Month: December, 2007

Village wanderings

Saturday, December 29th, 2007 | All Things, Drinks, Friends, Music

Over the Queensboro Bridge, and back into the city

Queensboro Bridge view

It took over 45 minutes for me to crawl my way downtown to Zinc Bar on the M5 bus – half that time spent on Fifth Avenue between 47th Street and 57th Streets — for a night of Brazilian Samba.

Zinc Bar

Dark room, cold beer and a sexy saxophone:

Zinc Bar

After the set, we took to the streets of Greenwich Village, where WGY pointed out the giant Picasso sculpture at NYU’s I. M. Pei-designed Silver Towers residential complex. How could I not have noticed the 36-foot high “Bust of Sylvette” before? The mammoth 60-ton version of Picasso’s painted metal bust of Sylvette David was created in 1967 by Norwegian sculptor Carl Nesjär, who sandblasted the cast-concrete surface to reveal the black basalt underneath, in lines to duplicate the Spanish master’s brushstrokes.

Random and brilliant. WGY is right, in a way that only those who leave New York can appreciate: this is the best city in the world.

Our nocturnal wanderings took us past the Murray’s cheese caves, to Red Mango (better than Pinkberry’s frozen no-gurt?) and to Mamoun’s for super cheap, extra-spicy falafels. (How there was appetite to spare after the banquet at Mandarin Court remains a mystery to me.) Along the way, we steered some tourists from the Christopher Street piers, discovered that 85 Bedford is not, in fact, the location of a bar in the West Village, and assessed that we are entirely too curmudgeonly to suffer the crowds waiting for entry to Employee’s Only on a Saturday night.

White Horse Tavern farther up on Hudson, however, proved an acceptable fallback. Any watering hole good enough for Dylan Thomas is good enough for us.

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New Jerusalem at the Classic Stage Company

Friday, December 28th, 2007 | All Things, Arts

At the Classic Stage Company on East 13th Street tonight for the first preview of David Ives’ play, New Jerusalem, which will run through February 3, 2008. The playwright has had an eventful 2007; in addition to staging this debut, Ives wrote his third young adult novel and is currently collecting accolades for his Broadway adaptation of Mark Twain’s previously unproduced 1898 play, Is He Dead?

For his latest work, Ives focuses on the events of July 27, 1656 when a 23-year old Baruch (“Bento”) de Spinoza, was summoned to the Talmud Torah Congregation in Amsterdam to be interrogated for his espousal of positions contrary to Jewish belief. At the convocation of his temple board, a proclamation of kherem (excommunication) was imposed against Spinoza, permanently banishing him from all interactions with people of his faith, and sending the young man into spiritual exile. The historical drama is somewhat of a departure from Ives’s typical comedic one-acts, but raises questions perhaps inspired by his own orthodox Polish-Catholic upbringing, and subsequent training at an all-boys Catholic seminary.

Fortunately for Ives’s creative process, very little is known of Spinoza’s life: a Dutch philosopher of Portuguese Jewish origin, Spinoza lived a brief and modest life as a lens grinder, displaying a general indifference to fortune, fame and positions of power. The majority of his philosophical works were published posthumously, at the expense of an anonymous donor, including his master work, Ethics, in 1677. Spinoza is generally considered among the most significant of the post-Cartesian philosophers; his rationalism laid the groundwork for the 18th century Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism, and he claims Goethe, Hegel and Albert Einstein among those influenced by his views on God and Nature.

Classic Stage Company

Ives’s account of Spinoza’s interrogation plays like a philosophy lesson. As the main tenets of Ethics are formulated and expositioned — rather more briskly than I recall from my forays into Spinoza’s writings at college — the ideas started filling in: the systematic, almost mathematical, attempt to probe the identity of God with Nature, the inseparable relationship between mind and body, the concepts of freedom, causality and predetermination.

Award-winning actor Richard Easton plays the chief rabbi of Amsterdam and Spinoza’s pained mentor in a heralded return to the stage after his appearance in Tom Stoppard’s epic Tony-winning period trilogy, The Coast of Utopia at Lincoln Center last season. Also featured in the cast are television veterans Fyvush Finkel (Picket Fences, Boston Public) and David Garrison (Married with Children), and Jenn Harris (offering hammy, comic relief as Spinoza’s half-sister Rebekah), Michael Izquierdo and Natalia Payne.

But New Jerusalem really is Spinoza’s show, and Jeremy Strong (last seen on stage at MTC’s Defiance in 2006) commanded our rapt attention as the sensitive, but passionate persecuted philosopher, holding center stage for almost the entire play, including through intermission.

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Beef, it’s what’s for dinner

Thursday, December 27th, 2007 | All Things, Eats, Friends

I now know two people who converted to vegetarianism after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan’s reflection on ethical eating. Hmm, put that way, it sounds a bit like a cult. Pollan himself, though, is no vegetarian; rather, he promotes awareness of the origins and implications of our diet, and raises valid, disturbing points about factory farms, industrial agriculture, and resource inefficiency. I generally try to limit my meat intake anyway, at least as much from a health standpoint (heart disease, high cholesterol, cancer) as from the perspectives of environmental impact (water usage, waste contamination, rainforest destruction) and public health (food-borne illness, irradiation, antibiotics and growth hormones). But I also love a good burger, and every once in a while, I’ve been known to embrace fully, happily, the world of meats.

Like tonight, where we were gathered at Casa B for a sumptuous dinner of porterhouse steaks. Check out these thick, beautiful slabs from Omaha Steaks:

Omaha Steaks

Porterhouse steaks are T-bones cut from the marbled, larger, rear end of the short loin, and are comprised of both tenderloin (filet mignon) and New York strip steak sections. According to local lore, the name traces its origins to early 19th century New York City, where the steak was a popular menu item in public alehouses — or “porter houses.”

Our 1½ pound steaks were prepared simply, as all quality meat should be: liberally seasoned with salt and pepper and topped with spoonfuls of butter — Peter Luger-style, over which, most will agree, there can be little improvement.

Porterhouses

Afterwards, the party moved into the living room, where after homemade desserts of chocolate bundt cake, apple crumble and Christmas cookies, we divided into teams of three for a rousing game of Cranium. Among the challenges tonight: do a Clint Eastwood impersonation, spell “c-a-r-a-m-e-l” backwards, hum “Brick House” by The Commodores, mold a lion out of blue clay, act out a “quadruple bypass” and draw a surfer with one’s eyes closed. Hunter women reign supreme!

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