(This one’s a bit Dickensian in length, I’m afraid.)
It was the best of times… it was the best of times.
“Vacation” is a word we don’t really use in Canada. “Holiday” is kind of an all-purpose word for both special occasions and… well… vacations. I was on holiday this past week. Yippee. The ladies in the dressing room upstairs asked me where I was going, and I said with glee, “New York City!!! Isn’t that exciting!” The truth is, I know the strip of Manhattan between my home behind Lincoln Centre and the Imperial Theatre very well. But for the most part I don’t have the energy to do a huge day of tourism before I head in to do the show. So I wanted to take advantage of some days off to hit the pavement with the rest of the wanderlings. That said, I should probably have taken a bit more of a rest. Ah well, you only live once. Or not. Depending on your thoughts on that matter… I digress.
Monday, therefore, I rested. As always. My sabbath. My dear friend Maggie arrived from Toronto that night, and the next few days we spent in serious marching mode. On Tuesday we took the subway over to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. The relentless pace and noise of Manhattan has me craving tranquility. This was a haven of natural beauty, of colour, and texture, and birdsong. We spent most of the day in this lush green paradise, finishing our tour in the stunning Japanese garden, having crept under the canopy of an ancient weeping beech, inhaled magical aromas from the fragrance and kitchen gardens, and taken a drink from our water bottles sitting on a large stone by a babbling brook.
We met Margiann, my dresser, at the end of our tour, and went to her beautiful Brooklyn home for lemonade and sorbet. I cannot speak highly enough of Margiann: she surrounds herself with objets which she has collected over the years, and combines them in a home that reflects her artistry and texture as a human being. So inspiring, gracious, and hospitable.
After our sustenance we headed for the Brooklyn Bridge, walking across into Manhattan. I’m so glad I had watched the Ken Burns documentary about the building of the Bridge. It was great background information to carry with me as Maggie and I walked with all the other tourists and commuters, trying not to be wiped out by the cyclists in the bike lane. I told Maggie that the Bridge’s construction began at the time The Battle of Little Big Horn was taking place in the West (imagine!), and during its construction Oscar Wilde was on his tour of America. I told her of the tragedy of workers being killed by “the bends” that they suffered while working on the footings for the two great towers, and of the lower grade wire that one of the contractors tried to substitute in the manufacture of the cables, that set the building of the bridge back by months. All this info and much more, thanks to Ken Burns.
After exiting the Bridge we headed uptown to the East Village for dinner at Angelica’s Kitchen, a vegetarian restaurant that has been open on 12th at 2nd since the sixties. Fantastic. A cab ride home up 3rd, through Gramercy and the across to the west side through the Park was the ending of a great day.
Wednesday was spent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Even with a full day, one can only scratch the surface. I am a sucker for art glass, so we started in the American wing with decorative arts, and enjoyed the stained glass and mosaic of the Tiffany studio, and the Coonley Playhouse windows by Frank Lloyd Wright. Other highlights: an amazing collection of Joan Miro’s work; Toulouse Lautrec and a school of French post-Impressionists including stunning and mysterious works by Pierre Bonnard; and the building itself, a masterpiece of corridors and rooms that seem to lead you in circles of sensory overload. The least impressive moment of the day: lunch in the dark, miserable cafeteria. Blech.
The day was interrupted by a bit of business. I had to make my way to the front steps on Fifth Avenue to do a phone interview (no cell phones in the museum) with Richard Ouzounian from the Toronto Star. There had just been a press conference announcing my final performance on Broadway, which will be October 1st, my replacement by Emily Skinner, and my joining the Chicago Company of Billy to play in Chicago for a month over the Christmas holidays and then heading to Toronto to play for the run there beginning in the new year. Exciting! I’m going home with this show I love! And Richard wanted some quotes from me for the Toronto paper. It took only moments and I was back at the Modigliani.
We finished the day on the roof of the museum. I’ll confess we were looking for a cocktail, but we ended up just getting a view of the park and the city to the west and the south, because the museum was closing rather soon. Our sensory neurons were all bursting at the seams, so we headed out into the Upper East Side in search of some serious nutritional molecules.
We seemed to be on a vegetarian theme, so went to Candle Cafe, a vegan restaurant on 3rd at 74th… super yummy! We both ended up buying their cookbook (amazing tofu recipes!), and I even bought the t-shirt. Another day well spent.
Thursday we headed shopping. I needed a little less joint impact. We had thought about a walking tour of Harlem, but headed down to the Flatiron District, and Union Square instead. I love this area. We did a few of my favourite things: spent some time gaping at the display of fabrics at Wolf Home, the endless collections of “stuff” at ABC Carpet and Home, grabbed lunch at Whole Foods and ate it in the Square, marched over to Fifth Avenue and took in Free People, and Anthropologie, finishing with a quick jaunt through Beads of Paradise on 17th, and getting on the subway home to get Maggie packed and on her way back to T-dot. What a great holiday for both of us!!!
On Saturday I took the Amtrak train up to Boston. Never been. This summer is the thirtieth anniversary of the friendship of Anne Knapp and me. We met at The Banff School of Fine Arts in 1980. We were babies… roommates in the under-age dorm (I apparently have a desperate need to qualify my age here)… she in the ballet program and me in musical theatre. She is now the administrative director of the New England Zoo, and I am… well, I guess you know what I am.
We started our time together with a brilliant meal at The Hungry Mother in Cambridge (with excellent service by a swarm of nerdy MIT students). After dinner we drove from Harvard Square to Anne’s home in the suburbs, near Wellesley College. Even in the dark I could see what a beautiful city greater Boston is: amazing architecture lovingly maintained and restored, and tons of green space.
Sunday we spent the day mostly at the Franklin Park Zoo where Anne works. I got to go backstage!! There were three highlights: I observed the lowland gorillas, Little Joe and Okee, that I have come to know through Anne’s many anecdotes; I was present at a training session with the silverback of the group, Kit (I was standing within four feet of the trainer!); and I got to feed Bo the giraffe about 2 kilos of chopped butternut squash!! The relentless rain did nothing to put a damper on the day. At the end of the Zoo tour, we drove into Boston and did a little shopping on Newbury Street (maybe I bought ANOTHER pair of Fluevogs), had a casual meal, and headed home.
Monday we drove to the North Shore, and visited some of the most spectacular historic sites in the area: Salem and Marblehead. Salem is a bit like Niagara Falls I’m afraid… it really is a remarkable landmark whose genuine interest has been overrun by the influx of rampant commercialism. It’s too bad, for though the history and much of the architecture was fascinating, I was happy to hit the road and head towards Marblehead.
Here I found just the opposite. Marblehead is an ancient town (some houses we saw were built as early as the mid 1600s! only years after Shakespeare’s death!) that is remarkable in it’s quaint and honest love of it’s history, from the tasteful nature of the shops around the Town Square, to the narrow, winding streets that maintain the houses of cordwains and shipwrights from the earliest days of New England. Ah Marblehead! Pelting rain, with the waves crashing up against the rocky shore in the gale of a nor’easter. The perfect setting for a maritime visit. Brilliant.
We finished the day back in Cambridge. A meal at the Harvard Market, a stroll through Harvard Yard, past the statue of John Harvard (which is not really a statue of John Harvard but of the sculptor’s apprentice!), and Harvard Square, past the Hasty Pudding Club, the law office window of Dewey, Cheatham and Howe!, and American Repertory Theatre. I dreamed of applying to Harvard to write a PHD. Hmmmm.
Home on the train on Tuesday. New York seemed a bit rude and brutal after Boston and environs. But back to Billy… for only five and a half more weeks, so I better enjoy it while it lasts. How grateful I am that the travel I do with my work allows me to experience such invigorating cities, such sensuous beauty, and such historic wonder. And all in the company of extraordinary friends. I am truly blessed.