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New York City: Art Up Close with Toulouse at the Met

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“Since we’re going to Central Park, let’s go to the Met too!” Nina said in joyous inspiration as I drank my espresso, unimpressed. I hadn’t agreed to go to Central Park and she already had us touring a museum! Wasn’t Central Park that black hole where innocent little animals disappeared? Nina isn’t renowned for her inner-GPS at the best of times. I had visions of us wandering its labyrinthine paths until dark engulfed us, trapping us there. Never mind the Met…

I just sipped my espresso without a word.

“Look!” she pointed at the brochure she was holding. “They’re showing the drawings of Bronzino!” She knew that would twig my interest, but I wasn’t biting. I didn’t look up and continued to sip in silence. Back in the 1500s, Bronzino was a painter, draftsman, academician, and enormously witty poet, who became famous as the court artist to the Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici in Florence. His sketches are evocative celebrations of lyrical sensuality.

So, don’t get me wrong… I’m Toulouse LeTrek, the cool cat, the cultured cat. A famous artist was named after me, after all. I visited le Musée d’Orsay

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when I was just a kitten. I climbed the cobbled streets and steps of Montmartre to watch the artists paint. I used to scamper between the legs of up-and-coming artists, testing their balance and fortitude. I appreciate good art. But getting lost in Central Park to get there wasn’t my idea of a civilized tour.

But Nina had already observed that my coffee was gone and I was holding the cup just to stall. She grinned. Out came her blue backpack and in I went. POOF! (I hate it when she does that.) She darted out of our tiny hotel room in the Pod (a Euro-style hostel-like hotel) and took the subway to 86th  Street. From there we walked… and walked… and walked…

You get the picture.

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We finally found the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the eastern side of Central Park at 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd  Street. Nina had her heart set on seeing the Roman and Greek sculptures on the first floor. I, of course, was eager to re-acquaint myself with my favorite Impressionist artists and the Bronzino drawings on the second floor. We agreed to separate and meet at the American Wing Café in two hours. Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time…

I made my way upstairs and first toured through the Bronzino exhibit. I then ambled along the B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Gallery where Academic Classicist painter Pierre Auguste Cot’s splendid paintings, The Storm and Springtime hung. I had to linger for a time, breathing in his incredible use of light to evoke vibrant life, movement and intensity of presence. He’s one of my favorites; and that’s not just because he studied at l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Toulouse before going to Paris. :-3

From there, I entered the Annenberg Collection of 19th and Early 20th Century European Paintings, ranging from French Romanticism to Post-Impressionism. I wandered from gallery to gallery, peering at works by the likes of Manet, Degas, Pissarro, Renoir, Monet and Van Gogh.

I nosed up to them, appreciating the brashly visible brush strokes, open composition, and emphasis on light in its changing qualities. Impressionists often

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chose ordinary things to depict in their art, taking mundane scenes and portraying them from unique angles and giving them movement. The Impressionists captured the transient effects of sunlight by painting en plein air. They broke from tradition with short “broken” brush strokes of mixed and pure unmixed colour, not smoothly blended or shaded. Pissaro’s and Monet’s works, particularly, are good for studying the use of textured brush-strokes, using light to dapple, highlight, focus or diffuse. Impressionists painted with vivid light. They gave it a human emotion. One of the best places to see French Impressionist art is at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, but the Met has its share.

I’d parked myself in Monet’s gallery and was minding my own business, “communing” with La Grenouillère, Sunflowers, Rouen Cathedral, Path in Vetheuil, when a tiny shriek behind me broke my reverie. A young women and her daughter had discovered me!

“What a sweet stuffed cat!”

Had she no shame? No decency? I puffed myself up as best as I could and

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offered her a cultured scowl. Didn’t she recognize me? I wasn’t just ANY stuffed cat. I was ”stuffed” with a dinner’s worth of escargots, mussels and spaghetti. I was Toulouse LeTrek, the COOL Travel Cat! Perhaps separating wasn’t such a good idea, I reflected, searching for the quickest way to escape as they approached me with covetous curiosity glinting in their eyes.

I scampered out of there and scurried downstairs–my little heart thumping like a drum–and looking for Nina. It was early yet and she wouldn’t be at the restaurant. Fearing other covetous people loitering at the café, I looked for Nina in the likely place: the Roman and Greek galleries. I found a very nice and safe “lady” to chill with and waited for Nina to find me; of course, she did.

All’s well that ends well.  I’m the COOL Travel Cat… :-3

Go to Toulouse’s page “Art Up Close with Toulouse” for more details and more articles like this one.

Photos by Nina Munteanu

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This site is powered by donations. For your reading pleasure I do not clutter it with advertizing; nor do I charge any of these fine establishments, events or places for my reviews. If you are a patron who enjoys my articles or at the receiving end of one of my reviews you can show your appreciation with a donation (see right top sidebar). 

Toulouse and the City: Getting Lost in New York

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We came to New York City in February to focus on the locals and the genuine atmosphere of a more relaxed New York. Is there such a thing as a “relaxed New York”? Well, okay, maybe I mean a more genuine and low-key New York (the February issue of “Time Out New York” features an article called “Find Your Calm: 81 Ideas for Relaxing in NYC). Nina and I spent a mere four days in NYC, but we packed in a life’s-worth of “relaxation”. :-3

It started with the Pod, a stark but clean hotel conveniently located on East 51st Street just off 3rd Avenue. If you don’t mind tiny “nouveau” hostel-style rooms with wee “cupboard” washrooms, this 1960’s style reasonably priced place is for you. The lobby was covered in Warhol-style pop art and avant-garde décor and the desk was manned by friendly and helpful staff. When we were there, the place was overrun by a group of exuberant young Brits who resembled Twiggy and Joe; it fit.

Another plus for The Pod is its neighboring French restaurant, Le Bateau Ivre, where Nina and I ate when we first

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arrived late in the evening. This authentic “French wine bar, raw bar and grill” gets its name, which means “The Drunken Boat”, from a poem by French poet Arthur Rimbaud.  Open from 8 am to 4 am (my kind of hours!), the bistro offers authentic French breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their cuisine includes raw and grilled seafood, meats and tartines (open-faced slices of Poilane-style country bread with a variety of toppings like pate, steak tartare, brandade—codfish and mashed potatoes, and—my favorite—croque monsieur). Run by friendly sommeliers, who can match your taste with just the right wine, the wine bar offers over 250 varieties of the finest French wines by the glass or bottle. We sat ourselves in the wine tasting bar and I ordered a Languedoc St. Chinian 05 Initiale Dom des Jougla. Nina asked the sommelier to “surprise her” with a red wine to match her mood and she ended up with a Bourgogne Pinot Noir (she was in a good mood, I guess). :-3

We were escorted to a table by the window and I ordered escargots from Ivan, our waiter from Russia, who is studying business management in the Bronx. Spasiba, Ivan! Nina ordered a Bouillabaisse, a traditional Provençal

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fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille and we settled back in conversation. I enjoyed the cozy French culture around me that included original art work and décor, walls lined with wine bottles and a ceiling of revolving speckled lights. Nina suggested that we come back in the summer when they open their wall of doors for their uptown Euro-clientele (like me … :-3 ) and set up tables on the street for Al fresco dining.

On our first day-excursion in New York, we returned to Bryant Park and ate at the Grill—this time inside—where Nina had a drink at the bar (because it was so beautiful, she said) and I enjoyed a lovely lunch of crispy calamari with arugula, roasted corn, tomato and avocado with lime—cheerfully served to us by Eva, a Brazilian with a agreat sense of humour.

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We wandered through Midtown like locals, knowing each turn and street. On  some level, it felt like coming home. I can’t explain it; we’d been to New York only once before. But, if you’ve truly experienced New York and New Yorkers, you know what I mean. New York is bracing and New Yorkers opinionated,  stubborn and loud. They are also genuine and will go out of their way time and again to help you if you are in trouble. Just as with Parisians, you need to earn their respect first. If they perceive you as an equal, if you show the kind of buoyant energy and frankness they embrace and respect, then they will give you the gift of their honesty, genuine  warmth and unbridled kindness.

New York is a paradoxical and complex tapestry of grit and sophistication. It’s a cauldron of mixed genres, bursting with expression from the rappers in the subway to the dancers of Broadway. Its art ranges from the avant-garde splashes of Greene Street in Soho to the Impressionist strokes of the Metropolitan Museum.

Now, I know you’re asking yourselves how a little cat like me got such an in-

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depth perception of this complex city in a mere four days? Let me tell you my secret.  We lost ourselves to the city. It’s an art, how to get lost. The first thing you need to lose is your ego; because the fun part of getting lost is getting found—or letting New York find you.

Nina and I got lost in the subways. We lost ourselves in Central Park. And we lost ourselves in Soho (not a bad place to get lost—there are so many unique and interesting cafés, bistros and bars along the way). For example, take the Balthazar, a French-style oyster bar on Spring Street. The Balthazar offers a French menu prepared by chefs de cuisine Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson along with a raw seafood bar and breads and pastries from its bakery next door. The bistro was opened in the spring of 1997 by Keith McNally. Renowned for its French bistro design, the building was converted from a leather wholesaler’s warehouse to an airy space that can seat over 200 patrons. The bistro features authentic French décor and ceiling-high mirrors, creating an ambience of sophisticated bohemian dining and

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lively discussion.

Nina and I sat by the window and shared a beer with oysters on the half-shell from Massachusetts. We then ambled to the bakery next door—Ooh! Lala! Nina and I shared a hazelnut gateau opera (layered cake with hazelnut jaconde, ganache, hazelnut buttercream decorated with caramelized hazelnuts) and I just about died of happiness. :-3

We literally stumbled into the haute gallery section on Greene Street and while Nina stared at the abstract art, I found some exceptional shops on Prince Street. Flustered that she’d lost me (she should be used to it by now), Nina found me at The Smile on Bond Street, enjoying a cappuccino and chatting up the waitress who looked amazingly like Reece Witherspoon. The Smile used to be a boarding house that housed Swiss watchcase makers back in the early 1900s. It’s two doors down from the Gene Frankel Theatre, another converted old place with an amazing history. We ambled along Bleecker Street and then somehow ended up crossing the busy Houston Street into Noho without realizing it and found ourselves in another bar.  The bartender informed us that much of Soho and Noho consisted of old abandoned buildings that were renovated in the 1970s, many into artist’s

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lofts and going for a cool $2000/month. New Yorkers were, according to our bartender, “a lot of angry busy people.” LOL! Sounds like my old home town of Vancouver! Just joking…

No trip to New York is complete without a close-up view of our lady, the colossal Statue of Liberty. Standing tall at 151 feet (her nose alone is 4 feet long), She is a majestic site, proudly lifting her arm high with the torch of enlightenment and holding the keystone of knowledge in the other.

Liberty was herself an immigrant. In 1865 a group of French intellectuals led by Edouard de Laboulaye, protesting the political repression in their own country, decided to honor the ideals of freedom and liberty with a symbolic gift to the United States. They commissioned Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (yes, that one) to design the colossal internal framework and Auguste Bartholdi sculpted her. She was shipped in pieces to New York and in 1886

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stood as she does today on Liberty Island.

A good wander in New York is not complete without taking in its rich and varied architecture. Of course, we even conducted that in our own unique way; like walking innocently into Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Ash Wednesday. New York is famous for its stunning art deco, beautifully featured in the Empire State Building (did you know that the spire at the top of the building was originally designed as a mooring mast for blimps? They gave it up due to too high winds), the Chrysler Building and buildings of the Rockefeller Centre.

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Nina was so preoccupied with her photo-shoot that she let us get nabbed by Mike at NBC Studios to appear on the Dr. Oz Show (personally, I think Mike recognized me and wanted a celebrity in the audience to increase ratings). Guests included Joseph Mercola, Depak Chopra and Kathy Freston, all there to discuss alternative medicine with Dr. Oz. If you get a chance to watch that episode, look for me in the audience near the end of the show! I’m the one next to the idiot grinning from ear to ear (that would be Nina). The bottom line was “get Krill oil” (Dr. Mercola) and “listen to your body’s inner genius” (Deepak Chopra).

On our last day in NYC, we managed to get lost in Central Park (no mean feat, I guess—it’s HUGE!); we were looking for the statue of Balto. After an impressive tour of the Metropolitan

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Museum of Art and a wander through the Grand Central Station Market, we got lost on the subway again.

We celebrated our adventurous triumph over getting lost in New York with a drink at the Bull and Bear bar in the Waldorf while we waited to be seated in the restaurant. As Nina chatted with locals and networked with business people, I somehow ended up by the bronze statue, overlooking the entire bar. The manager took a shine to me and offered to show me the sights. Nina quickly told him that we were leaving the next morning and sighed when he returned me into her waiting hands. (She loves me, after all…) :-3

Boris, our young waiter (from Brooklyn) seated us beside an elegant lady who somehow recognized us as Canadians (was it my fur?) and opened what promised to be a lively discussion with a question: “So, what do you think of Sarah Palen?” LOL! She recommended the Dover Sole with asparagus (because it was guaranteed to be fresh and cooked to perfection). Its

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sophisticated subtle flavor and texture was a special treat. Barbara Fox grew up in Manhattan (she currently lives near Central Park) and has been enjoying meals at the Waldorf for the past forty years; she treats all the waiters like her own sons—telling them off and berating them for not serving us faster (“We want Nina and Toulouse to come back, don’t we?” she challenged the head waiter)—and they respectfully dote on her in return (“Yes ma’am… no, ma’am…” grinning). And, yes, she is related to the founder of Fox Studios.

Did we discuss the making of a movie about my adventures, you ask… (sly smile)… I’m not telling…

I’m the cool travel cat…

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Barbara Fox smooches with Toulouse at the Waldorf

Photos by Nina Munteanu

This site is powered by donations. For your reading pleasure I do not clutter it with advertizing; nor do I charge any of these fine establishments, events or places for my reviews. If you are a patron who enjoys my articles or at the receiving end of one of my reviews you can show your appreciation with a donation (see right top sidebar).

Toulouse and the City: I love New York!

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Nina and I began our New York experience with Manhattan and Morgans Hotel. Designed by Andrée Putnam in 1983, the hotel celebrates a retro-contemporary/faux-industrial visual and tactile experience that starts with the lobby’s elegant “3-D” design carpet and the Spartan somewhat oriental-style furniture and reception desk. We got a room on the twelfth floor and as Nina made herself comfortable in the soft Paris sheets, I negotiated the bathroom with difficulty. As I did the waterslide down her sink—WOO! Splash!— I  realized that I’d become  submerged in Putnam’s world of French subversive design.

Putnam says that, “To not dare is to have already lost. We should seek out ambitious, even unrealistic projects…because things only happen when we dream.” Ah, a lady after my own heart…

Morgans Hotel lies in the heart of Manhattan, on Madison
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Avenue with a view of the Empire State Building and blocks away from New York icons such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Grand Central Station, Times Square, Broadway and 42nd Street, Rockefeller Centre, Radio City and the United Nations.

We wandered the streets, rather aimlessly—letting New York reveal herself in vignettes and catching glimpses of character, texture and history wherever we turned.  We started with the Empire State Building, whose tiered Egyptian-like Art Deco structure reminded me of Fritz Lang’s “Metropololis”. Towering 1,250 feet, the Empire State Building was the tallest building in North America when it was built in 1931 and is now again the tallest building in NYC. The spire at the top of the building was designed as a mooring mast for dirigibles (anyone remember the cool scene in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow?). They abandoned it because of too high winds. Kind of burst their

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bubble, I guess…

New York bustles with an intense mercurial energy and New Yorkers are a multi-cultural melting pot of genuine, forthright people on the move. In other words, you need to move to keep up! They bluntly let you know if you’re being stupid and lose patience with you if you lack the confidence and direction that they have come to accept as a given in this city of the self-made man, woman and cat. But, if you earn their respect by demonstrating genuine motivation and intent, they will go to great lengths to help you.  I loved their clean honesty and straightforwardness. You get what you see in New York.
When we reached Times Square, we were greeted with an interesting sight: row upon row of lawn chairs filled the square. The lawn chairs in Times Square form a new initiative of the city (just in time for us!) to open up parts of the town to pedestrians with a traffic ban between 47th and 42nd Streets, turning the once bustling crowded sidewalks and honking horns of thick traffic into a giant urban picnic. The city placed brightly colored lawn chairs along the street to
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encourage pedestrian traffic. It worked!

But not every New Yorker likes it. Check out this link. Says one New York blogger: “Everyone sits there in haphazard rows facing the Jumbotron, like they were home in Toledo watching their wide-screen TV. They turn the City That Never Sleeps into The City That Ever Sits.”

Our unguarded wanderings led us to one of New York’s hidden gems: Bryant’s Park, a green oasis nestled amid towering buildings in the heart of New York City’s Midtown, located just behind the New York Public Library on 40th and 42nd Streets and 5th Avenue and The Avenue of the Americas. I felt immediately at home as we strolled along the twin promenades, lined by London plane trees (Platanus acerifolia), past locals
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playing chess, busy on their laptops or enjoying a picnic. The plane tree is also found at le Jardin des Tuileries in Paris, and contributes to Bryant Park’s European feel. Did you know that these trees can grow up to 120 feet in height?

“Bryant Park is a remarkably peaceful space in one of the most urbanized parts of the planet.” (www.newyorkfirst.com).

As we rounded the south side of the park, Nina shrieked and ran toward an old carousel. As she spun around—thankfully leaving me unscathed on a bench—I reflected that le Carrousel at Bryant Park complemented the park’s French classical style. The rounding boards, inspired by the park’s elegant baroque-style torchères along 40th Street, blended rather nicely into the leafy canopy of the park’s plane trees.

After a few dizzying turns, Nina bounded back, face flushed with joy, and settled us on the outside patio of the Bryant Park Grill. We ordered a wonderful spread of cold meats, cheeses, salads and baguette at The Grill, and topped our

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feast with an exquisite Pinot Noir.

The New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue was showing the exhibit “Between Collaboration and Resistance: French Literary Life Under Nazi Occupation”. We entered the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building to find a stately interior attended by art deco-style receptionist (complete with sculpted hair!). As Nina stood engrossed in some artwork, I glimpsed a mass of New York’s finest in blue from one of the windows. They’d surrounded the library! Leaving Nina gawking at a painting, I slipped outside to see what they were about.

Officer Montalvo, a smart cop with a penchant for small animals, befriended me and told me that they’d assembled to form security for President Obama’s cavalcade, expected any moment. It was quite a while before Nina finally flew out of the library, looking for me in a panic and panting like a

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terrier on a hunt.

Ah…It’s nice to be loved.

And speaking of love…I love New York. :-3

Photos by Nina Munteanu

This site is powered by donations. For your reading pleasure I do not clutter it with advertizing; nor do I charge any of these fine establishments, events or places for my reviews. If you are a patron who enjoys my articles or at the receiving end of one of my reviews you can show your appreciation with a donation (see right top sidebar).