Sunday, December 13, 2015

A New York Birthday

Christmas tree at the Met, with its famous Neapolitan baroque creche

Our trip was almost cancelled when Peter came down with pneumonia;  however, we got him into the ER at almost the first cough, so he quickly got antibiotics, and although the doctor thought it was too soon for him to fly, he was perfectly able to look after himself and the cats. So Paul, who had taken a week's holiday, and I went ahead with my New York birthday celebrations.

Arriving at JFK

3 December.  We flew in to find still gorgeous autumnal weather, sunny in the low 50s, and after checking in at our beloved Larchmont on 11th Street in the Village, we did our traditional late night walk to Veselka's, for matzoh ball soup, Ukrainian stew, and apple cake. 

Me at home in Peter Cooper Village, NYC

4 December. Lovely sunny day. Went to see Peter's stepfather, Rutledge, stopping to get bagels and lox at what used to be Ess-a-Bagel on First Ave. and 22nd St. It's been there forever, was a favorite haunt of Peter's mother Vivian, and when I was there last May it was just closing. But Rut, who as a WASP is no bagel and lox expert, said the neighborhood consensus was that the new place was very good.  It did not disappoint.

The best stuff, all that is holy. "Everything" bagel with best nova and chive cream cheese.

Rut also showed us a beautiful drawing he did of Pete Seeger in the Village in the 1960s.

After visiting with Rut, it was time to go pick up my birthday cake. I asked one of my Hunter College Elementary School classmates, Marianne, a knowing journalist, where Paul should buy the cake, and she immediately advised, "Go to Two Little Red Hens, on Second Avenue and 86th." So the cake was duly ordered, picked up, and carried to my cousin Janet's house on Park Avenue, in this box. A marble cake with buttercream frosting (to be revealed, below).

But first the shoes.  En route to Two Little Red Hens we stopped at the City Opera thrift shop and I spied some beautiful shoes, which Paul bestowed upon me as a birthday present!

Arriving on Park Avenue, we found the building decorated in proper New York fashion for Christmas:

The party came in.  All cousins!  It was the most beautiful birthday party I, certainly, ever had in my life, nothing but warmth and beauty, wonderful food and friendliness and good feeling. That description may not sound much like what comes to mind with the word "family," but considering the dysfunction that existed in some of the older generations, this generation are survivors who have, in the fullness of time, drawn closer together. It's a lovely result, and the pictures I think reflect it.  I'll show the party as it happened, with just a few identification markers.

Paul greets Joanna

Paul with Anne, my first cousin (Joanna's mom)

Paul enjoying Janet's beautiful apartment - she is a lifelong collector of beautiful things, of a much higher order than my own collecting, that I fully know how to appreciate!

Janet also magnanimously collected some pretty beautiful food from Zabar's!

My completely delightful cousins Noni (Naomi, my grandmother's name) and Leah

Jim Acevedo (Joanna's dad), Joanna, Anne, Leah - Is it time for the cake?

They go and get it. Cake is brought in and placed before me, who feels quite emotional!
That's Noni, Anne, Noni and Leah's mom Judy, our hostess Janet, and Joanna.

We pose for a cousin picture.  Can you feel the love and the energy?  I did!
Leah, me, Noni, Anne, Jim, Joanna, cousin Alice from Syracuse, cousin David (Anne's brother from Brooklyn), Judy, Janet. Paul was behind the camera.

And here it is, from Two Little Red Hens, and very delicious it was, with highly superior buttercream frosting.  Seven candles bestowed by those in the kitchen.  My nickname is Denny.

Everyone ate at least two pieces, which you know is unusual!  Here's what was left, so you can see the flowers better.

Then we had to sit down and digest a little!

Of course I said no presents, but Anne gave me one of her beautiful artworks anyway, to mark the occasion.  It certainly did that!

Digital photo montage, part of her "Hudson Yards" series, by Anne Finkelstein.

Joanna, looking quite Italian Renaissance herself!

1963 version

"As time goes by..."

"Some things are different...I haven't changed"

Judy and her daughters

Beautiful books...

David, Janet, Jim

Anne, Jim, Joanna

Alice and Michael

The dog of the house

Party shoes

I could never have imagined a more wonderful party - but there WAS another, and it, too, was wonderful!  Since my Hunter friends are also turning this age, or have done so already, we decided to celebrate with a birthday dinner for us all, and on my actual birthday, Saturday, 5 December, we had it at La Mirabelle, a lovely old fashioned neighborhood French restaurant at 86th and Columbus.

Here I am with my birthday chocolate mousse; a singer at the restaurant serenaded me with Happy Birthday sung in French!  "Bon anniversaire..."  A first.  I had cassoulet which was scrumptious but doesn't photograph well, so below you see friend Micheline's Duckling.

A lovely dinner.

Then, incredibly enough, there was a THIRD event, the next day. Leah's book, on her musical teaching techniques, published by Noni's Heliotrope Books, had its official launch at Theatre 80 St. Mark's Place in the East Village, and Paul and I couldn't miss that!  Other cousins came too. The book is "On Another Note: Making Music at Head Start" by Leah Wells. 

In the East Village, where I spent my misspent youth!

Well, I did...

Paul at the theatre

Cousins onstage

Theatre scene

With the three big events of the week over, we saw a few more friends, ate a lot more delicious food, and Paul reviewed four plays. Is it any wonder we were falling over tired a good bit of the time?  Here are some highlights of the rest.

Me and Paul with old friend Laurie at Cafe Sabartsky at the Neue Gallerie, eating formidably wonderful Viennese pastries!

Paul and I especially enjoyed a visit to our old favorite restaurant, Monte's Trattoria on Macdougal Street.  Very old place indeed, I believe my parents used to eat there in their Village days...

Food's pretty great, especially the Clams Oreganata...

Veal chop stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella...

Me and some heavenly tartufo

Walking it off at Strand Books

And we spent a lovely afternoon at the Met...

From the Met's stairs...

...imbibing some culture was very relaxing...

Diana and Diana.
Might look more like her if I laid off the whipped cream.  Nah.

I never realized that you could see Cleopatra's Needle from the restaurant. Mark Mellinger (with whom I had a lovely dinner at Gennaro's) and I used to play there as kids, but the museum has kind of swallowed up all our playing fields, by plopping down things like the Temple of Dendur.

At least, the Needle hasn't changed.

I do like that you can photograph things at the Met now. A good change.

15th century French angel with a Gittern

Last stop on the trip, Caffe Reggio for...

Profiteroles and caffe mocha!

And that's our trip.  Here's what I wrote about the flight home (but at least we got there...)

The good part of flight home: I'd stupidly booked a late flight, forgetting that Paul wasn't Retired like me but would have to get up early next day. Fortunately we were able to make a "same day change" at the airport and change to an earlier flight. But the early flight was a BUMPY flight and we sat in the last two seats in the back, teeth gritted. "I'm never flying again," said Paul. "It's always like this over the Rockies," I returned weakly. "But it's Kansas," he said, and we both bleakly contemplated cyclones and Dorothy Gale. THEN on the descent the pilot said "There's heavy coastal fog with zero visibility at the airport, just want to warn you folks so you know what we're up against." Warn us? For what? To put our heads between our knees and kiss our asses goodbye? There was no fog at L.A., but as we swung into sight of the airport - well, it wasn't there. Instead, something like a flat charcoal gray beret, or blackberry pancake, or a flying saucer, was perched over it, very low. Never saw anything like it before in hundreds of trips into the city. We gazed fascinated as we dove into this black blob, and never saw the ground until the wheels struck. On the runway. On the way out I commented on the fog to the flight attendant waiting to say goodbye, and she nodded and said it was a perfect instrument landing. And I don't have to fly again until May.

Addendum:  Of course we were carrying a dozen onion bagels and a couple pounds of Zabar's best nova and brilliant caraway rye bread home.  Rutledge gave me a sports bag to pack the bagels and lox in, and when we got to LAX, the luggage carousel broke, and we were waiting and waiting, because somebody's bag got stuck in the mechanism. Then Paul said, "Guess whose bag that is..." Yup. We made ourselves very small, and four men finally untangled the straps. Miraculously, bag, straps and bagels were intact!

From New York...

To Santa Monica...