Monday, April 2, 2018

One helluva town

A magnolia bud ready to bloom in Central Park. Photo: JH.
Monday, April 2, 2018.  A sunny, quiet, Easter/Passover Weekend in New York with temperatures reaching up to the low 50s, and snow forecast in the area, along with temps in the mid-30s. It still seems that Spring is getting off to a slow start, but then I’m still that impatient kid, now impatiently looking forward to my warm weather garden on the terrace.

New York, New York. On Good Friday I made my weekly Zabar's/West Side trip which included getting my haircut by Lyudmilla at Jean Louis David where she has been giving me perfect (and fast) haircuts for 20 years and she doesn’t look a day older than when I first met her.

After paying for my haircut I went over to the bank machine to get some more cash for my errands. Punching in my request and waiting for the dispersal, I noticed that whoever had been there before me had left/or forgot to take their transaction receipt. I removed it to make room for my receipt and I turned it over just to see what kind of customer came before me. Money-wise, that is. This has occurred with me before and I’m not surprised to see how little so many of us have as a bank balance. So, it came as a “hey-wait-a-minute!” surprise to see the previous ATM user had a checking balance of $483,945. Gee. Whiz.
An Easter Sunday picnic in Central Park.
Catching Up. Last week was “Asia Week” here in New York as collectors, dealers and curators and connoisseurs are well aware. And it was very successful. The galleries reported a total sales record of more than $169 million!

Last Monday night at the York Theater on 54th and Lex, the legendary American Classical Pianist Byron Janis celebrated his 90th Birthday by hosting the first stage reading of “Silver Skates” at the York Theatre on Lexington and 54th. The musical play was directed by Bill Castellino and adapted by Lanie Robertson from the Mary Mapes Dodge book “Hans Brinker & The Silver Skates.”  

Byron composed the score with lyrics by the late George David Weiss. After a standing ovation, the full house sang “Happy Birthday” to the Maestro  Following the performance, there was a private reception hosted by his wife  Maria Cooper Janis with some of Broadway’s veteran directors and producers, as well as close friends and family. Another more comprehensive stage production is already in discussions.
Byron Janis with the “Silver Skates” cast. Standing, l. to r.: Narrator Ezra Barnes, Adelaide Mestre (Meitje Brinker), Musical Director & Pianist Joseph Mohan, Producing Artistic Director York Theatre James Morgan, Lanie Robertson (Book Adaptation), and James Scheider (Hans Brinker). Seated, l. to r.: Mackenzie Norris (Annie Bouman), Byron Janis, and Nick Barnes (Petyer & Pidkin).
Last Thursday night, Eve Stuart hosted a PEN dinner  at her apartment on lower Fifth Avenue with guest of honor Jeremiah Moss who published a book last July called “Vanishing New York; How a Great City Lost Its Soul.” 

These PEN dinners are a wonderful way to promote the organization as well as raise funds for their work. They give those of us privileged to be invited an opportunity to meet and author and hear what he or she thinks (and is like in real life). Last year Eve had a dinner for Salman Rushdie which also was a pleasure for me, as Rushdie, his literary talent aside, is a charming and erudite thinker who easily shares with and inquires of others.

Jeremiah Moss signing copies of “Vanishing New York; How a Great City Lost Its Soul" at the Strand last year. Click to order.
Jeremiah Moss is the nom de plume of Griffin Hansbury, He’s been published in the NYT, the New Yorker, the Paris Review, the Daily News. He’s also a novelist (“The Nostalgist”). Besides his writing, he’s a psychoanalyst with a private practice here in the city, And, as I said, he’s got a web site.

After an excellent dinner and dessert, Eve introduced him to the table of nineteen guests. The author is, like so many of us New Yorkers, from another part of the country. The dynamic romance of the city is clearly what drew the man to make his life here. New York has always been a mecca for those of us who are creative, ambitious, curious , and driven. It’s like the song says: “If you can make it here ... You can make it ... etc.” Making it in New York means many different things to many different people, but the “dynamic,” the energy of this metropolis is what draws, as it has for our ancestors who came before us.

Jeremiah Moss is actually an historian of the city. While he laments seriously the evaporating of community life right before our eyes, he touches you with his explanation of deep regret. For example:

“Of an evening in 1966,” he wrote in his journal: “Walking home, I stopped at LaRosa’s on Elizabeth Street. I can’t resist that smell of baking bread that fills the neighborhood. I stepped inside. The bakers were pulling hot loaves from the oven. I bought one for 50 cents, broke it open on the street, and ate it. The soft, white bread was like warm milk. I passed Bella’s Luncheonette where you can eat cheeseburgers at the window and maybe see Jim Jarmusch walk by. Inside Albanese Meats, the butcher was working on a slab of  beef, carefully trimming the fat. He stepped out to the street for a moment, the blood on his apron, wet knife shining in his hand. He looked around as if expecting someone, then nodded to me, and went back inside.”
Or The Village: “A center for New York’s black community from the 1640s through the 1880s, it was home to working class Irish and Italians, along with prostitutes, female cross-dressers and ‘fairies,’ as well as wealthy white families clustered in elegant townhouses around Washington Square. The neighborhood began attracting bohemians in the 1850s, when Walt Whitman was hanging with the literary crowd at Pfaff’s beer cellar on Broadway near Bleecker Street. In the 1910s came the first golden age, with artists, writers, and assorted characters making their mark, including Eugene O’Neill, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Djuna Barnes, and Joe Gould. Artists have long served, often unwittingly and unhappily as urban attractors, exposing an “undiscovered” neighborhood to outsiders were, draining tourists and investors, thus raising the price of real estate.”

Pfaff's beer cellar in 1857. Depicted seated is Walt Whitman.
The author’s book provoked a very lively table conversation about New York, it changing, its neighborhoods, its greatnesses and its losses. On one hand, the “changes” we regret and lament are almost always regarded as the social rigors of “progress.”

I was thinking about a friend of mine who grew up in one of the more desirable co-operative apartment buildings on Park Avenue. It was a large duplex which her father had bought in 1951 for $10,000!  That same apartment last sold for more than $12 million. There’s the rub. Or one of them.

Moss makes a very strong argument against the so-called benefits of a lot of this “progress.” He holds certain individuals responsible for a lot of the decisions made in the past two decades that has turned the city into a place only for fully employed and/or wealthy. Or the tourist. There’s a lot to be said for his arguments and observations. He’s also passionate about the city, and when you read his experiences and histories of the town, you find yourself passionate about it too. And you’ll enjoy New York all over again.

Betty Comden and Adolph Green said it in their lyric:

“New York New York
It’s a helluva town
The Bronx is up
And the Battery’s down.
The people ride
In a hole in the ground

New York New York!
It’s a helluva town.”

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