After Matisse exhibit at the Met before lunch at Nectar on Madison
Ed. note: I wrote this a week ago but just posted the pictures. Jay Mohr was tremendous and Jerry Seinfeld made a surprise drop-in appearance. Going to comedy, like going to baseball games, is better during the week. I don’t feel this way about theater but with sports and comedy, you meet an entirely different crowd during the week.
Happy Tuesday from SB! I started a few blogs but didn’t finish any of them, nor did I publish the blog from the plane about TSA, which was small potatoes next to my genuine altercation with that Nordic fascist on US Airways on the second leg of the flight who nearly tossed me off the plane in the Third World airport that is Phoenix Sky after a long flight with a darling 4-year-old girl with ADD who viewed the airplane as a giant jungle gym to explore at will.
I also started a blog about writer’s block, a phenomenon I do not at all comprehend, as the only piece of writing in my life with which I grappled (ultimately unsuccessfully, hence my perpetual ABD status), was my overly ambitious dissertation: “Ethical Fictions: George Eliot and the Narration of Life.” A lit/philosophy crossover dissertation taking on large aesthetic and ethical questions, it was ambitious both conceptually or theoretically and temporally (looking back to Wordsworth and Kant and looking ahead to Henry James).
And I don’t write fiction, screenplays or poetry so perhaps writer’s block applies more to those genres. But I don’t get–in the sense of understand or experience–writer’s block if one writes nonfiction. I didn’t write in NYC this past three weeks not because I was blocked but because I was busy dancing, going out to dinner or lunch, and walking long distances (to Sarabeth’s three times from 62nd to 92nd). I did, however, Yelp some 30 restaurants and other venues in NYC which you can read here: Victorian Chick Yelp Review\’s from 21 Days in the City (and 6 new CA reviews)
I won’t attempt to cover the three weeks in a single blog but wanted to break radio silence and include some of the better pictures and highlights of the trip before I take Emma to the beach for a walk. Unlike most labs, Emma is not mad for the beach, nor does she care to swim. I have never seen her fully submerge but the last few beach walks, she has gotten her legs underwater, stopping short of the torso and head.
Emma enjoys the beach when we go but she isn’t social with other breeds; she enjoys mingling with other labs but when other breeds come up to play, she ignores them. In the 2.5 years since I met her, Emma has been the perfect weight without a lot of exercise. I think she gained some weight in the last month and I bought my first pair of new tennis shoes at Loehmann’s the third day of my trip, so now I can take her to the beach.
Here I am, blissed out in a series of pictures after dinner at Brophy Brother’s on a stunning Sunday evening after a heavenly swim at SBAC, with J, T and his cool college buddy from Brooklyn and Bergen County (?!) now in Laguna Beach.
Our last time with Emma at the beach in May, my old Nike Airs disappeared from J’s front porch. I think he’s taken her and I know the girls who sat for him when we left town took him daily, but I haven’t been to Montecito beach with her in nearly a year! Now that Daylight Savings and I have a great pair of shoes, I plan to start taking her more both with and without J as we live less than five minutes from one of the most coveted beaches in California (San Ysidro Lane, Butterfly Beach by the Four Seasons/Biltmore). The cold plate is the bargain at dinner, along with the sandwiches, 14.95 for the crab meat, clams, oysters and ceviche.
Dance was of course great and after Joey Doucette left for Vegas, I was back at Luigi quite a bit. I was a bit wistful when I heard from Francis on FB, “You were just getting comfortable in your body again. Too bad you have to go to the West Coast.” I didn’t get to dance (even after the classes at Steps) as much as I generally do because some people I needed to meet for writing reasons could only meet me at lunch and Luigi is at 11AM and 1PM. Francis teaches at 7PM but I usually have dinner or other evening plans.
I saw a phenomenal movie at my favorite NY movie theater, the Sunshine Cinema, on Houston. Though it’s on the Lower East Side, it’s the most convenient theater because I can get the F train from 63rd and Lex and get off on 2nd, which is literally one block from the Sunshine, a Landmark theater. My favorite theater in any American city I’ve visited or lived is the Landmark at the Westside Pavilion. It used to be the Samuel Goldwyn Cinemas, a multiplex with small screens showing art, foreign and indie flicks. Now, it’s ultra-fancy with ushers, business class leather seats, state of the art sound and visual and great food.
The Landmark in NYC isn’t glitzy or fancy but it shows great films I can’t see in SB and while the seats are kind of scratchy with an odd head rest which goes badly with an overcoat or hooded jacket, the employees and customers alike share a deep love of film and I always end up chatting a bit afterward with a complete stranger. This never happens in LA, I mean never. Going to a movie at Sunshine is more like going to the theater, where people absolutely do discuss what they’ve just mutually experienced.
So when I heard this horrific noise at 8PM after a long day out walking around the Reservoir and also to and from Sarabeth’s on 92nd and Madison, I had to get out of the apartment and couldn’t find any cabaret music which appealed to me at 54 Below, the Metropolitan Room or the Duplex.
Biggest crane I've ever seen. Work on the 63rd Street subway station (installation of a/c)
Genius on Hold came out the Friday before last and when I saw it come up on my FB feed (IMDB is a good page to “like”), I bought a ticket to the 9:30 show online and ran to the subway on an objectively cold, wet night with flurries and wind.
A fine documentary which should be nominated next year for best documentary but might be overlooked due to poorly-timed distribution (a week or so post-Oscars)
Narrated by the great Frank Langhella, the film tells the tragic story of Walter Shaw, a brilliant inventor with a few dozen patents, eight of which are absolutely vital to our daily lives. I will write a separate blog about the film which really is the Inside Job of the current year but was released at a terrible time to generate buzz.
Movies released after the Oscars tend to get forgotten or lost in the shuffle. This film, with its helpful summary of the Kingston Commitment and the Kefauver Commission, along with history of deregulation under all post–WWII presidents, should be screened in every high school social studies and US history class in America. I wrote to my liberal friend in Park Slope that one forgets just how evil AT&T was and she wrote, “Oh I don’t forget. I hate corporate America.” But this is not a lefty film: it addresses corporatism and the crony capitalism both sides of the political spectrum claim to deplore.
After WWII, Shaw went to work for Bell as a field worker (climbing the poles, laying wire) before being recognized as special and educated at the Bell training center. The 9th grade graduate turned out to have an aptitude for calculus and became a senior engineer before finally leaving over serious disputes about the right to his own inventions.
Shaw’s son and daughter produced the film and two professors, one from Syracuse and one from St. John’s, provide important historical and technological context for the personal story his son and daughter tell. Walter “Thiel” Shaw turned to organized crime when Shaw became unable to make a living as a result of Bell’s and AT&T’s ruthless monopolies, eventually becoming the most successful jewel thief in history (I will check on the details; I’m just narrating from recollection here and it may be that he was just the biggest jewel thief on the East Coast). Thiel ran the “dinnertime club,” a crew of jewel thieves who worked when wealthy people were out to dinner. Eventually he got caught and served 9 years of a 12 year sentence in Dade County.
I cannot recommend the film highly enough but do bring tissues when you go. The end is desperately sad, as Shaw died penniless after a life of hard work and brilliant inventions which should have made him solvent if not rich. It’s a small consolation that in 2011, Chief Justice Roberts wrote an opinion granting an inventor the rights to his invention, some 62 years after Shaw made the argument to Bell.
It was 12:20AM when I got out of the theater. Gloveless and really cold, I decided I needed sustenance and knew nothing would be open in my hood by the time I got off the subway, so I went into the first place I saw: Pulino’s.
It turns out this is not just a pizza parlor with a red awning but a well-liked, Zagat-rated Italian in the area now known as Nolita. I hadn’t heard of Nolita and neither had my FB friends who lived in the city 20, 30 or more years ago. Current NYC friends explained to me that it was a real estate term intended to drive up prices but that most people still think of Nolita as the Lower East Side.
I had an absolute blast and intend to go back next trip before or after a show to try the pizza. I’m not into pizza and even in New Haven, famous for Sal’s and Pepe’s, I rarely (fewer than 5 times) ate pizza during my entire undergraduate career. This pizza, however, had a razor thin crust and everything I saw coming out of the kitchen looked and smelled scrumptious. Here is my eggplant parmigiana appetizer for 12 and the Primitivo house red for 7, which is unheard of in the city except at Happy Hour.
The crowd was boisterous and fun and the bar is beautiful (Yelp reviews make a note of it). I will absolutely be back in May as it is fun (as much as I consider myself an honorary Baby Boomer with mostly Boomer friends) to hang out with people under 50 and really, the UES is all over 50 for the simple reason that very few under 50 can afford anything more than a studio there.
Another highlight of the trip was the March 6th tribute to Julie Wilson at the Laurie Beechman Theater on 42nd and 9th, attached to the West Bank Cafe. My friend and musician John Phillips, a cousin of Miles Phillips, had tickets and we were both exhausted but both glad we rallied. It was a marvelous evening at which, sadly, I took no pictures and one of the performers, 82 years old, the mother of three grown daughters took me in her arms upon learning I take care of my father, 88, ten or eleven days a month. Her voice is still terrific (even Frank started to slip at 70 or 75) and it was worth venturing to the West Side with winds at 30mph off the Hudson.
I now understand why East Siders (Upper or Lower) feel as they do about living on the West Side. I love the Upper West Side–both Luigi and Steps are there–and I love the Lincoln Center area. But if you plan to live on the UWS, you must know you will freeze your ass off (along with your hands and ears and arms and legs and feet) and you will spend more money on cabs because while it’s fine to walk in 25 degrees if appropriately dressed, it’s not fine to walk in 30 with vicious winds at high speeds off the Hudson. I didn’t believe my friends, as I tend to bring relatively clement weather to NYC during my winter sojourns. I got to experience some real winter this trip and a couple days at the end of the trip, I intended to walk home via 72nd through the Park, and ended up cabbing it, only to find the weather was just fine on the Upper East Side.
Fourteen singers performed that night but the standout, among the younger people (which is to say, those under 55 or 60) was certainly the dazzling Carly Ozard, just 29 years old and new to NYC. She is a sensation in SF and her show, Shift Happens, a big hit among cabaret devotees in the part of California most like the city. You can find her on FB, Twitter (which I don’t do but may have to reconsider, purely for the purpose of reposting Patch, Victorian Chick and other articles), and YouTube. Her “Bewitched, Bothered and Bipolar” is clever and truly, her voice gives you chills. I can’t wait to see her next time I’m in New York. John Andersen did a brilliant rendition of “Downtown,” better than Petula Clark! And the food is excellent and reasonable.
This trip brought with it four memorable firsts: 1) Drinks at the Grand Havana Room, 666 5th on the 39th floor with phenomenal views of the city, and 2) Breakfast at Sarabeth’s (three times!), and 3) Lunch at Fred’s at Barneys, 4) Dance class at Alvin Ailey Extension on 55th and 9th for my dear, multi-talented friend Sharon Zaslaw’s Sharqui Bellydance jazz class. I didn’t take pictures at the private club but it’s a wonderful place and because the men there don’t smoke cheap cigars and they have an advanced ventilation system, I spent two hours there on consecutive days without feeling queasy or suffocated.
I Yelped about all four and won’t rehash here as I have to run to car wash and Lola to try on the fabulous Diane von Furstenberg secondhand dress for 120. It’s an 8 which is too big but if it fits reasonably well, I’m going to get it. I’m very proud of myself: 21 DAYS in Manhattan and not a single clothing purchase. I did buy Saucony and six pairs of athletic socks at Hue for 12 bucks and a bottle of Burberry Touch on sale, but I didn’t so much as try on a sweater, blouse, dress, or pair of slacks. I had shopped at Lola on Valentine’s Day and honestly, I really don’t need anything except for jeans but this will be the perfect Manhattan and Cape Cod summer dress, both with Jack Rogers flats and the Gucci strappy white braided leather sandals I bought at Lola for 88 (and I’m not even into strappy sandals but these are dreamy).
2. Sarabeth’s on Madison.
My new favorite place for breakfast or brunch: 92nd and Madison.
I had been to Sarabeth’s but just for pastries and coffee in 1992-3 when I lived weekends at the Leighton House on 88th between 1st and 2nd at the home of a family friend and ex-colleague of my father’s who worked about 75 hours a week on average (sometimes more) as a Wall Street lawyer.
A ex-FB friend, whose political obsessiveness and borderline hysteria (and tendency to insult and fight with my friends) finally got to be more than I could take, introduced me last summer to a now good friend, with whom I had lunch at Fred’s. Indirectly, he introduced me to a woman I truly adore, a Park Slope mom and writer, who took me to the superlative Venetian restaurant, Al Di La Vino on Carroll between 4th and 5th, for a late birthday where I took my friend’s advice and ordered the rabbit with polenta. This is his third recommendation of dishes in the city and I told Mom, I would from now on tell him where I was dining and let him order for me as he has never failed to steer me to a mind-boggling dish.
One of signature dishes at Al Di La Vino: Rabbit with polenta and olives. I dislike olives and when I told the server so, my friend asked, "Who is an olive hater?" But the olives are not integral to the dish and there were only four, which you can ask to omit from the magnificent dish.
The Rush Limbaugh-worshipper also adores Camille Paglia and sent me the info for her October 15th lecture at the 92nd Y. On that rainy fall night, I met my Park Slope mom friend at the Sfoglia bar, where she was eating because her husband could not attend the talk about Paglia’s then-new book, Glittering Images.
I feel slightly bad about blocking him because he facilitated two female friendships I truly value, but the poor man needs therapy so desperately and life is too short for an acrimonious FB wall. He’ll never get therapy but if I learned he was working with a respectable clinician, I’d unblock him as he is cultured, well-read and hip and very bright. He worked his way through Brooklyn College waiting tables at Sarabeth’s on 92nd and Madison and I confess, I am madly in love with everything about the UES location so I owe him this too.
Charming, cozy Upper East side elegance
The Central Park South location is a touristy zoo and the one near Murray Hill is nice but nondescript, just another nice Manhattan restaurant with a slightly modern decor. The UES location is a bright, yellow, cozy, elegant brownstone restaurant with High Tea at 3:30 and a menu with an extensive array of tempting options.
The lemon ricotta pancakes are not to be missed. My first day, I had a rare pastry for breakfast at the Bread Factory–prune hamentashen for Purim–and didn’t want two sweet, carb-heavy meals in a day so I had a perfect spinach and goat cheese omelet with a Malbec I drank all three times this trip (11/glass is not bad for NYC, in which wines by the glass are astronomical even when the bottles are about the same as LA or SB). It was cold and began to flurry on my gloveless walk up to the park before my walk (and video) at the Reservoir.
Magical, indescribable pancakes and while for weight-conscious people, this will be the main meal of the day if consumed in full, I didn't feel weighed down or overfull afterward.
Here is a video I just uploaded to YouTube with a trip down memory lane about my year spent in NYC on weekends at the Leighton House on 88th between 1st and 2nd when my single dorm in Berkeley College (BK) at Yale was a large closet about the size as the very large bathroom at the Montecito Chevron station: YouTube video about Reservoir in Central Park.
2. Fred’s at Barneys.
This “ladies who lunch” place (though it’s open for dinner) just four blocks from the apartment more than lived up to its reputation and if money were not a consideration, I’d eat there once a week. My friend from Greenwich, who lived on the Upper West Side with her husband and son as an adult, took me there for a late birthday lunch and we had a ball (see Yelp review). The baby department on the 9th floor is enough (almost) to press baby buttons even in the most non-maternal woman (not being maternal–usually–has nothing to do with disliking kids and everything to do with loving one’s freedom and financial security).
With the best stuffed animal--of any species--I've ever seen or snuggled with in my life. At Barneys in the baby department on the 9th floor by Fred's.
What a perfect place to read books bought at Crawford Doyle, a spectacular and beloved small bookstore 17 years old on Madison in the low 80s by the obnoxious E.A.T. I bought David Shields’ How literature saved my life (no capitals) and started it at Fishtail one night late in the trip but soon got drawn into a conversation with three men with three children each.
All are in private schools and all work crazy hours as corporate lawyers, either as general counsel or at firms. One didn’t much like this book but didn’t say why. Usually, if alone, I just go to Fishtail for happy hour (buck oysters and a great 5 buck burger, along with the new Hanging Vine cab for 8/glass at happy hour or a new Pinot Grigio for 7) but I had to try the new rock shrimp butternut squash ravioli in a ginger cream sauce. It exceeded my expectations and looked much prettier than the official picture on the FB page which caught my attention.
The Fishtail bar is on the small side–about 15 or 16 seats at the bar and four booths which can accommodate four but are better for two or three–can get busy on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. But the happy hour starts at 3 and it’s a great place to meet a friend and have a cheap early dinner in an elegant environment. I love the music at Fishtail–classic rock most of the time–and have met many people with whom I remain friends at that bar.
Roger Waters was there Friday night, when I just went in for a glass of wine before a quiet night of packing and rest pre-departure day but left my wallet upstairs. When I returned an hour later to pay for my 8 dollar glass, the manager told me out on the street that Roger Waters was behind me at one of the booths! I don’t listen to Pink Floyd, which is before my time, and unlike some music of the era I did grow up listening to with my (half-)sister and (half-)brother, 18 and 11 years older. I didn’t know till I posted that my FB friends worship the man!
There has been a lot of turnover at Fishtail in the last few years but I think they’ve got a pretty stable group now and I adore one of the new managers. Two out of three hostesses are dancers, which is to say, they are trying to make a career of dance and one, Hanna, is a sweetheart I hope will come to class either at Luigi (she loves classical) or Steps for one of the musical theater classes.
3. First Alvin Ailey Extension class.
After Sharon Zaslaw's Sharqui Bellydance Jazz class. Sharon is a Boston Conservatory-trained actress who sings and dances as well when she's not an endlessly energetic single mom to two busy, great teen boys and working at Akin Gump.
Sharon’s class was a blast and the music not at all Middle Eastern. I can’t stand Middle Eastern music of any kind and in fact, even at restaurants, if the music is obtrusive, I just get takeout because that culture is not one which appeals to me on any level aesthetically. Her playlist was outstanding, from the Shakira to the other musicians she has included in an eclectic mix of up tempo songs and ballads. That was my second class of the day on top of 40 blocks of walking so I didn’t stay for the intermediate musical theater jazz class with 30 or so students and a formidable teacher whose presence fairly sucked the oxygen out of the studio (in a good way).
Fifth floor lounge at the gorgeous new facility on 55th and 9th.
All these magical Manhattan moments mitigated the not insignificant sorrow at having to part with a puppy I met at Petco on the UWS, a 2-month-old husky mix at the Bidawiee shelter on 38th and 1st, where I intend to volunteer as a dog walker for large breeds in upcoming trips.
Cassie, 2 months old. Adopted by a loving family a week later.
All puppies are cute. But you don’t bond with every animal you meet–even I, who am a bit of a dog whisperer–and I spent well over an hour on the floor with this little girl.
First kiss from Cassie.
My sister and other FB friends thought I should bring her home to J’s but he really didn’t want her and I am only IN SB six months a year so it wasn’t fair to impose on him just because what nonexistent baby buttons I possess were all focused on this little girl I couldn’t get out of my mind for a week.
This did not of course stop me from taking–and posting–a picture of me on the floor with a shameless, manipulative pouty face to entice J to change his mind.
It helped that Cassie went to a spectacular home according to one of the shelter volunteers with whom I became FB friends and also that my friend and neighbor went away for four days, letting me sit for Nakita and get plenty of doggie love on the trip. But Cassie was more than beautiful: she was an exceptionally mellow and well-behaved puppy, a fact noted by every single person who popped his or her head in at the adoption fair my first Saturday in the city.
I have a stack of business cards to follow up with emails about freelance writing and other professional matters. I was lucky to get free passes–three–to the Equinox as they’ve fixed the chlorine problem from two years ago and while it’s a rinky dinky pool with somewhat fascist policies (not just the swim cap regulation but the overall vibe of the cramped pool), I love it.
The cold pool is torture, but if you can hack it for a minute between soaks in the jacuzzi, your body feels indescribably wonderful. I wish SBAC would fork out the money for a cold pool by the jacuzzi but I’m sure they won’t. SWELL is the new parent company and while I approve of what they’ve done, the consensus is that SWELL cares about nothing but the bottom line and that whenever they do shell out some cash, it’s because some money guy convinced them of the ROI (return on investment). And I personally know employees screwed over by the corporate powers that be and have very little hope they will install a cold pool, even if I were to frame it thus, “Well, all the elite clubs in NYC have cold pools, including the Equinox and don’t you purport to be as good as the Equinox?”
I think, frankly, Southern Californians, particularly Santa Barbarans, lack the fortitude and capacity for discomfort (much less suffering) the cold pool requires and that the SWELL folks probably know this, either on their own or through some high-priced consultant. I remain convinced that much of the laxness and flakiness of Southern Californians is a matter of weather: if you never have to alter your plans or dress to avoid death by hypothermia, you get soft (if you ever had weather chops) or stay soft (if you never lived in a place with seasons). Still, you can’t beat year-round outdoor swimming and SBAC created an idyllic pool area just seconds from the 101 freeway (which you don’t sense or hear at all).
Sunday at SBAC, my favorite day (and time) to swim, just as the sun has ducked behind the building and you can swim without sunscreen
As for the bizarre color scheme of the new SBAC, I don’t know what decor consultant told them 1980s neon orange was a good idea in the outside ladies’ locker room, but I’ve floated my theory by countless ladies and they agree: some lucky bastard probably got paid 5K to 10K for color consulting and as a result we all have to live with this stupid aqua and orange. At least they’ve resolved the cafe problem in the wake of the fascist SB County Health Department’s threats to close the club if they didn’t shut down the kitchen (due to insufficient numbers of sinks). The salads and sandwiches in the deli case are all great, if a lot more expensive than they were when food was prepared in house. And one thing SB has over NYC–where pools are indoor, tiny, and cramped–is the glorious SBAC pool. The locker rooms are nice but very small and I vastly prefer the UES Equinox except for the pool.
Though I didn’t get up to New Haven or down to Toms River, I had a blessed three weeks in the city I love, with a terrific birthday dinner in Park Slope at Al Di La Vino (pictured above). New York is home to me on so many levels but I am always happy to see J and Emma and Ollie and will be very happy to drive on a beautiful 70 degree day to see Dad who misses his little girl very much and was exceptionally cheerful on the phone just now.
More New York stories to follow!
P.S. Here are a few more random pictures I liked.
72nd Street West entrance to Central Park
Snowfall on the Upper East Side
68th and 1st: Le Pain Quotidien. Slacks need ironing.