Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Great Danes

I thought I'd include a few more of the local sights of Copenhagen. These guys work as bicycle jockeys in the center of town for tourists. I couldn't resist snapping a few pictures of them--I'm sure you can see why. I was going to include witty captions for these photos, but I think I'll leave that to you.

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Copenhagen, Denmark

Okay, back to the Baltic. Here is the travelogue email I sent home from Copenhagen--which I LOVED!

Ah...pretty Copenhagen! What a wonderful city--both cosmopolitan and cozy at the same time. I set out on my own sight-seeing tour of this lovely town yesterday morning. I left the cruise terminal and stopped at an information center where a very helpful and pleasant Danish man gave me a map and circled various points of interest. He said it was just a short walk in to town. Be warned: when a Dane tells you that something is a short walk, make note of his height. They're all enormous here. Sure it's a short walk when you're seven feet tall. Isn't everything?

Anyway, I first stopped to see what has become the symbol of Copenhagen, "Den lille Havfrue" (the Little Mermaid). By the way, it is practically impossible to get a photo of her without tourists in it. But you can see below I finally managed it. Took me about a half hour--no joke. People like to climb down on the rock and get a picture while actually touching the mermaid. This annoys everyone else waiting to take photos until they themselves do it.

Next I stumbled upon Frederiks Kirke, a beautiful domed church the interior of which is pictured below. This was just a block or two away from the Danish Royal Palace which is the third photo. I just happened to be there in time for the changing of the guard pictured fourth. From there I walked a few blocks to Nyhavn, pictured fifth, one of the main canals in town with beautifully painted buildings on either side. I stopped for a very nice lunch there. Next I strolled the pedestrian shopping district which is pictured last. An interesting thing about the pedestrian districts in town--the government rezoned certain areas that way specifically to foster a sense of community for the city. What a concept.

After all that walking I took a taxi back to the cruise terminal.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Old Neighborhood

Things are constantly changing in New York. There's no way to predict it and it seems to happen in the blink of an eye. New high-rise apartment buildings go up over night. Stores close with no warning and new ones open in their stead. Even seemingly venerable institutions of the city can fall victim to a cruel real estate market and the whirlwind pace of the city. It's all part of the urban experience I suppose. But still, whenever I lose another favorite restaurants or grocery I can't help but mourn the loss a little bit.

When I came home from my two months away in Europe at the beginning of the summer, I found my favorite Korean grocer, which always had wonderfully fresh produce and sold a beautiful selection of fresh cut flowers out front that could rival that of a high end florist, had closed. Gone. One day a thriving business with people streaming in and out at all hours, the next--empty. Walking by the darkened storefront on the way to the subway, I think of the dozens of things I bought there over the years--flowers for a Christmas centerpiece or for my sister in the hospital when she had her baby. White Georgia peaches for a crisp I brought to a dinner party, rosemary for a recipe, dozens of cans of dog food for Sadie, the dog I lost almost two years ago.

This affect is even more noticeable to me in my old neighborhood of the West Village. I lived right in the heart of it on Christopher Street for seven years. That little pocket of the city west of Seventh Avenue to the river, slightly askew from the rest of the city, will always have sentimental meaning to me. It wasn't even my first apartment in the city, but it was my first home. I still use the same drug store and barber shop down there just to have an excuse to go back at least once a month. Even though a lot of it has changed in the six years I've lived uptown, there are a few fixtures of the neighborhood I thought I'd take the time to document before they, too, are erased by time.

Below is a shot of the little barber shop on Christopher where Richard, my barber, has been cutting my hair for over ten years--he also keeps me posted on all the neighborhood gossip.

Next is a shot of The Leatherman, a store that has been around since Christopher Street's heyday as the center of gay culture. It still attracts its share of both gawkers and real leathermen alike. The Leatherman is known the world over for its quality custom work. I mean--if you're into that sort of thing.

Next is the Duplex--a staple of the cabaret scene in Manhattan. There is live music nightly in the bar on the street level and upstairs is an intimate cabaret space. This location at Seventh Avenue and Christopher Street is actually its second home. The original Duplex was located on Grove Street between Seventh Avenue and Bleecker.

Speaking of Grove Street, next is a shot of my favorite block on that street. Just east of Hudson the street makes a gentle curve for no apparent reason. It's just one of those quirks that makes it the Village.
Next, The Stonewall bar was the site of the famous Stonewall riots in 1969 which was the catalyst for the gay rights movement in America. A sad sign of the times though, it recently closed and you'll notice in the photo below the space is for rent.
Finally, an establishment that seems to stand the test of time decade after decade in this prime location on one of the busiest corners in the village is Village Cigars.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Lincoln Center

The Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln center is surely one of the showpieces of New York. Indeed the entire campus of buildings at Lincoln Center is an elegant, beautifully conceived architectural complex. This kind of style and elegance is something rarely seen in early 1960s architecture–at least in my opinion. (Just look at Kennedy Airport or Madison Square Garden if you don't believe me.) In fact, there is something about going to a performance at Lincoln Center that always feels like an event to me. People still dress up when they go to Lincoln Center. The excitement in the air is palpable as people file past the fountain in the center of the courtyard to whichever building houses the performance they are there to see, be it Avery Fisher Hall with its impressive colonnade, the New York State Theater with its rows of lights mounted like diamonds or the Met with its glittering chandeliers framed by magnificent Chagall paintings.

I was a senior in high school the very first time I went to see something at Lincoln Center. It was to a performance of Carmen by the Metropolitan Opera. I went with my voice teacher who herself had performed at Lincoln Center as a leading soprano with New York City Opera. I had started studying with her as a freshman and the performance was sort of a graduation present from her to me. I was so impressed by it all, the chandeliers disappearing into the ceiling just before curtain time, the elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen milling around the lobby and on the staircases and of course the performance itself--Bizet’s music coming to life before my eyes by some of the best singers and musicians in the world.

Lincoln Center was incorporated and founded by John D. Rockefeller III in 1956 and was built with private, city, state and federal funding. It is the home the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, New York City Opera, New York City Ballet, the Julliard School and several other performing groups and educational institutions.

So why my fascination with Lincoln Center today? Well, the Metropolitan Opera is holding an open house this Friday the 22nd. It’s part of a plan by the Met’s new General Director, Peter Gelb, to appeal to a broader audience and renew interest in the opera. Part of the open house features free tickets to the final dress rehearsal of the new production of Madame Butterfly. Today was the day they were handing out the tickets at the box office on a first come first served basis. Unfortunately they were long gone before I got down there to take these pictures.

The photos below are: the view of Lincoln Center from 65th and Broadway with the Metropolitan Opera House in the center, Avery Fisher Hall, another view of the Met with the fountain in the foreground, and the New York State Theater advertising the New York City Opera.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn was great. I had never even heard of it before my gig on the Voyager. Its picturesque medieval charm took me completely surprise. It was also interesting to learn a bit of the history of this part of the world which I had only a vague understanding of until my visit.

Below is the travelogue email I sent home.

Tallinn, Estonia is a storybook town where 13th and 14th century church spires dominate the cityscape and medieval walls with turreted towers still surround the Old Town. Strolling the winding cobblestone streets I felt quite certain that a Hans Christian Anderson character might pop out of an alley at any moment. Yet despite its old world charm, my first impressions of Tallinn were that of a very progressive city. Just two minutes off the shuttle bus from the cruise terminal I saw a gay couple walking hand in hand down the street. Also, a couple of blocks inside the medieval city walls a rainbow flag could be seen waving outside a local bar.

Having gained its independence from the former Soviet Union 15 years ago, I found it ironic how like an adolescent Estonia is trying out different personalities in a search for its own modern identity. This was particularly evident in the names of some the businesses in town. For example, a pub called "Olde Hansa" is so named to honor Tallinn's past while down the street is a "British Pub" advertising Tennessee Whisky. Around the corner from there is the Arizona Grill which is across the square from Molly Malone's. There is even a store called "Hoochi Mama", clearly targeting a certain clientele.

The pictures below are: The rainbow flag outside a local bar, a street where one of the many medieval church spires can be seen, two of those Hans Christian Andersen characters I mentioned (I believe one of these is the boy who cried wolf), The 19c. Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Alexander Nevski (a somewhat ostentatious and unwelcome reminder to Estonians of their Russian past), The Cathedral of Saint Mary's (the oldest church in Tallinn) and finally, one of the gates of the medieval town wall.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Canterbury, England

I had a great time by myself on my little day trip to Canterbury. Being back in England among the student popluation of the town reminded me so much of my semester abroad in London while I was in college and the day trips we took to various places every friday. Here's the travelogue email I sent home.

Before we docked in the port of Dover, England, I had been tipped off by a couple of our British dancers, Gemma and Polly (I know--could their names be any more British?) that Canterbury is a charming town for a day trip and just a twenty minute train ride from the cruise terminal. Perfect! So, like the pilgrims in Chaucer's CANTERBURY TALES I set out for the famous cathedral which houses a shrine to Thomas Beckett who was murdered there in 1170 and since 1538 has been the head of the Anglican Church.

While an awe inspiring monument to man's devotion to God on the outside, inside Canterbury Cathedral is really pretty old and creepy. A huge crypt houses the tombs of Archbishops from as far back as the 12th century and even the remains of King Henry IV and his wife, Joan of Something-or-other with their likenesses carved in stony detail are on display for all to see. In contrast, Canterbury itself is teeming with the vitality of a college town due to the student population of its world famous university and Archbishop's School. There are dozens of pubs, coffee shops, trendy boutiques, record stores, tattoo and piercing parlors and bookstores lining the narrow streets.

The photos below are: Two exterior shots of Canterbury Cathedral, a stained-glass window from the oldest part of the cathedral (note the primitive detail of the figures), some Norman ruins on the grounds of the cathedral, student life thrives in an outdoor cafe literally just outside the gates of the cathedral, and finally ruins of the Norman castle built by William the Conqueror immediately following the Norman conquest in


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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Honfleur & Deauville, France

Okay, picking up where I left off with the travelogue emails. Back to France.

Our last stop in France was in the town of Honfleur which is one of those towns that is a bit too self-consciously aware of its own quaintness. It's about an hour's drive from Paris enabling Parisians to hop in the car, buy overpriced antiques and local crafts and think they're "in the country", much the way New Yorkers do out on the eastern end of Long Island or in certain towns along the Hudson. Nevertheless it is a picturesque village situated on the Normandy coast of France. Honfleur is mostly noted for its half-timber houses dating from before 1520 (which are called Tudor style in England) and the 500 year old wooden Church of St. Catherine built by local boatwrights as a temporary replacement for the original stone church destroyed in the Hundred Years War.

While in Honfleur I also took a short motor coach tour to the town of Deauville. As our guide described it "Parisians can't stand each other so on the weekends they like to get out of the city, but they all seem to come to the same place". That place is Deauville. So, again using the New York City analogy, that would make Deauville the Hamptons. There are lovely homes, wide sandy beaches, a horse track, expensive shops and hotels, a casino and a "planche"--what we would call a boardwalk.

The pictures below from top to bottom are: The harbor in Honfleur, a tower which was originally part of the medieval wall surrounding the city and once used as a toll house for ships entering the harbor, the steeple of St. Catherine's, a quiet lane in Honfleur, the "planche" in Deauville (as you can see, it ain't no Jersey Shore) and the very ritzy Normandy Barriere Hotel in Deauville.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Father's Day, 2006

Before I return to the rest of my travelogue emails, I thought I'd include a Father's Day greeting I sent home to my Dad while I was on the ship. My father emigrated to the US with his family from war torn Italy in 1949 when he was just 10 years old. My father has always shared stories of his childhood in Italy during World War II and since then has made many trips back to the "old country" for both business and pleasure. All of us kids have been fortunate enough at some point or other to visit Dad's ancestral villages with him where old family friends and distant relatives still recognize him. In fact, he is there right now visiting with my sister Diane and his one year old granddaughter, Charlotte.


I searched online to find a funny Father's Day cyber card for you but couldn't find anything quite right. So I thought you might enjoy some more pictures of Venice instead. There is something about Venice and many of the other famous sights in Italy that will always seem familiar to me. Having heard the stories from you and seen dozens of pictures and slides of Italy over the years, I felt as if I knew all these places before I ever even set foot in Italy. Just this last trip I explained to one of my cast mates the legend of the Bridge of Sighs, a story I've known since my childhood. Thank you for always sharing your pride and love of your Italian heritage and passing it along to me.
Happy Father's Day!

Tanti Baci,

The Grand Canal
One of the famous cafes in Piazza San Marco
St. Mark's Basilica
A Venetian flower shop
A quiet canal
Children feeding the birds in Piazza San Marco

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Down the Shore...

I'm a Jersey boy at heart--born and raised. So naturally I have a soft spot for the Jersey Shore where I've been spending a lot of time this summer. We finally had perfect beach weather this weekend so I headed back "down the shore" to make the most of it. In case you don't speak Jersey, "down the shore" is a local colloquialism that simply means going to the beach. I don't know the history of the expression, just that everyone in Jersey refers to it this way. Memories of "down the shore" are as integral to a Jersey childhood as little league or the first day of school and mine is no exception.

My earliest memories of family vacations were of rented cottages down the shore in Beach Haven, NJ, a quiet seasonal beach town with row upon row of simple, one story shingled houses spreading from the beach to the bay that separates Long Beach Island from the rest of the state. We went there every year until my family got a house "up the country" where we started taking our vacations instead--hot, muggy, poison-ivy filled vacations as I recall.

We still took occasional day trips down the shore every year however, usually to Point Pleasant, a nice middle-class beach community with a boardwalk full of amusements and kiddie rides. When we got a little older and the kiddie rides didn't matter so much we started going to Island Beach State Park which is miles of unspoiled dunes and white sandy beaches with no boardwalk.

I think my mother used to look forward to these day trips as a welcome respite from having 5 kids cooped up in the house during the summer months, although they were usually more work for her than anything else. She would be up late the night before making dozens of hero sandwiches of different varieties to suit everyone's tastes. Next she and my father would pack the station wagon full of everything we might possibly need for a day at the beach: umbrellas, coolers, beach towels, sand chairs, sand toys, rafts, floats, blankets, suntan lotion and usually a playpen as there was always one of us who was still young enough to have to be penned in at the beach. My mother would get us all up early the next day to start the two hour drive "down the shore" braving Parkway traffic all the way. When we finally got to the beach extensive set up of all our accoutrement was required and then my mother would spend the day making sure we all had the necessary sunscreen, refereeing fights over floats, picking sand out of sandwiches and her favorite part, sitting at the edge of the waves in a sandchair keeping a close eye so that none of us would drown.

Naturally, by time I was a teenager it was no longer cool to go down the shore with your parents. You went instead with your friends as soon as someone in your group was old enough to drive. But my very first outing down the shore without my parents was the annual altar boy trip with our church to Seaside Heights, NJ. Seaside was Point Pleasant's tacky, wrong-side-of-the-tracks, honky tonk cousin. In retrospect, it was a curious choice for the altar boy trip. I was too young at the time to know of its seamy reputation, all I knew was that it was where all the older kids went when they went down the shore. We always had fun though and I'd come home every year loaded down with junk I'd won on the boardwalk which I would put on proud display in my room.

When I was old enough to drive to the beach myself my friends and I had become far too grand and sophisticated for the likes of Seaside. No run down, honky-tonk beach town with its Camaro driving guidos and big-haired Jersey girls for us. No, indeed! We preferred the beach at Deal, NJ. Deal is a very affluent town with huge homes and mansions on nothing less than a 2 or 3 acre lot all along the beach. The houses ranged in style from 80s modern to glorious old Victorian. We would go to the Deal Casino which was actually a beach club, not a casino with gambling as in the modern sense of the word. The casino was something out of the 1920s with striped cabanas and lounge chairs and waiters to deliver your sandwich or a tall drink which always came with a cocktail umbrella no matter what you ordered. We loved it! We'd congratulate ourselves on our good taste as we sat in our lounge chairs sipping our umbrella drinks exchanging catty remarks about those poor slobs down in Seaside.

The after-prom custom for any New Jersey teen is also to go down the shore. Most kids went to Seaside or Wildwood and would show up at school Monday morning with fresh sunburns and tales of the prom. But once again bucking the trend, my "sophisticated" friends and I opted for a friend's mother's corporate apartment in the city on Central Park South rather than cramming 10 of us in one fleabag motel room down in Seaside. We spent a worldly, metropolitan weekend as only 18 year olds can do buying hotdogs from vendors in the park and taking pictures of the lights in Times Square like tourists.

When I was just out of high school and had my very first boyfriend who was just my age, we heard there was a gay beach at Sandy Hook. A gay beach. Can you imagine? Well, the first good beach day we had we set out to find it. It was easy to spot. It's right next to the nude beach. Sandy Hook is a National Park so again, the beach is unspoiled and it's one of the closest shore points to North Jersey so it was always an easy trip. I made trips to Sandy Hook almost every year since then. In fact there is even a ferry that leaves from Manhattan on the weekends and delivers you right to Sandy Hook. It's a beautiful trip past the Statue of Liberty and under the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge. It sure beats Parkway traffic and you don't have to worry about parking. I am reminded today that I had planned to go to Sandy Hook that fateful September 11th a few years ago with my boyfriend at the time, Jim and my dog, Sadie. We never made it there that day, but it was perfect beach weather.

Below are some shots from down the shore.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

A theatre by any other name...

Well, now that I'm back from the beach it's time to add a little more "Manhattan" to this Manhattan Chowder. I promise to return to my travelogue emails soon, too.

There has been a campaign in recent years to rename some of the old Broadway theatres for composers or playwrights. For example, the 46th Street theatre is now the Richard Rodgers Theatre, the Alvin is the Neil Simon, etc. This seems a worthwhile cause to me. But lately corporate America is getting in on the act, too. They buy a theatre or renovate it and then name it after themselves. This trend started with the "Ford Center for the Arts" where Ragtime opened a few years ago and featured a number about Henry Ford himself. Ford Motors has since sold the theatre to Hlton and it is now the Hilton Theatre. (Named for the hotel chain--not the heiress.) The Hilton Theatre is just down the street from The American Airlines Theatre which sounds to me more like an attraction at Epcot Center than it does a legitimate Broadway house.

Last night I went to see a new production of The Fantasticks at the Snapple Theatre Center. That's right. Snapple. It's on 50th Street just west of Broadway right in the glare of the lights of Times Square; a far cry from the Sullivan Street Theatre downtown where The Fantasticks originally opened and ran for over 30 years. The theatre itself is a typical black box type much like Sullivan Street, but unlike Sullivan Street I couldn't help but notice the glitz of the main entrance as pictured in the first photo below. The actual marquis of this 200 some-odd seat theatre extends half a block to the intersection of 50th and Broadway as can be seen in the second photo. And what do you suppose they serve at intermission at the Snapple Theatre Center? You guessed it--Snapple! By the way, the Snapple Theatre Center is catty corner across from the "Cadillac" Winter Garden Theatre pictured last.

I can only imagine if someone like Merman was here today she might say something like "In my day a theatre was either a Shubert or a Nederlander and the Ford Theatre was someplace where Lincoln got shot!"

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