The trees are just starting to change colour, the ducks are swimming while they can, and the squirrels are racing to hide those nuts. What a beautiful time of the year to be in New York!


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Forget nice!

At Ungarra Primary School back in the day, ‘nice’ was not considered a word. Think of something more descriptive R G Martin would urge us! At home it was the same situation, where ‘chuck’ and ‘stuff’ met with comedic correction. There are other words, better words, that will tell the story with more imagination. So after a lifetime of word awareness, it was interesting to note that for the very first time when the New York Times this week reported on a Presidential candidate’s recorded past, the F word was used in full spelling on the front page. Times have changed. But in the general dismay of all things political, cartoonists bring some perspective.

The Society of Illustrators on East 63rd street currently has a retrospective on the work of Ralph Steadman. This man has been commenting on life for decades, from his first break with Private Eye in England and Punch, to cartoons about Regan, Nixon, Thatcher, and finally Trump. Drawing ‘Breaking Bad’ characters recently rounded a career that started with ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. By complete contrast Steadman is also well known for his illustrations of Alice in Wonderland and Animal Farm. Now in his 90’s and still with pen in hand, he shows that no matter how bad things may seem politically, there is always a lighter side. Even if it may only include the technicality that Bryan Cranston’s cranium was so perfectly round it could be drawn with a compass.

So all is not lost, we can always read The Guardian, and in the meanwhile, have a fabulous day….!


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Trick or treat!

Halloween and the Presidential election seem to have become one and the same thing this year. Scary! Costumes and contenders are interchangeable, with local costume stores featuring multiple versions of The Donald and former First Lady. With only a few weeks left to choose costumes, the streets are filling with inflated premonitions of what may be in store. Meanwhile buttons at The Strand urge intelligence, celebrities would like to make an offer you can’t refuse and graffitied trucks loiter in bike lanes stating the obvious. Getting the vote out will be the big challenge. Maybe some candy corn would do the trick…


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We shall overcomb


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Spliced Surprise

Bell ringers have had bad press for too long. Quasimodo started it all, Marty Feldman didn’t help just by hunchback association, and Macbeth filled our youthful imagination with foreboding, the sound of the bells summoning us to heaven – or to hell. But Trinity Church is in the process of changing all that. There are no bats in the belfry in this most illustrious of New York churches. Bell ringing here is considered an art, not an adjective. And with the only set of 12 tuned bells in the country – courtesy of a British benefactor who named each bell after a favorite ringer, Manhattan has an orchestra with heavenly a-peal.

Becoming a bell ringer takes practice – count on a three year internship – but at Trinity it also requires fitness. First you need the legs to climb the 100 steps winding high into the bell tower. Then you need a good golf-stick grip for the rope, strength to balance up to a tonne of bronze belling, and most importantly a big heart that will keep you on beat and supply you with a generous spirit. Bell ringing is all about team work. And that’s not just keeping rhythm when the musical sequences change, it is also about the so-called ‘deodorant moments’ of familiarity, as the gravitational swing of the bell unceremoniously takes your arms up, up, up. No wonder friends ring together, fathers and daughters ring together, and everyone heads to the pub together at the end.

The ringing of the bells is as welcoming as the bellringers themselves. A very patient veteran walked me through the mechanics of the ringing, or at least tried to. His pleas for me to listen to my bell so as to understand the timing & speed required for pulling the ‘sally’ were as earnest as his attempts to explain the difference between a Reverse Bob and a Spliced Surprise. The musical scores may remain a mystery to me, but the good news is that the sound emanating from the bell chamber is electronically controlled through adjustable baffles. So even though I couldn’t identify the wayward sound of my own bell, neither could anyone else. My reputation remains intact and I have even been invited back. Miracles never cease! The next time you need one, contact David so you can join the party, and the privilege, of ringing the bells at Trinity…



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Country Girl

Edna O’Brien’s memoir is a marvelous read, a rich adventure from an extraordinary woman. What a life! She went to the movies with Jackie Kennedy, had a tryst with Robert Mitchum, conversations with Samuel Beckett, her palm was read by Shirley MacLaine, Paul McCartney sang to her young sons, priests burnt her novels, she wrote first hand accounts of The Troubles in Ireland, and had cocktails at the literary Algonquin Hotel in NYC between performances of her play. But the way Edna told the stories behind these names, and her amazing recall of detail that took you to the kitchen table of her childhood home in County Clare, gave you the smell of the Irish grass and the longing for more. When I closed the book it was all I could do to seek out a cider at Molly’s.

Irish pubs abound in NYC, but none quite as authentic as Molly’s Shebeen. The spot ( no longer an illegal drinking establishment as the name would suggest ), has been a bar since before Prohibition. But when the Irish moved in they bought shepherd’s pie and generous portions of chips, put in an open fire, and threw sawdust on the floor. The staff are all Irish, and many of the customers sound the same, or at least have names like Gabrielle Fitzgerald to get them through the door. Pictures of the old country line the walls, although through the darkness it is only the candles that allow you to see. Edna would never be one to hide in the shadows, but what an absolute treat to slide into a booth one day and find her sharing stories. You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl…


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Balmy and Baroque

Heaven and Earth became as one last night when the Trinity Church‘s Baroque Orchestra performed their last concert for the summer. Breathless and sticky from the spontaneous sprint downtown, I was ushered gently into a padded pew, from where phones and photographs were politely non grata. The focus was the music – the strings, the oboes and the harpsichord, and the beauty of their interplay rose into the spectacular space with refreshing joy. What a venue, what music! Alexander Hamilton, celeb du jour, may be buried in the churchyard, and his name may be hip hopping all over Broadway, but no doubt he rests all the more peaceably courtesy of the ministerings of Bach.

The Trinity Church is almost as old as New York itself. It has been built three times, has the only set of tuned bells in the United States, and survived September 11 without even a scratch to the stained glass windows. Last night as the performance ended and concert goers poured out onto the busy, balmy streets, two lights followed the tradition skyward in acknowledgement of the anniversary. Much has happened since then. Riding home along the cool waterfront of the East River, fisherman patiently reset their lines, the sound of people partying in Brooklyn wafted over the water, a class of Chinese women waltzed together, kids raced past on their skateboards and the smell of barbecues and dope was in the air. Bach is with me still, his soaring symphonies at once a salve and an inspiration in the city that doesn’t sleep…


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Squeezebox salutations

The Campbell Apartments are no more. After 17 years, the lease of this gloriously restored gem of New York City history has expired, and the space will be converted under a new owner to have trendier appeal. There was a six month court case to avoid eviction, but even the wrangling of the old to surpass the rent offered by the new, did not appease the landlord…

It was all I could do to walk down the road and find solace in the squeezebox festival in Bryant Park. There were Russians and Irish players and music from around the world, and who would know there was such an audience for this unique sound. New York! The city doesn’t sleep – even when you might want it to for awhile – so don’t hesitate to come and share the old, and the new. Cheers!



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Don’t be illamad!

Life in Columbus Circle yesterday looked like a usual New York street scene. Yellow cabs, a few bikes, a ballerina… Who would have suspected that just a short distance away via a Tardis-like transport, a llama party was lurking?! Spiraling off from the underground subway, and corralled between ticket machines, Swedish coffee shops and erasable graffiti boards, a band of brothers from Bolivia are celebrating their culture by introducing NYC to a new concept in party food.

Not to be confused with pasties or empanadas, saltenas are to Bolivians what sushi is to the Japanese or pizza is to Americans. It can take a chef five years to perfect the recipe, and that is not because of indecision about meat or no meat. It’s the art of the package. According to the masked Alex, the mixture must be soupy, and the pastry, made with ajianarillo flour, slightly sweet. The trick is to balance the consistency so it is juicy without being soggy. ( Vegan alert – cows feet are involved. ) And when the test of a good saltena is to shake it to see how much juice is inside, the next challenge is to eat it without spilling a drop. That will mean picking up the check for the whole table.

The Bolivian Llama Party is named for the things that the three brothers love. Enthusiasm radiates from their tiny store – the ceiling is as handmade as the party food, and while I pause over the hooves on the hotplate, the pride of the telling of this authentic addition makes it essential – and delicious – eating. So if you lose yourself in the winding passages of the subway underneath Columbus Circle, don’t despair, you might end up partying with some Llamas from Bolivia…

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Home at the Frick

There’s no place like home. It may be 85 years since the last time a member of the Frick family slept over at their mansion on East 70th, but the house still feels as much like a home as it ever did. Servants, all 27 of them, have been replaced by staff, the cedar room is no longer full of furs, and computers have replaced cots in the upstairs bedrooms. But the paintings – the Vermeers, the Whistlers and the Rembrandts – are still exactly where Mr Frick placed them more than one hundred years ago. And then there are the secret gardens, the heirloom tomatoes and the trees that were thought to be extinct.

From the rooftop looking to the west side the view over Central Park is spectacular. It is the fifth avenue view, the upper east side advantage. But on the other side of the building there is a little alcove above the famous Russell Page garden – the garden that survived the architect’s proposal of being built upon, simply by being so beautiful that people rallied from around the world to protect it. The alcove, a perfect sun trapped ledge accessible only through small forgotten french windows, is the private space of the Frick gardener. Here he grows heirloom tomatoes and herbs and occasionally permits a grateful green-thumb visitor. The tomatoes love the space and thrive, generously contributing to the salads of the staff. Well, mainly the director’s salads. But they do share the view.

On the east side of the garden is a massive Metasequoia, a red wood that was believed to have been extinct for thousands of years. Then during the American occupation of Japan after the second world war, soldiers recognized the conifer and brought seeds back to America in their pockets. One found it’s way to the Frick where it grows with a small abatement. Steel cables connect from the garden to the tree, preventing it from thwacking the building next door when the wind blows. It’s a neighborly courtesy to musical agent Mr Barbis, who not only overlooks the garden but who represents Elton John amongst others. Which goes to show you can always pick your home, but you never know who is going to live next door….

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