Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Pavarotti on the town

 It breaks your heart to walk around New York City these days. 


Of course many of us have had our hearts broken here before, whether through an event like the attack on 9/11 or some personal matter. 


This city is not a place for the faint of heart.


To say that it’s now a ghost town would be an overstatement. People are working away, adapting to this time of pause, making the best of things. There’s just an overall pervading feeling of “what’s coming next?”


Will this new Covid-19 variant sweep through the city like the original did in Spring 2020?  Will the new president succeed in taming the pandemic where his predecessor so dismally and cavalierly failed?


One thing seems likely, many beloved Irish bars and restaurants will not reopen. However, New York City will rise again – just not in the old familiar way.


I’ve always considered the city to be a magical place – right from the first smoggy June afternoon I arrived on a student work visa.


New York was a very different city back in the 1970’s. Times Square was like a circus, but not of the Barnum and Bailey type, more an arena with adrenalized gladiators on the make.


One had to be either very aware or fleet of foot to escape being mugged on a regular basis. 


I once had a bayonet stuck in my throat by a very nervous junky who was wary of me putting my hand in my pocket to surrender my few dollars. It took Kissinger-like diplomacy to emerge broke, but otherwise unscathed, from that encounter.


Back then New York was unpredictable. This scared the hell out of many, but as a musician it was important to not know what was coming next, for fear you’d throw your hat at it and return to the Emerald Isle with your tail between your legs.


Still there was usually magic in the air. One such time was when my parents visited and I took my mother on a cultural jaunt around town. 


We visited The Met, The Frick, had lunch in some over-priced restaurant, and as we passed by Lincoln Center I told her how I’d never seen her favorite, Luciano Pavarotti, perform there, but had thrilled to him in Central Park with 200,000 others as he nailed Nessun Dorma.


She adored that man and delighted in every detail I rattled off about that legendary free concert.


It was a beautiful summer day but I could tell she was tiring from the humidity and the heat rising from the pavement. I knew the cure – some first class air-conditioning.


She said she’d love to wander around one of the big department stores so I suggested Bloomingdale’s.


I had never been there myself. Why would I? They didn’t sell the tight black jeans and t-shirts that were de rigueur on the Lower East Side.


Her eyes lit up at the expensive jewelry, perfume and couture then fashionable on the Upper East Side. But after a couple of floors of such excess I could tell she was fading and asked one of the clerks where we might buy some coffee.


He directed us to the Italian exhibition and intimated that the Cappuccino served there would be free – a bonus in itself.


We were ushered into the exhibition by an agitated Italian man who bade us stand just inside the door.  We hastened to obey for we could hear a multitude of footsteps thundering behind us.


The door was thrown open and in glided, for want of a better word, Pavarotti himself.


Obviously expecting some sort of formal reception he held out his huge arms to my mother. She fell into them as if she had been awaiting him forever. He shook hands with me and moved on, gaily greeting the line that had gathered behind us.


My mother was flushed and excited in a way I’d never seen her before.


“Did you know about this,” she gushed. “Did you plan this for me?”


I almost lied but it didn’t seem quite right.


“No, Mam, that’s New York for you.  Haven’t I been telling you for years that this city is magical.”


It is, and it will rise again bigger and better, if somewhat different than many of us can imagine.

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