Friday, November 9, 2018

Manhattan 2018 - Day 3


On our 3rd and final day spent in Manhattan, we only had until about 1pm to do some final sight-seeing before we needed to hop on the Penn Station subway, followed by the New Jersey Transit back to the New Jersey airport for a 4:10pm flight home.  Despite our compressed time, we still had a full schedule planned.  We would check out early from our hotel, pass by Bryant Park en route to City Bakery for a proper breakfast before heading to the Chelsea art scene where there are a slew of small art galleries lining the area spanned by 21st to 27th Street and 10th to 11th Avenue.

Bryant Park is a 9.6 acre public park located in the heart of Manhattan’s midtown, running from 40th to 42nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues.  Between October to January of each year, a winter village is set up with a large skating rink and over 150 stalls selling seasonal food, drink and gift items.  Although none of the booths were open so early in the morning, we still had fun peering through the windows to look at the quirky items including a popup card shop, pottery stores, knitted crafts, paintings and even a shop that sold giant Darth Vader sculptures made from spare parts.

City Bakery is a popular bakery and coffee bar that offers cafeteria-style items for breakfast and lunch, using local and organic ingredients.  There are frequently long lineups of people waiting to be served at the wrap-around counters that offer pastries, muffins and other baked goods in the morning.  Luckily, there is plenty of seating in the large space including a second floor.  City Bakery is known for its rich flavourful hot chocolate that comes with a big fluffy square of marshmallow, so we knew that we had to try this.  While we were impressed with the look of the giant marshmallow and approved of the taste of the drink, unfortunately it was not very hot.  What we enjoyed more were the fluffy scrambled eggs with spinach and herbs, and the baker’s muffin, which contained apples, raisins and walnuts.  After sharing these items and thinking that we were still hungry, we watched a server come out of the kitchen holding a tray of good-looking stuffed croissants. Rushing to rejoin the line, we were able to snag what turned out to be a freshly baked “pretzel croissant” filled with duck egg, bacon and pear jam, as well as a raspberry scone and a cup of hot coffee.  The pretzel croissant is flaky and buttery like a typical croissant, but is topped with a crunchy topping of salt and toasted sesame seed to give it a pretzel feel.  All in all, we loved everything we ate here and after the second round of food, we were finally sated and ready to be on our way.

The streets in Chelsea where the art galleries have congregated feel grittier and more industrial compared to the more commercial art district in Soho.  Running along the Highline Trail and flanked by tall office and apartment buildings, there is a distinct lack of restaurants, cafes and shops in this area.  It is likely that the rent is much cheaper here  as well, and this is reflected in the art on display, which also feels edgier and less mainstream.  I wasn’t sure whether the metal humanoid form in front of one of the galleries was a sculpture or a bike rack.  We spent the morning walking between 10th and 11th Avenue while making our way northward from 21st to 27th Street.  We would peek in the window of galleries to see if we were interested and went into the ones that appealed to us for a closer look.  In some cases, the galleries were located on different floors of an office building, which took more effort for us to access and required repeated waits and rides on the elevator.  We went to a few of these in the beginning and then couldn’t be bothered after that, since there were so many other galleries to see that had a street presence.

We saw works by graffiti artist Keith Haring at both the Gladstone Gallery and Pace Prints.  But these were not the earlier Keith Haring pop-art that we were used to seeing, which were bright, cheerful images dominated by his iconic “Radiant Baby” and colourful humanoid forms engaged in joyful, exuberant actions such as dancing and hugging.  The works on display at the two galleries were from the last few years of Haring’s life before he died from AIDS-related complications at age 31.  The drawings shown at Gladstone Gallery are much darker and closer to something that Jean-Michel Basquiat would produce.  These large-scaled drawings, augmented by collage and violent streaks of paint, reference popular culture, historic references, sexual imagery and religious iconography.  Pasted on his works are clippings from newspapers and magazines, reproductions of famous artworks and homoerotic advertisements.  The exhibition at Pace Prints, titled Apocalypse, is a collaboration between Haring and beat poet and novelist William S. Burroughs. Ten pages of Burrough’s free-form text are paired with ten images by Haring, which comment on life and death, heaven and hell, political activism, mass consumerism, religion, sexuality and conformity.

Another particularly edgy and downright confrontational exhibition called “Vote Feminist” was found at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery, which was showing works by artist Michele Pred.  Through various sculptural installations, Pred advocates for equal rights for women and her exhibition is a call to arms to resist against the “fear-based, misogynistic policies of the current American government” by voting Democrat in the November midterm elections.  A display of vintage designer purses are implanted with glowing slogans including “Vote Now”, “Power to the Polls”, “Resist”, “Equal Pay”, ‘Times Up”, “Pro Choice”, “Nasty Woman”, “My Body, My Business” and “Pussy Grabs Back”.  The work called “Wage Gap” uses portions of an American dollar and a Swedish krona to show the wage gap between what women earn compared to men in each of those countries (42% on the dollar vs 88% on the krona).  Re-imagining an automatic voting machine like the one used in the 1944 election between Franklin D. Roosevelt (Democrat) and Thomas Dewey (Republican), Pred created a pink version that called for a vote for Ruth Baeder Ginsberg (representing Feminism) over Donald Trump (Patriarchy).  There was a full-bodied suit made of satin and Velcro called “Pussy Riot Gear” which Pred planned to wear at demonstration marches, and a neon-light display over a embroidered floral pattern with the in-your-face slogan “Feminist as F**k”.

We were very taken with the silhouette paintings in watercolour and acrylic created by artist Idelle Weber in the 1950s and 60s.  On display at the gallery Hollis Taggart, Weber’s silhouettes depict anonymous, yet universally recognizable archetypes such as couples, girlfriends, brides and grooms, athletes, and most notably, business men in office settings. It is likely that the opening sequence from the TV show “Mad Men” was influenced by Weber’s works.  Rich especially liked the watercolour titled “Babes” of three bikini-clad women looking down upon their reflections, which was going for just over $6000 US.  I liked the silk-screened images covering all sides of a lucite (solid transparent plastic) cube that we could have owned for a mere $20,000 U.S.  I guess I have expensive tastes.  Needless to say, we did not come home with either of these pieces.

Yossi Milo Gallery was presenting the works of Kyle Meyer called “Interwoven”, which consisted of giant photographic prints with pieces of fabric woven into them.  Meyer, who originates from Eswatini (formerly Swaziland in Southern Africa), creates a hybrid between a digital photograph and a lush, vibrant, tactile weaving using traditional Swazi techniques.  He photographs members of the LGBT community who are marginalized in Eswatini, giving them a voice while allowing them to “hide” behind the head wrap which he asks them to wear for the picture.  Meyer then weaves vertical and horizontal strips throughout the image, which helps to obscure the identities of his subjects while still allowing them to express themselves.  I found these to be extremely powerful and thought-provoking pieces.

At Bernaducci Gallery, John Baeder’s quaint oil on canvas paintings of roadside diners, eateries and food trucks capture the essence of small town America.  Practising photorealism, the art of reproducing an image on a photo in as realistic a fashion as possible, Baeder’s initial paintings were inspired by linen-finished colour postcards.  Baeder’s exhibition is called “The Road Well Taken”, referring to his travels through the United States in search for more subject matters.  Also on display were paintings he did of matchbook covers which he collected during his travels.  Baeder’s paintings feel nostalgic due to the old-fashioned diners that he depicts, but also has a surreal feel due to the flatness and dulled colours of the paints that he uses. 

On display at Winston Wachter Fine Arts, Zaria Forman’s large-scale pastel drawings of aerial views of landscapes in the Arctic and Antarctic are so detailed and realistic that they look like photographs.  Forman traveled with NASA’s science missions to track shifting ice flows, with the objective of illustrating the rate that our polar regions are melting, cracking and shifting.  A video projected on the floor further highlights the issue.  Rendering images of icebergs, glaciers, ice streams and snow fields in shades of white and blue, the beautifully majestic drawings almost seem abstract.

We were lucky to come across an exhibit by graffiti and street artist Mr. Brainwash (a.k.a. Thierry Guetta), famous for being featured with Banksy in the 2010 documentary “Exit Through The Gift Shop”. Held in the historic Starrett-Lehigh Building and in collaboration with the campaigning organization “It’s A Thing”, the exhibition was part of a larger campaign intended to raise funds to benefit cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre.  On full display was Mr. Brainwash’s trademark style of recreating and then subverting, combining and repurposing works from other famous artists and street artists, resulting in a “new work of his own”.  There were reproductions of Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous self portraits substituted with Basquiet-like faces.  Robert Indiana’s iconic positioning of letters to form words like HOPE and LOVE were decorated with images of flowers.  Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is cradling a Jeff Koon’s balloon dog in her hands.  What looks like a 16th Century portrait of a woman is given a face reminiscent of Picasso’s Cubism works.  A pastoral scene is overlaid with the image of a Star Wars storm-trooper holding a paint brush and a can of paint.  The words “Star Wars” have been painted over to now say “Stop Wars” and the paint drips off the canvas onto the picture frame.  This piece is so like a work by Banksy that it could easily have been mistaken for one.  I particularly liked the set of paintings that together form “The Surrealist”.  The top painting of a coastline is covered with an image of Salvador Dali with his trademark mustache.  Hanging from the mustache are two ropes that span this painting and its frame, continuing onto the second frame and painting where the ropes form part of a swing that a little girl is sitting on as she looks out into the meadows.  This is Mr. Brainwash’s version of a diptych!

There were several large collages with paper clippings from various sources and bright blue neon lighting in front of them.  One pair formed the words “Always Smile”, so I guess they are meant to be sold as a pair, since “Smile” by itself would make sense, but “Always” on its own would seem strange.  My favourite pieces were the sculptures of Rodin’s “The Thinker” and the famous armless “Venus de Milo”, made from pieces of rubber tires.  While there did not seem to be many original ideas in his works, there is no denying that Mr. Brainwash is a clever and talented artist who makes fun and quirky pieces, abet by appropriating other people's ideas.

Our impromptu 2.5 day trip to Manhattan turned out to be a great success and we managed to pack a ton of activities into this short time span.  Basically the visit was all about art, theatre and dining, which was exactly what we were looking for.  We watched some great shows, ate at wonderful restaurants and saw some amazing art exhibits.   More and more, I am liking this idea of short quick trips to nearby cities, requiring only a small carry-on bag that can be tucked under the seat of our airplane.  We will definitely try this again in the future. 
 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Manhattan 2018 - Day 2

Our second day in New York consisted of visiting a bunch of art museums situated along the east side of Central Park including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, its contemporary/modern art branch called the Met Breuer, and the Neue Gallery.  We started off with breakfast at The Tartinery, where we each had a version of smashed avocado and egg.  Mine was on a brioche with a baked egg, bacon, radish, red pepper flakes and cilantro.  Rich’s was with a poached egg on rye toast.  We had some nice views while walking through and along the eastern edge of Central Park en route to the art galleries, but failed to find the large Mandarin duck that someone at the Morgan Museum told us about the day before.

We started off at the Met Breuer, situated in a Brutalist-styled building consisting of much concrete and very few windows that was formerly the home of the Whitney Museum.  It seemed like the perfect setting for the featured exhibition called “Everything Is Connected – Art And Conspiracy” which looks at both historical and current day conspiracy theories or proven conspiracies.  The exhibition aptly starts with one of the most infamous conspiracies—that of who actually fired the shots that killed President J.F.Kennedy.  Wayne Gonzales’ two large-scaled acrylic paintings (2001) depict alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby, who subsequently killed Oswald.  Conspiracy theories propose that Oswald was the fall guy for a CIA-led plot to kill the president and then was silenced by Ruby.  Rendering Oswald with his enigmatically upturned eyes in peach, and Ruby in lime green, Gonzales channels Andy Warhol’s silkscreen portraits.  Jenny Holzer’s installation Red Yellow Looming (2004) comments on the brutal interrogation techniques used by the Bush government in the Iraqi Abu Gharaib prison.  Holzer’s LED display streams snippets of text taken from government documents and memos that detail the U.S. involvement in Iraq and their attempts to justify their use of torture.  We saw Holzer’s “Inflammatory Essays” exhibit in London’s Tate Gallery earlier this year.

Paul Saul’s painting “Government of America” (1969) contains surrealistic imagery that highlights the turmoil of that time including the Civil Rights movement, police brutality, poverty, drugs and the Vietnam War.  The recently assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. is depicted as a haloed octopus with the words “Clean”, “Strong”, “Poor” and “Honest” labeled on his tentacles, which grasp a green switch blade, a pile of coins and a “Bank of America” building.  The image of King represents the dichotomy between violent versus peaceful resistance.  Ronald Reagan (then the governor of California) is depicted as Frankenstein’s monster with a syringe sticking through his head, in reference to the conspiracy theory that his government was neutralizing anti-war and minority groups by providing them access to illegal drugs.  Created almost four decades later, Saul’s cartoon called “Hitler’s Brain Is Alive” is a play on the 1968 sci-fi B-movie “They Saved Hitler’s Brain”.  Like Holzer’s work, this piece is a commentary on the atrocities at the Abu Ghraib prison where the inhumane treatment was photographed and videotaped and publicly broadcast.  Saul cheekily equates the US military with the Nazis.  The juxtaposition of Sue William’s seemingly innocent and wholesome swatch of floral fabric with the black and white newspaper clipping depicting Ronald Reagan and his CIA director William J. Casey, both major players in the Iran-Contra scandal, suggests that diabolic forces are in play in the most innocuous circumstances

Graphic designer and Black Panther member Emory Douglas produced biting magazine covers for the Black Panther magazine from 1969-74, commenting on issues such as police abuse, government injustices, war and poverty.  Some of these covers have provocative titles such as “You Can Murder a Revolutionary But You Can’t Murder Revolution” and “We Want Decent Housing Fit for Shelter of Human Beings”.  The latter cover depicts a black woman trying to fend off rats who represent exploitative landlords.  “I Gerald Ford am the 38th Puppet of the United States” depicts President Ford as a puppet on strings manipulated by a hand that is labeled as Oil corporations.  The cover called “Kissinger/Nixon” show the two laughing as peace in the  third world is punctured by a missile.  Gerald Williams’ colourful lithograph “Wake up” (1969) is call to action against oppression of blacks.  The mosaic collage includes a page from the “King Alfred Plan”, a fictionalized CIA scheme to control civil unrest of African Americans by mass internment in concentration camps.

John Miller painted a series of subversive representations of television game shows as an allegory for America’s consumerism and the “illusionary promises of compensation” which leads to disillusionment,  disenfranchisement and extremism.  In his depiction of “The Wheel of Fortune”, he shows Vanna White pointing to the term “ZOG” (1998) which stands for “Zionist Occupied Government”, an acronym reflecting the white supremacist belief that the government is controlled by Jews.  One of the most shocking series of works by Canadian artist Sarah Anne Johnson document a proven conspiracy that occurred in the late 1950s when her grandmother Velma was one of around 80 unwitting people who were subjected to invasive psychiatric experiments initiated by the CIA including mind control and behaviour modification.  Johnson’s lithograph “Brain Drain” (2008) takes a newspaper story about the project, named MK-ULTRA,  and covers it with a meandering chain of drawings of the face of Dr. D.Ewen Cameron, who led the experiments.  For “Black Cloud” (2008), Johnson reproduces a photo of her grandmother cooking in the kitchen and depicts her head covered with a black cloud of smoke.  This imagery represents the residual pain, rage and depression suffered by her grandmother for the rest of her life after the ordeals that she lived through, which included electro-shock therapy, medically induced sleep and heavy doses of drugs including Speed and LSD.

The Neue Galerie is a multi-leveled museum focusing on early 20th Century art and design from Germany and Austria.  Its permanent collection of fine arts and decorative arts is displayed on the second floor while the third floor hosts special exhibitions. The decorative arts are mostly created by the Wiener Werkstätte, a community of Viennese visual artists and designers producing works of fashion, jewellery, ceramics, silver, porcelain, and furniture in the Bauhaus and Art Deco styles.  Joseph Urban’s beautiful 1906 mantelpiece clock, made of walnut, brass, and onyx marble with thuja wood and mother-of-pearl marquetry, was designed for the Restaurant Paul Hopfner.  It features a yellow celluloid dial with numerals made of enamel and silvered copper.  Koloman Moser’s armchair (1903) has a painted beechwood frame and a painted, black and white checkerboard patterned woven cane seat.  There were several pieces by Josef Hoffman including a luminous glass vase on a wooden mount, and an elaborate broach (1904) made of silver, gilt, and precious stones including diamonds, moonstones, opals, lapis lazuili, coral, and leopardite.  One of my favourite works was the porcelain tea set (1901) by Jutta Sika with the red circular stenciled design.

Neue Galerie’s art collection includes works by artists such as Oskar Kokoschka, Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Otto Dix.  But its two featured artists with the most prominently presented works seemed to be Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt.  An entire room is filled with Schiele’s crayon portrait drawings on paper including multiple self portraits highlighting his own slender, androgynous frame.  One piece that did not fit in with Schiele’s usual style and subject matter was an oil on canvas painting called “Town Among Greenery (Old Country III)”.  Several of Gustav Klimt’s full-length portraits of female patrons were featured in the main gallery, often surrounded by his trademark decorative patterns.  The painting titled “The Dancer” (1916-18) is said to be inspired by a commission Klimt received to paint Ria Munk, the deceased daughter of Aranka Munk.  The dancer holds in her hands and is surrounded by flowers while her features and kimono-like robe give the painting an “Oriental” feel.  The portraits of 19-year-old Gertrud Loew (1902) and Adele Bloch-Bauer (a.k.a. The Woman in Gold) were both confiscated by the Nazis during the war and have only been repatriated to the heirs of the original owners within the past couple of decades.  In particular, the fight for repatriation of the painting “Adele Bloch-Bauer I” involved a long legal battle that was portrayed in the film “The Woman in Gold” starring Helen Mirren as the claiming heir Maria Altmann.  In both cases following repatriation, the paintings were put up for auction and have wound up in Neue Gallery.

Photos are not allowed in the main exhibition spaces of Neue Galerie but luckily images of many of the iconic works are available on the internet.  Imagine our surprise when we headed down to the basement level and spotted a full-scale reproduction of Klimt’s portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, with copies on sale at the gift shop for a “mere” $550 US!  In this case, we were encouraged to take photos with the Woman in Gold and post them on Instagram.  We were headed for the Café Fledermaus, whose décor is modeled after the Art Nouveau Cabaret Fledermaus in Vienna designed by Weiner Werkstätte member Josef Hoffmann.  The Café is furnished with tables and chairs designed by Hoffmann and the marble walls and black and white checkered floor tiles are based on the foyer and auditorium of the Cabaret.  This was a perfect spot to have a latte and some Viennese desserts.  We chose a Linzertorte, which is a hazelnut tart with fresh raspberry confiture, and the Klimttorte, a chocolate and hazelnut cake.    The hallway leading to the café is covered with German Art Nouveau posters.

The special exhibition on the third floor explored the close working and personal relationship between German artists Franz Marc and August Macke who met at age 29 and 23 respectively.  For five years, the two friends visited each other’s studios, exhibited their paintings together and corresponded regularly, commenting on each other’s work.  It was quite tragic that at the height of their careers and the prime of their lives, both artists died within 18 months of each other while fighting in the first World War.  Both created vibrant, colourful paintings in the German Expressionist style which distorts physical reality in favour of a subjective perspective that evokes an emotional response. Marc preferred to depict stylized renderings of animals while Macke focused more on human figures and village scenes.  Marc’s most famous painting, “The Yellow Cow” (1911) was part of this exhibition, on loan from the Guggenheim.

Marc and Macke were both influenced by the meeting of Robert Delauney and each dabbled in Cubism as a result.  The painting in the exhibit with the most interesting back story is Macke’s portrait of Marc.  Apparently the two friends had a competition to determine who could create the best portrait of the other.  Macke created a masterful likeness in a mere 20 minutes, while Marc was so embarrassed by his feeble attempt that he destroyed it.

The last art museum that we visited was the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) which is one of the world’s largest galleries with a collection of over 2 million works spanning 5000 years.  The place was too big, we were too tired and it was too late in the day for us to see most of these works, so we concentrated on the Modern Art section.  The most impressive set of paintings that we saw were Thomas Hart Benton’s ten floor-to-ceiling murals titled America Today (1930-31) which provide a panoramic view of the state of the nation around the 1920s.  Painted with egg tempera on linen mounted on wooden planks and covered with oil glazing, this monumental work covers the walls of an entire large room.  It depicts the impacts of power, coal and steel on the economy as well as providing scenes of industry, city life in New York, and specific parts of America including the Deep South, Mid-west and the changing far West.

We saw many other interesting and eclectic pieces of art and design in various styles and forms, making it difficult to choose my favourites.  I liked the unique silver, glass and copper table lamp designed by Josef Hoffmann in 1904, just as the transition from gas to electric lighting was occurring.  To highlight what was then a new invention, Hoffmann left the light bulbs exposed and suspended glass spheres to catch and reflect the light.  Manierre Dawson’s oil painting depicting the mythological Three Graces (1912) made for an odd juxtaposition between an ancient subject matter and relatively avant-garde painting styles of Cubism and Italian Futurism.  Man Ray placed a photographic eye on the wand of a metronome with the text “Object to be Destroyed” (1923) handwritten on the cover.  After the original “sculptural” work was destroyed as part of an artistic performance, Man Ray created a new version and wittily titled this version “Indestructible Object” (1963).  In 1930, Hale Woodruff re-imagined Paul Cezanne’s iconic work “The Card Players” (1894), rendering the titular figures to resemble African wood carvings while also invoking the Cubism style. Isamu Noguchi’s Radio Nurse (1937) was the transmitting end of a baby monitor that sent sounds to a separate enameled metal receiver called the Guardian Ear.  Made of  Bakelite plastic that could be dyed in almost any colour, the baby monitor is shaped to suggest the form of an abstracted human head belonging to the “nurse”.

After a long day of visiting three art galleries and with the prospect of a hurried dinner and then a show in the evening, we started the trek back to the hotel with visions of a quick nap to rejuvenate.  We were not expecting to encounter Eden’s Fine Arts at 50th St. and Madison Avenue.  Unfortunately there was absolutely no time remaining to check out this amazing looking gallery that seemed full of modern and contemporary art pieces, so we had to settle for peering through the windows from the outside.  But even that quick glance was enough for us to know that we would love to come back and spend some time here on our next visit.

For our second evening’s dinner before again rushing off to see a show, Rich found another interesting restaurant that was just blocks from our hotel.  Momosan Ramen & Sake Bar at Lexington Avenue and 39th Street is run by Masaharu Morimoto, one of three Japanese chefs on the American TV Show Iron Chef.  His communal dining spot specializes in Japanese noodles, appetizers and sake.  Since even its name indicates that this is a ramen place, we felt like we needed to try the noodles.  But there were so many other tempting choices of appetizers on the menu, so we opted to share one bowl of Ramen and a bunch of snacks.  We ordered the “Tantan Ramen”, with a spicy coconut curry broth, red miso, sliced pork belly, ground pork, cilantro and a soy-marinated egg.  While this was good, what really stood out were the appetizers that we ordered as well.  There was the Peking duck taco with cucumber, hoisin sauce, apricot sweet chili sauce and gyoza skin, the roasted duck breast salad with kale, edamame, radish, spring greens and Caesar dressing, crispy breaded pig ear strips with shichimi spice, Japanese mayo and sake, the soft-shell crab on a steamed bun with pickled cucumber and mustard mayo, and a teriyaki flavoured Salisbury steak.  There were plenty of other fabulous-sounding items as well but we were already stuffed with what we had ordered.  If we returned to this restaurant, I would skip the ramen and the Salisbury steak and try some of the other appetizers.

When we first decided to take our quick, last minute trip to New York, it was with the desire to watch the comedy The Napwhich would be closing on Broadway within several weeks.  But once we realized that we wanted to stay an extra night, it made sense to look for a second play to watch.  The musical comedy called “The Prom” was in previews and getting great buzz.  One of the co-writers is Canadian Bob Martin, who was also involved in the Tony Award winning musical “The Drowsy Chaperone” and has a fabulous premise that is both currently topical and ripe for satire.  Four has-been Broadway performers starring together in a new show respond to a bad review which accuses them of being narcissists.  To improve their images and generate positive publicity for themselves, they look for a cause to champion and land upon the story of a lesbian teenager from Indiana who is not allowed to take her girlfriend to the prom.  Hilarity ensues as the four descend upon the small town and their unwitting cause célèbre.

Adding a “meta” layer to the fun, the four performers are played by actual veteran Broadway actors whose characters are exaggerated versions of their own personalities.  Beth Leavel plays the diva Dee Dee Allen, who belts out not one, but multiple “11 O’Clock” numbers. Brook Ashmanskas’ character is the flamboyantly gay Barry Glickman, who has a big heart but insecurities of his own.  Tall, blond and leggy Angie (no last name given), who has been in the chorus of Chicago for 20 years is played by her namesake, tall, blond and leggy Angie Schworer.  And finally, Christopher Sieber plays full-waiter and bit actor Trent Oliver, who never lets an opportunity slip to remind everyone that he is “Juillard-trained”.  The Prom is quickly becoming the hit of the 2018-19 season, being the first to be named a “New York Times Critics Pick”, so we feel quite in the zeitgeist to be one of the first to have watched it.  

It was fun spending two evenings walking around Times Square and Broadway, seeing all the electronic ads for the innumerable plays and musicals currently on stage.  When we walked by the theatre where Bruce Springsteen’s show “Springsteen on Broadway” was being shown, we spotted a large crowd waiting and then a black SUV limo pulled up.  Its quite possible that “The Boss” himself would step out of the vehicle, but whoever it was took so long to do so that we gave up and moved on.  We also passed by humorous ads for “The Play That Goes Wrong”, a farce that would actually be coming to Toronto in early 2019 as part of our Mirvish Theatre Subscription Series.  The ads featured deliberately erroneous puns such as “Last Chance .. Must Clothes on January 6” and “So Wrong .. Farewell”.

So ended our second extremely long day in Manhattan which involved us walking from 38th Street to 86th Street and back, and then over to 48th Street and 8th Avenue and back, let alone all the distance we covered within three large art galleries.  At the end of it, we had walked 28053 Steps, covering 18.6km and climbed 10 flights.  Good thing we only had a couple of hours left the next day before heading home!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Manhattan 2018 - Day 1

I have always liked the idea of taking a very short, impromptu trip to New York City.  We could fly in early one morning, drop our bags off at a hotel, wander around Manhattan for the day, have dinner, attend a show on Broadway, stay overnight, wander around some more the next day and take a late flight home.  For such a short trip, our carry-on bags would be so small that they could go under our seats, so for once, we would not need to worry about trying to get on the plane early in order to ensure there was still room in the overhead compartment over us.  Also since we have been to New York multiple times and know the area very well, it would not take long to plan an itinerary to fill the brief visit.

We were finally compelled to act on this idea when we realized that a play called "The Nap" which we had been reading reviews about in the New York Times would be closing in just over a week.  We made a snap decision to go and less than 7 days later, we had a hotel booked, plane tickets purchased and our short trip planned.  For me, planning a trip is half of the fun, so I will never go on vacation with no itinerary in mind, but usually the planning happens months in advance so this was a different experience for me.

We decided to fly on Porter Airlines from Billy Bishop Island Airport in Toronto to the Newark Airport, thus skipping the zoo-like environments at Pearson and Laguardia.  Getting to Billy Bishop involved a short subway ride and a free shuttle bus while a New Jersey Transit train took us directly from the Newark Airport to Penn Station, so the transportation was easy and relatively inexpensive.  It was moving to see the beautiful bronze sculpture of WWI flying aces Billy Bishop and William Barker meeting for the first time.  We almost arrived to "cookie-gate" when news broke that week that the Billy Bishop Airport was cutting back on its touted offering of free newspapers, snacks, coffee and their renowned shortbread cookies that had previously differentiated it from other airports.  The Toronto Twittersphere was in an uproar in particular about the loss of the cookies which was reported in the early morning "What's Trending" section on radio station 104.5 CHUM FM.  By the next hour, part of the report was retracted and controversy mildly averted when it was clarified that there still would be free cookies and bottled water, although none of the other perks.

It was too bad that the closing date of the play that we wanted to see resulted in our arrival in New York in early November, weeks before the official start of the “Christmas Decoration Season” which we had so much fun experiencing on a previous trip.  Usually American Thanksgiving acts as the demarcation point after which it is open season on Christmas, for which downtown Manhattan goes all out to celebrate, including the raising of the giant tree at Rockefeller Centre.  So imagine our surprise when we arrived at Penn Station and walked along 34th Avenue towards our hotel.  Some of the stores including Macy’s, Old Navy, Louis Vuitton and Coach were already decked out for the Yuletide season and some of the streets already boasted festive decorations.  Back in Canada, we think it is shameful when stores bring out the Christmas decorations prior to Remembrance Day, or some times even before Halloween!  I thought the same sentiments held true for American Thanksgiving, but I guess the lure of early sales trumps tradition.

Although we had less than a week to plan this trip to New York, we still quickly and easily came up with a long list of things to do and places to see and had to cull and prioritize.  In fact, despite my initial wish to fly in and out with just one overnight stay, it soon became clear that we needed a second night.  In addition to the play, we wanted to tour the Morgan Library where an exhibit for the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was on display.  We also wanted to check out some art galleries near Central Park and in Chelsea and since we were staying a second night, we might as well go see another play.  Using Booking.Com, I searched for accommodations that would be a short walk from Penn Station and within reasonable walking distance to the other areas that we wanted to visit over our 2.5 days stay.   I like this website because it provides you a map listing all the available hotels and apartments in a particular area and allows you to hover over each one for easy comparison of price.  I also like it because Booking.com often lets you book accommodations far into the future while providing free cancellation up to a few days before the booking date, abet at a slightly higher rental rate.  Since this trip was so last minute, we did not need the cancellation option and were able to choose the slightly lower no-cancellation price.

We settled on the Iberostar 70 Hotel on Park Avenue and 38th Street which met all of our needs location-wise and while it was by no means inexpensive (we were on Park Avenue after all!), it was the most affordable rate in the area.  Our 8am flight from Toronto landed at 9:30am which brought us to our hotel around 10:30.  The plan was to store our bags with the front desk and spend the day at the Morgan Library (just a few blocks away) to await our check-in time.  To our delight, we found out that our room was actually ready so we were able to freshen up and drop off our bags and coats, since it was quite warm on our first day in New York.

The Morgan Library and Museum is a museum and research library that houses the private collection of books, manuscripts artwork and historic artifacts of banker John Pierpoint Morgan Sr. (1837-1913), who designated in his will that his collection be made available to the public.  Today, the complex is comprised of the amalgamation of several buildings including the Classical Revival-styled “McKim Building” (1903), built specifically to house  J.P.Morgan’s library, and “The Annex” (1928) which was built as more exhibition space on the grounds of Morgan’s former residence.   Finally a Brownstone house that was used as residence by J.P. Morgan Jr. until 1943 was purchased in 1988.  The gift shop and dining areas can now be found in this space.  In 2006, a new modernist entrance, lobby and Gilbert Court were added to integrate the three historic structures.  On our previous trips to Manhattan, we always wanted to visit the Morgan Library to see J.P.Morgan’s collection but did not have the time to do it justice and were also not that interested in the special exhibits.  Given that the admission is not insignificant at $20 (including a free audio guide and guided tours), we needed to make sure our visit would be worthwhile.  This time, we were excited that the featured exhibition was on the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein, and allocated most of the day to spend at the Morgan.  

Starting in the JP Morgan Chase Lobby, we read about the foundation of the institution by J.P.Morgan Jr. as a tribute to his father and inspected the brass bell that used to reside on the Corsair, one of J.P.Morgan Sr’s yachts.  The bell is rung each evening to signal the closing of the museum.  Positioned in cases along the long lobby were selected treasures from Morgan’s Medieval Treasury including the gilded, bejeweled Byzantine Stavelot Triptych (1156-1158) from Belgium that narrates the “Legend of the True Cross”, the Parisian portable shrine of Thomas Basin d (1320-40) with a statue of the Virgin Mary and depictions of the twelve apostles and the Last Judgement, and the silver gilt and enameled Italian chalice of St. Michael (1320).  There was also a beautiful porcelain bottle vase (18th Century) from the Qing Dynasty made with high-fired ox-blood red glaze, which is one of over 1800 pieces of Chinese porcelain that Morgan Sr. amassed during his lifetime.

At the back of the lobby, a set of steps lead to the McKim Building which houses Morgan’s private library.  The interior of this building consists of a vaulted foyer rotunda leading to the entrances of three rooms—the main library, Morgan’s private study and an office for his librarian Belle da Costa Green.  Designed by Harry Siddons Mowbray, the rotunda is magnificent, with marble surfaces and columns, mosaic panels, a blue and white stucco ceiling decorated with images of Roman Gods, and lunettes over each entrance featuring paintings representing Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  Mowbray was inspired by works by Renaissance artists including Raphael and Pinturicchio. I especially liked the olive green marble columns with white and grey streaks that flanked the opening to each room.

Several display cases situated in the Rotunda contained artifacts related to the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of World War I.  Included was the iconic “I Want You For U.S.Army” recruitment poster depicting Uncle Sam pointing outwards, and the song sheets for tunes meant to inspire patriotism and encourage recruitment, such as Irving Berlin’s “For Your Country And My Country” and “God Bless America” as well as George Cohan’s “Over There”.  Berlin also wrote the song “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” as a complaint about army regulations, and “Goodbye France” to lament leaving Gay Paree after the war.

The first room that we entered was the Librarian’s Office, which has since been turned into an Antiquities Room, featuring Egyptian, Greek and Roman sculptures, early Medieval accessories and jewelry including belt buckles, pins and earrings and 11th Century bejeweled book bindings.  A large portion of the display cases focused on the collection of tiny ancient Mesopotamian cylinder seals that are delicately carved to create intricate scenes of flora, fauna and religious imagery.  To illustrate the pictorial symbols formed, the seals are displayed by rolling them over grey plasticine, as well as with photographic enlargements that highlight the details.  Above the ground-level display cases, a second level of book shelves lined the upper walls but there was no visible sign of how to access this level from within the room.  There were no stairs or ladders in sight.  As it turns out, there is a hidden staircase just outside the room that leads up to the bookcases from the back.  We would see something similar in the main library.

Next we entered the breathtaking Main Library, which is the largest and most opulently decorated of the three rooms, acting as a treasury for J.P. Morgan Sr.’s collection of rare books and manuscripts.  The 30-foot-high walls feature three levels of inlaid walnut and bronze bookshelves but again there were no stairs or ladders in sight and this time, also no hidden stairwell just outside. For this room, the hidden stairwells were even more cleverly concealed behind two special bookcases located on either side of the entrance.  Each “bookcase” doubles as a swinging door that has a small curved handle shaped almost like a fish attached to it, opening up to reveal the staircases leading to the second and third floor balconies.  The 16th Century tapestry over the Renaissance-styled marble mantelpiece is called “The Triumph of Avarice”, depicting one of the seven deadly sins, as personified by the mythological King Midas.  Paintings in lunettes (similar to the ones in the Rotunda) depict representations of great men of art and science such as Botticelli, Michelangelo, Galileo, Socrates and Christopher Columbus interspersed with their muses, while signs of the zodiac are depicted in hexagons along the ceiling.

Glass displays in the main library contain a rotating subset of highlights from the collection including one of three copies of the Gutenberg Bible (1455) purchased by Morgan.  This is quite impressive considering that only 50 copies in the world survive and the Morgan is the only institution to own 3 of them.  A colourfully illustrated manuscript of Norman law depicts scenes of beheadings and hangings (ca 1460).  A letter from Mark Twain to his daughter Clara (ca 1905) is signed with his “ghost autograph”, created by writing his name in ink along the crease of a folded piece of paper and pressing it to allow the ink to blot.  Several examples of gorgeous book bindings by French binder Pierre-Lucien Martin use glazed coloured paper inlays applied to leather covers to generate Art Deco styled geometric designs.  The only known copy of a misogynistic book called “Anatomy of a Woman’s Tongue” (1658) depicts the tongue used as medicine, poison, a serpent, fire and thunder.  The text includes short poems about shrewish, nagging wives and advises newlywed men on how to handle their spouses.  A book of musical compositions by noted jazz pianist Henry Crowder (ca 1930) includes poems by Samuel Beckett and others, as well as a cover illustration by Surrealist photographer Man Ray.

Morgan’s private study best reflects his personal tastes in décor and artwork, which was mostly Italian.  The walls are covered with red silk damask wallpaper that the bears the coat of arms of the Chigi family from 13th Century Italy. The antique wooden ceiling was purchased from Florence and customized to fit the room.  The pair of stained-glass windows date from between the 15th-17th Centuries and were once memorial windows from monasteries in Switzerland.  The furniture in the room, including Morgan’s desk, chairs and lounger were custom designed in the style of the Renaissance.  At the back of the study is a heavy, solid steel door with a combination lock leading to a vault where Morgan’s manuscript collection used to be stored.  Morgan spent much time in his study, meeting with art dealers, scholars, friends and business associates.  During the Financial Crisis of 1907 when both the banks and the stock market faced liquidity issues and the market fell 50% from its year beginning level, Morgan summoned the CEOs of all the major banks and trust companies into his study and refused to let them out until they hashed out a deal to pump money into the system, thus preventing a total collapse of the banking system.  Morgan pledged large sums of his own money for the cause.

After thoroughly immersing ourselves in the gorgeous rooms of  J.P.Morgan Sr’s private library, we were ready to tour the main exhibit called “It’s Alive!  Frankenstein at 200” marking the 200th anniversary since Mary Shelley (nee Godwin) first published “Frankenstein – The Modern Prometheus”.  The now iconic story tells the tale of a young scientist who creates a hideous but intelligently sapient creature and then rejects it because of its horrific appearance.  The novel was first published anonymously in 1818, since the thought of a woman writing such a dark, Gothic tale was untenable in those times.  Her name was included in the second printing in 1823 but even when she wrote subsequent novels including The Last Man (1826) and Perkin Warbeck (1830), she was identified on these books as “By The Author of Frankenstein”.   The very comprehensive exhibition was split into two large rooms.  The first room provided background about Mary Shelley, her childhood and background, her marriage to the poet Percy Shelley, and the influences that led her to write her masterpiece.  The second room dealt with all the adaptations in various forms and mediums that were influenced by her novel.

Included in the first room was a oil on canvas portrait of Mary Shelley, painted by Irish artist Richard Rothwell in 1931.  Coincidentally we had seen this exact portrait earlier in the year during our visit to the National Portrait Gallery in London, which loaned this work to the Morgan for this exhibition.  There were also multiple first editions of Frankenstein along with an anointed version where Shelly made notes of revision for a second publishing, a few pages of written manuscript, and copies of her subsequent novels.  A portrait of Percy Shelley as a boy along with a poem about a hungry cat that he wrote when he was eleven, gave insight into Percy’s youth.  Also showing early promise, at age 10, Mary Godwin wrote a prose paraphrase of a comic song called Mounseer Nongtonpaw that her father’s publishing firm was producing.

There were multiple examples of how the popularity of the Gothic style in British culture during Mary’s childhood influenced her writing of Frankenstein. Ghosts and other supernatural entities, graveyards, mysterious strangers, lost wills, hidden passages, secret warnings, dark and stormy nights and creepy mansions were all prevalent themes in books, paintings and other art forms.  This point was brilliantly made by the tour guide that was leading us through the exhibit.  Stopping in front of Henry Fuseli’s painting “The Nightmare” (1781), a work that Mary was quite familiar with, the tour guide started to read a passage from Frankenstein describing the scene of the monster’s encounter with Victor Frankenstein’s newly wedded wife.  As we listened to the words, it was amazing how closely they mirrored the images in the painting that we were standing in front of.  Fuseli’s “Three Witches” (1783) depicting Shakespeare’s mysterious characters from Macbeth was also on display, as well as a spoof by political caricaturist James Gillray (1791) that re-imagines the three “Weird Sisters” as the most powerful politicians of the time—William Pitt, Lord Thurlow and Lord Dundas, with Queen Charlotte depicted as the moon facing left while her husband, the mad King George III is the personification of darkness, facing right.  John Hamilton Mortimer’s ink drawing “Death on a Pale Horse” (1775) and Henry Pierce Bone’s watercolour “Incantation Scene” (undated) are further examples of Gothic art that may have influenced Shelley.  In the latter painting, two women have invoked a spell to raise the ghost of a knight draped in shrouds.

The exhibition included examples of scientific discoveries made and medical practices followed during Mary Shelley’s lifetime that influenced not only the plot of her Frankenstein novel, but also its many adaptations.  Hogarth’s drawing “The Reward of Cruelty” (1751) depicts a group of anatomists dissecting a man whose extracted intestines are being devoured by a hungry dog.  William Austin’s “Anatomist Overtaken By The Watch” (1773) is a caricature of a scene where a surgeon and his assistant are caught by a watchman while trying to steal a corpse from a graveyard for their medical experiments.  A surgical kit (ca.1790) containing drills, tourniquets, a saw, scissors, trepines for cutting into the skull and other cutting implements provided a physical example of the tools that Victor Frankenstein might have used.  Although not mentioned in the book, the idea that the creature was animated using electricity prevailed through many film adaptations.  No doubt these ideas were spurred on by the advent of early batteries like the Voltaic Pile (1805) invented by Alessandro Volta and illustrations of experiments involving electricity and corpses including ones performed by Giovanni Aldini who electrified the corpse of a murderer.  Other items on display included the “Pike Induction Coil with Leads” (1848) used for electric therapy and a “Vacuum Pump With Bell Jar” that extracts air from a container to create a vacuum.

Frankenstein was such a great success that it has been endlessly adapted in many formats ever since.  This was the focus of the second room in the exhibition.  The earliest stage adaptation was Richard Brinsley Peake’s three-act play “Presumption! Or, The Fate of Frankenstein” (1823), which introduced the character of Victor Frankenstein’s assistant Fritz, who eventually became known as “Igor” in future renditions.  Portrayed by actor T.P.Cooke who was over 6 ft tall, the creature was listed merely as “-------“ in the playbill and was depicted as a mute, blue-skinned hobgoblin.  When the play traveled to Paris in 1826 under the name “Le Monstre et le Magicien”, the monster first took on its green skin-tone, which continued to be used in later film versions.  In a remounting of the French play in 1861, folded souvenir fans were handed out to the ladies so they could fan themselves when overcome by fright or heat.  The French version explicitly enacted the scene where the monster kills a child while the original British play implied this action which happens off stage.  Other adaptations on display included a wood engraving of the Frankenstein family tomb by Barry Moser and paperback versions of the story with illustrations highlighting the damsel in distress.  There were also various pulp fiction and comic book versions.

By the time film adaptations came into existence, it was clear that “Frankenstein” had come to be known and accepted as the name of the monster (as opposed to the creator of the monster), who in the book was never named but referred to only as “creature”, “monster”, “demon”, “wretch”, “fiend” or “it”.  The first Frankenstein movie was filmed in 1910 and used a papier-mâché version of the creature, which was set on fire.  When the film was run backwards, it was made to appear as if the monster rose from the flames.  When Boris Karloff starred as the monster in director James Whale’s 1931 version of Frankenstein and then again in the 1935 sequel Bride of Frankenstein with  Elsa Lanchester in the titular role, Karloff’s makeup and movements resulted in what is now the iconic look for the modern day Frankenstein (the monster, not the scientist).  The same can be said about the bride’s conical hairstyle which might have inspired the similarly shaped hair of Marge on the animated show “The Simpsons”.   A series of movie posters illustrate the slew of schlocky adaptations and mashups inspired by the Frankenstein character.  These include Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943), Frankenstein Conquers The World (1966, where he fights the Japanese nuclear monster Baragon, a 4-legged horned dinosaur), I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957), and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (as well as Dracula and the Wolfman, 1948).  There was even a 3-D X-rated version often called “Andy Warhol’s Flesh For Frankenstein”, even though Warhol really didn’t have much if anything to do with the film.

J.P.Morgan’s private library and the extensive Frankenstein exhibition took so long to tour that we were tired and gave the remaining smaller exhibits just a quick cursory visit.  A few works by Italian mannerist painter Pontormo (1494-1557) were on display in a small room called “The Thaw Gallery”.   Upstairs in the larger Engelhard Gallery was an exhibition on the etchings of Tintoretto’s interpretations of Venice.  Had I a bit more energy, I might have taken a closer look at these.  Rich was so tired, he did not even make the trip up the stairs, waiting for me in a comfy armchair while I ran up for a quick peek.  We ended our visit with a stop in the gift shop where we saw many examples of the now expected representations of Frankenstein (the monster) and his bride.  The item that caught my fancy was a beautifully illustrated picture book cheekily titled “When Pigasso met Mootisse”, spoofing the works of Picasso and Matisse.  I bought this as a souvenir of our trip.   The Morgan library turned out to be such a hidden gem that is not normally on the radar of the tourist visiting New York City.  However with its steep admission price, now that we’ve seen the most impressive part, which is Morgan’s private library, I’m not sure there would be any new special exhibition that would be worth paying this fee again.  For anyone who has never been here, it is definitely worth a visit.

During each of the two evenings of our short 2.5 day stay in Manhattan, we planned to watch plays on Broadway, so we needed to have early and relatively quick dinners either near our hotel (so that we could rest before the trek to the shows) or near the theatres.  Ever since our first trip to Paris in 2004 when we tried to eat dim sum and it turned out to be awful, I have placed a moratorium on eating Chinese food in countries or locales that are not known for it, especially since we have such excellent options for Chinese food back home in Toronto.  Knowing this, Rich often makes a joke about eating at a Chinese restaurant again during our travels.  So when he first mentioned Café China which was located just a few blocks from our hotel, I brushed off the suggestion without a second thought.  But then he told me that the establishment had been awarded a Michelin 1-Star rating and this caught my attention, so we decided to try it.  Café China is a quaint Sichuan restaurant decorated to resemble 1930s Shanghai with its hardwood floors, avocado green walls covered with images of young starlets from that era, bamboo planters, wood paneling and tables, bright red chairs and white vertical blinds covering a large wood and marble bar.

We ordered a pot of goji berry and chrysanthemum tea sweetened with crystal sugar and three entrees, making sure to stay away from the spiciest dishes that were denoted by 3 peppers.  We picked the sweet and sour baby pork ribs with seasonal Chinese vegetables, the spicy cumin lamb with chili pepper, onion and cilantro, and finally the “Fish Blossom” which was a whole crispy, boneless tilapia that was battered, deep-fried and covered with a home-made sweet and sour sauce.  The head and tail of the fish were positioned in such a way that it seemed like the tilapia was still intact. Each entrée came with a “free bowl of rice”, so we ended up with more rice than we could manage.  The ambience of the restaurant was fun and the food was really good compared to other Chinese restaurants that we had dined at, but we were not sure that it warranted a Michelin star.  If this is what it takes for the star, then there are many restaurants in Toronto that deserve at least one or more stars as well.  Too bad Michelin does not come to Canada to rate our restaurants.

After dinner, we headed towards the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on 47th Street to buy tickets for that evening’s showing of the British snooker comedy “The Nap”.  We had read about this show in the New York Times and were intrigued by the prospect of an actual snooker match being played on stage while the audience watched.  I wanted to buy the tickets at the box office as opposed to online from home because it would save us quite a bit of money.  First of all, we could pay with U.S. cash which we had on hand from the U.S. dividends paid from our stocks so we would save the currency conversion.  Also, we would not have to pay the hefty service charges imposed by the online ticket sellers.  By trying to purchase tickets the same day of the show, we ran the risk that there would be none left.  So for the seven days leading up to our flight to New York, I checked the ticket availability daily, ready to pull the trigger and make a purchase if it seemed like the seats were starting to sell out.  Luckily they did not, although maybe that should have been a warning to us about the popularity of this show.

We ended up with seats in the balcony, which turned out to be the perfect place from which to watch this show, since we could see the entire snooker table and did not need to rely on the screen that was broadcasting the match play to the people in the orchestra.  In this context, the term "nap" is not short slumber, but rather, a snooker term referring to the direction of fibres on the green pool table cloth, which can affect the path of the cue ball.  The show is a screwball comedy about a blue-collared snooker prodigy from Sheffield, England named Dylan who is pressured by his mobster-like sponsor and grifter mother to throw a match so that they can bet against him.  Wacky characters abound, romance and hijinx ensue but some of the jokes are lost or misunderstood due to the extremely heavy Yorkshire accents of the characters.  Dylan plays several matches against different opponents who are all portrayed by a real-life snooker professional, whose job is clearly to set up the balls in a manner so that our hero can easily make his shots.  But in a live match situation, anything can happen on any night including either player missing their scripted shot. The witty announcer calling the game needs to be ready to adlib and invoke an alternate ending should something go awry.  I thought that the announcer was one of the funniest parts of the show with his hushed tones and condescending analogies to describe anyone who might not understand or appreciate the sport (.. “unless you had been living in Antarctica without Internet, you would know that … “).  I enjoyed this silly show with its unique gimmick of playing snooker live on stage, but would have appreciated it so much more if I could clearly understand more of what was being spoken.  I think I missed a bunch of the jokes due to the accents and the lingo used.

We packed quite of bit of activity into our first day in New York and felt fortunate that we were only staying for another 1.5 days since I don’t think we could keep up the pace for much longer than that.