I went to the Vittorio De Sica festival at Film Forum. Being cowardly, I didn’t choose to see Umberto D. again, a heart wrenching movie about old age in postwar Italy. It even includes a dog. Instead, I saw Max Opel’s The Earrings of Madame D…starring Danelle Darrieux, Charles Boyer and Vittorio De Sica. What a load of elegant nonsense. The three actors swan around for what seems like hours in gorgeous costumes and great jewelry. The late Roger Ebert lauded the film for its technical mastery. Mr. Ebert was a white male and his eyes seemed as teary as John Boehner’s as he described the lost and found and lost love motif. I’m a white female and reacted differently. I was angry with myself for having fallen in my youth for the myth that all a woman needs are looks and guile. Danelle Darrieux has outlived her princess heroine who dies young. (After all, what’s a woman worth after the age of thirty?) Ms. Darrieux is 98. She’s neck and neck with another Parisian inhabitant, 99 year old Olivia de Havilland, one of the few actresses who could play goodness well i.e. Melanie in Gone with the Wind.
The New York Academy of Medicine sponsored Andrea Wulf’s talk about her newest book, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World. The naturalist, Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), introduced many theories about nature, ecology and weather which have been incorporated into our modern sensibility. Wulf honors her fellow German by recounting his adventurous life, describing his accomplishments and name dropping. Among von Humboldt’s disciples were Charles Lyell, Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, George Perkins Marsh and John Muir. Wulf is an engaging speaker and attracted a large crowd in the Academy of Medicine’s library.
N. Y. Academy of Medicine’s Library
I chose to go to MOMA’s blockbuster Picasso Sculpture on a rainy Friday, thinking the threat of Hurricane Joaquin would keep New Yorkers indoors. I hadn’t reckoned on the tourists, but it still wasn’t too crowded. MOMA allows photos. People were taking selfies with the sculpture. I chose to spare you. I’m throwing in the permanent helicopter.
Isn’t the family of man the most dysfunctional of all? At first, the Interfaith Service at the World Trade Center reminded me of Thanksgiving with everyone dressed nicely, on their best behavior and putting up with a loquacious and boring uncle i. e.Timothy Cardinal Dolan. There were lots of white men, a few women, one or two Asians, a token Black or two. The drama was that the faiths which usually are battling or ignoring each other came together to honor the dead. I was moved. Religion is once again sexy. And Pope F. has left town just as he was beginning to be too much.
I finally made it to the Whitney in its newish location, 99 Gansevoort Street.The Whitney claims itself to be the world’s leading museum of U. S. twentieth-century and contemporary art. I beg to differ. How about MOMA? How about the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art? How about ———. Fill in your choice. I think most of the Whitney instillations/ projects etc. could be carted away by a dumpster. What I do like is the breeze off the Hudson on the outdoor exhibit spaces and the NYC attitude.
I went to the Arsenal in Central Park to the Garden and Forest Book Club to discuss Jack Nisbet’s David Douglas, a Naturalist at Work, An Illustrated Exploration Across Two Centuries in the Pacific Northwest. By a happy coincidence I had read most of the book while in Oregon and had been to the Oregon Historical Society to see a small exhibit about Douglas. Douglas (1799-1834) made a systematic collection of northwest flora and fauna, before dying at age 35. At the book club we discussed the practice of sending specimens from across the sea to another part of the world. i.e. the U. S. Northwest to Scotland. Nowadays there is controversy among gardeners and botanists about native plants and invasive (foreign) species.
Subway Stop: 5th Ave. & 59 Street
Symphony Space is, as every New Yorker knows, on upper Broadway. I love Broadway because it refuses to be gentrified, a fate that has befallen Fourteenth Street and Alphabet City. The Thalia is housed in Symphony Space. Years ago, the original Thalia was on slightly seedy Eighth Avenue. It was a movie house and was kicked out of the downtown neighborhood for showing dirty movies. So it moved uptown.The Joyce Theatre replaced the Thalia in what is now uber gentrified Chelsea. Meanshile, back at Symphony Space’s Leonard Nimoy Thalia, we attended a jazz concert by middle eastern musicians, sponsored by Alwan. Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Ensemble celebrated the release of its third CD, Crisis.With a mix of eastern and western instruments, the noted trumpeter, ElSaffar, and his ensemble expressed their anger about the current middle eastern tragedy.
I spent the weekend in Connecticut. Remember the Merritt Parkway? Think Howard Johnson Restaurants and other 1930’s icons.The Parkway has tree canopies, art deco bridges – in concrete. Don’t forget. It was built in the late 1930’s. To this day it has limited access which means no commercial vehicles, trailers, towed vehicles, buses, or hearses. It runs from the New York state line in Greenwich, where it serves as the continuation of the Hutchinson River Parkway, to the Housatonic River in Stratford, where the Wilber Cross Parkway begins. It’s a wonderful way to begin a country weekend near Ivoryton.
I went to the IFC Center to see Phoenix. It’s a German film that reminded me of that French oldie, Diabolique. Phoenix has a perfect noir setting: postwar Germany. The Jews who survived the death camps eye their German neighbors suspiciously and the Gentiles reek with guilt. The plot isn’t plausible, but Kurt Weill’s and Ogden Nash’s Speak Low is as haunting as ever. Originally, the IFG was the Waverley, well known and well regarded for funky films. It was the first movie house to show midnight screenings and audience participation of The Rocky Horror Show. Once an independent movie house, iit’s now owned by AMC networks.
Speaking of movie houses, have I told you about Portland, Oregon’s The Living Room? It’s the sort of theatre where they show arty flicks like Phoenix plus, and it’s a big plus, serve food and drinks to you while you’re watching the movie. There’s the Bagdad in Hawthorne. It’s a movie palace of old: miles of red carpet, Aladdin and His Lamp stairways and decor. Food and drink are also served. You will never find Phoenix at the Baghdad, but you will find Mission: Impossible.
Fat Afro Latin Jazz Cats. How’s that for a name? It’s the pre-professional youth orchestra of the nonprofit Afro Latin Jazz Alliance. It’s sensational. The musicians are dazzling and so young. Not one member is over eighteen, but they play like seasoned professionals. They were trained by Arturo O’Farrell, Jim Seeley, and Zack O’Farrell. In Brooklyn, Sunday afternoon they performed at the Emmanuel Baptist Church Jazz Vespers.
Steve Kulchek’s old basketball ankle injury kicked in so he went to Sports Medicine at the Beth Israel Mecial Center on 14th Street and Union Square East. He brightened up when he saw the wing was named after Louis Armstrong, one of his favorite trumpeters. I asked him why a hospital wing would be named after a musician. It’s an American curiosity, isn’t it? Is it our love of celebrities? We’re ahistorical but we need famous people. Can you imagine a photo of Lafayette eliciting the same response as Louis Armstrong? Never. Lafayette is dead and foreign. Besides, few people have heard of him. How about the picture of a saint? Can you imagine Saint Sabastian complete with arrows hanging in the medical center’s atrium?
There’s an exhibit of Frida Kahlo’s botanical drawings at the N. Y. Botanical Gardens. It’s a small but exquisite exhibit. Kahlo interests me more as a person living a tumultuous and often tragic life rather than as an artist. However, since one of the characters in my upcoming mystery, Graphic Lessons, impersonates her, I wanted to look at Kahlo’s art and get a sense of her love of tropical flowers.
Frida Kahlo’s botanical art
Burger & Lobster on Nineteen Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues is lots of fun. It’s new. It opened at the end of 2014 and it’s young and noisy. You can sit in a booth, always a plus, and the service is very good. Three entrees are on offer: lobster roll, lobster and burgers. This photo is of Steve’ Kulchek’s buddy, Hank. He eats both the lobster and the lobster roll. Lobsters give him strength, he says. Right, Bro.
Hank’s Lobster Fix
I’ve just spent two days near Claryville, N. Y. It’s in the heart of the Catskill Mountains. There’s perfect air and active wildlife. At different times, I watched from my host’s window as deer frolicked under the apple trees and a bear help herself to an apple. In the daed of night I heard coyotes calling to each other. The locals claim they have killer winters but they can’t complain about August.
Food is poison. Food is medicine. Chefs are competitive. Chefs are gods. Chefs are dictators. Welcome to the first half of the 21st century. 14th Street and adjacent neighborhoods explode with food stores. From the east side going west, there are Associated, the Food Emporium, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Garden of Eden, Westside Market, and Chelsea Market. Each place has an individual character and atmosphere. On First Avenue is Associated. It’s the artisan/non-gluten/gluten breadbasket of Stuyvesant Town. On the south side of Fourteenth Street is Trader Joe’s with its fake people friendly atmosphere and very tired vegetables and fruits. Part of its popularity is that it presents itself as less expensive than the other food stores. Its wine shop does have great buys. Two buck Chuck, the house wine, costs very little. Supposedly, that’s thanks to a nasty divorce. Crossing the street and moving west we come to The Food Emporium on the north corner and east side of Union Square. It’s big, impersonal and expensive. On Saturdays, skirting Union Square Park, there’s the shrine to fresh, green and local, the Farmers Market. Let’s duck across the street to the south side. Smack on Union Square is Whole Foods where I’ve spent the bulk of my 401K. Like a gambling casino, there are no clocks. Garden of Eden and Westside Market are on Fourteenth Street’s north side. Turning right on Ninth Street we come to Chelsea Market, an indoor marketplace that features architecture, art and fashion bowing down to food.
Steve Kulchek, who lives in Stuyvesant Town,
Fresh from the Farmers Market
ducks into Associated after a late shift and grabs mac and cheese from the prepared food section. It brings back birthday memories. His Aunt Bess would prepare his favorite food: mac and cheese sprinkled with crispy bacon. Since Steve is also nuts about olives, each year since he was seven, his Uncle Con presents him with a jar.
Back in NYC – As the Italians say, autumn begins in August. The diagonal light conjures up 40’s ballads about the city. I strolled through Washington Square Park. It’s what Pioneer Square is in Portland and St. Mark’s in Venice – the city living room.
Washington Square Arch at dusk
Still waiting to hear from Amtrak. On Aug. 1, I slept on the floor of the train’s lounge. Those of us who were in Car 2830 were ordered to leave our compartments and stay in the lounge. No Coach seats were available. Not a word from Amtrak.
Back to NYC. I did something I haven’t done in years. I went to a double feature at Film Forum. First, The Third Man, one of my favorite movies. There’s always something to discover. This time I watched the actor who played Mr Winkle blow the dust off an objet d’art as he listened to hapless Holly Martin. Then, I scooted across the corridor and saw Listen to me Marlon. It’s based on Marlon Brando’s observations of his exciting and unhappy life.
Have you been to China: Through the Looking Glass at the Met? Apparently it’s not essential to see the exhibit. It’s three floors of darkness with splinters of light and American jazz. At the other end of the building is the Sergeant exhibit. It’s wonderful. You can see the art – imagine! And it goes on for miles.
Sergeant’s Villa Torlonia, Frascati
At IFC (the old Waverly) a friend and I saw Best of Enemies, a documentary about the William Buckley and Gore Vidal debates. It was delicious. They had vitriolic tongues and thoughts which they expressed well. Maybe the debates were the high point of their lives. Both clung to their anger long after the event was over.
While I was in Portland, OR. I interviewed Alana Hartman. This week it was on the Judson Memorial Church web page, the Judson Fountain, and is also on my blog under Interviews.
Alana Hartman and I met when she lived in New York City. While there she studied at Hunter and married the Reverend Michael Ellick, who was a minister at Judson Memorial Church.
In Portland, Alana and I had brunch in Raven and Rose, a restaurant in the Ladd Carriage House. We discussed the eventful year it had been for her and her husband. Michael had been appointed the senior minister at the Portland First Congregational Church and Alana had received her Hunter College MSW. They moved from NYC to Portland, found housing and settled into an apartment with their two cats. On Valentine’s Day 2015, Alana had a miscarriage and one of the cats died. She described herself as still being in a state of grief. I thought of the Judson Memorial Church’s sorrow on hearing the news and the decision that we not disturb the mourning, much loved, couple.
At Hunter’s School of Social Work Alana had focused on Aging. Here in Portland, she works as a social worker with the elderly at Providence ElderPlace.
MJR: Why the elderly?
AH: I guess it’s what you’re accustomed to. My mother was a single mom and we lived with my grandparents. I’ve always lived around the elderly and feel comfortable with them. When I was in elementary school and high school, I’d volunteer in nursing homes. My friends thought I was crazy.
MJR: At one time weren’t you interested in dance?
AH: I attended Cincinnati’s High School of the Performing Arts. I focused on ballet.
MJR: You didn’t continue?
AH: By the time I was at Loyola in Chicago, I was burned out. I studied sociology and became interested in community organizing.
MJR: Didn’t you and Mellnick (Michael Ellick’s nickname) meet in Chicago?
AH: We met at an IAF national community organizing training between my junior and senior year.
AH: Industrial Areas Foundation is a network of local faith and community-based organizations. And we met over community organizations.
MJR: Love at first sight?
AH: Pretty much. (said with a pleased smile) In Portland we lived briefly at Peace House.
MJR: It’s a commune?
AH: It’s a community. Michael and I are very excited about forming Peace House 2 which we’re moving into in August. We’re a mix of young, middle-aged and elderly.
This is a link to the 18th Avenue Peace House: 18thavepeacehouse.org/
MJR: As an older person, I’m delighted you’re interested in our age group.
AH: It bothers me that in our society you are your work. What happens after you’re no longer a banker or bricklayer?
MJR: In the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, the tombstones for the Brits had their rank and the tombstones for the Americans had their professions.
AH: One’s a class based society and we’re an industrial based society.
We concentrated on our coffee and bloody mary.
AH: The elderly often die alone.Why should the end of life be a punishment instead of part of the journey we all share?
MJR: What’s it like being a minister’s wife? I know Michael is the lodestone but you are too.
AH: A Church is a 24/7 job.You have to define your own personality and be yourself. You have to establish boundaries for your own peace of mind.
Former President Jimmy Carter, age 90, was in Portland to sign his latest book, A Full Life. I think Alana is an “old soul” and one who is leading her own full and fulfilling life.
Fond memories of Portland: Happy Hours range from 3 pm to 6 pm and feature cocktails, well drinks and food. Olives and nuts are $2.00 and prices increase with the food choices. Eat your hearts out, New Yorkers. You can have a drink or two plus delicious small dishes for under $20. Two of my favorite places are Lincoln in the Northwest and Sapphire in the Southeast. Slightly more expensive is People’s Pig. Sitting on the 40’s red bar stools you can drink Habanero Marguaritas in a jar and watch the owner /chef prepare delicious North Carolina barbecue.
Drink up! A People’s Pig Margarita
On the train going back to NYC or the calm before the storm. Sat. 9:30 a.m.12 noon. I was sitting in the Empire Builder Lounge Car starring out at Glacier National Park and having a delightful conversation with a politician from Little Rock, Ark. who told me tales out of school about Clinton. At the same time, a volunteer with the Tracks and Talks organization told us about Montana being the fourth largest state; that the railroad invented the slogan,”See American First” to lure wealthy Americans to travel to the west rather than to Europe; that at one time members of the Blackfoot tribe would greet passengers when they arrived in Glacier. We would soon be arriving in Havre which prompted the speaker to tell a joke. It’s a joke best kept for a bar, late at night, when everybody’s had too much to drink and isn’t choosy about quality. It goes like this: two men were fighting over a woman. When one of them won, he said to the other suitor, you can have her. Thus, the name Havre. Get it??? Do you think that’s the name origin of Havre,France?
Unfortunately, I’ll never forget Havre, Montana. At 1:25 pm Sat. someone banged on my compartment door. A woman official: Didn’t you hear the announcement? We’re taking this car off the rails. Had I stumbled into a Grade B movie? There were no more sleepers or seats, so all the occupants in the condemned car had to sit in the lounge.That night I ended up sleeping on the lounge floor. On one side, I was wedged between the bolted to the floor lounge chairs and the bolted to the floor side tables. On the other side I was eye ball to eye ball with a fender that skirts the bottom of the windows.No one will ever accuse Amtrak of being house proud. If you’re missing dirty tissues, several pennies, I found them. I decided to sleep, a generic term for lying quietly and dreaming of a law suit, and stare out the observation lounge (how I hate that word) ceiling at the moon.
The next evening, after a three hour wait in Chicago’s Union Station, I crawled onto the Lake Shore Limited and headed home to NYC.