New York Notes: April-May 2012

As a present for my 70th birthday, my good friend Andrea gave me two weeks in her New York apartment on 69th and Broadway.

On the very first day, a friend from my childhood, Nina, took me to an transit office down at Battery Park. We filled out a form, I was photographed and within an hour I had my very own senior citizen transit pass. For the next two weeks, I zipped around the city on bus and subway, uptown, downtown and all around the town, for just $1.10 a ride. What a lovely, lovely gift to old folks! So here are some notes from that trip:

They named the Queensboro Bridge after that crafty old fox, Ed Koch. When did that happen?

They have bus lanes so public transportation flows smoothly even when the private transportation (all those Mercedes!) is blocked off! How civilized is that? (They also have bike lanes. If they can do it, why can’t we up here in Vermont?)

Sign in a bakery: “Cupcakes ask nothing of us but love.”

You’re supposed to see many stars in New York! I spotted the guy who plays Taub on “House” at the diner downstairs, and Mamie Gummer (Meryl Streep’s daughter), who plays an irritating lawyer on “The Good Wife,” walking down Madison Avenue while checking her messages. OK, so not so great.

Young women dissecting their relationships in shrill voices are a dining hazard at most of the restaurants I’ve been to in the city. Like, really!

Smells in Andrea’s elevator: Skunk twice; urine once, cigarettes once, perfume once.

Speaking of cigarettes, I went to see an Off-Broadway play called “Tribes.” It wasn’t very good, but I spotted my favorite Vogue writer, Hamish Bowles, in the audience, so I knew I was in a hip place. There was a warning sign in the lobby: “In this play, people smoke cigarettes.”

The play was over-directed by David Cromer at far too rapid a pace, since you’ve asked. But the lead actor was excellent, and he was also hot. Really hot. His name is Russell Harvard and he’s deaf.

There used to be a gorgeous Barnes & Noble around the corner from Andrea’s apartment but it’s gone now. The nearest bookstore, also a B&N, is on W. 85th Street, which is a hike. But since I’m practically inhaling Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano mysteries right now, I made a few trips up there. It’s disheartening to think of all the fine neighborhood bookstores that B&N and Borders put out of business before started eating their lunch, but there may be signs that small bookstores are coming back. I was at the Chelsea Market on 15th St. and 9th Ave. one day — after taking a splendid walk on that perfectly elegant park-in-the-sky called The Highline (It’s built on old railroad tracks that run up the Hudson River.) I needed a new mystery, so I dashed into a place called PosmanBooks, which has three branches in the city. The store carried a large variety of books, so maybe the small bookstore is making a comeback. And yes, I know all about e-books, but I like paper in hand. I have enough screens in my life.

So, what are the hot books in New York right now? Well, “50 Shades of Grey,” an S&M stroke book for female intellectuals, already has two sequels out. Also interesting: “The Spoiler” by Annalene McAfee, about the jousting for position of two female journalists; a new Donna Leon mystery called “Drawing Conclusions.” (I’ve read most of her wonderful Commissario Guido Brunetti books, set in Venice, but right now my heart is in Sicily with Montalbano). And what looks like a fascinating bio of Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff. Browsing in real bookstores is a wonderful thing.

Fashion! Forget the super-high heels we see in fashion magazines. The only people I saw wearing them were prostitutes and a few women who wobbled like they were crippled. Most stylish women were wearing skinny-skinny jeans and high boots.  But the scarf is the indispensable fashion statement here. A long, lovely scarf, colored or printed or in an exceptional fabric and draped around the neck with the two ends hanging forward over the shoulders is the way to do it. Men and women — everyone wears one.

Here’s a lovely thing: there’s a small set of shelves in the hallway outside of Andrea’s apartment — it’s been there forever. One year, someone put magazines on it. But it was bare when I got to New York. Then Andrea put a plant on it. The next day, it was joined by three more plants. Without saying a word, her neighbors had started a garden.

Friday morning at around six, a thunderstorm shook up the town; I envisioned the splashing waters washing down the Chrysler Building tower so it would sparkle for us all day long.

The cosmetics store Sephora makes all its famous brands available for customers to sample. I went in almost every day to try on different perfumes. I am now torn between Chanel’s Coco and Viktor & Rolf’s Flower Bomb.

Thank you, Andrea! Thank you, New York! I had a wonderful time. And I’ll be posting more New York pieces during the week.

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