A few friends and I gather early Sunday mornings for gossip and coffee. Our favorite place is Caffe Reggio. It’s dark and crowded with heavy furniture. It opened in 1927 when Italy was still a monarchy. There’s an air of having stumbled into the attic of a dilapidated Italian palazzo. Cappuccino was brought to the U. S. by the owner and it’s still delicious.
Scarpetta is an NYC restaurant with the NYC buzz. Very Wall Street: Young buccaneers having a wonderful and noisy time in a crowded restaurant. We were slammed against a wall that separated us, barely, from the waiters going to and fro. It was like dining on the L. I. E. The signature spaghetti (oops sorry, pasta) dish looked appetizing but needed salt and the panna cotta dessert was predictable. The food is Italianate and the atmosphere is definitely Manhattan.
I attend The Garden & Forest Book Club held in Central Park’s Arsenal. Why, you ask. Because I know very little about gardens and forests and am now surrounded by people who work in those areas. They are devoted to all aspects of their world. Our required reading has included treatises, histories, memoirs. The latest book is Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees. We had a lively, mostly positive, discussion about this anthropomorphic approach to explaining the similar nature of trees and people. Peter Wohlleben is on YouTube.
Graphic Lessons: Recent widow Millie Fitzgerald applies for a private school teaching job, faints on a stabbed and dying man, deals with the only witness to the stabbing – a troubled nine year old, develops a crush on a NYPD detective and her dog dies.
Graphic Lessons: NYPD Detective Steve Kulchek: something’s eating at him: a failed marriage? surviving a car bomb? his girlfriend marrying his corrupt boss? screwing up an important case?
Graphic Lessons: Nine year old Dana is the only witness who overhears three people fighting with George Lopez, the soon to be stabbed Windsor School kitchen worker. Who can she tell? Her mother who never listens or accuses her of lying? Her father who’s started a new family in Singapore?
On Sunday I was a docent for Open House (www.ohny.org). It focused on tours and talks about New York buildings and sites. My building was the Judson Memorial Church, built by Stanford White in 1890-92 and situated at the south end of Washington Square Park. Since taking photos was allowed, people clicked away at the John LaFarge stained glassed windows. My favorites are the boys in the back room or the balcony, Peter, Paul and John.The rosettes that decorate the arches were later repeated by White in his design of the Washington Square Arch.
On Tuesday, I watched politicians congratulating themselves as Mayor de Blasio announced that Blackstone is buying the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village apartment complex, built in the late 1940’s. Blackstone will pay over five billion dollars for 80 acres that house thirty thousand people in eleven thousand apartments. Wow!
At the Arsenal, the Garden and Forest Book Club discussed Andrea Wulf’s book, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World. Humboldt was an environmentalist, explorer, and naturalist. The list of his achievements is extraordinary and yet he’s forgotten. Wolf explains in her book that she want to re-ignite recognition of Humboldt. One of the fringe benefits of meeting at the Arsenal is getting off the subway at 57 Street and Fifth Avenue. MTA has done itself proud with murals of birds and other animals in the nearby Central Park Children’s Zoo.
Shortly before leaving NYC for Portland, Or. I attended a farewell party on the top floor of the Central Park Arsenal for a wonderful gardener. The Prosecco and best wishes flowed.
Friday afternoon I got on the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago. The compartment was an updated version seen in North by Northwest but where was Cary Grant? It was very cozy with big windows that give you a wonderful view of the Hudson. I had dinner at 5 pm.The food was: tired salad with packets of Paul Newman dressing on plastic plates followed by mediocre salmon with canned vegetables and potatoes out of a box. I had something called strawberry cheesecake which was pink, hard pablum. I had a half bottle of red wine for $16 bucks. Thanks God for booze.
In Chicago I switched to the Empire Builder. It’s a double decker train. At Spokane, WA. the front part of the train goes to Seattle and the rear part goes to Portland. Wonderful views of the Wisconsin Dells, the Mississippi, Glacier National Park in Montana and the Columbia River Gorge.
I went to the monthly book club at the Central Park Arsenal, built between 1847 – 1851. It had stored New York State Militia arms and the building predates the park. We met in a renovated room on the third floor complete with a new table and matching chairs. It smelled like a new car. I miss the too large wooden table, the chairs that were deceptive rockers. If caught off guard you’d go into a swinging motion like an amusement park ride. Most of all I miss Frederick Law Olmsted’s and Calvert Vaux’s 1857 design plan that hung on one wall. The men had submitted it to the Central Park design competition. Now, it’s in some safe, prestigious spot.
We talked about the most recently read book, Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. I wonder if Bryson has ever received a more thoughtful discussion of one of his works. The book club is made up of professional gardeners, landscape artists and environmentalists. All are serious readers. Some liked Bryson’s larky, take it or leave it attitude to nature, but some dismissed the book as too frivolous. Since I write mysteries I appreciate the difficulty of writing a well crafted story, but as an astute reader pointed out, A Walk in the Woods seemed like a movie script. Ouch. Once I heard that I thought of the set dialogue, Sancho Panza sidekick and predictably happy ending.
A few blocks north and a few days later, I went to the Frick Collection to see Charles Coypel’s Don Quixote’s Tapestries. Coypel’s eighteenth century drawings of the novel, Don Quixote, were woven into tapestries by Gobelins. At the Frick they’re hung in the Oval Room and East Gallery. They gleam. it’s hard not to touch them.
Steve Kulchek told me that his Uncle Con, a retired NYPD detective, started out as a patrolman. His beat, as they said in those days, included 5th Avenue and 70th Street. Con was ordered to pick up a man who lived in a nearby building for questioning. When Con went to the apartment, the guy’s wife told him that her husband was at the Frick. Con thought the Frick was a movie house.At that time, there were several in the area. So Con combed them. Finally, someone enlightened him. Con went to the Frick Collection and collected the guy in front of a Memling.
Since I write crime procedurals, I’m always interested in new crime fiction. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are kicking up their heels playing Louisiana detectives in HBO’s True Detective. McConaughey plays the big cliche´– the loner who speaks the harsh truth, no family i.e. dead child, lives for his work and never, never smiles. Harrelson plays the old Southern boy who keeps a smiley face lid on everything. You know what? It works. These two actors are character actors and they are great together. Also, the script is witty. It helps that it’s set in Louisiana, reinforcing our northern suspicion that deeply southern states have lower standards of morality than we do. (Forget about bridge gate. HE didn’t know anything about it.)
“Seize the hilltops!” These words, encouraging settlers’ land grabs, were yelled by the late Ariel Sharon after the signing of the Oslo accords. As I listened to Joe Biden making one of his high school speeches larding praise on Arik, King of Israel, I wondered about the lack of coverage of the Palestinians’ reaction to the death of the Monster. Was he partially responsible for the massacre of civilians at Qibya in 1953, then at Sabra and Shatila in 1982? We’ll never know from American media.
I accompanied a gardener friend to the Arsenal in Central Park. It’s a brick building that predates the park and was built between 1847 and 1851. Originally, the Arsenal was an arms and ammunition storehouse for the New York State Militia. We attended a discussion about Russell Page’s The Education of a Gardener. Fascinating to enter a world about which I know nothing and to listen to people who dedicate their lives to preserving the Earth’s earth and the complexities that involves.