Sunday, October 9, 2016

Roz Chast Show at Museum of City of New York

We recently went to see cartoonist Roz Chast's Cartoon Memoirs show at the Museum of the City of New York. The exhibition of almost 200 works, some never published, was originally organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  A co-presentation of the Museum of the City of New York and the Norman Rockwell Museum, the show highlights the artist and cartoonist's keen eye for the absurdities of New York City and suburban daily life.

Born in Brooklyn in 1954 (read: Woman of a Certain Age), Ms. Chast has become one of the foremost comic voices of the New Yorker magazine, producing more than 1,200 published cartoons in that magazine, children's books, collaborations with other authors and her award winning 2014 visual memoir "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant." Her approach is distinctive, sometimes bordering on a female version of an early anxiety-ridden Woody Allen persona: eccentric, stressed out, plagued by self-doubt and often apparently in dire need of psychiatric help. Her droll chronicles of the follies of everyday life, like the motley crew on the subway below, have now entertained two generations, most often in The New Yorker magazine.  (To see a high speed video of the artist making this life size drawing on the wall outside the exhibition, click here.)

(Chast puts us in mind of Maira Kalman, another Jewish female artist known for her ability to imbue her work with her own signature quirkiness and humor, and currently on New Yorkers' radar screens. Kalman and Chast are both plowing some of the same ground, from somewhat similar vantage points. Unlike many cartoonists who never personally appear in their own work, both figure prominently in many of their stories. When we went to the Jewish Museum last year, we got a chuckle when we discovered Maira Kalman's Jewish Mother Gum for sale in the museum shop. Under the legend is an illustration of a New York Jewish Mother, complete with beret and glasses.  On the front of the box is the statement "Fruit - Shmoot" and on the back is "8 pieces no less." One side of the box says "Go. Rot your teeth." and the other says "Again with the gum?" What more can we say? Classic Maira Kalman artwork and humor in the palm of your hand.)

Roz's cartoons have kept pace with her life over the past four decades. Her early work often traced her life as the dutiful but beleaguered daughter of a besieged mom and dad.

Roz moved on in life and in cartoons to her role as a suburban mother herself when she and her family moved out of the city, away from her parents. Still later, she returned to tackle the serious side of life head-on in her cartoons, fearlessly depicting her parents' aging and inevitable descent into disease, dementia and death.

It is a testament to her unwaivering voice that she didn't ignore or shy away from the harsh realities of life, but rather viewed them through her unique cartoonist's lens.

In the wonderfully witty What I Hate from A to Z (2001),

the caption to "The Undertow" illustrates her twisted (yet totally relatable) sensibilities: "Beware -- even in ankle-deep water, a little tug could be the ocean 'pulling you to your watery grave.'"  The people in the backgrounds of her illustrations are often as interesting as the main character.

From the same series, in X-Rays, we get to see the technical side of the artist.  If you look closely, where she has written Need I say more? you can see a little pentimento - where something went wrong and the artist carefully covered her tracks by overlaying a small piece of paper carefully cut to the right size.  Did she get distracted, and write Need I say mre?  Was it a different phrase entirely, that she changed her mind about?  Did she accidentally smear the lettering?  These pentimenti appear here and there throughout the show, including in some of the originals of cartoons for the New Yorker (where the transitional lines are completely invisible in the final published product).

Although Chast is known for her cartoons, the exhibition shows her many other talents as well.  Below is a tender and sensitive drawing of Chast's mother near death.

We had no idea that Chast also designs and hooks rugs.  Below is one from the exhibition.  For more on Roz Chast and her hooked rugs, click here.

Chast has also turns her hand to decorating pysanky  (Ukrainian painted eggs) in her traditional style.  The Paris Review wrote this article on a gallery exhibition  of Chast's eggs.

Chast's drawings often feature forlorn figures on a sofa in front of old wallpaper, so the volume of hilarity at the exhibition was raised by the presence of an actual sofa, and a blow up of one of the artist's wallpapered walls, complete with Chastian nuggets.  It proved to be an extremely popular feature of the show, and we monitored it closely for our chance to memorialize ourselves.  We were finally able to snag seats on the sofa, and with childlike enthusiasm became part of the living cartoon.  While the innocent fellow visitor on the left is seated under the speech bubble whining "Can't we talk about something more pleasant?", and Valerie sits under the thought bubble harrumphing with a hint of sarcasm "Everything is my fault," Jean is smugly perched under the punch line thought bubble: "Everything IS your fault."

Why is it that Jean gets such an inordinate kick out of this? Is it because life is imitating art? Hmmm.

(Valerie waves this away.  Mere detail, she says.  For the best visual effect, of course the red outfit goes in the center, balancing the two black outfits.  One must sacrifice for one's art.)

Go see the show before it closes on October 16th!  Go sit on the sofa, and get your picture taken with someone you love!  (Choose your spot carefully.)


Sunday, September 11, 2016

In Which We Visit a Sanatorium and a Prune

Aided and Abetted by the Inimitable Sue Kreitzman!

We started off our long Labor Day weekend with a bang!  To be precise, we had an adventure with Sue Kreitzman, artist, author, documentary film star, ex-TV cooking star and woman-about-town visiting her native New York City from London. First stop on our adventure: Sanatorium, the newest establishment by the legendary Austrian mixologist, Albert Trammer, and his son Jakob, just opened at 14 Avenue C in the East Village. The tag line alone is with the price of admission:  "healing through alcohol"! We had admired Albert's creativity at his previous Manhattan outpost, Apotheke, located in a former opium den on tiny, crooked little Doyers Street in Chinatown. Longtime readers may remember that we took Style Crone there in April 2012 for our first ever get-together. While geting to know each other, we sampled beautifully presented drinks with unusual flavorings in a setting fitted with the accoutrements of an old apothecary shop. That experience was amazing, so we were thrilled to invite Sue to accompany us on our maiden voyage to Sanatorium.

Loosely based on a medical clinic setting, Sanatorium features stylish, verrrry comfortable seating among various medical instruments and equipment. Under the beautiful glass top on the table above are a number of medical and surgical instruments. In the shot below behind Sue, you can see the industrial green walls and ceilings of the bar and lounge areas.

Oversized, glistening, low hanging Austrian crystal chandeliers in the lounge are in stark contrast to the various operating room lights over the bar area work space.

Here is the handsome team running the joint on the evening of our visit: Jakob Trammer (l) and Chris Nolan (c) are Bar Chefs/Managers and Jan (r) is our attentive waiter. We were there on the night before Jakob's 22nd birthday, so there was a holiday mood in the air. One of the big New York stories about Albert Trammer was his arrest at Apotheke by the New York City Police Department for violating Fire Department rules with his famous flaming drinks. Jakob not only confirmed the veracity of the story but added that he had flown into New York the same day and was left stranded at the airport: his father was not available to meet him since he was cooling his heels in jail.

Sue Kreitzman never fails to amaze and amuse.  She wore an African fabric jacket of her own design on which she collaborated with her trusted tailor. Her neckpiece is by outsider artist Anothai Hansen. The large face is hand-painted on a mirror from a Harley Davidson cycle.

Bottles of homemade elixirs and infusions take pride of place at the front of the marble-topped bar.

The tongue-in-cheek menu, also in institutional green, resembles a medical chart, with individual pages for cocktails, wines and spirits.

Valerie studied all of the ingredients of the drinks listed in the menu and consulted with Jakob on the creation of a customized concoction.

After discussing Valerie's likes and dislikes and possible combinations of ingredients, Jakob took it upon himself to come up with something to "surprise" her.  (We all tried each other's drinks, and Valerie figures she got the best of the lot, but doesn't quite know what she got.)

Truth be told, the names of the drinks are hilarious. Sue ordered "IN THE AMBULANCE" which combined gin with thyme elixirs, lime-infused sugarcane, fresh rosemary and orange peel.  Jean opted for "TURN YOUR HEAD AND COUGH" which added California strawberry, lime, vanilla elixir and sage to tequila.  Below is a shot of Jean's drink, in a beautiful crystal coupe.  All too soon, the time of our reservation for Dinner at Eight (ten points if you saw the movie, can name the stars, and summarize the main plot points) loomed large, so we bid our hosts a good night and headed east across East 2nd Street.

Our final destination of the evening? Author and celebrity chef Gabrielle Hamilton's Prune, of course. Where else would one take a former TV cooking show star?  (Yes, we said author.  Read her fascinating book Blood, Bones & Butter.)  It was a balmy night and the doors to the small restaurant were opened out onto the street.  We scored a table with a great view of passers-by, the open kitchen, the serving staff and other diners (of course).  Over delicious meals (linguini and clam sauce for Jean, corn on the cob and a zucchini tian  for Sue, branzino for Valerie, and after dinner coffees for all), we chatted, solved the problems of the world and vowed to meet again soon.

Final tally?  We think we went two for two. Both locales were winners.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016



On second thought. Look now.  Quickly.  Before it's gone...

While Jean is away, Valerie gets wistful for the good old days (that's what old people do, right?)

Jean and I like to think of ourselves as pretty forward-thinking, but both of our neighborhoods are changing, and not in a good way.  Just for today, I'm going to indulge in a little kvetchfest about mine.

When I moved to midtown Manhattan nearly twenty years ago, the streets in my neighborhood held countless treasures - some hidden, some in plain sight - but on any given day of the week there would be something to see.  Walking through midtown was inspiring.

One of the most amazing losses midtown suffered was that of the American Folk Art Museum on West 53rd Street.  This architectural gem, right next to the Museum of Modern Art, was designed to house AFAM's holdings, but in subsequent years the museum suffered from a disastrous series of problems it could not extricate itself from.  AFAM closed, the property was subsequently bought by MOMA, and torn down within a decade of its completion because the structure could not be annexed.

AFAM's gift shop, visible from the street, was itself a little jewel.  One day the gift shop had ten different spray-painted foam rubber hand puppet devils in its vitrine.  Newly arrived, they made quite a splash, and came with a handout explaining that they were made by a puppeteer in Vera Cruz, Mexico.  This was the kind of random pleasure New Yorkers once enjoyed as a matter of course.

One of my all-time favorites, and one of the first to disappear, was a shop called Folklorica which, on any given day, would have anything from pre-columbian ocarinas to beaded pubic aprons from Cameroon.  Staffed by owners Jack and Pam and their star employee Rosa, who became my good friend, I could always count on them to have fascinating stories to tell about the merchandise.  Rosa gave me the two African hats shown above.  Also on 53rd Street, Folklorica's space is today the home of LIM College.  Colleges are a good thing to have anywhere, but Jack and Pam's window on the non-industrial world is deeply missed.

Another favorite eye-popping store was Takashimaya, which opened  with a bang on Fifth Avenue and 54th Street in 1993.  Their first year or so they held blockbuster exhibitions of Japanese art.  On a few occasions, they displayed huge, airy kimono-like gowns made and hand painted by Margot Rozanska which hung, kite-like, from the high ceilings.  (Above, a huge Rozanska scarf.  I heard that one of the floating kimonos was bought by a Saudi princess.  No way to verify that...)  The top floor housed a florist who carried unimaginable blossoms, and made Takashimaya the best place to see a gorgeous array of nature's plants if you couldn't travel to a botanical garden.  In the basement, next to a restaurant that served amazing box lunches, there was a loose tea shop that offered dozens of varieties of fresh Asian teas, delicate Japanese cookies and, best of all, tiny chocolate truffles shaped like mice, with colorful little rayon tails.  (Probably made by Burdick, from whom the photo below is borrowed.)

After a few short golden years, perhaps in tandem with the bursting of the Japanese bubble, Takashimaya gave up on its ambitious arts program and installed cosmetics on the main floor.  Their recherche tastes unappreciated, they closed with a whimper in 2010.  The space changed hands several times, and now houses Valentino.  Many people who remember Takashimaya still speak of it with awe and reverence, as if reminiscing about a lost cathedral.

The first place I saw these Keith Haring chairs was at Felissimo, another Japanese store, which opened in a Gilt Age townhouse at 10 West 56th Street (once owned by Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Todd).  Walking up and down their winding marble staircases alone was a thrill.  Felissimo was always filled with marvels for the eye that brought smiles to the lips.  On the top floor there was a tiny tea shop with an amazing chocolate souffle on its dessert menu.   Felissimo closed with no notice years ago, and the building doesn't seem to have been used at all since then, but while it was in operation, it was like a lustrous ring in a tiny lavish jewel box.

We still mourn the loss of Julie Artisans Gallery on Madison Avenue near 65th Street, which sold one of a kind jewelry and clothes by extraordinary craftspeople.  Julie herself was one of a kind for bringing so much great work under one roof.  The colorful felt necklace shown here was made by one of Julie's artists, Danielle Gori-Montanelli.  In the years since Julie closed her shop, no one has come close to attempting anything similar in Manhattan.  The space now hosts a shoe store with shops all over the world.

At Lexington and 64th Street was Pylones, a shop aimed at children of all ages.  To give you some idea of the range of their merchandise, above, a bicycle lock designed to look like a snake.  Below, an inflatable boy friend.  (I still haven't opened it.  Him.  Whatever.)

After a good decade in that location, Pylones closed, and a nail salon opened in its place.

Last year we lost two Donna Karan stores.  First to go was her flagship store on Madison Avenue and 68th Street.  It was a wide open space with dramatic Hollywood-worthy stairs, and filled with surprises.  In addition to her marvelous fashions, one was equally likely to see delicate handmade porcelain dishes by Christiane Perrochon or one-of-a-kind pieces by 1970s metalsmithing sensation Robert Lee Morris as hand carved Dogon ladders.  But the take-your-breath-away moment was always going into the small courtyard in the back which, far from being stuffed with merchandise on some very expensive real estate, was given over to a small koi pond, a stand of bamboo and a sense of peace and quiet.  The above photo does it no justice at all.

At almost the same time, the DKNY shop on Madison Avenue and 59th Street closed.  This was another shop that was full of surprises, including a health bar on the second floor.  The two humongous white felt rings above were purchased there.  Few will talk on record so one never gets the full story, but usually when stores close there are rumors about leases ending, and the new rent tripling or even quintupling.  Stores that don't sell enough merchandise to cover the new rent close, and their place is taken by businesses with a much higher turnover.  (Guess what kinds of businesses have much higher turnover.)  It is common now to see spaces that remain vacant for over a year.  While they're closed, they earn a tax write off.  When they reopen, they make all the money back by tripling the previous rent.  It seems somewhat akin to the 21st century version of tulipmania.  (If you're not familiar with Holland's 17th century tulip mania, read here.)
photo by Rolly Robinson

FAO Schwarz, the world renowned toy store on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, closed more than a year ago, and no shop has opened in its place.  The red polka dots balls in the photo above were part of the joy and mischief that was FAO Schwarz.

In this neighborhood, there used to be three second hand boutiques.  Now there are none.  One has become an art gallery, another has become a hair salon, and the third is so recent that what happened - and will happen - is still a mystery.  For those of us who eschew norm core, losing a second hand store is similar to watching technicolor movies on a black and white television.

photograph by Denton Taylor

Crate & Barrel, where I got this black and white picnic bag by the wonderfully creative Paula Navone, has left Madison Avenue and 59th Street, lock, stock, and eponymous barrel.  They were great for printed napkins, Marimekko sheets, home furnishings, and colorful kitchenware, including their collapsible silicon funnel

(which made a great hat on one occasion, and would probably make a helluva breast plate).

Last on this list is the Barnes & Noble at the Citicorp Building at 54th Street and Third Avenue, whose lease was not renewed when the building decided to make major structural improvements.   I have little time for pleasure reading anymore, but I did count on Barnes & Noble for all my calendar needs.  B&N has supplied me with many a pocket calendar.  Below is my now tatty 2013-2014 Van Gogh pocket planner, which treated me to a different Van Gogh picture every month.

For my desk at work, I've had the Audubon bird-a-day calendar (my name, not theirs) for the past three years.  I don't learn much about the birds except their Latin names, but I'm endlessly intrigued and stimulated by the birds' color combinations, shapes, and behaviors.  Both of these calendars are going to be a lot more annoying to find if brick and mortar bookstores disappear.  I'll also have to pay shipping charges, as if I lived 30 miles from the nearest town.

Some of you, on reading this, will say that I am kvetching about shopping.  I'm not.  I'm kvetching about the disappearance of the ideas and work of creative, interesting people, which used to pepper the city, and was celebrated as one of the primary benefits of paying exorbitant taxes.   I'm kvetching about the disappearance of flavor, surprise, variety, and sheer joy from the fabric of daily life.

Sunday, August 21, 2016


While Jean is wrestling with household demons (more on that, hopefully, in weeks to come), Valerie reports:

Yes, that's a great big red and gold bow on my finger.  It's that old mnemonic device to help me remember...  uh... whatever it was I was supposed to remember.  We get to this age and we we start forgetting.  Could be our lives are simply too complicated to remember everything.  Could be most of it is too trivial.  Or could it be we don't remember what we had for breakfast because we were in too much of a rush to care, and it didn't taste all that memorable anyway?  I thought I'd write today about what I do to remember.  Or, more accurately, what I do so I don't have to remember more than once.

Like so many people before me, I keep a one year pocket calendar, and have for more than twenty years.  And I don't throw them away.  This one is dated 2001 in the upper right corner.  I can see I got my hair done, had a facial, probably did jury duty, and recorded the name of a book I wanted to buy.  (Not to put too fine a point on it, but you know those questions your gynecologist always asks you?  I could answer all of them, accurately, for decades, thanks to my annual pocket calendars.)  Even then, I was writing things down, and crossing them off when I'd taken care of them.   But the pocket calendar doesn't work for everything.

At one point I got into a cycle of paying my bills late.  Either I would leave bills in my pocketbook or lose them in the jungle of papers that is normally my desk, and I wound up getting second notices.  So now all that stuff goes in a charming red shoe box on my desk, and I never forget to pay bills in a timely manner.  The shoe box is also a great place to keep such other stuff as a comb shaped like fish bones.  You never know when you might need one of those.

I have to confront my mirror every morning - that's where my toothbrush is - so it's a great place for little reminder stickies.  These are things I need to do eventually, so there's no use putting them in the calendar: if the date passes, I won't look at that date again.  This way, I have to face my neglected tasks every morning, and I can write in new ones as they occur to me.  The one in the center reminded me to renew my passport.  Another has a possible blog topic, another reminds me to man up (so to speak) and finally toss or sell a vintage jacket I ruined, and am clearly (fifteen years later) never going to fix.  The white one is a label for a magazine I subscribe to.  When I called about it, I got a recording asking for my subscription number.  I didn't have it when I made the call, so when I found it, up on the mirror it went.

But what happens when you leave the house?  Sometimes I put stickies in my pocket calendar, but that's not good for highly time-sensitive matters.  For that, I use the back of my hand.  'Rent' reminds me to take a check to my agency by hand, because they've screwed up too many times (always in their favor, by odd coincidence) when I've given them access to my checking account.  'Dry' means pick up something at the dry cleaner before they close; 4:30 might refer to a phone call I have to make, or to something I want on Ebay.

Everyone pines for a valet like the ones we've seen on PBS programs about the old English aristocracy.  (Here, the wonderful Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie of Jeeves and Wooster).

It takes a lot of cheek to call this inanimate little frame a valet, but that's what we're reduced to 100 years later: a stand for one jacket, one pair of pants, and a little tray to hold whatever is fished out of the pockets.  But wait!  It gets worse!  Nowadays, a receptacle no bigger than a man's jewelry box can also be called a valet.  Jeeves might have said "For this evening, might I suggest, sir, the gold cuff links with the family crest on them?", and Wooster might have replied yes, not having the faintest idea where they had been stored until Jeeves produced them with a flourish.  Today, every man must fend for himself.  And for me it's worse still.

The holy trinity without which I cannot leave the house are my keys, my watch, and my office pass.  On too many occasions, I'd found myself at my place of work without my pass or my watch.  Since I can't lock my door without my keys, I unfailingly remember them before I leave, so I learned to put the other two more forgettable items with the keys.  But as I have no valet of any kind, they sit on my oversized television, which I disconnected four years ago, but can't bring myself to either store or throw away.

After you write your checks to pay your bills, you have to remember to submit them.  That's a whole other kettle of fish.  I leave them at the front door where (usually) I take note of them.  (Here, circled in green.)  I generally keep them in my hand till I reach the mail box because if I put them in my bag, there's no telling when they'll next see the light of day.

The front door has its other uses, too.

These shoes needed new heels, so I left them at the door where I might trip over them, to remind me to take them to the shoe maker on my way to work.  When I do this sort of thing, I also set my alarm clock to wake me 15 minutes earlier than usual.  The next morning, when I see I've awakened 15 minutes early, first I'll say "what the [expletive deleted]?" and then I'll realize I've cleverly given myself enough time to do something extra.  When I get to the front door, I realize what the something was.  (Sometimes I even remember without any help.)

I am my building's volunteer to recycle the building's batteries.  They're heavy, so I take them in small amounts.  It only takes a minute to drop them off at the recycling center on my way to work, so I don't have to build in any extra time.  I just have to make sure to hang them on the door knob.

When Jean and I go out to some wonderful event to report on for you, we take our business cards with us.  They're large, so we carry a few at a time, except for special events.  If I remember to pull out the filing cabinet drawer in the morning, I'll see the cards on my way out in the evening.  Otherwise, I'll rush out without thinking about them.

NO WIRE HANGERS!!!!  They leave dents in your lightweight clothes and sag under the weight of your heavy clothes.  But they are good for bringing your dry cleaning home, so I return mine to my cleaner for recycling.   These are too large to sit on the door knob, so I hang them on my lamp.  They're an eyesore there, so I'm very motivated to get rid of them as quickly as possible.

The Boulevard of Broken Earrings.  I've previously written about organizing my jewelry box, so earrings by rights should be in it, and not on top of my chest of drawers.  But if I put them back in my jewelry box, I'll forget about them and they'll stay broken forever.  So I leave them in plain sight to force myself to deal with them.  If it were as simple as super glue, they'd all be fixed by now.  The black ones aren't actually broken - they're too heavy for their clasps, and fall off my ears.  What to do?!  And the fish tails need more drastic measures - one hinge died of metal fatigue.  For the time being, the broken one has been 'fixed' with an extra clip and double sided foam mounting tape, which after one wearing has proven to be a very iffy solution.  (Collage postcard of the Guggenheim hat by Elaine Norman.)

Similarly, when it was time to admit I could no longer wear my beloved yellow suit (see that post here), I put it out where I was forced to deal with it.  For the earlier blog posting, I hung it on the inside of my closet door to 'frame' it, but in reality it hung in the doorway of my bedroom, so I was forced to wave it out of my way several times a day until I finally got fed up and took care of it.

I was well trained by both of my parents to turn off lights when I left a room.  Both of them quoted my father's Depression-era parents to me: "What, are you trying to make Con Edison rich?"  So I turned off lights, until I realized I associated that with 'closure'.  Once or twice I awoke in the morning to see I'd left the ice cream out (oh, no!  not the ice cream!), or the dishes undone.  So now, when I turn off a light, I check to see if I have any unfinished business.  If I do, I'll leave the light on to make sure I go back and finish what I started.

So those are my tips for remembering.  Or forgetting less.  Now if I could just figure out what to do about people's names...