChanze received nominations for Tony awards, the only such nods the show received.
At the after-party across the street at the Marriott, we enjoyed meeting Eric and Marsi, formerly of La Jolla, who also “dabble” in investing in Broadway shows (I wish I had known them when he got involved with Dear Evan Hansen, last year’s sensation, which beat out Come From Away for Best New Musical). Director Des McAnuff was just walking in as we left the after-party.
Tuesday, April 24, 2018
As mental preparation in case an adjacent apartment ever came up for sale, we toured 2 apartments currently for sale in our building, 5B & 6B, to see their exposures and the potential of an upstairs-downstairs combination. This gave us a chance to catch up with our realtor Leslie afterwards. Afterwards, we wrestled the bedroom air conditioner, down in storage for the winter, with Aaron directing its re-installation by Facetime.
We walked through Central Park in the afternoon to meet Ralph and Gail for an early pre-theater dinner at Ocean Prime, sharing oysters. The gin gimlet was delicious, as were the crab cakes. The evening’s entertainment was Mean Girls, with a book by Tina Fey, based on the film, which we had enjoyed.
It was great fun, a light treatment overall, with some serious subtexts, but not too many hummable songs. I did love a song called Apex Predator, sung by new girl Erika Henningsen (Cady) about the ruling queen bee, Regina George (Taylor Louderman). I was surprised Mean Girls later garnered so many Tony nominations (12), including for Best Musical, although I don’t think The Band’s Visit has too much to worry about. Ralph and Gail introduced us to the gorgeous lounge of the Baccarat Hotel, close to what will soon be their neighborhood. Eric and Marsi didn’t join us for drinks afterwards.
Perusing the Playbill afterwards, I found it interesting that a number of the cast members of Mean Girls previously had roles in other vehicles with teenage clique themes, including Taylor Louderman and Kate Rockwell (Karen, the empty-headed blond member of Regina’s entourage) in Bring It On: The Musical and Barrett Wilbert Weed playing Janis, the artsy loyal friend Cady spurns in favor of basking in Regina’s orbit, who had a role off-Broadway in Heathers. Ashley Park was super fetching funny as Gretchen Wieners, the obsequious, cowering wienee member of Regina’s squad. Both she and Taylor Louderman were nominated for acting Tonys, but I fully expect sizzling Katrina Lenk has a lock on the Best Leading Actress in a Musical race.
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Light rain was not enough to dissuade us from walking north to lunch near Columbia University. The occasion was the impending graduation of Wren, oldest daughter of our friends for decades, Barbara and Bay. Barbara and I were fellows together many years ago at UCSD, both working in Bob Mattry’s lab. We’ve been friends so long, since our move to San Diego in 1990, that we were there to attend their wedding and have known Wren since she was a baby. Now, she is graduating with a degree in East Asian studies. This was also our first time to meet her boyfriend since orientation, Henry.
Our walk north was through new territory for us, first through the North Woods of Central Park and then through elongated Morningside Park, which took us up to 121st St and our lunch destination. The North Woods was astoundingly pastoral in feel, with a small waterway running through it, squirrels leaping about, surprisingly rural in feel for being in the heart of Manhattan.
Lunch was at Flat Top, near the neo-classical style campus. Steve and I shared a red Japanese curry with vegetables and bulgogi meat and bimbim-bap. Henry enjoyed a bahn mi sandwich. He is headed to Stanford law school after a summer internship in the city and a family trip with Wren to visit his extended family in Italy.
A long subway ride on the 1 train took us south to Soho, where we did a little shopping for jeans for Steve (successful) and checked in at Ottiva/Avitto for shoes for me and Prada for sales (unsuccessful).
We lucked into finding by accident the Broadway-Lafayette subway stop which has an enormous homage to David Bowie, as we headed west toward Chelsea and our 5 pm festival film, Jellyfish. The Subway Takeover by Spotify is in conjunction with the final stop of a traveling exhibit devoted to the Spaceman’s work and legacy, now at the Brooklyn Museum. Bowie was a resident of the neighborhood and a devoted New Yorker by choice.
Around the corner at dinner at Momofuku Nishi, we shared a red endive salad with walnut bagna cauda, campanelle pasta with blue crab and asparagus and roast pork with charred pea shoots, all delicious. Despite the Momofuku name and being part of the David Chang restaurant family, the dishes were Italian-derived.
Thursday, April 26, 2018
The afternoon hours ticked away as we waited for a sample rug ( a small version of the one we had our eyes on) to be messengered over to us. It came at the 11th hour, but in time for us to return it to Tufenkian later the same afternoon on our way downtown.
We enjoyed a light pre-show dinner in the pleasant courtyard of Palma, sharing cavolfiore (cauliflower sauteed with currants, carmelized onions and pinenuts), pappardelle allo spezzatino d’agnello (with slow-roasted lamb, olives, rosemary and pecorino sardo) and barbabietole (beet salad with pistachio and goat cheese). This left us just enough room to share a very nice tiramisù. Our realtor Leslie was behind this recommendation, indeed ultimately, the entire evening, as she had been the one to recommend Harry Clarke, a one-man show by Billy Crudup, to Cliff and John, with Cliff in turn passing on the recommendation. This was our first time to the small Minetta Lane Theater. This was an entertaining double life tale by David Cale, of a Midwesterner who passes himself off as a Londoner, insinuating his way into the lives of a wealthy family. Crudup plays 19 characters in a very minimalistic set, sketching the two alter egos, his parents, 4 members of a family he befriends and infiltrates, and others with no costume changes other than body postures and vocal changes.
Friday, April 27, 2018
We barely made it to our 3 pm Tribeca showing of Little Woods, arriving late enough the ushers were counting how many seats remained. We had to sit in the front row, which did give us a good view during the Q & A of director Nia DaCosta as well as stars Tessa Thompson and Lily James. Thompson and James play hard-scrabble sisters on the edge of economic disaster, in a desolate North Dakota oil-mining region. The film is a modern Western, populated by characters with few good choices, with very timely themes, including access to and affordability of health care and the insatiable demand for opiates. It was suspenseful, well-paced, absorbing and sobering-a well-made and thought-provoking directorial debut. The character played by James, a single mother living in a trailer in a parking lot, was the polar opposite of her turn as Lady Rose in Downton Abbey.
Between films, Sarah and Aaron met us for an early dinner at Calle Dao, another spot on recommendation from the pleasant Asian hostess at Momofuku Nishi.
The Chinese-Cuban fusion is a tribute to El Barrio Chino, the historic Chinatown which once thrived in Havana in the pre-Castro years. Indeed, the decor perfectly brought Havana to mind. It was still happy hour when we arrived, including $1 oysters and $8 mojitos and sangria. The only downside is I was encouraged to have 2 mojitos. We shared short rib, lemongrass and corn pan-fried dumplings and shiitake spring rolls, then moved on to platos fuertes of 14-hour char sui pork, 5-spice skirt steak with moors and christians (black beans and rice) and mushrooms and broccoli in garlic hoisin, accompanied by stir-fried cashew cauliflower and wok-fried rainbow chard.
Afterwards, we strolled northward on the High Line as the sky darkened and the buildings lit up.
Steve bagged the last film and headed uptown with Sarah and Aaron, while I walked back south on the High Line to catch a final film, The Night Eats the World (La nuit a dévoré le monde), a stylish French zombie flick. Anders Danielsen Lie is a seemingly lone survivor of a zombie apocalypse who barricades himself inside the stylish Parisian apartment where he managed to fall asleep during a boisterous party, evading the bloody events of the preceding evening which evidently decimated all of Paris.
Saturday, April 28, 2018
We brunched with Sarah and Aaron at Eli’s, again sharing the pastrami sandwich and roast beef hash we had loved the weekend before with Kevin. Afterwards, we walked north to check out the Central Park Conservancy garden at 5th Avenue and 105th Street, which Leslie had mentioned earlier in the week.
It was glorious, in full bloom, a riot of color and blossoms. Pachinko occupied me non-stop on the plane ride home, finishing just before we landed. This tale of Koreans living for generations in Japan seemed timely, given the historic meeting of North and South Korean leaders and talk of finally officially ending the Korean War.