Institutional Memory

Every day is Earth Day at Materials for the Arts. This unique re-gifting megastore came into being a few decades ago when the Children’s Zoo needed a new fridge. Funding was in short supply, so an enterprising young woman put out a call over the radio and was subsequently swamped with offers. Ah, the power of the radio! Today, Materials for the Arts has a loading dock the size of Macys, unwanted materials of all shapes and sizes are brought in by the truckload, and schools, theatre groups and artists shop the shelves without a penny changing hands. This is the ultimate treasure hunt – you don’t know what you might find, nor what artistry the unexpected may inspire.

The MET recently presented a historic challenge to the artists in residence at the MFTA with the gift of their entire slide library. Five thousand years of art history and decades of evolution of the museum on Fifth Avenue, these transparencies were more than a record, they were art. At least that is what they have become. The resulting exhibition at the Long Island City hub is a dramatic interpretation of the past forming the present, of curators guiding our perspective, and the reassurance that stories can be told richly, regardless of the medium. Nothing is ever lost, and the MFTA means we can find some fun and inspiration along the way…

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Pastries and pieds

Just when it seemed that bakery experiences could not get any better, NYC has surprised the eager palate with even more gloriously excessive treats. Chanson is a true ovenly experience. Baking trays line the ceilings though a passageway of temptations leading to the real working kitchen at the back. Apparently this was the plan of the owner, a protege of Gordon Ramsey, who may have escaped Hell’s Kitchen, but nevertheless found the allure of the baking environment too good to leave. He may have something there. The crowds have come for the everything croissant, a take on the bagel of the same name, but in this case filled with cream cheese and jalapeño and baked so perfectly that the creaminess inside does not compromise the crispiness of the outside. I might have been tempted, had not the piece de resistance of pastries appeared in the form of kouign amann. Think croissant dough, add more butter and swirl into a muffin tray with fillings of hazelnut cream, black sesame or rhubarb and thyme. Outrageously delicious.

With summer just around the corner my quest for the best may need a healthy diversion.  As I discovered on the subway to Long Island City this week, other pursuits have possibilities, like outrageous footwear and unexpected conversations with people who like to wear them. This may be a good time to swop choux for shoes. But let’s follow our feet and see what we find…

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A Parade of colour

Spring had competition for spectacle this week in NYC when the Sikh parade launched the season of weekend cultural marches in midtown. With independence from India on the cards for 2020, the community was out in solidarity. What colour! And what better stage to blossom than NYC…

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Spring!

Heaven had a geographical location this week. As fast as green leaves were unfurling from wintery starkness and lilacs proffered a perfume worth waiting for, blossoms tumbled over each other, as pink and then white and then pink again created a spectacle of beauty in Central Park. Like watching floral fireworks, people oohed and aahed and then paused, wanting to somehow make it last. The show will dazzle for the coming days – at the Conservatory Gardens in particular, so check your wings and enjoy the moment…

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Hallett Nature Sanctuary

Eighty odd New York years is a long time. In 1934 a small section of Central Park near 59th street became a dedicated bird sanctuary and was closed off to the public. What must have a been a boon to birds also gave license to weeds, and as storms – including Sandy – pulled down trees and added to the great tangle of the 4 acre wilderness, the Park eventually had to intervene. Groups of students pitched in to build paths, craftspeople moulded benches out of the fallen trees, while leaving some as records of natural history. The rest of the city carried on regardless. So now there is a wilderness bubble in the Park where 20 people can visit at a time and breathe the fresh contrast between city and nature. Relatives of the Murray Cod can compete in size with their southern cousins. And the birds… the birds? I think they have been there all the time, tangle or tame. Yesterday I saw not one but three red cardinals looking perfectly at home…

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Ice & Vice

I tasted everything. I couldn’t resist, but it wasn’t my fault, they made me do it. And, they made it easy. Ice & Vice, an experimental icecreamery on the lower East side offers strange and wonderful combinations, water to cleanse the palate between tastings, and lots of patience to walk you through the choices. The names were clever – as were the flavours, so it was impossible not to succumb to the entire experience. Working my way from No Whey to Opium Den was like attending a wine tasting with Nigella Lawson and Stephen Fry – fun, entertaining and delicious.

For starters, vanilla tastes like no other. Just the idea of using black lava sea salt with Mexican ( not Madagascan ) vanilla beans creates intrigue. Then there is an aptly named 9am made with condensed milk that tastes at first like a doughnut but with an aftertaste of Vietnamese coffee. Pickles of the Caribbean includes a pickled marmalade courtesy of The Pickle Guys around the corner, and for another community collaboration, Ice & Vice made an icecream sandwich rolled as an ‘everything’ bagel. ( The profits went to edible schoolyards, an education program for healthy – or aware – eating in schools. )

While other customers were quick to choose a double vice of ice-cream cone and pie, I was torn between Blood Sisters, a salted chocolate ice-cream swirled with burnt blood orange sorbet, described as a fight to the death between the two flavours, and Ants on a Farm, made with raisins, celery and Gianduja chocolate chips. Paired with a chai-spiced dark chocolate cone, the latter was an absolute taste sensation. What’s in a name? In the case of Ice & Vice… everything!

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The Passion with passion

The best of New York is not on Broadway this week. Just follow the church bells and you will find outstanding performances of music and theater that transcend religious commitment. The playbill has more to come, but on Palm Sunday, the Passion at St Bart’s was a not-to-be-missed experience. Famous for music and contemporary coolness, this church has a rich history and a presence to match. The stunning stain glass windows and lofty altars mean inspiration is almost inherent with attendance. And whatever the status and the style of the doctrine, it was the performance on Sunday that gave passion true meaning. The reverend shared thoughts about Egypt and pain, but then talked about the sound of love. Children and adult choirs sang together with sweet harmony from both sides of the altar creating a symphony of emotion that the organ embraced with amplified effect, piping simultaneously from the front and the back of the church. And then there was the storyteller, the woman who narrated from the pulpit with such intensity and drama that when the voice of Christ came in on cue, you felt she had channeled his spirit directly from the cross.

The choir did not have to sing Were you there? because we already were.

I wanted to give a standing ovation but the Presider announced they were serving hot cross buns with coffee, tea and cider in the restaurant. Hot cross buns! Having pursued these elusive spiced treats year after year in NYC and finding the supply or the taste of them drastically diminished, I quickly transited from my spiritual seance to enjoy a little taste of heaven. Home made, fruity, and just the right amount of spice. Now we can have that standing ovation…!

 

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Wine and Poesy

A woman wearing a white dress and taking to her bedroom is not particularly unusual, except when it becomes a permanent choice and your name happens to be Emily Dickinson. But when a woman wearing a white dress that was an exact copy of the reclusive Dickinson drapery, and with similarly mimicked shoes and hair made a guest appearance at the Morgan Library’s current exhibition, poetry was aligned with intrigue. And that is exactly what the scholar intended. Challenged by the lack of enthusiasm from her students for poetry, Dr. Sylvia Baer turned up to class wearing a reddish black wig and a dress copied from Emily’s own. This caused an immediate conversion, the cult of Emily Dickinson was reignited, and fifteen years later Sylvia is booked for literary gigs all over the country.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

According to Sylvia, Emily called the shade of her hair sherry – in particular the colour one would find in the puddle at the bottom of one’s glass. Of course the professor had to undertake extensive research for the sake of authenticity, ultimately deciding her wig should be more the colour of Harvey’s Bristol Cream than Tio Pepe. Meanwhile I am considering a new do myself, particularly at a time when my natural colour and the trending platinum shades converge. There may even be poetry in the transformation to an elegant sauvignon blanc, or a cheeky champagne….


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Comforting decadence

On a grey rainy day, a rich, pure hot chocolate is a gift from the gods. And tasting the delights of Mah Ze Dahr may have you believing in more than one. This is a special place, a homage to the magic of a taste experience that changes who you are. These are words from Urdu, but the food comes from a generously spirited woman, the daughter of Pakistan parents, who bakes with a perfection that makes Heavenly cheesecake an understatement. Let us consider the humble doughnut. In this case made with brioche, rolled in vanilla bean sugar and filled with a pastry cream that is not simply cooked and refrigerated, but stirred gently until all the heat is gone. The taste is in the detail. Delicious! Perfection is a beautiful thing…

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Wild side

Lou Reed may have walked on the wild side, but he had a lot of baggage. Three hundred linear feet to be accurate. Or at least that is what his bequeath to the New York Public Library amounts to. A taste of this vast collection of papers, music and memorabilia – although perhaps not a record player – was on display for just a couple of weeks at the 42nd street branch. The entire archive will take years to collate, but if a letter from Paul McCartney is an indication of the historical treasures to be found, it will be worth waiting for.

Back in Lou’s old stomping ground downtown, Jamal from Village Music World spoke about the good old days. About recently selling an original banana album for over $700 – he has the new release at much less – and about cheerfully trying to bribe Mr Reed’s assistant into bringing him to the store to sign a few records. Unfortunately the $500 didn’t swing it, and so the original pressings remain on the shelf. But the store itself is amazing – a museum of music and memories – and one of the few remaining record stores in the city.

The letter that Paul wrote to Lou only 20 years ago seems to defy my own recollection of the timeline of music players and their availability. But I walked mainly on the tamer side, where record-turned-pot-plant-holders may have more quirky curiosity than the original version. So I’ll wait for the Reed exhibition and see if that record really did go to pot…

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