Saturday, March 27, 2010

Postcard from New York (part II).

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

It has been a bizarre time in the big apple. After “snowmageddon” in February, the area has seen an early burst of spring. Then there was a weekend storm of biblical proportions: trees down, power blackouts and transport mayhem. Much of the infrastructure is dilapidated and people are just not prepared for such events. Then the sun came out again and more beautiful days followed with temperatures nudging 20 degrees Celsius. Our central heating was turned off for a few days.

Now the daffodils and crocuses are in full bloom with forsythia flowers appearing in yellow profusion across Central Park. Some early trees are also coming into leaf – the willows are first. Some single cherry trees and ornamental pears have also started flowering and it is almost a month before this happens in a normal spring.

Meantime the transportation system has announced a rationalization and budget cuts due to falling revenue. One subway line is to the eliminated (“W”) while others are having reduced services. Many bus routes are to close and there is a feeling that American society is still under enormous pressure despite news that the recession is over.

I have been to about five medical meetings in the three weeks since I arrived and the new health reforms have been mentioned by almost every speaker. Of course nobody truly knows what they will entail and the final form of the bill is still uncertain. There seem to be confident media predictions that about 28 million people will remain outside the new health scheme which is not due to be fully implemented until 2014. Some aspects will happen straight away, such as coverage of dependent up to 26 years of age. Illegal immigrants will not be covered, nor will many young people who may choose to pay a fine (or a tax) instead of taking medical insurance. Incredibly, some will be allowed an exemption on the basis of religion! Only in America!

Much of Manhattan appears to be prosperous and in renewal. There seems to be cleaning, maintenance and restoration going on in the tourist, financial and residential districts - despite roads which are in a terrible condition - pot holes galore! People generally seem to be in a good mood due to the early thaw after a long, cold winter here. Normally grumpy cab drivers and shop assistants are smiling and in high spirits. Medical colleagues have been generous and pleasant with many more offers of meetings, meals and functions than I could possibly accept.

New York remains the most remarkable city. Some of this remarkableness is simply the city’s consistency. My grandfather’s old postcards from 1924 describe many of exactly the same things as we note today ( Yet New York is also cutting edge for culture, style, finance and, of course, architecture.

The modern trend for young men to wear their jeans low on the hips has reached such a degree here in New York that commonly now the trousers are lower than the entire gluteal region, exposing several inches of black satin boxer underwear. I don’t know how the girls of the generation find this fashion … but it seems odd to me, revealing little, causing trouser cuffs to bunch at the ankles and putting crotch levels almost to the knees. It could not be comfortable! And it could be breezy in the cold - though the City is having an Indian summer currently nearly 70F degrees was reached some days.

The operas have been splendid and happily my father John, aged 83, and brother Richard have joined us for the last full week of March. The Nose did not survive my skepticism but at least I can say I have seen it … or suffered it! The production was extraordinary - by artist William Kentridge who also has an exhibition at the MOMA currently. Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas was an excellent affair, despite the opera being only a minor master. Its major high points, the drinking song/chorus and mad scene were riveting dramatically and vocally rewarding too. Attila was another opportunity to see a rarely performed work with a great cast. I went twice! Good seats at the Met can be obtained at modest prices in the front balcony ($87) but one may need to try numerous times to secure returned or ‘released’ tickets. Otherwise, standing positions are put on sale at 10am each day and can be purchased at the box office or over the internet. There were seats available to most shows except La Boheme with Anna Netrebko and “The Nose” which were booked out early. Aida and La Traviata will fill out an almost embarrassingly rich array of operas which included Barber of Seville, A Little Night Music, Sondheim’s 80th Birthday concert with NYP, three Mozart piano concertos, a soprano recital and a play.

The Metropolitan Museum has a newly opened room called Tutankhamun’s Funeral. The museum was given much of the material from a cache of refuse jars found ten years before Howard Carter found the intact tomb of the boy king. These contained many items with the seal of King Tut including sheets, aprons, bandages, salt containers, floral garlands, oil and ointment containers, clay seals and more. It is thought that these represented left over items from the mummification process which were given their own adjacent but separate burial to the king in the famous valley between the desert and the Nile.

The Museum of Modern Art has a bewildering array of magnificent works. I spent two hours on the top gallery which has art from late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Klimt, Monet, Gaugin, Pizzaro, Munch, Picasso, Kandinsky and many other artists represented.

Food … well, food! My favourite is the Sechwan in 48th St the Wu Liang Ye. Offal, pork dumplings, spicy peppers and delicious vegetable dishes (no goose, sadly).

Jean Georges now has serious local competition in the Asiate restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on the other side of Broadway. Both have a $25 lunch, serious quality in both productions with little to choose between them. Asiate only has 2 courses against J-G’s 3 but there are complimentary amuse-bouche as well as a fabulous view to make up. J-G’s now has a series of dishes from light salads, soups to heavier meat dishes of which diners can choose any two for the prix fixe menu.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

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