Monday, February 13, 2012

New York State of Mind

We know better, but there is a long queue at the taxi stand, so we allow ourselves to be hustled over to the black Towncar for our trip from LaGuardia to the City.  We've dropped out of the sky over miles of water; we haven't oriented ourselves north or south, east or west.  But that's part and parcel of the (jaunt, junket,pilgrimage) we are on. Euterpe, the muse of music, song and poetry, has lured us to New York. We have a dream.....

Once over the Queensboro bridge, the cityscape changes.  I long to drag my camera out and record the street scenery; I itch to photograph the architecture, the traffic, the dog walkers, the shop windows, the crush, the hustle.  But I resist and attempt to commit to memory Park Avenue, Madison Avenue as we pull alongside the curb behind another cab under the black and gold livery of the Carlyle.  

There are two doormen at each door.  In bowler hats.  Inside the revolving door are entrances for the Cafe Carlyle and Bemelman's Bar.  Up the stairs is an art gallery.  Down a short flight I see

"Exotic, elegant d├ęcor by legendary decorator Renzo Mongiardino sets the stage for a private retreat favored by the rich, the famous and the beautiful since the hotel's inception. Inspired by the sultan's dining room at the Topikapi Palace in Turkey, The Gallery is divided into two tiers.
The upper gallery is wrapped in deep red, hand-painted wallpaper. Banquettes made of antique kilims and red-fringed velvet chairs invite lingering. The lower gallery features an intricate blue-and-gold wallpaper, inset with intaglio-like views of such landmarks as Venice's Church of the Saulte and Istanbul's Hagia Sophia."  
But no check in desk.  A young woman inquires solicitously if we are first time guests to the Carlyle?  She takes my roller bag and heads around the corner through a gracious yet formal room of polished black and white marble floors, gold settees and an intricate compass pointed rug.  A well coiffed woman looks up from her reading by the fireplace.  We may be lost, but we look good; Blake is suited and I am safely, conventionally in basic black leather coat, boots and slacks.  After a trip to the wine country in California, my sister Laura advised us to wear black, when in doubt, and we would never be out of place. There is nothing colored in my carryon.
The lobby is small, no grand hall, no rental car desk, no bar, just two uniformed gents tending the desk and a small glass doored alcove where the concierge holds court amid rolled neck ties and maps  While we are encouraged to meet him (he's a character), we don't take advantage of his services because we have a date with Gershwin at the Richard Rodgers Theater down on 46th Street.  To cab? to walk?  We're starving and far too excited to take ourselves off the streets; the bowler hatted doorman points us to something...but our Midwestern ears don't comprehend and we take off toward the trees a block or two off: Central Park.  
Every brass plate on every building facing 5th Ave. belongs to an M.D.  These professionals mingle discreetly with residences.  The doormen are friendly enough, nodding and smiling as we walk by.  The day is comfortable for February and the park is animated with walkers, bikers, runners and dozens of prams and strollers of all shapes and conformations.  For the first, but not the last time, on our trip, I think, this is just how I thought it should be.
The carriages are lined up at the Grand Army Plaza, the ponies' livery festooned in red and white feathers, a cloud of pigeons pecking the cobblestones at their feet.  Folks are enjoying their bag lunches and a few line up at sandwich wagons.  The Plaza Hotel with its Sleeping Beauty towers beckons; we slip through the doors into the warmth and scents of the Plaza Food Hall.  Two little grande dames sip champagne while working folks kibbutz over bowls of stir fry and the barman is busy constructing cocktails.  We choose with care. I'm going with lamb kebab.  Blake need not look at a menu: its oysters for him.  My kebab comes with toast points: toast in Tarkio is never pointed!  
A quick check of google maps reassures us we have plenty of time to walk the mile or so down 7th Avenue.  Away from the sedate sidewalks of the Upper East side, weaving our way between delivery men and sightseers.  All these folks on their phones have better service than we do: something about the concrete canyons block reception for our i phones accustomed to wide open spaces.The apparent bustle has more to do with delivery or repair vans than the creeping bugs that are the yellow taxis. No wonder the streets are crowded!  Its called double parking.  Am I gawking?  I dearly hope not but I wish I could do a slow pirouette through the lucent sunshine and cold shadows and record the windows, the ornament, the cheap souvenir shops, the multi story, multi screen, brighter than life advertisements, the cabs and buses hawking hit Broadway shows.  

The Richard Rodgers theater is around the corner from Times Square a block or so. The queue is well down the street 40 minutes before show time.  Cabs and town cars are parked, backed up, dodging pedestrians.  There's time for coffee in the shadows of the Lunt-Fontanne theater, where Ghost, the musical, will open in March. These theaters don't glitter; a single vertical name announces their locations.  The glory of musical theater comes in some pretty plain brown wrappers in comparison to the extravagant promises and mesmerizing glitz of Times Square.  Still!  Look!  Down there is the Lion King!  Wait!  Can we catch the evening show for Anything Goes? How to Succeed? 

My vision of ladies in gowns and stoles and gents in hats is crushed.  The dress code for an afternoon matinee is: ordinary.  But it is gratifying to see little tiny matrons let out at the curb by the drivers of their black cars; we are entertained by accents not our own. The theater is not a palace, but the chandelier overhead could be cast in the Phantom of the Opera. A dozen women of a certain age arrange themselves in the row in front of us. The play before the play begins: where to put our coats...for this money there should be coat hooks...for this money we should be closer? The comments are delivered with an intonation that suggests the speakers are holding their noses and looking down them simultaneously.  Entrancing.   Behind and beside us a group of teenage girls discuss the musicals they have seen, attempting to give an impression of worldliness that is belied by their youthful complexions and well defined likes and dislikes. At intermission they express their views of the storyline ,the singers, the characters as if they were rabid fans at a sporting event. I have opinions too, but have made a conscious decision to be a blank slate in deference to the obvious efforts and talents of the professionals on the stage.  The action is so compressed; the emotions of the Gershwin songs are ripped from the characters as temptation, grief, remorse, and, against all odds, hope are carried as high as the chandelier by the soaring deliveries of both soloists and chorus.  At times I had to close my eyes to hear all the music. I am still carrying the melodies to bed with me at night. Is it possible to tire of 'Summertime'?
All the world is a stage as we exit the theater at twilight. The sky dials down as the curtain raises on the action on Times Square.  We are fortunate souls, choosing seats with a panorama view from the Bluefin  Diner.  Blake's first round of oysters is a memory so we entertain the notion of a menu.  Glory be!  A restaurant with caviar listed BY THE OUNCE!  A first, but we have no difficulty resisting temptation or the price tag.  We perch on metal stools; our table is translucent, glows with its own light, bringing life to our glass of red wine. Before our eyes, Times Square becomes a pulsing seven story surround sound stained glass window.  

Times Square is all about today; as we head back toward the Carlyle we walk back in time.  The Ed Sullivan theater sports a line a block long. The sidewalks of Central Park are full of women, children and prams in the fading day.  Art Deco towers bring Georgia O'Keeffe's skyscrapers to mind.  Even with traffic, the park seems quiet.  

The Carlyle is its own history.  Bemused, we ride up seven floors accompanied by an....elevator man?  I had to look the proper term up; I could also call him an elevator operator, or, if I were in Britain, a liftman.  Not a lot of call for these terms in Tarkio.  This one is not much for idle conversation: bored? discreet? bunions?

Bemelman's Bar is packed but we are nestled by the baby grand, a trio of fresh snacks at our elbow and a Ludwig Bemelman skyscraper   on the pillar at Blake's back. I am facing Chris Gillespie, the pianist so he sees, if not hears, our pleasure when he nestles the Bach toccata in D minor into Brubeck's 'Take Five'. Every table is full.  The famous murals are either golden in lamplight or neon blue in phone light. I make a mental note to come back in daylight to photograph the fanciful but civilized fauna on the walls, as well as the line of "twelve little girls" including Madeline.  Of course Blake has a martini; it even comes with three olives. If he would just share his olives, the evening would be perfect.  

I forgive him this small sin when he secures a reservation to hear Christine Ebersole across the hall in the Cafe' Carlyle.  After the humming activity of Bemelman's, the restaurant is hushed, plush and a little chilly.  The couple at the adjacent table is celebrating his 65th birthday.  They tell us the Carlyle is 'classic old New York'; they look like classic New Yorkers to me!  He could be a cross between Morley Safer and Jerry Stiller; she bears a resemblance to Dana Delany, who played Josephine in the movie Tombstone, and trained as an actress when she was younger. Apparently, she has a friend who is a good friend of Christine Ebersole, the cabaret singer tonight.  Our dinner companions consider it a compliment that we "fit in" so well with all these New Yorkers.  They know a "local" farmer, of course, outside of the city and she asks us if our "soy" is "GMC".  I admit I giggle just a bit when I answer that GMC is a truck; GMO is the acronym she wants.  We have grandkids; they have parrots that travel with them. Before the show begins, we watch a video of their parrots climbing around the neck rest of their vehicle.

 Before the lights dim, I have finished my lobster bisque.  

All I can say is "Wow-ee!
Looka where I am.
Tonight I landed, pow!
Right in a pot of jam.
I'd hear my buddies saying: 

"Crazy, what gives?

Tonight she's living like 

The other half lives!"

What a step up! Holy cow!

They'd never believe it,

If my friends could see me now!

(Sweet Charity and me)

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