I owe all of this to my right hand, JD. This whole weekend was his idea and it was for all intents and purposes a Christmas present. I had a couple of meetings in the city on Friday and Saturday was a day set aside for experiencing the many wonders of Gotham. Wonders I usually miss when I'm there.
JD'd booked us at the New York Palace. Without a doubt, it was the best hotel I'd ever stayed in. We were on the 31st floor and we looked across Madison Avenue and down on St. Patrick's Cathedral. That's Rockefeller Center in the middle left side of this photo.
So at around 7:30 on Saturday, I swung open the draperies and that was what I saw. I love Manhattan and I love Midtown specifically. Having a 31st-floor perch on the corner of Madison and 50th was as ideal a location as I can imagine. So after a round of room-service coffee we got dressed and went downstairs to eat breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Five-star hotels don't just have expensive rooms. I had a $30 bowl of oatmeal.
We walked around the neighborhood for a while after that and then jumped on the subway to head up to The Metropolitan Museum.
The Met is one of the world's largest art museums and it has a collection of nearly 2 million pieces of art broken into 19 sub-collections. The Met renovated its hall of ancient Greek and Roman Art four years ago and I'd never seen it. Their collection is spectacular, one of the best I've ever seen. That bronze in the photo above is more than 2,000 years old and it looks as if it were cast yesterday. Like an idiot, I didn't photograph its accompanying plaque and now I can't remember what it is and what it's representing. Any Met buffs out there who can help me with that statue?
The Met's an enormous museum and I don't think it's possible to get through the whole thing in a day. If you're considering a visit, look over their collections online first and make a plan.
From the Met (on 5th Avenue at 82nd) we headed back toward Midtown via Madison Avnue. It was a sunny, clear day and Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side is one of the best places in New York for window shopping (actual shopping too). It's a residential neighborhood and there's a shopping district that extends the whole way from up there down to Midtown. Along that stretch of Madison Avenue, you'll find everything from Hermès to Betsey Johnson. There are no fewer than four Ralph Lauren shops along that stretch of Madison.
After a quick lunch I met up with Tess, a college friend who's the media director for the National Urban League these days. Tess and her family live in Harlem and we've both come a very long way from the rolling hills of rural Pennsylvania, that's for sure.
Then it was off to dinner. I'd made reservations earlier for Charlie Palmer's Métrazur. I'd been to Métrazur before at the suggestion of the great Jai Massela from Brizo Faucets. My second visit was even better than my first and dinner that night was easily the best meal I've ever eaten in New York. What pushed it over the edge was a generous serving of truffled mashed potatoes. I'm telling you, those things will haunt me for the rest of my days.
Métrazur is in the East Balcony of Grand Central Terminal and every table in the place has one of the most spectacular views to be had in the entire city.
Despite the fact that Métrazur is perched on a balcony inside of the busiest rail terminal in the United States, up on the balcony it's nearly as quiet as a church. Sound doesn't travel up inside of that cavernous terminal and the effect is pure magic.
After a truly spectacular meal, it was time to head over to Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera House for the big event. I've been learning about opera for the last five or six years. I wasn't ready for it until I hit 40 but now it's about all I listen to. It has a tradition that goes back centuries and the very act of singing operatically is a feat of superhuman strength and prowess. Seeing an opera at the Met is a goal of everybody with even a glancing interest in grand opera and JD and I had tickets for La bohème.
La bohème is the world's most-performed opera and the New York Metropolitan Opera has been mounting a production of it every season since La bohème made its US debut in 1900. I had pretty high expectations for what I was about to see and as the curtain rose on Act One and Marcello launched into "Questo Mar Rosso" each and every one of those expectations was exceeded and then some.
The Metropolitan Opera's world famous for the sets it uses in its production of La bohème. They were commissioned in 1981 and master director Franco Zeffirelli's elaborate creations nearly bankrupted the company. I knew they were going to be amazing but again, I didn't quite know how amazing.
La bohème is presented in four acts and act one takes place in the garret shared by Rodolfo, a poet, Marcello, a painter; Shaunard, a musician and Colline, a philosopher. The year is 1830 and it's Christmas Eve in Paris.
La bohème is as funny as it is stirring which is quite an accomplishment since it was composed 120 years ago. After the four Bohemians have their moment, they decide to leave the garret and go to a tavern. The curtain goes down. 20 minutes later the curtain comes back up and reveals the most elaborate piece of stagework I've ever seen.
According to everything I've read, act two of La bohème has a cast of 280 people and it includes a full marching band a live horse. After an exciting romp through the tavern the curtain goes down.
20 minutes later, the curtain comes up and the action's shifted to a snowy pre-dawn. It's at the foot of a bridge on the outskirts of Paris.
It's snowing. As in it's snowing for real. It snows the whole way through act three. The lovers reunite and swear to be together forever again and the curtain comes down.
When the curtain comes back up we're back in the garret and it's spring time.
Now usually, this kind of a spectacle is a way to hide so-so musicianship. But I assure you that wasn't the case with the Met's bohème. The main characters of Mimi and Rodolfo were sung by Krassimira Stoyanova and Joseph Calleja. I'd never heard Calleja sing before and he was incredible. That man has a voice so clear it sounded as if he were sitting next to me. Here he is singing E Lucevan Le Stelle from Tosca, another Puccini opera.
If you listen to him in that piece, pay attention to how he modulates and controls his voice while at the same time singing at something approaching 180 decibels. Many thanks to the Metropolitan Opera Company for the use of those photos.
The opera wrapped up at around quarter to midnight and we jumped back in a train bound for another hidden wonder at Grand Central Terminal, the Campbell Apartment.
The Campbell apartment is tucked into the Vanderbilt Avenue side of Grand Central and most people have no idea it's there. The Campbell Apartment is the one time office and salon of John Campbell, Grand Central Terminal's first general manager. It's been renovated back to its gilded age glory and now operates as one of the coolest lounges in the city.
We'd made arrangements to meet up with six other friends for a night cap and by the time we got there the rest of the gang was already holding court. If you have a group and you want to hang out at the Campbell Apartment, call ahead and make a reservation. That's true of any good lounge in the city by the way.
It was great to see everybody and ward off the usual round of questions about when I'm moving to The City. Yeah right. There are a few places around the world where I feel at home instantly and New York's definitely one of them. By the time we made it back to The Palace it was well past three in the morning. I don't think I'd ever been so tired or so euphorically happy in my life.
My trips to New York don't usually involve five-star hotels and opera tickets but it was a welcome change to my own vie bohème. Flying home on Sunday night was an anticlimax I'm still recovering from. I'll be back in The City again in March only without The Palace, the Met or La bohème. It'll be a working trip next time but working trips have an allure of their own. So it'll back to 14th Street for me.