Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Yearly postcard from New York by Andrew Byrne April 2017.


Park Avenue in spring.

We have had a marvellous April in New York.  The city is a splendour in spring as the people start smiling again after 3 or 4 months of deep, dark winter.  And weekends show it best as people get out into the sunlight, parklands, kids and elderly alike to worship the season, blossoms, warmth and renewal.  Central Park needs no introduction and there is always something going on in addition to the natural world: Marathon Run; Trump Demonstration; Dog Show; acrobatics and buskers who are sometimes more proficient than the professionals.   
On our second day my niece Claudia Byrne was visiting on a school trip (St Andrew's Cathedral School) and we had a lovely couple of hours taking in the wonders of the American Museum of Natural History (I especially like the asteroids and gem stones) then a picnic lunch in Central Park afterwards.  A welcomed up-grade to first on Qantas A380 still did not stem jet lag for which one expects no sympathy.  The service was splendid and I had a medley of seafood from tartlet of pureed celeriac and caviar to Balmain bugs in smoked prawn butter (the best), lobster with XO sauce (a little rubbery) followed by baked blue eyed cod with almond romesco (I had to ask too – a Basque sauce using burnt capsicum).  My partner Allan had more traditional fare.  A colourful fruit salad by Neil Perry included B&W fruit cubes which were delicious and exotic (actually dragon fruit which we now enjoy at home).  The First Class lounge at Mascot provides a splendid breakfast ... and they were serving Verve Cliquot La Grande Dame 2006 'on tap' there as well as on the plane!  Eggs paramour Florentine with bubbles? 
We find that just by going out the door in New York one often experiences something unpredictable and extraordinary.  We witnessed our first ever robbery as a man bolted out of a designer clothing store on Broadway with some fur-lined garment.  It was all over in a second with the poor shop assistant shouting up the side-walk that there were cameras in the store (to no avail).  Gardens, flowers, buildings and produce are all many and varied.  And spring is the best time with cherry blossoms early this year, hyacinths, daffodils, blue bells and tulips aplenty.  Like the plant life, the weather has also been variable with one day up to 87 degrees (31C) and another 50 (9C).  One evening we ran into Cicely Tyson (aged ~90) in the supermarket.  We also saw ex-mayor Michael Bloomberg at Christie's Old Masters viewings at Rockefeller Center (some sold for $9 million).  On a hot afternoon I passed two beautiful young women parading down Broadway for all to see and admire – they were identical albino twins. 
We had pre-booked several operas and a concert via the internet so were surprised and delighted to also be given tickets to two dress rehearsals in good seating as well.  This has enabled us to see Aida, Rigoletto (set in a casino), Flying Dutchman and Eugene Onegin in just one week, Saturday to Saturday.  We know that seeing shows in the first few days under the influence of jet lag is pointless and frustrating so our first was a Saturday matinee of Aida on day 4.  It is easier to stay awake in the afternoon than the evening.  Jet lag does not get any easier with age. 
We saw Eugene Onegin matinee too ... Anna Netrebko as Tatiana but Dmitry Hvorotovsky is still off sick with a brain tumour, sad to say ... and a magnificent Flying Dutchman dress rehearsal on the Friday.  The well-named but rather ample Ms Amber Wagner sang Senta and is the dramatic soprano to watch - magnificent presence and penetrating huge voice with crystal top notes. 

On Wednesday Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja sang the Duke (aka "Mr Big") in the 'casino' Rigoletto which was both novel and enjoyable.  Mr Lucic as jester was great 'in parts' while Miss Peretyatko was wrongly cast despite her wonderful Met Puritani a couple of years back.  The up-dated Rigoletto used every trick imaginable in the gamblers' cabaret paradise including Playboy Bunny Girls, wheel-of-fortune, roulette, lap dancers, mobile cocktail bar, cards, poker machines and … just when you thought you had seen everything, some rehearsed dandies solemnly parade in an ornate Egyptian sarcophagus which, when opened, reveals a very alive stripper (female variety).   The intruders to the big party (Count Monterone and side-kicks in the original) were here turbaned Arabs, very annoyed about gambling and drinking going on next door to their harem (plus having the daughter raced off by the sleazy casino owner).  They got their comeuppance in the next act by being shot at point-blank range by in-house security. 

Veteran tenor Roberto Alagna did the most magnificent Cyrano portrayal.  It must be one of the great feats for the tenor (as it is for the actor).  And Alagna is no spring chicken either. 
In cheap seats purchased on the day we attended 'Hello Dolly' with Bette Midler at the Shubert Theatre ... it was action-packed, hot and sexy with dancing and a great Dame of the stage coming back at the age of 71 to prove she could still do it ... and she DID!   "The Divine Miss M".  The musical's routines were fabulous, settings gorgeous, audience rapturous and intimate scenes moving and pertinent.  And we managed to get back-row last minute seats at the theatre for $59 each. 
As we were hosting two young Aussie students there were some opportunities to do some touristy things like walking Mulberry Street Little Italy and Chinatown, regretting somewhat that I did not do it 25 years ago when I first went to New York.  There was food of all varieties, produce and specialty stores aplenty.  And the lovely ethnic entertainment is for free.  But some of my favourite food is at the Sechuan Wu Liang Ye in 48th Street between 5th and 6th. 
There are two ‘Perfect Crimes’ in New York, one a rather ordinary but long running play on Broadway.  The other is renowned Katz's Deli on Houston Street (just near the corner of 1st Avenue and 1st Street).  The latter lays claim to be a Jewish Deli but is really just an expensive tourist trap to my mind (and I have spent ten years as a fellow-traveller with a Sydney Jewish congregation).  A nice but ordinary and not over-sized pastrami sandwich sells for over A$30!!  And you have to queue up yourself for the sandwich, again if you want a meagre bowl of (quite ordinary) matzo ball soup and yet again if you want a drink (their own Katz's beer on tap is a fine dark ale).  There was not a frum Jew in the joint as far as I could see and the ambiance totally the opposite of Barney Greengrass on the Upper West Side where I normally get my gefilte fish and corned beef.  And I now regret walking past nearby "Russ and Daughters" deli which would have to have pleased more than Katz's gonif's balagan. 
More next April should I live so long.  Andrew Byrne ..
Our friend Terry Kobel showing her 'entree' at Jean-Georges Nougatine restaurant ($38 3 courses).
Katz's twenty dollar sandwich!

School excursion to American Museum of Natural History.