Friday, September 24, 2010

Lost in New York City

Part of this week, I have been focusing a great deal of my attention on a dear aunt. She lives in the state of New York, and this past Sunday she fell and broke her hip. She is now on the road to recovery, having had surgery, but for a few days, she was in pain waiting for treatment. Fortunately, she has a circle of wonderful friends who have stayed with her during trying hours.

But all my thinking about her caused me to recall various times she has been a marvelous force in my life. For example, part of my love of classical music derives from time spent with my aunt. When I was 8, she took me to hear the Harrisburg Symphony perform in the Forum Building. The auditorium there has the most marvelous ceiling--a representation of the constellations and a suspended chandelier depicting the solar system. I would sit, gazing up at this ceiling while strains of Beethoven's 7th filled my ears. Who wouldn't be thunderstruck with the majesty of music?

I thought of another time I visited my aunt. By then, she was living in New York City, having gone there in the mid-1950s. She took me to the Lincoln Center to see the 1976 revival production of Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera. This particular production starred Raúl Juliá, in his heyday as a performer. He was lusciously and villainously sexy as Mack, (see photo at left).

But, the trip to visit my aunt that I remembered with the most clarity was one where I did NOT get to see her.

While I was a college undergrad, a group from a music class at my college went to New York City to see an opera at the old Met. The part time music teacher was an opera buff, and a particular fan and friend of Zinka Milanov. She was past her prime as a soprano when we went to see her as Desdemona in Verdi's Otello.

Since the students who went along on this trip had some time before the opera performance, we all decided to see New York City. Some students planned to go to Radio City Music Hall, but I thought that far too touristy. I decided I was going to visit my aunt, who had an apartment near Columbia University. Somehow, I talked a fellow student into going along with me.

We headed off, riding the subway north. I don't remember the exact address of my aunt's apartment now, but at the time I knew it, and calculated that we needed to get off at whatever street. Since her street number was somewhere in between subway stops, I chose the further point to exit. My companion and I would simply hop on a bus and ride back toward the street where my aunt lived.

Only, when we got off the subway and on the bus, we noticed that we were the only white folk around. We were in the middle of Harlem. Just before the Harlem riot of 1964. When we exited the bus, we discovered that we were at the bottom of the hill at Morningside Heights, and my aunt's apartment was on the other side of the hill. The other side of an iron fence. With locked gates. Somehow, after we climbed the hill, we managed to squeeze through the bars of the fence.

When we got to my aunt's apartment, she was not home. Naturally, I had not thought to TELL her I would be in NYC and could visit. I left a note for her. I learned that after she read the note, she was very upset that I had been so naive.

When I had recent contact (after a college class reunion) with my traveling compatriot, I asked he recalled our time LOST IN NEW YORK CITY. Oh, yes, did he remember.

Herewith his recollection:

I do remember looking for your aunt's apartment during our trip to New York City with Ken (the music teacher who had organized the field trip.) It's been over 40 years since I read The Catcher In The Rye, but I've always considered that my "Holden Caulfield experience". The man sitting beside me at the opera put his hand on my leg several times (that was a new experience for a young man from Lebanon County, Pennsylvania) and after the opera we went back stage to visit with Ken's favorite soprano -- Zinka Milanov.
When Zinka saw Ken she grabbed him, gave him a big hug, and buried his face between her ample breasts.

Zinka shown at right

So, for my dear aunt, best wishes for a speedy recovery. And many thanks for memories, including one where I didn't get to visit!


NCmountainwoman said...

Great story. Hope all goes well for your aunt.

Jayne said...

What a memory! Hope all goes well with her recovery... she sounds like a very special lady in your life.

JeanMac said...

Wonderful when people influence us that way.

Anvilcloud said...

You tried, but it sounds very scary.

Anonymous said...

I had no relatives in NYC, so I went to Radio City Music Hall on our class trip. :)

Our daughter and her husband are taking their sons to NYC next week. I wonder where they'll go.

Good luck to your aunt with her physical therapy.

Ginnie said...

What wonderful memories. I love the pictures and I hope your aunt recovers quickly.