New York

We had a wonderful trip to New York City. Although I was enthusiastic beforehand, I have to say that many of my assumptions were turned upside-down. Yes, the Big Apple is a bustling town, but the stress level appears to be surprisingly low; and it seems to be a city very much content with itself (and for many good reasons — see below), which from my experience is in sharp contrast with Vancouver. Following are a few notes about some of the highlights.

(I have some pictures which I may post later, but for the most part you will find those at the sites linked to below to be superior.)


I was very happy with the diversity and quality of these live events.

August: Osage County at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway. Our first day in the city: a brilliant play, and a great performance; we bought the script.

Terence Blanchard at the Jazz Standard. One of the real high points in a trip full of them. His band — Brice Winston, tenor saxophone; Fabian Almazan, piano; Derrick Hodge, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums — was amazing. Most of the compositions were from Blanchard’s CD A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina), which we picked up at the club.

The Mind’s Eye: Oliver Sacks interviewed by Robert Krulwich of NPR. Didn’t know about this event until we were in the city, but managed to pick up tickets via craigslist. I’ve always loved his books — I recently read Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain — and the interview was in much the same casual story format, though one of the main cases examined was Sacks himself; he has recently lost vision in one eye. A lovely and learned and fascinating person.

The Late Show with David Letterman (Monday, June 2 show, taped that afternoon), with guests Adam Sandler, Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon, and Donna Summer. I watched Late Night with David Letterman way back when I worked at Cooper’s during high school. It was a lot of fun to be part of the studio audience. Paul Shaffer‘s band, which performed a couple of tunes before the taping started, is even better than it sounds on television.

American Ballet Theatre Twyla Tharp World Premiere: Rabbit and Rogue. The New York Times review was scathing, but it is all relative; a great company, and it was amazing just to be at the Metropolitan Opera House: what a room!


If — when — I get back to the city, I think I am going to spend most of my time at these museums.

Metropolitan Museum of Art. Absolutely, unbelievably, overwhelmingly overwhelming and astonishing. One could spend an entire holiday, if not lifetime, in this building’s 1.5 million square feet. Just the artifacts from ancient Egypt (one of my boyhood obsesssions) number 36,000! I had to race through Greek and Roman art, modern art, and musical instruments, among many others. Also amazing was The Cloisters, the medieval art department in northern Manhattan. Your day pass covers both, which is a bit pointless, particularly considering the travel time between the buildings. Bought the guide, which barely skims the surface of the place. I don’t think the fascination of these museums can be overstated.

MoMA: the building is great, and just seeing Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night is worth the price of admission, but all of the painting and sculpture galleries are fabulous. The architecture and design galleries were also great, and a few notable current exhibits included Multiplex: Directions in Art, 1970 to Now, George Lois: The Esquire Covers, and Bernd and Hilla Becher: Landscape/Typology.

Museum of Natural History. Memories of this museum have perhaps been overshadowed by some of the others attended later in the trip, but it is an amazing compendium of permanent exhibits and special installations (Water: H2O = Life) on the natural world. The planetarium isn’t significantly different from H.R. Macmillan, and the IMAX film (Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure Movie) was lame; best to focus on the museum exhibits here.

Guggenheim Museum. Unfortunately, there was an exterior restoration underway, so a major part of Frank Lloyd Wright‘s building was not visible. The exhibit was Cai Guo-Qiang‘s I Want to Believe, which in its early stages up the interior ramp of the building was disappointing (Head On wolves; Inopportune: Stage One cars). But I loved his gunpowder paintings and New York Rent Collection Courtyard.


Much of the standard stuff: Empire State Building; walk across the Brooklyn Bridge; Circle Lines semi-circle tour; Rockerfeller Center; Ground Zero (disappointing that there was a $15 charge for the visitor’s centre, which we skipped).

Highlights were the United Nations tour (I hadn’t known previously about the decolonization organization) and Central Park, particularly the Pond, Bow Bridge, and the Mall. Strawberry Fields brought back memories of that day in December 1980; we stayed just a block from The Dakota.


Almost incomprehensibly, Vancouver has no vegan restaurants, and no vegetarian restaurants that aren’t flaky and/or cafeteria-like (Greens and Gourmet) and/or just plain dirty (Cafe Deux Soleil) and/or with rotten service or food (The Naam). (Also, why is there an apparent fear of seitan in Vancouver?) So, it was a treat to be in a more enlightened city, and we spent way too much eating out; we went to some of these restaurants multiple times: Candle 79 (our favourite) and Candle Café, Blossom and Café Blossom (where we had our sole brush with greatness: Isabella Rosselini), Hangawi, Gobo, Angelica Kitchen. Honourable mention: H and H Bagels.


Visited a number of neighbourhoods around the city: Greenwich Village (East Village, West Village), Soho, Chelsea (galleries), Flatiron, Midtown, Upper West Side (where we stayed at 33 West 71st Street), Upper East Side, and a brief walk around Harlem. I could probably live in any of them.

Didn’t do much shopping, but made pilgrimmages to Moo Shoes and the Apple Store Fifth Avenue. Also had a drink with old internet buddy and popular music fan extraordinaire Shirish Huprikar, who first introduced me to Wilco and Joe Henry.

2 thoughts on “New York

  1. You sure covered a lot of territory. Didn’† realize you’d been to the UN.

    How did the budget work? Not asking fo selfish r reasons but jus t as a guide for any future junkets to great cities.

    Next? New York again? Paris? (my choice) London (British Museum) also high on my list. Vienna? Florence?

    QUE STION (answer required): What is a world class city?

  2. My belief is that only people in cities like Vancouver and Toronto, which are not “world class cities,” ever really think or worry about this consciously; and our conception is either all wrong or willfully manipulated by people with certain agendas. In Vancouver, there seems to be a belief that there is a direct relationship between the number of massive sporting venues and events, and “world class city” status.

    One of the most surprising things to me about New York was the relative insignificance of pro sports. There seem to be two pillars in The Big Apple: the arts; and business. Sports celebs are most apparent in Times Square, arguably the “cheapest” and most boring part of the city. Sure, the Yankees are in evidence. But what are they compared with the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Arguably not much in the grand scheme of things. Which is, in my opinion, very healthy. We’d better shift our priorities here, and quickly: not only in terms of live performance and the arts (the new gallery is a step in the right direction), but also in dealing with our growing homelessness and drug problems. Not that NY doesn’t have these problems — the disparity between rich and poor is worse in the US, but we’re moving in that direction — but I think they are lucky that they lost out on the 2012 Olympics.

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