31 March 2014

On Sullivan Street

Sullivan Street, which runs from Soho to Greenwich Village, is a favourite street of mine. I walk down it almost daily and adore its architecture and how quiet it is, especially when compared to the nearby bustling streets. Named for American Revolutionary War General John Sullivan, who would go on to become governor (then call “president”) of New Hampshire, it has been home to some well-known residents including Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who was born at number 177. One day last fall, I walked from one end to the other, taking some photos along the way. Here are a few of them.

Starting at the corner of Sullivan and Broome Street in Soho, these first few tree-lined blocks are filled with a mix of Federal row houses, Italianate-style apartment buildings, and the Vesuvio Playground. There's also a handful of businesses, including a great bodega/newsstand (Soho News International) and leather goods shop (Il Bisonte) as well as some restaurants including Blue Ribbon and Alidoro, which makes some of the best sandwiches in the city (you just have to be careful and follow the rules when you order). 

The block between Prince and Houston though is my favourite. It is heavily populated with places to eat including the Dutch, Local, Once Upon a Tart , and Pepe Rosso. The last is not surprising as this block still has traces of its Italian past from the style of the buildings to the still present Pino's Prime Meat (Joe’s Dairy, maker of some amazing Mozzarella, shuttered its doors in 2013 after being open for 60 years). The block ends with the massive Church of St. Anthony of Padua, which was built 1886-88 in the Romanesque Revival style. St. Anthony's was the first American parish established to minister to Italian immigrants.

Cross over Houston and the atmosphere changes, for one block anyway. This is where you find the MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens Historical District, a row of Greek Revival-style row houses built in the late 1840s that shares a large, private garden with the houses behind it on MacDougal Street. They are reminiscent of London, which is only fitting as Anna Wintour lives at number 172. The street has managed to retain its 19th-century feel even with the addition of a modernistic glass structure next to the old school Legionnaire Club. 

Hit Bleecker Street and suddenly Sullivan Street changes again. This is NYU territory and there’s a definite downtrodden look to the next few blocks filled with bars and cheap eateries. One place of note is the Sullivan Street Tea & Spice Company, which occupies the former Triangle Social Club, a notorious mob hangout for the Genovese crime family. Vincent "the Chin" Gigante, who lived across the street, was a well-known mafia figure who would wander around in a robe, acting disoriented in an attempt to avoid arrest. It didn’t work and he was sent way in 1997. The shop has retained the club's original mural, mosaic-tile floor, and old tin ceiling.

The last block of Sullivan is taken over by NYU buildings including its law school and dead ends at Washington Square Park, which is due its own post. So many houses, so many stories. I could have taken a photo of each one. 

Photos by Michele.

26 March 2014

In Like a Lion

"March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb" is how the expression goes. Only around these parts, the lion has decided to stick around for a while. Threats of snow and crazy wind has made it seem like anything but spring. My fear is that we'll get two nice weeks of spring weather and then bam, humidity and the horrors of summer in the city will hit. I want to wear a jean jacket, stroll through the park with the sun on my face, see narcissus blooming, and indulge in a chocolate Easter egg or two (OK, that last one I can do regardless of the weather). Oh spring, where are you?

25 March 2014

Remembering Annie

On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the eighth floor of the Triangle Waist Factory in Greenwich Village. Locked doors and a single fire escape that quickly collapsed left many workers trapped with no way out. Within 18 minutes, 146 lives were lost, a majority of whom were Jewish and Italian immigrant women under the age of 23. Until 9/11, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire was the worst workplace disaster in New York history. The result of the tragedy was public outrage and the passing of legislation that put in place workplace safety measures, some of which we still observe.

Today on the anniversary of the tragic event, events were held in the city to remember the victims. In addition to a memorial service at the site of the fire, dozens of volunteers across the city wrote the names of the victims in chalk outside their former homes. I was fortunate enough to get to participate. I was given the name of Anna "Annie" Altman, who had immigrated to America from Russia with her sisters just five years earlier. At 16 years old, she was one of the younger victims of the fire and from her injuries it is known that she was one of the ones who jumped to their death. 

There are no photos of Annie to know what she looked like and when I arrived at her address, 33 Pike Street, which is down near the Manhattan Bridge, there was no home either (a school stands in its place instead). 

I picked a section of the sidewalk on the block where she had lived and wrote the words you see in the photo at top (not very well either; I need to practice my chalk writing). A cop started to yell at me but then suddenly left me alone. Maybe she saw someone last year chalking Annie's name.

After I finished, I stood on the spot for a moment and then walked down the block, trying to imagine what the area would have been like when Annie lived there. The Manhattan Bridge, so prominent in the background, would have only been a couple of years old at the time. Was she awed by its size? Did she have dreams of leaving her neighbourhood, of doing bigger and better things? I soon hopped on the subway and went to work but have been thinking about her and the other victims all day. Poor little Annie, may you rest in peace.

To get involved next year, visit the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition site here

All photos by Michele.

24 March 2014

Birthday Weekend

Saturday was my birthday, which meant a weekend full of doing some of my favourite things. I slept in both days, watched a perfect film, revisited the "Capa in Color" exhibit, drank delicious champagne cobblers at a speakeasy, ate decadent chocolate mousse at my go-to West Village restaurant, got a mani pedi in a fabulous new Essie colour, took advantage of the sun and did some people watching at a park, and received some lovely messages and cards. All in all, a weekend worth singing about.

20 March 2014


This is post number 600! Can you believe it? Definitely a reason to do a little dance.

A couple of years ago when I wrote my first post, I never thought I would get to this number. And although I sometimes wish this blog were more focused and dream about doing a redesign to make it look more professional, it's still my little corner of the web where I can talk about and share an eclectic assortment of things that I simply think are cool. So thank you to all of you who have dropped by, and I hope you'll stick around for the next 600.

Image from here.

18 March 2014


The dramatic Alice White.

Over the last few months, I managed to finish a few good books between watching way too much television (House of Cards, I'm talking about you). While I still have quite a few left on my nightstand to get through, the stack is slowing dwindling. In the meantime, here's the latest edition of Bookshelf.

Washington Square—Henry James
Shy and plain Catherine Sloper is content to lurk in the shadows until a dashing young man, Morris Townsend, starts to shower her with attention. Her protective father believes her new suitor is only after her money, and when Catherine announces their engagement, he insists that she either break off the affair with Morris or lose her inheritance. Torn between duty and love, Catherine must make a decision and in doing so, learns just how little freedom she has. A wonderful portrait of 19th-century New York with a deceptively strong-willed heroine.

I Await the Devil’s Coming
—Mary MacLane

This diary of a 19-year old girl growing up in Butte, Montana shocked readers upon its publication in 1902. Throughout the pages, the obviously intelligent young woman rages against her situation, writing about her beliefs (including the certainty of her genius), disdain for her family, her overwhelming boredom, an affinity for Napoleon, and her relationship with the devil. While it does get a bit repetitive, it is raw and honest; you can almost hear her screaming her frustration. And regarding this new edition, Melville House should be commended for the wonderful cover.

These are two early works by one of my favourite writers. In Christmas Pudding, family and friends descend upon a country house to spend the holiday, including a depressed novelist, a young woman with multiple suitors, and the horse-obsessed lady of the manor. There are broken engagements, false identities, and bratty youths; in other words, normal fodder for Mitford. In Pigeon Pie, Lady Sophia Garfield tries her best to do her part when Britain is on the brink of war while unable to see that a German spy ring is within her midst. It's hard at first to be supportive of the silly Sophia but once her French bulldog is kidnapped, the readers are on her side. These may not be Mitford’s best efforts but like most books by a beloved author, I’d take these over most other novels any day.  

Chocolates for Breakfast—Pamela Moore
After precocious 15-year old Courtney Farrell leaves boarding school unexpectedly, she finds herself dividing her time between her fading actress mother in Hollywood and her publisher father in New York. Along the way she tries smoking, drinking martinis, and sex, and learns the hard way about growing up. The book created a stir when it was first published in 1956, becoming a best seller. While maybe not as shocking today, it’s a frank look at a young woman’s coming of age and well written, which is especially notable when you learn that the author was just 18 at the time.

One of England’s most brilliant spies during World War II was a woman, Christine Granville. A Jewish Pole who thrived on danger, some of her exploits included skiing into occupied Poland, parachuting into France, and rescuing some colleagues from the Gestapo merely hours before their execution. Men everywhere fell in love with her and after the war one of them, a disturbed colleague, stabbed her to death. An interesting tale of a little known war hero who was reportedly Churchill’s favourite spy.

The Girl on the Cliff—Lucinda Riley
Recovering from a miscarriage, artist Grania Ryan returns to her family home in Ireland after living in America for years. There she encounters a strange but enchanting little girl whose family’s story, Grania discovers, is tragically intertwined with her own. The story moves back and forth in time between the present day and the early part of the 20th century. I found the passages set in the past to be the most interesting thing about the book, which otherwise is predictable at times and has some dialogue issues (authors take note: when you have characters from countries other than your own, someone will notice if you get the language wrong).

17 March 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day

The Dew Drop Inn in Galway, referred to as the Myles Lee by locals. Photo: Michele

St. Patrick's Day—when amateurs drink too much, everyone suddenly has Irish roots, and people think it's a good idea to add green to everything. (Seriously, there's no reason to dye a river green.) Despite the drunken revelry that has become a routine part of the holiday, one shouldn't forget that today is about celebrating Ireland and the Irish. So if you do partake in celebrations tonight, please bypass the green beer and go with something Irish—a pint of Guinness or a shot of Irish whiskey will do just fine. Sláinte!

13 March 2014

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

During Broadway week, I managed to see the new musical comedy A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. With book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak, it's a delightful mix of English music hall and wicked humour set in Edwardian England.

For those of you familiar with the film Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), the story will be familiar. Impoverished Monty Navarro (Bryce Pinkham) is mourning the death of his mother when one of her friends, Miss Shingle (Jane Carr), arrives and informs him that he is a member of the aristocratic D’Ysquith family and is eighth in line to inherit the dukedom.

Monty writes to the current Earl of Highhurst, Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith (Jefferson Mays), informing him of his newly discovered family connection and is rebuffed. Thinking a clergyman might be more sympathetic to his cause, he sets out to visit one of the heirs, the Reverend Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith (also Jefferson Mays). The Reverend, who refuses to help Monty, insists on showing him the view from the top of his church tower. When he loses his balance, Monty sees his chance to move up the line and lets him fall to his death. 
Soon the other D'Ysquith heirs begin to mysteriously drop like flies in a myriad of ways: falling through the ice while skating, being attacked by a swarm of bees, beheading by barbells. 

In between committing murder Monty juggles two women, the seductive social climber Sibella Hallward (Lisa O'Hare) and his sweet distant cousin Phoebe D’Ysquith (Lauren Worsham), all while managing to sing and dance.

From the opening scene where Monty is ensconced in a jail cell, penning his memoir, to the finale, the story gallops along with a bevy of rousing songs, dance numbers, and clever special effects (one of the deaths pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo). Who knew the tale of a serial killer could be so entertaining?

One of the musical's selling points is its strong cast including the charming Bryce Pinkham, the hilarious Jane Carr, and Lisa O'Hare and Lauren Worsham, who are both fine singers. But the star of the show is Jefferson Mays who plays not one but all eight of Monty's victims, male and female. Mays' energy is astounding and makes one wonder what happens after he takes his final bow (I imagine him collapsing the moment he steps off the stage). He dies eight times every night, a record for Broadway, while making each character uniquely different. 

Add a colourful set by Alexander Dodge and perfect period costumes by Linda Cho, and you have one of the most enjoyable Broadway arrivals this season. 

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder plays at the Walter Kerr Theatre. For more information, visit here

07 March 2014

Keep Calm and Read On

If a novel is set in Britain, I will probably read it. The same goes for television; if it's a historical drama from the BBC or ITV, I will watch it. So while I may not have been as crazy about Downton Abbey as some viewers, I was more than happy to spend my time with the Crawleys and their staff on Sunday evenings. For those of you now suffering from Downton withdrawal, the folks over at Random House have come up with with some suggested books that might help tide you over until the next season. Some of these look quite good and others I've read: Park Lane by Frances Osbourne was very enjoyable, Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal is the first in a new series that I like very much, and Anne Perry's Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries are longtime favourites. So go to your local bookstore or library and pick up one or two titles and sit back with a nice cuppa and just read.

To download a copy of the poster, visit here.

03 March 2014

To Catch a Thief

“The Complete Hitchcock" series at Film Forum began last week and the first screening I attended was To Catch a Thief (1955). I’d seen the film many times before but never on the big screen, which is a prerequisite when watching anything filmed in Vista Vision—a wide screen format developed in the 1950s.

The film opens on the Riviera where a string of robberies lead police to believe that the cat burglar John “The Cat” Robie (Cary Grant) is back in business. Robie, who has retired from a life of crime, has no interest in being questioned and manages to elude the authorities when they arrive at his villa. He heads straight for a restaurant where his old colleagues—all former criminals who, like Robie, received pardons because of their work with the Resistance during the war—are employed including Bertani (Charles Vanel) and Foussard (Jean Martinelli). They are angry with Robie for drawing attention to them except for Foussard’s daughter, Danielle (Brigitte Auber), who helps him escape by boat.

Intent on unmasking the copycat thief, Robie comes up with a plan. He makes a deal with H.H. Hughson (John Williams), a representative from Lloyds of London who has a vested interest in seeing the stolen jewels returned, that in exchange for a list of potential future victims, he’ll catch the thief. Hughson agrees.

The first person on the list is American widow Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) and her daughter, Frances “Francie” Stevens (Grace Kelly). Pretending to be a businessman from Portland, Oregon named Conrad Burns (so plausible), Robie quickly befriends the pair. Yet Francie doesn’t believe his cover and after a harrowing car chase on a windy mountain road, confronts him and proudly rattles off how she was able to figure out his true identity. She is obviously attracted to him but when her mother’s jewels are stolen, she doubts his innocence and notifies the police.

Once again on the run, Robie stakes out a wealthy home one evening, convinced the thief will show himself. But Robie's plans go awry when he's attacked and in the ensuing struggle the "thief" is killed, falling off a cliff to the rocks below. The dead man turns out  to be Foussard, and the police announce the case closed. Yet Robie points out that Foussard had a fake leg and couldn’t possibly have been climbing around rooftops, committing the robberies. Realizing that Robie is innocent, Francie confesses her love for him and offers her help.

At a masquerade ball later that week, Robie sets a trap and recruits Francie, her mother, and even Hughson in his plans. Up on the rooftop, Robie finally comes face to face with the real thief who turns out to be Danielle. After slipping and nearly falling to her death (Robie is holding on to her by one hand), she confesses that she's the copycat and that she's been working for her father and Bertani. Robie's name is cleared and he returns to his villa. Francie arrives shortly after and exclaims, "So this is where you live. Mother will love it up here!"

As is true with most Hitchcock films, the cast is perfect, starting with Cary Grant who is his usual debonair self. The epitome of sophistication, Grant wore leisure clothes like other men wear suits and was the definition of tall, dark, and handsome. And for a man who was 51 at the time, incredibly fit. In his youth, Grant ran off and joined the circus where he trained as an acrobat. This athletic prowess adds an air of credibility to the scenes of Grant scurrying across rooftops.

Grace Kelly is absolutely stunning (no surprise there). She is first introduced sitting on the beach in a two-piece, turban (yes, a turban), and glasses, applying sunscreen. She has no dialogue in the scene yet you can’t take your eyes off her. Kelly simply oozes elegance and poise while managing to inject some fire into her ice princess persona.

Regardless of their age differences (Kelly was just 26), the two exhibit real chemistry and are electric together. They also have to be one of the best looking couples ever seen on the silver screen. Grant later called Kelly his favourite co-star saying, “With all due respect to dear Ingrid [Bergman], I much preferred Grace. She had serenity.”

In one of the most famous scenes in the film, the two are in Francie’s hotel room with the lights off. She tries to tempt Robie by wearing a “diamond” necklace that she keeps referencing. Finally he says, “You know as well as I do: the necklace is imitation.” She replies, “Well, I’m not.” They kiss as fireworks explode outside the window. The metaphor might be heavier than an anvil in a Road Runner cartoon but there’s nothing corny about the two of them.

Of the supporting players, Jessie Royce Landis is hilarious as Francie’s mother, Brigitte Auber does a good turn as the jealous Danielle, and the always-reliable John Williams as Hughson lends a dose of British sensibility to the Gallic setting.

Costumes by the incomparable Edith Head make everyone look fabulous from Kelly’s stunning white gown to the elaborate costumes at the ball to Robie’s jaunty attire of Basque striped shirt with polka-dot cravat.

And then there’s the location. I’ve always said that the South of France is where I want to go to die and frankly, who wouldn’t? Hitchcock took advantage of the area with aerial shots, and scenes set in and around the picturesque locale. One of the most memorable scenes is the car chase with Kelly driving the lead vehicle. It always brings a chill when seen today knowing that years later she would die in a crash on the same road. That withstanding, the film looks fantastic and won Robert Burks an Oscar for best cinematography.

There is also a lot of humour in the film, which is perfectly suited to Grant's wry wit. While having lunch at Robie's villa, Hughson compliments his housekeeper's cooking skills, stating "The pastry is as light as air." Robie responds, "Germaine has sensitive hands, an exceedingly light touch. She strangled a German general once, without a sound."

One of the many, many things I love about Grant as an actor is his sense of timing. In some scenes, he earns laughs without any dialogue. This occurs early on when he’s fleeing the police. He jumps on a bus and finds a seat in the back next to a woman with a cage of canaries, a nice juxtaposition for a man nicknamed “the Cat.” He looks at the woman on his right and then turns and looks at the man to his left who happens to be Alfred Hitchcock. He then turns to the camera, keeping a straight face the whole time. 

Side note, I remember seeing this film when I was young on TV. In those pre-letterbox days, films shot in Vista Vision would have their sides cut off so when this scene was shown, Hitchcock would be hidden from view so all you saw was Grant glancing to his side (thank you technology).

While there are other Hitchcock films that are better than To Catch a Thief (this one does drag a bit around the half-way mark and all of the dubbing of Charles Vanel, who didn’t speak English, is done poorly) it’s highly enjoyable and worth seeing if just to gaze at the beauty that is Grant and Kelly.

To see the full schedule of “The Complete Hitchcock,” visit here.

01 March 2014

March On

Well, that was interesting. February just flew by and my best intentions to post more fell to the wayside in lieu of work and other daily issues. March promises to be busy but in a good way with theatre to attend, more Hitchcock films and the Oscars to watch, decorating ideas to start implementing in my studio, and yes, loads of books to be read. It's also my birthday month so March has a special meaning for me. Here's to a new month and the official arrival of spring in a few weeks, which couldn't come soon enough (more snow tomorrow; ugh).


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