Part 3: Spring in Manhattan

The following day began at the Met, one of my favorite museums. It’s got an incredible collection but is rather overwhelming. I try to get into my head that we are only going to visit a few things because seeing the entire museum would be impossible.

Our first stop was a Seurat and circus exhibit. The exhibit featured Circus Sideshow, one of Seurat’s masterpieces, along with circus posters, other contemporary circus paintings, and sketches. It was nice to see some great circus posters from Cheret, a nice follow up to the Driehaus museum’s current exhibition. I was hoping for more of Seurat’s circus paintings since I’d had seen some really amazing works elsewhere but alas.

We then went to the rooftop garden at the Met. Every year they have an artist do some outdoor installation, which is always neat. This year’s piece was spectacular. Adrián Villar Rojas took 3D scans of pieces all over the museum, printed them, and created these sculptural collages. THey are laid out throughout the garden, some on tables, some freestanding. It’s called “The Theater of Disappearance.” I love juxtaposing things, like ancient Egyptian busts with animal parts or Ancient Greek torso. All while overlooking the beauty of Central Park and the NYC skyline. It could also be a great scavenger hunt, tracking down the pieces in the collection!

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We also visited the exhibit on ancient China featuring some incredible terracotta soldiers. Seeing them is always a treat. Someday I’ll make it to Xian to see the site! What I liked in particular about the exhibition was the sheer number of other artifacts that were included. There was a series of beautifully carved women dancing or playing instruments while another room featured animal sculptures. Wondrous!

After our brief visit to the museum, since any visit is brief at the Met, it was time to head to Broadway for a matinee of War Paint. To get there, we ended up passing by the Tax Rally (it was 4/15) and we saw some amazing puppets and signs. We had $1 pizza at a joint just off Times Square. Tasty tasty pizza.

War Paint is a musical about make up rivals, Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, and their decades long feud. It was interesting to see corporate sabotage and competition played out in a musical. I’m not sure if I loved the message of the musical (you’ll just have to see it) but it definitely had some pretty neat scenes and dances.

After the play, we decided to head to a new place for us: the Morgan Library. I had come across it a few months prior and it seemed like our cup of team. It turned out that it was JP Morgan’s library. What an astonishing collection. The main library room is breathtaking. Rows and floors of books with two secret staircases taking you to the upper floors. Also, we found some pretty neat books that make you wonder about their contents!  There were some exhibitions as well on display including works by Emily Dickinson and Symbolist poets. But the rooms themselves were well worth it. It’s a research library and it made me appreciate how awesome Chicago’s own Newberry library is. Here, it’s free to check out books etc. Morgan Library requires a hefty entry ticket.

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Dinner turned into a bit of an adventure! We had reservations to Tao, a fashionable Asian cuisine place near the hotel. When we walked in, the loud overhead music enveloped us. It was all very hip looking and made me feel a bit out of place. When we sat down to eat, we learned that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, on the menu that my mom could eat. Apparently, they premake things like steaks. :-/

So we left. We found a tiny quiet Italian place called Montebello where we were the only people at the beginning of the evening. The food was tasty, we could talk, and the staff were extremely nice. They overheard me talking about how my glass of Prosecco was such much better at their place than the place from the night before so they comped us limoncello! And there were cookies too. So go to Montebello, skip Tao.

Then more adventure!  had tried calling the number on the black card from the night before but couldn’t get through for an hour. At 5pm (an hour after they opened and I started calling), I was informed that there were only taking walk-ins; they were catering to a larger party. Boo. I found the name of a speakeasy called Bathtub Gin in Chelsea that took reservations.  Bathhouse Gin was going to be the place.

We entered through a hole in the wall coffee place, serving as the coatroom. As soon as we stepped in, the noise rose up like a wall. Loud pounding music. But we trekked on. We had a little table and ordered from their cocktail menu, which is always a hit or miss. One thing was a sure fire hit though: s’mores. It wasn’t going to be high quality chocolate or marshmallows but we couldn’t resist. They actually brought us an open brazier with Hershey’s chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows. It was amazing. We even convinced the table next to us to do it too.

Plus there was a golden bathtub that you can get into. And we totally took photos lounging in the bathtub. Because golden bathtub!

That’s all for now!

NYC Spring 2016: Part 3

That Saturday was SWAN day! It was the 9th International Support Women Artists Day! We decided to spend it by going to a guided tour of the exhibition of Vigée le Brun at the Metropolitan Museum. Vigée le Brun was a famous female painter who was known for her intimate paintings of Marie Antoinette and other notables of the day. She’s quite an impressive painter who was one of four women in the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. However, initially her marriage to an art dealer made her ineligible but the king intervened and asked that she be admitted. Yeah, cause she was that beloved of the court. She eventually have to go into exile during the Revolution but she made use of the time traveling all over Europe. Read more about her here: http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2016/vigee-le-brun

We spent the next hour wandering around the museum, letting us take in this magnificent place. We actually ended up in the American wing and saw my new old favorite “Madame X” by John Singer Sargent. We also stumbled upon the original ballroom from Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria, VA. We had visited the house while we were there last summer and I remembered that they said the original room where George Washington danced was at the Met. And we found it. It is well-kept up with examples of period furniture. It was neat to see the real thing but it was weird that it was here in the Met and not in Virginia where the building is. But then again, the staircase from the Chicago Board of Trade is also at the Met…

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Gadsby’s Tavern

We finished up our trip at the Temple of Dendur, my favorite room there. I know I’ve mentioned it before; I can’t go to the Met without stopping by. It just still astonishes me every time I see it. Someday I’ll make it to Egypt to see the pyramids. For now, this will do. (Also, it doesn’t help that one of my favorite bands from college played a concert in that room last summer!).

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Temple of Dendur

We hopped in a cab to head to broadway for a matinee. We had a short period of time before the show. But then we found the most wonderful kind of place: $1 pizza. It’s a very plain utilitarian place but they have cheap pizza. You could get pepperoni for $2, which I opted for. My husband had 2 slices of cheese and a coke for $2-$3. It was perfect for our needs.

The show we saw was Disaster! It was a musical parodying disaster movies. It was fun at times but not a great new addition to Broadway. The first half was a bit slow since it had to establish all the different characters, aligning with different disaster tropes. The music was all disco that came up at predictable and unpredictable times. It’s not my favorite era of music, I have to say. There was also a borderline racist joke in there involving an afro, which did not sit terribly well with me.

The second half got better as everything started to go wrong. The random deaths from ridiculous occurrences really worked for me. It got silly and outlandish, which is what I wanted. So not the best musical but definitely had its moments. Plus it’s not Mr. Foote’s Other Leg. Ugh!

Afterwards, we decided to head to the NY Public Library, the main branch. I realized that I don’t think I’d ever been in there before! Craziness! It’s absolutely stunning. Sadly, the main room (i.e. the room from Ghostbusters) was closed for remodeling but other rooms were well worth a visit. The periodicals room was gorgeous with all the wood paneling. The map room was filled with book after book of maps!

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Periodical Room

Upstairs, there was an exhibition about Women in Printmaking, which was so cool. They had works by Marie de Medici and Queen Victoria! Apparently the Queen took it up as a pastime! So cool! There was also a Gutenberg Bible in a case in the middle of the floor. Because. Unfortunately, the Winnie the Pooh was not on display yet but it should be back later this Spring. There’s a great story about the Winnie the Pooh. England asked for it back and the response was “You’ll get it back when you return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece.” Touche!

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Gutenberg Bible

That evening, we had wonderful tapas and seafood at a Spanish restaurant in the Village. I need to spend more time there, if only for all the food options! (Someday the Peanut Butter place will be mine to try!).


That’s all for now!

NYC In June: Part 3

The next day, I spent the lunch hour exploring midtown. I decided that I wanted to try food from a food truck so I walked to the Avenue of the Americas to all the kebab trucks and other food trucks. I ended up finding one selling Nepalese food so naturally that was lunch. I had some dumplings, which were okay, and a curry rice. It was tasty. Not the best food from a truck, but definitely a nice change from pizza.

I made a stop at my favorite cookie shop Momofuku to pick up my normal truffle balls and try their Cookie Bar Pie. While I wasn’t a huge a fan of their Crack Pie, but this Cookie Bar Pie was amazing. It was filled with chocolate, peanut butter and caramel with a crust. So good and dangerous. I ended up eating the entire thing within moments.

After my presentation that day, my friend Jan and I went to Gari on 46th for sushi. Since I had been traveling so much and eating out a lot, I wanted to try something a little lighter. Plus I can eat sushi whenever. This was a really fine sushi restaurant. The tuna practically melted in my mouth. I went with the simple Chef’s choice which was eight pieces of tender fish. I was in heavy. Paired with plum wine, this was the ideal meal to have after a good presentation with a great friend. For dessert, I had a fish shaped pastry with red bean paste in the middle. It was wondrous (though I ate the bean paste). Later, I found out that this restaurant was one of the best sushi places in NYC. I was already planning on returning!

Then we went to see Fun Home, a new musical nearby. Yes, I saw Fun House less than week from when it won a bunch of Tonys. And it totally deserved it. I’d seen all four nominees: An American In Paris, Something Rotten, The Visit, and Fun Home. It was a magnificent, well thought out play about a young woman coming to terms with her father’s suicide after she came out.

It’s based on a graphic novel by the same name by Alison Bechdel. Yes, that Bechdel of the Bechdel test. I hadn’t read this work of hers; instead I read Are You My Mother? which I didn’t love. She spent a lot of time talking about psychoanalysis,which I am not a fan of. But now I want to read this text.

The play beautifully captures this sense of excitement and terror as Alison Bechdel reflects on herself, her realization about her desires and life. There are three actresses playing Alison, one as a young child, another as a college student, and one as an adult. They were exquisite. And you saw how society confined Alison and her father into prescribed roles. The play gave me chills as they tried to negotiate their roles. But it’s not just about serious issues; there’s levity and hilarity. I think my favorite song was “I want to major in Joan.” And the theme song made by Alison and her brothers about their family is brilliant.

I am extraordinarily pleased to see that Fun Home got great recognition. It describes itself as a new kind of musical and yes, it really is. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

That’s all for now!

NYC in May: Part 5

After our adventures at the Whitney, we went to see  another Tony nominated musical: The Visit. It starred Chita Rivera who was the sister of Maria who sang “America” in West Side Story. I think the musical was one of the most mean spirited musicals I’ve seen. I’ve seen a lot of musicals with darker and/or satirical themes but this one managed to roll around in the mire without much redemption.

Without going into a great deal of detail, the musical is about a billionaire woman returning to her home town that she had left as a young woman. The town was awful to her and the people are fairly terrible. But she has her own agenda coming back. It’s about revenge and never letting go of the past. While I’ll admit I like a good revenge plot, this one was all sorts of icky and honestly kinda messed up. Also, I don’t buy narratives about never letting go of the past. It’s just a worldview I don’t subscribe to. Onward march, methinks.

As for the other elements of the musical, it’s fairly creepy and dark. All the action takes place in what looks like a cross of a broken cathedral and train station. Everything is decayed. The characters are all dressed very shabby as a result of the hard times of the town but that went with the theme. However, the songs are fairly gloomy themselves too.

Now, I don’t expect musicals or plays to have to be about happy things. In fact, my favorite musical was Curtains, a murder mystery musical (which was funny). But this musical left a bad taste in my mouth. The actress will likely win a Tony for her performance, which was fine none withstanding the other elements of the play.

After the musical, I decided to head down to Greenwich Village. This proved to be a bit more of an adventure than I had originally expected. All I wanted to do was to take a train downtown. When I got down to the platform, I learned that all the lines heading downtown in that station were not going downtown. I spent some time staring at a MTA map, trying to figure out where to transfer. I ended up giving up, leaving the station, and walking over to Times Square to find a different line to Greenwich Village. When I finally go on a train heading downtown, I learned that the train was going to go express one stop before my final destination. Ugh. Thankfully, it wasn’t a huge walk from the one station to my destination. The experience made me appreciate the CTA a bit more. CTA isn’t perfect; it’s annoying that you have to change in the Loop. However, in comparison, CTA runs buses when there are closures on the train and has a lot of signage to keep people informed. Now, I’m not a tourist in Chicago so maybe my experience in NYC is repeated with tourists in Chicago.

Greenwich Village is still such fun. I wandered around, enjoying the tiny shops that sell a variety of food stuffs. I had a pork filled bao from one place that was perfect for walking around and munching on. I visited an artisan fair called the NYC Market where vendors sell their goods. I also tried some iced tea at a local shop that was fine. I eventually wandered into Washington Square Park. As always, it was full of life. There was a man playing on a piano. Behind there was a group of folks playing drums and tumbling. Only NY. I listened to the pianist for awhile and then checked the tumblers out. They were really good. At one point, one of them was balancing someone on his head and spinning around and around. I’d never seen the likes of it before. Dangerous as anything but cool to watch. I also ran into a sno cone truck giving away free sno cones to support the Rangers. I declined as a proud Chicagoan…but I also don’t like sno cones. Free ice cream trucks seem to appear where I go places.

Then we had a nice dinner at a Spanish restaurant nearby. I thoroughly enjoyed my lobster, a family tradition on the island. I love Chicago but the seafood just isn’t the same quality. We used to drive out on the island and have a proper lobster meal. Sadly, we haven’t done that in years. Plus many of the towns we frequented were washed away by Hurricane Sandy. But it’s still nice to stick to the tradition as we can.

We wandered back through Washington Square Park. Night had fallen so new folks were out performing. There was a drum circle on side; breakdancers on another. And there was a guy with a booth set up asking people to share their stories. People wrote down a story in their own handwriting and he’d collect them. He just published his book last week! I have to check it out some more. I want to do something like that (after the oral history project is done!).

Washington Square Park at Night

Oh, NYC.

That’s all for now!

NYC in May: Part 3

That evening in NYC, we saw the new musical An American in Paris. It was magnificent. As most readers of this blog know, I see a lot of theater during the year. This performance was up there.

First and foremost, the dancing was brilliant. It’s not just a musical; it’s also an exquisite ballet at points. The leads both had extensive backgrounds in dance, specifically ballet. And it’s part of the plot too. It was simply joyous to watch them dance. I’ve seen so much circus of late that I have forgotten that dance can be wondrous as well.

Second, the music is simply fantastic. I love Gershwin. Rhapsody in Blue still gives me goosebumps every time I see it. And I think Fantasia 2000’s cartoon version is one of the best music videos/cartoons I’ve ever seen. So it’s so delightful to have an entire musical of Gershwin songs!

Third, the staging was really neat. They did a lot of projections onto moving panels. I know this is likely to be a trend moving forward; I can only imagine the cost of building a set compared to building one where you only have to project light onto it. While I’m not always a fan of the digital world, I do think they used projections really well. The set transported me to Paris, which is pretty amazing.

I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of the plot itself. Spoilers? It has all the awkward aspects of Breakfast of Tiffany’s. You kinda hate the male lead. But that shouldn’t keep you from seeing the musical. This is Broadway at its best.

Before the show, we ended up at Lindys, a famous after theater place. It’s known for cheesecake. It’s a diner place with expensive food items. I had a roast beef open sandwich that was not very good. But it was fun to check out this place in NY history. There’s a wall of celebrities who’ve eaten there. Sadly, we didn’t have time for cheesecake. I’ll have to go back to try that.

After the show, we found ourselves in Times Square at 11pm at night. I was astonished to see that the billboards are so bright, it kinda looked like day. Boy, I’m not a fan of Time Square. I’m not sure why. I have a soft spot for Las Vegas with all of its brash, bold spectacles. Maybe the difference is that it’s somehow magical in Vegas but Time Square is just bluster and advertising.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the new Whitney and Greenwich Village.

That’s all for now!

Part 4: New York, New York

In addition to the museums and hot chocolate, we also saw a broadway play It’s Only a Play. It had an all-star cast: Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Rupert Grint (of Harry Potter movie fame), Stockard Channing, Megan Mullaly, and F. Murray Abraham. That’s a hell of a cast. So we knew that it was going to be worthwhile to see the play even if the play itself was a dud.

The play is about the opening night party for Matthew Broderick’s character.The playwright really needs the play to be successful. The play centers around the world of the theater, criticism, and second or third chances. It’s a tale about success/failure and friendship. The entire play takes place in the bedroom of his producer. Characters wander in and out of the room, searching for a quiet place to make a phone call, talk to the hostess, etc.
For the most part, the performances were incredible. I was impressed by Megan Mullaly’s character in particular. I was not a fan of hers; I couldn’t stand her in Will and Grace. In this play, she was perfectly cast as the wealthy producer debutant. Normally, her voice irritates me but it worked in this. I bought her character as a lover of the arts but who has the advantage of millions of dollars behind her. She may take the failure to heart but it won’t ruin her life. Rupert Grint was awesome as the critic’s darling director who wants to have a failure. He was off the wall crazy, stealing knick knacks of the hostess, causing general mischief and discomfort. It was fantastic. He was sort of the anti-Ron.
I didn’t love Matthew Broderick’s performance. He seemed so restrained that it seemed as if he wasn’t acting. I don’t know. I understand that he needed to be distinct from the other over the top characters but it seemed so underwhelming. Nathan Lane was fine but I’ve seen him shine in Waiting for Godot. I’m not sure it was the perfect role for him in the way that Rupert Grint and Megan Mullaly worked in their roles. Stockard Channing was fun but I’m not sure I bought her character. F. Murray Abraham worked as the smarmy critic. He’s newer to me but he was in both Inside Llewyn Davis and The Grand Budapest Hotel. I think it worked.
The play itself grated on me. It was a play about theater. I am a little tired of these plays that turn the lens on Broadway. I’ve seen several plays about acting so maybe it’s just fatigue. I generally like works about the creative process but I guess it can get a little self-serving. Also, I think that the recent movie Birdman with Michael Keaton touched on a lot of the same issues but did it in a more clever, interesting way. I wanted more than the play delivered. (Go see Birdman, I think it is one of the best movies of the year).
But the cast was fantastic and for that alone, it’s worthwhile.
That’s all for now!