Saturday, June 30, 2018

June Cultural Roundup

Riverdale Art Walk, June 2nd
Sara Angelucci's Piece Work at Stephen Bulgar Gallery, June 9th
Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment, CP Museum, NYC, June 23rd
RFK Funeral Train: The People's View by Rein Jelle Terpstra, ICP Museum, NYC, June 23rd

Richard III by William Shakespeare
Another World by Pat Barker
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

Kusama: Infinity (U.S., 2018)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

NYC Day 2: Looking for Pacino

Two sweet guys at Caffe Reggio
When we first started coming to NYC, I was excited to go to Caffe Reggio, 119 MacDougall Street, near Washington Square. I had read that Al Pacino liked to frequent the cafe. It is small, its walls covered with faux Renaissance paintings and an inordinately large espresso machine sits like a king on his throne in a corner (unused, perhaps broken). The tables and chairs are chipped and mismatched. It's heavenly. 

Now it has a garish lime green door (not at all fitting in with the dark, Italianate surroundings) which leads you into a very cheerful, pleasant cafe serving, among other things, lavender cafe lattes which the waitress urged me to try. Alas, we did not see Pacino that long ago day (or today) but back then on our first trip to the cafe we did see an older, less happy version of the Laugh-in comedian Ruth Buzzi who walked by our table on the street and we burst out laughing at the deflation of our expectations. 

The morning got much brighter on our second day in NYC when our son walked in. He had been staying with his boyfriend outside of the city and was spending part of the day with us. Proud to have navigated the subway on his own and the short walk to the cafe, he was in good spirits.

Spectral images at the ICP
We decided to walk to the International Centre for Photography Museum, 250 Bowery at Lafayette ($14 admission for adults). It had two exhibits that we were interested in - Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment and the RFK Funeral Train: The People's View curated by Rein Jelle Terpstra The second was particularly affecting as it included photos, audio and video taken by "ordinary people" of the train that bore the body of Robert F. Kennedy on June 8, 1968 on its way to Arlington Cemetery.

Afterwards, we wandered into a little shop on the Bowery selling "Asian" household goods - dishes, cups, pots, vases (I wish I had written down its name). I fell in love with four little dishes which I promptly purchased for 99 cents each. This was my most exciting purchase of the trip. 

Next was a walk to Mercer St. Books, 206 Mercer Street, an independent book store in the Village. Chaotic, poorly organized, non-air conditioned ... delightful. I bought a book on the Romanovs as I am contemplating writing a fictional book on the czar's sister, the Grand DuchessOlga Alexandrovna (1882 - 1960). By an odd coincidence, the grand duchess passed her last days above a beauty shop on 716 Gerrard Street here in south Riverdale in Toronto with a Russian family that took her in. Her path to Canada, and that little apartment, was painful and convoluted and she haunts me as a possible subject for a new fiction project.

Clearly, I have Russians on my mind as we have a 2 o'clock reservation at the famed Russian Tea Room, 150 West 57th Street, serving tiny sandwiches, caviar on blinis, seasonal scones, cupcakes and petits fours ... amazing but not inexpensive - $60 American (that's $80 Canadian my fellow Canucks).

Dark, mysterious, delicious ...
the Russian Tea Room
Feeling much lighter in pocket (but heavier everywhere else) we take a stroll through Central Park to the carousel. I can convince no one to ride the carousel so then we part ways with the offspring who is off on his own adventures. A kind woman takes a picture of the four of us. I return the favour for her charming family.  Walking south through midtown towards the Village,  I am reminded why I don't like visiting NYC in the summer: crowds, tourists, heat. We escape by subway to Washington Square and have a hearty, inexpensive meal back at Caffe Reggio. An "Italian" cheese plate that would feed the multitudes and two plates of pasta - more than suffice. 

The crowds are gathering for Pride ... the glitter and feathers and rainbow make up is in full force as we returned to Washington Square and catch a lovely solo by a musician playing the violin and singing All of Me. I start to tear up as it is one of our very favourite songs and his voice is so sweet. What a lovely way to end the night.

Friday, June 22, 2018

NYC Day 1: Let them be happy

Why we came to NYC ...

We begin our trip in a panic as our passports had expired and spend a morning and a great deal of money making sure they are updated in time for our trip the next day. Lesson learned, likely this will never happen again. (We hope!)

We race to Billy Bishop Airport to catch our flight. Our son left an hour before us on an earlier flight to join his boyfriend. Porter has revamped its lounge and there we see two good friends heading for Boston for a wedding - a happy coincidence. 

We have been coming to NYC since our university days. In the early 1980s, the downtown core of Manhattan near Times Square was a rough place seemingly overflowing with peep shows, shabby retailers and very desperate looking individuals. But we were braver then (or more oblivious to harm) and we fared well. I remember seeing films at St. Marks Cinema (now long gone) and then dancing down Broadway together at night after we saw a Rogers and Astaire film. We were quite happy to sack out in a $50 a night not-so-reputable hotel in Times Square and wander the city in search of adventure.

Art Deco fixture in the lobby of the hotel
Today we are a tad more aspiring in our pretensions and fancied a hotel near Greenwich Village and NYU - in a hotel that Rob had been eyeing for some years. The Washington Square Hotel at 103 Waverly Place is just steps away from Washington Square. The area is busy, diverse, chaotic, a mixture of very elegant townhouses, students and down on their heels New Yorkers. It's a strange, sometimes exciting, sometimes disturbing brew of people.

Excited to be in this hotel, a historic 1902 building which has housed the likes of Hemingway, Dylan Thomas and 1960s folk heroes like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, we were intrigued by the Art Deco decor. Alas, the room (small, spare and mildly disappointing) was not what we expected. The lobby which promised much does not correspond with the floor we are on, which resembles a downscale south of the border motel with curious white stucco walls and ugly mosaics of exotic flowers. The view is abysmal. The sky is not visible from the lone window. So ... whatever. We are here to have fun we decide, not sit in a hotel room and sulk about our accommodations.

The Stonewall Inn today ... preparing for Pride 
As we approached the hotel we saw the Stonewall Inn - a historic, almost sacred, site for the LGBTQ community. It was the scene of a spontaneous, violent riot on June 28, 1969. The New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, then a gay club. The raid sparked a riot among patrons and Christopher St. residents which lead to six days of violent clashes and the beginning of today's Pride parades every June across the world.

Rob at the David Bowie Is exhibit
First stop: Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway ... yes, Brooklyn at last. In all the years that we have been coming to NYC we have never been to this borough. "David Bowie Is" is a multi-media exhibit that was featured in Toronto a few years ago and which I never got a chance to see. Rob did and he loved it. This museum is beautiful - brilliantly clean, well designed and spacious. The Bowie exhibit was ambitious but perhaps not carefully curated to my mind. Too many intriguing things to see in too many crowded spaces with too many people. We Canadians, a cautious and fastidious people, would have handled it more efficiently I think in Toronto. The multi-media - TV appearances, movies, concerts, fashion, audio clips, albums and music - so many facets of this talented artist's life - could have been more carefully displayed and given us, the museum goer, a bit more space to observe and appreciate his talent. 

Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party 

As luck would have it, the museum also houses Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party - still stunning and gorgeous to behold. It is comprised of a long triangular table with 39 place settings - a history of women in Western civilization representing both historical and mythical women across millennia. The colours and designs are overwhelmingly beautiful. The place setting on the left above is dedicated to Virginia Woolf.

After the museum, we search for a hospitable place to eat close to our hotel and we find one at Amelie Wine Bar, 22 W. 8th St. Elegant French cuisine served and the place rocking with attractive young couples and groups of pretty girls (what are we doing there?!). Rob ordered hand-seared brook trout with green beans and I ordered Gratin De Raviolis Du Royans (both excellent) accompanied by beer and rosemary flavoured lemonade. The food is excellent but at a price. Not for the fiscally faint of heart. Without dessert or tip the bill was close to $90 American.

We are close enough to The Strand Bookstore, 828 Broadway, my favourite bookstore in the world - and we walk there within minutes. I find a book of poetry among the thousands of books. I have been searching for this volume for a while: Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters.

Close to The Strand is a tiny, perfect gelato place called Amorino, 162 8th St. for pistachio gelato. Small in size but worth the crowded seating for a taste.

We walk back to Washington Square, which is lit up like a Christmas tree and there is an Afro-Caribbean band playing. The odd tourist starts to wiggle and flail, even a few kids chime in. We giggle and text our son, who is with his boyfriend in another part of the state. Not brave enough to dance ourselves we laugh a bit at the eager dancers. He says, "Let them be happy." So we wish them well and go home after a very long but fruitful day. 

Washington Square monument by night