27 December 2010

Seaport Surprise

The Peking, a 1911 barque at the South Street Seaport.

The South Street Seaport is a place in the city that I normally do not visit. Like Times Square, it’s where tourists go and therefore an area to be generally avoided. But a recent visit proved to be a pleasant surprise. For amid the chain stores and crowds is the South Street Seaport Museum, a small museum that puts on great exhibits, is home to a fleet of old ships, and has the coolest museum gift shop in the city—Bowne & Co., Stationers.

My visit was specifically to see the two current exhibits on display—“Alfred Stieglitz New York” and “DecoDence: Legendary Interiors and Illustrious Travelers Aboard the SS Normandie.” They were both worth the trip.

"Winter on Fifth Avenue" Alfred Stieglitz (1893)

The Stieglitz exhibit concentrates on images of New York that the artist made over a 40-year time span. His early photos from the turn of the century are simply amazing. The snow covered streets and horse drawn carriages seem to appear out of the mist and his nighttime shots have a dreamlike quality about them that our digital cameras cannot replicate. These photos are juxtaposed with images he took in the 1930s filled with gleaming skyscrapers and water towers, modern and bright. Together they show the growth of both a city and an artist.

The first class dining room on the SS Normandie.

DecoDence gives visitors a tiny glance into the glamour that was the SS Normandie. The idea of modern day cruise ships makes me shudder but I think I would have enjoyed sailing in the art deco splendor that was the Normandie. From her maiden voyage in 1935, the Normandie was arguably the most beautiful of the famed ocean liners that carried countless celebrities and others between Europe and America before the outbreak of World War II ended her voyages.

The exhibit includes items that would have been found on board, like the tiny Lalique designed bottles filled with a Jean Patou fragrance created just for the Normandie passengers as well as souvenirs that could be purchased like a handbag shaped like the ship (one of my favourites). There are also mini recreations of some of the rooms with furniture from the ship including a table and chairs from the famed mirrored-lined, first class dining room, which was said to be longer than the hall of mirrors at Versailles.

 Inside Bowne & Co., Stationers.

Across the street is the museum’s gift shop— Bowne & Co., Stationers, which resembles a print shop from the 1870s. In addition to selling an assortment of paper goods and general ephemera, the shop acts as a real letterpress, creating customized cards and stationary with the text set by hand. I could have bought everything in the shop, including the adorable tiny jars of ink that I have no need for but they were so pretty. I settled for some postcards.

The Stieglitz exhibit runs through January 10; the DecoDence exhibit through January 31. A ticket to the museum also allows you to visit the ships across the way (something I may do at another time).

 photos by Michele.

26 December 2010

The King's Speech

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech.

Lionel Logue: Why should I waste my time listening to you?
King George VI: Because I have a voice!
Lionel Logue: Yes, you do.

The King’s Speech is one of my favourite films of the year. The story of how King George VI (Colin Firth) overcame a debilitating stammer and went on to inspire confidence in his people and lead a nation into war is both compelling and heart wrenching.

The film begins in 1925 when the then Duke of York is asked to make a speech at the opening of the British Empire Exhibit. The scene is excruciating to watch as the Duke, clearly scared of the microphone, struggles to get his words out to an increasingly uncomfortable crowd.

The Duke and Duchess of York in 1923. Photo: E.O. Hoppé.

Years later, after the Duke has seen various doctors and specialists to no avail (some of their attempts included stuffing ones mouth with marbles and smoking cigarettes to relax the throat), his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), finds a new speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Logue is an Australian and a commoner who insists that his patients follow his rules, royalty or not. The two clash at first—the future king is all about protocol and class structure while Logue is unconventional and irreverent—but eventually trust grows and a friendship is formed. Their sessions are finally put to the test when the newly crowned king is called upon to give a speech to his people after war is declared on Germany.

The cast is outstanding. Colin Firth portrays George VI as a man who loves his country and family (the scenes with his daughters, the future Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Rose, are warm and touching), and believes fully in doing ones duty. Firth makes the king flesh and blood, giving a humanity to the man most people know just from black and white photos in history books. The scene where the king confesses to Logue about the horrible childhood he endured is shocking and truly heartbreaking. It should win Firth the Oscar.

Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech.

Geoffrey Rush does well as Logue, clearly having fun with the tongue twisters he gets to recite while also evoking the feelings of being an outsider. And Helena Bonham Carter manages to express the queen’s love and concern for her husband with just her eyes (I think she would have made a great silent screen actress) and brings a liveliness to the woman who would become the beloved Queen Mum.

The other performances that round out the film are stellar, from Michael Gambon’s blustery King George V to Guy Pearce’s spot-on spoiled King Edward VIII.

The only time I was distracted was in the scene where the king meets Logue’s wife, played by Jennifer Ehle. I let out a silent squeal because all I could think of was “It’s Darcy and Elizabeth.” I’m afraid Colin Firth will forever remain Mr. Darcy in my mind.

So do go see The King’s Speech. You won’t be disappointed.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

A Nor'easter is hitting New York with a vengeance, which means I'm staying inside and watching loads of films while drinking coffee and munching on Christmas chocolates. I should be able to catch up on some posts I've been meaning to write as well so stay tuned and keep warm wherever you are.

24 December 2010

Merry Christmas to All

A very merry Christmas to you my dear readers. I shall be back soon with some more tales but in the meantime please enjoy this Christmas scene from one of my all time favourite films—The Thin Man (1934).

21 December 2010

Three Wise Men

While shopping in the West Village, I came across these three guys waiting outside the health food store. They seemed undaunted by the cold and oblivious to the attention they were garnering. I especially like the black coat on the Weimaraner—it makes him look like a caped crusader.

Photo by Michele.

11 December 2010

Rescue Santa

Walking down 19th Street today, I stopped to join a crowd outside the Chelsea firehouse that is home to Engine 3, Ladder 12, and Battalion 7. Abandoned by his reindeer, Santa Claus had to be rescued from the rooftop by firefighters. Children cheered and waved as Santa descended on the ladder. Once on the ground, he invited the children into the firehouse to enjoy cocoa and snacks.

Santa will be "rescued" again tomorrow, December 12, from the roof of the New York City Fire Museum on Spring Street.

Photos by Michele.

10 December 2010

Measure for Measure

Earlier this week, after a quick bite at the Ottoman Cafe (delicious sandwiches and delicate cups of Turkish coffee), I saw the Public's Mobile Unit production of Measure for Measure at the historic Judson Memorial Church. 

While Rob Campbell was outstanding as the evil Angelo and Carson Elrod injected humour as the gadfly Lucio some of the other performances seemed off. Although the production was uneven, sitting and listening to Shakespeare's words about truth and justice and the powers of the court while the wind howled outside was still a treat (but then aren't Shakespeare's words always a treat?). 

When Claudio, who has been condemned to death for fornicating with his betrothed outside of wedlock, states "the miserable have no other medicine but only hope" he seems to be speaking on behalf of many for whom this production was intended. 

The mission of the Public's Mobile Unit is to bring Shakespeare to those who are unable to attend the theatre—the incarcerated, the homeless, the elderly, the disenfranchised. After a two-week tour of places like the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on Staten Island and the Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults in Queens, the Mobile Unit brought the production to Manhattan so that New Yorkers who can go to the theatre could check them out. I'm glad I did. 

Seeing the play has inspired me to revisit some of Shakespeare's plays that I have not read in years. I shall be adding that to my list of New Year's Resolutions (which is growing by the day). 


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