Another Weekend in New York


For Christmas, my mother generously gave Susan and I tickets to see Madama Butterfly performed by the New York City Opera at the New York State Theater in Lincoln Center. My friend Mike M., an Atlanta Braves fan, and I have a tradition of catching a Mets-Braves game at Shea Stadium each spring. Fortuitously, the Mets-Braves series and the opera fell on the same weekend and a plan was hatched!

My photos from the weekend.

We drove down early Saturday morning in Mike’s Truckasaurus. From past experience and the many warning of Mets announcers about the lack of parking at Shea, I was worried we’d be stuck in traffic and have to park in a remote region of Long Island. Despite many bathroom breaks for Mike, we arrived about an hour before game time and got parking close to the stadium, so all that worry was for naught.

We sat in the Upper Deck boxes behind home plate. There was a great family of season ticket holders in front of us. Both the man and woman kept score and compared notes during the game. They were die-hard scorekeepers as the man kept a baseball-shaped pencil sharper on hand for mid-game sharpening. The man didn’t like the Wave at all and I have to agree with him. Twenty years ago fans at Shea did the Wave during a Met rally as a coordinated effort to cheer on the action on the field. Nowadays, the Wave seems to happen when the fans are bored, and it’s a pretty tired activity at that.

It was a big day at Shea. First it was Luggage Tag Day (almost as exciting as Mets Ice Cube Tray Day) as all fans received a classy leather tag upon entering. Next it was Earth Day and volunteers from the EPA made a token appearance to collect recyclable cans and bottles (they didn’t stick around too long after the game though). The best part is that it was Dog Day in the Park and Mets fans walked their pooches around the warning track prior to the game. A lot of cute dogs in Mets bandanas out there. This brought much delight to Susan.

The highlight of the day was the on field action between the Mets and Braves. Young Ollie Perez pitched beautifully, including 20 straight strikes at one point. I got to rib Mike a lot about all the 0-2 counts on the Braves batters. I also got to see the most exciting player in baseball, Jose Reyes, doing what he does best: getting on base and then stealing bases.

The Mets broke the game open with a series of home runs over the 5th & 6th innings. I didn’t see any of these because I was attempting to get money by waiting in line at the slowest ATM in the world, and then waiting again to buy ice cream. I didn’t mind too much because I think I was getting too much sun on a warm April day. Spending so much time packed like a sardine within Shea’s interior makes me appreciate the need for constructing a new stadium with extra wide concourses.

For more on the Mets v. Braves, see my latest baseball post Meet the Mets.

After the game, we spent some time under the elevated tracks with a drink and a snack. I was impressed with how quickly and efficiently most of the other fans were moved away from the park. By the time we were ready to go there was no wait for Mike to drive out of the parking lot nor for us to board the 7 train. We zipped downtown to Times Square and then transfered uptown to our hotel in the Upper West Side. The Hotel Riverside Studios promotes their plaid bedspreads and matching drapes, but something about the corridor makes it look like the kind of place where artists go to shoot heroin. We came up with a slogan for the hotel “You’ll come for our plaid bedspreads, you’ll stay for our shady corridors!” The neighborhood was lovely with lots of colorful, stone-front row houses.

After a nap which I couldn’t shake off right away, we headed out for dinner. An excellent soul band played on the crowded platform at 72 St. Station. The lead vocalist had one of those powerful, throat-shredding voices and the guitarist and drummer offered lovely harmonies. They made the rather crumby Commodores’ song “Easy” sound really, really good. I was a bit thrown by the subway not making local stops, grumpified more as I groggily made along the packed sidewalks near Times Square, and positively mortified when I knocked over a candle and broke a glass as we were seated at the restaurant. I was soothed by the delicious Indian food and the friendly staff at the former Nirvana 54.

We strolled down 5th Avenue to the Empire State Building which Susan wanted to visit on recommendation from our nephew Cassidy. The wait was long though, so we took a pass. It was a nice walk and maybe we’ll return and go up when Cassidy is with us. Back at the hotel Susan searched unsuccessfully for a Tom Hanks movie, her New York tradition. Then we went to sleep.

On Sunday we ate breakfast at a cafe on the corner of 71 St. and Broadway. We strolled down to Lincoln Center, but it was far too early, so we made our way over Central Park to get out of the sun. New Yorkers celebrated the warm weather by taking all their cute babies and dogs to the park. We watched for a long time as a young lad played baseball with his dad, always running the wrong way when he hit the ball. Topping off our park experience, we ate Ferrara’s pastries by the USS Maine monument.

We walked around the Lincoln Center complex which really is an amazing complex. This is what Modernism looks like at it’s very best. I especially like the railings in the New York State Theater which look like Jackson Pollock paintings formed into class. Upon entering the Fourth Ring to find our seats, Susan said “Wow!” which I think sums it up. The couple sitting in front of us seemed more inured to the opera house experience. During intermissions he read a book and she did the Times crossword.

For more on the performance read my post Opera Review: Madama Butterfly.

After the opera we strolled up Amsterdam Avenue to Fred’s Restaurant. This place is pretty much a dog-themed bar based on the story of a female lab named Fred who wasn’t able to work as a guide dog for the blind, but was lovingly adopted by the restaurant owners. The walls are lined with autographed photos of dogs from around the world. Susan loved it. Fred’s appears to be a good place to take your children as the other tables were teaming with adorable young’uns. Come to think of it, I think our entire weekend was dominated by dogs and children. Anyhow, the food and staff at Fred’s are great too.

After that we took a long, hot bus ride home and arrived groggy and grumpy. And that was our weekend.


Speaking of New York City, this online gallery of photos of New York from 1964-1969 contains many great images of the city and its inhabitants by Irwin Klein. While this is a little bit before my time, it’s still nostalgic as the city and the people in the photos remind of New York when I was a child.

Opera Review: Madama Butterfly


Thanks to the generosity of my mother, Susan and I saw a matinée performance of the New York City Opera’s production of Madama Butterfly on Sunday.

Madama Butterfly tells the story of B.F. Pinkerton (Christopher Jackson) of the US Navy who on a whim purchases a 999-year lease on a home overlooking the harbor in Nagasaki, and works out a similar agreement with a marriage broker Goro (Matthew Surapine) for the young Cio-Cio-San (Shu-Ying Li), known as Butterfly. He does this because he knows he can break the contract at any time and he even as he prepares to marry Butterfly he toasts his future “real wife” from America. As loathsome and culturally insensitive as he is, Cio-Cio- San can’t help but fall in love with Pinkerton, and in a weird way the American Dream as she rebukes her family and Japanese culture. The second act is dedicated to Cio-Cio-San patiently awaiting Pinkerton’s return despite everyone she knows telling her that it is false hope. In the final act, Pinkerton does return — with his American wife. In the final insult, their only purpose is to take Cio-Cio-San’s sun Sorrow with them to America. Cio-Cio-San allows them to take her son, but takes her own life as well just before the curtain falls.

Critically, there are things that are hard to buy in this story. What makes Cio-Cio-San fall in love with Pinkerton? There seems to be no excuse for her foolishness even if she had few other options available to her due to her culture and gender. Yet, in a sense that is true to life. People are blinded by love, blinded by hope, and blinded by dreams. That is the real tragedy to me because love, hope, and dreams are three of the most positive qualities of humanity, and yet they can destroy us.

Leaving the theater we overheard a woman say “They should have killed him instead of her.” I wonder what the audience of Puccini’s time thought about Pinkerton’s moral choices. Puccini and his librettists certainly seem to want to make us understand Pinkerton’s remorse in the third act. Of course Pinkerton acts on that remorse by going off and moping on his own instead of, you know, actually speaking with the woman he impregenated and abandoned. Do pre-feminist audiences think this was good enough, even progressive for an American man? The mind boggles.

Musically, Madama Buttefly is full of beautiful, heart-wrenching melodies. Shu-Ying Li especially carries the show with her lyrical voice. The second act in particular has some of her best arias and a lovely intermezzo by the orchestra. Christopher Jackson is kind of stiff, but his stage time is actually overshadowed by supporting characters Suzuki (Keri Alkema) and Sharpless (Marco Nisticò). The characters provide the conscience and realism to counterbalance the leads, and their voices provide beautiful singing, albeit Alkema spends much of the performance laying on the floor weeping. I love how operas are cast by voice not by physical appearance so that the American Alkema plays a Japanese house servant and the Italian Nisticò plays an American Consul, adding the multicultural soup. Henry Titcomb as Sorrow doesn’t sing but provides a touching and charming performance as a typical little boy.

The staging and costumes are also great. I’ve seen so many productions lately that update the costumes to another place and time that it was nice to see them sticking to 1900-era Japanese and American fashions. I particularly liked that all the women in the wedding scene wore small American flags in their hair. In a great dramatic moment at the climax of the opera that may not be noticed by those without opera glasses, Cio-Cio-San removes the Star-Spangled Banner from Sorrow’s hand and replaces it with the Rising Sun. The stage is set simply but used effectively. A set of steps at the back of the stage represent the hill upon which Pinkerton’s house while sliding doors represent the walls. In Act II, Cio-Cio-San, Suzuki, and Sorrow spread a silk cloth and flower petals across the steps. The safety commissar in me cringes at the thought of the boy slipping down the steps, but visually the effect was beautiful.

For those keeping score, this was my fourth opera.  I’m not the most cultured guy but I do enjoy the experience.