Saturday, August 16, 2014

NYC in July, cont.

The famous Starry Night
On Wednesday, we were both flying out, but not until the afternoon. That meant we had some quality time to enjoy in the city on our last day.

We started with a delicious breakfast at Sarabeth's (Central Park South location). I'd eaten here on my last trip to NYC and really enjoyed it. Last time, I'd had the lemon ricotta pancakes. Anxious to sample something new, I chose the toasted coconut waffle on this occasion. Sweet, nutty, with a mango glaze, this dish was extremely filling and more like a dessert than breakfast. Atlee had the french toast, which she generously allowed me to try as well. Both were absolutely delicious! We enjoyed our breakfasts, Atlee sipping her four flowers juice while I downed my coffee in big, grateful gulps.

After eating, it was off to the Museum of Modern Art. I have to admit, I'm not much of a modern art fan. I often feel I'm being taken for a fool, just a *little* bit. But Atlee, who minored in art history, promised she'd talk me through anything I thought was bogus (so I wouldn't feel like such a chump), and in we went.

Wyeth's Christina's World
Much like the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the previous day, MoMA allows you to check your bags (and crutches) and check out free wheelchairs. So once again, we were able to wheel through the exhibits with ease. We started with the special exhibition on the work of Lygia Clark, a Brazilian whose work was very participatory. It was almost like performance art. She'd create these costumes or masks or installations, and then she'd have subjects put them on or interact with them and film it. So her art wasn't really complete until she immersed someone in it. (You could tell that half the folks in the videos were ragingly high, but that didn't make it any less interesting.)

We also strolled by plenty of Picassos, Pollocks, Kahlos and Warhols, in addition to spending a bit of time in front of Van Gogh's Starry Night, which I had never seen in person. One of my favorites from the day was Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World. Gorgeous detail, and not a limited or depressing portrayal, at all, of a girl with restricted physical abilities.

Shakespeare in the park
After enjoying the museum for the morning and early afternoon, Atlee hopped in a cab to get to the airport. I was catching a slightly later flight, so I made my way to Central Park. It was a lovely, sunny day, and not too hot. Even though I've spent significant time in Central Park South, there were still a few areas that I'd missed.

Passing by beautiful Bethesda Fountain, I made my way to the mall and literary walk. I strolled along, taking pictures of the statues, appraising the work of the street artists, and people watching. Before long, I found myself at Conservatory Water. I took a close look at the Hans Christian Andersen statue, watched children sail their boats in the water, and climbed up to commune with Alice and Wonderland for a bit.

Curiouser and curiouser near Conservatory Water
By this time, the clock was ticking on my departure, so I caught a quick cab back to the hotel, and then to the airport. My flights back home were blessedly on time (and I even ran into a friend on the final leg, from D.C. to Jackson), and I was back home with my sweeties by that evening.

I so, so love New York City. What an amazing town! Can't wait to come back!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

NYC in July, cont.

Charles James Collection at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sigh.
Tuesday morning found us cabbing it to Saint Ambroeus for breakfast. What a great little find! We were seated at an out-of-the-way table not too far from the door (just as I'd requested in my reservation). Our server whisked Atlee's crutches into a nearby nook for storage, and we got down to the business of breakfast! I chose the uova al tegamino con pancetta, two sunnyside up eggs with bacon, potatoes and toast. Delightful, and plenty to satisfy me. The food was delicious, service was quick, and the atmosphere of this place was warm and welcoming. This is not a cheap breakfast by any means, but it was yummy, charming and convenient to our next stop.

We'd decided to spend most of the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Brian and I had visited here on our previous trip to New York City, and I remember nearly weeping when we left because I felt there was so much I'd missed! This trip provided an opportunity for me to swing back through this behemoth of a museum and catch some of the art I hadn't gotten to last time.

I loved her face.
The best part? The museum offers free wheelchairs that patrons can check out! So, we came in at the handicapped entrance, checked Atlee's crutches, and then checked out a wheelchair. We spent the rest of the morning (and the early part of the afternoon) wheeling around the museum to our hearts' content. Wonderful!

We started with one of their special exhibitions - a gorgeous collection of amazing dresses by Charles James. Atlee is an avid sewer and smocker, so she was particularly keen to check this out. And the minute I stepped into the exhibit space, so was I. Imagine dress after incredible dress, vivid colors and patterns, unbelievable architecture (full shaped skirts, whimsical bodices and collars, very structural work - all done in cloth), dramatically lit for display. Not only that, electronic equipment scanned the dresses as you watched accompanying screens, breaking down the pattern of the design and explaining all of the underpinnings that made the frock keep its fantastical shape. This was absolutely revolutionary for me. I don't know that I can look at a dress the same way, ever again.
One of the Vermeers I missed last time!

We also checked out some of the medieval art and one of the sculpture gardens. Then, we stopped in the on-site American Cafe for a light lunch. Afterwards, Atlee had a doctor's appointment to get to. I put her in a cab a spent some additional time at the museum. I checked out the Dutch/Flemish rooms (which had been closed on my previous visit), the armor, and the musical instruments.

By this time, my dogs were barking! And when I stepped outside the museum, I saw that it was pouring down rain! Luckily, I'd brought my umbrella. A little energetic waving landed me a cab, which deposited me, safe and dry, back at the Bentley.

Atlee's doctor's appointment ran long, so I relaxed that afternoon, showering and gussying up for the evening's entertainments. We met back up for dinner at Pigalle, a little brasserie that you often see advertised in Playbills. I'd discovered it on my last trip to NYC and loved it. I had a creamy bowl of porcini ravioli, followed by a bright apple tart. Full and happy, we only had to round the corner to arrive at our next destination.

Live theatre ROCKS!
Determined to catch at least ONE of this year's Tony winners while I was in town, so I'd booked us tickets in advance for A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. What a HOOT! Young Monty, upon the death of his mother, discovers that he's actually a member of the lordly Dysquith family. In fact, there are only some 8 living Dysquiths between him and an earldom. Learning that his poor mother was disowned and rejected by the family, leading to her sorrowful death, he decides to exact revenge on the family and move himself closer to a title in the process. An expertly-staged musical farce, this production had us rolling in the aisles! There was no weak link in the cast, but the clear star of the show is Jefferson Mays, who plays most of the members of the snobbish Dysquith family. Songs are hilarious and delivered with remarkable talent, personality and vocal control. There is a reason this show won the 2014 Tony Award for best musical. Not to be missed!!

After the show, we grabbed a cab back to the hotel and slept soundly.

More to come . . .

Sunday, August 10, 2014

NYC in July!

The Swan Lake bathroom.
Now, you know how I love New York City. I've been a few times now, both for work and for fun. When I go, I hit tourist destinations and haunt Broadway. It's my kinda town.

A few weeks ago, Atlee, a friend of mine, was visiting NYC for a few days for medical reasons. She was going to be in the city alone, and she asked if I'd like to tag along. It took me about half a second to agree! She was going up on a Monday, but I hopped up one day early to try and catch some extra shows. (I would have gone up TWO days early, but I had previous commitments that Saturday.)

I made it to the city on time, right around lunch. First off, I checked into my hotel - Bryant Park Hotel. I'd never stayed there before, but I booked it because it was located right on Bryant Park (which I love) and it got great reviews on TripAdvisor. (Plus, it's only a few blocks to the TKTS booth. Priorities, people.)

Breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien!
At check in, the incredibly friendly desk clerk notified me that I'd been upgraded to the board room suite. That meant that I had a gorgeous boardroom all to myself. (You know, for my bidness.) Past the board room (which I didn't use, by the way) was a very spacious bedroom and a HUGE bath. (Huge for NYC, anyway. I've been in hotels where you could barely turn around in the bathroom. I could've staged Swan Lake in mine.)

After check in, my stomach was rumbling. I hopped next door to Le Pain Quotidien and grabbed a quick lunch to go, decamping to a bistro table in the park. I chose a grilled chicken and mozzarella tartine and a summery raspberry lemonade. (Delicious, seasonal, and not too heavy!) As I enjoyed my lunch under the leaves, I chatted with park-goers at neighboring tables.

Probably my fave show of the trip!
After that, I made a beeline to the TKTS booth. I still had time to catch a Sunday matinee! I ended up scoring a center orchestra ticket for Once at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. I'd watched the movie, of course, with the rest of America. I'd also bought the movie soundtrack, so I knew and loved many of the songs. I made my way to the theatre with time to spare, so I stopped for a quick coffee and a piece of chocolate cake in a nearby Italian cafe. Then, it was into the theatre.

I am so, so glad that I saw this show. It's won a boatload of awards, and I totally understand why. The way it was adapted for the stage is brilliant, with a tight ensemble cast serving as chorus, band and a crew of lovable characters. The production does a brilliant job of showing how music crosses all of our boundaries and connects us all. Incredibly romantic and soulfully performed. Out of all the shows I saw while I was in NYC this trip, I think this one was my favorite. Just a beautiful, beautiful experience.

After the show, I had some dinner reservations at Tony's di Napoli, near Times Square. I'd heard it was great for fast, unpretentious Italian on a budget. I wasn't disappointed! I had a big plate of linguine with clams, washed down with a glass of wine and accompanied by big chunks of crusty bread. The place was completely packed! Though some parties were taking their time eating, the waiters were turning tables at an unbelievable pace for those with theatre tickets for later that night. The food was good, and there was plenty of it. I was in and out of there for about $35, including tip.

Mmmmm! Clam linguine at Tony's
After dinner, I didn't really have any plans. So, I ambled back to the TKTS booth to see what was on offer for Sunday night. I was surprised to find that several shows had Sunday night performances, and quite a few good tickets were still available. On a lark, I bought a front center ticket for Motown.

I ended up sitting on the third row with a few big groups of folks out to have a good time. What fun! We chatted before curtain and during intermission, and during the show, we clapped and hooted and sang along. The woman right in front of me, who I had of course befriended, got called up on stage to sing "Reach out and touch somebody's hand" with the show's Diana Ross! Big fun.

Two-tapping tunes
For me, standouts in the cast included Eric Lajuan Summers (who danced like a madman and brought incredible energy to every scene he was in; you just COULD NOT stop watching him), Krystal Joy Brown (who channeled Diana Ross like no one I have ever seen; she had it DOWN), and Charl Brown as Smokey Robinson. All of the songs were great, and some of them made you smile and laugh just hearing them performed live again. Costumes were a hoot, too!

Overall, though, I thought this show was a bit long. It was as though those who put the musical together wanted to include ALL of the big hits from Motown, and there were just too many. Add on a book that could be uneven at times, and it tended to drag. You could probably cut a good thirty minutes out of this show and have something that is paced better.

After Motown, I was beat! It was back to the hotel room and to bed!

The next morning, I awoke early and enjoyed pastry, fruit and coffee from Le Pain Quotidien in the park. Then, it was off to walk the High Line. I'd tried to make it by the High Line during previous trips to NYC, but I hadn't found the time. I figured this cool, cloudy morning alone was the perfect time to seek it out. I walked to the nearest point on the High Line from my hotel, then it was up, up, up for great views of NYC and NO TRAFFIC! I enjoyed the plantings, the public art, the convenient benches and the other visitors. Without having to wait for lights, you can make your way through NYC remarkably quickly on foot.

Public art on the High Line
I walked the High Line all the way to Chelsea Market, another spot I'd never been. I decided to take the stairs down and see what all the fuss was about. Oh. My. Goodness. Chelsea Market is a vast gourmet food mall. It's all inside, all air-conditioned, and practically designed for someone like me. There's even a book store and a kitchen goods store. I was in HEAVEN. I walked the length of it, stopping in the non-food shops to browse handmade goods, purses and books. I was also scoping out what food was on offer, because by this time, it was almost lunch. I was getting hungry, and I can't imagine a better place to get hungry than Chelsea Market.

I started with a beautiful cup of clam chowder at Lobster Place. It was a creamy concoction that I'm sure was half butter. You could practically spoon in on your cracker as a solid. It was divine. Feeling the need for more dairy, I had a fig jam and prairie breeze cheddar grilled cheese sandwich at Lucy's Whey. Crispy and thin and cheesy and sweet. And because I can't leave well enough alone, I finished up with a wonderful cone from L'Arte del Gelato, its cool, sweet smoothness slipping down my throat as I walked the High Line back to my hotel.

Gelato at Chelsea Market
After lunch, I cooled my heels for a bit (It had been a long morning of walking, after all!) before cutting through the park to check out the New York Public Library. Brian and I had come here on our last trip to NYC together (and I was really glad we had, because the Reading Room was closed this time), but I hadn't been back since. This trip, they had a really fun, inventive exhibit on children's literature called The ABC of It. It was a whimsical delight, and I was so glad I made time for a stop! I got to step into the pages of Good Night, Moon, watch Alice's neck stretch out in Wonderland and pretend I was Max from Where the Wild Things Are! And it was completely FREE!

By this time, Atlee had made it into town. A quick text confirmed she was all checked into what would be my second hotel of the trip, the Bentley Hotel, near the East River. I bid goodbye to those who'd become my fast friends at the Bryant Park Hotel. (Honestly, the next time I come to NYC, this is where I'm staying. Quiet, roomy, with a location that cannot be beat. AND it was very reasonably priced. A winner!) A quick cab ride later, I was settling in at the Bentley myself.

Since Monday is a largely dark night for Broadway, I'd prepared a special treat for the two of us. We started with an indulgent dinner at Bar Boulud. (Atlee is a big fan of Daniel Boulud's cooking. After eating at this place, so am I!) We started with a duck and fig pate, and then I moved on to a giant, steaming portion of mussels with a heaping side of fries. We sipped wine, laughed and enjoyed every sensory bite. Food was amazing. Service was polished and timely. Prices were spendy, but you felt so utterly satisfied, so full and happy, that you might as well have been at Disney World.
Atlee and I, enjoying Jazz at Lincoln Center

After dinner, we took a quick cab (Atlee was on crutches, the poor dear.) to Jazz at Lincoln Center to continue our evening. We had reservations to see the Moscow Jazz Orchestra, a rocking 16-piece band (with a singer who can blow the doors off Georgia On My Mind). This particular performance was taking place at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola, a very intimate venue that also serves food and drinks. We were seated at a small cafe table, and we ordered a few libations to help the music do its magic.

I really loved this venue. It was small and cozy, with gorgeous views of the NYC skyline. As the musicians played (and boy, could they play! Igor Butman, who leads the troupe, looks like an accountant. But he plays like a black man from the Mississippi Delta.), the sun went down, and the skyline lit up. We sipped our drinks, let the tenor sax wash over us, and thanked God that we were lucky enough to be alive and in New York City. Amazing.

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After the show was over, we lingered a bit so as to let others leave and ease Atlee's navigation out the door with the crutches. We were in luck! The band started showing up at the bar to wet their whistles. I made time to tell Mr. Butman how much I had enjoyed my evening, and he gave me a hug and a sweet kiss on the cheek! Such a fun, fun night!!

More to come . . .