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Archive for November, 2010

  • Day 271: Paradise on the Grand Concourse

    Date: 2010.11.17 | Category: Uncategorized | Response: 4

    Whenever my visit to New York City comes to an end, I go someplace very different from the fast-paced, glamorous life my friends/former colleagues lead in glittering Manhattan.

    The longer I’ve been away, the more intense Manhattan Island seems to be, though I love it and will always love it – and it will always feel more like home to me than Boston, which is near where I grew up.

    I used to adore my high-rise apartment, which is smack in the center of the island with huge open views of the downtown skyline and the Hudson River.  I still love it, but it seems more harsh and exposed to me now.  I still sleep well there, but I feel as if the energy is coming at me relentlessly, that there is no escape from the burning power of  Manhattan.

    At the end of my last visit, I took the subway to the Cloisters, at the northern tip of Manhattan – and then walked all the way back down the island through Washington Heights, my favorite neighborhood, and down to a friend’s dinner party on Central Park West.

    I fantasized about moving to Washington Heights if I ever decided to move back to New York from Europe.  In a way I feel more comfortable there, with salsa blaring from the sidewalk stores and hair salons that cater to curly hair like mine.

    This month’s visit concluded with a walk from 149th Street in the South Bronx along the once-storied Grand Concourse to 192nd Street.  I was inspired to walk the Grand Concourse after reading Hollywood promoter/producer extraordinaire Jerry Weintraub’s memoir, When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead:  Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man.

    Weintraub, like many of Jewish kids (Ralph “Lifshitz” Lauren, Calvin Klein etc.), came from this area of the Bronx.  Weintraub in particular spoke of this amazing movie palace, Loew’s Paradise, (in the photo I took above) a spectacular, now 81-year-old building on the Grand Concourse at 188th Street, which inspired hundreds of ambitious young kids like him living in otherwise mundane surroundings.

    I wanted to come see the Loew’s Paradise.

    In the early 1990s, as a reporter with the Associated Press, I came to the South Bronx to do stories at a time when the nightmarish “Fort Apache, the Bronx” days of apartment burnings and the crack epidemic were still in force.  It was a dangerous place.

    Today I felt perfectly comfortable walking alone even though there was not a single other Caucasian face to be found as I walked the Grand Concourse,  a stately boulevard studded with some gorgeous Art Deco apartment buildings.  In its heyday, in the 30s, 40s and 50s – it was called the Park Avenue for Jews and Italians who escaped the tenements of Manhattan.

    Then they left in the white flight as African-Americans and Latinos arrived.  I hoped to see at least a few elderly Jews on my walk.  But I didn’t.  I walked into some of the nicer apartment buildings and talked to the concierges who said a few very elderly Jews still lived there.

    Mostly I saw the names of old temples and synagogues obscured by signs for Baptist and 7th Day Adventist churches.  And I heard Spanish a lot.  I spoke to a woman near a bus stop who’s lived in the Bronx for 40 years. She said there are still a lot of drug dealers on the side streets but the dark days of the ’70s and ’80s are gone.

    Now the Grand Concourse is part of the South Bronx Enpowerment Zone – a $100 million initative begun in 1996 involving areas of the Bronx, Washington Heights and Harlem – that’s reinvigorated the area.

    I enjoyed talking to various people along the Grand Concourse who were so friendly to me.  When I got to Loew’s Paradise theater, it was so exciting to see the place that meant so much to Weintraub.  It’s among a lot of non-descript stores but you can see its past magnificence.  It was closed for years but a new guy bought it a few years ago and now they’re having lots of concerts and awards shows there.

    The guy inside the ticket booth said it was closed at the moment but I begged him to show me inside.  I wanted to see the enormous lobby with its cherubs and gargoyles – the theater is a Bronx cousin of Radio City Music Hall, built in 1929.

    He turned out to be a great guy, a lifelong resident of the Bronx, who took me inside and I was thrilled.  He wanted to be sure I walked even a bit further, to see the cottage where Edgar Allan Poe lived in 1812 – this small, normal-looking little house in the middle of the Grand Concourse.

    When Poe lived here, the area was rural, part of Westchester County.  I love old New York history, trying to picture what Manhattan and environs were when they were mainly farmlands.

    I saw a public elementary school across the street from the Poe cottage.  Before I jumped back on the B train to Caucasian Manhattan, I wanted to go inside the school.   The world I come from in New York is privileged, moneyed, media etc.  My friends’ kids go through all the rigamarole to get into the best private schools.

    But I fantasize about living in one of the grand old buildings on the Concourse.  And what would it be like to send a kid to a local public school?  This is the other side of the world in a way, a public school in the South Bronx.

    I walked into the school, which is K through 6.  It was so sunny, cheerful and bright. I went by the classrooms and read what the teachers wrote on the classroom doors about what their students were doing and learning.  One fourth grade class was collecting fall leaves and pressing them under paper, the same thing I did in elementary school.

    It was 3pm so parents were coming to pick up their kids.  The teachers were smiling, the kids were joking around.  I felt no trouble or tension.

    As I walked back to the subway station at Fordham Road to catch the B train back to Manhattan, I ran into a concierge who I’d spoken to at an apartment building near 165th Street.  He was on his way home. He was delighted to see I’d walked all the way up to the Poe cottage.

    I got back on the subway and began seeing white faces after we roared past 125th Street in Harlem.  I got out near Macy’s on 34th Street because I had to buy something before I left.

    I saw a Christmas sign on the side facade of Macy’s:  BELIEVE.

  • Day 265: “Morning Glory” – Not a Movie for Diabetics

    Date: 2010.11.09 | Category: Uncategorized | Response: 4

    Last night I returned to the scene of a former career detour: the few years I spent as an entertainment reporter and movie critic on American television.

    I went to a critics screening near Lincoln Center of a new movie starring Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton called “Morning Glory.” It purports to be a quasi rom-com set on a morning TV show like Good Day New York but it’s so dated you’d think it was 1975.

    Dated, but bizarre.  Barely a mention is made of the Internet, which is the process of decimating network news as it did with the music industry.  At the same time the fictional show’s morning anchors are 64 (Keaton) and 68 (Harrison) which actually makes sense in a world where no one under 40 watches TV anymore and the airwaves are filled with matronly Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford types.

    The first sign that this was a piece of dreck, literally, was when I saw the call letters for the network where the morning show, Daybreak, takes place:  IBS.

    What screenwriter comes up with the acronym for Irritable Bowel Syndrome for the name of a faux network for a film?   One that’s trying to tell us how he feels about his own creation?

    I could go on about the creaky plot involving an eager new executive producer (McAdams) hired to turn a troubled morning show with egomaniacal co-anchors into a ratings success against, of course, all odds.

    Every turn is telegraphed about 15 minutes in advance and every scene is reminiscent of something you’ve seen before – but probably in a much better movie. (1976′s brilliant Network and 1987′s Broadcast News remain the gold standards of the genre.)

    But what the movie almost unwatchable for me was the star, Rachel McAdams.

    She’s playing the ultimate American film archetype: the cute, yet fuckable, spunky yet vulnerable, heroine who by dint of her moxie comes in and saves the day.

    She redeems bitter ex-foreign correspondent Ford (who, along with network executive Jeff Goldblum, are the only bright spots in the movie), keeps the show on the air and gets the guy.

    All while wearing a ponytail and bangs usually seen on pre-teens and flashing a constant simpering, saccharine smile that made me feel as if her main focus was reveling in her own adorableness.

    Glucose meters should be handed out to audience members.

    I’ve spent the last six years living in France and realized with a shock last night that it’s taken its toll.

    French women just don’t act like this – in real life or in the movies. Walk the streets of Paris or the south of France or deep in the Cevennes – you just aren’t going to find any French woman over 25 who gets over by wearing a ponytail and the kind of smile you associate with a 5-year-old girl who’s just been taken out for ice cream by her daddy. Nor are they likely to weep in public.

    The French call Americans les grands enfants – or large children.  I hope not too many of them see this movie.

    Because  in Morning Glory, whatever the situation, McAdams beams adorably.  She pouts a few times, especially when grumpy ex-newsman Ford (rightly) mocks her bangs and tells her she has “daddy issues.”  And of course she tears up more than a few times, all in the process of winning over said daddy figure.

    Note:  What made Holly Hunter’s equally high-strung and cute TV producer so memorable in Broadcast News was that she had her crying fit in private after hanging up the phone from a tough call.

    When McAdams’ love interest, played by Patrick Wilson, came onscreen, there was zero chemistry between them.  All I could see were their high cheekbones, blinding Zoom!-style bleached white teeth and the sense they were both celebrating their own good looks and winning smiles so much they couldn’t even see each other.

    My old friend, longtime movie critic Jeffrey Lyons sat right next to us last night. Jeffrey and  sat through a screening of Million Dollar Baby years ago and as far as I know were the only two people in the universe who disliked it.  I was sure Jeffrey would have harsh words for this movie as well.

    He liked it!  So did Rex Reed!

    I guess they like spunk.  Me, I’m with Lou Grant.

  • Day 263: New York, New York

    Date: 2010.11.08 | Category: Uncategorized | Response: 2

    Whenever I come back to New York City, where I lived for 15 years, it’s as if it’s 1995 and I never left.  I hurl myself full-throttle into Manhattan, including going to the opening of “Carmen” at the Metropolitan Opera (left) thanks to a former TV producer friend who now has a top job in management at the Met.

    And Manhattan responds by holding a knife to my throat, letting me know that you can’t just leave and expect to be the same person you were when you were living here.

    I used to keep up a furious pace while living here.  But after a few days back, I realize that years spent in a 500-year-old village on the Mediterranean have taken their toll.  I start to feel a little overwhelmed, tired even – which never happened when I was a full-time resident here.  Back then, this hyper-caffeinated island just fed my hyper-caffeinated soul.

    As William Wordsworth put it in Intimations of Immortality:

    There was a time when meadow, grove and stream

    The earth, and every common sight,

    To me did seem,

    Apparelled in celestial light,

    The glory and the freshness of a dream,

    It is not now as it hath been of yore;

    Turn wheresoe’r I may,

    By night or day,

    The things which I have seen, I can now see no more.

    I love Central Park, especially the 6.2 mile loop I used to run almost every other day. Whenever I’m near the park, I often look toward the interior – as if the 30-year-old me is still in there somewhere.

    Instead, I walk part of the loop with my cousin Kathleen, who’s come to town to catch “Billy Elliot” with me, a Broadway show I’ve been meaning to see for years.  Kathleen and I have never lived in the same place but we have a history of connecting at key moments, often taking a walk wherever we are and talking about our family.

    Kathleen sometimes used to come to the city with her son T.J. Wagner, who loved Broadway shows.  We went to see “Cats” right before it closed. I expected it to be a bore-snore, strictly for blue-hairs from Iowa fresh off the Big Apple tour buses. Instead, I loved it and T.J. was inspired.  Today he’s a drama student at Ithaca College and Kathleen made me email the cellphone photo we took from the theater (left) to him at school.

    Those who have been reading this blog know that I spent three weeks on the Dukan diet, fully expecting to stay on it until I met my weight loss goal.

    Instead, I returned to the U.S. on Oct. 25th and promptly fell off the wagon. Not only did I go off the Dukan diet, I also ate some candy.  The Dukan diet is over. No way could I keep it going over here.  And I was horrified that I ate some M&Ms and some Kudos bars during my first week here.

    I have always been afraid that if I began to eat candy again, I would never be able to give it up again.  Instead, after just four days, on Oct. 31, I vowed to get back on the wagon.

    I haven’t had anything sweet since.  It hasn’t been difficult.

    I doubt I’ve had any more weight loss but it’s heartening to know that falling off the candy wagon for four days doesn’t mean I can’t get right back on track.

    I might re-start the Dukan diet when I go back to France, but it’s too difficult to stick with it in New York City.

    I’m also mindful of something a friend in France said to me a few days before I left for New York.  All this diet and weight stuff on your blog, she said, it’s not really you.

    What’s much more me is seeing live art like “Carmen” and “Billy Elliot.”  I am fascinated by people at the top of their game – and you don’t get much higher than the Metropolitan Opera or Broadway.

    The young boys who star in “Billy Elliot” amaze me almost more than the sopranos and tenors at the Met.  I can’t begin to fathom what it’s like to be 13 years old and in charge of carrying a Broadway show, complete with complicated balletic choregraphy and aerial stunts.

    But I do know that they get me out of my own petty head and inspire me, along with a memoir by Andre Agassi called “Open” with which I am currently mesmerized.

    Like people who reach the Met and Broadway, Agassi, of course, is a champion.

    I like what he writes on page 359 about how he continued playing and excelling at tennis, a sport literally forced on him by a domineering father:

    “I play and keep playing because I choose to play.  Even if it’s not your ideal life, you can always choose it.  No matter what your life is, choosing it changes everything.”

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This American candy addict/journalist in France writes about quitting candy – and all desserts – for at least one year beginning Feb. 28, 2010. Follow my progress – or relapses – as I delete candy corn, moelleux au chocolat, peppermint patties, Carambars, tarte tatin, After Eights, crème brûlée, Nutella, tapioca pudding, mint chocolate chip ice cream, Haribo Polkas, M & Ms and more from my life. Learn about the evils of white sugar and its effects on mood and health from my interviews with experts and friends! Let the sugar fog lift!

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