Days 33 & 34, New York

I met my brother’s girlfriend, Marina. What a delightful young lady. We hit it off immediately and had a wonderful time together. They were staying on the opposite side of Central Park from me so it was a very short walk. I strolled through the park, once again enjoying the runners, bikers and stroller-pushing moms. I arrived early at their hotel, the Pierre, so I went into a cafe and ordered a coffee and a muffin.

Their hotel was beautiful, part of a hotel/condominium development that was probably seventy stories high. A condo had recently sold in this building for $120 million dollars. Who has this kind of money other than Russian oligarchs an Arab sheikhs?

Well, Tony had the doorman hail a cab and he took us to the Empire State Building. There were all kinds of hucksters outside the building selling observatory tickets. One guy took us for a ride. He told us the tickets he offered were express and allowed us to bypass the crowds and get up to the observation deck within fifteen minutes. After buying the tickets he told us that we were also qualified for a river cruise along the Hudson that would take us to Dumbo Park (?). This place really does exist. We found out later the little shit cheated us into buying the higher priced tickets by claiming them to be express when they really just allowed us to take some lame cruise. I’m going to write to Gray Line Tours and the New York Tourism Bureau and complain.

Upon entering the ESB, we found ourselves in amongst the other sheep, waiting in line. We went to the observation deck and peered out over the city. It was gorgeous. We could see Central Park, Times Square, Brooklyn, the Financial District, the Chrysler Building, th Freedom Tower and the Hudson and East Rivers. The ESB is an art deco building constructed during the Great Depression. It was completed in 1931 in eleven months and became the world’s tallest building until the ill-fated Twin Towers were completed in the early 70’s.

From there we went to Chelsea Market in Chelsea (hence the name) for lunch. The market had nothing but eateries in it. At least that’s all I saw. Immediately upon entering we saw an Italian restaurant. Our lunch destination had been found. It was divine Providence, I tell you.

Upon entering we saw more pastas than we knew existed. And we’re Italian. They were all fresh, all handmade on the premises. The atmosphere was rustic, we were starved so we chose a table and sat. A gregarious waiter, Paolo, bounced up. We order a magnificent Montepulciano wine from the Abruzzo area south of Ascoli Piceno along with some aqua frizzante. We ordered pesce fritto mist (fried fresh fish) as an appetizer. I could have eaten this as the entree.

Marina had seafood pasta and Tony and I each had a chili sausage lasagna. The meal was pricey–$176. But boy, did we enjoy it! Afterward we wandered through Chelsea Market and found a gelato shop for dessert.

From Chelsea we walked all the way to the 9/11 Memorial and the Freedom Tower. I had visited the day before but they wanted to see the site and I wanted to show them. As I said earlier, it is impressive and moving.

By this time it was nearing 5:00 p.m. and Tony and I needed our afternoon nap for the evening’s festivities. Tony was having trouble getting a taxi so I hailed a cab, sophisticated New Yorker that I am (see yesterday’s posting). We hopped in and the cabbie took me to my hotel and then dropped off Tony and Marina.

Inside my hotel, I nursed my tootsies again and tried to catch forty winks. We had planned to have dinner at 7:00 p.m. and then head to the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village for the show at 9:30.

Dinner didn’t work out as we had hoped because we got to the Village too late. When we arrived, I was enchanted. It was everything I had read and everything I expected. It was jammed with restaurants, clubs, bars, coffee houses and shops at street level with brownstones above. The street vibe buzzed with a constant stream of people. Trees lined the sidewalks. We only saw this one small bit, but it was grand. I think I could spend a month in the Village.

The Village is also a seminal point for a substantial amount of American pop culture. It has been an artist’s haven for decades, giving birth to the Beat Generation, the modern LGBT movement and the sixties’ counterculture. The cafe society hosted a number of influential African-American artists such as Pearl Bailey and Nat King Cole.

During the beat and hippie generations, influential artists and intellectuals such as Jack Kerouac and Truman Capote could be found in its cafes. In the sixties some of the biggest artists in music history graced its clubs–Barbra Streisand, Simon and Garfunkel, Carly Simon, Jackson Browne, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell are just a smidgen of the famous names that were part of Village culture.

So, went to a restaurant called Minetta Tavern that is supposed to have the best cheeseburgers on earth. Unfortunately, there were no openings until 10:30 p.m. It was now 8:20 p.m. and the show started at 9:30 p.m. We decided to come back later although we did have a drink and some chips to kill the time.

The comedians at the Comedy Cellar were quite good. I’ve been to a number of comedy clubs including in Harvey’s in Portland, the Improv in Irvine, California, and the Comedy Store. The MC was very funny and there were five comedians featured. Many of them had been on Letterman or Conan. Most of them were quite funny, with the exception of one young woman who was so-so. The headliner was a young man from South Africa who was hilarious. Don’t ask me any of their names!

The Comedy Cellar had me a bit paranoid at first. It is actually a cellar in a brownstone that has been turned into club. As we walked down the steps and into a narrow hall, I immediately pictured the nightclub in Warwick, Rhode Island that caught fire, killing one hundred people when they couldn’t get out. I started searching for sprinklers and found them everywhere. Whew. I sighed a bigger sigh when they put us right near the fire exit.

Afterward, we walked across the street to Minetta Tavern. It was midnight. No matter, we each ordered the world’s best cheeseburger. They brought out three burgers that were about four inches high–once again, too big for my mouth. But I ate it anyway. It was delicious, but probably too late for me to enjoy fully.

Finishing our meal, we jumped into a cab and went back to our respective hotels.

Tony sent me a text this morning telling me that we would have to say our goodbyes over the phone because their plans had changed for the day today–Marina’s birthday. No matter, my flight leaves at 4:35 p.m. and I’ve gotta get my ducks in a row. I’ve decided to offer my seat up for someone else for a $500 voucher, if it comes down to that. I figure I can use that money for the return ticket to Italy when I leave in a few weeks.

So, I’m writing this up in a Starbucks on Amsterdam Avenue. No time to look for a “real” coffee shop. This is one of the benefits of commoditization. Time to hail my taxi like a sophisticated New Yorker.

Oregon, here I come.

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