Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sometimes Music Hath No Charms At All

The music that one will hear inside this "hallowed" place is always appropriate to the impressive setting. BUT....!
Friends and I have enjoyed Aquavit's Christmas Eve julbord for the past several years. We went again last night and found the quality and atmosphere had been maintained EXCEPT for one glaring fact. There was almost-too-loud background music playing that would have been suitable for a shopping mall, a Denny's or an Olive Garden, e.g., but not for a presumably sophisticated Manhattan top-class restaurant. This type of "Jingle Bells," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" background might go in Omaha, but not in NYC, and not at these prices. TACKY is the only way to describe it, and I can only hope that this was a one-time failing; we never experienced it (or, as I dimly recall, any other obtrusive background music) at Christmases past. Soft, high-level jazz would be best. Music is the bane of many otherwise fine dining establishments.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sweet Spot

Diabetics everywhere: Beware! There are now three stores of the It'Sugar chain in the New York area. Passed this one on Broadway in the Lincoln Center area yesterday. One must admit that the colorful display of all manner of candies and related sweets makes an attractive picture. I stayed just outside the entrance myself, not being attracted to anything but top-of-the-line Belgian or French chocolates. Thus I was saved from the alluring fantasy of this emporium. Small children may lose their minds here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

MTA Musings, or, "Mama Don't 'Low"

Ever since the "NO littering, smoking, spitting, radio playing" notices have been up on NYC public transportation, I have, with my usual tendency to free-associate, been reminded of the following terrific American folksong:

           Mama Don't 'Low 

Mama don't 'low no banjo playing round here
Mama don't 'low no banjo playing round here
Well, I don't care what Mama don't 'low
Gonna play my banjo anyhow
Mama don't 'low no banjo playing round here

Mama don't 'low no guitar playing round here
Mama don't 'low no guitar playing round here
Well, I don't care what Mama don't 'low
Gonna play my guitar anyhow
Mama don't 'low no guitar playing round here

Mama don't 'low no talking round here
Mama don't 'low no talking round here
Well, I don't care what Mama don't 'low
Gonna shoot my mouth off anyhow
Mama don't 'low no talking round here

Mama don't 'low no singing round here
Mama don't 'low no singing round here
Well, I don't care what Mama don't 'low
Gonna sing my head off anyhow
Mama don't 'low no singing round here 

I just want to replace "banjo playing" with "littering," guitar playing" with "smoking," "talking" with "spitting," and "singing" with "radio playing." This is what I hear in my head when riding on an MTA bus or subway. I have a few more items that Mama shouldn't 'low, but it would make this entry too long.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Art on Park

Les Baigneuses, above, a sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle, is currently reposing on the traffic island at 57th Street and Park Avenue. It's one of the reasons why a stroll up or down Park can be so pleasant. Other reasons that walking on Park can be a good experience include much wider sidewalks and some really high-end shops. (O.K., there's a Staples too, and, farther up, a Duane Reade among other interlopers.) The sculptures displayed on Park over the past few years have included the giant roses, which I commented on a while back, and even some Boteros, favorites of mine. Those giant plastic or acrylic or whatever-they-were roses looked especially nice when they had snow on them. Wonder if we'll ever see real snow in NYC again.

Here's another one, by Niki—a Totem to something or other. The other attraction on the traffic islands is the lovely floral display, donated by affluent civic-minded people. Right now it's miniature begonias.
And, finally, here's what's in front of the Seagram Building, one of my favorite edifices. Didn't get the artist or the title. Maybe it's more Niki. You tell me.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Santa Fe Dispatch

Dr. Johnson, who in his Dictionary famously defined opera as "an exotic and irrational entertainment," might still have enjoyed himself at the renowned Santa Fe Opera this (nearly) past summer. Everything there conspires to the enjoyment of the art, including the setting, as the view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background to the far left confirms. Sometimes the effects of the excellent performances are enhanced by non-musical meteorological contributions such as thunder, lightning, and winds during a battle scene in Rossini's monumental Maometto II, a rediscovered masterwork.

The well-behaved and appreciative audiences are another Santa Fe advantage. Heard no cell phones go off, and very few excessive program rustlers. It helps that the beautiful program book is on heavy, rustle-proof stock. Also, we don't have early departures rushing to catch the commuter train to Westchester dashing up the aisles or, as was the case with the final performance of Billy Budd at the Met last spring, getting out of a row, stepping on feet, and ruining the last moments of Captain Vere's moving final monologue at the very end. I'm still angry about that!

Another oft-quoted opera description is by the late Ed Gardner on his hilarious 1940s radio program Duffy's Tavern ("where da elite meet to eat"): "Opera is when a guy gets stabbed in the back and, instead of bleeding, he sings." In Tosca, of course, Scarpia gets stabbed in the chest and is only able to croak out, "Soccorso—muoio," etc. (In Santa Fe's production he was then dragged through a doorway and you could just see his feet sticking out to indicate that there was a body lying there.) On the other hand, Rodrigo in Don Carlo does fulfill Gardner's description quite well, though we wouldn't want to miss his gorgeous aria.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Backing Into Pushkin

Planning to attend American Ballet Theatre's new production of John Cranko's ballet Onegin in a couple of days got me to thinking that I've never read Pushkin's Byronic verse novel Eugene Onegin, though I've read much about it and am a devotee of Tchaikovsky's actually perfect opera despite my failure to have learned more than a few words of Russian. In fact, the only Pushkin I've read, in translation of course, is his short story "The Queen of Spades" ("Pikvaya Dama") also because of an almost-as-wonderful Tchaikovsky opera.

The above portrait from Moscow's Pushkin Museum doesn't show any indication of Pushkin's partial noble African ancestry. Some sources indicate that this was a source of pride, while others maintain that there was some prejudice against him because of it.  Here are statues of Alexander and Natasha Pushkin in Moscow. A duel with a would-be admirer of his beautiful wife brought about the revered poet's death at age 38. Took this photo a few years ago when a tourist there.

And here is Pushkin himself—did his friends call him Sasha?—sitting at a table in what purports to be his old Moscow hangout. Eat your heart out, Madame Tussaud!

Couldn't resist snapping this on my way out of the restaurant. Anyway, at last I'm going to go at least part way to the source. Since I can't read Russian, I've just downloaded an Onegin translation on my Kindle and will read at least some of it before the ballet. Even though I know what's in Tatiana's letter and how it all ends (sniff!).

In Pushkin’s footsteps | Russia Beyond The Headlines

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"On the Head"

Yes, there's a teacher shortage and probably always will be. In what now seems a past life, I was a member of that much undervalued profession. Too many non-teaching duties are involved, and frequently administrators have no idea of actual subject matter and don't "get" what you're trying to do.

However, one frequently hears the bromide that "if you can reach just one student...." And this did happen to me. It's one of a very few instances when a reward of the job can be reaped.

A young student, Frank, had been absent and missed some of our lessons on—what else—Hamlet. I went over a few passages, and at one point—it doesn't matter which, as almost every line is great—Frank remarked, wide-eyed, "Gee,  he really hit the nail on the head, didn't he?"

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Azaleas "R" in Season!

More pink! As is the case with most spring flowers, you have to look sharp to catch the azalea crop. Fortunately, these pleasing specimens are right here in East 50s Manhattan, and you don’t have to go to a botanical garden to enjoy them. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ballerina Fashionista

Entering the elevator on my way to a professional-level ballet class today, I encounter this tiny tot, who is also on the way to her class. Her beautifully coordinated ensemble puts me in mind of the "What I'm Wearing" features in the style section of the Times. Starting at the top, we have a charming pink knitted beret, under which, when she removes it, we can see that her hair is held neatly in place with a frilled pink barrette. Her jewelry features a mixture of pink beads and sparkles. The tutu (also pink, if I haven't mentioned the color before) has a ruffled neckline and a multilayered skirt of tulle, each part of which is bound in pink edging. Pink tights and sparkly pink Mary Janes finish the outfit. Doubtless she'll change those before class for miniature ballet slippers, pink, needless to say. A really zippy touch is added by her heart-shaped  sunglasses with frames in the obligatory color. Apparently, a lot of thought has been given to dressing up to meet an appreciative audience this morning.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

April on East 55th Street

No lack of variety in NYC! Walking east of Fifth Avenue on East 55th Street, what do we see parked in front of the St. Regis hotel but a Lamborghini!
I may have seen one of these impressive cars before but can't remember having done so. Walking farther, to Park Avenue, we come upon a lush stand of yellow tulips at the absolute peak of their blooms. Nature and technology are both enhancing the attractions of Gotham today. I assume that one of the St. Regis attendants is watching the Lamborghini, as I don't imagine it can be parked there legally. Unless someone has a lot of influence or has greased the appropriate palms. As for the tulips, they are definitely legal.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Our Own "Mounties"

I used to be very impressed by the appearance of our NYPD mounted policemen, even though they didn't wear anything as dramatic as the red serge dress uniform of the RCMP, à la Howard Keel in Rose Marie, e.g. They always seemed to pick the best-looking guys for the job. Was reminded of this today, when a couple of them trotted by on West 57th Street at Seventh Avenue. I couldn't get a really good look because their spiffy blue biker helmets—a good idea in practical terms—prevented my getting a closeup. What is nice is that they really have to sit up straight and look most imposing, even if not like the late Howard Keel (or Nelson Eddy). It's just nice that New York still has them. They add a little class to the general chaotic proceedings.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ye Olde Matzo Ball

Amusing restaurant review by Pete Wells in today’s Times. He’s covering Kutsher’s Tribeca, an homage to one of the best-known hotels from the heyday of the Catskill Mountains Borscht Belt, Kutsher’s Country Club. I was particularly struck by his comments regarding that sine qua non of Jewish cookery, the matzo ball:
“Take, for instance, his [chef Mark Spangenthal’s] matzo ball soup at Kutsher’s. Matzo ball preferences are deeply personal and beyond argument. Mr. Spangenthal aims for midrange fluffiness, so people who like a tightly compressed matzo ball that lands in the gut like a sock filled with pennies may not be satisfied.
"But they will certainly notice how flavorful these matzo balls are, and appreciate the rich broth, with its robust flavor and lip-smacking stickiness. The kitchen has been hard at work on that soup, but it has covered its tracks.”
The “deeply personal” tastes regarding this delicacy remind me of my Aunt Jeanne (pronounced “Jean” as in Jeanne Crain or Jeanne Eagels, not “zhan” as in Jeanne Moreau or Jeanne d’Arc), who, at Passover, would deliberately make both light, fluffy balls and hard-centered ones. When the soup was ladled out at the seder table, she would take requests for either hard or soft. I always asked for a mixture of both.
I also liked Wells’s calling Bob Dylan and Neil Diamond’s output “classic Jewish music.” Until I saw this, I could think only of either Ernest Bloch or klezmer:
“SOUND LEVEL Classic Jewish music (Dylan, Diamond) and pop hits of the ’70s and ’80s keep the place humming along.”
Have to mention that my favorite cuisines still run to north Italian and classic French,  but I’m open to suggestions.
Here’s the piece from today’s Times:

Monday, February 6, 2012

Anna Who???

“Anybody sellin’ tickets?” Patrons of most of the theatrical and artistic venues of NYC are used to being casually accosted by scruffy, nondescript men, usually in knitted watch caps and lumberjack-style jackets, standing at the steps leading up to the main Lincoln Center complex as well as at other theaters and performance spaces around town. These requests are not usually aimed at the cognoscenti, who are well aware that these guys are not interested in attending Alan Gilbert’s Mahler or that evening’s Madama Butterfly or Tosca. They hope to buy the tickets cheaply and resell them at a profit. So, after many years of doing this, they have become pretty familiar with the standard repertory even if they’ve never set foot inside the Met, e.g.

Last Saturday, when entering the theater to see the New York City Ballet, I heard one of these operators ask the other: “What’s the opera today?” This surprised me, since they usually know what’s on even if they don’t know much more about it than the title. The other guy replied, “Anna Bolena.” Good thing he didn’t have to pronounce Götterdämmerung, which is coming up soon, and for which there is a giant poster on the Met’s façade.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"Our Own Business Directory"

Have spent a lifetime addicted to The New Yorker, frequently using it as my model for my own feeble literary/journalistic attempts. Although the magazine has necessarily changed over the years, I'm still a faithful reader. One small feature that seems to have disappeared—can't say exactly when— was one of their humorous column fillers, "Our Own Business Directory." I've compiled a very short list of my own favorites, all of which actually exist in New York. Or, perhaps, existed until recently.

Shredding service: Code Shred
Upper West Side shoe store (now closed): Scarpe Diem
Long Island City glaziers: Amazing Glazing
Provider of portable toilets: Call-a-Head
Sign in Fairway's canned fish section: Tuna Central
Shop on Third Avenue: Insomnia Cookies
Lush Maintenance
Empanada Mama

More TK!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

King of Cabbages

You can't make kimchee or sauerkraut out of it, but the monarch of the cabbage family is the beauteous ornamental kale which, possibly owing to our freakishly warm winter (so far), is brightening up many city streets, vest-pocket parks, and apartment house façades, even in late January. I fell in love with this plant some years back, and once even had one on a coffee table for a while. It resembles irradiated roses or peonies but has no scent. You can buy smaller ones at florists or corner Korean produce markets and add them to mixed bouquets, but the really beautiful large ones need to be planted outdoors. We have had one small snowfall and, regrettably, I didn't have my camera at the ready to snap the sight of these botanical lovelies poking their curly heads out of the snow.