Concettina Died and Other Stories of the East Side

Octzazafest, posted October 17, 2006 at 11:54 PM

O October, how we love ye.

October means sweaters and coats. It means Manhattans instead of Margaritas. It means hearty meats, high culture, cuddling in front of the fire, falling leaves, parties, Thanksgiving planning, and the return of pomegranates and pumpkins! This year it also meant Octzazafest.

click images for larger

Marco, Marie, Jerry, and Joyce descended upon the Big Apple on Friday the 13th. My lucky day! My folks arrived in the afternoon, and we immediately headed out into the hood to eat pierogis (boiled, not fried, half cheese/half potato, with sour cream, thank you). Then did some shopping around Union Square, Lower Fifth, and 18th & 6th. That combo of shopping districts is exhausting, so we headed over to Veniero's for coffee and pastries (pastaciotti, sfogliatelle, cannoli).

After a quick change act at home, we met the other Zazas at the Metropolitan Opera house for Mozart's Magic Flute. Everyone loved the opera, though I felt the sets and production were a bit, uh, easy. But the music is so splendid I didn't care. I thought Jonas Kaufmann was kind of weak as Tamino, but Isabel Bayrakdarian was a very strong Pamina and Stephen Milling stole the show as Sarastro--his deep booming voice rattled our rib cages up in the Dress Circle. The opera was long, and when we emerged late in the evening, we were ravenous. We hopped into our waiting cars (some smart planning on my part) and zipped down to Pastis for steaks and related French fare. The wine was excellent, and it goes without saying that the Crepes Suzette are the best dessert in New York, even though I just said it. The service this night really sucked. Not only did we have the most forgetful waitress in the history of the Meat Packing District, but we a Fork Nazi™ of a busser who kept stealing our forks and napkins every time we turned our heads. But these are small complaints for a very busy restaurant in the hottest part of town on a Friday night. After, the JZs headed back to Brooklyn, I dropped my folks at my place, and I headed to Christopher's for a night of fitful sleep that included a horrible nightmare about a blog which had me moaning and loudly crying out in my sleep. Some might say it was the late-night dining, but I know better. I think it was politics. (Pathetic, I know).

Saturday was another gorgeous Autumn day. One thing about living on the coast is that even during the fall and winter we have days of incredibly beautiful spotless skies--breezy and bright days when the light is a bright yellow-white, angled low, and seemingly refracting and reflected off of buildings, the streets, and people's faces. Octzazafest was blessed with this kind of brilliance for the whole weekend. We met early at Castle Clinton to join the long line of tourists waiting to get to Ellis & Liberty Islands. Well, the huddled masses proved too much for us, and we slipped out of line and into taxis to take us to the express bus to the Bronx Zoo!

Now, I hate to be a party-poop, but personally, if I were running the MTA, I would not make it so that Saturday morning tourists wishing to take public transport to a major attraction like the zoo would have to pay their $5 fares in exact change--and by change, I mean coin. As Adrienne and I scrambled to gather exactly the right kind of Metrocards that the (next) bus would accept, my father remarked that as of 11am he'd now spent $25 on taxis and hadn't been anywhere yet. Too true. After these few delays, some irritated moments, a run-in with a bus driver that almost resulted in my committing a felony, and one really bad cup of coffee at a Madison Avenue diner, we settled onto the bus and headed out to the Bronx.

Redacted paragraph saying nasty things about little old ladies who were on the bus with us and also almost forced me to commit another felony.

The Bronx Zoo, or "Ra Bronz Zoo" as our monorail guide would so deafly put it later, was great. We began our journey at the World of Birds! This would have been a perfectly good way to start the zoo visit, except for the fact that we were really hungry. So we kept looking at this:


but seeing this:


After the World of Birds we saw some deer or bison or something else equally delicious-sounding, so we headed straight for the cafe. After a gross cheap lunch of pizza, beer, and hot dogs, we headed back out ready to eat see more animals. Next stop: The Butterfly Garden!

Aunt Joyce took a prize for having a butterfly land on her. It flittered away faster than any of us could take a picture, but believe me, it was terrifying. I mean, I don't want bugs on me. Even pretty ones.

We all agreed the next prize would be awarded to the Zaza who was doomed lucky enough to have a gorilla land on him. Seriously, the Congo Gorilla Forest was so amazing that we all agreed these mysterious beasts were worth the price of admission alone. There they sit, cocking their heads to the side in thought, their hands, shoulders, and arms moving with the recognizable movements of our own species. Their eyes look right at you, and you know they understand something. I mean, of course, they probably understand less than my one-and-a-half-year-old nephew, but these are not stupid creatures. But the big gorillas were not everything--we also saw tiny Pygmy Marmosets no bigger than the mice in my kitchen. For some reason, these little monkeys were cute, whereas the mices are dirty pests (must have something to do with bedbugs and disease).

After seeing some not-so-threatening African wild dogs lazing in the afternoon sun, we hopped on the Asian Monorail for a journey to the other side of the Bronx River. How appropriate that our tour to this foreign collection was guided by someone whose English was absolutely indecipherable to us native speakers. Even though we saw some big fat Rhinos, a red Panda, and some totally curriable goats, Dad rated the monorail tour a 3 (on a scale of 10), though the rest of us listed it as about a 5.5 or 6. Dad, I'm sorry, you were right. In retrospect, I hereby concur: 3, max. (I'd have kept my higher rating if at the end they'd have given us some goat curry!)

But the rest we had on the monorail must have done Dad some good, for he was in fine spirits as we exited the zoo and arrived back at our bus stop. He was happily singing a pretty little song right into Adrienne's ear from behind at one point, when he suddenly realized that, oops, that wasn't Adrienne at all. It was a very good-natured--and somewhat confused and embarrassed--Easter European girl to whom Dad apologized while the rest of us rolled on the ground like zebras with fleas.

I slept on the bus ride back to the city--we all did I think. All that laughing nearly killed me.

A little more shopping, then home to change for dinner. We cabbed it downtown to Pepolino, which simply serves the best Tuscan fare in this city filled with Italian restaurants. The service there is always impeccable, the prices are reasonable (came to $85 each for dinner, including appetizers, entrees, desserts, cocktails, wine, tax, and tip), and the food is absolutely heavenly. Christopher and Paula joined us, so we were a raucous group of eight seated around a big round table right in the corner of the perfect upstairs dining room. I had the mussels, then the gnocchi, then the panna cotta for dessert. I tasted my parents' sausage-in-wine appetizer and it was out of this world. I will be having that next time, for sure. After dinner we strolled up West Broadway and up to Pegu Club for late cocktails.

Sunday mornings are meant for family brunches, and we squeezed 10 of us around two little tables at Veselka where my niece, her husband, my gorgeous little great-nephew, and my nephew all joined in for the last formal meal of Octzazafest 2006. What we learned: my niece Stephanie again looks terrific while "in her condition" (due in February!), my nephew Josh is addicted to corner deli coffee because they get their coffee-milk-sugar ratios right, and potato pancakes should be lightly browned, not deep fried.

After splitting from the rest of the group, my personal Zaza entourage took to museums. My folks hadn't seen the new MoMA building yet, so we went there to visit some old friends like Picasso, Pollock, and Fred Sandback. Then we met up with Paula at the new Morgan Library & Museum. The Renzo Piano addition is really terrific. And the exhibition celebrating Mozart's 250th birthday is great--letters, scores, libretti, and the best use of technology I've seen yet in a museum (video listening stations where you follow along with the score and even compare a vintage recording of the piece with a contemporary recording). One more stop at Veniero's for more Italian pastries, and then off the old folks went. The end of another great visit.

The only thing missing from the weekend, of course, were Stephanie & Joe and Zack-ar-y And A-man-da, which would have made our two families complete. (Turns out Stephanie and Joe were in Hawaii during the 6.6 earthquake. They're fine, and they're hiking with or without electricity.) Next time, we're recruiting the others to make sure all of us are here at once.

A few more pix here

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