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Travel
November 07, 2016

Taking A Small Bite of the Big Apple

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena

On a recent short visit, we discovered what makes NYC a cultural hotspot

Miles away from home, under a clear starlit sky, near the witching hour, I am waiting at the curb, poised strategically to hail a cab outside Lincoln Center. My hands keep seeking the pockets of my coat for warmth. Though I have landed in the Big Apple scarcely a few hours earlier — airdashing from New Delhi to Schiphol, Amsterdam and then on to my appointed destination — my enthusiasm for the popular power centre of arts, culture, fashion, business and more is not dented by the temperature and time difference. And I have just spent a couple of hours in a packed auditorium, watching one of the evergreen operas, Madama Butterfly, staged by the Metropolitan Opera. I could not have asked for a better welcome to the vibrant city — it was dramatic, colourful and arresting.

Dulcet notes
As The Sound of Music ditty goes, Let’s start at the very beginning — the opera. Clad in formal attire — in my case, an Indian ensemble — I rush across the vast courtyard of Lincoln Center, where a fountain seems to dance. As the contemporary artiste Catherine Russell puts it, “The arts heal people and bring them together. Lincoln Center serves the community in this way, and so it keeps New York City vibrant.” Housed in a huge complex of buildings in the Lincoln Square neighbourhood in Manhattan, it is renowned for hosting many notable performing arts organisations like the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet.

That night, I experience a buzz in the air — soft conversations fill the lobby as the crème de la crème of the cognoscenti wait patiently for the doors to open. No sooner done and I walk in; I take in the high ceilings and the carpeted steps leading to the galleries above, and the ambience makes me term it as a mini Ascot. Of course, the ubiquitous hats are missing, but fashion dominates the theatrical space.

An espresso shot that was swiftly gulped down in the eatery on the first floor helps dispel the fog that is threatening to push me into the arms of Morpheus in my comfortable seat. I sit up, hearing the wave of applause that flows through the auditorium, when conductor Karel Mark Chichon takes his place upfront, bowing to the audience before the curtain rises. The lights dim, the performance begins and one is immediately transported into another era. A clever use of mirrors gives a double impact — and being positioned at an angle above the stage they provide a tantalising glimpse of the action as the actors enter and exit from beyond our sight. Another interesting element is the presence of Bunraku puppets, inspired by the sophisticated Japanese puppetry form. But, though the stage effects are consummately produced, one performer outshines the rest — Kristine Opolais, who plays the title role of Cio-Cio-San steals the show and our hearts. No wonder then that she gets a rousing standing ovation at the end!

Fashion fiesta
Heels clatter on pavements as women rush about fulfilling their daily duties; men sport the nattiest — and often trendiest — of gear while keeping in step with their appointments. The inclemency of the weather does not seem to disturb their equanimity or appearance.

One afternoon, I find myself at Macy’s in Herald Square —having arranged to meet some friends there. Built in 1902, Macy’s Herald Square was the first building to have the modern-day escalator, and the original wooden one is still in evidence. I — along with my friends — dive into pizzas and pastas and the trademark tiramisu at the Italian restaurant Stella 34 Trattoria.

Post lunch, our small group walks out into terrain much traversed by tourists and residents alike. Armed with a brolly — that I soon use as a walking stick to avoid bumping into crowds — we trek right across Fifth Avenue. The outlets cater to a variety of tastes and even mere window shopping is taken to another level altogether as the displays of high-end flagship stores (Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton and more) woo with their offerings. I linger for a while in Tiffany’s, my personal favourite, taking a look at the new collections in the iconic store. Fit, indeed, for a queen! Another popular location amongst the fashionistas who flock to the city is Madison Avenue, home to some of the most extravagant shops in the entire world.

Interestingly, by the end of my stay, my numerous footsteps down several streets and avenues cause me to remark on the city’s geometrical grid pattern. Even a NYC newbie cannot get lost here! And, over the course of the days, I satiate my fondness for the movies by driving by – and getting down at locations instantly identifiable to a film buff. In fact, one morning to make things easier, I opt for the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Tour to take selfies at a few seen in King Kong, Manhattan, The Seven Year Itch, North by Northwest, Superman and more. — a fun way to spend a morning.

Culture corner
Think art and The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) always springs to one’s mind. Located in midtown Manhattan, it has played a significant role in developing and collecting modernist art. One needs many visits to really experience its ambience and works. The morning I spend there, I find an interesting mix of the old and the new. Like the ongoing installation on the ground level centred around the theme of modern monuments, which engages the imagination with its numerous installations. And some levels above, Edgar Degas, best known as a painter and chronicler of the ballet form, stops you in your steps with his restless experimentation with creative processes. A far cry from modern-day creations, his monotypes have individuals flocking to the spaces where they are showcased.

Craving for more artistic fare, another morning is spent at The MET Breuer — the new location of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s modern and contemporary programme. For me, what makes the hours here more interesting is its inaugural show which is a retrospective of the Indian modernist, Nasreen Mohamedi. I not only look at her various art works, but also get glimpses of her life through candid images and her thoughts as captured in personal diaries and notebooks.

India on a plate

Journeying from New Delhi — in which avatar it has already been shortlisted as one of Asia’s top restaurants — the hip eatery Indian Accent is poised to set its imprint on New York’s terra firma. Located at the swish Le Parker Meridien New York, it was launched in March and is already gaining popularity amongst those who love innovative Indian food.

Chef Manish Mehrotra mingles with guests when he is in town. On being asked the USP of his food, Mehrotra affirms, “Indian Accent offers an inventive approach to the cuisine while maintaining authentic flavours. We also want to explore and highlight dishes that are only found in homes and from regions and communities that are rarely seen on menus in both New York and India. New York has a growing number of Indian restaurants and we hope to add value to the local dining culture.”

Urging me to sample several dishes, he emphasises that his signature dish is meetha achaar spare ribs with sun dried mango and toasted kalonji seeds. I start with tasting papads, wild boar pickle, prawn balchao and house chutneys. I find that he has given his own tweak to the simple yellow dal, a variation of a home-grown favourite. Working my way slowly through the courses, I reach the grand finale — the desserts and nibble at a doda barfi treacle tart, a besan ladoo cheesecake and makhan malai.

When it is time to leave, I pack my suitcases with a great deal of reluctance — New York is a city that creates that tug-on-the-heart feeling. With bags filled with shopping and a mind replete with memories — I step out of my hotel. And sink into the BMW that takes me through Sunday-afternoon traffic to JFK. I stride into the airport, vowing to return to the Big Apple soon — this time in a warmer clime.

Flying high

Travelling Business Class on Air France’s prestigious A380 and on the KLM Boeing 787 Dreamliner (I flew on the latter from New Delhi to Amsterdam on my travel to the US) takes journeying into another plane. And in between forays in the sky, time is spent in quiet isolation in spacious lounges at airports. On my return journey from New York to Mumbai, I am escorted by smiling airline staff right through. At JFK, soon after checking in, I go to the sanctum sanctorum of the lounge in Terminal 1, not far from the boarding gates. Spanning two levels, I choose to walk up and sit by the huge windows, watching the intra-terminal shuttle zip by with regular frequency. Having raised a toast to NYC with a flute of champagne, I take my selection of cheese and crackers, to stay light before I fly — topping it after a while with a selection of fruit and yoghurt.

The experience at Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport on my way back to Mumbai mirrors the warmth of its NYC counterpart. Come time for departure and my trek to the aircraft is done in solitary splendour, driven out as I am in a car to the huge ‘bird’ waiting on the tarmac. I catnap drowsily in my Air France seat in between watching my choice of entertainment on my screen, and taking bites of the well-plated meals.

Read about the 6 things you must do in NYC, here.

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