We Saw Them Standing There

It may be freezing outside, but we’ve got long underwear and still get around.  (Are we the only losers in town with long underwear?  Probably.  The older you get, the less you care.  Or maybe you simply have no pride left.)

Anyway, over the past few days, we walked through the wintry landscape of Central Park to the Neue Galerie on the Upper East Side to see German and Austrian art and taste some of the beat Hungarian goulash we’ve ever tried.  We saw an excellent movie, “Youth in Revolt” (a comedy that was actually funny.  How rare is that?).

The incredible thing about being in New York, we told our friends Rob and Laurie, who were visiting from Dallas, but used to live here, is the unbelievable concentration of talent here.  Yes, yes, they said.  The theater, the art world, the events.

But not just that, we insisted.  It’s the stranger walking behind you who bursts into a Broadway song like she’s the reincarnation of Ethel Merman.  It’s the groups in the subway who croon gospel melodies so pure you want to break into tears — and stuff wadded-up bills into their little tin cans.  It’s the graffiti, the brilliant stage designs created on a tiny budget, the sheer exuberance of the young people who drape their scarves so artfully and wear their winter hats at a jaunty angle.  It’s just that it’s all around you.

Yesterday, we visited the Flea Theater in lower Manhattan (Tribeca?  Chinatown?  it was hard to tell) to see the winner of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a debut play called “Little Gem” by Elaine Murphy.  (We almost were in Edinburgh for the festival three years ago, but made the mistake of renting a car.  It seemed to take us a week to get out of town, with both of us chanting, “Drive on the left side.  The left, the left, the left,” paralyzed at roundabouts, and generally demoralized and borderline catatonic.  Until the British Isles comes to terms with its grave mistake of driving on the left-hand side of the road, we won’t be driving there again.)

Anyway, “Little Gem” was a lovely, funny, moving play about three generations of women (which is also the subject of my upcoming novel, so I couldn’t miss it).  The acting was superb, but sometimes, the dialect and accents made me feel we spoke a different language.

From there, we feasted at the appropriately named Excellent Dumpling House and ended the evening at the Algonquin’s Oak Room, hearing vocalist Sandy Stewart and pianist Bill Charlap.  I love the Algonquin — the history, the elegance! — but do have to note that if Dorothy Parker were alive today, there’s no way she could afford to be an alcoholic there.

Then we plunged down the stairs at the metro stop in Times Square, where, on a cold Saturday night, people of every conceivable age, race and ethnicity milled, drunk, sober, jubilant, morose, indifferent.  A really great band was playing Beatles music, rocking out to “Oh! Darling.”  We stopped and listened and left them some money, even though it — like so many of the best things in this city — was free.

Oh, darling, please believe me.  It was just great.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read one of my favorite posts about telling your conscience to shut up

10 comments… add one
  • Your New York sabbatical truly sounds fabulous! Please do keep us posted on your novel’s release date. Early 2011? I think it says on your blog header?

  • I never thought about it that way before but you are absolutely right, the talent of the inhabitants is amazing in New York.  I guess I just took it for granted.

  • As visitors living there, you are getting the best of both worlds.  You have the fresh eyes of the out-of-towners combined with longevity to follow through on your impulses to do this or see that.
    I’ve always wished there was some way to bring that less jaded way of seeing and more adventurous approach to everyday hometown living.  Think it could be done?

  • ruthpennebaker

    January 2011 is when the novel’s slated to come out, Jennifer.

    You must be from here, Brigindo.  It’s awe-inspiring to me.

    Deb, I think that — ideally, anyway — travel makes you look at your own hometown with new eyes.  Austin isn’t New York (but then, New York isn’t Austin, either), but there are wonderful things going on in Austin I’ve been too preoccupied or lazy to get to.

  • Oh, you make me want to come to NYC!! Just for the dumplings and goulash alone…

  • I love it when we visit NYC (my husband and I are both native NYkers). I love how you can walk and walk and walk, never feel tired and that there is always something unique to discover. Looking forward to our next journey there, albeit a brief one, in the spring.

  • I live in NJ and work in NY. Most days, I hate being in the city: the crowds…the cold…the commute (my husband and I both rock the long underwear, btw). But sometimes, I end up in the city a little later in the evening. The crowds have thinned out. The air is hushed. I tumble out of a subway car and into the tunnels beneath the Port Authority and come upon an a capella gospel group. Then I feel lucky to be there.

  • Sheryl

    Each time you write about NYC, you know, you are quietly nudging me away from suburbia…

  • Sounds like a neat weekend! I love your descriptions of the artistic flourishes all around you. Makes me wish I visited NYC more often. 🙂

  • Winston

    Yeah, right!  Are you sure NYC is a concentration of talent, or a magnet for schizophrenics?  I mean, really.  “Ethel Merman” belting one out along 2nd avenue?  If I were strolling the streets of NYC with a couple of Pennebakers in tatty long-johns at my heels, I’m sure I’d become, say, Gertrude Lawrence, warbling, “Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect, and whistle a happy tune….”

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