Category Archives: NYC Moments

The Berlin Wall in New York City

Berlin Wall in NYC
Meeting friends for dinner last evening at Valbella, I was surprised to discover that the strikingly painted concrete slab on display in the tiny plaza outside the restaurant is actually a section of the Berlin Wall.

That’s right. The Berlin Wall. Tucked away in a lovely little plaza on the north side of E 53rd between 5th and Madison. How could I have lived in NYC for over 20 years and not known it was there?

Berlin Wall in NYC
This section of the wall was illegally painted in the 1980’s by Berlin street artists Therry Noire and Kiddy Citny. Noire, who lived a mere 5 meters from the west side of the Wall, was the first street artist to paint on the wall, a risky act of political rebellion that he and the other street artists he inspired continued until the Wall came down in 1989.

To paint the Berlin wall, to transform it, to make it ridiculous, to help to destroy it.

– Therry Noire

Amazingly, the sections of wall on display at 520 Madison are the very ones Noire is painting in the  1987 Wem Wenders Film “Wings of Desire”.


After the wall came down in 1989, the East German Government, seeing the value in the art Noire and his fellow artists had created, ultimately auctioned off huge sections of the wall in Monaco, which is probably where Jerry Speyer of Tishman and Speyer, the owners of the plaza at 520 Madison, purchased this piece of history in 1990.

The artists who painted the Wall have seen very little of the income from the sale of the sections that bear their paintings, and it is not known where the profits from their sale, supposedly slated for humanitarian causes by the East German government, ultimatley ended up.

Kudos to Speyer for sharing his piece of the Wall with the public in this lovely little respite in midtown.

I encourage you to visit the Wall. If you choose to eat al fresco at Valbella, as we did on this warm summer evening, you’ll have plenty of time to  consider this infamous piece of history and the spirit of courage and freedom that both its demolition and the remarkable artwork painted on it represent.

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MORE READING

Berlinermauer The Berlin Wall (from Wikipedia)

Central Park, Early Spring

It was one of those “It doesn’t get any better than this” afternoons. Fresh from a massage at Equinox (courtesy of a gift certificate from my daughters from last Mother’s Day – that’s how long it took me to find a free hour…), I strolled across Central Park to my voice lesson on the Upper West Side. The weather was balmy and even the slightly overcast sky could not dampen my mood. For although it is only mid-March, the forsythia were in full bloom,

as were the daffodils

and even the cherry trees.

The  American elms in Mall were starting to bud

while bubbles were being blown at the Band Shell

and Baldo, as always, was keeping watch over it all.

I snapped a group  shot for some tourists, listened to a pedicab rider speaking Swahili on his cell phone as he rode along looking for a passenger, and stopped to enjoy some casual New Orleans style jazz.

Early though it may be, it’s Spring in New York City.

Bring it on.

Dinner (Maze) & the Theater (Other Desert Cities). A Quintessential NYC Evening.

It’s one of my favorite things to do in New York. Dinner and a play.  It’s also among the most challenging combination of activities in the Big Apple to pull off well.

So much can go wrong – not having a reservation and spending a half hour wandering Restaurant Row with the tourists looking for a table (I’ve done that more times than I can count); finding out your dinner reservation has put you into a pre-theater mill where you’re herded like cattle at the slaughter (ditto); or rushing anxiously through an otherwise delicious dinner and then running like crazy to make curtain time (I call it doing the Times Square Bob and Weave).

Then there’s choosing a bad play (not often but it happens); choosing a great play that one of your company hates and everyone else loves (that play with the goat); finding out the lead is replaced by the understudy  (that Laura Linney play that wasn’t); and let’s not get into the lines at the ladies room, shall we?

Well, last night we pulled it off. Dinner at Maze and tix to Other Desert Cities. Perfect combo. (Not to mention great friends…)

MAZE

The only table available at Maze was at 5:30, and while I felt a bit like I was heading out for an early bird special, the timing was just right. So right that it’s going to be my new dinner start time for pre-theater. We had a wonderfully leisurely meal and great conversation unencumbered by worries about making curtain time. And had time for an absolutely perfect Margarita at the bar before sitting down to a fabulous meal.

The bread – best I’ve ever had at a restaurant, hands down. A lightly salted cross between a focaccia and a baguette is the best way to describe it. It felt very light on the tummy and we went through two little buckets – mostly because we needed it to sop up all the great sauces we had.

Two of us ordered the scallops appetizer – perfectly cooked with little bits of cauliflower and capers. (Sautéed sea scallops golden raisin purée, cauliflower beignets, crispy capers $18)

The single short rib ravioli appetizer had a surprisingly generous and delicious meat filling.

The sweetbreads appetizer was a bit of a disappointment. When I eat sweetbreads, I’m looking for that soft inner texture. These pieces were more like crackling sweetbreads. Delicious, just not what one would hope for.  A better description in the menu would have been helpful. (Oven baked beetroots caramelized sweet breads, celeriac mousseline, mache salad $18)

The Bronzino was truly amazing. Trust me, we sopped up every bit of that beurre rouge. (Filet of branzino spinach and artichoke fricassée, beurre rouge, crispy phyllo $26)

But the star of the evening? The little pot of fingerling potatoes in a shallot cream sauce that were served with the Trout Market special. (Whole roasted Idaho brook trout Sheldon Farm fingerling potatoes, orange and fennel salad $29) There were more than needed for one person, which meant we all got to share them. OMG. The potatoes were perfectly cooked and the sauce – well, we were all practically licking the pot to get every bit. I asked how they were made and got this much – shallots, garlic, chicken broth and I assume butter and cream and parsley. If anyone reading this has the Maze cookbook, let me know if the recipe is in there. (I tweeted Ramsay to see if he would share it – I’ll let you know if he responds.)

We all shared dessert – delicious. (Chocolate pudding stout ice cream, pretzel, peanut butter powder $9.00)

No one overate or over-drank, both of which can be disasterous before a play. Susan and I shared the Bronzino, MR TBTAM only had appetizers, Boyd shared his potatoes (OMG again…) and we all tasted one another’s dishes and shared the dessert.  It was a completely satisfying meal. The bill for 4 of us, including 2 beers and 1 glass of wine, but not the drinks at the bar, was $200.

Maze also has a pre-fixe theater menu during the week for $35. I consider that a real bargain.

Our early reservations meant we had time to enjoy a leisurely walk to the  Booth Theater on 45th St to see Other Desert Cities.

OTHER DESERT CITIES

What a cast.

I’ve loved Rachel Griffiths since Muriel’s Wedding, and she was fabulous as Brooke, a 30-something writer who arrives at her parent’s Palm Springs home to announce she’s publishing a memoir that revisits their shared tragedy and threatens to upend her parent’s carefully reconstructed life.  Stockard Channing it a tour de force as a Jewish-Texan Right-wing Mama Grizzly modeled on Nancy Reagan, and Stacy Keatch her completely sympathetic Papa bear counterpart. Judith Light is transformed as a recovering alcoholic aunt. (Why have I not seen her in a play before? I’ve been missing some amazing stage acting!) And I was thrilled to find Justin Kirk playing Brooke’s younger brother Trip – while there was much of Andy Botwin in Trip, it’s a character I happen to love, and Kirk plays the part beautifully. (His final outburst actually drew applause during the play.)

We found ourselves a bit confused as to the chronology of the play – which war were they talking about – Iraq or Vietnam? What year was it? How old is everyone supposed to be?  But that just gave us fodder for a spirited conversation at intermission, which was the first one in as long as I can remember that did not include a visit to the ladies room.

Hanging around talking afterwards, a nearby burst of applause made us realize we were near the stage door, from which the cast was emerging.

I got a few pics and had a brief conversation with Judith Light, who, after signing autographs and taking pics strolled off with her companion and merged into the crowd on 45th street.

It’s what I so love about New York. The Gods walk among us.

Manhattanhenge 2011

So incredible, to see the orb of the setting sun, heralded by its own reflection on the skyscrapers on the far West Side, slide into the air between the canyon walls of 42nd St, where it hovered for a few precious moments, aligned perfectly with the east-west grid of Manhattan, before sinking into the horizon over New Jersey.

Even more incredible, that the sunset was visible at all, given the thunderstorm that swept across the island less than an hour before. We almost didn’t go.

So glad we did.

Manhattanhenge occurs twice a year. Try and see it at least once in your lifetime.

Sidewalk Chalk Wisdom

NYC street artist James De la Vega seems to have left a few thoughts behind on the sidewalk outside the hospital.  Glad I caught them this morning on the way to work before the rain started.

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I’m not the only one catching De La Vega’s work –

NYC Woodpecker

This noisy little guy was going to town on the apple tree on our roof a few weeks back. Haven’t seen him since.

The Carpenter’s IPAD

A piece of sheet rock and a pencil – all you need to take everyone’s breakfast order for the deli.

Sondheim, b.i.d.*

Take your morning dose with your musical theater class doing a read/sing through of Side by Side by Sondheim. (Everyone sounded great!)

Take your afternoon dose with your best college buds seeing A Little Night Music. (Angela Lansbury is perfect, Catherine Zeta Jones born to the role and Alexander Hanson the sexiest Fredrik ever. The supporting cast is equally excellent. Go see it!)

Food interactions (such as lunch at La Masseria) can occur, and may increase the level of joy.
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b.i.d. – Doctor speak for twice a day

Klezmer Jazz at Mehanata Bulgaria

Thanks to our friend Paulie for inviting us to hear him play Klezmer Jazz at Mehanata Bulgarian Bar along with his classmates and teachers from SUNY Purchase. It was a rousing night of music, food and drink. Not to mention meeting a few genuine Bulgarians in the crowd, who told me the music was just like what they listened to at home.

Mehanata Bulgaria is a great place to go to listen and dance to gypsy music, share a hookah and eat Bulgarian food. We all shared a plate of sausages with fried potatoes, grape leaves, cucumber salad and a red pepper puree that was delish. And it cost only $8.99!

Oh, and in case you’re wondering – Paulie is the cool one playing bass.

Loyalties

Mabel: I hate half-hearted friends. Loyalty comes before everything.
Margaret:Ye-es; but loyalties cut up against each other sometimes, you know.

That’s the essence of Loyalties, a play currently running in an unlikely venue – the back room of a restaurant in Hunter’s Point, Long Island City. Think Andy Rooney and Judy Garland saying “Let’s put on a show!” – then give them an incredible script, a talented director and a wonderful group of seasoned equity and young non-equity actors and you’ve got a hidden gem of a production just two subway stops off Broadway.

The play itself is a British drawing room drama by John Galsworthy, the author of the Fosythe Saga. Think Noel Coward, but from the inside. At the play’s outset, money is discovered stolen from a room at a country manor during a weekend when the house is filled with guests. The crime’s victim happens to be the only Jew in the group and not entirely a likable character, and the accused a war hero, boyhood chum and all around good ‘old boy. Loyalties harden, soften and shift as evidence begins to mount against the accused and his friends and young wife are forced to decide where they stand.

Loyalties is presented by the Unity Stage Company and directed by Sofia Landon Geier, who has created a very sophisticated production on a shoestring. This is theater at it’s best – top-notch actors performing real drama without expensive sets, corporate backers or rehashed movie scripts. Congrats to Sofia for unearthing this little known gem of a play, which apparently played to smash reviews when it opened in 1922. It’s themes of racism, classism and group loyalties are, sadly, ever-relevant and particularly timely.
If you’ve never been to Hunter’s Point, seeing Loyalties is a chance to visit this hip gentrified Queens neighborhood. The 7 Train drops you just three blocks from the theater, and Vernon Boulevard is home to an increasing number of wonderful restaurants, including Blend, a Latin Fusion restaurant, Bella Via, a wonderful Italian place that I hear has fabulous brick oven pizza, and El Ay Si, which serves global “comfort food”. Every one of these restaurants was packed the night we went to see Loyalties, and my only regret of the night was that we had already eaten dinner at home.
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Loyalties is running till Jan 30 at the Parlor at Cassino Restaurant, 47-18 Vernon Blvd in Long Island City. For reservations, call 718-361-5858 or go online at Unity Stage.org.
Read more about the play and the cast in the Woodside Herald.