Blow the roof off

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Twilight is the time to be here.  Notice the partially open roof.

There’s a new place in town, right at the corner of North Main and Mount Diablo.  We’ve talked about the Spanish place Teleferico on the second floor, and last night Gail and I went with BJ and Larry to Rooftop, the new hip joint  on the third level.

Rooftop is beautiful, with a retractable roof so you can enjoy the beautiful warm evenings while they last.  Lots of windows, umbrella shaded tables on the balcony, gorgeous diffused lights on the tables, Rooftop is one of the nicest looking restaurants I’ve ever been in.

The bad news is that it is LOUD.  Real loud.  Jet engine in your ear loud.  Rap concert loud. Brick walls, concrete floors, metal chairs, big sound system, my God I’m going deaf loud. We were the oldest people there, and I don’t think we are the target demographic.

Let’s talk about the food.  Larry and I had been at a lecture; when we got there BJ and Gail had ordered appetizers.

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Castelvetrano olives spiced with hot peppers.

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Smoked trout rillette

The olives were excellent and the trout rillette (a dip made with trout, creme fraiche and dill) was wonderful.  As usual, the accompanying “crostini” was just yesterday’s bread toasted until it was hard and tasteless.  Ritz crackers would have been much better, but the dip was first rate.

The wedge salad sounded good:
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The menu lists a blue cheese vinaigrette, but that thick creamy stuff sure isn’t it.  Maybe not bad, but decidedly not what’s on the menu.

I chose the ahi tuna tartare as an entree, although it is considered a first course.  The portion was quite sufficient, and the presentation delightful.

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Tuna tartare and sesame rice crackers

Gail had the lamb meatballs, which is really an appetizer but the portions here are plentiful:

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Just as an artist chooses a palette of complementary colors before beginning a painting, a chef decides on a flavor profile for the restaurant, so that the dishes will fit together and the overall menu will flow smoothly.  Unfortunately, it seems to me that the operating principle of the Rooftop flavor profile is ‘bland’.

Tuna tartare normally has a zing or a kick. but mine didn’t. It purportedly has ginger and spicy sambal, but their flavor does not shine through.  Gail’s meatballs were good, but not great.  Larry had a lamb chop that also fit in with the ‘bland’ genre.  There isn’t anything wrong with the food, it just needs more punch.

We had a couple of the side dishes, and enjoyed them both.

Crispy smashed potatoes

Crispy smashed potatoes

I never pass up the fried brussels sprouts.

Seriously good sprouts

Seriously good sprouts

The portions are very good, and the prices are more than reasonable.   Service was pretty good, too.

Overall, I think I like Rooftop, but it’s just too damn loud for me.  I don’t like having to shout to be heard.  The facility is simply beautiful, the food is decent if a bit on the dull side, prices and portions are quite favorable.  If they do something about the noise level Rooftop will be a winner.

How to not watch a baseball game

For a guy who doesn’t care much about sports, it’s an odd situation that I have spent two consecutive Saturday nights at the Oakland Coliseum complex.  Last week the fights, this week an A’s game.

Sally Woolsey is a huge baseball fan, holder of Oakland A’s season tickets.  Once a year she and Kit rent a suite and invite their friends; last night was the night.  Gail and I were privileged to be on the guest list. Gail was glued to the Olympics and couldn’t be budged, but I never say no to a party and off I went.

Paul McDaniel was at will call with the ticket, and then we had to walk to the complete other side of the building where the suite entrance is.  There are 3 or 4 floors of suites, and I think we walked them all before we found the right place.  I now have done my exercise for the month.

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Her shirt says “boom” because it was fireworks night

The crowd was friends and family, with a strong emphasis on family.  Especially this cutie:

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Granddaughter Juliette and her dad.

Juliette’s big brother, Judah

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Judah in front, the baby having fun with the mirror.

Yes, there are fine comfortable seats in a suite. Sometimes you just don’t want to use them.

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The hostess is entitled to the best seat in the house.

I’m a bridge player first, and a baseball fan 32nd.  I could watch a ball game, or sit with this crowd and talk bridge:

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Chip Martel, Lew and Joanna Stansby and Jan Martel. Kit Woolsey was to the right

For a bridge player like me, this was the tall cotton.  I got to sit there for three hour and talk (mostly listen) to high level bridge and bridge gossip.  That’s about as good as it gets for me.

There was a buffet with hot dogs (of course), BBQ pork, chicken, potatoes and veggies.  Huge fruit trays.  Fresh cookies arrived.  Chips and dip, popcorn, peanuts in the shell. Wine, beer, soft drinks.  The Coliseum does a good job of provisioning a party.

OK, a couple more kid pictures, just because I like them.

It’s always nice to see couples who still like to be close.

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Spending a few minutes actually watching the game.

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Okay, there was a baseball game going on, too.  Oakland was playing Seattle, and I think Seattle was the winner.  Here’s the most baseball thing that happened:

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The Wave.

I had a great time.  I spent hours with my friends, ate too much, did the Wave and went home happy.  Thanks Sally.  Thanks Kit.

 

I’m a bad boy

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Too sexy to print

 

I don’t understand the world.  I guess that’s OK, the world doesn’t understand me, either.

When we are sending out invitations, we often have a stamp made to complement the invitation.  You can go to photo.stamps.com and have legal US postage made of most images–your new car, your grandkids, lots of things.

This week, I tried to use the image above, of a marble sculpture in our shower.  Within 24 hours I had an email from them that the “image did not meet our guidelines” and they would refuse to print the stamps.

Now I may be more liberal than most in matters of art and nudity, but it’s hard for me to think that anyone would be offended by this piece of sculpture Even the stuffiest of prudes should recognize this as art not porn.

Still, I don’t get my stamps.  The next plan is to take a photo of the back of the piece and see if I can slip that through their blue-nosed system.  Some people just don’t have enough to do in this world.

 

Saturday night at the Fights

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Big fight in Oakland Saturday night, light heavy challenger Andre Ward was facing Alex Brand in a tune-up for a November 19 title shot against current belt-holder Sergei Kovalev.  This was expected to be a walk over for Ward, and indeed it was, as he won every round although unable to put Brand on the canvas even once.

Saturday came around and I had no plan at all of going to the fight, but then I got to looking at tickets on StubHub and found a floor seat for a not-awful price.  Gail wanted to stay home, watch the Olympics and do jig saw puzzles, so a few clicks later I was printing my ticket, getting my camera and heading out.

Entering the Coliseum was the usual idiocy.  They are very concerned about cameras, even the little Sony I was carrying.  I know they won’t allow a big camera with an interchangeable lens, so I carry the pocket size one, and still the bozo wanted to know how far the lens extends (3″ is their utterly arbitrary and nonsensical limit) and if it takes videos.  Every single person in the auditorium was carrying a cell phone that takes excellent video, but he was worried about my camera–which also takes video but if I admitted that he would make me take it back to my car.  He also wanted to know if I had a selfie-stick in my bag, which was plainly impossible.  Not all the bozos work for the TSA.

The seat was pretty decent, on the corner of the ring and close.  I was right next to the media pit, so I could see as well as many of the elite press, except for TV lights, cameras and monitors placed at the corner and blocking the view.

The view from a seat in section G

The view from a seat in section G.

I got there about 4:45.  The main event was to begin at 7:30.  There were pre-lims, but nobody was in any hurry; plenty of time in between fight to walk around and spectate.

The area where the fighters walk into the arena was on the far side of the ring; I went exploring to find a place to get some good photos.  That didn’t work, the ushers chased me off.  But I heard my name and found my friend Kunio Okui sitting in a great seat, dead center and about 7 rows up so he could see over the ring ropes.  Kunio is a huge sports fan who makes all the Warriors home games sitting right behind the bench. He owns seats in row A2, but often sells them because, as he says, he “can’t afford to sit in them”.  The Warriors sent him two tickets to the fights because he is a great customer, and he was sitting in the best seats in the house until somebody kicked him out.  I decided to join him.  Life is who you know.

It’s a funny thing about fights–regardless of where you sit, the best view is straight up, on the Jumbotron hanging over the ring.  Here’s a shot of the first fight I saw, featuring two women.  The one from San Francisco won all four rounds (it’s never a surprise when the home town girl/boy wins the fight)

Home town girl in pink.

Home town girl in pink.

With lots of time between bouts, there was socializing.  Kunio and I got to know the women in front of us.  People are friendly here.

Kunio is the one in the middle.

Kunio is the one in the middle.

The preliminary fights included two first round KO’s, one of which left the loser out cold for quite a while a team of doctors made sure he wasn’t more severely injured.  The crowd cheered when he got up and walked out of the ring on his own power.

More people watching.  This mother and daughter were in the front row of their section.  They just caught my eye, and were quite amenable to having their picture taken.

Just a quiet mother/daughter evening.

Just a quiet mother/daughter evening.

Daughter won the prize for shoes, too.

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Now the travelling road show that is big time boxing started to move into high gear.  The media pit had filled up with the top writers from around the country.  The HBO hosts were taping inserts.  And the great Michael Buffer, the greatest boxing announcer of all time, was in the house in his white tuxedo.

The great Michael Buffer

The great Michael Buffer

The big lights on the ring went out and dramatic spotlights flashed around the arena, providing a dramatic backdrop for the HBO announcers to introduce the fight:
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The fight was on HBO, so the very loose timing became very tight.  The honor guard brought in the flag, some local singer struggled through the Star Spangled Banner, or most of it because she skipped a few verses.  The fighters made their entrance to a now very crowded ring.

Referee Jack Riess checks Alex Brands gloves

Referee Jack Riess checks Alex Brands gloves

 

Buffer introduces Andre Ward

Buffer introduces Andre Ward

The fight started.  The crowd went wild with every punch from Andre.  His nickname is S.O.G., son of God.  Ward is a straight shooting, church going family man without a hint of the evil, excess and corruption that so often has accompanied boxers.

Three minutes of action, a minute of rest and a chance for the Corona ring girls to strut around, pose for the crowd and sell a few beers.

A bit of eye candy to keep the crowd occupied

A bit of eye candy to keep the crowd occupied.  Lots of picture taking going on.

Plenty of action in the fight.  Ward is measured and scientific, the epitome of a boxer rather than a puncher.  Brand is wilder, reaching in with his punches trying to land a big one but never being able to seriously get past Ward’s defense.

Ward facing down Brand

Ward facing down Brand

The 12 rounds flew by, the scores were tallied and Andre Ward, as expected, pitched  12 round shutout and won by the unanimous score of 120-108.

There were still some things to see.  HBO commentators Jim Lampley and Bernard Hopkins were wrapping it up:

Boxers want to watch the stars, too.  The kid with the bright red hair in this photo is an up and coming 20 year old who is now 10-0 after issuing a devastating first round KO in the pre-lims.

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I’m not very good at recognizing celebrities.  There were any number of people I saw last night being besieged by the crowd to pose for pictures, and I have no idea who any of them are.  Here’s an example:

 

The guy on the left is some semi-important boxer.  I think.

The guy on the left is some semi-important boxer. I think.  Took photos with many, many people.

 

The bad part of being in the good seats is getting out–you’re the furthest from the doors and behind the crowd.  Being in no hurry I got to wander around, watch the happenings, find an elevator and head home at my own unhurried pace.  I even found a place to take a shot of the rapidly emptying arena, collapsing like a leaky balloon with all the energy of the evening flowing away.

After the ball is over...

After the ball is over…

The November 19 title bout with Kovalev will likely be in Las Vegas.  I wonder if Kunio can get great seats?

 

 

 

The Gallery Scene

An opening tonight at my favorite photo gallery in SF, RayKo.  Which is also a place to take classes, buy equipment, rent lenses or darkrooms or specialized printers.  It’s sort of the center of the photography culture in the City.

The photos on display were all interesting, but nothing that would change your life.  What interested me more was the “scene”, the people watching.

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Good light, high ceilings, it’s a great gallery.  Not bad for socializing, either.

 

RayKo hangs prints along two long corridors, and they fill up with the crowds, who aren’t necessarily all that interested in looking at them.  People come here to network, socialize, meet and greet, drink, eat and hunt for sex.  It’s great.

There is one particular species that always amuses me.  You can always find men wearing very expensive cameras, not taking pictures, who I categorize as “Hello.  I have a Leica.  Want to have sex?”  The Leica (which costs over $10,000 with lens) is invariably worn diagonally with a thin black leather strap.

I presume that these cameras must get some actual use.  Perhaps these two guys are famous photojournalists.  Somehow, though, I’ve never seen a woman wearing a Leica that way at an opening……….

There are other people there who genuinely love to take pictures, and are using their cameras.  I saw this man with a very beat up, not expensive, camera taking pictures of people, just for his own entertainment.  He said he just loves doing it, he’s never happier than when he’s taking photos.

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Uncomfortable at being on the wrong end of the lens.

There is some unwritten rule that openings must have raw veggies and dip, brie, and hummus with pita.  If you aren’t there early, though:

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Snacks don’t last long.

There is wine, too.  They sell it for a few bucks a glass, making a bit of profit for the cause.  I heard that they had run out, which is a bad thing because then people leave.  The woman I was standing next to then raced to the bar to check on the calamity, and was somehow able to score another glass.  I don’t think it was her second.  Maybe not her third.  I did like her hairdo, though.

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Safe!!! Got another glass of wine.

Leaving, I noticed a modern trend–people standing on the street with their phones in their hand, waiting for their Uber to arrive.  I’m not sure what is happening with this person, whose car had just arrived.  Is he (she?) a vampire?  Michael Jackson impersonator?  Allergic to sunlight?  Yet another “only in San Francisco” moment.

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It might be a a happy coincidence that the car has darkened windows.

If you haven’t been to gallery openings, you ought to give them a try.  Cheap wine, free snacks, good art and fabulous people watching.  If you have a Leica in your closet, even better.

Visiting the Mother Ship

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On F St. in Washington, just a few blocks from the Capitol and the White House, is what I consider to be the best pen store in the country.  There was no way I was going to D.C. and not make a pilgrimage.  Last week, Jerry and I took some time in the morning to visit.  The store is only a block from the Metro, but that was far enough for me to get hot and sticky in the steamy blast furnace that is Washington in July.

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Fahrney’s has been a fixture of the nation’s capitol since 1929.  They sell and service the very best in fine writing implements, which can run to many thousand dollars if you want a pen with an infusion of Abraham Lincoln’s DNA.  They also sell fine stationery, collectible autographs, watches and men’s jewelry.

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Really, really nice pens. My birthday is in February.

These fine writing instruments are works of art, often inlaid with precious metals and stones.  The best nibs are gold, because it is so flexible.  I think some of them should come with their own bodyguard.

I use fountain pens because I have such bad handwriting and the heavy pen and strong drag of the nib across the paper slow me down enough my scrawl is at least somewhat legible.

Fahrney’s doesn’t just sell pens, they repair them.  They have a repairman who has worked there since Ronald Reagan was president, and I doubt that there is a more capable man in the nation.

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Where all the best pens come to be fixed.

When I break something, I send it across the country to Fahrney’s to be fixed.  Sometimes, when Gail has an obscure pen we can’t find a filler for, (she prefers ballpoints and rollerballs), we’ll send the whole damn pen to Washington so they can get us the right part. Fahrney’s has never failed us.

I bought a pen for myself and two for Gail, along with a goodly supply of various sizes of ink cartridge for my pen collection, and two bottles of ink for the more old fashioned pens.  Then Jerry and I took a cab back to the hotel and placed 31st in a national event.  That’s what I call a good day.

 

 

 

Oh Lord, stuck in Big D again

Yep, I’m on my way home from the nationals in Washington DC, my plane was late out of Reagan National this morning so I missed my connection and here I sit for a couple of extra hours.

I’ve been incommunicado the last 4 days because the Omni Shoreham hotel in DC has the lousiest wi-fi system in the universe.  I could have stayed at the Motel 6 (if there was one in Washington) and had better connectivity.  Rarely do I bother to actually check out of a hotel, but this morning I made of point of making damn sure they didn’t charge me for the wi-fi they didn’t provide.  Didn’t forget to mention the balcony covered in cigarette butts that I had to yell at the front desk to get cleaned, either.  I’m not a fan of the Omni Shoreham.

The tournament went decently.  Mike, Frank Lowenthal, Jerry Weitzner and I placed 31st overall in the Truscott Senior Swiss teams.  Mike and I did not qualify for the second day of the Wehrner Open pairs, but then we had a decent day in a regional event, taking 12th overall after a great first session and a weak second session.

There is plenty for me to catch up on from our New York trip.  I think I’ll begin at the end and talk about the train ride to Washington.

There is a fast train, the Acela.  There is a slower, regional train that makes more stops and costs quite a bit less.  I thought this was the best plan because I wanted to look out the window and see everything I could–sometimes slower is better.

The trains leave from Penn Station, about 10  blocks south of Times Square.  It’s a pleasure to just go in without bothering about the security theater of the TSA.  You look on the big chattering board, find your train and wait to see where it boards.

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Notice that every train is on time. The crowds are waiting to see what track their train is on.

The train station is otherwise much like the airport–souvenir stands and places to eat.  Train announcements like Mel Blanc on the Jack Benny show calling out Anaheim, Azuza and Cucamonga.

Here is the security:

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One cop wandering around with a dog, who may or may not be able to sniff explosives.  Or drugs.  Or something.

The people watching is great.  These two guys may represent the apotheosis of the hipster beard, this years fad among the tragically hip:
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Three and a half hours of watching New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland roll past brought us to Union Station, DC.  Gas was $1.89 in Jersey.  It’s all green.  There are a lot of old cars in backyards along the railroad tracks.

Washington was hideously hot.  By the time I left there had been 5 consecutive days where the temperature stayed above 80º, day and night.  Finally, some serious thunderstorms broke the heat wave down to merely unbearable.

Time to go, I can only enjoy DFW so long.

A full day

It’s late, I’m tired and we have too much fun to prepare for tomorrow, so I’m skipping the review of the play we saw tonight, An American in Paris.  I liked it, thought the dancing was fabulous, wasn’t all that engaged in what little story it contained.

We went out to dinner after the show, and the most memorable part was the men’s room.  You don’t see attendants in California anymore.  I wondered if the attendant here was getting paid or if he had to pay the restaurant for the concession–this is New York, nothing is free.

He wouldn’t let me take his photo, but here is the counter full of goodies available to the well groomed gentleman.  Come out of the back, and he turns on the tap and then hands you paper towels.  You can choose a cologne, have a mint or a cigarette, try a bit of candy.  The whole process is anachronistic as hell, but kind of amusing.  Except that it costs you a buck (more for big spenders) just to tinkle. I guess he makes a pretty good living for doing mostly nothing.

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Amazingly, the windows in our room open, if only a little bit.  But far enough for me to get my arm and camera out and pointed down.  This is what Times Square looks like at midnight, from the 37th floor.

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That’s a whole lot of people just wandering around at midnight in the sweaty hot night.

Technique is overrated

We visited the Met Breuer (pronouced Broyer) museum today to see the Diane Arbus exhibit (pronounced dEEan.  She was particular about that), In the Beginning.   It is worth a trip to New York all by itself.

The Met Breuer is uptown, at 945 Madison.  It’s a small museum, dedicated to modern and contemporary art.  Because we have so often found excellent restaurants, we went at noon, only to be disappointed by what is essentially a coffee bar, and went across the street for a thoroughly pedestrian lunch.

Returning to the museum, we went straight to the Arbus exhibition and were promptly enthralled by a show of her early work, each photo placed on a separate column in random order–this is a show of beginnings, not a progression.

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Met Breuer, 2nd floor. The admiring throngs for the exhibit Diane Arbus: In the Beginning.

I was enraptured.  Arbus is one of the great photographers, able to create imagery that seems to get at the very soul of her subjects, who she might just have seen on the street for an instant.  Many street shooters attempt to hide the fact that they are taking photos, even going to the extent of using a lens with a mirror attached at 45º so they weren’t facing the subject.  Arbus, in contravention of that aesthetic, clearly chose to actively engage with her subjects–many of them are looking directly into the lens, fully engaged with the photographer and the image.

I read photo books and blogs and magazines, and there is a huge cult of technique that is obsessed with the sharpest possible photos, taken on sturdy tripods and carefully focused to get the last tiny iota of perfection.  Arbus was not of this school in the least, and her work does not suffer for it.

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Woman in a black with a pearl choker, NYC 1956

This photo is out of focus.   So what?  The moment is there, the emotion, the feeling.  A little better focus wouldn’t change the value of the image at all.

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Elderly woman whispering to her dinner partner, Grand Opera Ball, NYC 1959

Poorly focused, blurred by a slow shutter, terribly grainy.  And a great picture.

OK, that’s my point.  The subject, and the photographers relation thereto, is more important that peeping into the tiny intricacies of perfect sharpness and definition.  Diane Arbus shows us the way.

 

Just for amusement, I noticed this picture.  Shot in Times Square, it shows a bible thumper working the crowd, with probably no more success than the sign carrier I posted last night. Plus ça change, plus ça meme chose.

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Sometime you just have to take the picture.

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And here’s the whole gang waiting for me to finish dawdling over the great photos.

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We’re going to see An American in Paris tonight.  More to come.

 

Seeing the Elephant

That’s an old fashioned phrase for going to the big city, and we’re in the biggest city, New York, for a weekend of theater and visiting with the young master, who has flown in from Tel Aviv with his girlfriend, the beautiful Léa, just to see us.  And Hamilton, for which we have tickets for the Saturday matinee.

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Arriving in the evening, the first order of business was dinner.  We went to Bobby Van’s, a classic kind of New York place, all heavy wood, thick linen and obsequious service.

In California I usually have the fish or pasta, but it seemed right to switch to beef here.  Toby and I decided to share the 37 ounce porterhouse steak, and it was magnificent.  Three or four of us could have shared it.

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Poetry in protein. Sirloin to the left of the bone, filet to the right.

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A slab of beef like this deserves two photos.

 

Kate and Brad both chose another East Coast heart-attack-on-a-plate, the steak Oscar.  A filet topped with crab, asparagus and hollandaise.

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I don’t know who Oscar was, but I like the way he thinks.

 

Gail could not pass up the chili, and thought it was one of the best she had ever enjoyed.

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Bobby Van’s signature chili.

 

We sat and enjoyed for over 2 hours, then tottered back to the Doubletree Suites, which is right smack dab in the middle of Times Square, across from the W and the Marriott Marquis.  As usual, the Travel Goddess did right by us.

Gail was ready to hit the sack, but I had to go out with my little Sony camera and see the people.  It’s stunning how big the crowds are at 11 pm on a Thursday night, and how many of them have little children along.

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Traffic is bumper to bumper pretty much all of the time.

The famous steps are full of tourists just chilling, doing nothing, taking a rest and watching the mobs.

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This young woman spoke mainly Spanish, but she has the right spirit.

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The modern day Miss Liberty.

No trip is complete without a religious fanatic or two.  Somebody has to remind the sinners to repent, or something.

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Speaking of sinners, the latest thing here are young women wearing tiny thongs and body paint, who pose for photos for money.  Just what is the difference, really, between a lace top and a thick coat of paint?  Is there some moral requirement to cover oneself in cloth?  Some people get quite exercised over these women, who aren’t (I don’t think) doing anything wrong.  I hope they’re all working on their doctorates at NYU or Cooper Union.

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Can’t complain about a good patriotic paint job, can you?

 

This, after all, is why I ♥ NY

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Tomorrow we go to museums and then a play to be chosen later.  Stay tuned

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