Monday, March 22, 2010

City of Magic, WNYC, 1956

Yet another piece of kooky 1950s NYC propaganda, this time produced by WNYC when the city owned its own public TV station. Again, you must see it to believe it -- and see how much the city has changed in the last 50-plus years.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Review: "South Pacific"

The names Rogers and Hammerstein are synonymous with classic musical theater. This duo composed and produced some of the greatest American musicals of the 20th century, including Carousel, Oklahoma, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. But their masterpiece, winner of the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Drama (one of a very few musicals to win it) is probably South Pacific.

The action centers around a couple of islands in the South Pacific during WWII. An American Navy nurse, Nellie Forbish, is a native of Little Rock, Arkansas who falls hard and fast for Emile de Becque, a French plantation owner with a dark past and many secrets. Emile asks Nellie to marry him but she is unsure -- unsure of the life she might have living in a totally foreign land and even more unsure of being stepmother to Emile's two children by a late Polynesian wife. Emile seduces her with the gorgeous song "Some Enchanted Evening" but, later on, when Nellie decides to dump him, she sings the classic "I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair" -- and literally washes her hair on the stage. Will their differences keep them apart or will love conquer all? We can only guess until the end.

Meanwhile, it's not the natives who are restless but the American sailors who desperately want to commandeer a boat and ditch their base for the magical, mysterious island of Bali H'ai. Bloody Mary, a strange, middle-aged Tonikinese tempts them with the wonders of what they will find on this island ("Bali H'ai will call you ..."). Into this group of horny sailors lands Lt. Joe Cable, a strapping, dashing young officer who at first resists any temptation that Bali H'ai may hold. But later on, he does go with the sailors where he falls madly in love with Bloody Mary's daughter, singing the most beautiful song in the entire show "Younger Than Springtime."

But life in the South Pacific isn't all about love and sex. Joe and Emile are recruited to perform a top secret, very dangerous mission that drive both men away from the women they love -- and perhaps even leads to their deaths. How does it turns out? You must see South Pacific to find out.

The current production at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center has quick become legendary as one of the best stagings of this musical ever. It has been playing for two years and won lots of Tonys. We went last week and enjoyed it immensely. Laura Osnes plays the romantic but tough Nellie with a sweetness that shines through her entire performance and David Pitsssinger plays Emile as a man who has "issues" (many) but nonetheless is trying to be a better man than he has been for most of his life. Even better is the performance by young Andrew Samonsky as Joe Cable, who effectively builds the arch of his character from swashbuckling naval officer to lovesick patsy. Also excellent is Danny Burstein as Luther Billis, the comic relief of the musical. My favorite performance is by the woman who plays Bloody Mary, Loretta Ables Sayre (a Hawiian actress who is probably the most dimensional, most tragic, and most misunderstood character of the whole musical. When she sings "Bali H'ai" you get chills.

The staging of the musical is first rate, with a sliding stage that cover the orchestra during the show but uncovers it during the overture and entr'acte. The sets and costumes are beautiful and the pacing of the show is quick and efficient. This version of South Pacific closes in August so, if you want to have some enchanted evening (sorry, couldn't resist), go now!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Meet Carl Berner

At 108, he's the oldest person in NYC. He lives in Queens in the same house he moved into 72 years ago -- back when FDR was president and LaGuardia was Mayor and the Empire State Building was only four years old.

He's an inspiring story. An immigrant from Germany, he came to our shores in 1928 (back when Calvin Coolidge was President and Mayor Jimmy Walker was in his first term) and moved into his current house at the age of 36 (I'm a few years younger than that and can't imagine that the house I might move into in a few years would be the same house I'd be living in for more than eight decades!).

Mr Berner is a former tool and toymaker and still has a wonderful relationship with his family. All of us can only hope that we'll be so lucky to live so long -- and so well.

Busy, Busy, Busy

Again, apologies for the lack of updates lately. This past week was CRAZY and this next week is going to be busy as well. However, I will strive to blog more if possible. Don't give up on me yet!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Secrets of NYC

They couldn't be more different but these two areas of NYC are part of what makes this city great: City Island and the Bowery.

City Island, that little nautical community off the coast of the Bronx, is a charming village-like place that is the subject of a new movie starring Andy Garcia. I've blogged about this place before and this article from today's Times gives some further insight into this almost secret part of NYC.

Then there's a Bowery. It is an historic and fascinating part of lower Manhattan. It used to be the epitome of the city's Skid Row, a place where the down and out found refuse and where no decent person would ever venture to. Today, it is a booming center of development although it has come at a steep price. Again, the Times today has an interesting story about the evolution of the Bowery -- and particularly poignant story about a man named George.

Who'll Stop the Rain?


Oy vey! For the last two days NYC has been pelted with lots and lots and lots of rain. And it's driving the entire city nuts! You know how when it usually rains, it rains for a while ... then stops ... then rains again ... then stops again ... maybe rains a little more, then stops for good? Not this weekend. It's just been pouring and pouring and pouring non-stop since yesterday morning -- no relief in sight. And the wind has been even fiercer and it's apparently destroyed so many umbrellas that the sidewalks are littered and the trashcans are full of wrecked, cheap umbrellas. It's a mess. The rain is supposed to keep going like this for the next couple of days, then it'll be beautiful. Let's just hope the city hasn't drowned by then. The good that will come out of this, I suppose, is that at least we won't be suffering from a water shortage anytime soon.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

And Justice for Some ...

If you've ever been in a New York City cab and the meter seemed to be clicking really fast, you probably thought you were being gouged.

Guess what? You were!

Apparently more than 3,000 cab drivers were recently busted for gouging riders an ext
ra $4 to $5 per trip. The city used GPS technology to figure out the length of various trips vs. what was being charged and figured out which cabs were ripping their passengers off. Some taxi drivers have had their licenses revoked and others are facing stiff fines. Personally I don't want any of these cabbies to lose their licenses or their livelihoods, I just want them to stop ripping of their customers!

But what the city gives with one hand, it taketh away with the other. In 2007, the principal of a NYC Muslim school was forced out of her job due to a McCarthyite witch hunt. A bunch of Republican activists put enormous pressure on the Bloomberg administration to fire her by charging that she harbored terrorist sympathies. Yesterday, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a report indicating that this firing was unjustified, biased, baseless, and political. And what's the city's response? Nada. They won't hire her back. They've dismissed the report and won't reconsider their decision. It sadly goes to show you that some injustices, in life even when they're recognized, will go uncorrected.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

This Is New York, 1950

This has to be seen to be believed. They just don't make propaganda like this anymore.

Jump back in time to 1950 and travel with the All American (i.e. white) Lawrence family from Ohio as they take a trip to NYC. We accompany them as they go to, amongst other things, Radio City, the Empire State Building, and Yankees Stadium.

For once, it's okay to be tourists.

Yes, this is New York -- as it was 60 years ago. Although this little movie is very hokey and silly, it's fascinating to see what still exists from then (like Grand Central Station, Madison Square Garden, the Rockettes, the New York Stock Exchange) and what doesn't (the Brooklyn Dodgers, the old Penn Station, New York City's manufacturing base).

Narrated by a booming "voice of God", this little movie has a creepy charm all its own. But what makes it most interesting are the beautiful images of NYC from an a more innocent time.

It was such an innocent time that this move even refers to NYC as"Baghdad by the Sea" I doubt that anyone would call it that today. And remember: "Hit the "doit!"

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Scandal Ends

As I blogged about earlier, NYC has become Scandal Central lately -- and they haven't all been political scandals. Case in point: the David Letterman extortion plot. A CBS News producer tried to blackmail the late night host for millions over his affairs with staffers. Dave did the right thing, manned up, admitted his infidelities on the air, and had the guy arrested. When this scandal broke, I blogged about what Howard Stern had to say about it; his observations were really, really interesting.

Recently, Vanity Fair published a big article about the Letterman scandal called Big Trouble at 11:35. Very interesting, revealing article about the scandal, David Letterman the man and entertainer, and the vagaries of show business. However, today, the extortionist plead guilty and will spend six months in jail. Letterman, his family and staff, all of his fans, and everyone else except the media must be relieved.

At least this is one NYC scandal that can be put to rest.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Good Politician is Hard to Find

Right now New York has become the epicenter for political corruption. We're giving states like Louisiana and New Jersey a run for their money. If Huey Long rose from the dead and moved to our fair state, he'd feel right at home.

An upstate congressman just resigned due to allegations of sexual harassment; the governor is under siege for several reason; and another very powerful congressman is under investigation and has had to give up his committee chairmanship.

And all of this stuff is happening after, in the last few years, we had a governor and comptroller resign in scandal, along with another congressman who was forced out of office after it was revealed that he had a love child. Plus a former NYC police commissioner who is now in the pokey.

What a mess. The New Yorker has a great piece about this contretemps. Read it and weep ... literally.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Real Housewives of New York City Season 3

The broads are back! NYC's favorite social climbers have returned to remind us what a bunch of materialistic, shallow, pretentious, fake society women they are! I have to admit, I get a kick out of all these so-called "real" housewives shows -- they serve to remind me that money doesn't buy class, respecting others is important, and what a great wife I'm lucky enough to have.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mr NYC in Portland

One of the reasons for my not blogging lately is that last weekend I was out of town -- in Portland, OR.

I'd never been out there before and had no idea what to expect. (Being from NYC, most other cities are underwhelming, to say the least.) However, after spending just a couple of days in this Northwestern ville, I can happily report that Portland, OR shoots right to the top of the list of my favorite American cities (along with San Francisco and New Orleans).

So here's a brief recap o' my trip.

Unlike those other cities, which are fun and colorful, Portland is fun and ... chill ... It's
also very beautiful. Driving from the airport, we saw the huge, gorgeous Douglas-fir trees that make the Pacific Northwest famous. There aren't a lot of tall buildings in this town but the architecture is pretty, contextual, and tasteful. Like NYC, Portland is very compact -- even more compact, actually, because it's smaller and only has a population of two million people. Portland is divided into four quadrants and people there talking about living in either NW, SW, NE and SE. Driving across the city takes about twenty minutes from end to end, and about it's half an hour from any spot in the city to PDX (the airport). Unlike a lot of American cities, Portland has decent public transportation -- no subway but trolleys and a very good bus system. Apparently you can get from most sections of the city to downtown in about twenty minutes. All in all, a pretty easy city to navigate.

Our time in Portland was busy. We actually got out of town and drove up into the mountains nearby. The views and vistas there are stunningly beautiful. We drove to the top of the Columbia River Gorge which inspired us to do "downdogs" and "sun salutations" and other yoga moves, so Zen was the experience. Then we went hiking up several trails, passing several lovely waterfalls (one of which sprayed us and felt wonderful).*

Later we went to dinner at a very good restaurant in town called The Farm Cafe. They serve fresh, organic food along with excellent cocktails (this is a very popular spot so either go early or make reservations).

We then hung out for a little while at a great, great place called Voicebox Karaoke, easily the most upscale, classy karaoke bar I've ever been too. You can rent private rooms, each one very comfortable and unique, and they have great drinks and dumplings on tap.

Then we saw a show. Not a concert or a play exactly but what is apparently a live action sitcom called "Fall of the House." It's basically a raunchy version of Friends set in Portla
nd but with lots of different characters and wacky situations. Shocking thing? It was good! And funny! And very well written! The characters were well developed and dimensional and we really enjoyed it. If you are ever in Portland and this show is on, I suggest you go.

Next day we went downtown and walked along the waterfront. Portland is cut in two by the Willamette river and bound together by several bridges, each one distinct and interesting. Then we had brunch at Mother's Bistro, a popular restaurant with very good food. After that, we went to Powell's, the largest bookstore in the country. Simply put, Powell's has lots and lots and lots of books. If you go, make sure you get a map. It has nine rooms (each with its own designated color) and four floors. We bought a few books, including a huge history of the world for our friend and host, and even managed at one point to get lost in the huge place.

After this, we went rollerskating ... and even did the hokey pokey!

Dinner that night was pizza taken out from a place called Dove Vivi. A very good organic pizza place, we had a sausage pizza and one covered with corn and red peppers. Mmmmmmm.

On our way the airport, we stopped by Voodoo Doughnuts for dessert. This is the first time I've ever had donuts made by punk rockers but they ... were ... awesome! We went there at 5 PM on a Sunday evening and there was a long line outside the store and it took almost half and hour to get in. I had a basic jelly doughnut but you can also get things like the Maple Bacon donut (you read that right) along with other exotic pastries. It goes without saying that if you like donuts -- and I love 'em -- and you're in Portland, you must go to Voodoo Doughnuts.**

And then, after a wonderful whirlwind trip, we came home to NYC on the red eye.

So, to sum it up, Portland is great. If you love NYC, you'll really like Portland. What impressed me most is that Portland still has vibrant neighborhoods and a downtown that doesn't shut up at night. We stayed in a neighborhood called Clinton which has lovely small homes with beautiful lawns but is also within walking distance (literally, just minutes away) of bars, restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores, banks, and park space.

Portland is a real city, not just a "metro area," and if you live there you feel like you're in a community. It's a very chill, relaxed city, where people work to live, not live to work, where time is as important as money, where the cost of living is reasonable, and where you feel like everyone is a good neighbor.

Cheers.

*For those of you who might hike these trails with a significant other, there's a book called Pokin' Round the Gorge that suggests secluded spots that are good for a little outdoor nooky. I have not read this book nor did our hike include this activity but I thought both of my readers might like to know about this publication.

**Voodoo Doghnuts is next door to a place called The Paris Theater. Unlike our Paris Theatre, however, they show different kinds of movies.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Classic Mr NYC

The Village Voice gossip columnist Michael Musto -- one of the last of a great breed of smart and classy New York columnists who turned gossip into an art -- recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of his column.

Managing to have a newspaper column that lasts 25 years in this town is nothing short of a miracle. Mr NYC wishes him a heartfelt congratulations.

Here is my 2007 interview with Micheal where he talked briefly about his career and himself.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Should Paterson Resign?

Even though the Guv has only nine months in office left and isn't running again, this whole nasty scandal with him apparently trying to squash an investigation into his driver (plus some other stuff) has left an already politically weakened governor politically dead.

With no credibility and no support left, he basically can't govern. But if he quits, will a Governor Ravitch be able to lead the state effectively, considering that either Andrew Cuomo or Rick Lazio will be taking over as Governor on January 1st? (Now there's a depressing scenario.)

There's no good option for Paterson, just a least worst one. And I have no idea what that is. What do you think? Should he stay or should he go -- now?

Naked City

I heard a great interview on WNYC today with a sociologist named Sharon Zurkin. She's the author of a new book on gentrification on NYC called Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places.

The reasons for gentrification are not new. It follows a basic pattern: poor and working class areas (like Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan or Willamsburg in Brooklyn) became more expensive when upper-middle class and rich people started moving in. The people who lived there before are pushed out and the character of the neighborhood changes.

What's interesting about Zurkin's view of gentrification is that she belives it's driven by the desire of the gentrifiers for "authenticity", the "real" urban experience. As the book's online description indicates "the emphasis on neighborhood distinctiveness has become a tool of economic elites to drive up real estate values and effectively force out the neighborhood 'characters
'" that make these neighborhoods so desirable in the first place. Her counter intuitive argument is that the more people try to preserve the "character" of neighborhoods, trying to preserve their "uniqueness", this turns into a racket by developers and "elites" to drive up real estate prices and open up expensive stores and restaurants that make these neighborhoods more and more unaffordable to anyone but the very wealthy. It's an interesting hypothesis -- and certainly to be a very controversial one amongst the NYC intelligentsia.

To get a better idea of Zurkin's theory, you can listen to her interview here.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Still Here

Been very busy lately but will blog again soon!