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New York, New York 2009 – Seven Days of Theatre, Food and Dance: PART I.

New York skyline from Houston StreetNew York is one of my favorite cities – it has a unique buzz, an electric feel, that is unlike anywhere else I have visited. Each time I visit New York I feel like a humming bird, hovering just above the surface of culture and cuisine, dipping down for a taste, but never able to perch long enough to experience more than that brief and tantalizing taste.

So when the opportunity arose to combine a Ballroom Dancing Cruise with a trip to New York to visit my son, I did not think too long and hard before signing up. The dance part of the cruise was arranged by Wendy, of  Dancers at Sea, the group with which I had recently done a seven night  West Coast Dance Cruise from Los Angeles to Vancouver on the Sapphire Princess. I really enjoyed the dancing, and the fellow dancers I met from all over the US were delightful, so I figured that this four night East Coast cruise would be just as much fun. As well, this Labour Day Getaway dance cruise is on the Queen Mary 2, and I have always wanted to see what these elegant Cunard ocean liners are like.

Throughout the summer in Vancouver I had  family and friends coming for visits. As well I took a 4 nght trip to Chicago and spent a reunion weekend on Vancouver Island, so  I thought  I would work  on my  spontaneous side and not  obsessively program my time in New York. Apart from meeting a friend for lunch on the first day, and booking a dance class at the studio where my son takes lessons, my schedule and my mind are wide open to opportunity.

New York here I come!

Tuesday, September 1st:  YVR to Newark

Air Canada operates a daily non-stop flight between Newark, New Jersey and Vancouver. The flight leaves Newark at 7 am and with the three hour time difference gets into Vancouver around 10:15. At 2 pm it turns around and gets back to Newark around 10 pm. I managed to get a seat on the 2 pm flight from Vancouver although by the time I booked, I had to settle for an aisle seat  way at the back. Oh for the days when I travelled so much I had my Gold status and upgrade certificates.

The flight was jam-packed, at least in economy, with lots of families with quite young children. Luckily in my row of three, the centre seat was empty so I was able to work away in relative comfort, despite several periods of really severe turbulence.

Although I had not planned to eat anything on the plane, two hours into the flight I realized that the filling mango and nectarine yogurt smoothie I made for breakfast at 6 am was not going to keep me comfortable and I thought I would try the thin crust chicken pizza that Air Canada sells as part of their on-board Cafe. The friendly flight attendant said she would prepare a fresh one and ten minutes later I was devouring it. Quite tasty actually – six dollars for the equivalent of maybe half a medium pizza. It was oblong not round so it was a bit hard to compare quantity, but considering they don't have a pizza oven it was not bad.

The flight was supposed to be about 4 and a half hours but we took off about twenty minutes late and  were only at the gate  by about half past ten. After the usual tense wait for my suitcase - yes I know it is hard to lose luggage on a direct flight but it still would not surprise me - I saw the black bag with the striped identifying belt rolliing down from the belt, and grabbed it.   The quintessential New York taxis

I  made my way out to the taxi line-up dodging several well dressed gentlemen who were touting private taxis even though it is illegal to do so.  The short wait for a cab was made entertaining by a most belligerent guy who I had earlier seen aboard the Vancouver flight, get into a taxi  from the wrong side, just as the legitimate passengers were about to get in.   A verbal fight ensued which ended with the bad dude getting out of the car, and swearing at the taxi rank attendants as his bags were taken out of the trunk.

The rest of us law abiding people listened in stunned admiration to the invective that issued rapid-fire  from his mouth. I learned some new words but I guess I will never get a chance to use them!

My driver was a soft spoken middle aged Egyptian-born grandfather who was  a delight to talk to as we took a faster way into the city that saved three dollars on the tolls. He dropped me off at the entrance to my son's apartment building around 11:30. Of course though I was wide awake - my internal clock was still set at 8:30 - Mike was a little more  weary and after chatting, eating some fruit, and sorting out hanging space and shelves,   he went off to bed while I unpacked and settled in.

With my customary practice of actually setting my watch to the new time zone just after the plane is aloft, I told my internal clock that it really was after midnight and after reading a few pages of a new novel on my Sony Reader, I found myself drifting off to sleep.

New York point of viewWednesday September 2nd Re-discovering Manhattan

The early morning light streaming in despite the closed window shades woke me quite early. I had a busy day planned but first there was a crisis to deal with - no cream to have with coffee.  In fact, Mike's fridge was altogether that of someone who  buys his coffee from Starbucks and eats out a lot. Fortunately  a huge Whole Foods Store openend about a year ago around the corner so I showered and dressed and started making a list - coffee cream, no-,fat yogurt - yes I realize it is a bit contradictory - but there you go, we all have our foibles.

While I was waiting for Mike to be ready to leave for work ,Tara called to firm up arrangements for our brunch. We decided to meet near her apartment  and walk around a bit before lunch. So first things first - getting me familiarized with the New York transit system. We headed down to the nearest station where I picked up a Metro card, good for at least 10 ten rides on the subway. Then Mike pointed out the way to the Bleecker Street stop for the 6 line - the green line-that would take me up to 51st and Lexington from where it was a short walk to my meeting place with Tara.

Mike headed off to catch the train and I went to explore the wonders of the Whole Foods store. It was beautifully laid out, the produce looked fresh and of excellent quality. I have not yet gone to see the new Whole Foods store that opened on Cambie Street in Vancouver, but if it is anything like this I might switch my allegiance from Urban Fare.  Except that I can walk to Urban Fare from my place in 5 minutes but would have to drive to Whole Foods. .That's ironic. Defeats the whole "green" bit - not that I buy into all that hysteria. Hmmm..... Still its worth exploring when I return.

Amazingly for me I only took one wrong turn when I emerged from the subway, unwittingly heading west instead of east but after asking for directions I found myself a block away from my destination, and there walking towards me was Tara.

The interior of The BrasserieLunch at  The Brasserie

We arrived a little early at the restaurant. Our reservation was for 11:30, and when we got there at 11:15 the place was empty of the breakfast crowd, but shortly after we were seated it began to fill up rapidly. It is interesting to talk about restaurant design  with an architect - she pointed out  features that I would have not noticed. 

The restaurant is located in the Seagram Building, a 38 story modernist glass skyscraper on Park Avenue at 53rd Street. Designed by  German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, together with  American architect,  Philip Johnson, the building was completed in 1958. The  restaurant is located below ground level. It was remodelled in 2000 by the firm of Diller and Scofidio, whose project description comments on the irony of the absence of visual contact of this space  with the outside world, in a structure with a glass exterior.

Resin tablesIn their redesign they explored  the connection between glass and vision, through some of the features visible in the picture. You enter down an extended pastel green glass stair way.   The 15 blue squares are in fact TV monitors which ordinarily show the faces of patrons as they enter.  As green is my favorite colour,  I found the complementary use of copper tones and pale foam-green very pleasing to my eye.

The comfortable four seater booths lining the  one side wall are separated by green leatherettte walls creating a sense of privacy, and I admired the clean look of the foam green resin table tops through which the supporting steel structure is seen. The surface looks so easy to clean, and seems much more practical than glass.

With lots of catching up to do, we enjoyed a leisurely  meal, and afterwards  we went downstairs to the washroom to see the long copper-red resin sink that bridges the men's and women's washrooms. Quite a striking design.

After brunch we strolled down Madison Avenue towards 43rd Street where I was going to have  a dance lesson at the Midtown Fred Astaire Dance Studio where Michael has been taking lessons. 

Oleksandra and Yuriy in their studioThe owners, Yuriy and Oleksandra Datsyk, were 1993 Ukranian Ballroom dance champions, and came to the US about ten years ago. They have been teaching at their studio for about 6 and a half years.

Although I do international style ballrooom and Latin in Vancouver, and I like to take lessons in those dances with different teachers to complement the training from my regular instructors, we decided that pre-cruise, we would focus on the American style dances instead. In an hour and a half  we worked through the basics of  social rumba, chacha, East Coast swing, salsa, mambo, bolero, foxtrot and waltz, to give me practice following the steps in this dance style. 

It is a lot to remember but again I  focused on following and responding  rather than anticipating his moves  - you know the "oh my gosh what will he do next"  thinking of steps- kind of dancing,  and that seemed to work fine. Obviously as a professional, Yuriy is very easy to follow but hopefully that will translate for me into a similar response when dancing with the new Dancers At Sea Hosts I will be meeting on the cruise. 

After the class I had planned to do a bit of shopping but I was quite tired so instead I  walked along 42nd Street to Grand Central Station, found my way to the green line and headed back down town to the Bleecker Street stop.

I decided to try my morning purchases from Whole Foods and enjoyed a light supper of smoked fish (salmon and peppered mackerel) with campari tomatoes and fruit (strawberries and a nectarine) for dessert. Remembering it was Wednesday night I checked the TV to see if I could catch So You Think You Can Dance Canada to see who was being eliminated this week. But with two hundred odd channels I still could not figure out when it was on  or if it was even shown here in the US so ended up writing, and reading from my Sony Reader, till it was time for sleep.


Times Square - the viewing standThursday, September 3rd - Dance, dinner, and a show

 Again I was woken by sunlight streaming in to the apartment. The weather here has been perfect. Not too hot , no humidity to speak of and very much like a pleasant Vancouver late summer day.  Although I had planned to go shopping in Soho, I ended up working most of the morning.  Feeling much more relaxed I thought I would see if I could fit in some theatre going this evening, since we were not due to embark on the Queen Mary till the afternoon of the next day.

I dug out the email that Vancouver friends had sent me, with an on-line ticket purchase website, Entertainment-Link,  that offered great discounts on tickets.  With the dance cruise coming up I thought that a dance show,  Burn The Floor, would be inspirational. So I bought a ticket, wondering whether I had done the right thing, as their concierge service, while claiming to get the best seats available,  does not tell you what seats you get when you pay.  However within a very  short time I had an email back confirming my ticket and it looked very good. Let's see how it actually turns out.

At the same time I figured that I would have supper out. My dance lesson would finish around 4 and the show starts at 8, so time to see what has happened around the Times Square area, food wise as well as structurally. So I checked out Open Table and booked me a pre-show restaurant reservation.

 I was so engrossed in my writing that I realized with a start that I had only 45 minutes to get to my dance lesson at 2:15 up on 43 rd St.. So I grabbed my dance shoes and my metro card and speed walked to catch the subway at Bleecker Street.  In fact I walked so fast that I inadvertently went too far and when I found myself on the platform I realized I had got onto the side that goes to Brooklyn. The good thing is that I realized what I had done. The bad thing is that this is one of the stations where you can't just cross to the right side without exiting. So I exited, crossed the street and went down into the uptown side but I wasted the cost of a ride! So keeping count so I will know when to add more cash to the card,  I must have used 4 of my 10 rides instead of three. It also cost me 5 minutes of time - ore impportant to an obsessively punctual person than the money part.

The dance studioFinally I actually managed to get on the green line to 42nd Street,  the Grand Central Station stop, and from there it was a short speedwalk east for the four or five blocks to the dance  studio. With a quick change into dance shoes I was ready for another round of dance practice. We were originally going to review what we had done yesterday but since we had not done any samba or tango yesterday, and there was samba playing, we started on that. 

Oh how I  wish I had the flexibility in my spine and pelvis that those 20 year olds have on SYTYCD.  Then we did a bit of  West Coast swing - tried to figure out how i can stop doing the back step of jive rather than the forward on the right foot. Yuriy pointed out that if I was following properly I would naturally be led forward. I said "hmmmmmm - that's the problem."  We spent some time on the hustle too - I love it - it is such a fun quick dance.  Can't wait to try it out on board.

So after a really fun session, I said goodbye to Yuriy and Oleksandra and promised to report back about the dancing on the cruise at my next lesson on my return. I took a casual walk north and west heading to W. 48 to pick up my ticket at the box office.

Even walking slowly it only took about twenty minutes to reach Times Square. In answer to my query about the state of NY theatre in this economy,  the man at the Longacre Theater box office told me that New York theaters had had their best year ever. I guess people still want to be entertained. That's great.

Times Square seatingI had about a half an hour before my reservation for dinner  at the Glass House Tavern so I wandered around Times Square. Apparently around the beginning of June the city closed  Broadway to traffic and made it a pedestrian mall at Times Square from 47th to 42nd Sts. and at Herald Square  from 35th to 33rd St. They built a viewing stand and there are also tables and chairs where one can sit and observe the masses milling around.

After I picked up a tube of Hemp Hand Cream at the Body Shop on Times Square, I wandered back along 47th to the Glass House Tavern where I enjoyed an excellent meal, tapas style by trying  a couple of appetizers.

The hungry writer at the Glass House TavernI was there quite early, around 5:30, so the Manager, John Lynch and my server, Alain, were able to chat quite a bit in between their duties. So I learned a lot about the restaurant, which has actually only been open since June.

I had a lovely window table upstairs, looking out at the exterior of the Barrymore Theatre. The theater marquis was advertising the upcoming  play, Race, written and directed by David Mamet, which will be premiering alas only in November. The actors include James Spader, David Allan Grier ( who I confess I only know from Dancing with the Stars last season), Kerry Washington and Richard Thomas. Sounds like something worth coming back from but time and money  will probably  preclude that.

I could not  handle dessert or coffee - I guess that eating healthy portions most of the time has shrunk my stomach - so even with a tour of the restaurant by my friendly server, I was out of there by just before 7 pm. The show was only due to start at 8 so I decided to visit The View on the 48th Floor of the Marriott Marquis, a hotel right on Times Square where I sometimes used to stay when I came to New York for professional conferences - and my travel was partially  paid!

I took the escalator up to the floor where the elevator to The View connected and within a few minutes was stepping out in to the lobby where you could either choose to go to the restaurant  down the stairs or try the buffet on the lounge floor. I was led to a window seat from where I could watch the New York skyscape revolving before my eyes. I guess more correctly the restaurant is revolving so the view of the city changes perceptibly as one watches, and if you use a vertical section of window frame as a reference point you might feel that you are positively whizzing around - well, not quite, but  I think it does revolve a bit faster than other revolving restaurants I have visited. 

From their "Mocktail" menu I ordered a non-alcoholic drink, grandly called  "The Blossom" and settled down to watch the changing view  and more interestingly,  the people. The place was absolutely packed and the conversation level loud enough that  I don't think too many people were drinking "mocktails".  When my "Blossom" arrived I found that the combination of mango, pineaple and cranberry juice was actually quite refreshing, although as one who rarely drinks fruit juices, I found the sugar load a bit overwhelming.

The half an hour passed really quickly and I rode the elevator down to the lower floor with escalator access to street level. One of the women in the elevator beside me faced firmly forward refusing to look at the view, as she was terrified of heights. I wondered what she does in an airplane, or maybe she just doesn't fly .

Rebecca and Damon Sugden In Burn The Floor. Photo Mark Kitaoka By the time I got to the Longacre Theater the house was just about to open and  after a very short time in line,  I was walking up the steps to the mezzanine. My seat  was right in the centre but 5  rows back from the balcony rail.  It would have been a good seat if it were not for the very large  woman in the seat in front of me who leaned forward in her seat and shifted around, frequently blocking my view.  Burn The Floor however was a spectacular show; absolutely amazing dance performances. In fact if  I can get really good seats like front row balcony, and get Michael to join me,  I would use one of my precious few NY theatre nights to see it again.  

The show ended around ten and, following Michael's instructions, I  walked to 42nd and 6th (Avenue of the Americas) and caught the V line to 2nd and Houston. Times Square was of course blazoned with neon. It was as crowded as it had been earlier and there were police directing both traffic and pedestrians in the areas where cars were allowed, so I felt quite comfortable walking by myself. The V line stops at the 2nd and Houston station so even I could not get lost, and by around ten thirty I was back in the apartment and getting my suitcase re-organized for the cruise before trying to get some sleep.

Friday, September 4th  An unexpected lunch treat and then off to Brooklyn Terminal for the Labour Day Getaway Cruise on QM2

Our assigned boarding time for the  night cruise to Saint John, New Brunswick and back, was 2:30 pm  so I  spent most of the morning catching up on my work. Mike returned from his office around 11:30 and after he finished his packing, we took a walk along Houston Street to get some cash from an ATM. On the way back, we stopped off to see a recently opened chocolate shop where you can watch the chocolatier making sweet treats. Unfortunately she was not to be seen in action right then, but apparently would be making her next batch on Saturday. We will be on board the Queen Mary 2 at that time.

Lunch at DBGBAs we strolled back to the apartment, we were debating whether to drop in somewhere for a quick lunch or pick up some things at Whole Foods, when Mike pointed out a  recently opened local bistro called DBGB Kitchen and Bar. I realized that it was one of Danie Boulud's New York Bistros. He of course, is now the executive chef at Lumiere and db Bistro Moderne in Vancouver.  

So we decided to see if we could get a quick bite  at DBGB. The staff were obliging and efficient when we mentioned that we had only a short time for lunch. We decided on appetizers tapas style to get the most variety.  I enjoyed every morsel. Wished we could have lingered over the food and had time for dessert  but we had to dash.

By just after two we were donwstairs on 2nd Avenue, and hailing a cab to take us to Pier 12 at Brooklyn Terminal in the Port of New York. Our driver took us over the Manhattan Bridge and we were at the terminal by just on 2:30, ready for 4 nights of ballroom dancing  on board the Queen Mary Two.

To  be continued: Coming soon

Labour Day Getaway Dance Cruise - New York To Saint John and back 

 New York, New York - Seven Days of Theatre, Food and Dance:  PART II and PART III:

RESTAURANT REVIEWS

The Brasserie

Glass House Tavern

DBGB 

THEATRE REVIEW

Burn The Floor