Will New York City be gone for good?

 

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In true NYC spirit, on a miserably rainy day, these middle-school students went sailing for the first time on the East River, in tiny wooden boats they built by hand

 

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’ve never been there, it’s hard to imagine — a daily crush of energy, talent, ambition and haste.

It’s a city people flock to from across the globe and across the U.S., to study, work or enjoy a great vacation.

I first came to the city, (as suburbanites here call it, as if there were no other!) around the age of 12 or so, to visit my great-grandmother, Blanche, the Countess Casagrande. (Yes, really, thanks to an Italian husband I never met.) She lived on Park Avenue, still the ne plus ultra of Manhattan real estate.

I came back in my early 20s a few times, once to perform as an extra in Sleeping Beauty with the National Ballet at Lincoln Center for a week, other times for pleasure. I met a handsome young man in the shoe department of Brooks Brothers who took me that evening to the town’s most exclusive joint — Studio 54. Of course, we went to Fiorucci first to buy a pretty dress.

Back when Conde Nast — still the publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair and many other glossy magazines — was at 350 Madison Avenue (next to Brooks Brothers!) I met with editors at Glamour and Mademoiselle, leaving my enormous black portfolio of clippings there for a few days, hoping beyond hope one day to write for them. Amazingly, they read an as-yet-unpublished story tucked into my portfolio’s back pocket which was due to be published in a Canadian magazine, and re-bought it for Glamour.

That, at its best, has been my New York City — a place where even a young (very lucky!) Canadian, even wearing all the wrong clothes! — could quickly sell to a market of her dreams.

 

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Via Carota, Grove Street

 

So my New York is archeological, layered with memories over decades.

Since moving to a NYC suburb in 1989, I’ve spent countless hours in New York City, 95 percent of them in Manhattan; Brooklyn, now impossibly hip, is too far, as we say, a schlep.

So I miss it!

My hair salon — owned by Alex, a man in business for decades, whose three chairs welcome everyone from a Grammy-nominated musician to Brooklyn museum curators to Wall Street executives but also silver-haired seniors accompanied by their aides — is on Grove Street, in the West Village. (That’s Greenwich Village, which no local calls it. Either the West Village or East.)

Across the street from him is Via Carota, admired as one of the city’s best restaurants — and what a delight it is.

Was.

 

Will it be again?

 

That’s the question hitting everyone here, hard.

So many people rely on one another, economically and professionally, from the nannies and chefs and dog-walkers employed by the wealthy to the owners of the 25,000 bars and restaurants and all their staff to the thousands who work in orchestras and theater, not just Broadway.

And rent here is so high that many who’ve fled back to their parents’ for the duration — like one young woman who told the Times she was paying $1,800 a month with two room-mates —  may never return.

 

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The Koch Theater, Lincoln Center

 

Here’s an analysis of what the city faces going forward (as we say, fah-ward):

It took just a matter of days to shut down New York City, once the coronavirus took hold. Restarting it will take much, much longer.

The economic impact in the city from the global pandemic has been striking: Hundreds of thousands are already out of work; at least $7.4 billion in tax revenue is projected to be lost by the middle of next year.

And the changes will be felt long after New York begins to reopen its economy.

How New York City, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, begins to recapture its vibrancy is a question consuming political, business and cultural leaders.

The very features that make New York attractive to businesses, workers and tourists — Broadway, the subway system, world-class restaurants and innumerable cultural institutions — were among the hardest-hit in the pandemic. And they will take the longest to come back.

 

 

The city has lost 13,000 people, so far, to COVID-19.

 

 

So many have died so quickly — 400 to 700 every day for weeks — that hospitals now have refrigerated trucks outside as morgues, with bodies stacked on makeshift bunks three high. That plain wooden coffins, stacked, are being planted on Hart Island, the place for unclaimed bodies.

 

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The annual orchid show at The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx

 

Friends in the city are traumatized by the constant wail of ambulance sirens.

Beloved neighborhood haunts are closing, like Coogan’s:

 

Coogan’s was the promise of New York incarnate: multiethnic, friendly, welcoming, smart. The premise of the business was the opposite of social distancing.

It opened in 1985 and in time became an Irish place where the bartenders were Dominican-Americans and the waiters African-American and the customers, all of the above and more. So many held court there over the years, it is hard to keep them straight. Did Mr. Walsh still remember the Israeli karaoke singer?

 

There’s the New York City you’ve all seen in films and TV and commercials.

Then there’s the real New York, home to millions, some for generations, others for a few years.

My mother was born there and married my Canadian father — who she met in the south of France — at St. Bartholomew, one of the city’s most beautiful churches, on Park Avenue and enormous. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like, at 17, to walk down that aisle. They moved to his hometown of Vancouver, where I was born.

But New York City always beckoned me; for an ambitious Canadian journalist who could get a green card thanks to my mother’s citizenship, why not try?

I’ve had some great adventures here.

Found two agents who sold my two books to major publishers.

 

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The first time, after a meeting on a bitterly cold winter’s day at Simon & Schuster, (its hallways lined with the framed covers of all their best-sellers — SO intimidating!) I went around the corner to another city institution, The 21 Club, and had a strong cup of coffee and some celebratory profiteroles.

The second time I almost fired my agent after we met with editors at Portfolio, downtown on Hudson Street — she later called with their offer as I sat at the chipped and worn Formica counter in one of my diner haunts, Neil’s, on Lexington. (Which you can see in the terrific recent movie Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Spent a glorious afternoon, on assignment for the Daily News, aboard a tugboat.

Stood on a Broadway stage to interview a woman for The New York Times making history in the theatrical industry.

 

This is the city I’ve known well, worked hard in, wept a few times in — and mostly enjoyed.

 

It’s layered with my own memories now:

— the office building at 200 Madison, my first magazine job

— Central Park, around which I once roller-skated and where, after winning a softball game with my Canadian team-mates we burst into the Canadian national anthem in French, to the astonishment of our opposition.

— the block on Mercer which held the Coles Center, NYU’s athletic wing, and now (of course) will be condos

— Fanelli’s,the 173-year-old bar a block south of there with its gorgeous etched glass doors and crazy mix of patrons.

When I arrived — with no family, friends, job or alumni network, and a recession — I took up fencing. Of course! The NYU coach,  a former Navy man, was a two-time Olympian. Where else could this happen?

It’s never been an easy place for a newcomer.

People walk fast, talk fast, prize social capital and Ivy League degrees, genuflect to the right addresses and clubs, to money and power.

It’s normally expensive, intimidating, crowded, noisy, dirty…

But what will become of it?

Two Manhattan walks

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By Caitlin Kelly

Millions of people visit New York City every year. Many of them go to the official places and sights, which are often really crowded and noisy, like Times Square.

I treasure the quieter bits, and this week treated myself to two days’ exploration. What I still enjoy so much is that even a walk of barely 6 or 8 blocks can offer gorgeous architecture, a delicious meal or cocktail, great shopping and people watching.

 

Madison Avenue

Below 57th Street  lie all sorts of temptations, like Brooks Brothers for classic men’s and women’s clothing and the Roosevelt Hotel.

But the minute you start heading north at 57th. Street, the air thins as you enter one-percent-world. A young woman bashes me with her Chanel purse — and for next few hours it’s just a sea of Gucci, Chanel, Vuitton and Goyard bags, pricy tribal markers.

Alliance Francaise is on East 60th. where I went to buy a concert ticket, and discovered a gorgeous little cafe, Le Bilbouquet, next door. That area is very short of meal options so this is a good one.

New York is about to lose a retail icon, the department store Barney’s, (Madison at 60th.) once a place admired and revered for its style. Now it’s going out of business. I only shopped there a few times, but treasure the Isabel Marant jacket and private-label denim carryall I found there.

The Coach store staff were kind and welcoming, as were those at Fratelli Rossetti, (still wearing a pair of shoes I bought there in 1996!), and for the most amazing gloves, for men and women, Sermoneta.

The Hermes flagship store is gorgeous at 62d. St., opened in 2000. I love their fragrances, and wear Terre, a man’s scent that’s warm and woodsy and delicious.

The stores might be fancy, (and they’ll offer you a welcome bottle of water) but so, so many empty storefronts! I turned around at 68th or so and headed for home.

 

Bleecker/Bowery/Bond Street

 

Take the subway to Bleecker and start with a coffee and croissant at one of my favorite spots, Cafe Angelique. Bleecker crosses Greenwich Village east to west but also (!) north to south. How confusing is that?

 

 

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Bowery reflections

 

This is the easterly most bit. Head east to the Bowery, a north-south street once known as the last refuge of the down-and-and-out and now, of course, gentrified.

I turned south and hit one of the remaining restaurant supply stores, with a dizzying array of everything. I stood in the door, overwhelmed, and stammered: “Do you also sell retail?”

“You have money? All good,” was the reply; I bought a Christmas gift for my husband.

 

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A few doors north is a treasure trove of old New York antiques: chandeliers and tables — but also small, packable items like doorknobs, coat hooks and samovars, Olde Good Things, there since 2013. Want to own glassware or door numbers or cutlery from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel? Greg has them.

I admired a stunning Sputnik-esque enormous chandelier, that he found in a church in the Bronx, and asked his permission (always!) to photograph a few objects.

Same block, all on the west side, offers Caswell-Massey, which sells a tremendous selection of soaps and fragrances, including one George Washington wore. A massive oval bar of soap is $11, and comes in so many fragrances; I bought sandalwood.

Burkelman, at Bond Street, is well-edited and swoon-worthy: rugs, table linens, jewelry, clothing, baskets.

 

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Bar lighting at The Wren

 

I ate brunch at the bar of The Wren, and savored its atmosphere; cosy, old school.

Cross the Bowery for the elegant riot of John Derian, on East Second St. (north side), with his signature decoupage dishes and plates, Astier de Villatte tableware (at scary prices), notebooks, mirrors, stationery and more.

Next door is Il Buco Vita, filled with hand-made tableware and glasses, an offshoot of the longtime favorite — on Bond Street — Il Buco. Low-key, Italian, it’s been there since 1994, practically unheard of longevity in a city where restaurants open and close within months.

Staggering back west to Broadway along Bond, stop in at the enormous array of temptations at Blick, an art supply store I first discovered years ago in Chicago. I defy anyone to leave empty-handed.

I had a perfect four hours: shopped, ate, people-watched, snapped photos, got Christmas presents, wrapping paper (Blick) and ornaments (John Derian.) Score!

 

Some glimpses of my New York

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My old reporters’ notebook from the New York Daily News, whose logo is that of a classic old-time camera, the Speed Graphic

 

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s been a while since I came to live in a small suburban town on the eastern side of the Hudson River, with views of passing barges pushed and pulled by tiny, powerful tugboats. A place where red-tailed hawks glide above the tree-tops. Where one of the nation’s wealthiest families, the Rockefellers, live a 15-minute drive north of us — their helicopter always, annoyingly, thrumming too low overhead as they whisk someone south.

I love living here.

It satisfies all my desires: a beautiful landscape, access to great culture in Manhattan and at local venues like Caramoor and the art film house, Jacob Burns, economic and social diversity, (our town has million-dollar townhomes at the river’s edge, with social housing projects a few blocks inland.) I know the guys at the hardware store and the gourmet shop and the gym.

I’ve also, of course, through work and play, have gotten to know what we call The City, aka Manhattan and its four other boroughs. I know that Houston Street is pronounced How-ston and that Bleecker — perhaps confusingly — manages to run both north-south and east-west. I know where to find free street parking.

It did take me a long time, at least a decade, before I felt this was home. New York, as you can imagine of a city of eight million, many of them with multiple Ivy degrees and the most skilled and competitive in their fields and industries, can feel very intimidating.

It is also a place absolutely and rigidly stratified by wealth, social class and race, with its enormous and imposing private clubs, including the row of Ivy League-only clubs (Yale, Harvard, Princeton,. Cornell) that I’ve only visited thanks to events held there. If you head to the uppermost stretch of Park Avenue, the division between extraordinary wealth and deep poverty is, literally, across the street.

But, if you’re lucky and work your ass off, it can soften enough to become more welcoming.

Here are some images of my life here:

 

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Broadway, baby! The dream of so many performers, and the provider of many well-paid union jobs backstage.

 

Here’s a really fun story I wrote about a Jen Diaz, a young woman who won a prestigious first-ever-woman backstage Broadway management job, for The New York Times. Her father manages backstage at the Met Opera.

 

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Love this restaurant, Via Carota, on Grove Street in the West Village of Manhattan.

 

It’s expensive, but very good food, with a spectacular and enormous (!) green salad. The West Village is by far my favorite neighborhood — shaded cobble-stoned streets lined with early 19th century brownstone houses and indie shops and tiny and perfect restaurants like Little Owl. It’s become impossibly expensive to live there, but lovely to visit.

 

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This is our local reservoir. No idea what that building is!

 

 

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This is an amazing place — built in 1857. Truly a time capsule, on  the north shore of Long Island (which lies south of New York City)

 

 

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Such  beauty! I love going to the ballet at Lincoln Center (and opera at the Met.)

 

 

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Every spring there’s Fleet Week, welcoming ships to New York’s harbor.

 

 

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The New York Botanical Garden, in the Bronx. Such a treasure!

 

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Despite horrific rents, some indie bookstores hang on in Manhattan.

 

 

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I love auctions! I bought two prints at this one, a splurge. That’s my bidding paddle.

 

 

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Nosebleed seats (highest row at back of the balcony) still affordable.

 

 

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The view from our home of the new Tappan Zee bridge, spanning the Hudson

 

 

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The Brooklyn Bridge

 

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Grand Central Terminal — where thousands of commuters head in and out to the northern and western suburbs; those headed to Long Island use (hideous) Penn Station. GCT is amazing: lots of great shopping and restaurants and a food market. Commuting in from our town, now, has risen to $9.50 one-way in off-peak (non rush hour), making a day trip $19 just to enjoy the city — before a meal, drink, subway ride or activity.

 

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I love the details of this building in the West Village

 

 

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A tug and barge heading south on the East River

 

 

 

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The New York Times newsroom

 

This is a place I know well; my husband worked there for 31 years as a photographer and photo editor. I also write for the paper freelance, so have been in there many times.

 

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Our amazing local bakery, Riviera Bakehouse in Ardsley, NY, made this great cake — on 2 days’ notice. I wrote the headlines (Arthur is the publisher; Zvi a colleague)

 

I always tell visitors to New York to get out of noisy, crowded, tourist-clogged midtown Manhattan as fast as possible and head to quieter neighborhoods like the East and West Village, Nolita and even parts of the Upper East Side, which is mostly residential but has some treasures like this lovely tearoom.

Get to a riverside park and enjoy the views and breezes. Savor a rooftop cocktail or a sunset bike ride.

I haven’t even mentioned Brooklyn (as I so rarely go there,) but it’s full of great shops and restaurants and views.

There are so many versions of New York!

11 views of New York

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East 70th. between Lexington and Third…

 

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’re a fan, as I am, of the Japanese artist Hokusai — whose great wave image is iconic — he made 36 views of Mount Fuji.

Having lived in New York since 1989, (I live in a town 25 miles north of Manhattan, but have worked there at magazines and a major NYC newspaper, and spent much time there), I’ve experienced the city in so many ways that bear no resemblance to the notions most people gather from film, TV or visits. If you live here for any length of time, and travel the five boroughs — Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens — you begin to understand how complicated a place it is and how diverse.

Far too many tourists arrive here, blunder around midtown bumping into more tourists and spending time and money on amusements just as easily found at home in Ohio or Nevada, then leave, persuaded they’ve “seen” this city. Cross the northern end of Park Avenue, and you travel from multi-million-dollar apartments in grand and elegant buildings to witness stunning poverty within a few feet.

Working as a reporter for the New York Daily News for a year also showed me a totally different city — the readers’ median income then $44,000, which is a very tough amount for a single person, let alone a family, here.

 

 

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Lincoln Center

Eleven ways I’ve seen the city:

 

 Aboard the M1 bus driving south down Fifth Avenue. A man in a wheelchair wears the uniform of the poor: thick grey sweatpants, thick grey sweatshirt, a puffer vest for warmth, battered white sneaker. Only one — the bulbous pink stump of his right leg, sticking out of his sweats, remains bare to the wind and cold. The driver patiently attaches wide red straps to four points of the chair to keep him secure. Ten blocks further south, the driver opens the bus’ flat metal ramp for him, and he rolls off and away.

 

 

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Sitting at Swann Galleries on East 25th. Street, waiting to bid on two pieces of art. I arrive, dressed up, excited — to find only a few people sitting in the folding chairs with me. These days, it’s most done by phone and online, so a row of staffers sit awaiting those bids. I buy two pieces, a Dufy engraving and a Vlaminck lithograph, delighted with my score. The highest bid of the day — $100,000 for a Picasso print — comes from a dealer sitting behind me. He might as well have ordered a coffee; for him, just another day at the office.

 

It’s pouring rain and I’m on my way into Brooklyn, not the cool hipster bits but the long narrow streets, each side lined for long blocks only with minivans — bought to ferry very large families. No cars. Large metal balconies protrude from buildings. Men wearing enormous plastic-covered fur hats, a shtreimel, pristine white spats and black patent slippers walk alone. Women wearing headscarves and thick flesh-toned stockings with seams walk with multiple small children. This is the part of Brooklyn populated mostly by Orthodox Hasidic Jews.

 

Her hair piled high into her signature pale blond beehive, she enters the narrow, small Madison Avenue restaurant wearing high heels and a suit. A handsome younger man — his crisp white shirt unbuttoned a little too far — follows her, trim in a costly suit. She’s someone every New Yorker knows by sight, and many by reputation — Ivana Trump, the President’s first wife. She looks tired and sad.

 

 

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The annual orchid show at the New York Botanical Garden

 

The BQE isn’t short for barbeque — it’s the Bronx-Queens Expressway. From it, standing still in traffic, you at least can enjoy great views of Manhattan, of an enormous cemetery, of wheels-down low-flying jets on final approach heading into Laguardia. Along its edges stand 150-year-old tenements and dozens of new apartments, their windows mere yards from ribbons of traffic, so close you can look into their windows and admire their furniture and lighting. After decades of enduring the rusted, crumbling Kosciuszko Bridge, (built in 1939), a new, shiny version now lights up in purple. An enormous billboard suggests, in very tall red letters, EAT REAL FOOD.

 

The African-American family sits together in the living room, telling me what’s it’s like to raise their grandchildren after the shooting deaths of their parents. They bring out a blanket, custom-made with the images of the parents woven into it. This is the older, not-hip part of Harlem, a traditionally African-American enclave. As I get up to leave, a rare Caucasian on the street, the grandmother walks me downstairs and to the bus-stop.

 

 

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Fleet Week

 

 

It’s a cold rainy day and we’re having brunch at a friend’s home in Bed-Stuy, a gentrifying part of Brooklyn. Nine women gather for mimosas and tofu and — always — a heap of fresh bagels and five kinds of cream cheese. The hosts work in television, one a writer for a hit television series, the other, working in the basement of her 1880s brownstone, is a Foley artist, making sounds for a living.

 

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Keen’s Steakhouse, on West 36th. Street, since 1885; my table is number 54

 

A bitterly cold winter’s day, and my agent and I are headed into the midtown headquarters of Simon & Schuster to discuss an editor’s interest in buying my first book, Blown Away: American Women and Guns, already rejected by 25 other publishers, so their interest is a welcome relief. We walk down long hallways lined with framed covers of the many best-sellers they’ve published. Intimidating! We sit around a conference table — five women and one man, (my agent.) After some serious pushback from the editorial director (true? a gambit?) I go alone around the corner to the 21 Club for coffee and profiteroles to celebrate.

 

 

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My first book, published in 2004. As someone who grew up with no exposure to guns, I was deeply intrigued by this most American of obsesssions

 

 

There’s that final scene in The Devil Wears Prada, when Andy spots Miranda across the street — it’s on  Sixth Avenue at 49th. — a spot that for decades held the Canadian consulate and still the headquarters of Simon & Schuster, which owns Pocket Books, now my first publisher. Standing on that sidewalk in 2004, holding my book’s galleys, feels like the best moment of my life.

 

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The Brooklyn Bridge

 

 

Pouring rain. I’m late, lost, annoyed, trying to meet a Bronx DA for an interview. I finally find a parking spot outside the mammoth Bronx Courthouse, and dive in. An elderly woman starts shrieking at me that I’ve stolen her spot. She screams. I scream. Windows start to fling open across the street as she calls for back-up. She gets a tire iron. I can’t leave because her car is blocking my car. I call 911 for help. A cop arrives and speaks to each of us. She leaves, and I finally meet my subject and the photographer, an old friend. They slide into the car, and I burst into tears of relief. The DA takes me to a dive bar for a soothing shot of whisky. It’s not even noon.

 

 

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Charlotte Bronte’s clothing, a show at the Morgan Museum

 

“Who speaks French?” the city editor shouts across the newsroom, the length of a city block. I do, and am sent to the Hotel Edison near Times Square for a stake-out, which means a gaggle of competing reporters and photographers stand or sit in the 90-degree heat for hour after hour after hour awaiting the Quebec tourists — one of whom was stabbed (not badly) — we’re supposed to speak to and photograph. I sneak into the hotel with an intern and the New York Times’ stringer jumps into the elevator with us. He really needs a shower. “Wherever you’re going, I’m going.” We flee to the women’s room. The intern finds the tourists’ room and I sneak upstairs to tuck a note beneath their door. A security guard finds me, shouting that he’ll call the cops, and throws me out.

 

Never a dull moment, kids!

My New York — insider tips

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Lincoln Center

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Few cities are as iconic as New York — maybe Paris, London, Tokyo — its skyline instantly recognizable, whether the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building, my favorite.

I moved here from my native Canada in 1989, thanks to my mother’s American citizenship which allowed me the right to a “green card”, the legal ability to live and work in the U.S.

Why New York?

For an ambitious writer, it seemed obvious — ready access to editors and publishers and agents and fellow writers, to conferences and parties and events where I can, and have, meet them face to face.

But also for the city itself, with its history, architecture, cultural riches and the beauty of the Lower Hudson Valley, where we live — the glittering towers of downtown Manhattan clearly visible even from our town on the river, 25 miles north.

 

Here’s some of what I enjoy…

 

Fleet Week

Once a year, since 1984, the city welcomes thousands of sailors. It’s so cool! You feel like you’re in a Broadway play from the ’30s as sailors in their crisp whites swarm midtown. This amazing collection of caps lined a table at event I attended — I was even piped aboard!

 

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Keen’s…since 1885

 

Old-school bars and restaurants, some dating back 150 years

My favorite lunch spot is Keen’s, founded in 1885, where I even now have a regular table. The room is long, dark, quiet and full of atmosphere. Linen tablecloths, early portraits and handbills and the ceiling, lined with early clay pipes. The food is very good as is the service; it’s on a nothing-special block, 36th, in a noisy and crowded part of Midtown, a perfect refuge. For classic old school charm, I also love Fanelli’s, Old Town Bar, the Ear Inn, Sardi’s, Bemelman’s, The King Cole Bar and the Landmark.

 

What’s left of Greenwich Village

 

It’s changed a lot, thanks to greedy landlords who have raised commercial rents to absurd prices, shoving out most of its funky long-time tenants selling used CDs or Tibetan clothing. But if you look hard enough, some indies survive, usually far east or west. Two of my stand-bys are Porto Rico Coffee & Tea and McNulty’s, each of which feel like time capsules. For afternoon tea, I like Bosie’s and for a splurge meal, Morandi. East 9th is always worth a wander. The bit of Bleecker running between 6th and 7th is still home to great food shops.

 

 

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Lincoln Center

What a gem! The exteriors, clad in gleaming white marble, and its gorgeous central fountain, make you excited just to be there. Plus the luxurious interiors of the Met Opera, the Koch Theatre and David Geffen Hall — opened between 1962 and 1966.   Unlikely but true, I once performed in eight shows of The Sleeping Beauty, with the National Ballet of Canada and with Rudolf Nureyev in the lead (I was an extra) at the Koch Theater, exiting (!) through its stage door. I began enjoying the Met Opera, finally, last year and feel like the richest woman in the world to be able to walk through those doors on any night there’s an empty seat I can afford.

 

Grand Central Terminal

Commuter trains travel from here north to Westchester county and beyond, and northeast to Connecticut. Built between 1903 to 1913, it serves approximately 66 million passengers a year. It’s truly a cathedral, with a brilliant turquoise domed ceiling, lit with stars, enormous hanging period lanterns, marble stairs and floors and its iconic central clock. It also houses very good restaurants, a lovely food hall, a wine store, multiple bakeries and some great shopping — also (very elusive!) free, clean and safe bathrooms.

 

Smaller, quieter museums

Mad for the Secessionists — Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka — I love The Neue Galerie (with its fantastic cafe). I also like small and elegant Japan Society, the Frick and The Morgan. While the big boys (the Met and MOMA) will always win visitors, they can also be noisy and crowded.  If you love airplanes as much as I do, try the Intrepid Museum. Two truly worth a visit are the Tenement Museum — showing how the city’s earliest immigrants lived in such tiny, cramped rooms  — and the Merchant’s House, a time capsule from 1832.

 

The four B’s: Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdales, Barney’s and Bigelow

Oh, go on! Even for a quick peek. Last June, I watched Ivana Trump, (wife number one), blonde beehive intact, meandering the perfume department at Barney’s; (I was there to treat myself to a Byredo fragrance for my birthday.) These three stores are not inexpensive, but worth a visit to get a feel for New York luxury and BG has a gorgeous cafe with great views. Bigelow Chemists on Sixth Avenue, established in 1838, sells an amazing array of beauty and skin products, including their own line. Cool fashionistas like Dover Street Market, Opening Ceremony and Totokaelo. My two standbys are Ina, (a consignment store with multiple locations and great merch) and Aedes de Venustas, with the best selection of fragrance around, now on Orchard Street.

 

A New York City museum of everyday life

By Caitlin Kelly

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If you’ve never been to New York City, you’ve still probably heard of the Met Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. Maybe the Guggenheim.

If you’re planning a visit, I urge you to visit one that will forever change your perception of the city, and of the early immigrant experience in the U.S. — the Tenement Museum.

It is simply extraordinary, in telling the true stories of the lives of early immigrants to New York City, who lived in these two narrow buildings on Orchard Street, on the Lower East Side at the start of the 20th century.

It’s also extremely popular, with tickets selling out months in advance. 

I visited it years ago, and never forgot it. This week I was lucky enough to be able to have a quick group tour in the evening and it left me, once more, deeply moved.

I can’t show you any images as photography is not allowed.

You climb steep metal stairs into a brick building, constructed in 1863, and step into a narrow dark hallway with battered metal mailboxes set into the wall on the left-hand side.

The building stood empty from 1935 to 1988, so you’re stepping into a time capsule. The walls are cracked and the front wooden doors to each apartment still have their original panes of glass above them.

Inset into the front hallway walls are large oval paintings and bas-relief curlicues, attempts at elegance.

The steep stairs to the second floor have pressed metal treads and the banister is thick, smooth dark wood. A narrow hallway there offers one tiny public room containing a toilet — shared by all occupants of the floor’s four apartments.

We visited one apartment that had belonged to an Italian family, and which contained some of their personal belongings: a lace dresser scarf, photos, other objects.

It’s a stunning reminder what life was life for these newcomers, who left their hometowns and villages and cities many miles behind them, mostly from Europe.

They might have once enjoyed gorgeous, sweeping sunlit views of woods and farmland and fields and mountains — and now their two front windows faced east over a grimy, noisy, narrow city street lined with brick buildings in an unfamiliar city in a new country.

The apartments are very small: a front room with two windows; a middle room with a deep sink, a minuscule bathtub and a coal stove, with a window between the front room and kitchen to allow light to penetrate, and a small rear room.

The total square footage? Maybe 250 square feet, a space that held, at least, two adults and children, maybe more. (This is the size of my suburban New York living room, for context.)

No closets.

No telephone.

No privacy.

No silence.

No outdoor space beyond the steps — aka the stoop.

Thanks to simple, thin cotton curtains and other objects, the rooms feel as though their occupants have simply stepped out for a while — kitchen cupboards full, a checkers game on the kitchen table with its colored tablecloth, a portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on one wall.

It’s also a so different from the exquisite, costly objects on display in most museums, remnants mostly of the wealthiest lives and their rarified tastes. This is a museum of real life, as everyday working New Yorkers lived it.

The flooring is weathered linoleum designed to look like woven textiles and beneath that you can see weathered wooden floorboards.

To stand in that space is to feel intimately and viscerally what it must have been to leave everything behind except your hopes.

A NYC firefighter, and his engine

By Caitlin Kelly

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In every city I know, firefighters remain somewhat mythical beasts, people you typically only see — or hope to see! — on television or racing to help someone in distress or trying to save a burning building.

Socially, you might run into many different people, but in 20+ years in New York, I’ve only known one firefighter, married to a friend who was then, like me, a magazine editor.

They’re known as New York’s Bravest.

They also have truly legendary status here because so many of these men — 343 — died in the attacks of September 11, running into the Twin Towers to try to save those trapped within.

This week I happened to pass by Ladder Company 3, on East 13th street, on my way to a store next door.

It’s so often like that here, that I accidentally stumble onto a serious piece of the city’s long and complex history.

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Ladder Company Three was one of the worst-hit of  the city’s battalions, losing most of its men. Ironically, it’s one of the city’s oldest, founded — of course — on September 11, 1865. They lost 11 men, and the front of their firehouse is covered in plaques naming the men. Just inside the door is an elegant wooden wall with gallery lighting honoring them, and there’s a comfortable wooden bench in front, where grateful passersby like me can sit for a moment.

Like many people, I’m in awe of the work firefighters do: terrifying, dangerous, often lethal. They run, by choice and by profession, into the worst situations imaginable.

I stared into the firehouse’s open door, mesmerized by the enormity of its ladder truck parked within. I could see a coat rack, with each firefighter’s coat, his name on its back in huge reflective letters and a uniform, with its boots, ready to step into.

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A firefighter came to the doorway with two small portable bright orange chainsaws — one with serrated teeth, one with a smooth metal wheel. He fired them up to full strength, a task, he said, he does twice every day. Because so many people here live in apartments, they often need to cut through security gates.

I learned the difference between an engine (whose primary function is to spray water) and a ladder, needed, obviously, to reach the upper stories of taller buildings.

I also learned a new word — “taxpayer” — which refers to a small one or two-storey building in the city, both a real estate term and one used by firefighters.

Then — oh, beating heart keep still! — another truck pulled up, giving me a chance to see it up close. I got into conversation with a young, new firefighter, whose name was Middle Eastern, (many here, traditionally, are Irish), who’d previously served in the British military.

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He was super-nice and answered my torrent of questions: the truck carries only enough water to last three (!) minutes, so quick and ready access to a hydrant is essential; the truck carries a crew of five, including a commanding officer and driver; and they have a special set of tools to allow them access to people trapped in a subway tunnel.

I scrambled to take as many photos as I could, knowing the odds of being that close to a New York City firetruck again were slim.

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I essentially started my interviewing career — at the age of 12 — when I had to do an oral presentation for school and went to our local firehouse, in Toronto, to ask them about those little red boxes in the wall and all the drills we did, (this was a boarding school.)

I suspect everyone not wearing that uniform is as in awe and wonder as I am at their skill and bravery.

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Friday night, West 13th St., New York

By Caitlin Kelly

 

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You know how you sometimes, spontaneously, have a perfect evening?

Last night was one of them.

We ate at a new-to-us restaurant on West 13th. Gradisca, that sits in the basement of a historic brownstone.

The 16-year-old restaurant, named for a character in Fellini’s film Amarcord, has deep red walls, dark wooden tables and the kind of atmosphere that signals you’re going to have a good time — attentive and professional staff, delicious food, reasonable (for Manhattan) prices, funky posters and filament bulbs on the walls.

The kind of place they let you have a taste of your wine and still (reasonable for this city) charged $11 a glass for it; ($15-20/glass is fairly standard now.)

I had vitello tonnato, an item still hard to find in many Italian restaurants, then tiny, perfect tortellini — handmade by a woman standing at a table near the front door, her worktable fronted by a black velvet rope. The tortellini were the size of a fingernail. Amazing!

Outside the restaurant, grips and make-up people and technicians ran up and down the stairs of the brownstone next door — filming an episode of “Younger” a television show (how fitting!) about a 40 year old woman trying to pass as 26 to get and keep a magazine job.

It was so utterly New York!

On many streets here, especially the gorgeous older ones in the West Village which are lined with elegant old houses, tree-shaded and cobblestoned, you’ll very often see the enormous white trucks (grrrr, no free street parking!) for the stars, and director and make-up and wardrobe, lining entire blocks while a film,  TV show or commercial is being made. If you’re nice, maybe you can snag a cookie from the “craft table”, the tented area where the crew finds food and drinks during hours of shooting.

It was a very humid 90-degree evening last night, so it must have been exhausting to work for long hours.

We walked a block east to the Tenri Cultural Institute — 43A — with a doggie day care and spa next door and another Italian restaurant, completely blocked from view by one of the enormous white trailers, in front of it.

I’ve lived in New York since 1989 and keep finding new-to-me things to enjoy.

The Institute, an astonishingly cool, modern white space with 20-foot+ ceilings you’d never suspect was in there, was hosting a concert of contemporary shamisen, shakuhachi and flute music, played by a 2012 MacArthur genius grant-winner, Claire Chase.

It was astounding. The room held about 75 people, an intriguing mix of Asian and Caucasian, an age range from 20s to 60s. Everyone was artistically stylish, many sporting wrinkled cotton mufflers (worn by men and woman alike; mine was silk), lots of little black dresses and a great pair of platform lace-ups on the 60-something-year-old woman sitting in front of me.

The shamisen player was a young man visiting New York on a fellowship, heading back to Japan 2 days later. I’m no expert in the instrument, but he played with terrific attack and speed. The three-stringed instrument sounds mostly, to Western ears, like a banjo, but also adds percussion when the soundbox is hit with a large wooden pick.

My favorite piece was The Universal Flute, written in 1946, by Henry Cowell, an American composer who died in 1965.

I had never heard of him and his biography is extraordinary; the piece is a duet between shakuhachi, a Japanese wooden flute, and a traditional metal flute, the one we know from orchestras worldwide.

As we listened, I kept thinking about Pearl Harbor — 1941 — and how that attack, and the resulting attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, wondered how it might have affected his composition.

The evening was everything I love, at its best, about multi-cultural New York: a great meal, an intriguing and affordable ($20 tickets) concert; discovering a wholly new set of experiences with Jose, my husband; a night in cozy,  historic Greenwich village.

 

 

A perfect Manhattan day…

By Caitlin Kelly

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Lincoln Center, one of my greatest pleasures of living in New York

It was 95 degrees, and humid — and said to feel like 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

It did!

But it was a perfect day, a day spent gratefully away from the endless grind of the computer and the claustrophobic roar of the air conditioner.

A hooky day.

I drove into the city, (a 40 minute drive from our town on the Hudson River, north of Manhattan), reveling in air conditioning and listening, as usual, to WFUV (the radio station of Fordham Univerisity, a private Jesuit college here.)

Loved seeing dinghies with bellied sails on the Hudson and several huge barges being pushed by tugs. Tugs are like elephants for me — the very sight of one just makes me really happy. Given non-stop maritime traffic here, I get to see them a lot!

I enjoy the drive south from our town, parallel to the Hudson River to my right/west, with glorious views of the city’s skyline, the George Washington Bridge and New Jersey, just a few miles across the water. I moved to New York in 1989, and I never tire of these views. I feel lucky to live close enough to afford it, and to dip in and out of the city without paying every penny to live in it.

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The railings of the David Kock Theater at Lincoln Center have lacy, gilded dividers and the diamond-like lights repeat in the exterior and hall interior

I parked beneath Lincoln Center, (whose underground parking lot was a recent discovery), and walked over to ABC — the television network — to drop off the backpack we filled to donate.

Those corporate lobbies are really something. HUGE. Boatloads of green and red marble. Mostly intimidating and not very attractive. One wall of the lobby is filled with color photos of all their stars, and you realize that each person is a brand, a polished and valuable commodity in their collection.

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I’d planned on a 1:10 movie, but missed it so I settled into a favorite French restaurant, La Boite en Bois, for a long, long (2.5 hours) lazy lunch. It’s a tiny space, a few steps below ground, and has been in business for 30 years — an impressive run in such a difficult city.

For much of the time I had the 48-seat room all to myself. Chatted in French to one of the waiters and enjoyed a three-course (!), very good meal for $27 ($32 with tip.) I caught up on two days’ worth of the Financial Times and the day’s New York Times. (And fielded a few work emails.)

Hopped a bus crosstown to meet a friend for a drink at a craft beer joint, The Jeffrey, which was terrific. One of the fun things of living here is that there’s always something new to discover — because rents are so high, places can open, even to rave reviews, and be gone within months.

Walked six blocks north, bussed back to the West side and caught Equity, a new film, at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, another below-ground gem. (Sounds like a Hobbit-y day!)

BUSINESS OF FREELANCING

Walking back to the car at 10:15 p.m. — past the now illuminated Lincoln Center fountain, people silhouetted against its lit-up waters — was one of those perfect, classic Manhattan moments. Like Grand Central Terminal, Lincoln Center is such an elegant icon. I never tire of its understated white marble beauty.

The day wasn’t cheap; it’s Manhattan, after all, but not as bad as some might think. I usually limit my NYC excursions to once a week or so, but make sure to maximize my pleasure once I’ve made the journey.

Total cost of my perfect day: parking $48 (10 hours); lunch $32; bus fare $2.75 x two; cab $13; beer (paid for my friend, on her work expense account — we’re both journalists); movie $15, popcorn (dinner!) $5.

 

Some insider views of my New York…

By Caitlin Kelly

You can always see the famous icons of New York City, on postcards and T-shirts and in movies and television.

It can make you feel like you know the city even if you’ve never been here.

But, like every major city, it’s a place of many facets, most of which tourists will never see.

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One of the coolest aspects of New York — and one so easy for pedestrians, drivers and tourists to forget — is that it’s a busy, working harbor.

The East and Hudson Rivers are as crowded with marine traffic as there is vehicular madness on the FDR (highway on the East Side), the BQE (heading out to Brooklyn and Queens) and the West Side Highway.

 

Every day dozens of tug boats are pushing barges somewhere — or guiding enormous cruise ships through a harbor filled with treacherously narrow and shallow channels.

 

I spent one of the happiest days of my work life here aboard a tug boat and came away in awe of these workhorses, each worth a ton of money and able to keep the city moving in ways no other craft can.

What many people don’t know is how crucial tugboats were to us all on 9/11, a day of utter terror and chaos. Here’s a story about their amazing, unsung role.

One of my favorite sights is seeing a tugboat at night, its lights stacked high like a mini wedding cake as it chugs along the river.

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Broadway is still a real treat.

Despite crazy-high prices and the impossibility of getting tickets for some shows like Hamilton, seeing a performance in one of these classic, small, intimate theaters is well worth doing and can create a lifetime memory.

My favorite? Attending, of all things, Mamma Mia, with my husband’s Buddhist lama (yes, really)…Namaste on Broadway!

 

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And Lincoln Center; this is the David Koch Theater. What a pleasure to wait for the house lights and the jewel-shaped lamps fronting each balcony to dim, the hush as the curtain rises on another ballet.

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The railings have lacy, gilded dividers and the diamond-like lights repeat in the exterior and hall interior

The entire building is delicate and lovely and ethereal — very early 1960s with all that white marble and gold — and makes an event there feel, as it is, like a special occasion.

 

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Now this is how to sell clothes!

 

This is a classic! One of my favorite shopping streets, East Ninth.

 

There are, still, a very few streets left in Manhattan, (more in Brooklyn now), that are funky and filled with quirky independent shops.

Rents skyrocket daily, forcing many long-time renters and businesses to shut and leave, sometimes to close for good.

The latest?

A gas station at Houston and Broadway, one of a very small handful of gas stations in Manhattan, is soon to be torn down and replaced with….what else?…more million-dollar condominiums.

Hey, who needs gas anyway? Just thousands of working cabbies, to start with.

One of my favorite cafes, Cafe Angelique, (now on Bleecker’s eastern end) had to vacate its spot in the West Village when the landlord jacked the rent to…$45,000 a month.

Find — and support — the indies while you can!

 

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The NYC food bank — which I saw while working on a story about it

 

Never forget — this is a city of incredible, rising income inequality.

 

The photo above, of a space that dwarfs airplane hangars, is filled with food, all of it destined for the city’s poorest inhabitants, many of them elderly.

You can enjoy the High Line and Times Square, dear tourists, but it’s only one tiny sliver of New York City.

This group of young men, the topic of a recent documentary, The Wolfpack. The film-maker had to win their trust to move ahead with the project

The film-maker of The Wolfpack literally found her documentary subject on the sidewalk — passing this group of handsome young men — and wondering who on earth they were.

Their story is almost unimaginable, raised inside their Manhattan apartment by a fiercely controlling father.

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Rockefeller Center, as seen from Saks Fifth Avenue

 

If you like shopping, you might enjoy a visit to Saks Fifth Avenue. I like eating lunch there, and enjoying this view.

 

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One of the most fun things you can possibly do — dance at 7am! Daybreaker, in NYC

 

Or, getting up to dance with 800 strangers at 7 in the morning.

 

Yes, I’ve done it, several times.

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If you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll see all sorts of elegance and beauty in the least likely places. This is a lamp on a private college campus in Brooklyn.

 

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Porto Rico Coffee and Tea, Bleecker Street, NYC

 

And this tea and coffee shop, here since 1907, makes me happy. I stagger out every time laden with pounds of beans and tea.

 

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The pattern of a metal plate on a Soho street…This is a city that still truly rewards a close look and sustained attention.

 

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The back of a store on Spring Street in Soho. Speaking of quirky…

 

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My birthday month…a facade in midtown Manhattan. Note the twins of Gemini.

 

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A firehouse. How gorgeous is this?!

 

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Nope, not Rome or Florence or Paris…Soho, Manhattan. The cast-iron facades downtown are a terrific reminder of the city’s past, not just the gleaming multi-million dollar condo towers.

 

And for those who still dream of becoming journalists…Columbia Journalism School.

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Columbia Journalism School — there’s a lot they still don’t teach you in the classroom!

 

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I studied here in the 1990s — now I teach writing there!

 

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How can you resist? The city is filled with delicious bakeries and temptations…

If you come, make time to walk sloooooowly and savor all these sights.