Sunday, November 22, 2015

Zola, Picasso, Keira and Thoughts about Scary Times

When I arrived back in Montreal from my 4 day trip to New York City, the customs officer asked me what I had done on my short vacation.

I'm never sure what to say in these circumstances, so I said the obvious: " I went to a show, ate at a lot of different restaurants, and window shopped...ah...fantasy shopped." I added that  make sure he understood that I didn't buy anything. Rien. Nada. Zip.

"So you went up and down Fifth Avenue but didn't purchase anything?" he asked, slightly skeptical.

"Soho." I replied. "I shopped in Soho." And then I added, "Do you know the prices? A T-shirt (and I tugged at the collar of my Costco sweater for effect)"Can cost 500 dollars!"

"You didn't buy one," he asked again.


Maybe I should be flattered that a customs officer thinks I have the moolah to put down on 850 US dollars on a Burberry scarf (of dubious beauty) considering my home-made dye job and face that has never seen Botox and Value Village Bohemian attire, better suited, I know, to a 22 year old theatre-type..

But I guess he was just doing his job.

A New York trip to me, these days, is eating and walking, walking and eating some more. It's about soaking up atmosphere. Thank goodness, this past week, the unsettled weather complied.

 Hippy Me.

My old friend K. and I had planned the trip two months ago. She chose the dates as she works on Bay Street in Toronto and she could get those days off.

The Paris terrorist attacks happened on the Friday before. We expected increased security at the airport and in the city but all we noticed was severe-looking armed militia in front of the Christmas Tree being erected at Rockefeller Center.

K and I have  known each other since high school and we are so finely attuned that she understood immediately when I said that the new World Trade Center thingy, where we first emerged, looks like the Air Canada Pavilion at Expo67.

K. who walks 45 minutes to and back from her office every day stood up to the hours of walking  better than I.  Treadmilling for 15 minutes every second day doesn't cut it for New York. My body ached everywhere by night time.

But that's a small price to play for such pleasure.

 Picasso's scandalous Demoiselles D'Avignon caught the feeling of scary 1900 change. Today it's a great selfie prop.

 My vacation nails matched the dessert at the 2 Michelin Star Modern Restaurant at MOMA. Our one fancy meal in New York City, complemented by the fact a major celebrity of our generation was seated two tables down. Otherwise, it was an Italian bistro on Mulberry Street, a French bakery with communal tables in Soho serving updated health-food, sushi at Whole Foods at Union Square (I think)a large juice bar filled with young college student types, pastries at Ferraro's Italian Soda Fountain place and lots of breakfasts at the Landmark Diner across from our hotel in Soho.
Mulberry Street from our sidewalk table.

Cartoon inspiration

I've been to New York City on only three other occasions.

The first time was in 1982, when I went with another friend by overnight train to visit K who was going to fashion school in Manhattan.

She shared a small apartment in Queens with a med student and aspiring actress near that French Connection overhead railroad.

I remember being struck by the signs for bomb shelters everywhere in the shabby development, a left-over from the Cold War and something not seen in Canada.

We all went to the Met Museum on that trip and ate at three restaurants, suggestions from a book K had: The Cheapest Eats in New York City.

I recall only one of the places, a steak and ribs grill near Columbia University.

Oh, and we tried to go to Chippendale's.

A beautiful broad-shouldered young man in a tuxedo opened our taxi door, and I recall a look of embarrassment in his eyes. We were the same age, after all.

We didn't get into the show. It was an All-Girl's night and my companion was a man.

I visited NY for the second time in 1998, this time with my young family, my husband and two boys aged 10 and 13.

My husband's nephew from Philly drove us around the city and through Time's Square one autumn day. My kids weren't impressed with NY. They called it "garbage city." (I guess it was dirty.)

The nephew had worked as a courrier and knew the Big Apple back to front. He told us how he made deliveries to the World Trade Center and how entire floors were empty, just wires and concrete.

We spent only a few hours driving around. We parked near an entrance to Central Park. I wanted us all to go to the Natural History Museum. The all-male group outvoted me. They wanted to go to the top of the World Trade Center.

The very top, out in the open...with all the German tourists.

I had a paralyzing fit of vertigo up there. My youngest son laughed at me, "There's two fences to keep you from falling," he pointed out. But my older, more understanding son gently guided me back down the escalator to the safety of glassed-in windows on the floor below.

That's the very same vacation where we witnessed 'a naked Amishman' running through a field, so all was not wasted.

The second to last time I went to NY was just 5 years ago in 2010. 9/11 and all that.  I went with my younger son's girlfriend, just for a day.

I wanted to see the Roundabout Theatre's production of Mrs. Warren's Profession with Cherry Jones and Sally Hawkins. At the American Airline Theatre.

She picked the date, November 17, the same date as this year's trip.

This was a very girlie occasion. We took a Sex in the City Bus Tour, visiting the Magnolia Bakery and some Sex Shoppe, etc.

The next day before catching the plane we took a caleche through Central Park, the weather was crisp and sunny, and then we walked a bit and ate at the Boathouse.

Pictures of the trip are still plastered on her Facebook page.

At the Boathouse in Central Park, November 2010.

It was a short but sweet interlude, My now daughter-in-law loved Central Park and wants to go back some day with my son, her husband. They honeymooned in Paris.

Anyway, this time it was the Picasso Sculpture Exhibit at MOMA with my high school friend, the one who remembers Expo67 as clearly as I do.

Expo67, as I have written on this blog, was my introduction to worldiness and art.

At Expo, there was a sculpture garden in the back of the American Pavilion filled with "Cezanne-inspired" sculpture. No doubt there were a couple of Picasso sculptures there,too.

I loved that place. I loved the sculpture, the grass and the peace and quiet away from the crowds.

I have always thought this was because I had some kind of natural affinity for this style of modern art, but this past week, while walking through MOMA, I had an epiphany.

These Picasso Sculptures were the inspiration for many a television cartoonist in the middle of the 20th century.

I grew up watching these cartoons.

No wonder I could relate so much!

On this NY trip, we saw Keira Knightley in Thérèse Raquin, her Broadway debut at Studio 54. The play has received mediocre reviews, but I  enjoyed it a great deal.

I'm a Zola know-it-all and a huge Keira fan.

Some critics think the Zola play, about a frustrated borgeois French girl, is a bit irrelevant and out-moded, but I see the universal aspects in it.

And I'm not alone: Zola is one of the favorite downloads on

And the acting all-around is terrific.

If I want to see Keira Knightley looking fabulously dressed, I'll re-watch Anna Karenina or the Duchess.

My friend, K, enjoyed it too. As we walked down Broadway, she remarked, "You know, after 9-11 people thought NY would never be the same, But, look. It's even better than before. I hope the same happens for Paris."

K has been to Paris 4 times, a pleasure I have not had once.

Which brings me to 9/11.

On September 11, 2001 I was working in downtown Montreal,  for a company run by people from France.

When the first plane hit the Twin Towers the guy at the desk behind me saw it on his laptop. We wanted to go downstairs to the 'bar' and watch the news coverage.

The officer manager said "NO" at first. "So, what," she said. "Paris had worse during the War."

"But, this is going to change the world," I told her-  not realizing how true that was. I wanted to get out of that skyscaper downtown and go home to the 'burbs' and be with my two boys.

We did go downstairs to watch the news and we all left the office early.  We didn't care what our boss thought.

I'm wondering what she is feeling today, this French woman from Paris. Well, I can imagine.