New York City Blog Aug.24 – Aug. 30

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
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
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.

Deer in the Catskills
Deer in the Catskills

New York City Blog Aug.16 – Aug. 22

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
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.

New York City Blog Aug. 8 – Aug. 15

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
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
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.

New York City Blog Aug. 3 – Aug. 8

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.
MJR:What’s IAF?
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:

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.

New York City Blog from the Empire Builder July 26 – Aug. 2

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
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.