Month: March, 2007
After powering through the final week of 7 train detours, I stopped by the Strand Bookstore for a quick hello with the Deadline Club boys who were browsing through the shop’s much touted “18 miles of books.” The bookstore, one of the city’s few remaining independent booksellers, opened in 1927, and although my memory doesn’t extend quite that far back, I do recall when the store lay claim to 8, and not 18, miles of books. The number refers presumably not to floor space but to all the new, used, rare and out-of-print books laid end-to-end.
Since opening the 4,000 square foot shop on New York’s once-fertile Book Row five decades ago, the owners have expanded their stock to encompass five floors (of the eleven-story building they now own), and an annex on Fulton Street in the financial district.
Downtown, The Poets House in SoHo was hosting the opening reception of their impressive showcase exhibit featuring all of the poetry published in the United States over the last year. (On view through April 30, 2007.) Several of the writers were in attendance that evening to mingle in the packed house among like-minded literary types (and fellow YoCos.)
All of which seems to rebut the assertion made in an infamous opinion piece that appeared in Newsweek in May 2003: “Poetry Is Dead, Does Anybody Really Care?” According to the author, Bruce Wexler, “[p]oetry is designed for an era when people valued the written word and had the time and inclination to possess it in its highest form.” The passion of the responses that appeared after that essay was published would indicate otherwise… as would the countless MFA programs and weekly poetry slams that proliferate through the towns across America like Starbucks. (And I mean that in a good way.) Is poetry “the only art form where the number of people creating it is far greater than the number of people appreciating it,” as Wexler asserts? Poetry may be far from dead, but is it relevant in the Internet age of fast-paced media?
I hope so. The Academy of American Poets declared April National Poetry Month in 1996 to encourage more people to acknowledge and appreciate poetry — one of the world’s richest literary traditions.
To end my night: a series of one-act plays at the New School. Bite-sized pieces of drama, none longer than the average sitcom, including one by Obie-award winning, Tony-nominated and 2006 Pulitzer finalist Christopher Durang: an absurdist take-off of A Streetcar Named Desire, with some Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Iceman Cometh thrown into the mix.
We ventured deep into the heart of NYU territory for the “New York Version of The Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich” at BB Sandwich Bar on West 3rd Street. Chef Gary Thompson’s shop opened in 2002 with a menu listing just one item – a stark departure from his then just-closed upscale French bistro, Sonia Rose. Since then, the sandwich bar space has been divided to accommodate Tonnie’s Minis Cupcake and Coffee Bar.
These sandwiches are not what you’d call authentic Philly Cheesesteaks — for your “whiz wit” you still have to drive to South Philly — but Thompson’s version with his finely-honed onion recipe (19 ingredients, marinated over four hours!), fancy chili-pepper relish and poppy-seed kaiser rolls (sacrilege!) is very tasty. Framed rave reviews line the walls; in its debut year, New York magazine named this the city’s best sandwich.
And how could we leave without sampling the cupcakes?
Afterwards, we were off to see Bob Saget at NYU’s Skirball Center for Performing Arts, Saget was in town performing a pair of 90-minute shows that will be edited together for his upcoming HBO stand-up special. Before a packed house — many of whom grew up with Full House and America’s Funniest Home Vidoes on constant television rotation – Saget quickly skewered his wholesome television image. After The Aristocrats, is there anyone left who can still think of Danny Tanner the same way?
There was the usual amount of self-parody, and liberal doses of the over-the-top raunch with which Saget has come to be associated in the last few years (How I Met Your Mother and 1 vs. 100 notwithstanding)… all the more hilarious and wince-inducing coming out the mouth of someone who is still best known for playing a freakishly neat (yet not gay) widowed father of three girls. For that matter John Stamos and Dave Coulier‘s images don’t come off untarnished in Saget’s act either. As for that stuff he said about Andrea Barber, a.k.a. Kimmy Gibbler… well, that’s just not right.
Saget seems to revel in the adult turn his career has taken since the 1990s: from the guest appearances on Entourage to the uncredited (audio possibly NSFW) cameo in 1998’s Half-Baked, (which was liberally referenced in his act, and offers a compelling viewpoint on what qualifies as an addiction) to Jamie Kennedy’s rap tribute “Rollin’ With Saget.” (Check out the unedited version here.)
Saget closed out his show with a few tunes, folksily strummed on a guitar (see above: “Danny Tanner Was Not Gay” to the tune of the Backstreet Boys “I Want It That Way”) and a somewhat less romantic retooling of Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight.”
Justin Ferate, an urban storyteller, historian and a former director of continuing education at The Cooper Union, hosts weekly tours of Midtown Manhattan, with a focus on its crowning jewel: Grand Central Terminal. Ferate is one of the city’s most popular and dynamic tour guides; he was selected by the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs to create the licensing examination for prospective city tour guides. The test comprises 150 questions on everything from knowledge of landmarks, history, and public points of interest, to lore, literature, ethnic foods, religious sites and city transportation routes.
This afternoon I joined a group of a couple dozen, mostly tourists, across the street from Grand Central at the Whitney Museum of American Art at Altria. In the airy sculpture court, Ferate held forth entertainingly about Old New York: on Edith Wharton, the Vanderbilts, and the spirited rivalry between the Waldorfs and the Astors. We made our way onto sunny Park Avenue where the stories continued under the gaze of the Hercules, Minerva and Mercury, surrounding the thirteen foot Tiffany glass clock.
First off: as the onetime principal origin and terminus for transcontinental railroads, the name of the building is Grand Central Terminal. Grand Central Station is the name of the nearby post office and the East Side IRT stop.
Over the next two and a half hours, Ferate guided and interacted with the group through the building, highlighting several aspects of the Beaux Arts architecture and the 12-year, $160 million LaSalle Partners and Williams Jackson Ewing restoration of the terminal. Besides expanding the retail space and creating the gourmet food market, the renovation included the cleaning of the Main Concourse’s ceiling mural. In 1998, Grand Central unveiled the original sky ceiling, painted in 1912 by French artist Paul César Helleu.
For decades, the gilded constellations were obscured by what had been thought to be smoke soot generated by the trains sitting in the terminal. Spectroscopic analysis, however, revealed that the coating was actually tar and nicotine residue, generated by the cigars and cigarettes of the half-million commuters passing through the concourse daily — much like the Tiffany-style glass dome at the Carlton Hotel.
Renovators left a single rectangular patch of the ceiling untouched — half on the blue, half on the white — to remind visitors of the grime that once coated the entire ceiling, and of the immense work involved in restoring the mural to its current condition.
Ferate’s energy and enthusiasm were infectious. He brought the group through the food court, where he waxed on about the New York classic black and white cookie (claiming that the best in the city is to be had at century-old Glaser’s Bakery on the Upper East Side), and in front of Junior’s glass cases, what makes a true New York cheesecake. (No graham cracker crust. And fruit glaze is for tourists.) We finished our tour at the Guastavino tiles of the whispering gallery.
Check out Ferate’s site for information on more of his entertaining tours around the city. Not just for tourists: in this month alone, you can explore neighborhoods from “Literary Brooklyn Heights” to “Historic! Romantic! Seductive! Staten Island!”
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