Last look at NYC: Perfection in the Park

My very most favorite days are those when I realize there’s no place I would rather be than where I am in that exact moment. And this was one of those days.

We stepped into the Park at West 66th Street and saw that we weren’t the only ones who had the idea of spending Saturday in the Park. Sheep Meadow was dotted with with couples and families – such a welcome sight after the all the forced isolation.

The carriages were doing a brisk business.

And while the calendar was about to announce the start of fall, it felt like we were in the midst of a summer celebration. It was a party, complete with entertainment:

We ambled on up to the Ramble, where just ten minutes or so from the center of Manhattan, we were instantly immersed in a woodland fantasy. According to the Central Park Conservancy, “the design of the Ramble was intentionally intricate, with twisting paths that encourage wandering and create a sense of mystery and surprise”. Mission accomplished!

This view of the pond! Oh my!

We sunned ourselves at the water’s edge like the turtles that basked on the rocks, while punters in the rental rowboats eased past, the water lapping at their oars. Pastoral bliss in the middle of Manhattan.

How lucky we were to have that day. It was a gift; the shimmering end of summer.

Just days later, rain…

And now, back home in California, fall has arrived. The light fades earlier and earlier and like it or not we steer toward winter. Here’s hoping it, too, brings moments where we all feel we’re exactly where we want to be. I’m reminding myself that every season has its blessings.

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NYC Right Now: The Food Diaries – Constant. Change.

Pretty much every. single. thing in life changed in the last year and a half, so I’m not sure why I held on so tightly to my vision of NYC being EXACTLY the same. In my defense, this is a city where you can trip over the same cobblestones trod by Dutch settlers and dine in the same restaurant where George Washington quaffed a glass of ale. You can gaze up at a skyscraper and then see a horse and carriage straight out of the nineteenth century trotting up the street. Many, many things do stay the same.

And indeed, the Fraunces Tavern, which welcomed George Washington in 1783, is still serving pub fare down on Pearl Street. But not every restaurant has survived the maelstrom of pandemic culture. When I started making plans a few weeks before our trip I was devastated to learn that our most favorite eatery, beloved Beyoglu on the UES, had closed permanently early during the initial lockdown. And I was shocked when I walked past Rockefeller Center to see that Brasserie Ruhlmann, a midtown stalwart, was no more.

These losses made us all the more determined to go to our most favorite restaurants while we were in town. We were so grateful to renew our tradition of having our first lunch in the city at Bergdorf Goodman’s BG Restaurant. Not only did we get to sit in the coveted birdcage chairs, but our long-time server, Corinna, waited on us and surprised us with scrumptious desserts.

Our favorite Saturday brunch spot, The Smith at Lincoln Square, was blessedly still serving up Bloody Marys and rashers of bacon:

And the sacred Sunday tradition of brunch at Jean-George’s Nougatine remains intact. So many lovely choices, but please remember that one of them must always be the Shrimp Salad with Champagne Beurre Blanc:

Now that we’ve learned once and for all that life is unpredictable, I allowed myself – just this once – to order the butterscotch pudding.

And, of course, a day was set aside to have lunch at the one, the only, Balthazar, where for the first time ever, we saw a few empty tables. Now is the time to go, before it becomes impossible to get a reservation again!

One of the darker days of the pandemic for me was when it made national news that the iconic Central Park Boathouse it was “permanently closing”. Fortunately, whew, they didn’t mean it! It has reopened and everything is the same, except maybe the food is bit better! And the view is absolutely perfect:

We were grateful and thrilled to see that another of our favorites had survived the pandemic. Indian Accent is unlike any other Indian restaurant I’ve been to. There are so many choices on the prix fixe dinner menu that you could eat there days in a row (and yes, I am tempted!) and never duplicate your meal. They brought us a tiny mug of warm pumpkin soup with dumplings as an amuse bouche:

I doubled the dumpling fun by ordering assamese pork dumplings with broth, nettle oil and crispy black rice as my appetizer:

I don’t remember what either of us had as a main course because I was mostly thinking about the signature dessert: makhan malai, saffron milk, rose petal jaggery brittle, almonds. Light as air!

Reassured that so much did, after all, remain the same, we gathered the courage to at least try a few new places. The Leopard at des Artistes has been around for several years but not really on our radar screen until now. Like many other restaurants they have created an outside dining option and we spent one of our favorite evenings of the trip there, feasting on pappardelle and watching passersby on 67th Street.

Since we hadn’t been to the city since the beginning of COVID, we missed the opening of La Grande Boucherie, which takes up an entire magical block of the quirky 6 1/2 Avenue at 53rd Street.

I ordered the paté campagne and look forward to returning for more:

Returning to the familiar and discovering the new is a never-ending pleasure in New York. And while there were, indeed, some losses during the challenges of the past year and a half, I have a feeling that NYC is charging forward, as it has through so many other challenges. Can’t wait to return next visit and see what awaits us! As we all know by now, the only thing that is constant in life is change…

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NYC Right Now: The Food Diaries – Greek is Glorious!

If I’d made a list of the things we missed about NYC during lockdown, Greek food might be very near the top. I’ve never been to Greece, so I can speak only to Greek food NYC-style. I’m sure it must taste better looking out over the Ionian or Aegean Sea but I have to say it tasted just fine looking out over the Hudson River, too. We couldn’t get enough of it this trip. Hence, glorious Greek, four ways:

Best Value: Avra Estiatorio has two NYC locations. The one on 60th Street (former location of Rouge Tomate) is a bit precious and pricey. But Avra on 48th, between Lexington and Third Ave. is a gem in the currently boarded-up desert of Midtown East. The National is gone. Maloney & Porcelli, gone. But Avra 48th survived and is bustling, with a $31.50 three-course lunch prix fixe that is so popular you’ll need to reserve well ahead.

Pre-pandemic it was a sprawling warren of indoor dining rooms. Now there are umbrella-shaded outdoor tables that take full advantage of the restaurant’s garden entry:

No sooner had we been seated than sustenance arrived – their bread is divine.

We always start with Greek salad.

And then I splurged on lamb chops, which are an up-charge, but well worth it:

Of the Greek restaurants we visited this trip, Avra was the only one to offer baklava on the prix fixe dessert menu. Extra points for them – it was perfection!

Best shopping location: Anassa Tavern at 60th and Lexington. We’ve often eaten lunch here because of the convenience – just a block away – to Bloomingdale’s, but this trip we noticed that they seem to have upped their food game. The menu seemed a bit more polished and the food more flavorful than in the past. They aren’t currently featuring a lunch prix fixe – I hope with time that will find its way back onto the menu.

Their bread is almost as good as Avra’s:

And one thing we had not noticed on the menu before are the irresistible fried eggplant chips:

By the time our salads came, we were already full! Anassa’s salad features capers and a very generous portion of feta:

Best view: Estiatorio Milos/Hudson Yards (Level 5) Even before the pandemic, we were curious as to how the ginormous Hudson Yards development would fare. Building an immense mall when malls had gone decisively out of favor seemed very courageous – or maybe just foolhardy. Then came COVID and soon after, the Hudson Yards anchor store, Neiman Marcus, breathed its last. Dire headlines followed in its wake. “Will Hudson Yards Survive the Pandemic?” queried The New York Times.

The mall, in general, seemed lightly peopled the day we were there, but there are signs of life and signs of new store openings.

We had an early reservation at Milos, so we snagged one of the coveted window tables, looking out on the currently-shuttered Vessel.

By the time our “Milos Special” – the classic that other mere mortal restaurants copy – arrived at our table, nearly every seat was taken. The Greek gods apparently smile on Milos and why not – their airy special is served with flaky nuggets of kefalograviera cheese on the side – ambrosia!

Milos’ lunch prix fixe is $39 but when you consider the view, it’s a bargain, or at least you can talk yourself into believing it is if you’re having a glass of Assyrtiko wine with lunch like I did. After the obligatory tomato salad

the CE had fish,

while I enjoyed more Assyrtiko and the view. Dessert was yummy Greek yogurt steeped in honey:

If I could only dine at one Greek restaurant in the city it would probably be Milos. But beware of dinner there – the Hudson Yards escalators are nothing compared to the escalated prices on the dinner menu where you purchase your fish by the pound.

Best new Greek restaurant: Iris (Broadway between 55th and 56th) We walked past the sleek and inviting upscale patio filled with happy diners several times before finally stopping to look at the menu – no wonder everyone looked so happy – more Greek food! But with a plot twist – also Turkish food! Here, the menu and experience are artfully crafted by Chef John Fraser of former Dovetail fame. How fortunate we were to find this new venture just a few blocks from our apartment.

As The New York Times sagely observed in their review, the “prices occasionally drift into expense-account territory”. Thus, I had to order a second Tsipouro Sour before I gained the courage to contemplate $60 lamb chops. (And THIS, friends, is why the Avra lunch prix-fixe is such a steal!)

While we contemplated, the CE ordered a sumptuous mezze platter:

The Iris take on a Greek salad was fresh a full of heirloom tomatoes:

Still smarting from the price tag on the lamb chops, I decided instead on the moussaka, which was both affordable and terrific:

while the CE ordered the swordfish kebab:

We were too full to order dessert, but will save room for next time. Iris has not quite fully bloomed – there were some hiccups in the service and I didn’t totally grasp the vibe of servers attired in what was either trireme sailor casual or a Hamptons weekend uniform. Perhaps they are trying to convey that the restaurant is sophisticated yet casual, and both things are true. We’ll be back!

I don’t know if I will ever make it to Greece, given the chaotic and ever-changing rules of pandemic world travel. The tomatoes in all the Greek salads we enjoyed more likely come from New Jersey than Santorini, but I’m okay with that. Wherever they make it, Greek is definitely the food of the gods. It might just look like Broadway, but after a few Tsipouro Sours, it felt just like Mount Olympus:-)

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NYC Right Now; The Food Diaries – Boulud 3 Ways.

Let’s call it a parable of loaves and dishes. Thanks to restaurateur par excellence Daniel Boulud, we ate well (and often!) during our city sojourn. Initially alarmed to learn of the closure of our beloved Café Boulud, we vowed to somehow make do with the chef’s UWS outpost, Bar Boulud.

Has “making do” ever looked better?

Chef Boulud, through some sort of wizardry or legerdemain – or perhaps just talent and hard work – is currently juggling fifteen establishments, seven of them in NYC. Bar Boulud, felicitously, is less than a thousand steps from our apartment and has adapted its space and menu brilliantly to pandemic cuisine. Talk about comfort food!

Yes, I know, I should have stopped at the Kale and Fig Salad:

But it was NOT my idea to order the Merveilleux Noir: “crispy meringue, jivara chantilly, dark chocolate sorbet”. I ate two bites. Okay, maybe four bites:

It’s not just the food at a Boulud restaurant. There is always a genuine warmth of hospitality and sometimes even a bit of whimsy. Some nights the sommelier at Bar Boulud totes a jeroboam around the restaurant, offering patrons a glass of something they might not otherwise have tasted – the night we were there it was a French burgundy. I personally think it’s bad luck to ever say no when someone appears bearing a jeroboam.

The centerpiece of of our culinary experience this trip was an evening at Boulud’s recently opened Le Pavillon at 1 Vanderbilt next to Grand Central Terminal. At 1.5 miles from our apartment, at least we got a few calorie-burning steps in during our walk down to 42nd Street that evening.

The restaurant’s space is delightful – chic but not overly formal. And yes, it’s on the pricey side, but one always departs a Boulud restaurant with the sense that whatever the tab, it was worth it. Le Pavillon is apparently thus christened in honor of a former restaurant that occupied the same space from the 1940’s to 1960’s. debuting at New York’s 1939 World’s Fair:

Boulud’s iteration of the space recalls the airiness of its predecessor but in a distinctly 21st century way:

After a refreshing cocktail

we pondered the menu. It is seafood forward but there are plenty of options for those who prefer terre to mer. We took a first course dip with “Torchetti pasta, Maryland jumbo lump crab, fennel confit, Jimmy Nardello peppers”:

and “Yellowfin tuna, fennel pollen, socca crisp, tonato sauce”

I was too focused on my Sole Romanesco to notice what the CE ordered. It took all my attention to behold the tableau of “kataifi crusted Dover sole, roasted Romanesco, artichoke, sauce grenobloise”:

For dessert, the Peche with Fromage Blanc:

What a lovely evening we had! While we certainly needed a long walk home after that meal, it was late and the city doesn’t feel as safe as it has in the past. Le Pavillon’s location is a bonus because while cabs seem to be in short supply these days, you can always find one in front of Grand Central Terminal. Another reason to love Daniel Boulud!

Lucky for us, the re-opening of Boulud Sud, the chef’s Lincoln Square nod to Mediterranean cuisine, was scheduled for our last night in the city. The CE enjoyed a mezze appetizer

while I ordered the gambas:

and then my old favorite, the chicken tagine:

Of course, this was all just lead-up to one of our favorite desserts in the city: Grapefruit Givré. A 2018 Eater article deconstructed the elements for us: “The chefs spoon sorbet into a hollowed out grapefruit shell before tossing in fresh segments of the fruit and citrus marmalade…sesame foam…rose loukoum, [then] seals the grapefruit with a brûléed orange sugar tuile, and anoints the whole affair with halva candy floss.”

Pure sorcery! Pure delight! The CE was unwilling to share, so we each had our own:

If only along with all the other “passports” we need these days, Daniel Boulud offered one for his “frequent flyers”. If there were such a thing, perhaps I could “earn” my way to an evening at the pinnacle of the Boulud empire: Restaurant Daniel on the UES. One can always hope…

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NYC right now.

I can’t tell you how many times I googled it in the past few months. “What is it like in NYC right now?” Plenty of news stories. But I couldn’t get a sense of the pulse, Louboutins on the ground, so to speak, of what it is like to actually be in Manhattan.

Some of the challenge, of course, is that everyone’s Manhattan, just like the drink recipe, is different. I can only share with you my own “recipe”, but I can tell you that if the past week is any gauge of Manhattan going forward, I’ll be ordering another, and another and another!

We began with fear and trepidation. After a cosseted year and a half in California, could we even do this? The Countess said, definitively, no, as she monitored the chaotic last-minute packing process.

After a harrowing day of travel (was it always this hard to get anyplace?) we arrived at Newark airport and easily grabbed a cab – there was no one in the taxi line! Our driver snaked through New Jersey suburbia, taking a route so nondescript that it was a complete shock when suddenly we were on the 495 and glimpses of the Manhattan skyline came into view.

It was a heart stopper. I felt like Dorothy seeing Oz for the first time. Then, of course we were mired in the morass of Lincoln Tunnel traffic, which brought me back down to earth…briefly. Because when our cab finally rounded a corner onto Central Park South I felt instantly infused with all the magic that is New York City.

We arrived in time for a glorious sunset.

And a celebratory dinner up the street at Bar Boulud:

We’ve taken it easy, getting a lay of the land. First things first, of course: the Park remains magnificent. I couldn’t wait to be wrapped in its lush green cocoon.

Our immediate question was “are things open?” And the answer is: well, mostly. Actually, even more so than we had hoped. Our immediate neighborhood feels almost normal, just minus the usual extra helping of tourists, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Outdoor dining has actually morphed into an art, judging by the inventive way restaurants have enhanced their street side tables.

People seem relaxed, cheerful, and positively buoyant. For all the negative things we’ve all heard about “those New Yorkers”, I have to say that all my encounters have brimmed with courtesy, kindness and that odd, ephemeral sense of warmth and connection strangers share in the city. A carriage driver returning to the stables clop-clop-clopped past us as we stood at a 6th Avenue crosswalk the other day. He caught our eye and nodded, almost as if in recognition. It was a look that said “Here we all are. And it’s going to be okay.”

Of course, it’s not all okay. If you happened to be dining at Philippe Chow the other night, you might have had a side of robbery and gunfire with your Peking duck. We have felt absolutely safe everywhere we’ve been this week but of course that can change in an instant. I walked the 3.5 miles from Soho to Columbus Circle the other day and my impressions were that there are certainly more drug-impaired and homeless people on the streets than in the past. As I waited to cross a street in the West 40’s, I saw a man block traffic, planting himself in front of a line of cars and refusing to move until – until what? He probably wanted money. I didn’t stay around to find out.

And this has become a more common sight; a new twist on having a view of the Park:

I don’t know whether these changes are related to the pandemic or politics. Hopefully both will be changing as New York soon welcomes a new mayor and navigates a path through COVID19, 20, 21…and beyond.

From what I see, it takes more than a bio-engineered virus to rattle New Yorkers. Yes, we are asked for our “papers” at most restaurants. But for the most part, people seem to have what is perhaps a somewhat cynical, somewhat bemused attitude toward the long haul. Outdoors, I would say that maybe 20%-30% of the people I see are wearing masks. Inside, some places insist on it, others don’t. Zara and other stores have adopted this approach:

There is a sense of freedom, dare I say even of joy? There is still the thrill of walking out of our building and having the city at our feet. I’ll get to the restaurants next week – oh the lovely meals we’ve had! And don’t forget the shopping: the department stores are OPEN!

Are we more likely to contract COVID here than at home? Well, yeah. Do I wish I had stayed home? No. Not even a little bit. There is risk everywhere and will continue to be going forward. We are having a magical, shimmering, glorious visit in this spectacular, resilient city of cities and it is an absolute tonic for the soul. If I can place an order for the future, please make mine a Manhattan.

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Family Album: 99 never looked so fine!

If age really is just a number, I think we should all choose 99. It surely looks good on Phyllis!

The crown, along with with a sweet pot of flowers, was a gift from Daniel and Victoria. Queen V drove up from LA with the treasures and her sweet visit with PG was one of the birthday girl’s favorite events of a fabulous celebration weekend.

As always, the birthday season kicked off when Gail arrived from Montana – she never misses her mom’s birthday. The two of them celebrated with friends at Maravilla, all of them younger than Phyllis but guess who always wins at bridge;-)

Taylor flew in from San Francisco for a very quick trip. We were so happy to see him we broke out the Booker’s (courtesy of Uncle Mark!) and Lily was so happy to see him that she let him share her couch:

When the big day arrived September 5, we had all the bases covered: There was Phyllis’ favorite, coconut cake, and some almost-too-pretty-to-eat gluten-free cupcakes:

There were, of course, flowers:

And balloons!

Phyllis’ very special friends, Dave and Karen, joined the party:

And the most welcome surprise of all – Tina somehow found the time to drive up from Newport Beach to wish her granny a happy 99th:

We feasted on Labor Day barbecue:

And Daniel called right before the birthday candles were lit:

She made a wish:

And reminded us all to “appreciate every day, because you don’t know what’s coming tomorrow.”

In her case, tomorrow brought plenty of leftover cake. Just as it should! Our wish for her is that every day of this next year will be a piece of cake. We can’t wait to celebrate the 100th!

Phyllis chose this quote to share with us in the wisdom of having lived long enough to know what matters:

“The love that will not let you go is the love that we have for the Lord; but the love the Lord has for us is far greater than what we have for Him.”

– Phyllis, on her 99th birthday
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Color Me (Adirondack) Red.

Remember back in May when I was green with envy?

Potato envy, that is. Our friend Tammy had a flourishing crop of potatoes growing in a cardboard box that I would have stolen if I could have lifted it. There was not a potato plant to be found anywhere in town given the flurry of pandemic gardening.

I resorted to mail order. Gotta admit I was a bit crestfallen when I saw what my $15 had purchased…caveat emptor! They were described as Adirondack Reds, although they clearly looked more like Adirondack Deads to me.

We planted them in grow bags in June (Tammy helped, and was kind enough not to point out that I could have found better looking potatoes than these for free in anyone’s vegetable bin…) and I marked today on the calendar – 90 days to harvest, I read on the card enclosed with the shriveled little specimens. I also read that potatoes are ready when their vines die down. One grow bag’s vines are still leafy…

But the other was bare and brown, so I grabbed a spade and dug in.

Today is most definitely the red letter day! So excited about the harvest. I actually grew something that looks edible!

They are pretty inside and out!

While the history of potatoes dates back to the Neolithic Age – it is believed that potatoes were first cultivated in modern-day Peru sometime between 8000 and 5000 B.C., the Adirondack Red is a 21st century creation, developed by Cornell University breeders in 2004. They are noted for their pink flesh and high levels of anti-oxidants. So maybe they were worth $15 after all?

It was absolutely worth $15 to dig into the grow bag and come up with those beauties. Like Christmas morning! What a great gardening project this would be for kids, if they can be persuaded to wait out the three-month growing period. All you have to do is “hill” the soil to prevent the roots from being exposed and be careful not to over water. Hey, if I can do it, anyone can do it.

All in all, the summer gardening experiment has taught me to be endlessly grateful to the farmers who grow our food. I now walk through the produce section of a grocery store with awe and amazement.

And I haven’t completely given up hope on the tomatoes, by the way…maybe we’ll actually end up with a few to put in a salad.

Meanwhile, tomorrow morning we’re going to celebrate our Adirondack Red Letter Day by scrambling some fresh hen’s eggs and frying up some potatoes. I’m declaring the garden experiment a success!

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LA Weekend.

One Saturday in the mid-70’s when I was very new to California and having some difficulty adjusting to things like purple ice plant blooming in mid-February and the hills on fire in December, the CE suggested we make a day trip to Hollywood.

That sounded like fun! Glitz, glamour and movie stars, I thought.

I thought wrong, of course. We parked and walked to the famous corner of Hollywood and Vine and found a scene that was sketchy, seedy, needy and downright depressing. A sere wind blew trash in small eddies around the sidewalks and I said I was ready to go home. And other than the obligatory forays to LAX, I henceforth mostly avoided the place that Dorothy Parker called “72 suburbs in search of a city”.

LA was a place for other people.

Until recently, when the list of “other people” began to include our progeny. Tina made the move to the OC. Then Angie popped up in Santa Monica. And last fall, Daniel made the cross-country trek to settle in Echo Park. What’s more, he gifted us a night at the stylish Silver Lake Pool and Inn so we could stay in his nabe. I studied the fine print carefully – would people as old as us even be allowed in? Amazingly, yes! And what’s more, Daniel had reserved us the spacious King Studio, complete with a view of the Hollywood sign out of our window.

Once we’d settled in, Daniel and Freddy arrived and after a cocktail at the buzzy hotel pool

they whisked us off to have a glass of wine at their fabulous Elysian Heights digs.

So good to see THESE boys again, too:

Daniel showed off his newly-acquired Formula One driving skills, navigating the narrow, the winding and the treacherous course on the way to Los Feliz for a most wonderful dinner at All Time. I would drive to LA just for another taste of their “good ass salad” and “Steak for 1”. (And we’re buying next time, Freddy!)

Saturday morning we fortified ourselves from the pre-brunch menu at the hotel’s “Marco Polo” cafe.

And Daniel and Freddy arrived to ferry us to our next event, which was – in Hollywood. I guess once every 45 years is about right. It was STILL somewhat seedy and sketchy but that didn’t matter because our crew was all here. So great to see (almost!) everyone for a post-Hawaii reunion.

We all caught up over pizza and then walked a few blocks over to the “Lighthouse” to see Immersive Van Gogh Los Angeles. Such a great exhibit.

Then we were off to the aptly-named The Atrium in Los Feliz for a mid-day cocktail.

Daniel and Freddy had plans that night so the CE and I ventured all the way across the street from our hotel for a tasty dinner of North African fare on the charming courtyard at Bowery Bungalow. Definitely get the fried cauliflower!

And the mini mezze plate…

And suddenly it was Sunday morning and time for us to go. We weren’t ready to leave LA! Daniel softened the blow by stopping by for a leisurely breakfast with us and then, goodbye. That part never gets easier :-/

But there was one more fun phase of the day – shopping in Pacific Palisades for Angie’s almost-birthday. Somehow I missed getting photos – I guess you can just picture lots of dollar bills with wings flying off into the ether beyond the Pacific Ocean…;-) Cold and foggy this morning – glad we got you that cashmere sweater, Ang!

What a truly wonderful weekend. And while I may never be a big fan of the intersection of Hollywood and Vine, I think I now actually like LA. And I can’t wait to go back!

His eyes were the color of the sand

And the sea

And the more he talked to me, you know

The more he reached me

But I couldn’t let go of L.A.

City of the fallen angels

— Joni Mitchell

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Nature is a beast.

Neighbor dropped by the other day. Nice chat. Until…

Tomatoes.

“I have sooooo many tomatoes. Just overrun with them. I don’t think we’ve ever had a better year for tomatoes. Will you take some, please?”

Reader, my tomato-red blood ran cold.

As you know, I basically called an end to the summer’s gardening “experiment” when our renewed (never ending?) drought became impossible to ignore. A few things refuse to die – that mint is a jezebel of a weed! And I did manage to nurture a single sunflower from a seed into its briefly bright reign.

But, ahem, tomatoes. If I factor in time + labor + worry + water, it hasn’t added up to much. Some gimmes from a Home Depot plant that was, at purchase, loaded with so many cherry tomatoes they looked like Christmas ornaments. I managed to grow another plant on my own, but it gave up the ghost after producing a handful of surprisingly bland-tasting specimens.

And then, there were those two plants that faltered in the table-top garden (soil not deep enough, I think) that seemed to revive after I re-planted them in grow bags. After my neighbor departed, presumably to bask in her own garden bounty, I decided to check on those tomato plants of mine. After all, my garden is what, all in all about 800 feet from hers? Surely things should be going well!

I was ever so briefly encouraged. My, I thought, those leaves are certainly looking robust.

Um, wait. Look again.

The horror!

Those ain’t leaves! The miracle of an Internet search told me within seconds that these beasts – with their terrifying little mandibles planted squarely in the few little tomatoes on my plants – are called tomato hornworms. And while I ever so briefly considered pitching them over the fence to visit my green-thumbed neighbor, I instead followed the directions of dousing them in a mixture of Dawn dish detergent and water, which they decidedly did not like. Once they loosened their grip on my paltry tomato harvest, I pried them off and re-located them far away from the tomato plants.

They were gone the next morning, either to maraud elsewhere or perhaps they served as a juicy breakfast to someone higher on the food chain. At any rate, they have not returned, and the plants, oddly, seem no worse for the wear.

Maybe I’ll get to brag to my neighbor about my “tomato harvest” after all. She doesn’t need to know that it will be a total of – one tomato!

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Crossing that bridge when I come to it.

Toward the end of 2020, I wrote the date down in my calendar on a whim. August 14. An exercise in hopefulness. Surely we could be back in the city by then, right?

In the meantime, I was making no travel plans, just nursing my homesickness for NYC with my nose in a book – David McCullough’s The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge. 608 pages long, and all you could possibly want or need to know about wire cable and shady New York politics.

What stayed with me the most, however, was the courage and perseverance that brought the project to fruition. There was crusty John Roebling, who, in 1867, conceived the design of the Brooklyn Bridge and, sadly, perished as a result of contracting tetanus after an accident on the project in 1869.

His son, Washington Roebling, stoically shepherded the project onward, despite almost insurmountable challenges and life-long crippling health issues subsequent to suffering “the bends” during a fire that broke out in the enormous caissons that would anchor the bridge on each side of the East River.

Many doubted that the bridge would ever be built. Which made August 14, 1876 a day to remember. It was the day the first two cables were strung between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridge towers.

Nearly two weeks later, on August 25, in another burst of courage, Master Mechanic E. F. Farrington was the first person to cross the bridge. Suspended from those first wires connecting the towers, Farrington was seated on a board tied to the cables like a swing, and with upwards of ten thousand people gathered to watch, he had the best view in town during the twenty-two minutes it took him to cross to the other side. At one point, he tipped his hat to the crowd below.

I wonder if anyone is gathering at the bridge today, or will on the 25th. If so, I can only tip my hat at them in solidarity from California, because we still haven’t been back. Fingers crossed – although I know I must be mindful that plans in the time of COVID seem to go awry. Here’s hoping to be there soon – and on the (very long) to-do list is a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Can’t wait to be back in the city!

Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,

A rip-tooth of the sky’s acetylene;

All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .

Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.

Hart Crane “To Brooklyn Bridge”
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