Holiday Trains and Christmas Eve

As a long time commuter, I have a strong relationship to riding Metro North. My work week trains are pretty serious places with quiet and intense reading of newspapers. We regulars all know that talking is not welcome and we sit in companionable silence preparing for the day. Evening trains are much the same. More frequented by non-commuters, they tend to more noise, but everyone is generally focused on leaving the office behind and preparing for an evening of family life.

Holiday trains are a whole other story. And, truly, they have their place. Christmas Eve we rode into the city to have a holiday lunch and to see THE MERCHANT OF VENICE with Al Pacino. We got on the train in Port Chester and it was already quite full. Most groups were families with gaggles of excited children giggling and exclaiming and thrilled with the prospect of a day in the city, a visit to the tree in Rock Center and the ultimate prospect of a visit from St. Nick. It was anything but quiet, but that was just fine because it was a place full of happiness and anticipation. It was fun just to sit in the midst of the bedlam and enjoy everyone’s excitement.

Ferd, Jim and I were lucky enough to get seats together. As we rode side by side, I dozed, Jim read his book and Ferd read email on his phone. Despite the fact that we were on the local, the ride passed quickly by. When we got to Grand Central Station, the families gathered coats, mittens, kids and headed off to their day’s’ adventures. Ferd, Jim and I headed out of the station and across 44th Street to our lunch at db Bistro Moderne. We were early so we crashed in the lobby of the Royalton for a half hour. The lobby was sleek and expensive looking and dark. We lounged in comfy chairs and watched the people talk to the Concierge wondering where they were from, what they planned to do and what New York for Christmas is like for an out-of-towner.  I tried to get Ferd and Jim to visit the men’s room–famous for its wall of water into which men…I guess you know what they do. No sale there. I would have gone but it just wouldn’t have been the same.

db Bistro Moderne was a great choice for lunch. The restaurant is brightly colored with splashes of red in its modern flower paintings and banquettes. The bright colors were warm and inviting and luxurious all at the same time. All the diners were in festive moods and champagne flowed at all tables except ours. We had an excellent lunch. My salmon was wonderful and Jim and Ferd were both happy. We all got dessert which was outrageously good. The only downside to all this happy dining was the risk of theatrical napping. Coffee all around and off we went further westward on 44th Street to the Broadhurst Theater.

Ferd had suggested THE MERCHANT OF VENICE and I had bought us tickets as our cooperative Christmas present to each other. To be honest, I would never have thought to choose Shakespeare and my expectations for an enjoyable experience were not that high. I have a horrible habit of napping through the theater. I remember (or rather don’t remember) THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. I dozed throught the entire production until the crashing chandelier woke me up briefly. But perhaps low expectations are a good state to be in before a play–or many forms of entertainment. The end result is almost always an unanticipated surprise. This was certainly the case in this instance.

The production was really quite fantastic. Al Pacino made a masterful Shylock. He was truly unlikeable, oily and even in those moments one might feel a shred of pity for the man, there could be none. Portia also did a fantastic job. The production was set in the Edwardian era which worked quite well. The stage was very simple but brilliant with moving metal structures which rotated to create different settings for the marketplace, Portia’s home, the Court and transitions. The moving metal structures clearly delineated the different spaces and yet were both unobtrusive and a silent commentary on the play.

I have always harbored a secret feeling of inferiority about Shakespeare. The world for centuries has held this playwrite (whoever he might be) in highest regard and yet I slept through my Shakespeare class at Smith. Over the decades, I have suffered or snoozed through countless productions of Shakespeare. The language seemed obscure, the plot and action remote and clearly I was missing a key Shakespeare chromosome which made everyone else complete.

This production was enthralling. It was accessible, but not dumbed down. The period chosen worked well and the costumes were magnificent–gorgeous but not overpowering.  It was extremely well acted and the acting let Shakespeare’s story line come through. It was edge of the seat riveting as Portia argues Antonio’s fate at the Duke’s Court. And the payoff as Portia and Nerissa give their husband’s grief for giving away their wedding rings was welcome comic relief. (I do really wonder why Portia married Bassanio though as she was so much smarter and more interesting than he).

After the play, we walked back across 44th Street through the holiday crowds and it was a perfect Christmas Eve Day celebration. The city was gorgeous in its holiday decorations and Grand Central Station was packed with tourists and locals all heading somewhere for the evening. It was lovely to ride home to a warm house with a pretty tree and have a festive dinner. A perfect holiday all around.


One Comment to “Holiday Trains and Christmas Eve”

  1. It sounds wonderful, Your description wes great l, made me feel like I had been there. Ferd’s description wasn’t as vivid but conveyed the same message–everyone had a wonderful day. 🙂

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