Monday, February 14, 2011

Letter from New York: Part 3

Cat in fireplace, National Arts Club

 Up early and wrapped up well to go out into the piercing cold, walking up Riverside Drive at 9:30 AM. Temperature was lower today, in the teens, and Riverside Drive is probably the coldest place in the city, I remember from childhood, and the sharp wind off the river hasn't changed. But I only had eight blocks to walk to my cousin Judy's apartment. Another cousin, Alice, came down from her home in Syracuse for this occasion, and the three of us planned to go up to Riverdale to visit my mother. Alice and Judy are both daughters of sisters of my grandmother, and we don't see each other very often, so this was an event. Judy made us a delicious New York breakfast of sausages and challah French toast, and we embarked on the long trip up to Riverdale together. It was made short and delightful by our family chat, in which we compared our childhood memories of beloved people, some matching up, some new revelations. Deeply fascinating for those involved! Alice is close to my age but we have lived our lives far apart, and it is actually Facebook that has made our friendship blossom in our sixties. We all enjoyed our nice visit and lunch with my mother, and it was certainly a big day for her. Then the trip back to Manhattan, and after parting from Judy and Alice on the Upper West Side, there was just time for me to get downtown to my next event.

Me, Alice and Judy, visiting my mother

That's the thing with my New York visits - they lurch from highlight to highlight! At home I might have a special occasion maybe once every few months; here, I cram in two or three a day, every day. This evening I was invited by a friend who is a member of the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park, to have dinner with her there. Well! This was a stellar event, and no mistake! One of the effects of my leaving New York so early, in my mid-twenties, was that I didn't have decades to explore places I'd have gotten to know if I'd lived there as an adult. So I find that the Arts Club is very well known, but it was brand new to me, and a huge thrill.

Interior, National Arts Club

Haughty lady of fashion, National Arts Club

The club was founded in 1898, and is in the 1840 Tilden Mansion in Gramercy Park, filled with the most eclectic assortment of gorgeous artworks and antiques, including a magnificent stained glass ceiling. I don't know what in New York could be lovelier than sitting in the armchairs in the high bay-windowed nooks looking out at the park; it was all so evocative of a past, fin-de-siecle, gracious, and artistic era. Well, I simply had to see everything, and after a lovely dinner (French onion soup, delicious salad, warm chocolate souffle and cappuccino), I did. It's quite an exclusive place, with an intricate membership process, and the other members and diners looked most posh. I probably imposed on my friend's kindness by staying from 6 to 11 PM and examining every single piece of china and painting! I didn't dare take pictures until late in the evening, when a man started taking flash pictures, and then I whipped out my camera, but I don't like flash so they came out dark. Still, a few came out to remember this magnificent experience by!

Amazing glass ceiling, National Arts Club

Pictures of famous members

One of the bay windows

Many things to covet...but it wasn't the Salvation Army!


My plane home was at 6:30 PM, and the car was to pick me up at Ezra's at 3:30, so I had to cram a lot into the morning. To my joy, my High School of Music and Art friend Denise and her partner Serge were able to meet me for breakfast at our favorite Veselka's, the Ukrainian restaurant (open 24 hours) in the East Village. Denise, daughter of a famous sculptor, was the most free-spirited girl at M & A, which is saying something! She's had a fascinating life, moved to Alaska and worked on the pipeline in the 1960s, married a Tibetan Buddhist monk (who sadly died). Denise spends part of the year in Alaska, and part in East Hampton, and I've visited her in both places - as well as at Veselka's. Bottom line is that one thing I would never pass up is any opportunity to see Denise. We had a delicious breakfast of fried egg sandwiches and happy talk, and then I walked back with them to see the friend they were staying with in a lovely apartment in St Marks Place, an 1870 townhouse building with original moldings - wider than a brownstone, with a very "Washington Square" feeling. Here is Denise with one of her friend's cats.

Friend and friend

 Veselka's, Second Avenue and Ninth Street

Ukrainian Fried Egg Sandwich

I'd promised to get Paul cookies at Veniero's, which is only a couple of blocks away, so I stopped there and incidentally had a cappuccino and an eclair. Then took a cab to the New York Public Library, for a brief visit to the Pforzheimer "Shelley and his Circle" collection, specifically for a glimpse of the shard of Shelley's skull.

Veniero's (immediately after the fried eggs)

Shelley's Skull Shard

And then a saunter through Bryant Park, which I remember years ago as being a quintessentially dangerous "needle park," now changed into a lovely skating rink ringed by skyscrapers. I'd never seen the lovely statues before (as it didn't used to be a place you could walk in), and photographed Gertrude Stein with snow in her lap. Then a dash up Broadway to get a pound of nova from Zabars to take home. On the bus I chatted with a woman about my age who was carrying a brown silk evening dress she was going to wear to a friend's daughter's wedding, and she mentioned that her son had gone to Hunter - for one day. Why? I asked. "He came home and said that he couldn't listen to being called 'special' even one more time." Since that is a devastatingly accurate and pithy comment on the school, I ended my New York trip on a laugh. Returned to Ezra's, to pack and wait for the car to take me to the airport, and home...

Bryant Park

Gertrude Stein in Bryant Park, more uncomfortable than in life

Farewell to Riverside Park


Barbara said...

I feel exhausted after my week in New York! How are you feeling, Diana?? Still, it is all good training for your next London/UK visit! Loved the Club. Thank you for posting. Barbara

Anonymous said...

Diana what a WONDERFUL tour of the Arts Club!!! You were so brave to take those pictures. I've been pining to get invited there for years. Seeing both the Shakespeare portrait and the shard of Shelley's skull (I still believe it could not possibly be) two days apart must have been quite thrilling. The man who donated the wonderful Gertrude Stein sculpture in Bryant Park was an owner of the Knoedler Gallery; he inherited it as part of the sculptress' estate and then donated it to the City.


Anonymous said...


Through your great photos and reporting, I've been carried along wonderfully on this latest trip...


Some personal nostalgia and ones love of nature dovetail precisely...

In moments of natural habitats and residences where red cardinals and kitties are appreciated so nicely...

Into historic visits which colorfully energize viewings of rich repasts, rare, literary and fine arts ever-residing together and oh, so concisely...

Thank you~~~~:-)


penny said...

I did not realize there was a rink in Bryant Park that's how behind i am in city improvements. I wonder what else I am missing.
Love the pictures.
one day though we must meet.

Vic said...

Diana, I am largely a lurker, but this series about your trip to New York have allowed me to live vicariously through your experience. Your photos are outstanding. Vic

Anonymous said...

Hello Diana! What a wonderful post - LOVE the pictures of the National Art Club. All I need to do now is find a member to take me in!!

All of the foodie places you mention look marvellous - I am taking note and am determined to get myself all of these sweet treats you mention!

What a lovely trip you had, though sorry it was so cold - this winter has been something else!

Anonymous said...

Hi., Diana, it is Mal from Dorset and Piffle, so much enjoying reading your entries, you really did pack it all in. Hope your journey back was smooth, and you're enjoying the west coast weather.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the art club photos too and went over to look at their website. You said the membership process was intricate (or some such word). I noticed there is no place to click on "how to join."

I did begin to go to the "right" places in NYC before I left -- my mid-thirties and the times we went back so much (middle to late 1990s until a couple of years ago) we too rushed about and made up for lost time and realized how much more we'd know to do today.


Roz Cawley said...

Oh, what riches in this post, Diana! Firstly - (as befits the position!) salutations to Tully the Alpha Cat. Any feline that can produce poetry like that can ONLY be an Alpha, surely? Instruct Pindar and Marshy to genuflect to such superior intellect :-).

I do believe you are even worse/more addicted/ more enthusiastic than me in your thrift hunting - but indeed, what treasures you have discovered - brava to you! It seems as if you have also been gathering other treasure - family treasure in family stories...what I consider to be the most priceless 'Family Jewels' that cannot be bought, only shared. Talking of Jewels - what a bright ruby jewel your dear mother is in your wonderful photograph - delightful to see her.
Finally, I second Elissa in her comments about the wonderful tour of the Arts Club - what a delicious venue that is. Well done to you for living so richly and being kind enough to share it with others! x

Lorraine Langford said...

Hi Diana,
I would be interested in reading what you wrote about the other Austen-Leigh writers, including Lois who wrote mysteries. I don't belong to any Austen list so I'm not sure how to contact you, but I do enjoy your comments on the list and on your blog. Glad to learn your husband is better.
JASNA-Victoria (BC, Canada)