New York City Blog January 31 – February 5

I spent a few days at Weill Cornell Hospital, feeling like the hero of Mark Twain’s  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. It’s like being at a court. There are so many rules, regulations and conventions that the natives understand and that are a mystery to the visitor. The hospital is vast. I assume it employs thousands of doctors, interns, residents, nurses, aides, dietitians, social workers. There are also the clergy who drop in. I looked up from Ripley Underground, a story about a gentile mass murderer, to look into soft brown eyes gazing at me from the bottom of my bed. I guess he was a monk because he was dressed in a Frier Tuck outfit. After a few pious words, he left. After a procedure, a doctor marched in with an entourage. There were at least ten young men and women, reminding me of knights surrounding King Arthur. Were they interns? Anyway, they watched the doctor examine me as the doctor made pleasant chatter. A dietician spoke to me about a healthful diet and gave me written menu suggestions that included diet coke and margarine.

 

The East River viewed from my eleventh floor hospital room

The East River viewed from my eleventh floor hospital room

A few nights later a friend and I attended Jack Kleinsinger’s Highlights in Jazz. As Kleinsinger never tires of reminding the audience, it’s the longest running jazz concert series in NYC. It’s in its 44th year. In the first set a quintet played and sang jazz standards. With the mystery guest, Nicki Parrott on bass, Warren Ache on trumpet and Ted Rosenthal on piano the evening was a treat.

New York City Blog January 24 – January 30

Isn’t visiting a museum you’ve been in many times like visiting old friends? Each work of art pin points a moment in your own life, That’s how I feel when entering the permanent collection at the New Whitney Museum to be greeted by Calder’s Circus. The circus mobiles date from 1926-1931 and show their venerable age. Joseph Albers’s Homage to the Square series recalls the mid-twentieth century. There’s Joseph Stella’s moody Brooklyn Bridge, Richard Avedon’s classy photography and George Bellows’s fight scenes.

 

Calder's Circus in foreground. Bellows in background

Calder’s Circus in foreground. Bellows in background

 

I returned to the fifth floor to see the other Stella again. Frank Stella rules. It’s a big, brash exhibit, the kind of fireworks NYC museums do well.

Frank Stella

Frank Stella

The New Whitney has views of the former meatpacking district, the High Line and the Hudson River. There’s infinitely more natural light than in the old bunker building. Well done, old friends. The move suits you.

An Impressionist View of the Hudson

An Impressionist View of the Hudson

New York City Blog January 18 – January 23

Hello, snow! I’m sitting in my twelfth story aerie with icy patterns on the windows, cosy and warm inside and peering out at a deserted, white world. I’m pulling a Nero Wolfe, aside from orchids, and reading The Gazette, the Wolfe Pack journal.

Have you seen Janis: Little Girl Blue? A friend and I went to one of IFC’s tiny theaters and sat nose to nose with the screen. During her career, Joplin scared me. Her raw emotion and sound invaded parts of my subconscious I was avoiding. To this day, I sidle up to friends and ask if they liked her. The response has always been a resounding and unanimous yes. I went to the documentary to see if I’d grown up. Yes and no. Joplin no longer scared me. Instead, I was fascinated by her middle class background and revolted by the unkindness she encountered. For me, she was a social phenomenon. I’m still waiting to appreciate her music. The documentary had great shots of 1960’s San Francisco and Woodstock. Afterwards, we trotted down Sixth Avenue and had an afternoon snack, the best pork buns in town and lovely green tea.

 

G Y G's Answer to Salad

G Y G’s Answer to Salad

Gonzalez Y Gonzalez is a great guacamole/tequila/chips joint that’s two feet from the Angelica movie house. A friend and I tucked into everything fried and alcoholic before seeing Carol. It’s a very pretty movie, that turned a good book, The Price of Salt, into a soap opera.This time, Patricia Highsmith has eluded the director, Todd Haynes. If there’s an academy award for props like fur coats and cigarette lighters,  Carol is a shoo-in. I was more interested in the luscious clothes, hair styles -those straight parts are such a turn on – and vintage cars than I was in the women.

 

New York City Blog January 10 – January 16

Ever read the Nancy Drew series? Nancy Drew’s father, Carson Drew, had a shiny black roadster. I felt like a Nancy Drew character as my editor and I, in her shiny blue Honda, drove from East 20 Street to 125 Street, crossed over to the westside and zoomed south to Wall Street. We were citing the locations of my next mystery, Graphic Lessons. Gigi Hernandez, a young Puerto Rican girl attending the Windsor School (90 Street and Park Ave.) as a scholarship student, lives at East 124 Street with her Uncle George, a Winslow kitchen worker who got her the scholarship, her father, Manuel, who also works at the school as a handyman and who takes incriminating photos of a NYPL department captain, Richard Holbrook (domicile: 114 East 90 Street) and his secret squeeze (1088 Park Avenue). Detective Steve Kulchek (20th Street Loop, Stuyvesant Town) is the lead investigator of a murder at the Windsor School.

Alan Rickman died at 69. In 2005, Rickman directed the award-winning play My Name is Rachel Corrie, which he and Katharine Viner – now Guardian editor-in-chief – compiled from the emails of the student who was killed by a Caterpillar bulldozer while protesting against the actions of the Israel Defense Forces in the Gaza Strip. This was not mentioned in the American media.

A friend and I attended Alwan for the Arts for the fifth annual Maqam festival. Maqam is an Arabic melody type.Tareq Abboushi and his musical band, Shusmo, filled the room and probably most of Beaver Street with the sound of enchanting, exotic music. Remember the tambourine? In elementary school, if you had zero musical talent you played the tambourine or the triangle. Zafer Tawil who plays at least five different instruments, made the tambourine rock not to mention the strap of bells around his right ankle, a yellow gourd filled with seeds and a drum.

Zafer Tawil, king of the tamborine and Arabic percussion

Zafer Tawil, king of Arabic percussion

 

New York City Blog January 3 – January 10

Books and words are old friends, aren’t they? Fiction, nonfiction, dictionaries, picture books, maps… One of my pleasures is to browse in a bookstore or library and see familiar names across the centuries: Chaucer, Saint Simon, Emily Dickenson, Amy Lowell, Kenneth Graham, Edith Wharton, James Baldwin, E. M. Forester, Ruth Rendell, Michael Connolly, etc. Each recognized name makes me recall the book, the author, the circumstances under which I read it. When I read Simenon’s description of French life it takes me back to a rural train station near Rodez in which my partner and I had delicious

Books

homemade soup. Andrea Wulf’s Founding Gardeners whisked me back to colonial times and to the fragility of the brand new United States.

A man once told me that he enjoyed flipping open a dictionary at random to wander among the words and their derivations. One reason I enjoy the British sitcom, Black Books, so much is because it takes place in an old fashioned, hideously disorganized bookstore. I had thought of opening a children’s bookstore but chickened out when I faced the reality of cost. Reading is a wonderful way of taking a trip in time and space. Why does it grip some of us more than TV, movies and the stage?

New York City Blog Dec. 27 – January 3

My New Year’s Gift to You: Stream Black Books on Netflix. It’s screamingly funny. I never appreciated the so called humor of the Hollywood screwball comedies, but the Brits have created a goofy, very politically incorrect sitcom. It reminds me of Faulty Towers and I hope you enjoy it.

The Film Forum on Houston brings back memories of my Uncle Bill’s Indiana movie house, the Ritz. Like the Film Forum it seated about 500 people and had wooden seats. Unlike the Film Forum, on Tuesdays the Indiana Bachelors sang harmony before the Ritz’s main feature. Did you see The Last Picture Show? The Ritz could have been in that Italian movie, but so could the Film Forum.  Recently, I saw Ball of Fire at the Film Forum. Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper and Dana Andrews star. It’s not The Lady Eve, unfortunately. She’s great of course. Cooper is game about playing a virginal scientist and Dana Andrews tries to shed his middle class aura and talk tough guy. It’s amazing what contract players were forced to do.

Frank Stella: A Retrospective is on the Whitney’s fifth floor. It’s a big, bright powerhouse of an exhibit, the kind of show NYC museums do well. Steve Kulchek’s current girlfriend had to drag him out of the exhibit, he was enjoying it so much and threatening to make a sculpture out of one of his old cars.  Afterwards, they got into the enormous and beautiful elevator, shades of the old Whitney, and glided to the Whitney Collection on 6.

Frank Stella: A Retrospective

Frank Stella: A Retrospective

Franks Stella: A Retrospective

Franks Stella: A Retrospective

New York City Blog Dec. 20 – Dec. 26

window catChristmas was wonderful and bizarre. A dear friend who has given Christmas dinner for years had to fly to the west coast. She kindly and generously put one of the other members of our gang in charge of hosting the dinner. He did a fine job. It was such a special dinner that one of the cats clung to a door frame gazing at the goodies out of his reach.

 

 

Earlier in the week, I got out of a taxi on west 46 Street and thought I’d arrived at a terrorist invasion. Not at all. The terrorists were merely tourists who had decided to dine at Becco which is part of the Lidia Matticchio Bastianich restaurant empire. People overflowed the always crowded sidewalk. Inside, Becco reminded me of the C Train at rush hour. I found my pal tucked in a corner under bottles of preserved foods that looked like illustrations from Gray’s Anatomy. The food was fine and the $29 bottle of wine was great. Eating at Becco’s is like eating in a mall.
We got to Ruby Rims & Friends do the Can Can just in time. The performances were to benefit Rauschenbusch Food Pantry and Judson Memorial Church. John McMahon directs this holiday extravaganza featuring lots of performers from the Broadway and Cabaret world.

On Christmas eve we went to Pesce and Pasta on Bleecker. Complete chaos. Just as you’ve resorted to pray for a table, the chaos clears, and you – yes, you – are given a table. It’s a taste of Italy and I hope you survive.
My friend polished off his cheesecake in record time and we scooted around the corner to IMC. The IMC movie house (né the Waverly) features left wing documentaries and dramas. Even its feature films, such as 45 Years, star old lefties. Tom Courtney and Charlotte Rampling plod gently through a mini drama about his long ago lover.

New York City Blog Dec. 14 – Dec. 19

Al Carmines’s oratorio, Christmas Rappings, was first presented at Judson Memorial Church in 1969. It’s part of Judson’’s DNA, as Rev. Micah Bucey said yesterday at the second of two presentations in Judson’s Meeting Room. There’s nothing like homegrown masterpieces. Russell Treyz directed the 64 (?) member chorus and narrators. Treyz and the ensemble captured it all: the magic and simplicity of the nativity, the music’s bittersweet tone wrapped in the angst and excitement of the 1960’s. There have been many productions of Christmas Rappings. Each successive one carries the memories and voices of the past. As I write this, I’m listening to a YouTube presentation from the original production.

After the performance, a friend and I celebrated a Christmas tradition: We go to Minetta Tavern, sit at the same table, reserved and begged for weeks in advance, and dive into their divine Old Tom Collins and Bone Marrow. Having an ambulance on call is extra.

I attended a forum organized by the Gotham Greens local of the Green Party of New York County, Movement Building – Bernie Sanders and/or the Green Party, held in the LGBT building on Thirteenth Street. It was heartening to be with a group of about sixty people who are adamant about supporting third parties and changing our political system. Eight participants spoke for five minutes. John Baldwin, a long time Green member, spoke cogently about Sanders being a liberal Democrat who will throw his votes to Clinton. Baldwin supports Jill Klein, the Green Party candidate. Other speakers such as Alan Arrives, a member of Socialist Alternative, supports Sanders. After the panelists spoke, there was a Q & A session. Not a whisper of that sad old remark about Ralph Nader botching an election.
Here’s a recent Michael Moore statement:
“Fortunately, Donald, you and your supporters no longer look like what America actually is today. We are not a country of angry white guys. Here’s a statistic that is going to make your hair spin: Eighty-one percent of the electorate who will pick the president next year are either female, people of color, or young people between the ages of 18 and 35.”

Politically, I agree with Michael Moore, but his manner irks me as much as the Donald’s does. Remember Steve Martin’s quib about Michael Moore? Martin made it when he was the Academy Awards host. Moore had won an award for one of his documentaries. Being Moore, he made a business out of it. He insisted that the other nominees accompany him to the stage. Finally he got off the stage, after a great deal of showing off. Martin said, “You know those teamsters are good guys. I just saw them helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his car.”

New York City Blog Dec. 6 – Dec. 12

For the holiday season a friend organizes a dim sum lunch at Jing Fong Restaurant on Elizabeth Street. It’s vast. You ascend to the restaurant by escalators that are at least two stories high. You then enter the dining area that’s at least two football fields long. In a cheerful cacophony, servers bustle around the tables offering bits and pieces of Chinese cuisine.

 

A Jing Fong Server

A Jing Fong Server

After lunch, some us braved a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. It was packed with natives and tourists taking selfies of themselves and their large families. Bikers steered their way through the milling crowds. Once on the Brooklyn side, we went down a series of stairs to DUMBO, an acronym for Down Under Manhattan Brooklyn Overpass. I think it was Nancy Mitford who described Venetian tourists as being like ants. They walk in a line. Get away from the line and there are fewer people. This is true of DUMBO. Underneath the Manhattan Bridge there’s a glimpse of old Brooklyn: brick warehouses and cobbled streets. It’s like a movie set and probably is one.

DUMBO

DUMBO: LOOKING AT MANHATTAN FROM UNDER THE MANHATTAN BRIDGE

 

 

New York City Blog Nov. 22- Nov. 28

Signs of our times: we went to a 14th Street theatre to see The Martian. It was like an airport. We scaled the complex’s heights on a series of elevators.Then waited in line to have our backpacks, etc. examined. Sir Ridley Scott directed the movie. Internationally we’re joined at the hip so I guess it makes sense for a Brit to direct the all American The Martian. Mars is American, too. Matt Damon, stranded on Mars, grows potatoes in his own excrement, strews the landscape with rubbish, flashes his buffed butt and leaves notes about not destroying a machine because it saved his life. See what I mean about being American? The movie is achingly politically correct. The captain of the team that deserted Matt is a woman with not a hair out of place. Having made the initial mistake of thinking our hero was dead and leaving Mars without him, the captain is the one who, in the last hours of the movie, straps herself into nine hundred pounds of tech stuff and saves him. Matt Damon was perfect and Ridley Scott is a master at building tension. What was pathetic was our American need to be popular, to be loved. Scenes of the Chinese -yes, the Chinese – applauding and the rest of the world holding its breath as our brave astronaut is saved. Will the day come when we Americans applaud others with the same fervor we expect from them? I doubt it.

We went to one of the few old time movie houses in Manhattan to see a documentary about Peggy Guggenheim. Peggy had only five hundred thousand dollars in the early fifties. Poor dear. She picked up her palazzo on the Venetian Grand Canal for a song. The next fifty years were spent collecting modern art, sleeping with artists, getting married and divorced and swanning around Venice with her dogs in the last private gondola. The documentary brought back memories of Venice. Entering the Guggenheim in Venice long ago was like coming very late to a cocktail party. That’s changed. Now, the Venice Guggenheim is well run and packed.
Peggy Guggenheim’s gondola is in the Maritime Museum, a wonderful place that shows how wedded Venice, la Serenissima, is to the sea.