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New York City Getaway

January 27, 2015

“There are no neutral smells.”  That’s how my son-in-law describes New York City.  Amid the often unpleasant aromas assaulting the visitor’s nostrils, occasionally one catches a brief whiff of something alluring from a food cart: a hot dog or a lamb kabob, maybe, reminding one it’s time to eat.

A recent quick trip to the city was packed with activity and marvelous food (no hot dogs for this tourist).  It was supposed to be a Friday afternoon/evening/Saturday morning/afternoon jaunt, meeting Katherine for a dose of culture.  But an apocalyptic snow forecast for Connecticut (and her encouragement) persuaded me to extend my stay till the weather cleared on Sunday.

I met her at the school near Columbus Circle where she teaches, thrilled finally to meet some of her colleagues and her two bosses.  No matter that she’s thirty-four, it’s still a relief to this mom to know she’s working among collegial folks who value her in the highest possible way and aren’t reluctant to say so.  Now I know why she loves teaching at PCS.

Cocktail hour began early at the Center Bar at Time Warner Center, where we shared a killer grilled cheese sandwich with truffle and a cup of tomato and fennel soup, since I was hungry after my grueling trip on the train.  My cocktail was a riff on a summery gin and tonic, with cucumber and rosemary changing things up. Columbus Circle

Then off to The Muse, my favorite NYC hotel, to check in.  Located smack in the theater district on 46th St., it’s the perfect place to stay if you’re in the city for a show, the only drawback being you have to crisscross Times Square, a block away, to get almost anywhere.  We had opted for dinner in the hotel restaurant, NIOS, since it was a hassle-free way to ensure we were fed in time to make the show.

The prix-fixe menu had a number of tempting choices. Katherine had a lovely kale salad with a lavender vinaigrette, while I began with pumpkin soup embellished with trumpet mushrooms.  Her salmon entrée was seared perfectly, and my chicken juicy and crispy, accompanied by grilled asparagus and a fennel gratin.  She chose sticky toffee pudding, and I had apple tarte Tatin for dessert; both were served with rich vanilla ice cream.

Staggering down the street to the Richard Rodgers Theater just 1 ½ blocks away, we settled into second row orchestra seats for If/Then, a terrific musical featuring the magnificent Adina Menzel.  Katherine reported that she’d read an interview with the singer/actress, who said this performance required her to sing over three million notes, so if she didn’t get all of them right it was no big deal. If she got one wrong you could have fooled me. She was stupendous.

Thanks to Katherine’s proficiency with Yelp, Saturday morning found us at Essa Bagel on Third Avenue, which I daresay was every bit as good as Russ and Daughters in Lower Manhattan. My whole wheat everything bagel was fresh and chewy, with a shmear of lox cream cheese, but I confess I also envied Katherine’s ham, egg and cheese.

After breakfast, we hustled over to the Museum of Modern Art for our timed entry to view the Matisse Cutouts.

MOMAWe agreed that this was the rare exhibit where the process, as much as the product, was on display.  Three highlights: the story of Scheherazade, a Christmas stained glass window, and “The Swimming Pool.”  The latter had not been on display for twenty years because it had deteriorated to such an extent.  MOMA undertook a five-year restoration and created a space in the museum as similar as possible to the artist’s room where it was originally hung around three walls.  You feel as if you’re wading into the pool as you enter the room, surrounded by blue cutouts on white paper, affixed to tan burlap.  I came away with a new appreciation for the artistry of these deceptively simple-looking pieces.

Meeting up with Jermaine, who had come down from Tarrytown, we hoofed over to 9th Avenue for lunch at Totto Ramen.  We all opted for Miso Ramen, a bowl of broth enriched with miso paste, loaded with squiggly noodles, slices of pork, scallions, and half a boiled egg.  We shared delectable fried chicken, juicy and tender white meat, crunchily deep-fried, with a soy-mustard sauce. And both Katherine and I forgot to take a picture of the delectable food. This cute little spot is worth a return visit.

Next attraction: the 9/11 Museum (which has a good free iPhone app narrated by Robert DeNiro).  The museum draws the visitor in slowly, with a view over the graffiti- and memento-covered Last Column from above, and a walk parallel to the Vesey stairway (also called the Survivors’ Stairs) to the exhibits below. Last Tower 1 As you view the enormous commemorative quilt hanging from one wall, you realize you’re on the footprint of the South Tower, with remains of its block columns outlining the space. Quilt

Wrecked fire trucks, the fallen radio tower, hanging remnants of twisted steel and the guts of the South Tower elevator motor testify to the awesome destrFire truckuction.   Twisted steelAs you venture deeper into the space the experience becomes more intense: stunning night photographs of rescue workers by Stephane Sednaoui, the memorial rooms with photos of each victim, the glass-floored room exposing the bedrock below, where you can listen to heartbreaking tributes to individual victims made by their loved ones.

Finally you enter the Historical Exhibition, where the cataclysmic events of that day play out on a timeline punctuated with photos, videos and audio recordings.  In the background, voicemail messages to victims who will never return the calls create a tragic backdrop to artifacts large and small: a pair of four-inch spike heels worn by a woman who walked five miles to safety, bent pieces of aircraft, an ambulance where rescue workers sought refuge from the noxious dust, seat belts, clocks stopped at 9:36, a partially melted push-button phone, shards of glass from the Twin Towers’ windows….an exhausting array of reminders difficult to look on but impossible to ignore. One cannot walk through this display and remain unmoved.  All three of us felt drained by the experience.Reflecting pool


Back at The Muse, we put our feet up for a bit before dinner, then stayed in the neighborhood to dine at Nino’s 46 just down the street.  Our eating tour of the world fittingly concluded with Italian.  Jermaine ordered Caesar salad (rated okay, but no anchovies) and a grilled octopus appetizer, because he wasn’t really hungry (he had finished off the ramen Katherine and I couldn’t eat at lunch). K ordered kale salad with boquerones aioli and spaghetti with tomato sauce, while I decided on spaghetti and meatballs. Both had a generous dollop of homemade ricotta and bright basil leaves on top, and the pasta was freshly made and perfectly cooked, the meatballs dense and toothsome. Of course, J finished off our pasta, even though he “wasn’t that hungry.” Spaghetti

The kids went home to Tarrytown and I fell into bed, exhausted but proud of the fact that we had walked nearly 12,500 steps that day, according to K’s Fitbit.

A good night’s sleep, breakfast and the Times, then the train back home after a fun weekend, and making preparations for the upcoming blizzard.

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