January 2013


The Twelve Days of Excess

I live in NYC. I was born and raised here. So that yes, I tend to have a New York-centric perspective, not too unlike that classic drawing by Saul Steinberg.




And yes, as a hardcore New Yorker I tend to bemoan the tsunami of tourism that occurs here each December. Yet, that doesn’t mean I can’t dive headlong into the holiday season like a virgin rubberneck from Des Moines. As I’ve said before, why do we who live in cities, especially ones with such rich history and cultural diversity, leave the enjoyment that they have to offer, to the tourists?


As with most of us though, the indulgence in things cultural and entertaining is usually spread over a period of time, as life’s daily commitments take priority. But as I had some dear and welcomed visitors last month, the whole experience became something highly compressed and designed to satisfy varying tastes.


In some cases, the venue itself was the star, which is often the point for visits to New York. That even when at times a performance is found wanting, the place itself is its own reward.


With apologies to that chestnut of a Christmas carol, I offer “The Twelve Days of Excess,” a dozen noteworthy diversions in the space of sixteen days. Call it arts & leisure on steroids, or: “How I spent my guests’ winter vacations: a possible guide for future reference.” Or not.


On the First Day of Excess, my true love gave to me…


Dinner at Patsy’s, (56th off Broadway) purportedly Sinatra’s favorite restaurant. They even have a sizable bronze statue of old Blue Eyes standing on the bar (swear). The same bar at which Tony Danza would later be sitting (to provide a pinch of authentic Italian-American flavor) as we were leaving.


In between, the Southern Italian food was great, and the owner made the rounds to make sure everything was alright. Which is the Sinatra way. Frank would have been pleased. Frank is pleased. Is Frank not God?


On the Second Day of Excess, my true love gave to me…


The Christmas Show at Radio City. I once swore that the only way you could get me back there, was with a court order. Or at gunpoint. Yet here I was once again for the second year in a row. And of my own volition. But it’s still a treat when experienced with someone who is seeing it for the first time.


The art deco motif is spectacular, The Rockettes are still kicking ass, and yes, there are still three live camels walking across the stage during the nativity scene.


Apparently, PETA hasn’t gotten around to protesting the fact that camels, as a rule, don’t aspire to be in show business. The sheep other the other hand, just followed.


On the Third Day of Excess…


A Broadway Musical. In this case, Nice Work If You Can Get It. The Gershwin’s! George and Ira! So what if Matthew Broderick can’t really sing or dance. At 50 years old, even up close— we were sitting in the second row— he still looks choir-boy cute. He walked through the proceedings in a very understated yet charming way. And seeing Estelle Parsons at age 85 still commanding a stage, was a bonus.


On the Fourth…


A bite at Ellen’s (a former “Miss Subway”) Stardust Diner. Youthful, singing-their-lungs-out “waitpersons,” of immense yet undiscovered talent, serve up burgers and fries while hungering for the big break that will transport them down the street and into a Broadway show.


Getting caught up in the spirit of the place, I sang my request for the check when we were finished eating. The waiter said that had never been done before. He didn’t say it was good…just never done before. So I’ll stick to my day job. Which is retirement.


…the Fifth…


The Museum of Modern Art and the nearby Art Galleries on 57th Street. The Scream is still screaming (DECEMBER, 2012 Muse-Letter) and you could take in a collection of Hall of Fame artists at MoMA first, and then check out those you never heard of in various nearby galleries. Exciting, unique and that good.

Love by Ana Tzarev





Handel’s Messiah at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center. The choir soared to places where angels are purported to dwell. The hallelujah and amen choruses alone were worth the price of admission.




The Metropolitan Museum to catch The Angel Tree, an annual feature on the main floor with its own special daily lighting event, and then up the grand staircase to the George Bellows and Andy Warhol exhibits currently on display and drawing crowds.


The Met itself is of course an exquisite work of art and architecture that can transport you back several centuries. In particular, check out the workmanship and artistry in the suits of armor worn by gallant knights. Then ponder that considering a man could be killed in the first five minutes of battle, what a total wasted effort this could wind up being for some poor overworked craftsman, who might have caught flack for not having a custom tailored suit of armor ready on time. (“Morris. I’m going into battle tomorrow, where’s my suit?!” “It’s in the mail!” Rim shot).




Warhorse at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center. Finally got to see this before it rides off into the sunset at the end of the month. The re-creation of horses on stage through the wizardry of puppetry, is astonishing. It is the re-creation of World War I though, that I could have done without. Especially given how close we were to all the gunfire, canon fire and smoke emanating from that thrust stage battlefield. My kingdom for a horse.




Carnegie Hall: The New York Pops featuring a cross-genre musical group, Pink Martini. Seated in seats that defied the law of gravity, we were treated to an eclectic offering of music that included Christmas carols (in some cases with a Latin beat), a 95 year old clarinetist Norman Leyden playing a soulful rendition of What’ll I Do?, and Myrlie—widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers—who played Clair de Lune in between her raconteur of times long gone by.



However, when at one point the four great grandchildren of the Von Trapp family started yodeling, I had to resist the urge to vomit. Just as “there’s no crying in baseball,” there’s no yodeling in Carnegie Hall! Get thee to The Alps!




Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas World Tour at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. There is no one like Leonard Cohen, who gave one of the most soulful and unique concerts I have ever seen. And heard. He fits no defined musical genre, and if one were to take a shot at it, you might call it “Poetic-Folk-Rock-Rhythm & Blues.”


Assuming a stance most often resembling a question mark, then often falling to both knees in his singing/recitation of a song— doffing his fedora here and there to transition to another moment—it never comes off as affected. And even after three hours on the stage, during which time he never breaks a sweat, he manages to keep you riveted for the whole stretch.


At age 78, he is sexy, charismatic, lyrical, and comes equipped with a voice that has a lot of miles on it. And when he recited one of his full length poems— in an arena essentially built for the Brooklyn Nets, an NBA basketball team— it was so incongruous to have a place like this so quiet at times, that you could have heard a tear drop:

I know you had to lie to me
I know you had to cheat
You learned it on your father's knee
And at your mother's feet
But did you have to fight your way
Across the burning street
When all our vital interests lay
A thousand kisses deep.

As for the arena, it is state-of-the-art having just opened this past September when it was christened by a Jay-Z concert. It becomes still another point of destination for sports and entertainment in this city.




The Chevrolet Gotham Classic: College Basketball at Madison Square Garden. Syracuse was upset by Temple 83-79 after going into the game with a 10-0 record. This in turn upset us, as my son is an alumnus, and proudly wore the school’s signature color Orange. As did most of the predominantly “hometown” crowd. To no avail.


But win or lose, “The Garden” in its fourth iteration, (this one opening in 1968 and now the oldest active major sporting facility in the New York Metropolitan area), is one the best known sports facilities in the world. It merits a visit. If not for sports, then for one of the frequent gatherings, conventions or entertainment events, it hosts.




The “eyes” have it. In the course of a one mile walk …the Christmas windows of Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany’s, Saks, Bendel’s, Mackenzie Childs —most surreal in their design … the crèche at St. Pat’s / the tree at 30 Rock…. Bryant Park with its temporary two story chandeliered restaurant/bar Celsius (put up and taken down each holiday season)…


the park’s huge skating rink…free exhibits at the 42nd St. Library…the Holiday Fair at Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Station and the elaborate train display nearby…all (excepting Celsius) free!






Just the Other Morning












The movie musical Les Miserables opened last month on Christmas Day to less than great reviews. It’s an adaptation of the phenomenal stage production, which had become the longest running musical in the world. It seemingly started some time shortly after The Big Bang.


The genesis for all of this is of course, the classic novel by Victor Hugo.


Victor Hugo.


I find myself thinking about him a lot these days. (Doesn’t everyone?). Not in association with Les Miserables, but in the context of a quote attributed to him that I had run across not all that long ago. One that I find so gripping and so apropos, to so much of what so many of us have experienced in our personal lives, and in the times in which we live.

Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.


This is particularly true as it relates to some rather monumental social changes we have seen transpire. Same sex marriage being a most recent example, wherein seemingly overnight, a majority of the people approved of it. Or were tolerant of it. And in some states, literally voted for it.


Four years ago, a black man was elected president. Four years from now, it could be a woman.


Legendary conservative Senator Everett Dirksen, in voting to shut down a filibuster designed to stymie the Civil Rights Act of 1964, used a variation of that quote on the senate floor, as he changed his position on the issue.


I think of this quote at times, when I see someone with shoulders scrunched up in some doorway in sub-freezing temperature, sneaking a cigarette. Something once thought so cool, now proven so unhealthy and thought so crude, as to be disallowed indoors and even limited in outdoor settings.


And now once again, I think of this quote in the wake of Newtown.


I think of it when I hear and read things the likes of which I can’t remember ever having seen before on the issue of gun control. This despite the many massacres that have taken place beginning with Columbine in 1999, which sadly no longer seems like an aberration. But this one involving children, apparently has hit home. A sampling.


"This one feels different,…" (Jon Vernick of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research)


"I am a conservative Republican who received the NRA's highest ratings over four terms in Congress…I knew that day that the ideologies of my past career were no longer relevant to the future that I want, that I demand for my children. Friday changed everything. It must change everything.” (Joe Scarborough)


“Eleven members of Congress who had previously opposed gun control announced a change of heart, including Senator Joe Manchin…” (The Nation)


“Bare majority now support major gun restrictions…” (CNN Poll)


“Support for stricter gun control at 10-year high…” (CBS News Poll)


“54 percent of respondents favor stricter gun control laws, a five-year high; 59 percent back a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips…“ (ABC News/Washington Post Poll)


"I believe every American has Second Amendment rights. The ability to hunt is part of our culture. I have an NRA rating of an 'A,' but enough is enough." (Senator Mark Warner who represents the NRA's home state of Virginia)


"This is not some Washington commission, this is not something where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read and then pushed aside. This is a team that has a very specific task to pull together real reforms, right now,.." (President Obama)


Is this the type of idea to which Hugo made reference? Is it powerful enough to penetrate the bullet proof vest of “the status quo?” Has the time come? Time will tell.







Picture a Palindrome #4








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