Falling in Love All Over Again . . .

September 15, 2012 at 4:52 pm (By Amba)

. . . with Noo Yawk City.

After having a very pleasant exchange with our mail carrier on the phone early this morning, I took the subway down to Canal Street around 10 a.m. to pick up my mail, in which there were, sure enough, several checks.

It is such a beautiful fallward day—cool, sunny, cloudless—in fact, it’s a “September 11 day,” but while we will always note that, we are now well able to note it and then move on and enjoy the day.  I decided to walk home.  I also had a rebate in the form of a prepaid credit card in the mail, so I used that to buy and compare TWO lattes, sipping as I strolled.

I stopped to admire this painting (click to enlarge and see words for and about “butterfly” in many languages), which the 50something artist, John van Orsouw, was selling, among others, on the sidewalk out of his truck.  (I knew he was Dutch, from his accent, before I saw his name.) He has had gallery shows of his paintings and sculptures but sets up shop on the street to supplement his income. If I’d happened to have a spare $950 lying around I’d have walked right off with “Burst Out.” Instead, I wound up getting into a 15-minute conversation with the artist, about the art biz, the weather, and not wanting to commemorate/relive 9/11. After being cooped up in my apartment doing little but working, then plunging into an equally hurried, preoccupied crowd to run errands, it was amazing to find a stranger so open and ready to engage even with a non-customer. But he was just the first.

Next, I stopped by a bookstall selling old natural-history prints and bookplates, which made me feel as if I was in Paris. When I mentioned this to the proprietress, also within arm’s length of my age, she shrugged and said with an unmistakably native New York inflection, “Why not?” Her name is Phyllis Newman, and she is on West Broadway every Saturday weather permits and at the Greenflea Market on Columbus and 76th on Sundays.  We talked, too: about last Saturday’s tornado, rising sea levels inundating Breezy Point, weathering Hurricane Irene under a skylight (“It sounds wonderful. I envy you!” she said), and how all our digital wonders have nothing on those delicately meticulous 19th-century depicters of nature, quite a few of whom we’ve covered in Natural History. As an appreciation for the publisher, who has struggled so hard to keep the 110-year-old magazine alive (almost certainly a losing battle), I bought, at a generous markdown, a 200-year-old bookplate, a hand-colored engraving of a clamshell, which occasioned the following exchange:

 May I give you a check?

Sure.  I’ve never had a bad check.

Well, actually, right now this is a bad check. But as soon as I get to the bank it won’t be.

Phyllis looked at my name on the check, sized me up and said, “Happy New Year.”

I made a left turn on Houston Street and, between LaGuardia and Thompson, was stopped by a downstairs storefront newly painted to look like it was on a waterfront, with a large sign saying that it was soon to open as a membership café, offering “Access to community and a HOME AWAY FROM HOME.” For $25 a month you could come in every day and drink good coffee, espresso, and tea for free (quite a saving if you think about a Starbucks a day), read the paper, and just hang out. They would also have member events “like design previews, tastings, classes,” and discounts on merchandise. The young man, probably south of 30, sitting by the open door waiting for the tile floor man and the city inspector introduced himself as Anthony Mazzei and also struck up a conversation with me. He and his now wife,  Aurora Stokowski (Leopold’s granddaughter), avatars of warmhearted hip, had created this encompassing concept blending an “aesthetic club” (on the analogy of an athletic club) with “dim sum retail” and moved it from Manhattan to NOLA and back again:

Started in an old ballroom in Manhattan, this hyper-curated art-design-fashion-culture concept expanded to New Orleans a year ago. In New Orleans, Fair Folks and a Goat occupies an old, bright-yellow Creole shotgun cottage with green clapboard shutters in Marigny. In the front room, there’s a boutique filled with furniture, clothing and art, followed by a design studio, a cafe called Fair Folks and a Roast (which serves the best iced coffee I have ever tasted), art gallery, design parlor, and a one-room b&B with rotating, in-room installations by local artists and designers.

“It’s thought-out. Everything you touch and see–we pull our hair out trying to decide what to buy and where it should go and how it should be incorporated into the space,” says New Orleans cofounder Anthony Mazzei, who runs FF&G with his New York counterpart Aurora Stokowski. “We wanted to do a magazine and thought, ‘What would a magazine look like if you walked through it?’”

We talked about how remarkably difficult it is to find a place just to hang out in NYC—the options are a) your place or mine, b) a restaurant or bar table with the meter running and the babble too loud to hear each other think, c) a public park where no matter how you try to mind your own bidness you get hit on, shit on (by pigeons, at least), and hit up. I told him about my own attempts at a solution when I was their age: open-house Sunday brunch and (later, with J) the funky little health club where non-9-to-5ers hooked up for lifelong friendship and creative collaborations in the Jacuzzi in the middle of the day. I had no idea just how hip these two were till I came home and looked up their website (the Times is writing them up later this week), but let me stress the warmhearted part.

*   *   *  *

Well, what with having this adventure, writing it up, and (inadvertently) sleeping it off, like an overstimulated child with a full tummy (read: bank account), there goes most of the day.










  1. mockturtle said,

    What a delightful account! Your love for NYC is wonderful, in the original sense of the word. Your cheerful optimism is almost palpable. Oh, and Happy New Year!

  2. Icepick said,

    Phyllis looked at my name on the check, sized me up and said, “Happy New Year.”

    Nice touch!

  3. justkim said,

    I was 18 when I moved to New York, a walking cliche as a hick from the sticks in the big city. Your afternoon sounds exactly what I wanted my life in the City to be, but I was too afraid of my own shadow to do much more than barely live in the 15 or blocks that involved my life. Maybe once Cat grows up, I’ll ditch T and try again. (Just kidding, dear!) I wonder if NYC will look different to me at 60 then it did at 18.

  4. amba12 said,

    You are will just be much more comfortable in your skin at 60 (no doubt you already are now) than anybody is at 18. It’s SOOOO hard to be young.

  5. Icepick said,

    Maybe once Cat grows up, I’ll ditch T and try again.

    Good luck with that!


  6. LouiseM said,

    Appreciating the adventure, connection and links! Looking through the van Orsouw paintings, I was reminded Howard Finster whose “creations overlap folk art, outsider art, naïve art, and visionary art”. The van Orsouw sculptures made me smile too! Reading this post, following anxieties brought on by Sept 11 weather, fall allergies and recent current events, felt like taking a deep breath of goodness and life!

  7. A said,

    What a delightful day…

  8. karen said,

    It’s possible,, amba- that i could visit you sometime… my friend is from NYC– or thereabouts. She usually visits every month or two- maybe i could meet Melinda and anyone else from here- all at the same time?

    18 or 45- NYC seems scary no matter what. That’s not always in a negative way, either. Phenom things are scary/amazing, too.

    I’m really glad you have fallen in the love again. It’s not the same, you’re not the same- and neither is your city:0).

    Raising my (imaginary)glass to many more new and glorious adventures!

    ps– maeve says ~HI!~!

  9. karen said,

    “ABC NEWS: President Obama Falsely Claims Fast and Furious Program “Begun Under the Previous Administration.” “In actuality, the Fast and Furious program was started in October 2009, nine months into the Obama presidency.”

    Lied– imagine that.

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