Monday, February 4, 2013

Just a dusting

Sunday afternoon solitude in Riveride Park. 12:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, February 4, 2013.  Cold, but not that cold; temperatures in the 20s throughout the weekend. We’re just about halfway through the winter and we’ve had just a dusting of snow a couple of times. I won’t argue about Climate Change or not, but this climate around these parts is far different from the winters I knew growing up -- when the land was snow covered from late November through the middle of March, and temperatures dropped to the teens and below and stayed there for days, even weeks on end. This past Thursday it was 60 degrees midday.
Friday night moon.
East End Avenue looking north (that's the East River at the end of the avenue), Friday afternoon 4:30 PM. Same view, Saturday night, 10:30 PM.
Sunday morning on the Upper West Side. 12:30 AM.
Sunday, midday, on the rooftops.
Sunday, on the ground ...
Saturday was the official birthday of Grand Central Terminal that opened for business on February 2, 1913. Today it is the sixth most popular tourist destination in the world with more than 21 million people visiting every year.

The centennial birthday cake.
The first time I saw it was when I was six or seven years old. On what was called the weekend Excursion train, I had come with my mother on a Sunday, via The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, from Union Station in Springfield, Massachusetts. It was my first time on a train also, and the three hour ride was an entire thrill from departure to arrival. We boarded at 8 am and arrived in Grand Central a little after 11.

The ride itself through the Connecticut towns and countryside in southern Westchester and then the city was enough wonder for any kid who is all-eyes. This included the conductors who called out the stops like carny barkers just as the trained pulled into each station; and the man who boarded in Wallingford, Connecticut with a huge metal carton of sandwiches, milk, sodas, chips and candy, walking up and down the aisles, calling out “getcher fresh sandwiches and soda ...” Picnic on a train.

Then, on arrival making our way up the concrete platform away from the train and track, completely unprepared for this: the Main Concourse with its vast and celestial ceiling! My mother hadn’t prepared me, so it came as a complete shock of awe and wonder.

Conceived by one of the building’s architects, Whitney Warren, and the French artist and portraitist Paul Cesar Helleu, I’m sure that at the sight of it I knew I would someday live in New York. This has been a common and inspiring experience for millions down through the last century.
The New York and Harlem Railroad Grand Central Depot at 42nd Street, built in 1871 and remaining until it was replace by the Grand Central Terminal.
Grand Central at 100 years old.
Living in the Age of Aquarius*. (Or at least that time of the year.) New Yorkers are birthday party-crazy. They’re always giving birthday parties for themselves, or a friend or someone they’d like to have as a friend.  It’s certainly not a bad idea.

I’m reminded of that Sally Field remark when she won the Oscar and addressed the audience somewhat astounded: “You really like me!!”  Birthdays represent the same thought. Uh-huh, that’s a big part of it. We all, everyone of us, need something like that in our lives every now and then (or maybe every day?). A birthday party is an excellent solution.
This being the month of Aquarius (January 20 – February 18) in the zodiac, some of us seem to be surrounded by them – Aquarians, I mean. You read about Liz Smith’s birthday lunch at Michael’s last Wednesday.

Liz celebrating her 90th.
Well, besides that one, somewhere in the past few days, there was another get-together of friends with Liz, and then on Saturday night (her actual birthdate), there was a small dinner for her at Circo. So that makes three. It sounds like a lot, but Liz has so many friends (literally and truly -- and at ninety, she’s still making ‘em), that she’d need the Drill Hall of the Park Avenue Armory to fit them all in.

Then there’s Anne Ford who had a birthday party last week for members of her family (which is a small crowd in itself), and then again co-starred in a birthday fete for her and her friend Tina Sloan McPherson, the actress.

They were celebrating a similar (number) birthday. I say Anne “co-starred” because it turned out to be that kind of a party. Sort of like theater-in-the round. Or in the library of a local private club. It began with a cocktail reception and canapes at 7:30. Black tie for the men.
Stewardess McPherson and Stewardess Ford laying out the game plan for the plane ..
About eight-thirty we moved into the dining room. I noticed after everyone was seated that Anne was missing from the table. And so was Tina from her table. About ten minutes later, they appeared – surprise surprise! – got up as airline stewardesses. They explained (with their script in hand) that this was about stewardesses having the passengers they wanted on a flight, and also deciding where they would sit – first class or economy.

They then explained that we, the guests were going to be “the passengers.” And then between the two of them, they told the passengers where they were going to sit and why? Let’s put it this way: it was a roast – of the guests. And a funny one, even belly laughs, or ... er ... guffaws.
Coffee, tea or ...? Take your seat, you're about to eat!
For example:

Tina: Where should we see Tom Kean? (ed. note: former governor of New Jersey who was present.)
Anne (indifferent but immediate): Economy!
Tina: But he was a governor ...!
Anne: Yeah, but New Jersey?!

Guess who laughed the loudest on that one? 

The birthday “stewardesses” were a perfect team. McPherson plays it bright and cheery and maybe just a little big Pollyana, and Ms. Ford plays it deadpan and matter-of-fact (Mrs. Know). They had a little something to say – some crack, some comment – about each of the fifty guests, and the room was rocking with laughter before the first course was served.

It was the funniest birthday party I’ve ever been to. Thinking about it later, I realized that Ford and McPherson had turned it into a party for their guests. What a gift for all!
The birthday girls take their cakes ...
Former Mayor Ed Koch died over the weekend. He was 88 on his last birthday, December 12th. I was an after-work volunteer in his first Congressional campaign back in 1969, running for the Silk Stocking District which is what the Upper East Side (Park Avenue/Fifth Avenue and east) was referred to politically.

US Army PFC Ed Koch in France, 1944.
He served in the Second World War, drafted as a teenager, came out and put himself through college and law school. In pursuit of a political career, he had worked his way up the ladder, starting out as an Assemblyman, then Councilman, and then to Washington.

In those days, local candidates in the city got out among the people as much as possible. Ed Koch’s style was to stand on the sidewalk at subway entrances in the mornings and in the late afternoons, and introduce himself, asking “How’m I doin’?”

He was then in his mid-forties when he first ran for Congress, in an age in which had been glamorized by the Kennedys and their youthful charm and good looks. Ed Koch had none of that on the surface, but he had the common touch in his approach to everyone, high or low, and he was sharp. That personal touch that gave him heft, making him desirable to the New York voter.
Koch campaigning for a New York State Assembly seat in August 1962.
Koch riding the subway in January 1978.
He served two terms in Washington, but in those early days of his political career he did not publicly display that vigorous New Yawker quality that the world is now so familiar with. He was forthright, yet almost reserved – as if perhaps somewhat shy. He was respectful and a serious listener. So it surprising when he was elected Mayor (for three terms) and a bigger, louder, even brash public personality emerged. The reserve and respect and serious listening were still there but now the public personality was seasoned and confident.

He shared a birthday with Ole Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra who was nine years his senior. Both men shared brash but appealing personalities, with an underlying warmth or sense of and always that “common touch” no matter whom they walked with.
*Famous Aquarian birthdays: Lawrence Taylor, the legendary New York Giants linebacker; Rosa Parks, who 50 years ago asserted her civil rights by refusing to give up her bus seat and moved the world; Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1927, Betty Friedan, who raised the consciousness of a generation of women, and changed the world forever with her book “The Feminine Mystique;” Eva Peron, who went from dancer to President to a Broadway musical.

Plus: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Geena Davis, Lord Byron, Richard Dean Anderson, Ronald Reagan, Princess Caroline, Ellen DeGeneres, Paul Newman, Eddie Van Halen, Mozart, Oprah, Vanessa Redgrave, FDR, Clark Gable, Justin Timberlake, Bob Marley, Chris Rock, Nick Nolte, Mia Farrow, RJ Wagner, Thomas Edison, Jennifer Aniston, Abraham Lincoln, Burt Reynolds, Peter Gabriel, Gregory Hines, Jane Seymour, John McEnroe, Michael Jordon, John Travolta, Natalie Cole, James Joyce, Christy Brinkley, Ayn Rand, Farrah Fawcett, Alice Cooper, William Tecumseh Sherman, Adlai Stevenson, Jack Nicklaus, Pacido Domingo, Frederico Fellini, Wayne Gretsky, Eartha Kitt, Virginia Woolf,  Somerset Maugham, Stendhal, Lewis Carroll, Colette, Germaine Greer, Franz Schubert, Pavlova, Christian Dior, Gen. MacArthur, Alan Alda, Tallulah Bankhead, Carol Channing, Gertrude Stein, Fernand Leger, Betty Freidan, Babe Ruth, Zsa Zsa, Eva Braun, Jackie Robinson, Graham Nash, Charles Dickens, Stephen Crane, John Ruskin, Lana Turner, Jack Lemmon, James Dean, Carol King, Boris Pasternak, Leontyne Price, King Farouk, Rabelais, Darwin, Kim Novak, Jack Benny, Stockard Channing, Jimmy Hoffa, Queen Anne, Edgar Bergen, Carl Bernstein, Marian Anderson, Ramakrishna, Andres Segovia, Helen Gurley Brown, Sonny Bono, and Thomas Malthus.

Click to order “In The Spirit of New Orleans.”
Meanwhile yesterday all eyes were on New Orleans for the Super Bowl. Next Monday is Lundi Gras or “Fat Monday,” the eve of Mardi Gras. Partying aside, New Orleans, according to Debra Shriver who has recently published her second book on it “In The Spirit of New Orleans” (Assouline), New Orleans is about food, and fun, music, and more food.

She quotes Glenn Vatshell, owner and executive chef of Palate New Orleans: “New Orleans has long been a laboratory for international culinary influences. It began with the French approach to cooking, integrating Native American game and fish. The Caribbean and Spanish nations brought spices such as sassafras or file, used in gumbo, the African slaves added okra and sweet potatoes and slow cooking techniques; the Germans gave us sausage, and the Italians used olives and oil.” 

As a result, the local restaurants hold their own with Paris, New York, Chicago and San Francisco ...

Debra includes a classic NOLA recipe for Seafood Gumbo (serves 16). Gumbo, a word originating in southern Louisiana in the early 18th century, is often used as a metaphor to describe the intermixing that occurred between the city’s various immigrant populations.

The town’s jumpin’ and all those football and Mardi Gras fans are doubling the fun for people.  If you didn’t or won’t make it, let Debra Shriver take you there ...

Contact DPC here.