by Deborah Harley
Ever have a New York Moment? I bet you have if you have spent any amount of time in this city. A New York Moment can be many things. It is usually serendipitous, surprising, and always memorable. A New York Moment is wonderfully intimate, fusing a connection between the city and its people. I have had many New York Moments, and I love to give others theirs.
For example, a while back, my husband Bill and I were hosts to two members of his extended family – Rob and his 14-year-old daughter Kayla. They had traveled in from a small town in Eastern Pennsylvania to see a Yankees games – a birthday gift to his daughter. Bill and I gave them a whirlwind tour of Manhattan before chauffeuring them on the subway to their afternoon game in the Bronx. As we jostled through Midtown, I kept hoping to find that special something that would make their trip really memorable.
Afterwards, we met again in front of the stadium and escorted them on round two of Manhattan. It was already dark as we strolled through Bryant Park and up Broadway to show them the spectacular, albeit gaudy, lights of Times Square. Midway through the chaos I suddenly realized that we were about to encounter a situation that demanded my immediate intervention. With an audible “Oh s___!”, I abruptly turned to Rob and deadpanned hastily, “Oh, by the way, before we go any further, I need to tell you that it is perfectly legal for women to go topless in New York City.”
“Who? What?” Rob crumpled his forehead. Why would I even mention such a thing at that particular moment? But as I stepped aside, Rob’s baffled look transformed into a gaping, wide-eyed, and embarrassed stare as he found himself face to face with a buxom young woman with blue-painted breasts. Noticing the shock that was engulfing him, I quickly managed to whisk everyone away from the craziness. But I have to admit, as we made our escape through the crowd, I found myself sporting a satisfied smile. Rob had experienced his New York Moment.
But that’s not the only New York Moment that I want to tell. That came as a result of reading an article in The New York Times about Evan Shinners, a young Julliard-trained pianist who was on a spiritual quest to better understand the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. To accomplish this, he decided to spend a month playing marathon sessions of Bach in a rented public venue.
The very next day, as I desperately sought shelter from a cold, rain-drenched afternoon, I found him. The storefront room was large, clean, and starkly white, surrounded on two sides by floor-to-ceiling windows. “Come in and listen,” the sidewalk sign beckoned. A red neon “Bach” glowed in the window behind it. The room was empty except for a scattering of folding chairs and stubby stools on one side of a baby grand. On the other side were two harpsichords and an extended quote printed in large, blue, block letters referencing a rejection letter that Shinners had received from Pierre Hantaï, a French harpsichordist and notable Bach interpreter. Shinners had hoped to study under him; however, Mr. Hantaï had dismissed Shinners efforts and expressed concern that he lacked the spirituality that Hantaï felt was essential for performing and appreciating Bach’s work. Thus, Shinners would be forced to face the quote daily as he sought to elevate himself spiritually.
I was so enchanted by the intimate setting that I told my husband about it. That Saturday, Bill and I headed to W 56th St & Broadway. Because it was lunch time, we picked up some soup nearby to enjoy while listening to Bach. However, instead of Shinners on the piano, we were first greeted by a performance of a young violinist -- playing Bach, of course. More audience members wandered in while we finished our lunch and sipped our complimentary coffee. My husband sat astounded by the experience. Where else but in New York could you stumble across such a thing and right off the street: a spiritual journey attainable only through the sharing of it with strangers. It got me thinking: New York has so much freely available for everyone to enjoy. All you need to do is step outside your door. It’s only then that you’ll truly experience this wonderful city.
By the end of our lunch I had realized that Bill had found his New York moment.