Buda & Pest

The French no longer hold copyright to the croissant. Nor the Turks to thermal baths. And let’s not even talk about buttered noodles and the matriarchy of the Mediterranean. There is a place where softly spun pastry phffffs rather than flakes at the first bite. A place where only a running jump will allow you to catch a speeding escalator to the subway, where palaces are emptied of royalty but full of treasures, and where the socialists that started the process left behind people movers in perpetual motion. Not to mention some very stoic architecture. But what came before and after has been nurtured, and this means Hungary is an absolute feast of magical locations. In the week that Sean and I were dragged open-mouthed from turret to dungeon, we saw ceilings that rival the Sistine Chapel and palaces with more porcelain than the MET but open to the touch rather than walled behind glass. We saw futuristic metro stations with LED flashing platforms signaling the incoming train, and we soaked in a tub of steaming water that has been spurting out of the earth at 42*C for over 100 years. The vision, and the smell, will stay with me for some time.

The Buda side of town is quiet and majestic, fringed with green hills. It’s where you find the castle and the beautiful goddess of Gellert Hill. We saw both from a distance, while zigzagging between palaces in the Pest, searching for the perfect staircase. There were almost too many, spiraling between an overwhelming collection of guilded halls and ballrooms. So how lucky were we to have a guide, a gentle man who maneuvered us between the grand and the gorgeous, and who even took us to the countryside where we counted storks nesting home for the summer, and stopped at a farmer’s gate to buy redder than red sweet watermelon.

Budapest is an amazing city, full of surprises. Like the jazz music center that houses a collection of over 100,000 albums and cds – and the largest archive of Mahler in the world. Or the chocolate bar filled with cottage cheese and sold from the fridge. Then the chance encounter of a talented pianist mid practice in a guilded country castle, the music drawing us through the histrionic halls. Luscious afternoon teas. A car park reserved for the boss lady. Steaming baths with cool relief in just the flip of a bucket. And in a city rebuilt, a reminder of the bullets that once tore it down. But my favorite discovery was the perpetual lift, where in a deserted Blade Runner style building, the indulgent caretaker cranked on the machine just to let us go for a ride. We felt like royalty and not just because of the palaces. People were friendly and generous of spirit. I want to go back! I want to live in the Brody Apartments and ride my bike to the markets. I want to explore, to make a movie and be part of something created entirely from scratch. Location scouting is only the beginning, there is much to do. New York will survive without me. And maybe, just maybe I will survive without it. So let’s see what happens next…!



 

 

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Hungry for Hungary

The refreshing breeze that gusted over the Szabadsag Bridge from the River Danube last night made it the coolest place in town. And that wasn’t just because of the sizzling temperatures. The royally crowned rafters were perched with row upon row of happy sitters. A grandstand between the lights of Buda on one side and Pest on the other, the bridge supported the celebration of local couples sharing a bottle of wine, a meeting of the couch surfing fraternity and infatuated visitors like Sean and I, filled with the vitality of this extraordinary place. In town to scout locations for our feature film – a thriller – scheduled for shooting in late January, this town is an unexpected treasure trove of open armed hospitality. New flavors and colors, new markets (!) and new tastes. And that’s just day one. So stand by. Tomorrow we are off to scout old palaces, Turkish baths from the Ottoman Empire, and by complete contrast a champagne distillery built largely underground. A whole new adventure is in the making…

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Star Dust Diner

Dreams and drama!

If you are patient enough to wait in line for a table, or can sing the lead roles for Wicked or Hamilton well enough to score a waiter’s job at this iconic diner, then either way, keep your receipts. You may need them in court…

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10 Below

Ice-cream is a serious business at 10 Below. Forget massive tubs of colored flavors peering out from deep fridges and the anticipation of cool creamy sweetness scooped into a crunchy cone. At this little nook in the East Village, the freezers are as flat as a crepe maker, the ice-cream is made in front of your eyes, and the experience is more like unemotional performance art. Except that you get to see a show, make friends in the waiting crowd, and score an ice-cream at the end of it.

Hoping for the salted caramel of the east village ice-cream world, my request for the most popular was met with ‘number 4’. Clarifying that this was better than the Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, and receiving a response of ‘no’, I decided to go with Cookie Monster in deference to my friend John, who built puppets for the endearing show most of his life. It was a good choice. First there was the orchestral chopping of the unsuspecting oreo, then the swooping and slathering of the mixture as it started to freeze, the practiced sliding of the ice-cream into rolls, and the presentation of the final act topped with raspberries and blueberries. The performance made it all worthwhile – that’s why people pay $7 ( before tip and taxes ) for a ticket and the show is a sellout. Oh and yes, the ice-cream was delicious!

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Cool caramel

Sedutto’s has been around for years. Squeezed into the melting intensity of first avenue on the upper east side, this hidden oasis looks more like an aged outlet for hair products than the home of an ice-cream legend. But don’t be fooled, when an ambitious pastry chef left the Waldorf Astoria nearly a hundred years ago, the packaging for his new business was the last thing on his mind. Mr Sedutto was thinking about ice-cream, Italian style, which is now not only being served exclusively on the QE2, but is saving lives in NYC on a daily basis.

Respecting President Reagan’s wisdom by signing into law that July be national ice-cream month, I thought it only proper to pursue the best options at hand. In a week of scorching temperatures and sticky humidity, the idea of 49 flavors in reasonable proximity to my easterly appointments was refreshing. Candied cones in a myriad of sizes and textures – all blessed by Zagat’s seal of distinction – were unnecessary in view of the one choice that stands alone. Salted caramel. Mint chocolate chip and ‘birthday’ did make the top 5 most popular flavors as well, and as a nod to trendiness, there were wine choices in cherry merlot and raspberry chardonnay. But when it comes to tipple time, if I was sailing on the QE2, I’d be looking for a little champagne myself…

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The Fourth

The view to the East River from our apartment window was enviable. Fireworks! The fourth of July! All the fun of the fair from the comfort of home. Speaking of which, what would any national celebration be without Australian lamb…? Actually it wasn’t Australian, but thanks to our Kiwi cousins, it was close enough…

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Chihuly & chipmunks

Art and nature create a spectacular partnership in the much awaited exhibition of Chihuly’s masterpieces at the New York Botanical Gardens. There is no competition between colour and shape, but more a complimenting of beauty with beauty in a lush tranquil landscape. A giant blue thistle bursts joyously in green surrounds, red stalks cluster dramatically, shooting toward blue skies, while a boatload of glistening pods languish near a lively wetland resounding with the sounds of dragonflies and frogs. Glass and garden, environmental artwork, the vision of a one-eyed man, an ex-surfer, with no physical ability to hold a glass blower. Amazing. Chihuly has become a director and the work grows. In the midst of the green oasis that flourishes so close to the busy intensity of Manhattan, it seemed timely to pause in the shade and share a picnic. And to discover something else I’d never seen. Chipmunks and Chihuly on the same day…!

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Lava lush

The barman was on a beach in Thailand a week or so ago when the shop had someone else’s logo in the window, and the Drug Store’s precious elixirs were only available on-line. But in just a few days a vintage neon sign was sent courtesy of e-bay from Texas, menus and mugs were printed, and lemons arrived in a flurry from Florida. Around the corner, jars layered with cake cream and custard were making the same splash. One day the space is empty, the next day there is a sign in the window demanding ‘Don’t call me cupcake’. This is the latest wave of enterprising entrepreneurs in town for the summer season. Welcome to the popup!

Until the Drug Store materialized in Elizabeth Street, the only way to order a detox of filtered water, cold pressed lemon juice, dandelion root, muddled ginger root, and activated charcoal (made from coconut shells) was by text. Good grief. If only I had known. How fortunate then that this trendy tenant provided just the opportunity to experience a whole new taste sensation by opening a storefront, albeit temporary, in the heart of Nolita. On a hot summer’s day just the idea of a cool stopover with lots of lemon and ice was irresistible – and a detox would never go amiss.

According to the PR person, patient and non-plussed at my intrigue, activated charcoal creates an adsorbing effect to toxins. She quoted a famous experiment in France in 1831, when a professor ingested a deadly dose of poison, but lived to tell the tale because he mixed activated charcoal with the strychnine. Apparently the charcoal prevented the poison from being absorbed into the body. While this was not a selling point in itself, tasting charcoal in a controlled environment did have curiosity value. And who can resist a cocktail at 11am? In all honesty, if I was blindfolded I would have believed I was drinking lemonade. However, the concoction did leave a lingering texture in my mouth that had me thinking about the beach all afternoon…

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Art Felt

A bodega, even a pretend one, would not cut it in NYC without a cat. So when English artist Lucy Sparrow started her epic 9 month, 16 hours a day saga to create in felt an entire convenience store, all the hand-sown soup cans, sausages and cigarettes in the world would not have authenticated this essential New York institution like a felt feline. And Blackie was just like the real deal.  There was not a rodent to be seen – well, except for a felt mouse hiding in a felt bucket (next to the felt spillage and the felt mop ). What a feat for felt!

You had to see this bodega to believe it. A felt ATM machine dispensed felt money, a felt mincing machine ground felt burger meat above the felt meat fridge, there were felt facial tissues, felt frozen peas and felt champagne ( French of course ) which was unfortunately sold out. In fact the entire store with all 8,000 pieces was well on it’s way to selling out. Instead of the two to three hundred visitors expected each day, there were two to three thousand. People streamed from the Whitney around the corner to line up in the sun, some fainting in the heat, others stumbling into the shop hoping to buy a real bottle of water. In the end a city hot dog stand had to set up on the sidewalk outside to accommodate the unfelted needs of the crowd.

A self titled feltist, Lucy believes that art should be accessible for everyone. For just $30 or $40 you can pick up a felt chocolate bar or a felt can of Spam and so begin your own art collection. You could even pay with a felted cheque, as an enthusiast apparently did. For me it was the entire concept that was hilarious rather than the need to take something home. Which was where I was headed. After all that feeling, it was a coffee that I really felt like…

 

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Portrait of a Lady

Brunch at The Morgan Café is always an excellent start, especially for the road weary, who may need sustenance not just for the body, but also for the spirit. After trekking the tourist trail around the world, French toast with berry compote and maple syrup may be just the ticket. And yes, delicious! But there is currently an added treat for travelers in need of a little other-worldly inspiration. Currently at the museum, the muse for Henry James’ novels Portrait of a lady and Washington Square lies as a golden effigy overlooked by her painted self – both artworks by her husband Frank Duveneck. The peacefulness and beauty of the sculpture is breathtaking. Lizzie Boott was an inspiration for Henry as she was for Frank, and so as well for those of us who carry her joy onto the next destination…

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