Nicholas Alstaedt, the cellist, made his NY recital debut in the Frick Music Room on February 21. He and Alexander Lonquich, the pianist, have impeccable credentials. Their choice of music was perfect. I had never appreciated Nadia Boulanger until I heard her Three Pieces for Cello and Piano. The recital included works by Debussy, Britten, Beethoven and Webern.
Wonderful Saturday afternoon with an outstanding Symphony in C, music by Bizet and choreography by Balanchine. The dancers are like race horses, aren’t they? Powerful, agile animals with very strong legs. Dancing in close proximity, they could maim each other. The conductor, Clotilde Otranto, gave us a wonderful afternoon. She came on stage and was dwarfed by the tall dancers.
A very Happy Year of the Monkey. Old friends celebrate the New Year annually, thanks to the hard work of one of our members. We’ve met at the Evergreen for years.
Begin the week with the Frick. End the week with the New York City Ballet. Only in NYC, folks.
Steve Kulchek and one of the members of his team, King, ate in ‘wichcraft. Both had one of the breakfast all day items on the menu.
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.
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.
Treats not tricks. Isn’t it a hoot the way Halloween enchants NYC? Going into stores and seeing clerks wearing horns and mustaches, watching a girl on 14th Street swinging an axe and hoping it’s made of rubber and part of a costume. Who can resist a kid carrying a pumpkin?
My late friend, Al Gescheidt, was crazy about cats and was the wizard of the dark room. Here are a few (clean) examples of his work:
A friend and I swanned around the Art/ Antiques show at the Park Avenue Armory. After two glasses of lovely champagne I had the nerve to try on a $28,000 bracelet.
Steve Kulchek is interested in batting averages and I am interested in the folklore of baseball. Fashion note about the world series: in Kansas City the Mets wore dull gray uniforms. The Royals were in sparkling white and blue. In NYC, the Royals wore the dull gray uniforms and the Mets were in sparky orange (the Giants) and blue (the Dodgers) uniforms.
Steve was rooting for the Mets, of course, being a NYC guy. He plays shortstop on the NYPD team.
Welcome to the Belle Epoque on Irving Place. Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon is housed in The Inn at Irving Place. It serves lovely finger food and has a charming, old world atmosphere. Lady Mendl was Elsie De Wolf, an early interior decorator who worked for Henry Clay Frick Frick and Stanford White.
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.
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.
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,
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.
At the beginning of the week we went to Locanda Verde to celebrate a birthday and had a sinfully delicious ice cream dessert, Fantasia di Cassata for Two. Ricotta gelato is one of the ingredients. The restaurant’s ricotta whether eaten as an appetizer or in dessert is wonderful. Steve Kulchek has promised to bring his daughter, Jessie, here when she returns from her junior year abroad in Sicily.
On June 18 the GVSHP (The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation} dedicated a plaque to Martha Graham at the site of her studio, 66 Fifth Avenue. The elderly, great and good of the dance world stood in the impending rain. Finally, the plaque was unveiled. While Graham danced on video like a five year old at her birthday party, Stuart Hodes told charming stories about being a member of the Graham company from 1947 to 1958. The owner of Two Boots provided pizza al fresco on the chilly June evening.
Stuart Hodes, his wife, Liz, a former Graham dancer, Stuart’s late brother, Al Gescheidt,
and I all lived on Lexington Avenue and 31 Street in a run down apartment house. We had great parties, several drug raids and occasionally, a neighborhood prostitute sleeping under the stairs. Al was a photographer who turned his apartment into a dark room and specialized in trick photography.
Alwan for the Arts on Beaver Street presented an evening of Flamenco and Arab Music, We arrived just in time to get the last two seats in the room on the fourth floor. The chairs were arranged in a semicircle. The six musicians and their various instruments: ouds, guitars, violins, tablas (like bongos), riqs (like tambourines) and drums faced us and there was a tiny space for dancing. It was a perfect NYC evening: intimate, exciting, multicultural, exotic, erotic. Barbara Martinez sang and danced alone and with the percussionist and dancer, Ramzi Eledlebi. Carmen, Steve Kulchek’s long time girlfriend, danced flamenco. Steve made a brave attempt.
Late Sunday afternoon was spent at Alice Tully Hall. CMS, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, presented a Beethoven and Ligeti concert. Alice Tully Hall is a wonderful space. There is room between the seats so that people can pass others. I had heard that Alice Tully was tall and made leg room a requirement of a hall that was financed by her.
I had two book parties in one evening: Bart Boehlert’s and Father Brown’s. The first was in real life. Bart and his companion, Ted Dawson, hosted a relaxed, early evening book party at Judson Memorial Church. Surrounded by John La Farge painted glass windows and Augustus St. Gaudens’s sculpture, we sat in a cozy circle in the Meeting Room. Bart told us about his memoir, HOW I LOOK.The cover, designed by Ted, shows Bart’s very buffed back as he looks at Whistler’s Theodore Durer. Bart spoke about his own life and his mother’s early influence on his respect for American fashion, exemplified by Perry Ellis. Bart mentioned Ellis’s attention to detail. The same could be said about his wonderfully written and designed book which is available on Amazon.
From a UCC church setting I went to a Roman Catholic setting. As soon as I arrived home, I switched on the TV to Channel 21’s Father Brown. Needless to say, the R.C. book signing party was bloodier than the UCC one. Being a mystery set in the 1950s English landed gentry countryside, there is always murder, but there’s always lovely fashion too.
We heard Wycliffe Gordon at Jack Kleinsinger’s Highlights in Jazz held at Manhattan Community College. The first set was great. The second set was long winded. Jay Leonhart, the respected bass player, has taken to verbal riffs that do not match the quality of his playing.
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.