Alfie, Central Park, Music and Picasso

Heard as we walked down Broadway yesterday “I am in love with border collies”024 from a young guy to his girlfriend. 60 seconds later, a sweet old guy on the street corner: “That dog says you are a nice person – I can see it!” Alfie’s ability to charm New Yorkers, particularly the children, continues unabated. 002In fact, when I go out without him I meet far less people. This is him concentrating on a squirrel in Central Park

012It feels like ages since I sat down to write – keeping a blog and uploading photos is a very time-consuming affair. There will be things I wanted to write about but have now forgotten…

Last week we awoke the news of Alan Rickman’s death. Coming so soon after Bowie’s, at the same age and the same cause, feels so cruel. And like with Bowie, I couldn’t believe the news when I first heard it. I met him once: at the first night of a play in London. During the interval I found myself next to him at the bar – he turned to me and asked me if I wanted some ice… and I melted…. Such a sad loss. His connection with New York is that he got married here last year to his partner of 50 years – perhaps, like Bowie, he knew his days were numbered. Another connection with New York that he had was the cancellation of his play ‘My name is Rachel Corrie’ ten years ago. He denounced it as ‘censorship’ given that Rachel was a US activist against oppression in Gaza.

012 010I am attaching a photo of Debbie practising with Tom (also blind) before the gig they will be playing on Friday 22nd. It was great listening to them in Debbie’s apartment.

As they played together, I took their guide dogs and Alfie to the dog run at Morningside Park. They patiently waited to get in to meet their doggie friends The other musician I have met who practices at Debbie’s (see blog 2) is Gary, married to Nancy, who, at the beginning of January, had us over to their party on 110th Street where they have lived for over 40 years. Gary and Nancy, and everybody else at the party except for Debbie and me were Jewish. Instead of the Christmas lights in the apartment building in which they live (and the ones next door) there were beautiful  lit menorahs.

Gary told me that the largest population of Jews outside Israel can be found in New York. There were some lovely Woody Allen type moments and they got out the fascinating photographs of their family that came to New York from Eastern Europe. In fact, Nancy is a Professor at Columbia and her expertise is in Eastern European Jews. The food (kosher of course) was delicious, especially the black bean soup: she e mailed me the recipe – definitely one for the book.  A few days later, at Arturo’s pizza place I found myself sitting at the bar chatting to Steve who told me he was in New York from Seattle for a big meeting of Reformed Jews who believe in the two-state solution.

I visited the Picasso sculpture exhibition at the MOMA , which was fascinating032 031 029 027 022 019 010 003

Politically-talking, I am shocked at the lack of challenge to the views of the Narcissist Donald Trump. I take great delight in telling people that I signed the petition to ask for him to be banned from the UK due to his xenophobic views – debated yesterday in the UK Parliament. Everyone I have met in New York seems to see him for what he really is but elsewhere in the country he has real support. The man genuinely appears to be liked, despite the hate that he spews.

049Above is a self-portrait by Fredo Kahlo (I love her – visited her house in Mexico City), in MOMA

So I have mentioned Arturos – a fantastic Italian Restaurant on West Houston Street. 10 days ago Debbie and I hooked up with Frank Senior, a singer who is also blind. We had a fantastic evening listening to the Jazz, eating pizza, drinking (ok so I was on the usual soda water) and listening to various people sing – including Frank and Debbie who both have voices made for jazz. The atmosphere was one that makes you feel happy to be alive – having a laugh with good people and soaking up the lively atmosphere.

Just for my friend Ali’s benefit I will mention another Narcissist – let us call him Stan the Man (He does call himself by something that sounds like that). I saw this guy enter Arturo’s, eyes darting round the room desperate to be seen, so reminding me of the last Narc I went out with. The way Narcissists operate is to try to charm themselves around a room as they look for the most useful people –  their need to be noticed is huge. Now I can smell Narcs at 100 paces:  I watched him with amusement as he slithered his way over to us. He knows Frank (who doesn’t?) and obviously wanted to pour his charm over me and Debbie. Except that it didn’t work. First, because I could SEE him, and second because when he sang Debbie thought that his voice was awful.

The other pictures  are from the permanent Artwork at MOMA047 046 045 044 043

Arturo’s was begun in 1957 by, unsurprisingly, Arturo. His daughter still runs the show. An engaging New Yorker who runs a tight friendly ship. It is fantastically popular and has people queuing up for tables. It also happens to be round the corner from Bowie’s apartment. I bet he visited. He was well known for sticking mainly to his own neighbourhood, walking about incognito in perfect safety. Talking of walking – I took this picture on the Hudson, walking down with Alfie. 019 The chairs are stainless steel with wooden seats.

I have visited the 014Hungarian coffee shop several times and have decided on the Baclava (reminding me of my time in Greece) as my favourite cake. Alfie continues to enjoy watching the squirrels in the trees across the road as well as the people walking by and the children and adults who continue to stop to pet him – he is such a love.015

In the UK, pigeons are well-known to be a pest when you are eating outside. They have been known to swipe an entire fish out of a packet of fish and chips that people are settling down to eat.020 The Hungarian Coffee Shop equivalent is the sparrows – so shy in the UK, and so amazingly tame here. I watched one take a piece of cake that was a quarter of its body weight from an inattentive customer. I can’t see them as the pests that pigeons are – they remind me of my mum – and I enjoy watching them eat the crumbs from my plate (the ones Alfie hasn’t had, that is…)

016I finally managed to get to the Central Park Meet. As mentioned, dogs can only officially be off the leash (in certain places, that is – not the ones with the nasty signs I photographed Alfie next to, along the Hudson River) before 9 a.m. and after 9 p.m. It takes 20 minutes from Debbie’s and was a nice change from Riverside Park. I like Riverside Park and of course, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ as mum used to say: The more I go, the more I get to know people. There is the adorable man whose dog is called Duke (We pronounce that word as Juke, he pronounces it is ‘Dook’ – charming) whom I walk with sometimes (No excitement there, friends, all the men I have met in New York are married or gay…) There are other lovely people too, and then there is a hysterical woman there who seems to think that Debbie’s guide dog, Ellie, is going to savage her puppy. The fact that her puppy runs after Ellie doesn’t seem to compute – so I have to avoid her (I walk Debbie’s dog for her every morning so she can have off the lead fun). Then there is the guy, really pleasant, whose dog looks like it is on steroids and always manages to plonk 2 very muddy paws on me every morning. Saturdays are days to be careful. You can have 40 dogs in a very small area and keeping my eye on 2 is more than I can cope with.

So back to Central Park – I finally got there to the morning off-lead meet-up with the dogs,who really enjoyed it. Alfie even played tug with 2 new friends More than anything it was Central Park in the morning, for goodness sake! I just love Central Park. Walking in it gives me a real glow of contentment. Here I am, in Central Park walking my dog – it is such a New York experience for a Bristolian! Of course, Central Park is full of interesting people and I love the serendipitous moments. 001Stopping to watch bulbs being planted, that I shall see when I return in May after the road trip, I bumped into Drew and Kathy Watson – 2 hip New Yorkers both Musicians and dog trainers. Nice combination. They loved Alfie (always a quick way to my heart) who did his ‘I am an intelligent well-behaved border collie’ performance. We chatted for ages, like old friends. Drew puts his money where his mouth is – he told me to e mail him and he would hook me up with people. I did, and he has – with people all over the USA – artistic, talented… Thank you Drew!

Debbie has been ill with the flu for the past week. So far, by drinking lots of smoothies (with masses of ginger – think one small finger full per person) laden with cinnamon, kale and beets as well as the inevitable fruit, I have not succumbed to the dreaded lurgy. I did have some sneezing etc going on but as I write I am feeling very healthy. New York really agrees with me (and Alfie).002 009 002

This morning we finally went to ‘City M.D.’ – a drop in Centre on Broadway – because Debbie was still feeling rough. Very good service – instant X Ray for example, contrasting with the wait we have with the NHS in England but she doesn’t have a regular doctor, and even if she did they do not do home visits. Then there is the prohibitive healthcare insurance. That would be one of the reasons I couldn’t live here, now that I am officially knocking on in years (physically if not mentally). The doctor was easy on the eye, too. The verdict: she has a virus…

Being blind, Debbie has a lovely weekly cleaner, Estella, who is Columbian and I wish I could take her home with me. The apartment looks like a hotel after she has finished her 5 hour rushing round stint, ipod in her ears….. And then there is the Nicaraguan doorman, Adam, who is very sweet – I could get used to having the door opened for me every time I go into a building. Alfie loves him.

Last week Debbie and I went to 3 different classical concerts by students from the Juilliard School at the Lincoln Centre. Very talented young people and great music. Last Friday, after my visit to the fabulous Picasso exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art I popped in to another performance. Whilst there, a lovely young guy told me about ‘Barge Music’ that takes place just next to the Brooklyn Bridge on a Saturday.052 050 053 057 059

063 065 068 069So Alfie and I took the subway down to Brooklyn, attended the concert and then walked back across the Brooklyn bridge up towards West Houston Street, popping into a famous cheesecake shop on the way…. but where oh where is the cheesecake I used to eat in Wardour Street in London in the 70s? It was called ‘New York Cheesecake’ was heavy as anything, full of soaked raisins and with a soft cake bottom. The best cheesecake I have ever had, and cannot seem to be able to find in New York.

After the unimpressive cheesecake and a coffee, I continued up Lafayette Street and saw the continuing shrine outside number 285, Bowie’s apartment.

008 005 010Snow fell on Manhattan at 4 p.m. on Sunday as I was chatting to the owner of a lovely part collie/part spaniel dog in my favourite ‘Dog Run’ at the top of Morningside park. We are so lucky that we have 3 parks, all within 10 minutes or so of Debbie’s apartment. Alfie and I collected Ellie ran down the road towards Riverside Park where I (illegally) let them off their leads to romp in the snow. They sat beautifully for me as I photographed them.

I typed this blog listening, finally (my daughter will be delighted – she has been telling me for ages to listen to it – ironic as I introduced her to Radio 4!) to the re-run of Freddie Flintoff on Desert Island Discs:

I so agree with him when he says that drinking does not help depression. Thanks to giving up alcohol 4 years ago, my practice and teaching of Mindfulness and my relationship with Alfie the Wonderdog I know I can handle the occasional ‘black cloud’.

He mentions Florida – and that is one of my forthcoming destinations on my 99 day car trip from New York to New York. Trouble is, I have booked the car for Saturday and heavy snow is now forecast on the East Coast just in time for me to set off. The snow won’t feel so pretty then. Watch this space, I guess.

This truck is very long, and very typical of the ones you see in New York. I find it pretty so took a photo – much to the consternation of the driver who was sat there, his engine idling. I think he thought I was doing something dodgy…..

I loved this wall mural I saw while walking down Broadway: 005 004 003 002 001


And this is a picture of a very lovely and trendy student I chatted to as I walked through Columbia campus – I love her hair!015