Saturday, April 30, 2016

New York Postcard April 2016 (first part)

New York Postcard – Week 1, April 2016
We had a great first week in the big apple although not at the pace we once did.  No museums yet although Christie’s auctions of great masters and antiquities was far better than most galleries … about 400 lots of unbelievably stunning works ( ) .  There were paintings by Fragonard, Boucher, Corot, Bellini, Gandolfi, El Greco, Daddi, Botticelli, Mantegna, Rubens, Van Cleve, Vermeyen, Breughel (I and II), Buonisegna, Guardi, Cimaroli and many, many others whose names are less familiar to me.  There was every style of European art imaginable, portraits, religious art, still life, scientific, landscapes, agricultural scene, archaeological subjects, etc, etc.  I went back three times to gander at the offerings and was even tempted to make a bid (a futile one, it turned out). 
The first evening in town we stopped for a peek in the windows.  But we realized that 49th Street was closed off with pedestrians ushered across the road as a very fancy car was painstakingly backed out of the showroom across the side-walk.  Somebody said it was the original Batmobile but in fact it had been the launch of Bugatti’s new sports car in partnership with Christie’s.  We were told that they are only making 400 models, each costing over 2 million dollars!  What are the poor people driving?  [I learned that the original 1955 Batmobile was actually auctioned for 4.6 million dollars and is now in Arizona]

Bugatti’s new model American launch.
The sale was highly successful but all accounts and our painting of Mount Vesuvius, estimated at $8000 actually sold for $23,000 - I kid you not!!  And the beautiful Egyptian hieroglyphic stela which I would love to own and was estimated at 25k went for $161,000 !!¡¡!!  I blame deep Chinese pockets competing with the rest and pushing prices over the lunar crazy level.  I had distantly thought that such a HUGE auction might see people running out of money before the end.  But not so!   This IS the Big Apple after all.
In other respects, New York is New York.  It was very cold, even below zero some nights.  Always busy and not yet spring time people still have that stern look, hoping for a break in the weather which came the next week, along with blossoms, flowers and blue skies.  I am still amazed at the animation and diversity of people in the city.  Almost every subway car has someone who could be in the record books: tall, short, fat, thin, hairy, ugly, gorgeous, noisy, etc.  There are also those who travel one station and sing, recite poetry, give a life story, etc and then ask for money. 
I used to read (and occasionally write to) Opera-L list-server and found it stimulatingly if sometimes slightly irritating.  Now, however, I find serious discussion of opera seems subsidiary to goss and floss which is very disappointing for a once lively forum.  We saw two operas at the Met (Butterfly, Elisir d’Amore) and a NY Philharmonic concert.  I could have thirteen pages on the wonderful experiences (including an elderly man's walker going missing during the intermission at the Met causing minor pandemonium).  One of the most staggering stage performances I have seen since Sutherland days was happening yet days went by with nothing on Opera-L.  It seemed to have contributors buzzing with the crucial issue of the hairlines of tenors - as if baritones and mezzos don't matter! – but one might add that Sondra Radvenovsky rips off her entire hair-piece in the finale of Roberto Devereux with devastating dramatic effect.  But more about that magic opera later. And more later about our second of three weeks in the city. 
Written by Andrew Byrne ..

Monday, April 27, 2015

Second Postcard from New York City April 26 2015

More than elsewhere, in New York many things stay exactly the same year after year … but this time a few things have changed. 

After many years of decline, stagnation and recession finally there are numerous interesting and important building projects either underway or completed (see some photos below).  The new Renzo Piano designed Whitney Museum just opened and is another added reason to visit the ‘High Line’ garden walk (see below).  The Freedom Tower is now officially called World Trade Center One … but it remains to be seen if the name will stick. 

For only the second time since 9/11 the skyline has changed dramatically with the completion of a 96 storey square white residential building on 57th Street and Park Avenue.  It looks very out of place in up-town shopping region where the only other comparable building was part of the Carnegie Hall 100 year restoration project on 57th Street and 7th Avenue.  And the apartments are selling from 7 to 30 million!  It even makes Sydney real estate prices look low!  The building can be readily seen from the air as well as from the roads around JFK airport and well before the usual Manhattan skyline comes into view.  In fact it needed Federal Aviation approval it is so tall!  At 425 metres high and ignoring the spires, "432 Park Avenue" is taller than the Empire State Building (380m) or the Freedom Tower (417m).  And to my mind it does not have the architectural merit of many other towers in New York and elsewhere.  See photos below and media story about the construction: 

An impressive piece of modern architecture is the new faculty at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on West 59th Street.  The building comprises a huge stepped atrium and rooftop grass like our Parliament House.  These all connect along 59th Street with the older buildings which front 10th Avenue near the Hudson River.  There is also a feeling that the new fits in with the adjacent buildings, both new and old. 

The "High Line" is a project to re-use an old elevated goods railway as an urban garden and walkway - and has been enormously successful against the odds.  See my description and some photos for those interested:

Pecan pies seem like a favourite staple food in New York and we have done a tasting, preferring the Fairways to the Zabars this year (last year it was contrary-wise).

One hears Australian accents frequently, especially at tourist destinations.  In my experience Americans are invariably pleasant, welcoming and inquisitive when meeting Aussies.  I hope we don't blot our copy book or out-stay our welcome!  The Metropolitan Opera House has put on some wonderful works during April: see

The most common blooming tree in New York streets is probably the Bradford Pear with masses of fluffy white blossom currently, portent of the warmer weather which is starting.  After the magnolias, forsythia, daffodils and tulips come the last major spring glory the Japanese Kwanzan pink double cherry blossom for which Brooklyn Botanical Gardens are rightly famous (see time-lapse video on: half way down their web page). 

The subway transport system is a miracle a century old but still going strong.  While invented in London, the slick Manhattan version uses four tracks for each line, one being express, stopping every 10 to 20 streets and the other ‘via local’ stops every 7 to 10 streets (there are 20 streets to the old mile).  However, the old rolling stock needs attention and breakdowns are common with doors, lighting and even motors breaking down at times causing delays.  Nonetheless, it means that despite surface traffic, snow and other impediments, the subway can usually take one from point to point with efficiency and at modest cost ($2.75 per ride regardless of distance travelled). 

Australians who have not travelled overseas may not know that we are one of the few countries where pedestrians walk on the left.  Even in England people tend to keep to the right.  And revolving doors and escalators usually go in the opposite direction from us.  Another unnerving thing is that doors on most public buildings open outwards in America due to changes in building codes after a disastrous fire in a Boston nightclub in 1942 killing almost 500 people.  Older Sydney-siders may recall the Rembrandt Hotel fire which also caused a tightening of fire laws.  So this is just another thing one has to get used to when in America – apart from the language (don’t use ‘queue’, ‘fortnight’, 'footpath', ‘bookings’ or ‘zed’). 

Manhattan streets (but not avenues) unfold an extraordinary daily parking ritual to facilitate street cleaning.  One side is cleaned on alternate days.   The street needs to be clear when the council sweeper passes by, yet with nowhere else to park and others keen to take any vacated spaces a ‘parking dance’ goes on.  To guard their proprietary rights, drivers will sit in their cars from a certain time waiting for the street sweeping machine to come.  Then in succession they pull out at 45 degrees, blocking off the street but permitting the council vehicle to pass behind them, cleaning the gutter (imperfectly in many cases I have seen).  Then in sequence the drivers reverse their cars back into their original space (or they try to).  These unique Manhattan provisions are ‘suspended’ on religious and legal holidays, which is also very ‘New York’!  [some religions ban driving on certain days - but don't be surprised - it used to be illegal to hang out washing on Sundays in Australia!]

My medical contacts have taken me to the origin of methadone treatment at Rockefeller University as well as to the Columbia University Faculty House on Morningside Park, Bellevue Hospital Opiate Clinic, West Midtown Medical Group (methadone, buprenorphine and general practice), Drug Policy Alliance, New School University where I attended the NY State Psychological Society conference on the addictions and harm reduction interventions.  I have been in touch with Ethan Nadelmann, Ernest Drucker, Herbert Kleber, Mary Jeanne Kreek and many other key players in our field of drug and alcohol treatment, research and policy. 

Heroin overdose is the major problem in the US presently, reaching crisis proportion according to some figures.  The present stimulant epidemic in Australia was experienced in the US ten years ago and opinion seems to favour a multifactorial cause for the observed behavioural disturbances.  One lesson which has (or has not) been learned is that cracking down on one drug with legal sanctions often paradoxically causes increased harms, such as by encouraging the use of other more dangerous drugs (eg. so-called 'synthetic cannabis'). 

While I am grateful for the welcome I receive, it is somewhat discomforting to come to a place where profoundly poor people are not given the most basic of needs and also where there is a substantial underclass of people who are not citizens (‘illegals’ or economic refugees).  I would feel better if I could contribute in a meaningful way to help such folk.  The exodus across the Mediterranean is equally shocking, thousands taking great risks while fleeing war-torn Africa and the Middle East.  One feels that the entire western hemisphere has failed our fellow human beings in the third world.  And worse, some actions of our governments over a century have led to instability due to propping up artificial regimes favouring the west rather than their own people.  Now we have instability in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine … and American drones just about everywhere with a murky rationale for their extra-judicial killings (as long as the victims are not American citizens).  I will give a little more (or a lot more if I am able) to Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Red Cross/Crescent. 

From Andrew Byrne ..

Some examples of new buildings going up next to old ones.

31st Street, lower floors complete, upper still covered in orange plastic.
432 Park Street between 57th and 56th Streets.
 Amsterdam Avenue long abandoned building project now completed.  Next door is the new Lincoln Square Synagogue near 68th Street.
 Old Sony Building 56th St and Madison Ave.
New construction on 34th St near Empire State Building and ?Lexington Ave.
Bradford Pears in flower in Broadway
Demonstration on 71st St about inadequate minimum wage in America

Sunday, April 19, 2015

High Line, New York reclaimed goods railway urban project - final sections open 2015

The New York High Line is a fascinating urban reclamation project and is now fully open from 34th Street to Horatio St and 11th Avenue, Greenwich Village, south-west Manhattan.  It is a 3km section of an elevated goods line abandoned in the 1960s. 
We started the walk behind Penn Station on 34th Street where low cost interstate coaches pick up their passengers close to the Hudson River.  A broad ramp follows the old train tracks which took the line away from street level where many level crossings had become so dangerous by 1924 that 11th Avenue was called ‘Death Avenue’.  The tracks have been carefully filled in for pedestrian safety along its entire length and generally half the original line is either left to nature or else planted out. 
The line actually went through a number of buildings, rather like the old monorail in Sydney.  Since this virtual slum has now come alive again in recent years as a popular area there are many new buildings either completed or under construction.  Each has to give due deference to the High Line, some over it, others beside it with one even overhanging it in a vary, precarious and extraordinary way.  At one stage the line deviates slightly to go around a mid-19th century building. 
From two sections of the walk there are spectacular views of the mighty Hudson River with Hoboken and Jersey City in the distance.  Among the meandering tourists by chance we ran into two groups of Australians, noting the accent (or lack of it) as they were doing exactly what we were, from curiosity.  There are many cafés, markets and other shops on the east side of the Greenwich Village end of the line and the new Whitney Museum to the west, next to the Hudson River.  It is worth a look at the extraordinary Enzo Piano designed building housing American art. 
The project is most interesting and clearly very popular and one has to be impressed at the enormous amount of conservation work which has been done.  My disappointment over the lack of labels on the plants was muted by a later web search revealing a detailed list of photographs of the monthly blooms complete with Latin and common names.  There were limited covered areas with eating and in high summer I could see this being very hot indeed.  Yet there are exits every few streets, most with elevators, so one can walk for a few streets or the entire length as desired.  There is one area where souvenirs and memorabilia was sold.  There are also some small 'lay-bys' and good toilet facilities. 
It was great to see the old train tracks, rails, points, sleepers and third rail (not clear why since it was never electrified).  But I am a railways enthusiast and would have loved to see even just one old goods car, engine or shunter. 
But despite my reservations, the walk is free, it is healthy and gives one a perspective on the history of our transport from horses to ship to rail and now to the air. 
Notes by Andrew Byrne ..


Thursday, April 16, 2015

New York welcomes Aussies in April 2015

Dear Colleagues, friends and family,
New York this April has provided the weather, cultural and medical attributes hard to find anywhere else on earth.  In just two weeks I have attended five operas, two museums, three teaching hospitals and the John Jay College for Criminal Justice.  I have ‘run into’ a very prominent Australian politician ‘in the street’ (and said hello, of course!).  I was able to welcome a young Australian friend who is doing a Master Class at Carnegie Hall this week. 
Constant criticism of the quality of opera in New York from various ‘experts’ seems out of place to me when the cast lists include some of the greatest names in the field of singing, conducting, direction, etc.  Everyone is trying to explain why opera audiences are dwindling … but the same thing is happening elsewhere and some companies have closed their doors as a result.  My feeling is that the Met’s problems are related to poor front-of-house services, food, drink, parking and rest rooms, each of which leave very much to be desired.  No matter how good the opera, if one’s memory is for expensive, poor quality food and drink with a long line for the toilet and other (in)conveniences, why not see the same opera in a cinema instead, and closer to home?  [just my tuppence worth]
Domingo was sick and yet the matinee performance of Ernani was probably better as a result (he is not a full-blooded baritone).  A later performance gave him points for trying and his fellow artists, Angela Meade and Francesco Meli were superb.  Mr Salsi, who replaced Domingo, sang Enrico in Lucia that evening as well, now a Met Guinness Book submission.  Only in New York!  Another ‘record’ this month saw our recent Sydney Faust, tenor Michael Fabiano, a Philadelphia resident as a wild card replacement for Edgardo in Lucia at 6 hours notice!  Cav and Pag new productions deserve three pages while Don Carlos was exemplary despite its length, darkness and complexity.  Aida, Merry Widow and Masked Ball to come! 
The snow drops are finished and daffodils in full bloom with tulips starting to do their thing … as are the magnolias, apples and pears.  The ubiquitous witch hazel and forsythia are in spectacular yellow panoply.  Kwanzan cherry trees are usually last to bloom and Brooklyn Botanic Gardens Cherry Blossom Festival is the final weekend of April - so ‘worship’!  In addition, a previously barren Central Park will be unrecognisable as a veritable shaded jungle by month’s end. 
Any argument about whether addiction is a disease has finally been resolved with the Rockefeller University experts.  I had said that I always avoided the issue, calling addiction a ‘condition’ rather than entering the debate about it being a ‘disease’.  I was told the proof was since there were permanent brain changes on PET scanning.  I pointed out that someone who learns to write with their non-dominant hand probably also has permanent changes, as do smokers, then finally my interlocutor agreed that she would not get her next grant unless addiction was a disease.  So even science is political in this country!  End of discussion. 
Food fad is Greek this year and we have had our ‘fill’ even without travelling to the Astoria homeland in Queens Borough.  The ‘carrot’ is that you live longer, avoiding butter and taking plenty of sea food … not to mention high calcium mineral water (like San Pellegrino).  Food review elsewhere. 
I will try to get some more pointers together as the Manhattan month meanders to a close … but no doubt, as my grandfather Harry Gordon Gracie wrote from this island in 1924, this is the ‘City of cities for me’! 
Cheers and best regards to all in autumnal Australia.  Andrew Byrne ..
Lots more in due course on my blogs … travel, opera and medical …


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Selby and Friends. 5pm Sat 7th Feb 2015 Burradoo, New South Wales.

Selby and Friends. 5pm Sat 7th Feb 2015 Burradoo, New South Wales
Pärt: Mozart-Adagio
Mendelssohn: Sonata for Cello and Piano No.2 in D major, Op. 58
Smetana: Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 15
Brahms: Trio for Piano, Violin and Horn in E flat major, Op. 40
Dear Colleagues,
This would have been an impressive concert at London’s Festival Hall or the Lincoln Center in New York. Yet it was at Chevalier College school hall, a short walk from where I live on weekends in Bowral.
Pianist Kathryn Selby reintroduced violinist Natalie Chee and ‘cellist Clancy Newman with Aussie expat French Horn player Hector McDonald in four virtuosic chamber works for their first of five tours for 2015.
The concert was punctuated by detailed and fascinating talks by the four soloists starting with Ms Selby herself who discussed how the group chose repertoire. She has numerous rarely heard works in mind and then after discussions with the soloists it was usually easy to agree on pieces. They choose from the enormously varied compositions for piano and various groupings of other instruments from early baroque to modern. Despite this diversity there was nearly always a linking factor between the pieces. This time by chance she found that each piece had its genesis after a recent death in the composer’s family.
Next Mr Newman told us some stories about his composer’s many names. Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was born in 1809 (cf. Verdi and Wagner in 1813). His grandfather Moses Mendelssohn was a major German Jewish sage and reformer. He was the first to translate the Torah into German and worked to allow German Jews to be assimilated while maintaining a strong Jewish identity. After one of his son’s successful compositions Mendelssohn’s father was quoted “Once I was the son of a famous father, now I am the father of a famous son”.
Jews often say: “From Moses to Moses there was no-one like Moses”, referring to Biblical Moses and the sage Rambam (aka Marmonides). They could have added a later generation referring to the composer’s grandfather Rabbi Moses Mendelssohn who is often quoted in Yiddish quarters to this day.
In a remarkable turn of evens it was Moses Mendelssohn who changed his name from Dessau, his birthplace, to ‘Mendelssohn’ (son of Mendel) so it did not sound so Jewish. Paradoxically, because he had become so famous in the Jewish and wider German community the name Mendelssohn was considered too Jewish-sounding hence the son’s change to Bartholdy after converting to Christianity. Felix mostly refused to use this name out of respect for his grandfather. Furthermore , he was instrumental in having Moses’ rabbinical works published posthumously. The composer’s mother had died just before the sonata for ‘cello and piano was written.
Our violinist Ms Chee then told us about the Smetana connection (his surname means 'sour cream' in Czech!). There was a deceased child, another tragedy put to music one might say. He lost three out of four daughters as well as his wife, a train of tragedy hard to imagine. In addition, Smetana had been exiled from his home town due to domination of the Hapsburg Empire, working in Sweden at the time.
In the second half our brass player spoke about the development of the modern French horn. I note from Wikipedia that despite not being French at all, the name has stuck somehow, but only in English (it is known at simply ‘cor’ in French). We were told that although the ‘modern’ horn with three valves was invented in 1815, Brahms, who played the horn himself as a young man, refused to write for it, preferring the older version. This was far more limited in the notes that it could play, especially in the lower registers as, like the cornet, it depended upon overtones to step up to higher notes. Other notes could be attempted by partially or fully blocking the horn with the fist. This increased pressure in the pipes, raising the pitch of the note by a half or full tone by careful manipulation. Yet this necessarily reduced the volume, creating a strange scale of uneven notes … Mr McDonald demonstrated, playing a scale without using the valves on his modern instrument (APPLAUSE!).
No wonder the modern instrument is preferred nowadays. We were told that horn players in the time of Mozart would arrive with a ‘baby coffin filled with different sized crooks for the different keys’. And the composer ‘usually’ left enough time to insert the right ‘crook’ for key changes between arias, choruses, etc. "Woe betide a capsized coffin!" (MORE LAUGHTER). It makes piano seem simple. Brahms had also lost his mother just before writing this sonata.
On this summer evening concert there was a wealth of musical knowledge imparted as well as numerous humorous anecdotes, introducing each of the phenomenally virtuosic pieces .. they are all available on the internet, YouTube, etc, so no need for me to describe them, even if I could do them justice.
Ms Selby is still the genius of this enterprise. Her keyboard playing is exemplary and she makes it look easy. For the first time at Chevalier College I moved to the keyboard side, marvelling in each of the works her stupendous talent and professionalism. Mr Newman’s ‘cello playing is phenomenal and his measured fingering and manipulation of his magnificent instrument was a marvel to behold as he stared out into the audience. Likewise Ms Chee who again showed her prodigious talents to this privileged audience. Each of the pieces was technically as difficult, if not as long, as a concerto … and there were four pieces in a row! Some feat for the ever-present pianist! Mr McDonald only played in the Brahms piece which occupied the second half. Mr Newman sat with the audience to hear the horn, piano and violin trio. One can only wonder what Brahms would have made of this piece if he had written it for the modern French horn.
The audience seemed delighted with both the pre-music repartee and the main features. For me the Mendelssohn was the take-home splendour … but others will say that I am biased.
Notes by Andrew Byrne ..

Monday, January 26, 2015

Season greetings. Some postings FYI. Science, food, music and religion.

One of Australias great medical researchers Professor Sir Henry Harris died at his home in Oxford on 31 October 2014 aged 89.  Harris was hand picked by Howard Florey (of penicillin fame) for a career in medical research - and when Lord Florey retired in 1964 Harris was appointed to head his William Dunn School of Pathology in Oxford.  … read on: (published in this week’s Australian Jewish News)

Kylie Kwong's new restaurant in Macleay St, Potts Point (opp Rockwall Crescent) is called Billy Kwong, irritatingly the same name as her other venue in Surry Hills, started 14 years ago.   … read on:

Schubert's Trout comes to the Southern Highlands - final ‘Selby and Friends’ concert for 2014.  … read on:

A Semitic learning curve - enjoyable forays with the faithful - no secrets, no conspiracies.

Since becoming secular at an early age I have always marvelled at people of faith. Some are young, naïve and gullible yet many are also driven, intelligent and mature adults. And many are respected friends of mine, although they are far outnumbered by folk who would describe themselves as agnostic, atheist and/or non-God-fearing.  … read on:

With best wishes for the secular festive season from Andrew Byrne in Bowral via Potts Point and Redfern (Sydney).  

Monday, December 22, 2014

Billy Kwong, Potts Point. Frenetic pace but fabulous food.

Kylie Kwong's new restaurant in Macleay St, Potts Point (opp Rockwall Crescent) is called Billy Kwong, irritatingly the same name as her other venue in Surry Hills, started 14 years ago.  Allan and I ate there on the spur of the moment on the evening Sydney-siders would prefer to forget after the siege in Martin Place.  We were deflated and negative, even though we were not directly affected, unlike some of our lawyer friends.  So we turned to food and this restaurant only opened its doors the week before, following several months of remodelling of the old Arun Thai premises. 
Ms Kwongs food is extraordinary!  She uses traditional Chinese cooking, Asian spices and ingredients with some Bush Tucker elements, most notably Wallaby (farmed in Kangaroo Island apparently), salt-bush, crickets and king fish collars.  Her duck was the best I have ever eaten - being soft mousse-like breast meat with crispy skinned legs.  The soft parts almost tasted as if they were poached in butterscotch!  Plenty for two with bok choi in soy and steamed rice (but at a price, see below).  We had started with a bowl of diced ocean trout sashimi - delicious. 
Billy Kwongs ambiance is more like a plane than a restaurant.  First, since half the site was hived off to become a bank, the room is long and narrow with serious background noise and indirect lighting, like an aircraft.  Then there are six or seven chefs, each wearing communicating headphones with protruding microphone.  The large open kitchen has numerous stations which take up a third of the restaurant.  About half the patrons sit up at the extended wooden bar facing the culinary masters, Captain Kwong herself amidships and in control of the entire operation.  Orders from waiters are then translated and issued by the boss on the wireless headphones: Three pork! Two sashimi! Five chicken!  A parade of plates is handed out by the boss herself, each carefully inspected, plate edge wiped where necessary and handed to a line of waiters given individual guest numbers (we were 303 and 304). 
In places 301 and 302 were the patrons proud parents at their first dinner, having had the night before cancelled due to the cordon around Sydney and closure of so many roads due to alarming events in Martin Place. 
There was a definite camaraderie amongst the staff and patrons alike but nothing could possibly be called relaxing about this eating experience. It is the opposite of the elegant and sedate Arun Thai of Kham Signavong which occupied this site for many years.  Billy Kwong is half the width with double the number of patrons.  But that seems to be what people like these days. 
A nice Spanish dry white wine sent our bill for two to $180 ... a bit OTT but thats what it costs to enjoy what the SMH called Hillsong on chop sticks!!  And they gave it a rating of 16/20 which is perfectly reasonable to my mind. 
I will have to cook at home for a month to make up for the extravagance of the evening!  But such is the price of top tucker. 
Written by Andrew Byrne .. Redfern Clinic via Bowral.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Loi Restaurant 70th Street near Broadway, Manhattan, New York City

This was truly a marvellous experience and much more than just a meal before a show (or an opera in our case). The tables and booths are well laid out to minimise noise. There were also private rooms. Two bearded waiters could have been models for the famous athletes on the Euphiletos urn at the museum. We were served by a wry witted contralto from Astoria. While she was making an enquiry about the readiness of the roast lamb we were approached by the owner Maria Loi who was delightful and forthcoming. “You must be in the fashion business you both look so elegant”. Quite a line … and she had a lot more, being the White House official ‘ambassador’ for Greek cuisine, and wearing the huge medal to prove it (and a presidential photo hung out front). The moussaka, lamb and beet salad were all delicious as was a dry Greek white recommended over the Retsina (“it tastes like gasoline” we were told). Yoghurt and honey were also very special. Next morning was Easter Sunday and they were roasting lambs on a dual spit on the sidewalk. We had been invited to come in for a champagne and some photos at 10am. One of the handsome waiters had become sidewalk cook while Maria seemed to be in three places at once as Greeks take Easter very seriously. Every passer-by was offered sweets and corn bread.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

New York - Central Park as spring 'breaks'. SECOND POSTING

Today is the day that New Yorkers first flock back to Central Park. It is the first sunny and warm weekend day since last autumn and they come in droves. They come on foot as well as on wheels. Strollers, skate boards, bikes and the rest … all out to enjoy the outdoors, surrounded by blooming gardens and blossoming trees which were all bare just a fortnight ago when we arrived. The first to come out are Witch Hazel (from whose slender branches witches obviously make their brooms) and forsythia, each small yellow flowers. At the same time willow trees are already starting to come into leaf as the last snows are melting and daffodils are pushing their buds upwards.

Fountain and boat lake.

Belvedere Castle, Central Park


Sunday, April 6, 2014

New York March-April 2014

New York City trip Thursday March 27th 2014

We had a long but pleasant flight with the Qantas A380 across the Pacific then connection with AA for JFK where we arrived on time at 8.30pm. This second flight was on a brand new Airbus A321T with fully reclining seats in business, excellent food and audio-visual. Interestingly there was no indication on board that I could see that the plane was not American. Even the emergency instructions had “A321T” but no mention of Airbus Industries, France or other indication it was foreign made. I think that Americans may be the most nationalistic people and the lack of foreign designation may have been purposeful so as not to offend some of their regular ‘travelers’. There are US flags everywhere one looks. Nothing wrong with some nationalism, yet at a certain point it evokes serious superiority, something quite unnecessary and inappropriate with one example of a country with just as many good points just to its north, not to mention all the others.

Now in New York it is almost impossible to go out for a day and not see/hear/witness something absolutely incredible. It becomes clear why photographers, poets, writers, cinematographers and others gain such inspiration from this city.

This trip has been no different … weather is an important factor and out of our first week we have had two perfect, blue-sky windless days .. with rain, wind and cold on some other days … but they have their joys too, of course. We had a nasty storm one afternoon and we noted a black umbrella lodged high in an otherwise bare tree next to our brown-stone lodgings. By the time I got the camera out it had gone, blown to another vantage no doubt.

There was a pile of remnant snow in Central Park near the main central avenue where some amateur acrobats were performing incredible feats both together and singly to a gathering crowd. They asked for three children from the crowd to volunteer for a feat of daring. Then the host asked out loud if any of the volunteers’ fathers were attorneys. Then after asking for silence, one of them took a running leap and did a massive somersault over the heads of the children … to the great mirth of the crowd (and probably terror of the petrified youngsters). See the amazing action-photo c/o Allan. 

Acrobats at work - leaping somersault over three volunteer children

 Busy market 80th St and Columbus Avenue
Grey 'Canadian' geese in Central Park

Tortoises basking in Central Park

I always marvel at the choice of foods available here. By my second trip back from the smallgoods and fruit shops I had obtained a packet of ‘duck bacon’, osso irati and izaru sheep’s milk cheeses, Taleggio chunk, black truffle and liver paté, spiced dried Moroccan olives, Niçoise olives, dried nectarines, giant roasted cashews, Tanqueray Malacca gin (in a clear bottle), Godiva dark plain chocolate bar, hot-smoked cutlet of salmon, caserecce dried pasta (gemelli), custom dried bean mix, Iberico jamon, smoked beef ribs … I could go on!  

I was waiting for the local train at 8th St on our second day while carrying my cache of cheap grog. Suddenly, the "via local" train shot through at high speed ... much to the consternation of a platform of stunned would-be passengers who had never seen such a thing. One voluble black man hooted as the train disappeared down the tunnel towards Washington Square: "So, you donna like this station, heir?" Another ten minutes and we were on our way. I felt a bit like Falstaff, lacking any assistants, carting my own sherry sack!

Being only 5 short blocks from the Lincoln Center, in the first ten days we had been to La Sonnambula twice, a dress rehearsal of Arabella and a performance of Andrea Chenier. We also heard a historic event on the radio in which an indisposed Mimi was replaced on a Saturday HD broadcast by a soprano, Kristine Opolais who had just sung a performance of Madama Butterfly the night before … a phenomenal feat in any elite athlete’s language.

It was a great pleasure to catch up with an old school friend and his wife who live in the big apple. They are on a health kick after watching a video of the benefits of a vegan diet. Everyone here has some fad or other and my delectation to gate-crashing mosques and synagogues is not as bizarre as it might be considered elsewhere (although one has to concede it is pretty bizarre - and nowhere in the world better to do so than New York).

Allan has secured some bargains in the clothing and fragrance departments while I have crammed in two specialist lectures at NYU, on ‘decarcertion’ and decriminalisation of drugs; Bellevue Hospital resident presentations and VA Hospital in Brooklyn where I gave a description of our practice and results of a recent survey we conducted concerning choice of medication and hepatitis C. Also Columbia and Rockefeller University visits.  More about them on my medical blog in due course.

More anon if anyone is interested when time permits.