Big Apple Visit

#YeahYouWrite at Bo’s Kitchen and Barroom

Between two appearances in Virginia—see this post for details—I jetted (trained? railed?) up to New York City for a few days. The main purpose for the trip was another reading, which I did at Bo’s Kitchen and Barroom in the #YeahYouWrite series. This was a blast. There were five readers—Will Allison, Jonathan Durbin, Kelly Fordon, Myla Goldberg, and me—reading a wide variety of things. Kelly read a dramatic monologue adapted from one of her poems, Will and Jon read from novels they’re working on, and Myla and I read from our recently published novels.

But the fun part came before and after the readings, when the series organizer, Lisa Kristel, debuted cocktails she designed for each of us. My cocktail—the “Straw Man”—was totally an inside joke that could only be understood by someone who had read my novel closely: vodka (a substitute for the Korean liquor soju), persimmon puree, lemon juice, and gochujang (or sriracha). Spicy! After the readings, we had a rapid-fire Q&A with Lisa asking lots of clever questions. The place was packed and appreciative and, as I said, the event was a blast.

The reading came in the middle of my visit, though. On Monday night—my train arrived mid-afternoon—I went to see The Phantom of the Opera. Most theaters are dark on Monday nights, so there weren’t a lot of choices, but the show—now the longest running show on Broadway—is iconic and I’d never seen it, although I knew a few of its songs. And I did enjoy the show, although it seems dated (it opened in 1988) and the music all seemed the same. At this point it’s a tourist attraction more than real theater.

On Tuesday I visited the Morgan Library, which I’d never been to before. That was excellent. There were special exhibits on Walt Whitman, Maurice Sendak, Hogarth etchings, and varieties of the group photograph. Plus the library itself with Morgan’s collection of amazing books, including 3 Gutenberg Bibles (one of which was displayed under glass).

Because Koreatown wasn’t far away, I headed there for lunch (dumplings at the Mandoo Bar) and to see if there was a Korean bookshop, which there was. The reason I wanted the store was to confirm something I was curious about, which, I’m happy to say, I was able to do. For the Tuesday night reading, as I mentioned above, Lisa had designed a soju (소주) cocktail. She had suggested that we might want to write a poem about our cocktail and, because ancient Korean poetry is relevant to my novel, I chose a traditional Korean form, the sijo (시조)—and note the similarity between the two words, although they are linguistically unrelated. Anyway, I wanted to be sure I knew the Chinese characters for sijo, as the form is related to ancient Chinese poetry. When I lived in Korea in the 1970s and studied Korean, Chinese characters were widely used to supplement the Korean phonetic alphabet, but usage of Chinese characters these days has declined in Korea. So I was pleased when the young Korean clerk in the bookstore was able to help me (although he must have thought I was nuts). Anyway, the answer is: 诗调 (pronounced shi diao in Mandarin). (But note: those are the “simplified” versions of these characters, as used in China. Korea uses the traditional version: 詩調.) Aren’t you glad you asked?

With my language mission accomplished and my umbrella not providing much protection from the steady rain, I went back to my hotel to rest for the evening’s activities and to practice/time my reading to be sure I was keeping it under ten minutes. The rain stopped and I walked from my hotel down to Chelsea where I was meeting a friend for a drink before the reading. By the time we left for Bo’s Kitchen, just a block away, it was pouring, but by the time the event was done the rain had stopped again and I had a nice walk home.

Wednesday was big. From my hotel I walked down 9th Avenue on my way to the Whitney Museum, hoping to find a coffee shop on the way. What I found was the biggest Starbucks I’d ever seen (Starbucks Reserve) so I stopped there and had an amazing coffee and watched some coffee being roasted. Then it was a short walk to the museum where I saw their Biennial exhibit. I’m not a huge fan of most contemporary art, but I enjoyed looking at everything on display there. Then I went back north a few blocks to the Rubin Museum. The Rubin displays Himalayan art—basically Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and Northern India—so it was a nice continuation of my visit to the VMFA’s Tibet exhibit from the previous week. I loved my visit there and will plan to return. From there I headed south and east to The Strand because there was a book I wanted to get, and then began the walk back to the hotel. I considered taking the subway, which I enjoy, but I also love seeing the sights and smells of the city and I had plenty of time.

After a rest, I met a friend for coffee, then I found a place for pre-show dinner, and then . . . Hamilton. Because of the hype surrounding this show, I was prepared to be disappointed, but I came away a believer. Everything about it was stunning—the set, the lighting, the choreography, and of course the amazing music and lyrics performed in spectacular fashion. I’m so glad I saw it. (Tip: seats in the Front Mezzanine are excellent because you can see more than you would if you were in the orchestra seats.)

Next morning, after a New York diner breakfast, I headed for Penn Station and the train ride home.

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