Hidden Gems of New York – Part 1

I have titled this post as Part I because there are some other “hidden gems” in The City that I intend to visit and report about when the weather changes. Meanwhile, though, there is this place that you might well just walk past without noticing its presence. This is partly because the entrance on Central Park South at Fifth Avenue is about as nondescript as a doorway to paradise can be:

The other reason to miss it may be that it is “in” the famous Plaza Hotel, opened in 1907, renovated in 2008, the “home” of Eloise, the fictional 6-year old in the Kay Thompson novel, Eloise: A book for precocious grown-ups. A short version of the extraordinary history of this property appears at http://www.fairmont.com/the-plaza-new-york/hotelhistory/.

If enter through the door pictured above, you can see the opulent lobby of the hotel through the glass door to your right. You go down the escalator to the food hall.

to find a bit of a wonderland in the middle of The City: Warning: just looking at this stuff can make you gain weight.

For caviar lovers:






Tiny Donut dippers:


















“Deli” stuff:






Other stuff:

Places to sit:






There is also a crepes bar where you can, among other things, get breakfast.

Be aware that this place is not cheap. These are not food cart pastries. But, as the photos suggest, it’s pretty fine if you are in need of something sweet. Which I always am. Just don’t miss the door.

New Yorkers – Hostiles or What?

Based on four months of moving around New York City, I now feel equipped to address the age-old question whether New Yorkers are basically “hostile” or are they just “direct,” as many claim. I am prompted to address this, in part, because I recently received a report of an opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which encompasses New York, Connecticut and Vermont. In the legal profession, the Second Circuit is generally regarded as very influential because it decides a lot of important cases. But even the opinions on lesser matters can be revealing.

A case in point, and it’s a doozy, is Wright v. Musanti, decided April 13, 2018. The opinion consumes 25 pages and can be read, by those with stamina to slog through long discourse on court jurisdiction, here: https://bit.ly/2EXSyhf  For”” the rest of you, and apropos of the central idea of this post, this brief description will suffice:

Wright cut in front of Musanti as they were walking to their respective Manhattan offices during rush hour. Musanti responded by kicking Wright’s legs, and a verbal and physical altercation ensued. Musanti pressed criminal charges, telling the police that Wright was the initial aggressor, but the district court, relying on video footage and the testimony of both parties, found that Musanti had been the initial aggressor and had given false information to the police. Musanti was found liable for the battery, assault, and false arrest of Wright. The district court awarded Wright nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages (totaling $15, 001). The Second Circuit affirmed, upholding findings that Musanti gave false information to the police by failing to inform them that she initiated the physical contact, and by intentionally downplaying her aggressive conduct and that in requesting that the police press charges, Musanti had induced the police to arrest Wright, because Wright likely would have been released but for her request. It was within the court’s discretion to find that conduct amply egregious to merit punitive damages. [Justia.com summary at  https://bit.ly/2HbSNLU]

Ouch. The actual opinion elaborates the facts more deeply but I will leave that to those with the curiosity to look at the actual opinion.

I do not for a moment suggest that the conduct described here is typical. Indeed, I am sure it’s not. In my own encounters with New Yorkers on the streets and in shops, I have found them, for the most part, to be helpful and often quite friendly. New Yorkers are indeed “direct” but this should not be confused with “hostile.” It is part cultural and partly, I speculate, a product of the time pressure that everyone seems to feel about almost everything. There are, for example, usually long lines in store check-outs, carry-outs and diners at popular times. People generally seem to feel they have no time for small talk. It’s “what do you want?” and “wait here.”

The key, I believe, is to not presume aggression and to smile a lot and even crack wise just a bit. I am not a gifted humorist but I generally can get a laugh or at least a smile. Sometimes, just shaking your head in an empathic gesture can draw a positive reaction from a worker who has just been disrespected by a customer in a hurry and short on manners.

On the streets, as I have noted before, I am generally the slowest walker (some elderly, of which there are many in The City, are slower than me – I’m talking about those not obviously encumbered by age or other infirmity}. It’s generally wise to stay to the right, but people in a hurry will sometimes pass you on the right even if it means going out into the street.

There is also a lot of crossing-in-front-of-you going on. People emerge from doors right onto the sidewalk as if there could not possibly be anyone walking there, when the reality is that always people are always walking by. It is also common to have people move diagonally across intersections to, apparently, save a few steps by avoiding right angles. They usually are moving faster than everyone else and yield to no one. This is expected and accepted. Those obsessed with “hurry” instinctively commiserate with others similarly afflicted.

The same is true for bike lanes. We had some bike lanes in Virginia but in the urban space of New York City, bike lanes are a critical element of commerce. Delivery men, mostly men, on bikes of various descriptions, roar by in expectation that pedestrians will not be in their way. They often move fast, with various forms of cargo on their backs, on racks, on the handle bars or even in plastic bags held in their teeth. You must remain situationally aware of the bikes at all times, as much as with the automobile traffic. [I will address the practice of horn-honking in a separate post]

All that being true, actual physical contact is rare. Not infrequently, people passing in tight spaces will say “excuse me” and if you yield to them so they can pass, they often say “thank you.” What more can you ask?

Big Disappointment Saved by a Walk in the Park

Spring has arrived and an old man’s thoughts turn to … a walk. We decide that the prospect of sun and 75 degree weather is the perfect day for a picnic in Central Park. We’ll take the subway to 79th Street, walk to Zabar’s, a well-known emporium for New York foods, get a box lunch and walk to the park for a picnic. Plan A.

While waiting for the train, we were treated to this young man prodigiously playing complex classical music on his electric piano;

This kid can flat out play! After each piece he would quickly stand, stiffly bow without expression and sit to resume playing. Sad to see such a talented young person playing for tips in the subway, but we showed our appreciation for his gifts with loud applause and money for the hat. The arrival of our train interrupted our reverie but it was a great start to the day.

We arrived at Zabar starving so we decided to eat lunch there. It’s a small place but we found seats and had a nice lunch.

Then we went next door to the Zabar market. This is the sign we saw there:

My wife and I traversed the store twice and filled a basket with about $100 worth of goodies, planning to have them delivered to our apartment later, so we could continue our plan to walk through Central Park. We asked the checker up front to confirm that they would deliver to us on West 59th Street, given the slight ambiguity in the sign’s meaning. I read it to mean that delivery was $6 but if you ordered more than $75 worth, you could get delivery free within the described area. That’s why, I thought, there was a line below the $6 Flat Delivery part of the sign.

Wrong. The checker called the manager over and, after we explained that lived one short block beyond the southern boundary described on the sign, he said “no, we don’t deliver to West 59th.” Wow, for one block, which isn’t even occupied for the most part (60th in that area is mostly commercial), they declined $100 or more in business for which we would have paid the $6 if necessary, plus the loss of all future delivery orders we might have purchased there. An odd business decision, in my judgment, but there it was.

Had it been up to me, I would have just left the basket of food and walked out, but my wife kindly retraced her steps and returned everything to its original location. We couldn’t un-slice the Black Russian bread, but they presented no argument.

Not to be deterred, we walked to and through Central Park on the most glorious day of the year so far, as attested by the massive crowds on foot and bicycle, snoozing on the grass and just soaking in the scene. We saw beautiful spring flowers.

Many people rented row boats and cruised the lake with some Canada Geese for company.

We came upon this jazz band laying down some great trad jazz tunes to a small audience of admirers;

More money for the hat. We sat in the sun and absorbed the music, then walked toward home, only to pass this scene in the Sheep Meadow:

I first I thought it was a protest march of some kind. How could I have missed that? But, no, just a lot of New Yorkers soaking up the rays and having a relaxing Saturday afternoon doing not much of anything. No rushing.

So, as puzzling as was the Zabar manager’s decision to refuse to deliver our order one extra block, our perseverance was well rewarded in other ways.  Alas, the weather forecast for Sunday is rain and 44 degrees. We shall remain upbeat, notwithstanding the cruelties of New York weather. The next day, as the saying goes, is another day.

There’s a City Out There

The photo immediately above is out my office window. If conditions were normal, I would be able to see the Time Warner towers shown, at night, in the header photo.

The Weather Channel forecast for New York City for today looks like this (I am not making this up):

Now                 45

11 am               57 & Rain until 2:00

2 pm                Wind Advisory in effect until tomorrow

Sustained winds 20-25 mph; gusts to 50 (50 mph!)

6 pm                Full sun

Tomorrow      Full sun

Friday              60 & rain

Saturday         40 & SNOW (yes, 40 & snow at same time)

Sunday             44 Party sunny (partly cloudy if you prefer)

Monday           43 & cloudy

Tuesday           46 & rain

Wednesday     49 & partly cloudy/sunny

Thursday         53 & partly cloudy/sunny — if you believe in miracles

Can this be normal? It’s April 4. Can humans survive in such conditions? Apparently, they do.

Now, in fairness, these bizarro weather patterns are not unlike those in Northern Virginia from which we moved a few months ago. My former regular tennis partner and I always used to say that spring officially began on April 1 and we usually played that day each year. But it was no uncommon to see snow during the match. Conversely, we often were able to play on New Year’s Day because the temperatures were so warm. Ah, those were the days! And the current Weather Channel forecast for Alexandria over the next week shows two high wind days, TWO SNOW DAYS and daytime highs ranging from 67 to 42. How is this possible?

Anyway, the fog is beginning to clear and the Time Warner towers appear through the gloom like two monuments left by aliens. If you believe in that sort of thing. If you do, it’s probably ok in light of some of the truly weird stuff people believe is true these days. But I won’t go there. This blog is not political.

I am beginning to believe that the “snowbirds,” who live in the deep south during the winter and move north during the summer, are on to something. The expense and logistics of that are, however, too intimidating for someone who hates to move. I am exhausted just thinking about it. So, I won’t.