We followed the NY Times suggested walking route that turned out to be a good move because we saw some interesting sights we likely would have missed. There are some pretty famous places in what is also known as the West Village and we saw several. Foremost was the Stonewall Inn, considered the birthplace of modern gay rights movement..
The Stonewall Inn is famous for an early morning police raid that led to a pitched battle in the streets as the gay/lesbian patrons fought back against a police roust of the bar as was their habit in those days.
This weekend I ventured far away from New York City for only the second time since we arrived here in late 2017. The first was a cruise out of Boston in October 2018 that turned into a partial disaster (ship caught in storm, waves crashing through windows, skipping the best port due to high winds and cold and wet almost everywhere we went – enough of that). Maybe it was the close quarters on the ship that made it seem like we were still in New York, but in any case I somehow didn’t feel like we had really left. We were certainly glad to return, from Quebec City by air, but there was little emotional content to the entire event.
This most recent trip was another matter. I made a last minute decision to train down to Washington to join my wife in Alexandria who was there for work. We stayed in Old Town, our former home for many years, the entire time, enjoying meals with old friends, though there was not enough time to see everyone for which failure I feel bad. But, importantly, my wife was able to return to her former hula halau for a practice and see her “hula sisters” with whom she had danced for twelve years. Saturday night we dined alone in an old favorite just down the street. The weather went from unseasonably warm on Friday to cold and blustery on Saturday and Sunday – typical for this time of year here and in New York. We did not see much of Old Town, staying within a few blocks of our hotel the entire time.
Some things struck me as very odd about the trip. The first was the taxi ride from Union Station in DC to the Alexandria hotel. The streets seemed almost deserted, although it was Friday afternoon. Where were all the people? I also noticed that the roadway, at least outside DC, was smooth; no back-wrenching jolts every ten feet like the relief-map profile of Ninth Avenue in Manhattan. It was eerily quiet. Only one driver honked his horn.
The same thing happened on the return trip to the train station Sunday morning. People drove on the GW parkway in two parallel files at the speed limit with virtually no jousting for position. Just silence and moving ahead at a steady, relaxed pace. What was wrong with these people?
On the train back to New York City I realized with sudden clarity that I had actually missed the City. We were returning not just to Manhattan but to our home, in every sense of the word. New York really is now where we’re from and I genuinely missed it. I recalled the old truism that home is where you make it. As counter-intuitive as it might have seemed, I have become attached to Manhattan. I don’t know if I love it, exactly, but it is definitely our home.
Photo below, taken by Dina, is front of our favorite restaurant in Old Town Alexandria.
New Orleans is justly famous as the birthplace of jazz in America, but New York City remains the last mecca of jazz in the country. True, there are fine clubs scattered about the country in various cities, but there can be no serious question that, while diminished severely from its heyday, jazz in all its forms is thoroughly alive in the Big Apple.
A multitude of small venues are dispersed throughout the city from Greenwich Village north to Harlem. The principal clubs with major jazz figures playing seven nights a week include at least the Village Vanguard, Jazz Standard, Birdland, Smoke, Blue Note, Dizzy’s Club, Minton’s, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Fat Cat and Mezzrow. Many other spots have less robust calendars but still produce great music. Iridium, for example, still has some jazz but has morphed into rock and what passes for country music in some places.
Having said that, I must also disclose that I am not a big fan of vocal music other than what is called “pure New Orleans” (not Dixieland). I grew up in the age of the big band and club crooners like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr. and, I guess, had my fill of it from watching them on early television. I have seen a few modern jazz vocalists and did not much enjoy them, while acknowledging their exceptional talent.
HOWEVER, that was before last Friday night when we were privileged not only to visit a new club, the Green Room 42 in the Yotel (yes, the Yotel) on 10th Avenue at 42nd Street, but to see the extraordinary Charlie Romo singing the American Songbook backed by an exceptional quartet that included the guitarist who, in a much earlier day, played with the Chairman of the Board himself, Frank Sinatra. Not only does Romo have amazing vocal chops, he infused his singing with a maturity and style that sounded like he had actually lived in the era when the content of most of that Songbook was created.
We know that he didn’t because Charlie Romo is only TWENTY-TWO YEARS OLD!! Truly. Romo has everything one could ask for in an exponent of the American Songbook, belting out standards like Mack the Knife, On the Street Where You Live, What Kind of Fool Am I, Unforgettable, My Funny Valentine, If I Ruled the World, among many others. Though it was a long show, his voice seemed to get stronger as the time passed. If that weren’t enough, he easily transitioned to more modern fare, like a medley in honor of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, sandwiched between segments of American Pie. And on and on to a standing ovation at the end.
This young man is a true prodigy and will almost certainly become a national musical figure. He seems genuinely to love singing, flirting with ladies and shaking hands with men in the audience and moved with grace and style as he navigated through the audience on at least two occasions. If I sound a bit overwhelmed, that is probably accurate, rare though it may be.
Speaking of prodigies, the very next night we went to Dizzy’s Club in the Columbus Circle building that houses Jazz at Lincoln Center to see Renee Rosnes (piano) in quartet with jazz veterans Steve Nelson (vibes), Peter Washington (bass), Lewis Nash (drums) for a very different experience than the night with Charlie Romo. Pure traditional but modern jazz in the best way imaginable.
The highlight of the evening for me was Galapagos, the named song in a suite composed by Rosnes. I lack the musical knowledge to speak to the technical elements of improvisation and complex rhythms that inhabit the jazz genre, but there is no question that these four were at the top of their game last night, ending with the packed house clamoring for more. Rosnes is brilliant on the piano, mixing jazz standards with her own compositions in a well thought out mix. She seems to favor the center of the keyboard but is never trite or repetitive. Lewis Nash’s drumming, in particular, played the perfect supporting role, avoiding, as many drummers do not, the tendency to overwhelm the other players. He is “musical” on the drums in the same way as Eric Harland and a delight to hear and watch. Nash seems to be having fun all the while he is playing and that translates to the listening experience for the audience.
These two musical experiences were as different as they could be, yet were joined by a common bond of musical identity that was unmistakable. Now some twenty-four hours later, I can still see Charlie Romo reaching out to his audience through his voice and feel the polyrhythms of the Rosnes quartet fully engaged with each other in a mystifying multi-party improvisation. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
Charlie Romo in the Green Room 42:
View from Dizzy’s Club window:
The image at the top of this post is the bandstand at Dizzy’s Club.
That line from one of the early Superman movies came to mind the other night as my wife and I were privileged to see the New York City Ballet performance of Sleeping Beauty. At times I had to remind myself to breathe as the dancers leapt, spun and “flew” to perfect landings again and again.
What was I worried about? The answer, I think, was the mind’s innate reluctance to accept so much defiance of the laws of gravity and the normal limits of physical stamina, all accompanied by the NYCB full orchestra playing the extraordinary music of Tschaikovsky, brilliant costumes and staging, and on and on. Just stunning. No other word for it.
I readily confess I am no authority on this art form, but one particularly interesting thing occurred last night. By virtue of a membership my wife bought, we were able to attend a full dress rehearsal of the performance a week earlier. We only stayed for the first act and thought it was amazing. The rehearsal was only stopped twice, for very brief consultations; otherwise, it was the complete show, so we thought. But the real performance was almost like a different ballet. Everything about it seemed outsized, bolder, more precise, more … powerful.
This was clearest in the performances of the Lilac Fairy danced by Miriam Miller, a member of the corps de ballet, and of Princess Aurora danced by Lauren Lovette, an NYCB principal dancer. As great as all the dancers were, these two seemed to be at a different and higher level. Miller’s use of her long arms made her seem, in my wife’s word, ethereal. Lovette exuded power, grace and confidence. And several dozen students from the School of American Ballet performed in the huge cast – they all looked like seasoned professionals to me.
I have nothing more to say about this without blathering, but if you ever have the chance to see Sleeping Beauty at NYCB, don’t pass it up. Or any of the other amazing performances at New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater. You will be convinced, as I now am, that a man and a woman can indeed fly.
New Years Day dawned unseasonably warm in New York City, with temperatures in the upper 50s and now the sun has emerged to add an almost festive aura to the first day of the rest of our lives. We have completed a full year in The City and thought it appropriate to review what we have done besides working and resisting [if interested in the latter, go to http://www.shiningseausa.com]. To put it mildly, 2018 was an extraordinary time for us. Here are some of the experiences we had.
As is well known, New York is a “walking city,” meaning that one walks to get most places. And walk, we did. Personally, I averaged 1.8 miles per day. Other data from those walks:
2,356 – Dog poop/pee avoided (there are bazillion dogs of every description here and few places to “go” but the sidewalks and streets, so they do)
242 – Days with unpredictable/unpredicted weather events
FAVORITE RESTAURANTS Bricco – neighborhood Italian, small, quiet, great food
Mandarin Duck in Central Park
Lots of visits from out-of-town friends
This morning we walked in Central Park again and mused about how it felt like spring. Obviously we were intoxicated by the warmth. The crowds were small, likely because the one million people who spent New Years Day and night in Times Square were at home and unconscious. So it goes. We look forward to this 2019 with optimism – there is so much left to do. We hope to see some symphonies and other purely musical performances, and, of course, more ballets.
I can’t shake this story from my mind and, considering the season and everything that is going on, I must share it.
I recently visited a doctor in New York City for a follow-up to an earlier consultation. Not unexpectedly, there were patients sitting in the waiting room so I knew it might be a while before I was seen. I always have a book with me for such situations.
As I read, I happened to glance up and notice across from me a younger (30-something, I’m guessing) woman slumped sideways in her chair, obviously dozing. I continued reading but my attention turned to the young woman again when my doctor unexpectedly emerged from the back and approached her, quietly calling her name. The young woman did not react; she was “out cold.” The doctor, realizing the woman was deeply asleep, walked over to her, reached down and gently took each of the woman’s hands in her own. She did not pull or poke. She massaged them gently while speaking softly to the woman. This did the job of waking her, and, after a few moments to collect herself, they walked together into the back, the doctor asking her some question I didn’t catch.
I sat there for several minutes, reflecting on what I had seen. I was moved by it in ways I didn’t, and still don’t completely, understand. The power of witnessing the simple gesture of care and sensitivity took me by surprise. Then, my turn came; I went back, visited with a nurse to take the required “vitals” and waited in a room to see the doctor who came in very shortly.
After some small talk, I told her that I had witnessed what she had done, how gently and sweetly she had awakened the young woman. The doctor responded with “I’ve known her for years and she’s very special.” I said, “you are special, doctor. Doctors generally don’t do what you did.” She thanked me, somewhat embarrassed, I suspect, and we moved on.
I still often think about that simple gesture of kindness that, in most other circumstances I have witnessed over the years, would have been treated quite differently. The way my doctor chose to awaken her patient has stayed with me as an extraordinary example of how natural kindness can work with remarkable power. As I reflect on the scene, as vivid to me like it just happened, and as the holidays come on, it stands in vivid contrast to our national political life that is dominated by rancor, conflict and fear. We’re all trying to experience the holidays in a good way, and likely most of us will succeed in the end. And ‘will’ is the right word, because it feels more like an act of will than a natural thing to do at this time of year.
Part of the power of the doctor’s act was, I think, that it was so natural, so spontaneous. I am virtually certain she did not mull it over first; she just naturally reacted to the situation with humanity and compassion. That young lady is lucky, as am I, to have a doctor with such instincts for kindness. It’s a lesson we all need to learn and re-learn, especially when the times we live in are so burdened with acrimony and lack of concern for those in need of a helping hand. I suspect I will always have that image in my mind and hope to remain aware and grateful for its reminder of what is possible.
New York City can be a magical place at times and the winter holidays are one of those. Last week we visited the shopping district on Fifth Avenue and walked to the Rockefeller Center to view the large Christmas Tree that, according to the ever reliable Wikipedia, a tradition dating to 1933. The same source says that about 125 million people visit the tree every year. A large percentage of them were there the night we dropped by. You can see some of them in the photos that follow.
We also viewed many of the decorated windows and exterior decor in some of New York’s “finest” stores..Those picture follow as well last set of photos are the illuminated “stars” that hand in the atrium of the Time Warner Shops at Columbus Circle and periodically change color. I hope that in these troubled times these photos will spread a bit of joy.
The last photo is of the socks that I absolutely do not want to own and will not wear under any circumstances so fuggedabowdit.