Monday, May 06, 2013

New York, New York....

New York, New York, a helluva town.
The Bronx is up, but the Battery's down.
The people ride in a hole in the groun'.
New York, New York, it's a helluva town!

And so it is.

Interesting to note, though, that the original lyrics for the song - music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green for the 1944 Broadway musical On The Town - were changed for the 1949 MGM musical of the same name, to substitute "wonderful" for "helluva"; a requirement for the Hollywood Production code of the day. Hard to imagine the prudishness of the time. Especially now, when as Cole Porter might have realistically noted, "anything goes". Call me old-fashioned, but I think I might enjoy a partial retreat to a time when language, including the "F-bomb", was more restricted. Not that I am a prude, you understand. (My fictional characters sometimes use bad language, including the f-word.) The immortal Michael Flanders and Donald Swan - remember them? - put it better than anyone; "If you use really bad language all of the time, well, you have nothing left for special occasions, do you?"

What follows will be a rambling assortment of memories and impressions from our recent trip to New York City. Five nights in the Benjamin Hotel; a really nice place to stay, I will add. Right in the centre (or "center") of things one likes to see on a visit to New York.

Note to writers, aspiring and otherwise, who wish to include a scene from New York in an upcoming masterwork, you might want to know that the famous Yellow Cabs are now mostly Ford Escape Hybrid SUVs. Yes, they are, and I was surprised too. Next most popular after that? The Ford Crown Victoria. And after that, the Toyota Camry. We did see a few Toyota Priuses, though. A tip of the Manhattan fedora to fuel economy.

First good memory; The New York Luncheonette at 135 East 50th Street, two doors away from the hotel. It's just the place for a New York breakfast, with a menu full of heart-stopping delectables. The scrambled eggs and bacon are great. So are the pancakes and French toast. The service is friendly and first-rate. The place is owned and operated by a family originally (I think) from Mexico. And speaking of French toast, our second day there, a couple from France sat next to us - the tables are close enough for easy conversation (and eavesdropping). This being their first visit to New York, they weren't sure what to order, so they asked us for guidance. They were pleasantly surprised that Suzanne, being from Montreal originally, could give them just that in French.

On another visit, we were almost certain that Sandra Bullock and some friends were breakfasting at a neighbouring table. Not sure of that, not really; and the manager could not confirm it for us. But we will pretend that is was she. Why not, eh? It adds to the charm of it all.

Second good memory; a really good French restaurant, La Mediterranee Bistro and Wine Bar at 947 2nd Avenue:

The first night we were there, the house pianist Harold Jon was at the piano, playing American and French songs. We ordered the "prix fixe" 3-course dinner, a bottle of good wine, and settled in for an evening of over-eating and great atmosphere. As we were finishing our meal, an older couple - two men - came in for dinner and sat next to the piano. A little while later, one of the gentlemen stood up and serenaded us with a ballad. Totally spontaneous. Totally delightful. Only in New York, you say? Well, maybe.

Other good memories. The Brooklyn Museum. Marvellous place. They had a huge display of John Singer Sargent watercolours, including - if memory serves - these paintings of Venice:


There is more to see in the Brooklyn Museum than one can hope to cover in a day, even several days. I think we were both surprised at the size and complexity of the place and its collections. After all, it was Brooklyn, right? Home of the Dodgers (now, long-gone to L.A.), and eccentric characters who talk funny? Wrong, of course. But we weren't the only deluded ones. On our way out, we overheard a lady say something like this to her companion: "Wow! I expected the Brooklyn Museum to be some dinky little place. It's fabulous." It is.

And onwards to the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both equally fabulous. So much to see, and so much to take in. It's exhausting, of course, and one is a wreck at the end of the day.

A visit to NYC requires one to take in a few shows, at least. For that, unless you want to spend a lot of money, you go stand in line in Times Square at the TKTS booth. (Just as we did in London last fall, but it's less convenient in New York.) And we did that four days running. The first day, though, we ran out of energy and gave up. We were up at 5 that morning to catch our flight, and it finally occurred to us that we would be so tired by show time that we would be semi-conscious at best and would miss most of the performance. So we took ourselves off to our hotel, changed, and went to dinner. (See above.)

The next night we were in better shape, and made it all the way to the TKTS ticket window and secured two really good seats for Nice Work If You Can Get It, starring the omnipresent (or so it seems) Matthew Broderick. I had my doubts about the show, but it was a total pleasure. A bonus in the final scenes was Blythe Danner as Broderick's mother. The songs - by the Gershwin brothers - are great, the dancing very good, and the story line appropriately nonsensical.

Program Book

We managed two additional shows: The Fantasticks at The Snapple Theater Center - specifically the Jerry Orbach Theatre:

Law & Order fans will remember Jerry Orbach as Detective Lennie Briscoe, a role he played from 1992 to 2004:

Which will be just about the only "crime" reference in this post. But, hey, I have been on holiday. Jerry Orbach, it should be noted, was a multi-talented actor and singer, and he created the lead role of "El Gallo" in the original 1960 production of The Fantasticks.

The third show was a play, The Madrid, starring Edie Falco. We are great fans of Falco for her ongoing role as Nurse Jackie, now in it's Fifth Season.

Production Image    

And that brings me to the last night in New York. Which was the night we saw The Madrid, at the New York City Center on West 55th Street. The play ended before 10, so we looked for a restaurant on the same street. We found a very good one, Benoit:


The d├ęcor is terrific, the service first-rate, and the food wonderful.

We were hungry, so we started off with foie gras - a mistake as it turned out. Not because it wasn't delicious - it was - but because we had ordered the organic roast chicken for two, very reasonably priced at $48.00. And what did we get? An entire roast chicken, presented to us by the waiter in its very own roasting pan, who then took it back to the kitchen for the chef to carve into manageable pieces for us. Not manageable enough, though. We were able to eat barely half of it. The waiter offered to package the rest for us, but as we were leaving for Ottawa the next day, there was nothing we could do with it. A pity, that. It was one of the best roast chickens we had ever eaten.

So, several words to the wise. If you visit New York, do make an effort to dine at Benoit's. But do ask the waiter how much food you will be presented with. Waste not, want not.

And as a final footnote to a great holiday. It wasn't until we were safely back in Ottawa - with a 5-hour flight delay - that we learned that the Boston Marathon bombers had targeted Times Square after their Boston caper. We might have been right there among the crowds. Almost too close for comfort.

1 comment:

LD Masterson said...

Interesting. We were visiting New York at the same time although we hit different sights, shows and restaurants (I have a weakness for a good NY Deli.) But we would also have been in Time Square at the wrong time had Boston law enforcement not captures those responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings. A sobering thought.