New York City: Birdland, Carnegie Deli and the SCBWI

The splash of neon technicolor, assaulting your sockets in high-speed flicker…

The smell of kabob-wielding, hot-dog-slinging, sushi-slicing street vendors…

Welcome to the town of Hi-Fi fashion and low-brow knock-offs, where even the garbage seems like a sort of necessary accessory. It’s loud and crowded and crazy–and I love it. How can you not? In one city block I can eat the food of 14 countries. Not, of course, that this is the only reason to go out and about in New York. It just happens to be a very tasty one (and if you read this blog often, you will know I have a culinary weakness).

I actually went to NYC on business. I write YA fiction (Gothic fantasy, to be more precise), and the Society for Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) held its annual Winter Conference at the Grand Hyatt in Midtown. I stayed at the Dylan–just around the block from Grand Central Station and within walking distance of just about everything (Empire State Building, for instance, or even Central Park if you are wearing good shoes). The conference itself was a wonderful networking opportunity, a place to meet editors, agents and other writers. I take such things very seriously in my line of work. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t get around town!

First, Birdland. A jazz club, Birdland opened (in its original location) sixty years ago with Charlie Parker as headliner. It was a hang out for Beats in the 1920s, and on Thursday last, I saw Tierney Sutton. She and her band are up for two Grammy awards this year, and in addition to being a truly talented vocalist, Tierney (once a Wisconsinite) is incredibly funny, very entertaining, and just plain nice. Check out their website:

While there, Mark and I had two lovely doses of scotch on the rocks…though, we probably should have taken on something more festive. The bartender ran a tight ship, and at one point we both shouted (loudly and in tandem) “there’s a man who knows how to pour a drink!” It was a brilliant beginning to the trip.

Next stop, Carnegie Deli. Founded in 1937, the Deli serves sandwiches of unusual size and dimension–a brick, a virtual door stop of meat–enough to put even the most dedicated carnivore into a cardiac-clogging, protein-induced coma. Naturally, we could not pass up the challenge. It is possible to get a stack of deli meat taller than your average kindergartner, but having been forewarned by a Food Network special a few years ago, we opted for something a little lighter. The “Woody Allen”–pastrami and corned beef just about the same size as my head.  Note the way Mark demonstrates proper technique. Poor man. He had to eat most of it. I enjoy a side of beef as much as the next person…but not usually in one sitting.

We also spent our Fridays walking. A lot. New York City is not nearly as intimidating as it seems from the air–it is huge, but the grid makes tremendous sense. It is actually difficult to get lost once you have the hang of basic direction (though I did get turned around at Time Square once). We opted to travel above ground and take in the sights, so we took the long way from Grand Central to Central Park. Sadly, it was raining a good bit of the time (turning my hair into a strange Medusa like creature). The weather was warm, however, and the clouds made for interesting photos.

I have always liked Central Park. It has appeared in numerous movies–after all, it is very photogenic. Here are a few shots from the lake and from the bridge. For those who haven’t been, it makes for interesting juxtaposition shots.

In fact, there are places where the city seems to lift right up out of the park… A Rip Van Winkle experience of wandering through trees and undergrowth, only to arrive in ultra modern city street sounds.

I wonder what the park squirrels think of their noisy neighbors?

I left the park for Union Square to meet an old schoolfellow, and then cabbed back in time to change for the show. What show, you ask? But really, need you? One of the longest running shows on Broadway beckoned…

Phantom of the Opera is based on a horror novel from 191o. Andrew Lloyd Weber composed the musical and it opened in the West End in 1986. It has been performed at the Majestic for 25 years this year–which attests to its power. I have seen it on Broadway twice now, and I’ve been humming “Masquerade” and “Music of the Night” for days. Mark has been to many operas with me in the past (because he loves me, not because he has a penchant for Puccini), but wasn’t sure what to expect from a musical about an opera. I am convinced that he enjoyed it, however, as he elbowed me and nodded vigorous smiles between scenes. Of course, as we are both evil kings (long story, old joke), we naturally sympathize with the villains. In Phantom, however, you are not alone in this proclivity. Especially as this year’s performer, Hugh Panaro, has a voice that rings with near-supernatural clarity.

This completed the non-work portion of the trip. I spent Saturday splendidly, however. I always return from SCBWI energized and ready for the next plunge into revision or writing–and this year was no different. The speakers were engaging and enthusiastic…and Henry Winkler (yes, the Fonze) stopped by, too, just for a giggle. The Saturday event concluded with a gala, and the gala concluded with every flavor of cupcake on earth. Did you know NYC was famous for cupcakes? Shame of me for not mentioning it sooner. The next time you need a wedding-cake-white, gently moist and spongy, filled with perfectly sweetened raspberry preserve and topped with a white butter-cream indulgence for the five senses… you know where to go. New York, New York–truly, a wonderful town!

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