moating

gondola launch

After trampling up and down temples in the sweltering heat – I’ve tried to not belabor the point but it is hot, hot, hot in Cambodia! – it’s time for a little luxury:  skimming the moat of Angkor Thom in a private gondola stocked with champagne and canapes. As the sun set the moon rose high into the sky, casting an iridescent blue glow over the waking jungle.

gondolas

moorise over the moat

pale blue glow

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at the theater: follies & private lives

Broadway’s got me feeling awfully nostalgic this week. Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman Follies arrived at the Marquis Theatre in a production that originated at Washington DC’s more-miss-than-hit Kennedy Center. Having sat through my share of half-baked Follies follies I’ll admit to being less than enthused at the prospect of yet another aborted summit attempt. Yet the lure of Bernadette Peters and Jan Maxwell as a pair of chorines whose lives diverged in the snowy woods of showbiz proved too alluring.  Plus, how ironic that the musical set in a theater soon to be demolished for the sake of another parking lot would take up in a hotel built atop the early graves of two of the Rialto’s most elegant theaters, the Helen Hayes and Morosco. Limited expectations turn out to be a boon to this production, only intermittently directed by Eric Schaeffer. Still, I wish the director had a point of view – or at least a sure hand. Too often he lets his company do their own thing to deleterious effect. Case in point, the wonderfully miscast Elaine Paige, who delivers an oddly vigorous – and strangely accented – rendition of what is perhaps one of the most famous 11 o’clock numbers in musical theater history, I’m Still Here. Teri White and Jane Houdyshell fare much better with the mirror number, Who’s That Woman, and Broadway Baby, respectively, but fun as they are, this isn’t a show about the pastiche of secondary roles; it’s about a mismatched quartet of chorus girls and stage door johnnies and the roads they failed to take. “Never look back” may be the fatal watch cry spun into gossamer strands of wistful regret by Rosalind Elias as the ghost of her younger self joins the elderly diva in the evening’s most affecting and poignant duet but Ben and Phyllis and Buddy and Sally can’t seem to help themselves – they think they’re still young and they want a second act, Fitzgerald be damned.  Boy, oh boy do they get it. In what can only be described as a musical exploration of the human psyche, each of the quartet performs a follies number straight out of Freudian analysis.  Follies is the first – and last – musical I know of to end with a nervous breakdown and yet, somehow it works. On some subatomic level it is deeply affecting to see these desperately unhappy people come apart at the seams. What ultimately redeems them is the Beckettian impulse to pick themselves up and keep going forward: the past is past and they’re not looking back anymore. Down the block Noel Coward is taking quite the different tack. Go back, go back, go back he seems to say; you got it right the first time. (At least as far as marriage is concerned.) Unfortunately the champagne fizz of Elyot and Amanda’s badinage comes over as flat as day-old ginger ale in Richard Eyre’s cheap as chips production imported from London via Toronto. Ostensibly the main attraction is Samantha, I mean, Kim Cattrall – but the lady has all the period style of a fruit crate fallen off an errant truck. She’s not terrible, but she’s by no means good either, doing little service to what is already a tenuously written reality overly dependent on style over substance. Paul Gross’ Elyot has style to spare – and substance, too, come to think of it.  If only some of it rubbed off on the rest of the (mis) cast I might believe the folly of Coward’s happily unhappy ending.

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windsor weekend: classic claridge’s

A stay at Claridge’s was the highlight of my first grown-up trip to London almost 20 years ago. I still remember quite clearly being advised of the strict dress code in advance of my arrival. This was the 1990’s and yet it was frowned upon for gentlemen to appear in the lobby wearing anything less than a jacket, while ladies were encouraged to forgo appearing in trousers.  As terribly posh as it all sounded, nothing quite prepared me for the real thing, however; a sumptuous and elegant Art Deco jewel on Brook Street that had seen more than it’s fair share of kings, presidents, and prime ministers, as well as most of the golden names of Hollywood. (During the Second World War Claridge’s became a haven for exiled royalty and heads of state. Just after the war, before the wedding of the then Princess Elizabeth, a harassed diplomat telephoned Claridge’s and asked to speak to the King. “Certainly sir,” was the response, “but which one?”) The walls of my room were covered in bright canary chinoiserie and the overstuffed four-poster bed was the most comfortable sleep of my life. Enough bowing and scraping took place to make me think that perhaps the staff thought I was an incognito head of state. And then there were the frothy champagne cocktails in Claridge’s Bar, which I thought was the epitome of chic. To this day I hold the hotel as the ideal to which all overnights are measured, so it seems almost too good to be true that a standard room can be had for £299 per night through the end of the year.  The promotion also includes a welcome bottle of chilled champagne and traditional English breakfast for two. And if you’re thinking what I’m thinking you’re thinking it’s time for tea.

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d-day v-day

It should come as no surprise to hear that scoring a Valentine table at one the city’s top restaurants is one of the toughest tricks in town. What most people aren’t aware of is that many of those same eateries cater to a dirty little secret:  take out. So if tonight’s lovey-dovey dinner is only entering your brain as you read this, fear not: you can indulge in some of the same amazing food at a slightly closer table while pretending it was the original plan all along.

Allmenus.com houses the largest selection of menus in New York, making the online ordering process easy and the delivery efficient. Here are just a few suggestions for all you late-to-the-table romantics.

One If By Land Two If By Sea is renowned for seasonal American cuisine as well as for hosting some of the city’s most romantic meals, but what’s more romantic than the privacy of your own home? Choose from a three course prix-fixe or chef’s tasting menu – just don’t forget the towering chocolate soufflé.

Don’t want to go out in the cold to buy a bottle of champagne? Let the bubbly come to you. Flute’s take out menu has a list of more than 100 types of champagne, including the grande dames: Krug, Cristal, Veuve Clicquot, Taittinger, and Dom. There’s also an enticing array of apps to complement the champers: smoked salmon, caviar and chocolate crepes.

If hearty Italian is more of what you crave, let Mario Batali treat you to Babbo’s signature over-the-top Roman-style trattoria menu (deconstructed Osso Buco For Two anyone?) — complete with wine pairing suggestions.

Now all you’ll need to do is light some candles and take all the credit. That’s amore!

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