Friday, January 6, 2006

Christmas 2005

Well, when I started this blog, the primary purpose was to share pictures and stories of my adventures with my internationally distributed group of friends, and despite this fact, I've almost never posted any of these adventures. The simple reason is it just took so long for me to get the photos developed, and scan them into my computer that by the time I could reasonably complete the project the moment had passed. But now I have a handy little digital camera that is small enough to bring just about anywhere. So, I can finally let you all know what I'm up to from time to time.

My latest adventures were two weeks in New York, with a quick escape for Christmas in Vermont. It was great to be in New York again, since it has become my favorite city. I suppose this is only natural since I grew up five hours away, and I spent many weeks in college traveling down to the city for running races, symphony rehearsals, operas and shows. A lot of people describe New York as an "exciting" place, and I suppose it is. But the adjective I would use to describe it is "comfortable." People seem more direct and interesting, service is so much better than in Chicago, and you can have deli sandwiches delivered at 3 AM. That makes it my kind of town, and just hanging out in it can be cathartic. My sister's place is also in a great neighborhood, just a few dozen feet from Central Park Treeinpark

on the upper West Side. Hence, if I want to go to Central Park I can be there in less than a minute. Sheepmeadownyc It has turned out to be a great place to study, although it was a bit too cold for that this last trip. Snowincentralpark

Here are some highlights from my trip. One fun afternoon was spent at Anna's apartment in midtown. Anna is a classical singer specializing in the Spanish repertoire, and she has a fantastic apartment, just off of Time's Square. As the photos below show, it is very difficult to imagine better views in New York than those from her balcony.


If you look to the south you have an unobstructed view all the way past the Statue of Liberty (which looks very, very small from this vista).


If you look to the southeast you get a perfect view of the Empire State Building.


I can honestly say that these are some of the best views I've seen of the city. Yes, I've been to the top of the Empire State building among others, but those buildings are just a little too tall. You can see everything below you, but you lose a sense of proportion and relative size. But from Anna's building you're in the middle of things. But many of these views might not last forever since a new high-rise will be going up to the south. It's a real shame, but at least it won't obstruct the view of the Empire State Building. Anyway, we had a great time talking about Goya, Granados, and listening to Alicia de Larrocha, and spending time with her cats. I decided then and there I needed to learn Spanish in the next few years. I mean, it's funny, I've studied so many languages, but I've never studied what is probably the most useful language to be speaking in the United States other than English. And maybe this will be a prelude to a trip to Mexico. I've actually never been there, but the tales I've heard of the regional cuisine there really inspire me. Italo Calvino's Under the Jaguar Sun comes to mind. But, in general, I've always thought that Mexican cuisine is one of the great untapped cuisines of the United States. I say untapped, because Mexican cooking has an extraordinary range of flavors and techniques, but most restaurants in the U.S. can't even begin to express this range. The most expensive Mexican restaurants in the United States seem to actually err more than the cheaper ones, since they make the cooking just a little too French - I mean, don't get me wrong, I love cooking French food and think that no other culture has such rich tradition and such exacting techniques for manipulating the ingredients as the French, and so I cook it often - one quarter I even managed to cook the cuisine of a different region of France every week, paired with a wine from the same region. But I think it's true that when you apply too many French techniques to Mexican food it just seems to lose some of its vitality. As a consequence, I've had some of the best Mexican food I've ever had at complete dives. But, anyway, I digress.

Speaking about food, I also should mention that I had probably the best Korean dinner I've ever had at Do Hwa in Chelsea, and one of the best risottos I've ever had at Épices (although the second time we went back it wasn't quite as good). Two restaurants I'd highly recommend. Maybe I'll add a restaurant review section to this blog at some point. Funny, this post is largely revolving around food, but then so did my trip to New York.

On Christmas Eve I made a quick trip up to the mountains of Vermont. Not many photos to share from the adventure, since, well, I didn't have a camera with me until the ride home. Abstractphoto1 But we did somehow get there despite the fact that our rental car broke down on the way. And we had a wonderful dinner at the Inn at Sawmill Farm. The Inn is perhaps an anamoly. It is a converted barn that was transformed into an inn and restaurant, and then it was stocked with one of the greatest wine cellars in the world, complete with many years of Petrus and Château Latour. When I was a teenager I used to enjoy telling people that my little 600 person town in Vermont had almost as many top wine cellars as New York City (The other inn in my town with a similar reputation, The Hermitage, has unfortunately now closed). Anyway, we didn't have a Petrus '66 on our table, but we did have some good food and absolutely fabulous bread and butter. Yes, we all ordered elaborate preparations of duck, venison, and what have you, and they were prepared well, but my most vivid gastronomical memory of that dinner was just the quality of the rolls and butter. I wonder if someday I'll start a list of the best places for rolls and butter. The white bread at Épices on the upper West Side certainly would make the list.

Back in the city we made preparations for New Year's in New York. The preparations were a little difficult to make since my sister and her beau were leaving the next morning at 6 AM for Deer Valley, Utah, and I myself was leaving at 10 AM for Chi-Town. Add to this the fact that my friend Zarya (a.k.a. the opera-singing neurologist) might or might not be coming from Montréal for the festivites, and some friends of my sister who might or might not make the trek from Brooklyn, and you have the beginnings of a logistical nightmare. Even so, we seemed to have a reasonably good time. Five of us (Ari Lauren and her friend Jenny joined us) had dinner at the Rosa Mexicano in Lincoln Center at a quarter to 10. We were actually amazed that we made it there at all since we only made the reservation an hour or so beforehand. The demand for a holiday table at Rosa Mexicano must have been down a bit this year. The place was all dressed up for the holidays, complete with a DJ on the first floor. The food was quite good, although not good enough to overcome my previous assessment of Mexican restaurants in the U.S - but the tableside guacamole was a real hit. We then rushed out to the meet Zarya - who in fact made it to town in time for the fireworks Firework2Treefireworks - and then after watching the running race in Central Park (which I definitely want to run in sometime in the next few years), we went back to Alexis' for grappa and Steely Dan.

Actually, Steely Dan is worth an aside. Alexis put it on the stereo since the band was a subject of much conversation at dinner, with Ari saying it was one of the main influences on her music. I admit that I've never really been into the band, despite the fact that it's a band from my alma mater. But I have to say, that when the lights are down low, and you have a decent stereo, Steely Dan can really set a nice mood. And hanging out with my sister's friend Ari at the same time has also inspired me to try to write some rock music of my own. It's sort of funny, I was actually seriously into music composition at one point in my life. As a high school student I was really thinking about becoming a composer for a while - this was in my conducting phase - and I even went to Carnegie Mellon as a high school student to study with Leonardo Balada among others. But when I was composing I was writing opera scenes, elaborate piano works, and modern classical works for woodwinds that were too complicated, I admit, for a high school student such as myself to complete - although I suppose I did manage to produce a couple of things that I liked. But writing rock music seems like it would be a breeze in comparison! I mean come on, I-IV-V with a reoccurring baseline can produce masterpieces! I think I might even be good at it if I can manage to get my jazz piano down, or pick up a guitar again. Anyway, I actually fooled around with itunes the other night and found myself creating all sorts of interesting beats. Maybe I'll put a few of them online in the near future. Although this last evening was a little goofy. I mean, I found myself writing all sorts of songs with a new age feel. I really don't like "new age" music, but I have to say it is a lot of fun to create with an electric keyboard.

The rest of the evening was spent trying to find a place to dance with Zarya and her friends, Zaryacab but the only success we ended up having was a strange little dive of a bar in Chelsea, with an audience that consisted entirely of transvestites and guys who had nothing better to do than stare in our general direction. But even in these circumstances I was beginning to dance a little, something perhaps partly induced by the tequilas. It's funny that I've hardly danced at all in the past few years. I mean, growing up, I was that seven year old who couldn't stop dancing at weddings, in high school most of my love relationships revolved around dancing, and in college not only did I study Scottish country dancing, and ballroom dancing, but also what might be described as intensive classical flamenco (I still have the boots). I suppose I just haven't found myself in particularly inspiring circumstances in the last few years. Zarya, who is quite attractive, was beginning to persuade me to begin again, but alas, a few minutes later and we were all back on the streets again. That is perhaps the story of the rest of the evening. And maybe the story of my dating life at the moment. But I do have better hopes for the upcoming year.


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