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New York New York

“I’ve never been so glad to be home,” I said to my daughter last night, back in my own quiet kitchen after the flight from NYC, back in serene Toronto.

“You say that every time,” she replied. Maybe, but it’s sure that I felt it more, this time. This time, New York seemed sour, angry, people swearing and shouting, the honking of horns, the surliness of bus drivers, the screaming of children – it knocked me over. I found the canyons of concrete soulless, even frightening, and when, on Saturday, I went to that heavenly park to recuperate, I found it jammed with people; just in one small section, a clown was joking at top volume and a saxophonist and two separate accordionists were playing for change. Noise noise noise.
I’m getting old.
No, there was tons of good stuff. Bruce and I spent a great deal of time in the line-ups at the half-price ticket booths, very worth the effort for half price seats to marvellous theatre. I saw four shows – clever, funny “La Bete,” starring the supreme Mark Rylance whom I fell in love with in “Jerusalem” in London this spring; “In the Heights,” a fantastically fresh, energetic musical about Latino life in north Manhattan; “Next to Normal,” and who but the Americans could make a hit musical out of the suffering of a bi-polar woman and her family – and make it work; and “A Little Night Music,” by the great Stephen Sondheim, which I hated. Enough said.
I gratefully stayed, as always, at Cousin Ted’s at 77th and 3rd, had a brief visit with Ted and his partner Henry, who were leaving town for a family bar mitzvah; spent a lot of time with Cousin Lola, who at 88, after a bout with cancer, is as full of energy as ever, taking classes, seeing every show she can through a website that gets her tickets for $3.50; she had just been to the Village to see a production of “Hamlet”- in Japanese. I took her to “Normal,” the bi-polar musical with very loud rock music, and she loved it. We had a great time together.
And with my dear friend Bruce, strolling in Central Park and along the High Line gardens built on an abandoned highway; he took me to the Met to show me his favourites, bought me some beautiful earrings as a birthday present, and we lunched in a new space in a sun-filled atrium, surrounded by masterpieces. And did I mention that the weather was perfect, sunny and warm?
A few things:
– “In the Heights” had a full audience of Latino kids, shouting approval, a lively open bunch, perhaps their first time in the theatre. Joyful. There is no energy in the world, I thought, like an American musical going full bore.
– I talked to one of the kids selling programs at the intermission, and when I thanked him, he said, “You got it! Have a good one!” Lots of people said “Have a good one!” Every time you enter a store, no matter how small, someone is there to say hello. Their eyes may be dead, but their mouths are smiling and greeting you. I thought about the stores in France, and laughed.
– How proud I was to see Canuck actor Stephen Ouimette in “La Bete” – one of the 3 stars. He was perfect. Have a good one, Stephen.
– An article in the NYT on new training for priests on how to deal with requests for exorcisms, which apparently are going through the roof.
– A few Lola quotes: “I hate stupid dialogue, like at the opera.”
“The only interesting men are pains in the ass. The nice ones are boring. Warn your daughter.”
At the Booth Theatre, she said, “I saw Helen Hayes at this theatre. Gertrude Lawrence. Did I tell you about the time I said hello to Martha Graham? Did I tell you about the time your dad was forced to take me to his high-school graduation, and Ethel Merman came to sing?”
And as we approached our seats, loudly, “Oh my God, I hope I’m not behind that GIANT!”
– I happened on the Museum of Radio and Television, which had an exhibit about John Lennon’s youth in Liverpool and a Mayles brothers 80 minute documentary called “The Beatles in America,” in which their cameras followed the boys on that first trip in 1964, even in their limos and hotel rooms while they sat around joking with each other, and through an extraordinary train ride from New York to Washington in which they were riding with everyone else and making their fellow passengers laugh the whole way.
– Central Park, when Bruce and I went during the week, was beyond beautiful – once again, I was aware of it as the sanity and soul of the city.
– an after theatre drink on Friday with Bruce, his friend Myriam who’s a voice coach, and Bill Millerd, the artistic director of the Arts Club Theatre where I worked for many years in Vancouver. We met at 11 p.m. at a secret place on W. 46th, without a name, just a number, and inside, a little bar and club, where we talked about the theatre, and Americans, and the dicey future of the planet.
– A Canadian presence in the “New York Times” – an editorial about Omar Khadr, saying that his eight years in captivity is enough, and yesterday, an article on the front page about the tolerance for immigrants in Canada, particularly in Manitoba. I guess they weren’t following Rob Ford’s campaign too closely. “Shake Hands with the Devil,” the film, opened a few days ago, and under the photo was the caption, “Roy Dupuis as Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian.”
– People were eating everywhere, eating and drinking large quantities from disposable containers. I noticed it more after my time in France. A woman on the morning subway downtown breakfasted on her briefcase, spreading her bagel with butter and drinking a large coffee.
– I was early for the theatre at one point so wandered into a store, ended up sitting in a massage chair with my feet in a massage machine, being … massaged all over. It was wonderful.
– Consuming. Consuming. People will never give this up, I thought. There was a sale at Macy’s, and I confess I went, clawing my way through the masses for the two things I wanted, warm wool tights and a pair of pants. The pants were reduced from $89 to $28. What can I say? I was judging everyone else, all this senseless buying, I scolded hypocritically, as I emerged with my trophies. I went to New York with a list of the three things I needed, and found exactly what I’d wanted at much less than I expected to pay. Every step you take, there’s a shop winking at you. BUY! “Buy more and save more,” shouted the sale signs. Body Shop had a special deal – you buy a cloth bag for $5 and then everything you can cram into it is 30% off. How much more do we need? How can we stop?
– Bruce and I talked a lot about the sour mood of America; the impossible demands on Obama and the rise of the fanatic right. “Americans are feeling diminished in the world – the end of empire,” I said.
“Just like the Germans before the second war,” he replied. “That’s when fascism arises.”
In the cab to La Guardia at dusk, I looked back at the skyline, beautiful, black silhouettes against a dark rosy sky. I was born in this city, most of my family is there, I love it. But it’s impossible.

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One response to “New York New York”

  1. Mary says:

    I had the same reaction when I was in NYC last November. So much noise and commotion made me feel on edge, my nerves all frazzled, and I was more than ready to leave when the time came.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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