Sunday, June 30, 2013

June Cultural Roundup

Italian Heritage Month Literary Marathon, Q Space, 382 College Street, June 1st, 2013

The Last Post by Ford Madox Ford (please see review here)
Dogs at the Perimeter by Madeleine Thien
The Mothers by Jennifer Gilmore (please see review here)

Art Exhibits: 
Daring Methods: The Prints of Mary Cassatt, New York Public Library
PUNK: Chaos to Couture, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Museum of Modern Art, NYC

The Nance, Lyceum Theatre, NYC

This is the End (US, 2013)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

NYC 2013: Day 5

Caffe Reggio
Each man reads his own meaning into New York. ~ Meyer Berger

When we were young, I read an article that said that Al Pacino hung out at the Caffe Reggio (119 Macdougal St.) near Washington Square. So we went there and had a coffee or a cappuccino ... waiting for Pacino. Well, we never saw him but we did see the actress Ruth Buzzi (yes, she of ancient Laugh-In fame) walk by ... small compensation I fear.

The caffe is dark and overstuffed with dark Renaissance(ish) looking paintings, dark wood and fixtures and a giant, unused, very beautiful espresso machine in the corner. 

On the last day we were in NYC we went there again for breakfast. I am old, my friend, I am old, I hate rude behavior in waiters. I really resent it now. It marred a nice breakfast. I had something very tasty called the Negrino (lightly cooked eggs on a strong cheese, perhaps Asiago, and sour dough bread). R had a croissant and an Americano (apparently quite good).

My darling husband explained the origin of the cafe Americano that I was not aware of ... an Americano. When the American GIs were in Italy during WWII they were unable to drink the espressos that were made for them so the Italians started adding water to the coffee ... hence

After we sat in Washington Square Park and R took photos. Did you know that there were hawks in the park? And it's quite beautiful, relatively clean, swarming with people of all sizes, ages, shapes and colours - reading, walking, playing chess, jogging. My research tells me that Henry James' maternal grandmother's house was once in the formerly tony neighborhood of Washington Square and that he was born at 27 Washington Place, a few blocks away.

I guess I jinxed us when I said to R and J that our timing for departure was quite good. We were able to pick J up on Long Island and catch the shuttle to the airport with a hour and a half to spare before our flight at 7.50p but we sat cooling (or heating) our heels for an hour and half after our flight was supposed to leave. No explanation, no announcement, in the overheated airport.

The only highlight of a dispiriting evening was the appearance of the actress Milla Jovovich of Resident Evil fame on our flight, flying alone and very unobtrusively. 

We didn't arrive home until 11.30p. Satiated, exhausted and happy.

Washington Square

Monday, June 24, 2013

NYC 2013: Day 4

The Smith ... a gorgeous eatery at 
1900 Broadway near Lincoln Centre

I'm going to show you the real New York - witty, smart, and international - like any metropolis. Tell me this: where in Europe can you find old Hungary, old Russia, old France, old Italy? In Europe you're trying to copy America, you're almost American. But here you'll find Europeans who immigrated a hundred years ago - and we haven't spoiled them. Oh, Gio! You must see why I love New York. Because the whole world's in New York …  ~ Oriana Fallaci

A late start ... the hotel suite is so comfortable. It's so quiet and comfy. And I am sooo lazy
Vanilla Bean French Toast
but we don't want to waste our second last day in NYC.

R found another terrific place for breakfast called The Smith (1900 Broadway Ave. at 63rd St.) with excellent food and service. R ordered Vanilla Bean French toast and I had buttermilk waffles ... amazing! It has a sort of upgraded retro diner feel to it. 

Another blazing hot day ... perfect for a long visit to the Museum of Modern Art (11 W 53rd St.) - all six floors of it - but I was distracted, hot, it was so crowded for a Monday. And R's assessment at the end of our visit was accurate. The collection feels stagnant. I feel that I have stared at Gertrude Stein's lonely visage one too many times at the MOMA. But R seemed intrigued by the exhibit of the American sculptor's Claes Oldenburg work ... burger et al.

Slip into the subway at 53rd and Fifth ... easily the worst one we have been in during our trip. My least favourite thing about NYC - the smell (and feel) of the subway on a hot day. How quickly we move from that (dirt, grime, intense humidity) to the ultra expensive and nicely appointed market in Grand Central Station where we buy fresh fruit and drinks for our hotel room.

Gertrude Stein by Picasso ...
We wanted to take some pics of Grand Central Station. It is still beautiful even after multiple visits and viewings ... and I love to think of F. Scott Fitzgerald passing through its portals on the way to some glamorous locale or the final scene of the mid-Westerners traveling back to their homes at Christmas in the last pages of The Great Gatsby as told by Nick Carraway.

For dinner R found a great little place for Cajun food in the Bowery district called Great Jones Cafe (50 Great Jones St.) that served enormous amounts of Cajun-inspired food. It's a bit dodgy looking from the outside (R said, "Don't be afraid" as we entered); it could easily be a tire shack or a small grocery retailer. Inside it has, as R said, a slightly bordello-ish atmosphere with brightly coloured walls and Christmas lights strewn about. R ordered gumbo - smallish in size but quite plentiful as well as lemon pie. I ordered an enormous BBQ pulled chicken sandwich which was virtually unfinishable at one sitting.

We walked down to Washington Square (bordered by 5 Ave., Waverly Place, W. 4 St. and Macdougal St.). We have not been there for years, perhaps decades. We were entertained by three breakdancers and the performance was marred only by one of them calling up an Asian-American observer and then speaking to him in fake Chinese even though he pointedly said he was from Queens. Ack ... not funny.

We searched for Caffe Reggio. We couldn't remember where it was exactly but I knew it was near the Square. We'll be back tomorrow for breakfast on our last day.

Washington Square by night ...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

NYC 2013: Day 3

Kitchenette, 156 Chambers St.

There is no place like it, no place with an atom of its glory, pride, and exultancy. It lays its hand upon a man's bowels; he grows drunk with ecstasy; he grows young and full of glory, he feels that he can never die. ~ Walt Whitman

The amazing thing about New York is that you can get lost here and nobody notices ... neither our bi-racial family nor J's androgynous looks garner much attention except occasionally from some obvious tourists.

R at Kitchenette
South of Chinatown in Tribeca is a great little diner called Kitchenette (pictured above at 156 Chambers St.) where we had breakfast - it has a real retro feel and the service is great. Wonderful breakfast at a fair price ...

We were waiting for J & S to come down from Long Island so we took a long leisurely stroll through City Hall Park and made it over the the site of the World Trade Centre. The site remains unfinished although there is a new sleek looking Freedom Tower now where the twin towers once stood.

Across the street is St. Paul's Chapel (209 Broadway), built in 1766, which with its tiny graveyard and simple unadorned structure inside has become a memorial for 911. The memorials are still intact ... the chapel was crowded - feeling more like a museum than a place of worship.

We went to Penn Station to pick up the offspring and girlfriend and made our way, by subway, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Ave. at 82nd St.) to see the PUNK: Chaosto Couture exhibit. We walked through Central Park in a blistering heat ... the park was crowded and joyful with everyone enjoying the sunshine - sunbathing, playing baseball or basketball, riding bikes - to get to Fifth Avenue.

As dazzling as the Chaos to Couture exhibit was with dozens and dozens of vintage punk and punk-inspired couture designer clothes, I was a bit disappointed - I wanted to see a more varied mixture of media rather than just the clothes and very short clips of punk rockers performing that were projected on the wall.

We arrived there much later than I hoped and with half an hour to spare I was absolutely determined to see the painting Madame X (a portrait of Parisian socialite Virginie Amelie Avegno Gautreau) - I had tried in the past and was unable to find it on my first try a few years ago. This time, different Met staff members kept telling me the wrong info and floor to search for it. Then at 5.20p (the museum closes at 5.30p!) I found her! And she is every bit as beautiful in person as she is in print.

Virginie Amelie Avegno Gautreau
As old-fashioned a painter as John Singer Sargent may perceived to be today - largely a society painter of the wealthy and well connected in the late 19th c. - his work has a quality that draws me in. Gautreau's life story is melancholic, my favourite kind of story. Like all bad girls she was part Italian. I love the legend that when she was being painted her right strap fell down on her shoulder and she was painted that way (you may see a photo of the original painting here). When the painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1884, it caused a scandal and was deemed "immoral". Sargent repainted it (with the strap up) and held on to the painting for thirty years. He finally donated it to the Met in the early 20th c. He considered it his best work ... but it took many decades for general opinion to concur.

Gautreau came to regret the portrait as it caused a great deal of speculation about her morality (that dropped strap!) and she was rumourred to have had numerous affairs. But I finally got to spend five minutes with her and then was shooed away by the security guard.

We wanted to take J and S to a great Italian place called Luzzo's (211 1st Ave. between 12th & 13th St.) in Tribeca. The service was unexpectedly indifferent but the food delicious. Two of us ordered pizza, two of us ordered gnocchi - the portions were generous and the leftovers much savoured the next day.

We dropped the girls off at Penn Station just utterly exhausted from the heat (as they must have been) and returned to our hotel room to watch The Killing and Mad Men ...

Something happened during one of our many subway trips - I believe it was on the way to breakfast. We came across a homeless man sprawled across several seats, asleep. It was unpleasant for him (I'm sure) and distressing for the inhabitants of that subway car. People were crowded as far away from him as they could be. No one knows how to respond in these situations.

The amazing thing about New York is that you can get lost here and nobody notices ...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

NYC 2013: Day 2

St. Marys Times Square

A hundred times have I thought New York is a catastrophe, and fifty times: It is a beautiful catastrophe. ~ Le Corbusier

An amazingly beautiful day ...  the humidity has not yet kicked in yet (but it is coming). We walked to the TKTS Discount Booths (Father Duffy Square on Broadway and 47th St.) to try and get tickets for "The Nance" with Nathan Lane. Success - front row mezzanine - and rather quickly too, much to our surprise. In the lineup we meet another couple from Toronto. Very nice (if conspicuously affluent) but who offered the bizarre speculation that they have not seen any homeless people in NYC. Granted, things do not appear to be as bad as it was in the 1980s when we first started coming to NYC, but what a strange remark. Perhaps they go straight from their hotel into a cab and wherever they are going? Never bothering to look into the street?

We pass by a beautiful Roman Catholic church that I have never seen before, St. Mary's Times Square (145 W 46th St.), and light four candles for both of our fathers, R's mom and R's cousin K who died last year. I love Catholic churches although I am an unrepentant heathen, a lapsed Catholic as they say. Uh, but we found some homeless people for you nice folks, they were quietly sleeping in the coolness of the church on the pews.

New York Public Library
Coffee and bagels in the gorgeous Bryant Park beside the New York Public Library (Fifth Ave. at 42nd St.) - it has large green lawn in the centre, an open air "reading room" where you may borrow and read a book for free, chess tables, lovely patio tables and chairs - an absolutely lovely oasis in the middle of the city.

We slip in to see an exhibit called Daring Methods: The Prints of Mary Cassatt at the NYPL. I realized that we had never been inside the Library which is quite beautiful - utterly pristine, very well maintained, all marble and oodles of philanthropic monies flowing from the best known family names of the city. The contrasts in NYC are so vivid - from complete squalor in some spaces to amazingly lovely images and scenarios within minutes. We splurged and had brunch at the Bryant Park Grill beside the Library - not inexpensive, my friends, but very nice.

At 2.00p, we saw "The Nance" at the Lyceum Theatre - beautiful if decrepit, like a grand lady who has applied a little too much rouge and is wearing the fashions of bygone days. Please don't ask me about the plot, you may read a review/synopsis here. All I can tell you is that R and I wept copiously after the first act and Lane was wonderful. 

We returned to our hotel to find that the bathroom ceiling was leaking so we had to change rooms and then we head off by train on the Long Island Railroad (an hour and a quarter ride on the LIRR) to a BBQ on Long Island where the offspring was staying with her girlfriend - a lovely meal wherein we suffered extreme backyard envy at the beautiful backyard in which it was hosted by friends J&J. When we returned to Manhattan it was almost midnight and we took a stroll (with ice cream) along 42nd St. passing Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building where R took this beautiful photo below. Yes, he really took it ...

42nd St. at midnight ...

Friday, June 21, 2013

NYC 2013: Day 1

Pershing Square Cafe
There is something in the New York air that makes sleep useless. ~ Simone De Beauvoir

It seemed a good idea at the time ... take the first flight out to NYC on Friday morning and have the whole day ahead of you! So we rose at 4am to make a 7am flight - except that we had to leave from Pearson airport, not from Billy Bishop, which is always a bit of an ordeal. But the trip was smooth and uneventful if extremely tiring. Luckily, luckily, although we arrived much before check-in time the hotel, the Grand Hyatt at Grand Central Station, let us have our room early. A perfect location on the subway line - it is close to everything. 

We were awaiting J's girlfriend S who was being dropped off by her parents in the afternoon (they live in a small town on Long Island). While we waited, we nipped across to Pershing Square Cafe (90 E 42nd St.), which is a cafe literally built under a bridge and across from the Grand Central Terminal, for coffee and bagels - exorbitant for what it is but worth seeing at least once. 

When S arrived we made our way down 5th Avenue and then Broadway Ave. to see all our standard NYC haunts: the Flat Iron Building (175 5th Ave.), Union Square Park ( bounded by 14th St. on the south, Union Square W. on the west side, 17th St. on the north, and on the east Union Square E.), The Strand Bookstore (828 Broadway), Shakespeare & Company (716 Broadway), and Yellow Rat Bastard (483 Broadway) for clothing shopping for J and R. 

We ended our first day's sojourn at Caffe Roma at the corner of Mulberry and Broome (385 Broome St.) for not amazing ,but creditable, cannoli and cold drinks (and to think we had them on Mulberry Street!). We probably had walked about 40 or 50 blocks the first day.
From Tataki ...

We never visit NYC without going to our favourite Japanese restaurant in Tribeca called Tataki (3 Lispenard St.), and ordered too much food to eat at one sitting - a tradition popularized by my husband's family. The restaurant is almost always virtually deserted, which I don't understand. Perhaps New Yorkers are spoiled for choices in that area? The food is delicious, fresh and plentiful. It's nice that J is old enough to have memories of the places she wants to return to in NYC (this is one of them).

The young folks were then whisked away to Long Island where J was to spend most of the holiday leaving behind the two boring old people who rarely speak to each other except when they speak of their offspring ... although it is lovely to have time together! 

Grand Central Station by night