Tuesday, May 15, 2012

New York Trip: The Bronx Is Up, and the Battery Down

What could be a better reward after a long semester than a trip to New York City?  If you’re me, nothing!  Here are some highlights (warning: reading this may make you hungry).

We decided to cash in a hundred years of accumulated credit card points to stay at a nice hotel, and in a rash act of immense bravery, decided to stay in a totally different part of town to encourage us to deviate from our usual midtown haunts.  In fact, once we settled on the Ritz-Carlton at Battery Park, we even made a new rule:  No trips above 14th Street.  (Okay, with a few exceptions.)

The hotel was lovely, right on the tip of the island, and the view from our window was better than TV: the Statue of Liberty; Staten Island ferries; countless sailboats, barges, and sightseeing boats; the New Jersey skyline; and a popular park and walkway.

Our first stop upon arriving was Luke’s Lobster, down a warren of crooked streets.  (Talk about being off the grid…the landscape of the Wall Street area seems to have absolutely no logic to it.)  The lobster rolls were fantastic—big, juicy chunks of meat, just a smear of mayo, buttery top-split rolls.  The Maine experience was complete with a bottle of Root blueberry soda from Maine, which was not weird at all, but utterly yummy, leading me to wish there was more blueberry soda in the world.  (Happy to discover that there’s a Luke’s in DC!!)

We then went to the 9/11 Memorial.  Because the site is in the midst of a construction zone, there are major security measures in place, so we were herded and wanded and marched through lines before reaching the memorial.  (At some point—supposedly—the memorial will be part of a park that’s open on all sides.)  For me, the constant flow of people taking smiling photos was a bit disconcerting at first, but such is the nature of memorials (haven’t I casually glanced at a WWI statue before moving on?).  The memorial itself was, to me, very moving; I couldn’t imagine any improvement to the design and the emotional evocation.  It was terribly sad to read all…those…names…: of remarkably varied nationalities, women dying along with “her unborn child,”family members grouped together.  This memorial is as perfect in its austere perfection as the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC.

It will sound terrible to say what we did immediately after viewing the memorial, but it had started raining!  Forgive us!  We went shopping at Century 21, the famous/infamous discount store for designer clothes.  Great deals—if you can stand the crowds, cramped conditions, disorganization, and lines, which we could for a very short time.  Look for my cool new sweater next fall!

That night, we were lucky enough to have reservations at Milk & Honey on the Lower East Side, one of the vanguards in the craft cocktail/speakeasy revival.  The place is tiny and dark and narrow and totally cozy.  We were seated in one of the four or five booths (along with 5-6 seats at the bar, that’s all the space there is!), and proceeded to be served a series of remarkable and inventive cocktails.  There’s no menu, so you offer some thoughts on what you like/don’t like, and the bartender chooses from one of (we were told) six hundredish drinks in the repertoire.  Everything is housemade and is relevant to the classic age of cocktails (i.e. pre-prohibition).  No vodka!   Steve is very well-versed in craft cocktails, and out of the five (small!) drinks we had, there was not one we had even heard of.  Our favorite:  De La Lousianne.  (Here’s a recipe.)  A totally thrilling experience.

Nice to sleep in a bit the next morning, and then on to Bricklane Curry House in the East Village to meet a friend.  While the lunch buffet seemed enticing, I wanted to try something that I might not get anywhere else, so I was steered to the Madras curry, which was excellent—chicken in a spicy sauce with mustard seeds (drawback: paranoia all afternoon that seeds were stuck in my teeth).  Steve had a selection of tandoori chicken, including one that was green! 

We walked around the neighborhood a bit, then fortified ourselves with one of the best cappuccinos I’ve ever had at La Colombe.  (Since I don’t drink coffee much, this isn’t saying a lot, so take it from Steve, who’s a total coffee snob, that this cappuccino was stellar.)  The reason for the caffeine?  At 3:00, we headed to Gatz, the 8 hour play that involves a word-by-word reading of The Great Gatsby.  (You can see a trailer and read more about Gatz here.)

We emerged from Gatz at 11:30 PM.  Whatever I say about this experience will not do justice to the afternoon or the play, so take what I say and multiply it by infinity to understand what it was like.  The premise sounds simple: an office drone can’t access his computer, so he picks up a paperback copy of The Great Gatsby and begins reading out loud, becoming Nick in the process.  Various co-workers float through the scene and slowly become the other characters, reading the dialogue as written.   What was amazing to me was that many of the characters didn’t necessarily look how I would imagine them—i.e. Gatsby = Robert Redford—and yet they totally inhabited their roles.  And the cast did a great job of finding—and creating—humor; I’ve always thought much of the dialogue is amusing, but Gatz made the book feel laugh-out-loud.  The staging was clever, using the office setting in inventive ways.  And how many times have I read this book?  And Steve, too?  Yet we both agreed that there were many, many phrases and moments that we swore we were hearing for the first time.  By the final chapter, Nick closes the book and recites from memory…he has truly melded into the words, and so has the audience.  Standing ovation!

There were four intermissions and a 90-minute dinner break—still full from Indian food, we ended up at Swift for a drink, not sorry that the unavailability of seats meant that we had to stand (a literary day, as the bar was named for Jonathon Swift)—and while it was a long day, it honestly never felt long.  We were entranced and transformed; there was something magical about leaving the theatre in the dark, Fitzgerald’s words in our head, the passage of that Long Island summer melding with the passing of our day, Nick’s transformation calling forth thoughts about our own lives.

Easily one of the top five theatrical experiences of my life.

To be continued….!


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.