Category Archives: Uncategorized

Downtown’s Change of Address

I’m moving. Online, that is.

The focus will remain somewhat the same. I’ll still write about New York, but you’ll find more culturally-related posts and reviews from me as well. I’m reorganizing the writing part of my brain and with that comes a need to shift, physically, via the interwebs. I’m packing my words in their little beat-up valises and moving them over to The Brow. You can also find my Uptown/Downtown posts archived over there, too. I may occasionally post here at Uptown/Downtown, but if I do, I’ll be sure to redirect you via The Brow.

My dear Uptown, it has been fun. You’ve helped keep me in line and posting more regularly and for longer than I ever thought I was capable of. For that & more, I am truly grateful.

— xo Downtown

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Why I like this City.

ok. I LOVE Central Park. I like the City.

Photography by Oleg Gapanyuk and Andrei Zubets. Presentation by John Colebrook

Photography by Oleg Gapanyuk and Andrei Zubets. Presentation by John Colebrook


and there’s more, as in the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, etc.

Still Crazy After All of These Years [& Thank God!]

I will open this post with a Jedi mind trick: You will go see Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking” on Broadway. Now.

wishful-drinking

I thought I knew what to expect as we (my mom insisted on joining me for this show) made our way to our seats on the first night of previews. I read the book version of “Wishful Drinking” and had a sense of the story we were about to witness played out on stage. In “Wishful Drinking” the book, Carrie Fisher talks about her family. Her friends & lovers. Her career. Her drugs. Her mental illness. Her ECT. Oh, and Star Wars.

In the show, however, Carrie Fisher the writer/actor/Princess of Alderaan, has an energy and comedic timing that the book simply cannot convey. She talks about her FAMILY, with the help of a visual aid, which feels like a set of vintage Hollywood trading cards. Everyone from Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are a part of her collection. Her FRIENDS & LOVERS, including Paul Simon and Bryan Lourd. Her CAREER. Her DRUGS (ok, there were too many things I could have linked to on this one, so I went with the most recent). Her MENTAL ILLNESS. Her ECT. And STAR WARS. I resort to using caps when describing these things because Fisher’s life is big and bold and she lives it big(ly) and boldly. It’s also scary, joyous, painful, and funny as hell. She manages to strike a delicate balance between all of these emotions and delivers her story with warmth and a welcomed sense of nostalgia. She makes a life that sounds so outrageous to all of us also seem so accessible.

It cannot be denied that Carrie Fisher is a great writer. But it must not be forgotten that she is an equally great performer. In “Wishful Drinking” she truly is her STORY. And what a f*cking story it is. –Downtown

WD_BerkeleyRep_4
You can find “Wishful Drinking” (somewhat ironically) at Studio 54 (till January 3rd, 2010) or on the bookshelf of your local bookstore. You can also find Carrie Fisher (and her bad-ass humor) on Twitter and blogging on her website.

Disclaimer: If you go to the show, be prepared for big time audience participation. Think Blue Man Group-type participation, but with words, cursing, and a sex doll. Ok, not at all like Blue Man Group.

All The Sad, Young [and Middle-Aged] Literary Types

bbf_2009

Crowds descended upon Brooklyn Borough Hall/Plaza and Columbus Park today for the Brooklyn Book Festival (btw, poor website and flyer layout, BBF! The microscopic signs on the vendors didn’t help, either). I rode the 3 train to Brooklyn for the book festival’s “Literature in a Digital Age” panel. Per my reading of the panel description, this what I thought I was going to hear:

Some say the “age of the book” is ending and a glorious new “digital era” is dawning. Others turn the page and keep reading. How do new forms of media affect our literary culture, and how do writers and publishers adapt to them? Featuring John Freeman (The Tyranny of Email), Dwight Garner (Read Me) and Sarah Schmelling (Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don’t Float: Classic Lit Signs On To Facebook). Moderated by Maud Newton, blogger of maudnewton.com.

Before I dissect the panel, I need an aside in order to talk about my admiration for Maud Newton and her website. Newton is, and has always been, my favorite literary blogger. I stumbled upon her blog in college and it still remains as the first entry I put onto the bookmarks bar of every computer I’ve had since. When I read her blog, I feel as if I’m a breath away from turning a page instead of clicking my computer’s track pad. She is the internet’s throwback to the printed word writer. And, apart from myself, she was probably the second American to discover the incredible Scottish writer [my favorite living writer], A.L. Kennedy … and one the first to blog about her (this isn’t the earliest piece Maud wrote about her, but it has the best ALK-related links). As a panelist for the Literature in the Digital Age event, Maud would have been a wonderful choice and fulfilled every aspect of literature in the digital age (she blogs, she tweets, she reads books on her iPhone, etc).

As a moderator, however, Maud fell short of engaging the crowd. The conversation she started felt too intimate for such a large space. So much so, that the panelists physically turned their bodies away from the audience to engage with her personally. Maud is also high-literary minded, in that it seems the printed-on-paper word is her only god. This would be fine, but not for the moderator of a panel who needs to keep an open mind and press questions on panelists about the various facets of the digital age and how it affects books — including the buying and selling of books — and how authors engage with their audiences.

The panelists represented a tiny slice of internet pie. Freeman and Garner may write online (sometimes) but they are still journalists and writers of the old school. Even Schmelling’s work is primarily in print. As a result, the panel felt like a dusty old paperback that’s been sitting for too long on a high shelf at The Strand. What they were missing was someone more acquainted with social networking, digital media and the publishing world. Perhaps a marketing head (or even assistant) at one of the big houses, a digital media strategist, or even a blog/Internet-savvy publicist. Ideally, they should have had someone from Harper Studio, where they are changing the face of book publishing and how authors (and imprints) build audiences & interact with their readers.

An additional ingredient that may have helped keep this book panel from the bargain bin would have been to have someone under age 30 representing some aspect of the publishing industry. Let’s face the truth here, my generation (the Net Generation) has grown up with computers. I’ve spent most of my life carrying around everything from floppy discs in my backpack to USBs on my key ring and Google Docs housed somewhere in cyberland. Though panelist John Freeman didn’t appear to be too far off from 30 — a quick Google search only turned up the phrase “young editor of Granta” — he isn’t savvy to new media and confessed Granta has only started tweeting recently. Granta is online, but like the New Yorker, with limited access, and no pay by the article option to unlock individual pieces.

In addition to these discrepancies, none of the panelists has ever read a book on an e-reader. I believe it was Garner who offered a sliver of hope to the rest of the dusty paperback panel: a reader will soon reach up onto the high shelf and buy them: “Readers are up 5 percent from last year. People are putting aside more time at the end of the day to turn off their computers and read, offline.”

I’m not certain where this statistic came from, but I’d like to believe it’s true. We can all use the break from the backlight of a computer. But when I log off, I turn on my Kindle. It reads like a book, there’s no backlight (it’s all ambient light), and it saves me time, money (at $299, and bet $7.99 and $10 per book, it’s already paid for itself twice over), space and it’s convenient — all things a New Yorker living in the digital age (and in a city-sized apartment) can’t live without.
–Downtown

P.S. I was a little disappointed to hear Maud Newton say one of the reasons she started her blog was so she could avoid having to interact with people face-to-face. That’s how people thought when blogs first started in the 1990s. It was a way to share your words, but hide behind them as well. Now the internet brings people together: Reuniting friends, allowing for people across the country or the world to collaborate, or nearly missed connections the chance to bump into one another or even, the opportunity to avoid each other.

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For as long as we’ve been here, at 8:46am on 9/11 a bell rings throughout my daughter’s school. S-I-L-E-N-C-E. A second bell sounds 8:47am and classes resume. My son’s school, according to him, treats the day like any other.

In my own class yesterday morning at Columbia University, the professor, who’d been at work on Wall Street on September 11, 2001, briefly but strongly encouraged us, at some point in the day, to take a moment to reflect. We should speak with someone who had been near or at the World Trade Center in 2001. He said we need not head downtown immediately but sometime during the course of our journalistic studies, we should.

I’ve been near the site. I’ve read the Man Who Walked Between the Towers more than 25 times with my school boy. I can’t go to the site. I can’t watch the news clips that run the same footage over and over and over again.51HXNRZKPSL._SS500_

Our world changed forever on that day. For all of us, your generation especially DT, time is now defined by where we were on 9/11, pre and post.

I’ve been alive for as long as the towers have been standing. Longer.

Pre: I visited the Twin Towers when they were a new addition to the skyline. I dined at Windows on the World with my parents, grandmother and great aunt and uncle. It was very fancy. I worked for Cantor Fitzgerald in Los Angeles but spent time in One World Trade Center with Mr. Cantor and art department colleagues.

On September 11, 2001, I lived in Los Angeles with my husband and two kidlets. Our children’s godmother called from Chicago before 6am PST. She called because I had been an employee of Cantor Fitzgerald until 1997. We both knew people in the towers.

Post: Often, not just on September 11, I remember the people I knew who died. I remember what it was like to visit New York months after September 11 and see American flags hanging all along Park Avenue. I remember the sense of kindness people in New York and Los Angeles extended toward one another. I recognize how strange it is feels when an airplane flies over the center of Manhattan. I always stop when I see a fire house or engine and look for a 9/11 plaque. I take a breath in remembrance of the fallen. I try not to ride the subway without a tiny flashlight. (that’s a holdover from Los Angeles though, earthquake land = it’s good to have a flashlight). And on the subject of light, I’m repeatedly entranced by Tribute of Light.

For my kids, well, I don’t know what they recall. The then toddler’s school closed for the day. We stuck together and went to school with the then second-grader. We sat in a circle in her classroom and talked about truths vs. rumors. We didn’t know any truths at the time except that the sun came up as it did every day. We were safe. Our family, near and far (LA and NYC) was safe. But something horrible had happened far away. It was something that had never happened in our country. Planes crashed. People died. But we were safe. Safe was the operating word. And this was a day that was unlike any we’d ever known. We didn’t/I couldn’t watch or listen to any television coverage. I didn’t want my kids to catch any glimpse of the images.

A few months later when the physician/scientist/husband flew to Washington, DC on business, our little one had it in his head that his dad was going to be speaking with the President. His idea that the dad would talk about making the world a safer place. We explained that wasn’t the aim of the trip and that there wasn’t a meeting with the POTUS. But the boy persisted and we indulged his simple pleasure.

And that’s it. Simple. Thank you, dear DT, to remind me to cherish the good moments and take stock and remember, especially on September 11, that la vie est belle.

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Mirror, Mirror
This is a day where I look in the mirror and I don’t judge myself. I am happy just being alive.

Eight years ago I didn’t know how many of my extended family members and friends were still alive. They were trapped in in stairwells, on the streets of lower Manhattan, in college dorms surrounded by clouds of smoke, and, fortuitously, stuck with flat tires on bridges instead of delivering an order to Windows on the World, or had decided to take a meeting uptown instead of in their office in Tower 2, overslept and were still on the train enroute to work at Cantor Fitzgerald, and even in a chemo treatment instead of at their desk in Tower 1.

I was in Ithaca, NY safe in my college apartment, glued to the TV and trying frantically to get through to ANYONE on my cell phone. I was relaying news updates to a high school friend via instant messenger, since she was living in Morocco and they were censoring the news. By 5pm everyone we knew was accounted for, but many others were not so lucky.

Take a moment to look in your own mirror, to reflect on the life you’ve lived over the past eight years. Hug your family a little tighter, kiss your partner a little longer. Relish the simple “I Love You” as you sign off a call or say good-bye. Appreciate every minute of the day, because, as we learned in 2001, it can all change in an instant. la vita è bella.
–Downtown

Sunday Afternoon in the Park with

“Red flags indicate that the lawns are closed due to inclement weather or maintenance work. When the grass is wet, it is more susceptible to damage.” That’s what a sign reads…

I LOVE Central Park and am grateful to the Central Park Conservancy and the Parks Department for all that they do to keep the Park in good order but Sunday’s Sheep Meadow closure, ok, after nearly a week’s worth of rain, if my memory serves me correctly, was enough to send me back to the burning hills of CA. The 15 year old and I set out to read al fresco and this is what we found:
Sheep Meadow Closed due to inclement weather

According to the Central Park website, “The Sheep Meadow is meticulously cared for by the parks department and rigid rules enforced to ensure that it doesn’t suffer the decline caused by overuse. On a crowded weekend afternoon as many as 30,000 visitors may arrive to enjoy the tree ringed expanse and it is only by careful management that meadow can be preserved.”IMG00241-20090830-1732

Ugly Naked Guy

It never ceases to amaze me that people, ok so they are out of towners but puleez, don’t realize that what goes on inside their room is fair game until they draw the drapes. Most of the time, the guests pull the curtains just before they crawl into bed. Fortunately for us, by nightfall, our shades are generally down so we tend to miss the goings on across the street and vice versa.

Butt, almost without fail, on the occasion when we’ve neglected to pull our shades, we can’t help but catch a bare bottom or two. What are those people thinking? Are they not familiar with the “Ugly Naked Guy” from Friends? Sheesh.

We SEE you.

We SEE you.

PUT SOME CLOTHES ON DUDE. Or draw your drapes. Please. Sooner rather than later.

Murder and Mealtime in the Mountains

dinning_room_img1“Hot Springs, Virginia is an extraordinary place – disarmingly rural, it is also the setting of one of America’s great resorts. Like the legendary French chateaux, The Homestead holds dominion over the striking Warm Springs Valley.” – Dining at The Homestead by Albert Schnarwyler, Eleanor and James Ferguson, 1989.

But in March of this year, a gunman entered the kitchen of the exclusive resort, fired his semi-automatic handgun and killed two of his co-workers. The murder suspect was never captured and is thought to be on the loose (or more likely, he is hiding in the lush forests of the region). 0323_homesteadpicAccording to The Roanoke Times, Beacher F. “Hackney is a 5-foot-6-inch, 145-pound, balding white male. He wears glasses and was last seen wearing a light blue shirt, dark blue pants and jacket and black shoes. He is considered armed and dangerous.Anyone with information about Hackney’s whereabouts should call the Bath County Sheriff’s Office at 839-5300.”

Life in the hills is truly other worldly.

In addition to speaking with a Southern accent among the locals and many of their guests, some of the vocabulary never fails to affect me.

“Where are your people from?” said one woman to another as they sat by the outdoor pool.

“Mostly Roanoke,” said the other. “But some of my people live in Charlottesville.” As in VuhginYuh.

Uh, People?

And then there’s the food. Out of this world in terms of richness and times past when TOP CHEF meant French chefs like Georges Auguste Escoffier.

The Homestead’s dedication to traditional cuisine is unlike most places I’ve been.

Whereas my family and I tend to stick to the no-carb, high protein diet, the Homestead is anything but that. Think eggs, butter, cream, veal, sauces (Béarnaise, Hollandaise, May-O-nnaise) made from stock that is made from scratch. There are cold soups (Vichyssoise or watercress) and hot soups (lobster or shrimp bisque, cream of asparagus). Coquilles St. Jacques au beurre blanc, baked oysters with crabmeat gratinée, Pompano in papillote, consummé. Any mention of the word vegetable equals beaucoup de butter and potatoes, maybe a pea or julienned carrot. The multitude of heavy items on offer all of the time strikes me as a real blast from the past. Julia Child would be in her element. Bear in mind that until the 1970s or somewhere not quite a lifetime ago (mine, at least), men and women dressed for dinner when the headed to the Dining Room. In these parts, that means black-tie and long dresses. Everynight.

Menus for the ladies (or whomever it is that won’t be picking up the tab) are printed without prices. Only the table host knows. That, too, is of another era.

For dessert, the operating word is flambé . Cherries Jubilee with kirsch, Crepes Suzette with Grand Marnier and brandy or Bananas Foster with Meyers rum, Cointreau and banana liqueur are prepared and flamed tableside, something my children have never seen before and most likely won’t again. They didn’t like the liqueur flavorings (and neither do I). The theatrics, on the other hand, are something to write blog about. Dessert.

tomatoIn the early 1900s, guests of the homestead traveled on horseback or in buggies to the Fassifern Tavern in Warm Springs. There, they enjoyed a luncheon menu that included southern fried chicken, corn pudding and fassifern tomatoes. Have you ever heard of such a thing? DEE-lish.

In case you feel like cooking, dt, I LOVE these toms.

The Homestead’s Fassifern Tomatoes

Yields 10 Servings

1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
½ cup sugar
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon corn starch
¼ cup cold water
2 cups toasted bread cubes
(4 pieces, edges cut off)
1/3 cup melted butter

Recommended equipment!

A 3-quart saucepan
wooden spoon
small bowl
baking dish 8 x8 x 2 inches
baking sheet
small saucepan for melting butter!

Preheat oven to 300F
Put the toms with their juice into the saucepan, add sugar, salt and pepper and bring to boil over medium heat. While the toms are coming to a boil, mix the cornstarch with the cold water in the small bowl and set aside. When the toms are boiling, remove the saucepan from heat and slowly pour the cornstarch mixture into the toms, stirring constantly with the wooden spoon. When well blended, set the saucepan back over medium heat and bring the tomatoes to a simmer. Adjust heat so that the toms will cook gently for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.

While the tomatoes are simmering, cut the bread into ½ inch cubes, set them on the baking sheet, and bake for 5 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. When done, remove from oven and “reserve.” (!!!!)

Put the butter in the small saucepan and set it over low heat.

When the tomatoes have finished simmering, pout them into the baking dish, arrange the toasted bread cubes over the top, drizzle on the melted butter, and put the baking dish into the middle level of the oven to bake for 20 minutes.

The tomatoes can be simmered several hours ahead of time and wait in the baking dish for their final cooking. Top with bread cubes and butter just before baking.

Beware and bon appétit.

Driving Miss Daisy

Hot Springs, VA – When my now 15-and-a-half-year old was three she dressed as a pink-pussy cat for Halloween. Her name was Daisy the Cat.

For several years thereafter, every now and then, the blond curly headed little girl would take on her alter ego, lick my hands and crawl around on all fours, purring. She’s come a long way from the days when she wore pink cat ears, pink leggings and a fuzzy pink boa tail.

She shed the cat costume some time ago. She no longer licks my fingers/paws nor does she meow yet her prowess is forever increasing. Today, she’s behind the wheel of a car driving with her grandfather, affectionately known as PopPops.

Until now, Daisy has had the privilege of driving her grandparents’ golf carts at their winter home in Florida.golf cart
Yesterday, PopPops, invited Miss Daisy to take the wheel of his 23 year-old silver Volvo, as he rode shutgun. Following his lead, they’d drive down a Virginia country lane or two for some instruction.
silver volvo

They weren’t gone for long, maybe ten to twelve minutes. I was surprised to see them return so quickly. It’s not that I was anxious, not at all. I was excited for the girl’s growing independence and the special moment she’d shared with her grandfather.

When they pulled into the driveway, Daisy’s grandmother, Grandmamma, and I met the duo in the garage. The driver beamed as she exited the shiny car, having pulled it into the narrow space on her own. Her ear-to-ear smile and bright blue eyes said more than any words could. Her sense of accomplishment and excitement was contagious. PopPops smiled proudly too.

He told us that he’d directed Daisy to drive down the quiet road. Under the impression that the other summer residents were all away, he had her turn into a driveway. Much to their surprise, another car was moving toward them. Calmly, Miss Daisy backed up and out of the oncoming car’s way. She reached the roundabout and PopPops told her to back around in reverse twice, rather than drive forward.

Learning how to drive is something, I think, a person never forgets.

I don’t mean the “how to” part of driving but the “how it happened.”
PopPops remembers when he was 15 years old in Iowa, he learned to drive on a black Plymouth. plymouth Grandmama, who learned from her older brother, started driving when she was 14 in Nashville, TN. She learned to drive a Chevrolet. I remember turning 15 and learning to drive my mom’s dark blue Volvo. (couldn’t find an accurate image but the shape to follow is true to form).
blue volvo

That car was just a decade older than the silver car that Daisy’s been learning to drive. The passage of time is a weird thing.

Sunday morning while the Grands were at church, Daisy and I headed out for a Sunday drive in the country. We reached an empty paved parking lot and the pussycat took the wheel.

Frontwards and backwards she drove. Depressing the accelerator VA-ROOM, I felt the car jump forward, faster and more rapidly than appropriate. I remained calm. She got the hang of which way to turn the steering wheel while driving in reverse. Like almost everything this kid does, she took it all very seriously.

After a few minutes of back and forth, we switched places and headed
back to the Grands’ country road.

“Do I have to drive with PopPops this afternoon?” she whined. “You said we could go to the pool.”

I thought briefly about what she asked. Was it that she didn’t want
to drive? That she was nervous? That she wanted to go to the pool?

I didn’t care. I thought some more.

“Daisy,” I said, “PopPops is going to die. I don’t know when.” I paused.

This is a chance for you,” I continued. “Not only to learn how to
drive but really, it’s a chance to do something with him that you
will always remember.

You create memories. And they will always be with you. People
die but your memories of them stay with you.

I winced at the wisdom I was imparting. Was she listening? Was she cringing? Was she rolling her eyes? There was silence on both of our parts. I contemplated filling the thick air with more words but let the time pass. Silence.

I turned onto our country road, stopped the car on the flat at the bottom of our hill and turned the driving over to my passenger.

She drove us home, parked in the driveway.

Twenty minutes later, the Grands returned from church.

“Daisy,” said PopPops, “are you ready to go for a drive?”
I hesitated yet took a deep breath.

“I guess so,” said Daisy.

And the two of them were off.

Creating memories.