Countdown to London

“As a foreigner in London, I like that there are so many other foreigners.”
David Sedaris

How lucky are AAC CPA and I?

For the 3rd time this year, we’re on our way to London. This trip came about thanks to a blog entry by The Points Guy a few months ago giving us the skivvy that fares were being slashed to Europe over the holidays. If you happened to be an AARP member (reminder: you don’t need to be 50 to join AARP, just sayin’) and, for instance, went through the AARP website to a dedicated British Airways link, you automatically got a $400 per person discount. Added to that, we cashed in some Avios miles to save even more money.

How could we not go?

TRAVEL TIP: The Points Guy

In the event, we’re leaving early Sunday morning, will arrive early evening local time, Heathrow Express our way into central London and be at the Shangri-La at the Shard in time for a late supper with our friends A & K, who will have arrived the day before. As I said, how lucky are we?

We also got lucky with a special promotion through the AmEx FHR program. Although we’d already booked a return visit to the Shangri-La, it turns out that, thanks to AmEx, you can pay for 2 nights and get the 3rd for free. Our awesome AmEx travel agent, Veronica, was happy to rebook the reservation so that we could take advantage of this offer. The only fly in the ointment is that we’re planning to be in London for 6 nights, and the hotel refused to let us use the promotion twice on this visit. Other hotels do it all the time but not the Shangri-La. Good thing it’s a really nice hotel or we’d be very miffed. (Well, maybe we are, just a wee bit.)

Shangri-LaTime for a return visit to the Shangri-La

TRAVEL TIP: AmEx FHR Program

TRAVEL TIP: Once you’ve booked your hotel reservation(s), go back every so often either to the hotel’s website or the AmEx FHR website and check for better deals. I’d say that there’s an excellent chance that you’ll find a lower rate or, even, a promotion like the one we’re taking advantage of next week. If you have the forbearance (and the time, of course), you may end up saving significantly on your hotel bill.

“In London they don’t like you if you’re still alive.”
Harvey Fierstein

Before we pulled the trigger on the airfare deal, I checked to see if we could score tickets to, arguably, the biggest theatre deal in London this fall: the revival of Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory. At the time, I went to the theatre’s website to check on availability and found that tickets didn’t go on sale to the general public until the following day. Call it my cultural sixth sense, but I decided that I had to get tickets right then so, for a modest donation to the Chocolate Factory, I was able to select prime seats (well, in a 188-seat theatre, I guess that ALL seats are prime), for a little more than tuppence. Having taken care of that task, we went ahead and booked the air tickets. Thank you, AARP; thank you, British Airways; thank you, Avios miles. (And thank you, Chocolate Factory!)

And, wouldn’t you know, when general public seating opened the following day, the entire engagement sold out within 2 hours!! The Chocolate Factory had never seen anything like it. Ever!!

So even if you can’t obtain tickets at the Chocolate Factory to see the show, don’t despair – before it even started previews, a transfer to the West End was announced! And, if you’ve never been to the Chocolate Factory, you really should pay a call. It’s a great space and some amazing productions have started there.

Chocolate Factory

CULTURE TIP: Menier Chocolate Factory

CULTURE TIP: Funny Girl at the Savoy

“London is too full of fogs and serious people. Whether the fogs produce the serious people, or whether the serious people produce the fogs, I don’t know.”
Oscar Wilde

As usual with our visits to London – I believe that this will be our 14th time there – we tend to book up heavily on the cultural side of things. This visit is no exception: 3 shows on the West End, the aforementioned FG at the Chocolate Factory, our first ever Panto (Cinderella at the Hammersmith), and another venue new to us: a Candlelight Christmas Eve Concert at the Royal Albert Hall. (AAC CPA has promised not to scream at the climactic part of the concert a la Doris Day in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.)

Doris Day
Doris Day or AAC CPA? You be the judge.

Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall

“London is a roost for every bird.”
Benjamin Disraeli

In between all the culture, there’s the eating. We’ve booked some fun meals at some of our old haunts, and I’ll be reporting on them as merrily we roll along. We’ve also been invited to join A & K for a holiday dinner with A’s family, as they reside in Merry Olde. We’re very flattered to be part of their family for that special evening.

The other fun thing is that, on Christmas Night in London, the very final episode of Downton Abbey will be telecast and we’ll be there to see it. (Don’t tell anyone, but we’ve already seen the final season and it’s GOOD! Shhhhhhhh!) We’re a bit sorry to see the series go, but it seems to be ending on a high note.

Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham
What would Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham say?

I’ll try to post a couple of entries while we’re across the pond to let you know how it’s going.

In the meantime, I hope that all of you are enjoying a happy and healthy holiday season.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

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Thursday: St. Maarten, Thanksgiving and Why I’m Thankful

Greetings from sunny St. Maarten. And happy Thanksgiving to those of you who observe/celebrate it. AAC CPA and I went into town for all of 15 minutes to purchase some Belgian chocolates as a gift for our wonderful concierge, Jola. She has taken such good care of us. Then we got back on board as quickly as possible. The ship is fun today because most of the passengers are off exploring and we have the run of the place. Woo-hoo!

St Maarten
A gorgeous St. Maarten beach

Our butler, Alex, has already been here to start setting up for our Thanksgiving feast, as we’re hosting our group chez nous. We’ll be 8 for dinner. Alex did a preliminary setup, and he’ll be back later to put the finishing touches together. We’ll start with cocktails and hors d’eauvres at 7:00, followed by the all the Thanksgivings fixings at 7:30, served buffet style, as I want everyone to have as much or as little of everything that they desire. Pumpkin pies for dessert, natch. I, of course, have already started my prep work and the turkey just went into the oven. (Truth or dare?)

Celebrity Child
True or false: Is this me prepping the turkey?

So is Thanksgiving a day of reflection for you? Do you take stock and count your blessings? Or is it just another day where we all eat too much and pay for it on Friday?

For me, I tend to be overly-analytical about everything in life so today’s just another day to do more of the same.

However, in these dark and dangerous times, I think it’s a good idea to consider who and where I am at this point in my life. Am I measuring up? Do I have what it takes? Am I headed on the right path?

Here’s where it stands for me:

I have AAC CPA and we both have our health. That’s first and foremost. Added to that, we’re extremely fortunate to have the resources that allow us to live this lovely life (which, in turn, provides fodder for this blog) which we never ever take for granted. We have the added blessing of getting along famously with both of our families (I think that may be a rare thing), and a circle of friends, who keep us amused and on our toes. And, I think, there’s real affection there, too.

We have very good and dear friends in London – they know who they are – who just had a bit of a close shave in the London tube. Thankfully, they’re all right and nothing really terrible happened. But they wrote to tell us about it and to ask if we were having 2nd thoughts about our upcoming trip to London. (Yes, gentle readers, we’re somehow returning to London – our 3rd time this year!! More on that very soon.) I replied with no hesitation whatsoever that we wouldn’t dream of cancelling our trip. We love London and the thought of spending Christmas there is simply irresistible.

And herein is the real thing for which I’m most grateful today: AAC and I live in NYC and were there on that terrible day in September 2001. Then and there, we made a vow to each other that we would never put off anything that we wanted to do, whether it was to read that book, see that play, try that new restaurant, or get on a plane or ship and hit the road. In these uncertain times, we try not to live in fear but, rather, to live our lives fully and enjoy them to the best of our abilities.

I didn’t mean for this post to turn into any kind of sermon, so mea culpa if it came off that way. It’s just my way of saying how truly lucky and blessed we are.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Tomorrow: We’re back at sea!!

 

 

HEY, CUMBERBITCHES!!!!!

From the uRbaN Dictionary:

Cumberbitch:

“1. Any woman who has a deep fascination with the wonderful, beautiful, talented English stage and on-screen actor Benedict Cumberbatch.
“2. A reference given to people who admire the beautiful features of Benedict Cumberbatch. Ex- his green eyes, beautiful cheekbones, sexy tousled hair.
“3. Can be proper ladies, or “dirty ladies” and everyone in between.”

Well, I guess that just about says it all, huh?

I mention Cumberbitches today, because they will be out in force tonight for the National Theatre Live’s international broadcast of the Bard’s Hamlet from the stage of the Barbicon in London, starring you-know-who in the title role. When this production was announced in 2014, tickets sold so quickly that, if you blinked, you missed out. This is what’s known as “an event”, probably with a capital “E”. We all know about them – celebrity actor comes to town to star in a play for a limited amount of time. General huzzahs and, perhaps, some grumpy comments abound, but still the show sells out in record time and a lot of money is made for a lot of people.

Check out the official website for the production:

Hamlet at the Barbicon

Does Mr. Cumberbatch have the goods to deliver a performance for the ages? Or are we placing unreasonable expectations on him that cannot possibly be met?

Benedict
Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet

What did the critics have to say about him (and the production) that officially opened in August? And were you aware that some pervy press critics – you know who you are: The Times and Daily Mail reviewers!!! – showed up at the first public performance to have their say? Not fair, I protest!

Naughty Critics Review 1st Preview

But what about the critics who attended the “first night”? Here’s a quick compendium of reviews:

Smattering of 1st Night Reviews

If you want to make up your own mind and attend the broadcast, check out the ticket situation and let us know what you think.

See It For Yourself!

AAC CPA and I will be at a theatre in New York City tonight to see it and “him” for ourselves. And, yes, we bought our tickets months ago.

Uh-oh: Does that make us Cumberbitches?

Travel Fantasy: Let’s Fly Around the World

NOTE: If you’re not a travel wonk (and totally obsessed) as I am, you may not enjoy this post at all – or your eyes may glaze over or, worse, get permanently crossed. Proceed AYOR!!

So, how did I not know about this one? It was only a couple of months ago that a good friend (and fellow obsessed traveler) – AB-M – told me that there is this thing called “Round the World Air Fares” that is offered by the 3 airline alliances: One World (American Airlines), Sky Team (Delta) and Star Alliance (United).

It works like this:

You go to a dedicated website, input your itinerary and class of service, choose your flights, and off you go. What’s really interesting is that there don’t seem to be any blackout dates and the round-the-world fare is deeply discounted by comparison to what you might spend if you were purchasing each travel segment separately. You can also choose which class of service in which you want to fly: economy, business or first class – it’s all there for the taking.

There are a few caveats: you must fly in one direction, you must cross both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and there will be a minimum and maximum number of flight segments you are allowed. There are time rules, also, but they tend to be very liberal.

Cathay Pacific
Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

So how much will this flight of fancy cost us? Very generally speaking:

Economy: About $4,600 per person
Business: About $9,900 per person
First: About $15,300 per person

By way of comparison, let’s suppose you wanted to fly around the world, but paid for each segment individually without choosing the round-the-world fare. How much would it cost you:

Economy: About $13,650 per person
Business: About $27,700 per person
First: About $43,500 per person (whaaaat?)

If you were so-inclined to fly round-the-world, there is a huge savings to book the tickets via one of these airline alliances, right?

Since AAC CPA and I have gold status for life on American Airlines, we tend to go with them for most of our air travel, when we can. Having said that, our gold status gives us basically: NOTHING. And, since we fly mostly on miles, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for us to achieve Platinum or Executive Platinum status. Boo-Hoo!

Anyway, I got it into my head that it would be really cool to fly around the world. So, just for fun, I’ve developed the following itinerary and tried it out on all 3 airline alliances to see how it would shake out.

Here’s my fantasy – and slightly bizarre – itinerary:

New York (JFK) to Hong Kong (HKG)
Hong Kong to Tel Aviv/Jerusalem (TLV)
Tel Aviv to Paris (CDG or ORY)
Paris to London (LHR)
London to New York (JFK)

Why did I choose these particular locales? Well, we’ve never been to Hong Kong and I’ve heard amazing things about flying on Cathay Pacific (which is part of the One World Alliance). Tel Aviv? I haven’t been to Israel since the last millennium and AAC has never been. Plus, I’ve heard rumors that Cathay Pacific may inaugurate nonstop flights from Hong Kong to Tel Aviv next year. (Do I detect a theme here?) Paris and London are no-brainers, as they’re two of our favorite cities and are sort of on the way home. Actually we’ve been to those 2 cities so many times that they almost ARE home.

I started with the One World Explorer website:

One World Alliance

Under Round-the-World fares, choose oneworld Explorer and go from there. The interface is very user-friendly, and it’s and all difficult to play with it.

Warning – here comes the real wonky part:

Starting with JFK – HKG, no problem. Cathay Pacific flies a daily nonstop. 16 hours!! But we’ve heard that it’s a great airline and you’ll be well treated.

Plus – and fellow-wonks, this is IMPORTANT – the Cathay Pacific flight also operates as a codeshare on American Airlines. So if, for instance, you’re in American’s AAdvantage Mileage Program and you can book the flight using the codeshare, you should be entitled to AA miles (in addition to bonus miles if you’re flying in a premium cabin). Woo-Hoo!

Cathay Pacific
Cathay Pacific First Class Suite

Hong Kong
Let’s go to Hong Kong!!

From HKG – TLV, at the present time (until Cathay Pacific initiates nonstop service), the best way to fly is Cathay Pacific to London (LHR), and then onwards to TLV on British Airways. (We’re also enrolled in BA’s Executive Club, so we should pick up some Avios miles on the 2nd segment.) Total travel time here is about 20 hours (ouch!!) whereas, if you can fly from HKG – TLV nonstop, it’s more like 12 hours. For what it’s worth, the HKG – TLV segment on Cathay Pacific is in 1st class, and the LHR – TLV segment is in business class. If Cathay Pacific eventually flies nonstop from HKG – TLV, it’s been rumored that the only premium cabin will be business class.

Tel Aviv
Let’s hit the beach in Tel Aviv!

Jerusalem
Jerusalem by night.

dead-sea
Or a dip in the Dead Sea?

(Are your eyes glazing over yet??)

After our week in the Holy Land, it’s off to chic Paris. In the One World Alliance, this is kind of a stinker itinerary, as you have to fly through LHR on British Airways, change planes and then to Paris. Instead of a 4 – 5 hour nonstop (if it were available), you’re now facing total travel time of 8½ hours. This is one of the compromises of flying within one of these airline alliances and a core lesson to learn: you can’t always get from point “A” to point “B” without making a few stops along the way.

AAC - Paris
AAC CPA in Paris – May, 2015

Paris to London is no biggie – now it’s an easy 80-minute flight from CDG to LHR. After what you’re already been through, this is nothing!

AAC-London
AAC CPA does London – May, 2015

Finally, on the flight back to New York, you have 2 options: either fly on American Airlines, which has 3 nonstops every day (but only 1 with a first class cabin), or British Airways. Again, if you want to collect AAdvantage miles, go with AA. If you want Avios, BA is your man.

When I attempted this itinerary on the Star Alliance (United) and Sky Team (Delta) websites, there were immediate problems. If, for instance, you wanted to fly in first class, almost all of the Star Alliance flight options were downgraded to business class, so it would make sense to choose “business class” as your class option and save thousands of dollars (duh?). Additionally, because of this particular itinerary, in some cases there were as many as 2 changes of plane to get from one city to another. That doesn’t sound like fun.

And, not for nothing, did you realize that – once you’ve completed your circumnavigation of the planet – there’s even a club for you to join:

Circumnavigators Club

Yes, it’s the vrai – a special club for special people!!

So here are the takeaways:

  1. If you want to fly round-the-world, use an airline alliance to book your ticket – the savings will be HUGE and you won’t have to worry about things like blackout periods; and
  2. As you think about your specific itinerary, be aware that each alliance has its pros and cons with respect their favored cities and the ease with which you can get from here to there.

But, in the end, it’s all about the adventure of travel and the idea of making a circumnavigation of our planet makes me kind of tingle.

So what is YOUR favorite itinerary on your round-the-world fantasy adventure?

Bon voyage!!

PS. Here are links to the other airline alliance websites for booking round-the-world fares:

Sky Team Alliance Round-the-World Fares (Delta Airlines)

Star Alliance Round-the-World Fares (United Airlines)

A Quick Check-In From London

Greetings, everyone. It’s just about 12:30 AM in London on a Sunday morning. We’re leaving in exactly 10 hours for Southampton where we’ll board Queen Mary 2 and I thought I’d give you a VERY quick check-in from our whirlwind day in London.

If you read my post from the other day, you’ll know that we had a fast and furious day here. Our flight landed Friday evening and it was non-stop since then.

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Our intrepid AAC CPA getting ready to fly

We got into our hotel room around 10:00 PM Friday evening and here’s a little look at our room. Quite nice.

Shangri-La Premiere Room
Premiere Room at the Shangri-La

And here’s what we saw when we awoke this morning:

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Good morning, St. Paul’s

After a lovely breakfast down at Ting Lounge, we were on the run. Off to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Audrey Hepburn Exhibit. While it wasn’t large, what was there was cherce. And we enjoyed it. And the place was filthy packed. I guess there are a lot of Hepburn fans out there. Us, too. She was a good woman.

From there, back to the Shangri-La for lunch with the aforesaid Lynne and Garry. It was so good to see them. We did have a bit of a kerfuffle at the restaurant, however. I must say that the hotel has some issues with service in the restaurants. Getting seated was a bit of an adventure, even with a reservation. And then we had the most leisurely lunch. Too leisurely, in fact. I mean, does it really take almost 2 hours for an appetizer and a burger? I mean it was wonderful visiting with good friends, but we were all getting a bit anxious about it all. We took it in stride but I may have to have a word with the manager before we leave, don’t you think?

Anyway, here are the lovely Garry and Lynne with our own AAC CPA:

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Garry, Lynne and AAC CPA

And check out Garry’s fashion statement:

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Garry is one stylish dude!!

Because lunch ran SO long, AAC CPA and I had to make a decision: nap or cocktails at the Corinthia. No chance to do both. For better (at least for our livers) or for worse, we opted for the nap. Good thing, too. We were out like lights!! Woke up in time to clean up and head out, over to the Duke of York’s Theatre.

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Duke of York’s Theatre

The theatre was packed, a hit in the making.

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A little unauthorized pre-show activity – shhhhh!

So, what did we think of the show? Enjoyed it – marvelous cast and production, didn’t really fulfill our expectations, and that’ll teach us to have expectations!! Actually, as AAC CPA says, sometimes you need to sleep on it and see how you feel the next day. We’ll get back to you on it.

Intermission was interesting, however – look at the entrance to the bar:

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Finding Neverland, anybody?I

Got out of the play and walked over to The Ivy – one of our favorite London establishments. We always feel so welcome there and the place has a great vibe.

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The Ivy, all gussied up on a Saturday nightI

And, here’s our own AAC CPA enjoying his evening out:

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AAC CPA after his 1st cocktail

And, so that was our day in London. Have to be up and out in the morning for our drive down to Southampton, where we’ll embark Queen Mary 2 bound for lil’ ‘ol New York.

Next time you hear from me, we’ll be somewhere on the Atlantic!

Good night, Mrs. Kalabash, wherever you are!!

Leavin’ On A Jet Plane

Greetings from a beautifully sunny Thursday morning in New York City.

Packing is well-underway and we’re now less than 24 hours from lift-off to London. We’ve checked in for our flight (isn’t it great how we can load our boarding passes into our mobiles? I just LOVE that.), and we’re taking care of this ‘n that. Have to be up at 5:00 AM tomorrow to get ourselves out to the airport. But it’s great to be able to take an AM flight to London so that we arrive in the evening, have a light dinner, hit the sheets and then hit the streets first thing on Saturday (our only day there, as it turns out).

Speaking of which, remember how I said that we’re going to be in London for only about 36 hours before motoring to Southampton to board Queen Mary 2? And that our “dance card” is full, as they say? I thought it might be interesting to share our London itinerary with you for Saturday. Here goes:

Following a lovely (and included) breakfast at the Shangri-La at the Shard (courtesy of AmEx FHR Program) here’s how our day unfolds:

11:00 AM – We’re off and running to the National Portrait Gallery to see the “Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon” exhibit. For those of you who might be able to make it, the exhibit is on until October 18th.

Hepburn

CULTURE TIP:  Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon

After a leisurely stroll through the exhibit, we’re hoping to have time to drop by Anya Hindmarch (the bespoke store only a stone’s throw from Harrods), where we did some shopping last May. I needed a new travel portfolio (long story short: we got the referral from the Concierge at the Peninsula Hotel in Paris, and he was SO right), and got a beautiful one there. This store is amazing, even just to walk through to see their merchandise.

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AAC shops at Anya Hindmarch

SHOPPING TIP:  Anya Hindmarch

1:30 PM – Lunch back at the hotel – Ting – with our dear friends, Lynne & Garry. They are a lovely couple we’ve sailed with aboard the Crystal ships on several occasions. We have so much fun with them and it’s always a pleasure to be in their company.

Ting
Ting at the Shangri-La

3:45 – Nap!!!!!! (Is there anything better than an afternoon nappy?)

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From last May aboard Crystal Serenity

6:30 – Pre-Theatre cocktails at the Corinthia. The Bassoon Bar there is a must. I mentioned the other day that we’ve stayed at that property several times over the past few years. The hotel is perfectly placed: just 5 minutes from Trafalgar Square and the Strand and, in just a few minutes more, you’re on the West End. The bar is very snazzy. Last time we were there, the manager (who always makes sure we have a really good time), waltzed over to our table, and said (in a very low tone of voice): “Don’t look, but to your left – – – – – OPRAH!” And indeed, there she was.

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The Bassoon Bar at the Corinthia

TRAVEL TIP: Bassoon Bar at the Corinthia

7:30 PM – Farinelli and the King, now in previews at the Duke of York’s Theatre. This is the West End engagement of a production which started at Shakespeare’s Globe and stars Mark Rylance as King Philip V of Spain. Mark Rylance is such a sensation that tickets to this production are impossible to obtain. I tried for months before getting lucky. (Persistance pays off.) This play is a cinch to transfer to Broadway, so keep an eye out for it.

Rylance
Mark Rylance in Farinelli and the King

CULTURE TIP:  Farinelli and the King

10:15 PM – Post supper at The Ivy. Who doesn’t love the Ivy, I ask? It’s been around for over 30 years and never fails to impress. The place closed down earlier this year for a complete renovation and we were there last Spring for its soft opening. The place is gorgeous, the service impeccable, and the food delicious, whether you’re enjoying a burger, a steak, or fish ‘n chips. I’d say it’s the go-to place in London for your post-theatre supper. And you never know who’s going to turn up. We’ll never forget the night many years ago when Princess Margaret was two tables away and having a “really good time”. Then there’s the time in 2012 when AAC CPA and I were shown to our table, and who turned up at the next table but the cast of Sweeney Todd, which we’d just seen. The Ivy is a place you should try at least once.

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AAC enjoys his fish and chips at the Ivy

The Ivy
The Ivy refurbished and renewed

FOOD TIP:  The Ivy

And that’s our planned whirlwind day in London on Saturday. I figured that I should post it now as I may not have time when we’re actually there and doing it.

Bon voyage to us?

A Little Taste of Paris Down in Soho

Gentle Readers:

Who knew that I’d be blogging for a 2nd time in the past 12 hours, but I wanted to share our day with you and, also, pivot towards the other two prongs (“PRONGS”???) of this blog: food and art. I hope you won’t mind.

First of all, today presented a bit of a challenge, as it was the housekeeper’s day to be here and, although she doesn’t mind when we’re underfoot, AAC CPA doesn’t care for it at all. Please understand, we have a fabulous housekeeper – Nalini – and she’s been with us for more years that we can count. Nay, AAC just likes to have the place – the entire place, that is – to himself. So he’d rather clear out than share it. The fact that he shares it with me is a minor miracle, in fact.

NOTE: If opera isn’t your thing, please skip to below the CULTURE TIP below. 🙂

So, our first stop today was the Metropolitan Opera, where we’d been invited to a “working rehearsal” of Il Trovatore, with Anna Netrebko and Dimitri Hvorostovsky in the leading roles. We are very fortunate to be able to attend these rehearsals, as I very much enjoy the opera. AAC CPA is a bit more discerning. Yes, it’s true he’s attended something like 6 Ring Cycles over the years, but ask him to attend a mediocre performance of La Boheme and he’ll go right to sleep.

A working rehearsal, unlike a dress rehearsal or regular performance, means that there will be stops, things will be cleaned up, lights will be set and who knows what other mayhem may occur. Sure enough, there were some interesting repeats today. And you should have heard that Anvil Chorus!! And those men who worked the anvils – mamma mia!!!!

Anvil Chorus
See what I mean?

Madame Netrebko was in fabulous voice, even for a working rehearsal. And her core strength must be awesome, as she slowly lowered herself onto one knee as she sang a beautifully shaped phrase without any stress whatsoever on her beautiful voice. Talk about star quality!!

Netrebko
Anna Nebtrebko in Il Trovatore at Salzburg

We were very fortunate to be able to hear Hvorostovsky. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in June and canceled all summer performances so that he could begin immediate treatment. While his vocal cords were unimpaired, he was having severe balance issues, which kept him off the stage. While our sopranos faint, jump off parapets, and often portray the weaker sex, we like our baritones sturdy. As it turns out, he’s been able to appear in the 1st three performances of this run of Trovatore, after which he’ll return to London for further treatment. We send him our best and hope for a complete and permanent recovery.

Dimitri
Dimitri Hvorostovsky in Il Trovatore at the Met

We will be at his 3rd performance, which is on Saturday afternoon, October 3rd and, if you have any interest at all, you can attend, too. Or, at least you be there as a part of the Met’s Live in HD series. Cinemas all over the world will have a live transmission of this performance, with lots of fun looks backstage during the breaks. Tickets are around $22.00 (whereas you’d probably pay between $230 – $340 for an orchestra seat at the Met). A good deal, I’d say.

CULTURE TIP: Live in HD

We stayed at the Met ’til the first break, in the middle of Act I, Scene iii (Azucena had just admitted that she’d thrown the wrong baby – her own son!!! – into the fire – don’t ask!), and decided it was time to head downtown for a little taste of Paris in Soho. By that, I mean we decided to have lunch on the patio at Laduree. Do you know it or have you, perhaps, eaten or shopped there when you were in Paris? It’s an institution and you really know that you’re in Paris when you enter its doors. Before you can get to the restaurant, though, you have to pass through the patisserie, which just made my mouth water as I typed that word.

The Laduree in Soho has a lovely shaded patio, where we sat and enjoyed a leisurely lunch of club sandwiches. All around us, people were chatting in French and, if you closed your eyes and took a bite of your sandwich, you would swear you were on the Rue de Rivoli or the Champs-Élysées. It was that good. And, in fact, here’s AAC CPA anticipating his lunch:

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Yes, it’s AAC CPA at Laduree

And here’s lunch:

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Laduree Club Sandwich

Let me just say that Laduree didn’t let us down. We had a very civilized meal on their beautiful patio between the Il Trovatore and the next Italian experience we were about to have.

CUISINE TIP: Laduree

After our delightful lunch, it was time to turn our attention to the world of Italian neorealism. Our new favorite movie house in New York, Film Forum, has just started a Vittorio De Sica retrospective, and this afternoon we went to see what is arguably his greatest film, Ladri di Biciclette (Bicycle Thieves). It is a film that we’ve known about for many years, but just saw for the first time today. Almost plotless, it shows the desperate circumstances in which the working class found itself in post-war Italy. A somber and tragic film and yet laced throughout with moments of humor. Check it out here:

CULTURE TIP: Bicycle Thieves at Film Form

And that was our day. When we got back to the apartment, the place was so clean that you could eat off of the floors. That’s no joke – Nalini is that good.

Now begins the task of packing for London and our crossing on Queen Mary 2. We leave for JFK in 36 hours. Tick, tock, everyone!!