It’s New York Baby
Four days in the city that never sleeps. Sort of a cultural exchange.
Well I guess the first thing is that getting out of YVR wasn’t so easy, the perks of “Diamond” status with Aeroplan somewhat elusive and then the “arbitrary” selection for luggage inspection, then the huge queue at Starbucks and the staff refusing to load my “Swarovski crystal” card with gift cards advising me I can do it online (I cannot; I write that definitively–and I mean do they even know who I am? I should have said that “Do you know who I am? They don’t hand out Swarovski crystal cards to just anyone…”) and then deciding to use my one annual “Diamond” perk to get a free lounge visit only to encounter another huge queue. But there is something special about row 18 in the AC economy Dreamliner (the same aircraft we flew up front to Brisbane a few months back) which for a “mere” $60 you can enjoy the legroom and expanse of the premium eco wannabes one row above.
I watched some Einstein; why did it take so long for Nat Geo to realize that Downton Abbey slash Mad Men type sagas of “geniuses” would make good TV for the masses? Just too bad about all the Russian accents. Or German accents. Or whatever they were.
We made good time. We arrived early. But then spent about 40 minutes circling Newark. At least the luggage came through. By the time I’d taken the airport monorail then the NJ train to Penn, then walked over to 7th Avenue and up two blocks and checked in it was hitting seven; I guess I could have seen one more play, but as it was I unpacked, showered, and headed downtown to the Public.
Emergency on planet earth.
Alas, they couldn’t save the mousie.
All hail Joe Papp. Just had to get that in while there was an opp. For a mere $35 you get a two-hour concert in the intimate, appealing and well proportioned Joe’s Pub.
To say Justin Vivian Bond is a hoot is to say Owl is a metaphor for wisdom in the Hundred Acre Wood: obvious but irrelevant. Who knew Richard Carpenter went to rehab for, wait for it, an addiction to Quaaludes. Wow. Those were the days I guess.
She sang, told stories, sang some more, and paraded about in a jacket and pant suit that, in her words, she could have seen Karen Carpenter wear to the Dinah Shore Golf Classic. If KC was still alive that is.
Around midnight back to my incredibly small but pretty functional midtown room. That’s correct: there is no closet.
Thursday blossomed foggy and wet but mild and humid. I took the 2 train to Brooklyn. My middle-age rule on visiting cities I’ve been to many times in the past is to always do something novel on each next visit. Since I’d never been this deep into Brooklyn, or ever at the B Museum, it seemed natural. Plus, the Bowie Is show was on its last leg.
The movie version—the movie the V&A made of the original Bowie Is show which for some unfathomable reason is impossible to see—is probably better than actually being in person, “is” as it were, at Bowie Is. But still, his handwritten lyrics, the costumes (not a big man; Kate Moss actually fit into most of the Ziggy Stardust pieces) and for those of us who followed his career, who actually knew that when filming Nic Roeg’s Man Who Fell to Earth Bowie took on location (for no good reason) his entire personal library of 400 plus books, well it was cool to see some of those books, in a rock star costume box no less. That sort of thing.
At the risk of annoying die hard Bowie fans, You Say You Want a Revolution, at the V&A in 2016, was better. But, in fairness, that was a show about a cultural shift in music. Bowie was just, you know, Bowie Is.
I’d forgotten that the backup singers for the Boys Keep Swinging video are, is (pun intended) Bowie. Bowie in drag. As Connie Francis, Jerry Hall and an aged Marlene Dietrich. It is, in some way, unfortunate he entered detox. Were the backup singers in some small way getting back at Mick for the cover of Made in the Shade? And why are his paintings, much better than Tony Bennett or Red Skelton or Tony Curtis, why are David Bowie’s paintings not collected by collectors? They had the skirt he wore on SNL; curiously utilitarian.
Afterwards I wandered about, quiet lonely wings interrupted only by the occasional exuberant school field trip.
Part of the rather exceptional Judy Chicago Dinner Party has its own special room. Mary Wollstonecroft, Queen Elizabeth I, Sappho.
There was also a lot of superb modern art and design, scattered about in quiet corridors and less visited vestibules.
Took the 2 train back but it transitioned to a Lexington Ave Express (inexplicably) and I got off at Union Square to walk the considerable distance to Jim Lahey’s Sullivan St Bakery for a snack, then to the hotel, then out to a pre-theatre dinner, then Angels in America. Part One.
To speak of the substance of the performances is complicated. So is the play. So is the set and lighting. Start to finish, something monumental, but also exhausting in its scope, both current and dated, both poignant and cliched, it seemed all too pointed when the woman across the aisle talked of when Kushner came to address her daughter’s senior year in a local high school. “It” she said, “It was very interesting. He, however, was not.” What a way to sum up Kushner.
Immediate standing ovation; no hesitation. Applause for entrances, applause for soliloquys, three curtain calls. But then promptly out; it was, after all, nearly 11.
Times Square at midnight. I’ve never understood the huge attraction. But it is. A huge attraction.
Italian Coffee. Hmmm. Not sure where this stands on the scale of political correctness.
Friday was cooler. Like May moving into April. Who knows what’s going on around here. I headed out first thing to the Chelsea Market, once a Nabisco Factory, and something of a tourist mecca. But also one of the few places in North America where you can buy Setaro pasta. From Naples. They hang it and air dry it at the factory. It’s a thing. Jonathan Waxman swears by it. If you order pasta at Per Se you’re eating Setaro. Google it.
Unfortunately, it only came in kilo bags, so I took a return-to-the-hotel detour before setting out again; first south to the West Village, then east, then up to Union Square, then north along Madison and Lexington to midtown and back to the west side.
Back when laces, gowns and tailored sports hats were a thing.
There is something historic and sensational about walking in this city (aside from the price of parking: Yikes!); walking it seems both brave and accomplished when in fact it’s nothing but sensible transport. I went into an old print shop where they had a map of the original NY subway which, if the proprietor was to be believed, was in no museum anywhere. There may be a magisterial element to London’s tube with it’s snaky, deeply buried, and nearly perpetual routes (Northern Line anyone?), but there is a real forward pragmatism to NYC, with its express routes, and a local that can take you from the top of the Bronx to Coney Island.
It’s the New School. (Not, like Bowie Is, School New Is.)
Quaint and curious: Posters for British and Canadian citizens to enlist in WWI.
A beautiful representative NY intersection: The Park Avenue tunnel arises out of seven blocks of nowhere into Murray Hill, only to return under Grand Central which is in turn swathed and dwarfed by what was once the iconic Pan Am building.
Perestroika, part two of the behemoth Angels in America, kicked off at 7 p.m., so there was just time to get a quick nosh at a wine and cheese bar in Hell’s Kitchen called Casellula.
Over sixty types of cheese on the menu.
Sat beside a retired woman from Cape Cod who had once owned a vineyard (in Plymouth of all places) and (btw didn’t know the Patti Page song!) who was in NY for a communion and interestingly took an Air BnB up north in the same building Lin Manuel Miranda lives in. That’s like seriously uptown; might as well get a place in the Hudson Valley. They had Kermit Lynch madeira on the wine list; my kind of place.
Seriously exceptional. Screw Bordeaux.
I didn’t mention that a cast of nine had five actors take bows who didn’t act; they did everything else: moved the set, endlessly, carried and manipulated the angel and her wings, puppetted if indeed there is such a noun, manipulated, caressed and disturbed the whole thing to make it work so seamlessly and magnificently.
The second part, although long (six acts! Jeepers!) and arguably overwritten, was completely reimagined. Like I’d never seen it before. Which I mean literally: I have seen Perestroika but this version was so successful in its interpretation it made me appreciate the text anew. Which is saying something I guess, given that it’s a dialogue piece. The pyrotechnics, ascending and descending stage pieces, fire, rain, heaven, everything short of David Blaine vomiting a frog. The audience, ecstatic, applauding scenes like opera. Despite the work, the effort, there must be an incredible high for the cast, exhaustion yes, but exhilaration. Also, first time I’ve seen longer lines for the gents than ladies.
It was permafrost on departure. Or so it felt. I nixed the not too long walk back and hopped on the 1 at 50th Street. It was party central at the Moxy and environs. Thank god for earplugs.
Saturday was a deluge. Vancouver rain. Tofino rain. Splish splash you are taking a bath. Snarled traffic, a webby snarl of umbrellas, and a hopscotch to avoid the puddles and pools. I went out for a Starbucks but decided it was better to just vegetate in my room until late checkout and watch the American media wax poetic on the royal marriage. Or is it Royal marriage?
Midday I braved the elements but almost immediately had to by a $5 umbrella from a street vendor. My walk uptown was much curtailed and in the end I ended up at a Pret A Manger for a juice and a roof over my head. What’s the James Acaster joke? I love eating out. Particularly French food. Nothing like a trip to Pret.
Boys in the Band is at the Booth. The very first Broadway play I ever saw, in 1979, was the original Broadway production of the Elephant Man at the Booth. Great space. Philip Anglim. Kevin Conway (got the least applause; seemed to take it personally.) Carole Shelley (an original Pigeon sister; look it up). Brilliant. Tiny, as Broadway houses go, with no bad seat in the house.
The set, a splashy pink carpet two story number, replete with bedroom and bathroom up top, was perhaps the only way to address the scale. The production is basically a gay mafia coup d’état: Joe Mantella directing, Ryan “The Feud” Murphy producing, and a cast of several gay uber stars (Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells) and only one not “married.” I mean in real life. The hustler, the “birthday gift” Midnight Cowboy: Broadway debut. I’ll say. But here’s the thing: Let’s say you go to a Shakespeare festival. And then as part of the program they throw in a Ben Jonson. It might be good. It might be great. But it won’t be Shakespeare. So here’s the thing with Broadway: Eight hours of Tony Kushner followed by 110 minutes of Mart Crowley, well it just doesn’t compare. There were laughs. Laughs galore. A sincere coming out story followed by “Well I could use a shot of insulin.” That sort of thing. Quinto as a stoned out of his gourd pock-marked vainglorious insecure aging Jew stole the show. Use of the N word (it is 50 years old) brought on much condescension. The F word not so much.
There is confetti, and the actors have had their issues with what I’m calling the complexity of confetti in the proscenium, but it was apparently a telephone cord that caused Parsons to take a stumble last week: The show I saw he needed no cane but he was in a cast.
Afterwards the LIRR and Airtrain to JFK. Why did no one ever tell me about this before? $4.25 on the LIRR followed by $5.50 on the Airtrain. Compare that to $50-80, depending on traffic, in a cab.
Visions of the old Saarinen-deigned TWA terminal, forever under renovation.
My points home, on Cathay in First, gave me access to AA Flagship dining. Cathay used to be in Terminal 7 with British: But even first in Cathay didn’t get access to the Concorde Lounge. There was a stuffy, distressed and fusty and poorly served “first” lounge or there was on demand dining, but you were in with the riff raff. I mean honestly, quiet is the new nouveau riche. Anywhere without a house music soundtrack and with less than a dozen people is the new elite. To say nothing of the outlook.
A lovely onion tart with a tad too many floral petals and an unusually tasty pork tenderloin. I deferred on dessert; there was still a proper meal to come in less than a few hours. Two glasses of Bollinger. I love it when they pop the cork just for you.
Soon enough it was time to face reality, seven billion people on the planet all, it seems, en route somewhere in a car, on a jet, or in between the two.
I ventured into a second American Airways lounge out in the depths of departure gates.
It was dead and dull an institutional and the bar had a menu, you had to pay for drinks.
Boarding began promptly, there were six seats in first, I was one of three passengers. Service was exceptional, attentive, personal, professional. And I love the Krug. The 2004 vintage Krug.
Dinner after takeoff was a decadent leek soup, a Chinese beef main, a cheese course, and later some cheesecake. They made my bed after dinner and I got a good three hours sleep in before a groggy wake up.
At Vancouver they brought two exit doors up to the aircraft (something AC is loathe to do) one just for first, and as the other two passengers remained on board for the HKG connection, I walked off alone. CP is the bomb.
And when I say I walked off alone, I mean it was solo, straight through the airport (at 1:00 a.m.) and onto security. Like a dream sequence in a Wim Wenders movie.
The overheard conversations, from arrival at Newark to the departure lounge at JFK, were on the spectacular side (“And I said Bobby, happiness is a choice. Life is hell but you can make the choice. Are you going to make the choice Bobby?” one of the better monologues on a train from a yenta which included the merits of Cambodian massages and how to say no to free booze), but by far the best was a car stuck in traffic in midtown on a red, going the wrong way, with pedestrians impeding the flow, much honking, and an African American relic from the past, with a swagger reminiscent of blaxploitation films of the 70s, passing by and letting him know: “It’s New York baby.” Yes it is.
Then just like that, NYC is over, it’s spring in Vancouver. A snowball viburnum makes its annual show.