Manhattan Holiday and Nightlife
Wednesday, Dec 26, 2012
The Lucky Strike is an old building, hunkered down with years of wear on Grand Street. Despite its name, Grand Street is not. Likewise, I half expected a bar and restaurant named after a cigarette to be a smoky dive. It too is not. It was a warm and friendly place, quiet in the mid-afternoon; the hour between late lunch and early dinner.
We soon found ourselves perched in the front window and could not think of any good reason for walking on. So when our cups ran dry we ordered lunch. I fished a book out of my pocket, Kristina curled up with the newspaper and the sun slipped towards the west.
I enjoyed that afternoon, which means I will never again be able to retrace our steps to that particular spot.
[If you have yet to figure out the names: SoHo = South of Houston, NoHo = North of Houston, NoLIta = North of Little Italy (sometime NOLIta), DUMBO = Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.]
Thursday, Dec 27
There are all sorts of things you can say about this neighborhood. First, West 4th Street itself is oddly laid out. It is in the area where the old colonial streets of lower Manhattan collide with the grid system of streets and avenues of most of the island. So 4th street starts as a grid street, headed from the East River straight across the island towards the Hudson. It runs parallel with all the other streets, until it hits 6th Avenue by this subway stop. Here it starts to curve north into Greenwich Village. Since this area of Greenwich Village dates back before the English colony, back to the Dutch (when it was called, "Greenwijck"), the curved roads should not be a surprise. But when 4th cross 5th, 6th, and so on up to 13th street it appears as if all order has collapsed (I read someplace that it crossed itself, but that is not really true).
This is also the "Hub of Hipsters", only a block from New York University, where students go to do what students do when they escape campus. I have told people that I think a quarter of the NYU graduates move here right out of school, and then move two more blocks into the village every time they move up a tax bracket. The lights are bright in the middle of the night and the sidewalks are full and noisy -- but only two blocks away the night is different.
We have been to the "Cornelia Street Cafe" before, down in the basement, to hear Jazz, but we are trying a new spot tonight. I think "Caffe Vivaldi" must share a common back wall with the Cornelia Street Cafe, but here we are at street level. The Caffe is warm on this cold night, with a gas hearth at one end, and a musicians at the other end, and 30 to 40 warm bodies packed tight between to listen. The Vivaldi's format is to have a group play for an hour, pass the bucket for the band twice, and then move on to the next group. Often they will have three groups play in one evening.
The next group was led by their singer and guitar player, Kay Lyra. She was from Brazil and sang all of her songs in Portuguese. When she started with "The Girl from Ipanema", it all seemed so familiar that the language didn't matter. After singing she would start to introduce the next song in Portuguese, but then stop and start again in English. At one time she told us, "I can't believe you would come out on a night like this (referring to the cold). In San Paulo people would just stay home." I thought to myself that if New Yorkers did the same they would have to hold up for two or three months a year.
Friday, Dec 28
In the evening Kristina and I met at MoMA - the "Museum of Modern Art". It is open free on Friday evenings. The line to get in wrapped around the block, but it is a big museum and the queue moved quickly. I expect that there are so many people here this evening because it is the holidays. We will have to come back in February and see again.
There is something special about seeing a painting which you have always heard about, and there is something about watching the way people respond to that painting.
As we came into one of the main galleries there was Georges-Pierre Seurat to the left (pointillist) and Paul Cezanne to the right. Both of which are peaceful, restful. But in the middle of the gallery, with its back to the door was something which was causing a stir, one of the celebrities of the museum.
There was a Jackson Pollock, I think the original of the reproduction hanging in the Westhampton Beach cottage. And then a whole room of Claude Monet, including a water lilies with autumn colors; yellow, orange and russet. Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, but we ran out of time and never found the Salvador Dali. We will have to return.
To celebrate the completion of my book we went to the "Cafe Loup", on West 13th Street, just in the north edge of Greenwich Village. It was easy to believe that every table had a secret author or the angel who was bankrolling an off-broadway play. The waiter was entertaining and introduced Kristina to a new wine. He told us, "When they first introduced this wine they told us it was `Earthy', but I thought `dirt'." I guess it grows on you.
Saturday, Dec 29
The second piece was called "Episodes". It is more edgy, more of what I had expected. Often the stage is lit in stripes, which act as sidewalks where all the action of street life takes place. The last piece was "Revelations", originally choreographed by Alvin Ailey himself. It is a very strong narrative about the black experience, very much in the spirit of Porgy and Bess. Energy and grace under the searing hot Sun of a Georgia Summer.
Sunday, Dec 30
Monday, Dec 31, 2012 - New Year's Eve
Most of the concert was classic choral pieces; Mozart, Bruckner, Oldham, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, with a orchestra accompanying the cathedral's choir. But St. John the Divine also has an "Artist in Residence", and for the past few years that has been Judy Collins. From where we sat she was a small woman who climbed up the podium, her white hair barely visible at that distance. But I am not certain if she needed the microphone! She can still fill that tremendous space like nobody else who had stood on that podium. First she sang a piece she had just written, inspired by a collection of drawings by children; the recent Sandy Hook shooting was mentioned several times in this Peace Concert. Then she led the whole audience/congregation in singing "Amazing Grace". I think that is one of the most universally known songs -- and one that a large/huge - group can sing at the drop of a hat.
In the evening we wandered over to Seventh Avenue to a restaurant/bar for dessert and to watch people as the New Year arrived. I often think we are the only couple in Chelsea over the age of thirty. The group at the next table, five guys and a dozen women were "dressed to the nines", and ready to get out there, party and dance the night away. They soon left, undoubtedly headed for some place with a bit more life. We had second desserts.
It is half a mile from here to Time Square and in ten minutes waves and waves of people started flowing down the avenue past us. Since there is space in the Penn Station Plaza we stood for awhile and let the flood flow around us. But eventually we chose to let the current carry us, sweeping us south back to Chelsea.
Tuesday - January 1, 2013 - New Years Day
The reason I mentioned this is because it means I succeeded in one of my goals for this sabbatical. I have now run all the way around the island of Manhattan.
Saturday, Jan 5, 2013
We parked ourselves on a bench on the promenade and read newspapers and books and soaked in the sunshine. I sometimes think that in the winter we should move weekends to track the sunny days. Of course there is the fear that there might not be two sunny days each week -- but when the sun does shine --.
We wandered west, found coffee and eventually crossed into Central Park, walking past Cleopatra's needle, the Great Lawn and eventually climbing up to Belvedere Castle.
There are things which are hard to explain in Central Park -- like why in the world is one of Cleopatra's needles here? I think the real answer is that Paris and London have one. The needle is nearly 3,500 years old which means it was old when Cleopatra moved it to Alexandria . It is a reddish granite, covered with hieroglyphs. Some day I'll have to take the time to read everything inscribed upon it.
And then there is Belvedere Castle. This is truly a Victorian folly which makes no sense as a castle, but it does afford a really nice view of the park and the city. It is situated in the center of Central Park, on a rocky knoll. On a sunny day -- even this first weekend of January, it is a magnet for wedding parties. We climbed the spiral staircase up a tower. From here we could look down to the courtyard below and watch a wedding party, tuxedos, satin, a cloud of bridesmaids, photographers, aunts in gaudy colors and uncles smoking massive cigars.
In the evening we took Will to the Caffe Vivaldi to hear the "Katie Smith Band". A singer from New Jersey. It was fun to be out and about with Will.
Monday, Jan 7, 2013
I have been caught in that situation myself fairly often, and so called to her to share my table. She accepted and introduced her self as Posey Gruener, "my family dropped the umlaut ages ago". She told me that she was a radio producer, but what she did now was interview architects. I found her project intriguing, and she found my book also fascinating. So instead of finishing our coffee and getting back to work we ended up interviewing each other for half an hour.
She told me that there is an app put out by the American Institute of Architects which you can have on your smartphone, and when you walk by an interesting building it will tell you. Not only will it buzz in your pocket, but you can listen to some famous architect, or architectural historian talk about that building. Her present project was to supply content to that app. She said she would interview someone for an hour, and try to reduce what they said to three minutes -- sometime a near impossible task.
I asked her how much preparation she had to do to get ready for the interviews. She told me that she didn't like to be overly prepared, since she thought that if she too was surprised that was good. But also she had to know enough about the building to know if something was not being touched upon.
I think I'll try to share my table more often.
The sun sets as we head to Staten island. On our return the harbor is inky black, but there is a constant flow of boat and ship traffic. Green and red, starboard and port lights coming and going. We think if New York City as a finance capital, or art and entertainment hub and forget that it was first a port before anything else.
Okay - the truth is we were going to an operetta, and when it comes right down to it, Gilbert and Sullivan is actually pretty goofy. The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players were putting on the "HMS Pinafore". The writer of the program notes tried to convey the idea that it was still and important piece of social commentary, even a hundred years later. Maybe. But I think the reason we go to see these productions was best summed up by the director, who said, "it's just silly."
I like the reframe of one of the songs. The Captain and Sir Joseph ("polished the handle of the big front door . . . now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!") have been trying to convince the daughter, Josephine, that "love can level ranks", meaning that she can marry the First Lord of the Sea. She is embolden by these words because she would really like to marry a "tar", one of the common sailors. And if "love can levels ranks . . ."
So they toast the future and sing;
Captain: For a humble captain's daughter--
And so I am thinking about the phrase "gallant captain's daughter", and wondering if "gallant" is attached to "captain" or "daughter"? She is on the verge of defying them a marrying her true love - the common "tar". Of course this is why Gilbert's lyrics are clever and the real question is why am I analyzing this?
The answer is that I have been working too hard editing and proofing my manuscript. I need to get away from it. Soon -- we are taking a family vacation next week.
Saturday, Jan 12
After dinner there were speeches and awards and recognition of achievements. The club had four olympians this year, including one guy who ran the fastest 100 meters in South America in 2012. Then the dance floor opened.
Most of the club is between the ages of 22 and 32 and the dance floor was very loud. So Kristina and I escaped downstairs were we found a gathering of older members, the 50+ squad. I marvel at some of these people, in particular two women in there late 70's who are still competing in half marathons. One of them had been recognized at the dinner for a lifetime in the club. She told us that when she had arrived from France in about 1980, she had felt intimidated by New York. But the club had welcomed her with open arms. "And now", she proclaimed with a thick Parisian accent, "I feel like a real American!"
Sunday, January 13
Jan 16 - 22