The City In the Spotlight

Sunday, May 4, 2008

11:54 a.m. So many museums, so little time. Should I head downtown to the Rubin and its collection of Himalayan art, or uptown to the Asia Society? The Rubin is near my favorite department store in the world, ABC Carpet and Home. That clinches it. But first I stop at the Pod Hotel to dump my stuff. It's far too hip for the likes of me, but the location, near the Museum of Modern Art, is perfect.

1:30 p.m. The Rubin Museum of Art is a haven of serenity, with polished wood floors, a spare design and blessedly uncrowded exhibit halls. I have tea in the cool little cafe, then wander happily amid the Buddhas. "From the Land of the Gods: Art of the Kathmandu Valley" is a stunning collection of Nepalese art, with statues, paintings and textiles that practically glow. Striking black-and-white photographs of Nepal add a touch of reality.

3 p.m. Docent Katarina Wong, leading a free tour, adds a new dimension to my visit, pointing out details I never would have noticed. We study Nepalese scroll paintings, lovely little statues of the gods Shiva and Ganesh, and an 18th-century painting from eastern Tibet that tells the story of the first Buddha, his noble deeds appearing as five vignettes. The best: when Buddha, in his life as an elephant, saves a group of pilgrims by hurling himself off a cliff.

In addition to a newfound appreciation of Himalayan art and history, I come away with something more tangible: three beaded necklaces from the museum's gift shop (not all for me!), plus a hand-woven scarf that I actually need: It's about to rain.

4:10 p.m. A vintage Missoni scarf in a display window on West 17th Street lures me into the Angel Street Thrift Shop, a Grandma's-attic kind of place with lots of treasures: candlesticks, paintings, books, old LPs and furniture, including a walnut pedestal table for $250 that would look smashing in my dining room, if only I could figure out how to get it home on the bus. Great prices, and for a good cause, with proceeds going to help New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS.

4:45 p.m. Who knew there were such affordable antiques in Manhattan? Pippin Home, a.k.a. Old House Vintage Goods, is a little hard to find, tucked down an alley between two office buildings in Chelsea. But the little 19th-century house, once a blacksmith shop, is worth seeking out, with a nice selection of old furniture, silver, jewelry, rugs, china and artwork. "Our average turnover for items is one to three weeks," says manager Jack Tobin, who scours New England auctions each week to stock the store. I can't resist a little prayer rug, a steal at $40.

6 p.m. New York = Italian comfort food. I find it at Cascina, an old-fashioned place on Ninth Avenue recommended by my son the New Yorker. He joins me for dinner, and we catch up over arugula salad with bacon and parmesan, pasta orecchiette with sausage and broccoli, a nice bottle of chianti and tiramisu to die for.

7:45 p.m. I'm walking against the light on my way to the Richard Rodgers Theatre, figuring I can easily beat an approaching limo. But as I step off the curb, a fellow pedestrian -- a local, from the sound of her -- grabs my elbow, commanding, "Don't do it. They will hit you."

8 p.m. I've long felt that the best places for theater in New York are off-Broadway venues. But "In the Heights," a hip-hop- and salsa-flavored musical about a Latino community in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood, restores my faith in New York's big-name theaters. Yes, the plot is corny and predictable. But the choreography is fabulous, the lyrics clever, and it's worth the price of admission just to see future superstar Lin-Manuel Miranda command the stage as the rapping bodega owner Usnavi. My musical-hating son scoffed at the sentimentality, but I noticed he was tapping his toes.

10:45 p.m. We walk-run a couple of blocks through the rain to the Algonquin Hotel, where I've reserved two seats for a little late-night cabaret. Inside the fabled Oak Room, the average age appears to be, oh, 87. We're shown to a prime table, where we sip our overpriced drinks and speculate about the crowd. Tonight's songstress, Maude Maggart, has gotten ridiculously good reviews in the New York press.

11:45 p.m. The lights dim, the spotlight spins and in she comes, 15 minutes late, all backless white gown and tumbling brown hair. Maggart, 32, is a champion hair-tosser. But she's no ditz. "This whole evening is going to be about dreams," she announces, and proceeds to dazzle us with evocative renditions of "Here Come the Dreamers," "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and a sublime combination of Judy Collins's "My Father" and Joan Baez's "Speaking of Dreams." Maggart is smart and funny, with amusing stage patter. She's the thinking person's chanteuse, and she clearly enjoys toying with the besotted businessmen in the audience.

11 a.m. Finally, a warm, sunny morning. And what better place to enjoy it than Greenacre Park, an enticing slice of nature tucked between two office buildings across from my hotel on East 51st Street. The tennis-court-size plot, a gift to the city from a Rockefeller family foundation in 1971, is abloom with spring flowers -- one of those unexpected oases that make walking around Manhattan such a pleasure. I settle in at a table in a grove of honey locust trees, sipping a cappuccino as a 25-foot waterfall drowns out the noise of the city. Bliss.

11:54 a.m. On my way to the subway, I stop at St. Bartholomew's Church on East 50th Street, attracted by the intricate stone carvings and the magnificent mosaic-tiled dome. The Romanesque-Byzantine concoction opened in 1918, adding the signature dome in 1930. Inside, there are marble columns, intricate friezes with scenes from the Bible, huge bronze doors designed by Stanford White. Bonus: a wide-ranging gift shop with a selection of folk-art crucifixes from around the globe.

Culture and commerce, the perfect combination.

-- K.C. Summers

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