Saturday, December 21, 2013

Ye Olde New York.

Tonight, I went with my daughter and my wife up to Columbia University, where I went to college, to see the mens' basketball team, the Lions, play a game against the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights.

I've been going to Columbia basketball games since 1979, even though in the course of the last 34 years, I've seen them lose much more often than I've seen them win.  Tonight, however, they won going away, 82-59. Though that might be less of a tribute to the Lions' talent than the lack of talent on the Knights' five.

That said, it's a joy to see a game in their arena. It's small, usually boisterous and for just $10/seat, you get within yards of the action. It's a hell of a lot more satisfying than watching the woeful Knicks in Madison Square Garden. There, the ambiance is ruined by spoiled plutocrats on expense accounts, not to mention the spoiled plutocrats in shorts who are stinking up the court this season.

Columbia has expanded mightily since I was there, but the main part of the campus hasn't changed a whit. It's the old Mead McKim and White architecture and it looks like what an urban campus should look like. Tonight, just a few days before Christmas, the center walk in the campus was lit by sparkling white lights, and the whole effect was wondrous.

After the game we walked over to Mondel's Chocolate Shop. It's been at 2919 Broadway since mid-way through World War II, and it too hasn't changed an iota. They still have hundreds of choices of chocolate, including a vast array of marzipan, which my daughter craves all the way from California.

Katharine Hepburn used to stop in Mondel's and there's a typewritten note by her near the old cash register, and these words from her on their website: "The time we shared...intimate conversation, and lots of dark chocolate (the best in the world) came from a small shop on upper Broadway called Mondel's--turtles, almond bark, and breakup..."

My daughter decisively picked her assortment and Mr. Mondel put the mixture in a little waxed paper bag. We left the store and the chocolate behind. Then we walked past 522 W 112th, a rickety building that housed me for a year for $90/month, and this in a sprawling two-bedroom less than a block from the largest Anglican cathedral in the world, St. John the Divine.

We walked toward 1024 Amsterdam to V&T Pizza, home to some of New York's best pies. Though school is out for winter break, the place was mobbed. They told us the wait would be 30 minutes, though the guy seating people (it would be ludicrous to call him a maitre d') sat us sooner.

"You've been coming here a long time," he said to me, shaking my hand.

"Since 1979," I said. "I think a pie was $3.50 then."

We both laughed and then my family and I all sat down to eat pizza that was as good as I remember it from when I was allowed to polish off a whole pie myself.

Back decades ago the neighborhood was crime-ridden and in the front window of V&T's there was a coat-rack with a cop's hat wired to the top of it. It looked convincing, like there was a cop inside, and who knows how many robberies didn't happen thanks to that ruse.

Today, of course, the neighborhood has been cleaned up and gentrified. Like elsewhere in New York, crime seems not much of an issue, and today the cop's lid is gone.

After dinner, we went to the Hungarian Pastry Shop on 111th and Amsterdam, a place I used to hang when I was a student. An old woman--she had at least six months on me, said to me as I walked there, "I wrote my doctoral dissertation in there." Probably thousands did just the same, Linzer Tarts mixing with Literature.

We picked up a few cookies and then jumped into a taxi cross town. Back to the 21st Century and the New York I live in today.

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