The Notched Wing

Helen Tara Hughes – Poetry, Fiction, Film, Phantasms

NYC Journal – July 2006

Ever since I started acting 10 years ago, I have longed to visit NYC. This summer my friend and mentor Vern was staying in NYC for 6 weeks to see shows and visit friends -the perfect holiday for a Creative. Vern made my long-awaited wish come true -he brought me to NYC as a birthday gift. This is a brief chronicle of our adventures, the genesis of my love affair with New York City.

Wednesday July 12, 2006

Delayed, and delayed again. I get to Newark airport very late, take a cab into the Bus Terminal. Vern is standing on the street in the rain, in his linens and his white Panama Hat. He is smoking a Marlboro and looking the very picture of a writer in NYC in 1956. Vern is a very driven creative and from the back seat of my cab as it pulls up to the curb, he looks like the archetypal New York author.

Waiting for me, he walks into a bar by the Terminal and finds two friends from Edmonton having a beer.
When I get out of the cab, not only Vern but Bretta & James (2 of E-towns top Creative personalities) are there waiting on the street, smoking like its going out of style. We go for a beer at a pub nearby which opens onto the street – we visit, drink, smoke, & watch the panoply of human traffic in their NYC “midnight cowboy” wanderings.

Vern & I take a cab to his friend Greg’s apartment in Brooklyn Heights. It is 2 am but I feel high. I feel even more high after Vern points out that Greg lives in the same building as one of my favourite Playwrights, John Patrick Shanley. Vern is already one of my favourite playwrights – now, just upstairs, is this legendary fellow whose treasured plays rest on my little bookshelf at home (right beside Vernie’s actually!).

Vern & I take Greg’s little doggie, Spike for a walk along the Brooklyn Promenade, which is a 10-minute walk away. The skyline is quietly beautiful in the night, it has that same silent power which the mountains in Banff seem to exert.

I am utterly charmed.

NYC feels like HOME. We can be cynical and say it is because I’ve seen it in movies all my life, but that doesn’t make take away this eerie feeling of coming home.

Thursday July 13, 2006

After some theatre talk this morning, Vern takes me downtown. We see the public library and have the best fried-egg sandwiches ever (I’m serious – there were carmelized onions in them! num-nums…). We sit in Bryant Park amongst the twisted nymph-like trees to eat and smoke cigarettes. It is hot. Everyone is lunching and reading.

Vern takes me to Grand Central station -oh, the epic grandeur- then to Rockefeller Centre to see the Art Deco Architecture, the murals by Diego Rivera. How long did it take him to DO those?? They are massive. Vern shows me the entrance beside Radio City Music Hall – over the door is a mural with the arts & sciences listed around the forms of a joyful man and woman. Over to the right there is a man and woman who are not surrounded by the Arts & Sciences – Poverty and Despair surround them. Had Vern not shown me this, I don’t know when I would have found my way to it.

Vern walks me to MOMA & goes to meet a friend. I walk up to the 4th floor to find the Paintings. I see a giant painting filling the wall at the far end of the room I enter, I am drawn to its swirling violent beauty.

It is a Jackson Pollock. I’ve never seen one before, except in photographs.

I turn around and notice that the entire room is filled with his paintings.

I walk into the next room and find it filled with Mark Rothko’s work. I start to feel like I’m either going to pass out, or weep, or maybe both at once.

I see Klimt, Seurat, Picasso and Kandinsky. I see Andrew Wyeth’s haunting story paintings and Edward Hopper’s clean modernity. I see Van Gogh and Matisse and Monet’s ‘Reflection of Clouds on Lily Pond’, a triptych 15 feet long. I see enough Rauchenberg to understand in retrospect everything my friend Ross had said to me about his work. I even discover Paul Chan’s digital paintings – magical, airy illustrations.

And, as I walk downstairs to wait for Vern, I discover that I am physically aroused.

That is when I realise how much I love modern art.

We go home and nap.

In the evening we make our way to the West Village to see a show at the Barrow St. Theatre. ‘No Child’ is produced by Epic Theatre, who produced Vern’s Governor General’s award-winning play ‘Einstein’s Gift’ last year. I am blown away by actress Nilaja Sun, who plays every character in her one-woman show (about teaching drama to high school students in the Bronx) with specificity, verve, and humour. It is a tour de force.

We go for dinner at a tiny Sardinian restaurant called ‘Osteria del Sol’ in the East Village. This is my first taste of NY dining. Same prices as the resto where I worked in Yorkville, but the food is 2 stars better. We have the polenta with mushrooms & truffle oil which our server says is just like his mama’s – it is so rich that we have 2 tablespoons each and are spent.

I have an infected blister on my foot.

There are so many people here.

Friday July 14, 2006

Vern lets me sleep when he gets up to do his morning correspondence, then I get up and walk the little doggie, Spike. He is such a sweetheart, but he has a garbage fetish. He was adopted from Puerto Rico – a puppy who scavenged on the beach. If you leave the garbage available, he will spread it over the entire room, presumably so that he can get a good look at it and decide what is most tasty &/or nutritious. There is no question about whether or not it is edible. Tasty, that’s the ticket. Walking down the main streets is too harrowing – he will eat justabout anything he finds. But since I’m smoking a cigarette as I walk him, I have no right to judge the little guy for his own toxic addiction. We go to the Promenade and the lady (la liberte) is green and gorgeous out on the water.

We meet Bretta and James in midtown for Brunch. We keep wandering into optical shops – Bretta helps Vern pick out a sexy pair of glasses. She is very stylish, that girl. We walk by the hotel where Hemingway stayed, near Styevesant Square. Home for a nap before…

BALLGAME at YANKEE STADIUM! Vern just keeps making amazing things happen. He somehow got tickets in the bleachers to the Yankees vs. the White Sox. When we get there the game has already begun.

We take our seats and then I hear it – the crowd roars like a giant beast, the first time I’ve heard this sound in my life. We are surrounded by families, people doing the wave and little kids dancing and everyone yelling and cheering on their feet. Randy Johnson pitches 7 innings, never falling below 90 mph in his pitches – and he is an old man – by baseball standards I mean. In the last inning, Rivera is sent in. Vern’s friend Graeme had warned me to listen for his theme song and to watch what happens in the stands.

Sure enough, as the opening bars of ‘Enter Sandman’ blasts through the speakers, everyone goes wild. Then Rivera appears in the door to the bullpen, working the camera better than a soap opera star – he is heroic, manly. Talk about really taking and enjoying your moment. Then he runs across the field, as everyone dances around us and sings along to ‘Enter Sandman’.

Of course, the Yankees win. We go for eats at the ‘Chat & Chew’ diner, then head home. We get off the train before it crosses the water, and walk home across Brooklyn Bridge under the benevolent gaze of a full moon. CSI NY is filming in the middle of the bridge. Gary Sinise is sitting at the side, waiting for shooting to start again. Under the lights, he looks like a porcelain God. So handsome.

I grab Vern’s arm and tell him to keep walking so I can get by Mr. Sinise without falling at his feet and offering to be his love slave.

This is the second time I feel faint in NYC.

Saturday July 15th

Shopping with Vernie – we found him some new shoes, very sexy ones too. Vern and I have our first real argument in the history of our friendship, standing by the sunglasses racks. We emerge into the street after the battle, still friends (pretty good, that), and friends with a mission. We weave between the clumps of people on Broadway like speedwalkers at the Olympics – we mustn’t be late. We are going to see a show at the Lyceum.

Again Vern has found us miracle tickets – this time they are for Martin McDonaugh’s play -The Lieutenant of Inishmore’. Vern says that I should expect to hear people in the audience talking during the beginning, and sure enough, it happens.

The lights come up on two men, frozen in stark panic, staring at a dead cat – the longer the actors wait, the funnier it is. Soon, an elderly voice to our left rings out into the auditorium, “Did he forget his line???” Vern and I exchange a silent, mirthful look.

Despite this interruption, the two actors hold the moment until one asks in Irish brogue “Is it dead?” In answer, the other actor picks up the sagging body of the black cat … and its brains fall out onto the table. The audience roars with laughter. Yes, this is a black black comedy, which manages to keep you in the theatre with that dark humour even as the gore and violence escalate.

The Lyceum is a repository of Broadway theatre history, b&w headshots of the great actors of yore on the walls, framed and slightly sepia with aging – you must see a show there one day.

In the evening we walk down toward Fulton Pier to a small restaurant called ‘Noodle Pudding’. The meal is remarkable not only for its preparation, but for its exceedingly reasonable prices. The service is brisk but attentive in the charmingly busy atmosphere. Although they seemed to have a high turn-over, with many people stopping by for a meal on their way to another event, we still felt comfortable to settle in for a longer meal with several courses. The starters alone blew my mind – Prosciutto with fresh figs and toasted almond, drizzled with honey; Strozzapreti with eggplant tomato sauce which is thick, savory, and simple  and the Prosecco we drank during the meal seemed to complement everything.

Walking down to Fulton Pier, we pass the building where ‘The Eagle’ was housed – its most famous editor was the bard of NYC, Walt Whitman. On the pier is my friend Nino’s favourite restaurant, ‘The River Cafe’, also one of Vern’s favourites. Very classy. We stare at the city with the other New Yorkers out for a walk on this warm evening.


Sunday July 16

Vern has some packing to do  – we are going to stay in Soho with his friend Warren for our last day here.
Off I go, with train instructions from Vernie, to Central Park on the walking tour which is in my guidebook.

It is a scorching day, and I have picked up a small white sundress for $6 in Brooklyn. This was one of the best purchases of my life – walking through Central Park with the sweat running in rivulets down my skin, I am warm, yes, but not uncomfortably so. I am enchanted by Bethesda Fountain, with the rowboats on the lake. I wander the length of the Mall 3 times, surrounded and shaded by twisted fairytale Elm trees; it has retained the same identity as it had when the Park was first built (except in the old illustrations from the 1900′s the people are dressed quite differently)

The Rambles reminds me of Stanley Park in Vancouver. The Theatre is surrounded by sculptures – I sneak around to the side to peek in at the stage and the seating, and find that again I am too excited to breathe. Past the obelisk now, and across to the back side of the Met – it is an enormous building.

In the Met I seek out an exhibit of erotic drawings/watercolours by Klimt (one of my favourites) and Egon Schiele (his pupil, of whom I know very little). The text on the wall explains that Klimt drew for many hours each day, alternating hands so as to avoid facility in either hand. The drawings are simple, exciting, provocative. I wander through the rooms nearby…
de Kooning, Franz Klein, Lichtenstein
more Rauchenberg…
Modigliani’s ‘Reclining Nude’
Chuck Close, Alexander Calder’s art deco Mobiles
more Rothko, more Pollock

I discover some new favourites: Picasso’s work from 1911 (whom I’ve never quite enjoyed) is both exciting and pleasing to me – ‘Pipe rack & Still Life on a Table’ and ‘The Dreamer’. ‘Nude Standing by the Sea’.

I am intrigued by the few pieces by Georges Braque -must see more of his work, figure out why I am drawn to it.

I wander through the medieval furnishings, and through the Rococo period furniture, imagining what it was like to live surrounded by such splendour and signs of wealth while just beyond your cloistered street and hidden gardens the beggars hug the walls and pray for mercy.

The Museum is so large – I think you could visit every Saturday for the rest of your life and never see everything.

“Art is the lie that tells the truth” Gertrude Stein

Sunday July 16th, evening

We arrive at Warren’s Studio in Soho which is like entering a dream. A tastefully appointed modern loft, the kitchen gleams in quiet modernity, while the balcony looks out across to the Studios and rooftop gardens of the Design Elite. A Renaissance man – Actor, Producer, Visual Artist, Photographer – it is most fitting that he runs a creative endeavour called Renaissant Arts . Warren produces Films, produces plays, hosts Art shows… he even hosts regular Salons and Reading Series in this space – his events bring together and build a community of Artists, Writers, Thinkers, his events connect Creatives with their Patrons, their Audiences, their Peers.

I go out to explore the West Village & the Lower East side. I find Cherry Lane theatre, where Cary Grant, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Kim Hunter lived. Bleeker St. and C’est Wa? where Dylan first played. The writer’s haunts KGB, the Bowery Poetry Bar (which is right across the street from CBGB’s). Get home exhausted but still, amazingly, excited by this city.

Monday July 17th

We fly to Toronto. I am back to my own bed, I see my loving boyfriend. I bring him the new Anthony Bourdain book, after Warren’s friend (who is entering the Cordon Bleu School in CA this August) recommended it as a must-read for the chef who loves his work. He seems to like it – as did I, perusing it on the plane. Colourful, humorous writing.

And my souvenir from NYC? Small, very portable, unnoticed by Customs – I have brought back the itch to live in NYC, just as soon as I can. I am asking the Universe to help me get there again. I gotta work there, I gotta stay there again. Maybe not for Ever, but definitely for a While. I gotta, I gotta, I gotta.

What a wonderful way to discover that city – with someone who could show me all their favourite places too. Thanks, Vern, for a great birthday gift! Can’t wait for the day we both live there!

Author: smallboy

Helen Tara Hughes is a writer, producer and actor. An award-winning theatre performer, she cut her teeth in classical and new work at major theatres across Canada, including the Stratford Festival. Her first taste of documentary work – a POV radio documentary for CBC’s ‘Outfront’ – gave her the documentary bug, and in 2009 she transitioned into Producing with the feature documentary, Goodness in Rwanda. As a writer, she has been published by Backofthebook.ca, Eros Digest, and TWISI, and has a book of short stories that will be published in the fall of 2012. As a filmmaker, she creates short films based on poetic writing. She moonlights as an Asst Producer and Coordinator for documentary, factual, and independent films, and is developing a slate of her own media projects for 2013.

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