9 Sep 2008, 12:00pm
New York Travel:
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Riding the Rails Along the Hudson

All Aboard to View the Hudson River!

All Aboard to View the Hudson River!

I haven’t traveled many Amtrak routes in my life, but I have taken one of the most scenic—the one that stretches along the Hudson River in upstate New York—many times over.  The two and a half-hour ride from Albany, New York to New York City first held me in rapt attention when I was about eight years old.  This was the occasion of my first trip to New York City, a landmark moment I experienced with my mother.  We boarded in Albany, just across the river from Troy, the town where I grew up.

Ever since that initial train trip, I have been transfixed by the beauty of this route, one that cuts through predominantly unspoiled countryside where development is sparse and wildlife is plenty.  It’s always a good idea to board early so you can claim one of the window seats on the Hudson side since business and leisure travelers appear decidedly smitten with the views as well.  Then—no matter what the season—you’ll witness some of our country’s most resplendent scenery unfold before you.

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Gallery Going with the Ladies from Larchmont

I met my friend Jane fresh out of college when we worked at the Pucker Safrai art gallery together in Boston.  In addition to being incredibly smart, creative and witty, Jane’s always very up-to-the-minute with everything from the latest cooking utensil to this season’s hottest nail color.  (That happens to be Opi’s Moon over Mumbai—a sort of lavender grey—one of those small, yet necessary tidbits I learned when she teased me about my freshly applied ruby red, aptly named After Sex.  I thought that shade would be fun and fresh with my summer togs, but what’s a mountain girl to know anyway?)  So when Jane told me about a planned excursion to Neue Galerie, one of Manhattan’s more recent additions to the arts scene that showcases German and Austrian art, I jumped at the chance to go along.

Our outing was to include Jane’s friend, another very snappy gal from Larchmont, her mother-in-law and Jane’s daughter, a lovely young lady in her mid teens that I later discovered had clearly adopted her mother’s interest in the arts.  Both Jane and her friend looked particularly chic in stylish dresses that would have also worked well for a sophisticated garden party.  (Jane aptly dubbed her cream-colored linen shift very Frieda Callo.)  Standing there in my well cut jean bermudas and colorful, clingy top, I was almost sorry I hadn’t taken it up a notch.  Thank goodness I wore my beautiful, glass beads.

“You look very mountain-like, MB,” Jane observed without an ounce of snootiness.  She tossed me a purple pashmina.  “Here, that’s perfect.  Just the right touch of namasté.  You’ll need it for the museum.”

I had grown accustomed to a life without air conditioning in Colorado and was constantly amazed that the A.C. was cranked so high in other parts of the country.

We chatted excitedly the whole drive into the city.  I learned that women in Larchmont were very possessive about sharing their babysitters’ names and numbers, a seemingly disconcerting matter for Jane and her friend.

“That’s how it is with French women and their recipes,” I explained.  “Most only do a few signature dishes and they don’t like to share their recipes for fear that their spécialités might show up at someone else’s dinner party.”

We all scoffed at that.  “Yes, I was even convinced at one point that one of my former sisters-in-law would deliberately leave out an ingredient or two so that her recipe could not be duplicated.  I would make these cakes that would be total flops,” I trailed off.

Entrance to Galerie Neue

Entrance to Neue Galerie

We laughed and commiserated about about some of the more tedious aspects of life until we pulled up in front of a handsome mansion on the upper east side.  By now we were starved, so we decided to lunch first and look later.  Entering the Café Sabarsky at Neue Galerie was like stepping into  a fine dining room in Vienna.  Dark wood paneling, wooden floors, floral-covered velvet banquettes, little marble café tables and heavy draperies wrapped us in an Old World warmth that we soon realized was more important than ever with the A.C.-induced Arctic chill that blasted us as soon as we walked in the door.  We settled in and began to order coffees and lunch.

Café Sabarsky

The five of us almost hurried through our selections of goulash soup, smoked trout, Weiner Schnitzel and salads in anticipation of the desserts to follow.  (We had already scoped out gorgeous cakes and tortes on the long, marble sideboard on the other side of the room upon entering.)   A rich assortment of treats was later served up with more coffee and in my case, hot chocolate, the perfect accompaniment to an Apfelstrudel on a cold winter’s day.  (Instead of complaining any more about the frosty air, I decided to make it a good excuse for being extra decadent.)

Grand Staircase

Grand Staircase

Finally we were ready to stroll through the exhibition rooms.  We delighted separately, all together and sometimes one-on-one in viewing the many fine works on display here from original furnishings to superbly crafted jewelry.  I paused at great length in front of a glittering painting by Gustav Klimt.  Clearly some of the finest examples of Austrian-German creativity were prominently featured within this nearly six-year old museum.  Neue Galerie is a small gem whose jewel box-like interior is as alluring as the goods inside.  Our hearts had been warmed by all the beauty we took in within this elegant space; our bodies were glad to meet the hot summer air outside.

Neue Galerie New York, 1048 Fifth Avenue, 212-628-6200, www.neuegalerie.org

Café Sabarsky is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and for lots of tea, coffee and drinks in between) everyday but Wednesday; 212-288-0665.

6 Sep 2008, 4:18pm
French Life Girl Talk New York Restaurants Travel:
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Franco-American Girl Talk

I was to top off my time in the West Village with my dear friend Michèle, another single woman and une vraie franco-américaine, raised by a French mother and an American father.  Plus she has lived almost equal time in Paris and New York, so she clearly has a handle on both worlds.  For us to meet in New York was a particular treat since she had always been one of my friends from Paris.  I was relying upon her more and more for updates on la vie parisienne.

We tucked ourselves into the corner banquette at Alexandra, another one of the West Village’s charming little restaurants on Hudson Street.  After ordering salads, soupe à l’oignon gratinée and a couple of French Chardonnays, we jumped right in to one of our favorite subjects:  zee French.

“So how are the French doing these days?”  I asked.

“They’re still complaining a lot, but they do continue to enjoy a nice quality of life,” she replied.

“It sounds as though not much has changed since when I lived there.”

Our conversation soon shifted to French men, a far more interesting subject.

“I hope they’re still very charming and that they have remained as attentive as ever toward their women,” I said.

“French men do know how to flirt,” Michèle replied.  “But there’s often nothing behind it.”

“Flirting does make life more fun,” I added.  “I miss that about France.  I don’t think there’s enough flirting here in the U.S.   I always enjoy a titillating exchange.”

“Well I guess men on both sides of the Atlantic still know how to whip out the charm to seduce,” Michèle added.

I pondered this last comment for a while, replaying certain recent encounters in my head.  

“And do French men continue to maintain mistresses?”  I asked, changing the subject just enough so as not to delve headfirst into my own litany of love relationships.  At least not right away.  “People always ask me about that here in America.  I think that’s something that fascinates Americans about the French.”

“That is still more of a reality than a myth,” Michèle answered reflectively.  “I think it’s class specific.  It’s more open and accepted in the haute bourgeoisie.  Many French people live separate lives and are very frank about it.  I know a lot of people that do this.”

“I guess in America people go ahead and split up despite the financial and emotional consequences,” I ventured.  “In France, people live it out until they sort it out.”

We continued chatting about the differences between the French and Americans, a big frame of reference for us both.

“So what else is new?”

“You’ve heard the French are crazy about Carla Bruni, right?”  Michèle asked.

“Oh yes, I know.  I’m not that much out of the loop.”

Alexandra, After the Girls Were Gone

Alexandra, After the Girls Were Gone

 

Alexandra, 455 Hudson Street, 212-255-3838, www.nymag.com/listings/restaurant/alexandra

Happy, Joyous and Gay in the West Village

It’s always rather electrifying for me to arrive in New York and I’m forever amazed by what I can take in in a short amount of time.  This visit revolved around the West Village, the area west of 6th Avenue between 14th Street and Houston.  And even better, I got to experience much of it with gay men.  My friend, John, was my host most of the time, a more than willing party for showing me the highlights of the area where he lives and works.  

I already was liking the Big Apple a good deal when I picked up a bouquet of sunflowers for John at D’Agostino’s for less than $8.  (The same would have cost about $20. back in Telluride.  Oh, the joys of being in a big city!)  It was also lovely to spend a balmy evening dining outside at Malatesta, a bustling trattoria filled mostly with locals.  

Authentic Food and Ambiance at Malatesta

Authentic Food and Ambiance at Malatesta

We feasted on excellent plates of homemade pasta with John’s roommate Dan, another handsome single gay man, and talked a lot about the theater and the wonderful qualities of this charming part of New York.  

“Yeah, gay men know how to gentrify neighborhoods and dress well,” Dan admitted.  “In fact, we’re all about window dressing.”

Although the really “in” neighborhood for gays in New York is now Hell’s Kitchen, the West Village has remained gay enough to still boast a large number of excellent shops, restaurants and cafés.  And its low-key feel attracts people—including many celebs that have taken up residence here—in search of more authentic experiences at not-so staggering prices.

Our pasta dishes at Malatesta rang in at $12.50 each; we all enjoyed fresh salads, such as a pear, arugula and parmesan starter, for well under $10.  (I can still remember the light olive oil and lemon vinaigrette that dressed my salad.)  After perusing the menus at a good number of restaurants in the Village, I ascertained that these prices for excellent cuisine were more the norm than not, but be sure to bring cash since most establishments don’t take credit cards.  Note also that many offer al fresco dining and are open for brunch on weekends.

A Cool Hotspot in the West Village

A Cool Hotspot in the West Village

We reluctantly left the Old World-styled décor of this open and airy restaurant to seek out desert at Eskimix, a newly opened frozen yogurt shop, one of the hottest places in the Village right now.  Its pastel-colored, Hello Kitty-like look contrasted greatly with the warm interior where we had just spent the last couple of hours, yet we were all eager to concoct our own special creation from the list of frozen yogurts and toppings proposed.  I averted the fruit-topped dairy free tofu blend and dove right in to a S’mores Sensation, a rich mixture of sweet yogurt topped with milk chocolate chunks, marshmallow and graham crackers.  My vacation was not off to a good start, but what the heck.  And yes, there is a hint of Pinkberry in the air.

A Yummy Creation

The three of us decided to walk it off by doing a little tour of the neighborhood.  By now the streets were quite animated and the people-watching was topnotch.  We enjoyed browsing on Bleecker Street, pushing our noses against the windows of Marc Jacobs, Coach, Ralph Lauren, Cynthia Rowley and Bonpoint.  I was especially taken with the boudoir-like interior of Juicy Couture, a shop I was glad to pass in front of at such a late hour when I knew I could do no damage.  Strolling down a quaint street such as Bleecker, makes you understand why this part of New York is referred to as the Village.

We turned in for the night and upon seeing the face cream and neatly folded T-shirt and boxer shorts that Dan had laid out for me, I was even more grateful to be staying with such an attentive pair of men.  (My luggage didn’t show up until the next morning and needless-to-say, I don’t pack much in my carryon but my laptop, a good book and some important papers.)

Inside Out of the Kitchen

Inside Out of the Kitchen!

I was to meet Roy, another very interesting gay man, at Out of the Kitchen! the next morning for breakfast.  (The gay emphasis is important here, I think, since it denotes a certain level of sophistication and style—often along with a great sense of humor—that I find very attractive.  Plus aren’t gay guys a girl’s best friend anyway?)  

We sat outside and chatted about many of the beautiful things in life over fluffy omelets, roasted potatoes and delicious, whole grain toast.  John was working that shift at the restaurant, so he was able to join in on our conversation, dropping a word or two about certain Broadway shows or other forms of attraction in the city.  

Outside Out of the Kitchen

Outside Out of the Kitchen!

I scooted off from this meeting to check out the shops and beauty salons at Christopher Street, another great street in the West Village.  I decided to have a pedicure at Salon de Oasis.  The French grammar mistake in the name instantly tipped me off that this was not a high-end establishment, but the Avalon Salon & Day Spa across the street was fully booked.  I couldn’t help noticing that the two men seated next to me looked particularly metrosexual.  We chatted and before long I learned that they, too, were gay.  They actually live in Hell’s Kitchen but come down to the West Village every Saturday for breakfast and fun.  Both love skiing and Paris, so we all became fast friends.  Armed with a few other addresses of places to check out, I bid them à bientôt in Telluride.

It was beginning to rain, so I was happy to seek refuge next door at McNulty’s Tea & Coffee Co., Inc., purveyors of rare teas and choice coffees, established in 1895.  Big burlap bags of coffee greeted me along with a delicious aroma of coffee and tea that had permeated the wooden floors and shelves of this little shop for over a century.  I thought about picking up some special teas and coffees here for my friend, Jane, that I’d be visiting in Larchmont for the next couple of days but I decided that cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery would make more of a hit with her children instead.

By now it was raining quite hard, so it seemed like this would be the best time to go to this renowned bakery made famous by “Sex and the City.”  We had stopped by here last night and although Dan really craved a cupcake, we didn’t feel it was worth the estimated forty-five minute wait required.  As I approached Magnolia’s on the corner of Bleecker and 11th, I could tell from a distance that there was only a handful of people braving the foul weather for a piece or more of their sugary baked goods.  

Being in no hurry, I poked around Biography Bookshop Inc., located caddy corner to Magnolia’s.  Here I was particularly intrigued by one title:  “Greenwich Village:  A Guide to America’s Legendary Left Bank,” by Judith Stonehill.  Hmmmm, I thought.  What I had seen so far did possess some of the same qualities as Paris’s Left Bank.  The book included “four walking tours with maps to explore Greenwich Village with the artists, writers, bohemians and blithe spirits who congregate here.”  This neighborhood appeared increasingly more interesting to me as each minute passed.  I put down the book though knowing that I’d be leaving the city by the end of the day.

Pastel-Colored Temptations at Magnolia Bakery

Pastel-Colored Temptations at Magnolia Bakery

Inside Magnolia, the rich smell of butter and sugar clung to the heavy, humid air.  Towering layer cakes beneath large, glass domes garnered most of my attention, but I soon moved on to the cupcakes set out primly in the far corner of this old-fashioned looking cake shop.  I asked for a dozen and was promptly told “to serve myself.”  I hovered for a while in front of their multifarious assortment, deliberating between chocolate with vanilla frosting, chocolate with chocolate frosting, vanilla/vanilla—well, you get the idea—until I heard a sigh behind me that seemed to indicate you’d better hustle along.  I made a point of picking out some of the Red Velvets, a cocoa-charged confection that John had talked about at great length the night before.  (A southern specialty, these are made with cocoa powder and red apple cider vinegar that actually burns off during the baking process.  Some red food coloring is also added.)  Cupcakes are priced at $2.50 a piece; $3.00 for the Red Velvets.

Accustomed to the finishing touches offered at even your most basic boulangerie, I was expecting my boxes to be done up with ribbon, or at the very least, string.  A few pieces of tape was the best they could manage.  Upon tasting them later, I was still not very impressed, since I found the cakes to be a little too dense for my liking.  (In all fairness, however, I read afterward that their cupcakes should never be put in the fridge and unfortunately ours had been.)  Nevertheless all this made me wonder if the tourists that line up outside of Berthillon, Paris’s most celebrated ice cream shop, esteem that their treats are worth the fuss or not.

I made my way back toward Hudson Street where I had begun the day.  Another downpour forced me to seek refuge at Petite Abeille, an adorable restaurant offering Belgian specialties including waffles and mussels and lesser known dishes such as Waterzooi (fish stew) and stoemp (mashed potatoes, carrots and onions cooked in bacon fat).  I sat at one of the little tables draped in blue-and-white checked tablecloths, sipped a Bellini, anticipated my lunchtime meeting with a good friend and reflected upon all the wonderful times I enjoyed in Belgium, beginning at the age of sixteen when I did an exchange with a Belgian girl by the name of Chantal.  Yes, I’ll admit that for my first few years of speaking French, my accent was undeniably Belgian yet also full of warmth and whimsy, just like this little restaurant, just like the West Village I had come to know in less than twenty-four hours.  

Malatesta, 649 Washington Street, 212-741-1207

Eskimix, Bleecker and Grove, 212-206-6828, www.eskimix.com

Out of the Kitchen!, 420 Hudson Street, 212-242-0399, www.outofthekitchenonline.com

Salon de Oasis, 107 Christopher Street, 212-337-9812

Avalon Salon & Day Spa, 112 Christopher Street, 212-337-1966, www.avalonspa.citysearch.com

McNulty’s Tea & Coffee Co., Inc., 109 Christopher Street, 212-242-5351; www.mcnultys.com

Biography Bookshop Inc., 400 Bleecker St. (@11th Street), 212-807-8655; www.nymag.com/listings/stores/biography_bookshop/

Magnolia Bakery, 401 Bleecker Street, 212-462-2572, www.magnoliabakery.com

Petite Abeille, 466 Hudson Street, 212-741-6479, www.petiteabeille.com

Hotel Suggestion

Jane Hotel, 113 Jane Street, 212-924-6700; www.thejanenyc.com

On an Even More Personal Note

Memories of my dear brother Phil accompanied me throughout the researching and writing of this story.  It has been almost fifteen years to this day that he passed all too soon.  He was one of John’s best friends.  I am grateful to John for his friendship and for his help in keeping Phil’s memory alive.

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