TWO PRIVATE GARDENS IN MANHATTAN

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IMG_1594_2 On the corner of 21st Street and Park Avenue, along the side of Calvary Episcopal Church, there runs a small fenced-in oasis of greenery amid the brownstone and concrete of the city. It wasn’t designed for people to walk in. But pigeons and mourning doves take full advantage. Also many little wren-like birds. (Trust me not to know their species.) IMG_1597_2 Passersby are certainly welcome to look at the Calvary garden.  But most just hurry by.  However, I had thirty minutes to spare before a dinner appointment in the neighborhood.  Thank goodness for my trusty camera phone. IMG_1592 IMG_1595 IMG_1596 The second garden was designed for people.  But not just any people. IMG_1603_2 It’s called Gramercy Park, sits at the bottom of Lexington Avenue on East 21st Street, and occupies a whole fenced-in square block of prime Manhattan real estate.  Unfortunately — and unlike Central Park far to the north, which was designed for all New Yorkers and visitors to enjoy — unless you are wealthy enough to inhabit an apartment or a townhouse overlooking Gramercy Park, you don’t get into this garden. Its four gates open only with an electronic passkey. IMG_1611 It’s so inhospitable there’s not even a bench or two on which to sit outside the park.  If you’re tired of walking and want to rest for a few moments somewhat near “nature,” you have to perch ungracefully on the narrow curb below the ornamental black iron gates. The flowers reach out beyond the bars, as if to invite you in. IMG_1610_2 But the only way human beings without the electronic pass can circumvent the gates is by camera. Stick your hands between the bars and you can take pictures from inside, just as if you were really there. IMG_1601_2 IMG_1606_2 Having plenty of time, I walked all around the block-square private garden. I’d always known it belonged only to residents of the square, but had never spent any time nearby. Now as I circled it, I began to feel it wasn’t fair the park should be reserved, as it were, for the very rich. IMG_1614_2 IMG_1616_2 There are a few other encircled garden-like spaces in Manhattan, but they’re within a square of buildings, usually apartment houses.  And those small “private” parks for the sole use of residents and their guests are not visible from the street.  You have to enter one of the apartment houses to access them and don’t even know they exist unless you visit someone who lives there. Here, however, where I couldn’t go was in full view. I began to think of Haves and Have Nots. IMG_1615_2 This little boy, for example, is the child of a Have. (Will he grow up with a strong sense of entitlement?)  I am in no doubt that if I had purchased (had been able to purchase) a home fronting Gramercy Park — the price reflecting the value of access to a private and beautifully landscaped park — I wouldn’t want cyclists, bag ladies and tired tourists resting on “my” benches or anyone dropping cigarette butts and empty cans in “my” bushes. IMG_1618_2 On the other hand, other than the little boy and his nanny, there was no one in the park except two elderly people on a bench and a jogger with white earbuds in a pink track suit going round and round the graveled inner path circling the garden all by herself.  That whole square block of carefully tended plantings and flowerings was for just five people.  It made me consider doing a piece called “Haves and Have Nots.”  But I have no solution for issues as large as that, or even for what to do about the locked gates of the Gramercy Park garden. So I comforted myself with the thought that at least birds can get in. IMG_1619 It looks better without the bars showing. IMG_1620_2 And then it was time for a luxurious early dinner across East 21st Street at Maialino, in the Gramercy Park Hotel, to which I’d been invited as a guest. IMG_1599_2 When you’re a guest, it’s ungrateful to be harboring simmering thoughts of Haves and Have Nots.  Best to leave all that for another day.

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A GLORIOUS DAY GUESS WHERE

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Yes, it was another trip to New York by bus last Saturday  — to see Un Ballo in Maschera (by Verdi), the last of the three opera matinees  at the Met to which I proactively subscribed last spring.  The caption of this post is not in any way sarcastic. The weather was spectacular.

Ballo in Maschera (Verdi). That's Dimitri ______ threatening to kill his wife for a presumed adultery with the king and Sondra_______ (the blameless wife) pleading in her long slip for her life. If you try very hard, you can also see me reflected in the glass, trying to photograph them for you.

 That’s Dimitri Hvorostovsky, as Count Anckarstrom, threatening to kill his wife Amelia for a presumed adultery with King Gustav III of Sweden (not seen in the poster).  Sondra Radvanovsky, as his blameless wife, is pleading in her ankle-length slip for her life. (He’s already ripped off her dress in a rage.)  If you squint, you can also see part of me unavoidably reflected in the glass, photographing this highly charged situation for your viewing pleasure. 

In contrast to the delights of the weather, I did not at all appreciate the “modernized” production we saw. What is the merit of dressing singers in an opera set in the late eighteenth century, and involving swords, prophecy and witchcraft, in mid-twentieth century dress, and against starkly minimalist abstract sets?  Why was almost every scene “enhanced” by a painted Icarus falling from the sky?  For me, such questions distracted from the richness of the beautiful singing to the point that the part of the day not involving the opera was more interesting than what was on the stage. Therefore once I show you the two glassed-in posters in front of the opera house advertising Ballo (above and below), we’re just going to enjoy being outside today. (With exceptions, of course, for bathroom and lunch and looking around at the opera audience.)

The masked ball itself. (Act III.)  What's all this with black wings sprouting everywhere?

The masked ball itself. (Act III.) See the black wings? (Only one set of wings in the poster, but many more, plus one white set, on stage.) What was that all about? Also don’t miss Icarus dangling above the singers.  In one large pictorial form or another, this inapt metaphoric reference dominated every scene. How was King Gustav’s love for the wife of his best friend without letting her know (adultery in the heart, as it were) — because of which the best friend stabbed him on entirely circumstantial evidence — in any way comparable to flying with wax wings too close to the sun?  Note too, near the bottom, my hands and iPhone, ever at work for you.

There were two free hours before curtain time.  Rather than run to the Time-Warner building on Columbus Circle for quick but high-priced new-clothes shopping, I decided to hang out in the sun instead. After so long and difficult a winter, certain parts of New York, such as Lincoln Center, can be quite lovely when the heavens (rarely) consent to smile.

Map. So -- if interested -- you can get your bearings as we stroll around.

Map of the area, to get your bearings if so inclined.

Here’s the Met itself (middle left on the map above), seen from Broadway at 11 a.m., several hours before the performance began:

Metropolitan Opera House, at the center of Lincoln Plaza.

Metropolitan Opera House, in the center of Lincoln Center.

As you walk closer, you get a better view of the fountain:

If I were still agile enough, I might have hopped up and perched myself!

If I were still agile enough, I might have hopped up myself!

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Hearst Plaza, featuring nicely designed black wrought iron chairs to sit in under the trees. This is looking north with the Met to my back, Avery Fisher Hall (soon to be renamed David Geffen Hall in return for a ten million dollar “gift” from David Geffen) to my right, and a very expensive Italian restaurant called (what else?) “Ristorante” directly in front. For $39 you can have a two-course lunch there, plus additional charges for dessert, beverages of any kind, tax and tip. I know this because I read the menu outside, not because I’ve ever crossed “Ristorante’s” threshold.

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Looking west at the New York Library for the Performing Arts, with the Met on the left, Hearst Plaza on the right, and a very blue sky above.

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Turning north again.

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The Vivian Beaumont Theatre.

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Reversing direction to look south from Hearst Plaza past the Met on the right, David Koch Theater (formerly New York Ballet Theater) on the left, and between them (across the street), Fordham School of Law.

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Preview of new opera productions to debut in the 2015-16 season. I was wearing a dress (as you can see in the reflection) because I was going out to dinner with New York friends after the opera and I have very few opportunities to wear dresses any more, so this was going to be one of them.  (In case you were wondering.)

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The American Ballet Theater (“ABT”) also has a spring season at Lincoln Center, and therefore gets its own poster behind glass.

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Skyline of costly apartments (in center of the shot). Met on the left, Avery Fisher Hall on the right.

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Looking towards Broadway with the Met at my back.

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Vanity, thy name is woman.  Unfortunately, glass doors are not really mirrors. Still it’s an interesting failure of a shot, don’t you think?

If at first you don’t succeed, try again.  I had to go to the bathroom anyway, where there are real mirrors.  The three photos below were taken in the Avery Fisher Hall ladies room, much more accessible than the Met’s (which in any event wasn’t open yet). After tending to business, I did first look around to be sure I was alone before engaging in this continued vanity project. Just as I was memorializing the shot, someone emerged from the last stall.  However, she doesn’t seem to have noticed me. I therefore left her in the picture, to preserve the verisimilitude of the occasion.

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I always look absolutely terrible in selfies. Taking one’s picture in a mirror seems to produce somewhat kinder results, perhaps because of the dim lighting. I do look rather pleased with what I see in the viewfinder, don’t I? When you’re nearly 84, it’s quite rare to find an image of yourself that doesn’t make you cringe. This one probably passes the blush test.

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Closeup. Still okay.

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Even closer. Now the wrinkles show. Smiling helps, though.

Men: please do feel free to skip the next few paragraphs, which consist entirely of fashion notes inspired by a comment to a previous post suggesting I do a piece on what I buy when I next go shopping for new clothes. I haven’t actually bought anything new yet, but as none of you has ever seen anything not new from my closet, we could start with what I had on in these pictures last Saturday.

The tote sitting on the sink in bone and black leather was from Eileen Fisher last summer. (Bought full price online and by now worth every one of the many many pennies I paid. I liked it so much I didn’t put it away when winter came, and now here it’s in season again, never having spent a single day off my shoulder.)  The watch with the red leather strap is from Alessi (Italian) but bought years ago at the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) shop. The sunglass frames on my head and the frames of the prescription glasses to see with on my nose (which sometimes hang from the ring on the cord around my neck) were both hand-made in France but have no manufacturer name on them.  I bought them, seriatim, from an optometrist in Princeton at least five years ago.

Moving right along, the red cardigan sweater-jacket was acquired on sale and online, also from Eileen Fisher; I rarely wear it because it doesn’t look right by itself with pants or jeans and it doesn’t look right over skirts or dresses under winter coats. But the weather Saturday was too warm for a coat, and I couldn’t stay out through the evening in just a dress, so the red number got an outing. Bill is the only person who really likes it, but I guess it was all right for a wandering photographer to wear while taking pictures of herself.

The dress underneath the sweater (barely glimpsed in the photos) is black viscose jersey with long narrow sleeves; it spoke to me online at midnight four years ago from (you guessed it!) the Eileen Fisher web page. “Buy me!” it cried. (You can tell from the confessed provenance of most of my more presentable clothes that I consider this label a best friend to older women who still care how they look and are willing to spend some money to look that way.) The dress has no waistline or belt, but follows the body (not immodestly) all the way down to the hips, where it flares slightly. Too bad you can’t see the neckline, which is a loose infinity loop that looks as if it might be a scarf but isn’t; it’s part of the dress.

I will skip the source of the black tights. as I can’t remember where I got them.  The black leather loafers are Italian; their purchase took place in Boston, which I left nine years ago, from a shoe store on Boylston Street, opposite the Boston Garden. But that sort of vague and dated information is useless, so let’s forget it.  All this does go to show, however, that I keep things I like for a very long time — if that in any way justifies what I spend for them in the first place.

Okay, men.  You can come back now.  It’s chow time.  Aka lunch.

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American Table is on the ground floor of Alice Tully Hall, just across 65th Street and facing Broadway. I favor it when I’m in the neighborhood because it opens early, serves all day, and closes late. Moreover, as long as you order something, even if just coffee, you can sit and sit, without being hovered over by a waitperson wanting to clear the table.

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I also very much like the fact that the wall facing Broadway is all glass, which permits you to people watch while you’re inside.

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You can see small children (guarded by their careful parents) playing on the tower of steps outside .

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Or you can simply snoop at the passing scene without being noticed yourself.

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It’s also a very pleasant place to meet a friend for lunch or a drink.

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Here’s the menu.

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You place your order with the man at the right, and pay. Then you go sit down. A waiter will bring your order to your table.

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I had the market salad with smoked salmon. When you unroll the pink rosette sitting on the sliced radishes and greens, it becomes four long strips of salmon.

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By the time I got back to Lincoln Center, the crowds in front of the Met were beginning to gather.

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But there were still about twenty minutes till curtain time, and it was too nice to go in just yet.

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I sat and looked up at the spring sky for a while longer.

Once in my seat at the Met, I did observe that some of the younger patrons may have over-welcomed the arrival of spring. There was a noticeably reckless casting aside of garments to display as much flesh as could be considered minimally decent in such a cultured venue.

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This young person, for instance, appears to be cold. She may have overdone it.

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Oh, those very short summer sundresses! Oh, such expanse of youthful thigh! Bill loved this picture when I showed it to him Saturday night.

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By contrast, other young women, less favorably endowed, were not so eager to put aside their coverings. My mother, were she still alive, would have strongly disapproved of the horizontal stripes on so broad a backside as this. But she’s not, so I’ll leave it alone.

After King Gustav had been stabbed, had pardoned everyone, had assured Amelia’s husband (in fine voice) that she was innocent of wrongdoing, and then had collapsed stage front, quite dead, as the curtain fell — I hurried out and managed to flag down a cab to take me north and east to the Upper East Side, where the 1% live. New York is beautiful there.

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A view of Central Park from across Fifth Avenue at East 95th Street. You may not be able to quite make it out, but just above the white SUV is a charming playground for little ones where my New York grandchildren used to dig, climb and swing before they were old enough to go to school.

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Looking north on Fifth Avenue from 95th Street. This part of the city is called Carnegie Hill.

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East 95th Street, seen from Fifth Avenue.

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Flower gardens, New York City style. Here I put away my camera, walked down the street, and met my friends at Tre Otto (Three Eight), a relatively new neighborhood Italian restaurant on Madison Avenue between 97th and 98th, where the waitress explained (when asked) that it’s called “Three Eight(s)” because the owner’s grandmother was born on the 8th of August in 1908 — eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year of the century — and many of the recipes used in the restaurant came from her.  I took the train home at 9 p.m. — after a long but delicious day.  I hope you enjoyed it, too.