When my 50th birthday was approaching,Dennis suggested one of two trips — Maine or Manhattan. I was torn. I’ve never been to Maine and would have loved to settle into a seaside hotel for some peace and quiet. But Manhattan was beckoning. Not just the usual Manhattan, where I run down for a work meeting or Girl Scout event or holiday dinner, but the Manhattan of my 20s and early 30s, the Manhattan that made this suburban girl fall in love with New York City.
So we set out with only one definite plan: dinner reservations at Morandi, a fabulous Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village. Other than that we had a whole weekend and nothing to do but wander. (Much to the kids’ chagrin.) We checked into my in-laws’ empty apartment (Thank you very much!) and started our visit with lunch at nearby Tal Bagel. Best. Bagels. Ever.
Tal is a place Dennis and I used to frequent when we both worked at Catholic New York newspaper. Pea soup and a sesame bagel was a favorite back then. When we walked in this weekend and our kids were staring up at the sandwich/soup board, we pulled them back from the line and explained that at Tal you do NOT get on line and then start deciding what you want. You do NOT ask questions. You order. Fast. Think Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi but with bagels.
From there we headed to Fifth Avenue, where we popped into the Trump Tower. This may seem like an odd choice, but there’s good reason. Trump Tower was my prime public restroom location when I was a reporter covering Cardinal O’Connor at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Sunday mornings. When your work requires you to be out on NYC streets at odd times, you quickly learn where all the nice public restrooms are located (Waldorf Astoria and Lord &Taylor ranked up there as well). We also wanted the kids to experience the gaudy 80s opulence of Trump Tower:
|Me and the girls at Trump Tower|
Because I knew this trip could not be completely devoid of kid-friendly stuff, we made a stop at FAO Schwartz. I ended up with a prize, so I guess it wasn’t only the kids who wanted to go there. I got a cool carrying bag with a NYC subway map on it.
|Chiara and Olivia in the Lego section at FAO Schwartz.|
And, of course, we had to snap a photo of Dennis in front of the Apple store.
|Dennis on pilgrimage.|
Then off to the Central Park Zoo. I’d never seen real penguins before. Great penguin exhibit. Here are the girls with the sea lions:
And the polar bear:
I also loved this bird, which I still haven’t been able to identify.
We hopped on a very crowded 6 train to the Village and caught a very lengthy but very funny street show. And then on to The Strand. So many books, so little time. We wandered a bit more, hitting Bleecker Street and buying some trinkets before going to Morandi for dinner. It was delicious, and I finally got the order of Carciofi alla Guidea that I couldn’t get in Rome (because artichokes were not in season). No photos of that or the focaccia with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. I went for the simple but fabulous hand-rolled spaghetti with lemon and parmesan sauce.
On Sunday we started off our day with more bagels from Tal (and picked up some bialys for breakfast at home the next day.) Then it was off to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for Cardinal Dolan’s weekly 10:15 a.m. Mass. Through our good friend Joe Z., we were able to get primo seats — second pew, center. During the entrance procession, Cardinal Dolan came over to us to inquire about Dennis’ broken arm and to wish me a happy 50th birthday. Super cool. Little did we know, it was about to get even better. After Mass, we were ushered behind the ropes where we could have our picture taken with the cardinal, but instead of just saying hello and snapping a photo, the cardinal invited us back to his residence. For coffee and cake. I’ve been at many Church events — and I’ve even been in the cardinal’s residence as a reporter back when Cardinal O’Connor would hold events there — but this really topped everything.
|Us with Cardinal Dolan in front of the Pope Chair|
After posing for a photo in front of the “Pope Chair,” used by Pope John Paul II and Bendict XVI, we sat in the living room and had coffee, juice, and cake with a few other guests, including a beautiful baby named Maria Isabella, who has spina bifida and many struggles ahead. Please pray for her and her lovely family. Here’s Cardinal Dolan with Maria Isabella (a little blurry because he was in constant motion making guests feel at home).
He held her like this the entire time we were there, looking very grandfatherly as he chatted and moved chairs around and offered “pie in a bag” (apparently a Milwaukee specialty) while toting around this little baby. I think my kids were just dumbfounded by the way events played out that morning. It was definitely the highlight of the weekend.
To wrap up our visit, we went to the Museum of Modern Art. Originally we were going to opt for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is typically my favorite, but we decided at the last minute to hit MOMA so I could finally see van Gogh’s Starry Night. When Dennis and I visited MOMA 19 years ago to see this favorite painting, it was on loan to another museum. I never got around to a return visit. Until this weekend. I actually had tears in my eyes as I stood in front of it. Standing that close to this van Gogh masterpiece was beyond words, as you can tell by my goofy, swooning smile.
A close second was the Monet Water Lilies room. I could have sat there for hours:
We also found some new favorites. Here’s Chiara reading up on “White on White,” one of her favorite finds right behind Jackson Pollock.
And we finally tracked down the one unusual piece of contemporary art that Dennis and I still remembered from all those years ago:
Someone, please, tell me what this means and why it’s in a museum. (And not the Keith Haring stuff behind it. Just the basketballs in the fish tank.) I’ve read the artist’s explanation. I’m not buying it. I think he must laugh and laugh that he managed to land this at MOMA.
On the way home, we made a stop at my grandmother’s apartment to say hello and to give her an early (unproofed) version of my new book, “Cravings,” which is dedicated to her. Here she is with Chiara:
Now that was a birthday weekend to remember. Turns out 50 isn’t so bad. I think I’ll turn 50 again next year.