I enter a long thin dinning area and am immediately approached by the hostess asking how many? “Just me” I say brightly as I begin to take off my layers of coats and hang them as she is already walking toward the back of the restaurant apparently unaware of my lack of presence, but I hurry along and sit myself down in a larger room about half full of people. This is a quaint place with lemon toned walls, exposed brick and warm wood grain trim, decorated with tapestries and paintings from the old country. I wait for my menu and I see right away that I’m the only non-Turkish person in the place except for two other white guys in front of me who are just finishing up their meal. Finally I am approached to take my drink order and after it is brought I finally get a glass of water and the waiter comes to take my order. I start with a dish of breaded fried lamb liver and order my “Lamacun”, a thin crust pizza covered in ground lamb and spices and oven baked, with a glass of Turkish red wine called Kamut.
I sip my wine and listen to a table a few feet away who are discussing the disaster in Haiti and the United States response to it in very un-appreciative terms. The loudest of them all is a man who calls our efforts a “masturbation relief” over and over again like he’s discovered a new catch phrase that gets him royalties every time he says it. The women at the table don’t seem bothered by it at all and they seem to be very anti-US and UN but as the conversation goes on they seem to be workers for the foreign office in some capacity who are ethnic Turks that are in the know about world events, but still I feel like I’m in an enemy camp posing as a diplomat who is actually a double agent. My appetizer arrives a small but simple starter served with red onion, tomatoes, lemon wedges and no salty sauces. It is good to a point but not earth shattering as a dish, perhaps I’m getting a little jaded by my travels in the culinary world. But realistically I have only scratched the surface, and can only imagine the food in the places I can’t afford that I see on TV. Even before I finish my starter I receive my main course, I can’t believe the size of the portions! Three huge thin crust pizza’s the size of oval dinner plates served with tomato’s, basil, red onion and lemon wedge’s, I assemble mine the exact way I saw it on “No Reservations” piling all the ingredients on top and rolling it like a tortilla. It is crunchy and good but again not fantastic. The flavor of the meat is totally lost in the bread and veggies, I finish off two of the three Lamacun and with two pieces of the table bread I ask for it to be wrapped up so I can take it home for Mom, at least she can have a taste of my travels too.
I wait a long while for the dessert tray to come so when it does I pick the most unusual thing and wait and wait and wait for it to come, it is a tart made with cheese covered in a crunchy semolina pasta and soaked with honey and baked till crisp, this too I only eat half of and take home with me. This place is filling up now to almost full capacity and I wait to get my check a long time, I pay it up and leave, vowing never to go back. I felt too much like I was treated poorly because I’m not Turkish but I will try some other Turkish place again sometime. Now I’m out on Third Ave again and I quickly jump in a cab to get Webster Hall, after all the doors open at six so I don’t want to miss anything. Luckily I get a good cabbie who gets me there quick as a flash and find out the doors don’t open till 7:30, must have been mis-information on the web. So I take a short walk down the block but decide to call my Mom and shoot the breeze instead of going to Saint Alps Tearoom which is nearby, I’m just too full for a hot rich Asian tea even though it’s tempting. I talk to my Mom who is deeply engrossed in her favorite website “Sweet Caroline”, a Neil Diamond fan site where my Mom has actually risen to be the greeter of new members by the owner to take some of the work off her shoulders. It’s a little annoying to talk to someone who is not really listening but that seems to be the story of my life so I get off the phone and back on-line. The characters I see while waiting makes me marvel at the diversity of the types who are in attendance, beautiful French girls walk by wearing boots and berets, very beguiling. There are young upscale dudes in perfect clothes, loud gays talk about social norms and slander the friend who acted sooo wrong last time they went out for the evening, very stereotypical behavior I’m sorry to say but I’ve heard this same story many times on trains and in concert lines, funny thing. There are lots of Asian girls here too, quietly focused on their cell phones, their young earnest faces a picture of beautiful concentration.
Finally we are let in after being frisked for contraband, which in my case is left over food wrapped up and stuck inside my overcoat, I must smell a little funky to some as I walk upstairs to the grand ballroom where I find out the band isn’t going on till 9:00 which means I have two hours to kill!
I am not happy, I can only have one drink after the glass of wine so there ‘s nothing to do but write till the show starts, I know I could talk to people but an overweight middle-aged guy is not exactly cool enough to make friends here. I am easily the oldest one here, maybe at least I look like a music critic. So I order a rum and coke and station my self near the bar at a platform where I can write and observe. The bartender is doing curls with full magnum’s of booze to keep warm in the chilly room which is quickly filling up with people. One of her co-workers asks her why she is doing curls and says to keep warm but offers up a bicep to show the added benefits of her routine. I’m a little tired and wishing for a seat but this is a standing room, no comfort just 300 percent profit on the drinks and see the show and leave. I look around envious of all the young people here, they are living in a world far more screwed up than mine but they have so many advantages I didn’t have. The technology has given them access to the world, to people and information that would have taken me weeks to do the reports students can finish in a few hours in front of a laptop. They also have much more freedom than we had, at least from what I’ve seen in a major city suburb like Long Island.
The stage is decorated with tall white tree branches tied in bunches with the pale blue lights giving it a wintery glow. Then suddenly the lights go down and I make my way closer to the stage settling in a spot right next to the tables where the band merchandise is being sold at stage right about two-thirds from the stage. The first band is called Claire & The Reasons, a unique indie act whose members play more than one instrument, changing roles for different songs and a few of them play two instruments at once. The bands cd’s are available on their website and they are donating proceeds from the show to “Doctors without Borders” to help with the relief in Haiti. I stand and talk to the girl selling the shirts and Cd’s for Nouvelle Vague who is French but speaks perfect English, she is pretty and thin as a spike of lavender. To look upon her is to see the archetype French peasant girl you would see in a movie or postcard, wearing a sweater that looks like it hand-made with love by an artisan. I talk to her about my all too short trip to Paris and my love of French food and wine and my learning to speak French with Fluenz French, I could talk to her all night but she is working and I don’t want to be a bother so I shut up and wait for the band to go on stage. The diversity of the crowd has grown since before and I begin to see many more older people than me too, two guys in sport coats walk by and one remarks that Toronto is his favorite place to see Nouvelle Vague, I guess because it’s part French and the band is from France. I realize that I’ve never seen so many people speaking French since Paris and begin to wonder if there is a French enclave in New York City, I mean after all these people are not all tourists. I’m starting to warm up a little now and suddenly the band takes the stage, the crowd roars as they launch into the new CD which I just bought.
The band is a four piece, guitar, drums, keyboard and upright bass and they are tight players, while the girls are stunning and sensual-dancing like go-go dancers to the beat as they sing with abandon. It’s punk, its new wave, it’s cafe noir and I like it…a lot. I’m glad I came , I almost backed out I wa so tired from moving heavy boxes around at work and sorting the contents of the crawl space at home but now all thought of being tired is gone as the band plays a long show. The girls cut up on stage and introduce the songs in French and English especially “To drunk to f**k”: a punk song from the 80’s I think which they tease the crowd about being tonight. But at one point later in the show one of the girls kicks her leg up to accentuate a lyric, in a chanteuse like move and loses her shoe which flies up into the audience, and does it again with the other foot and the shoe goes up but it doesn’t come down! The singer doesn’t realize that it’s stuck up there and the pretty tour manager smiles and laughs at the antics of her band, I can see by the look on her face that she wishes she was up there on stage too, like me she doesn’t have it in her I guess whatever it is. The show ends with three encores consisting of five songs.
They walk off to thunderous applause and when the lights go up I wait for the herd to pass by, passing the time as I do by signing up on the mailing lists for both bands and by chatting a little more with the tour manager and ask if they will be back next year, she says they probably will be. I better brush up on my French so I say I will br ready next year for her test of me and wish her Bonnuit and she giggles her approval and wishes me Bonnuit back and I walk downstairs and out into the cold. I head to Third Ave and turn right, I need to walk a little to burn some calories, but also you can’t see the city from a cab you have to experience it on foot. I walk past Cosmic Charlie’s, a hip coffee shop with a 60’s vibe, I envy the people sitting inside at 11:00 pm relaxing with a coffee, home is close-by, no need to get back to the suburbs. I pass people standing outside in ones or two’s, mostly smokers talking together outside of bars and Bodega, late night liquor stores still open for the real drunks and a few shops are still open late, trying desperately to make that extra dollar. I stop to look at a nice German restaurant with red and white checkered curtains, the menu open in its window. But people are sitting a few feet away so I move away from its warm inviting glow, and walk on towards Penn Station. Despite my misgivings about the trip, I can feel it now…the city is mine again and I am hers, and will always be. I should have remembered that…I breathe the cool night air and walk tall on the streets I love.