Monday, October 30, 2017

Big whopping "Zero" makes this birthday special!

Another birthday and it's time to celebrate.
There are birthdays and then there are birthdays! This one comes complete with a big whopping "zero" to remind me that time and tide wait for no man.

With that in mind I've spent the last year out and about -- Boston and New York, Vegas and Salt Lake City; Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon; Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon and the Grand Staircase Esplanade! Later this month the always lovely Miss Wendy and I will be cruising about the Caribbean and we'll finish up the year back in the Big Apple.

I began 2017 by seeing "Dear Evan Hansen" and "Chicago" on Broadway and will end it in December with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall and, back on Broadway, seeing "Come From Away"! Filling up the time and space from there to here was a smorgasbord of outings with friends -- dinner dates and movies, parties, holiday meals, walks, hikes and meaningful chats; and, certainly worth noting, a mini-reunion with a few folks who I worked and played with at the Red and Black, UGA's student newspaper, when Richard Nixon was still president, computers were the size of a ginormous room and fed with punch cards, and an apple was a snack that, ostensibly, would keep a doctor away if eaten once a day!

So, how old now? Well, just count the candles!
It's also been a year when I've been lucky enough to spend some quality time with my brothers, traveling with them to a few of the top spots on my ever-diminishing bucket list; doing, um, family stuff with my extended family and staying close and busy with my remarkable and amazing daughter, Lauren, and son-in-law Josh. And then there's Bailey and Avi, my absolutely perfect grandkids who fill my life each day with renewed wonder and constant love.

Oh, there's also the lovely Miss Wendy, my wife, partner and soulmate who has been willing to put up with my nonsense for well over four decades; the person most responsible for keeping some semblance of balance in my life with her half-glass-filled vibe and upbeat attitude.

But I digress ... and where's an editor when you need one! The point of this post is to share a bit of distilled wisdom it's taken me nearly seven decades to learn. Plastics, despite the advice offered up by Mr. McGuire to Benjamin, isn't the answer to the big question of life. Who Knew!

Okay, truth to tell, this note is actually my incredibly long and windy way to thank you, all my Facebook friends, for your recent birthday wishes. It's nice to know that, if only for a moment, a gaggle of family and friends was thinking of me and wishing me well on this special day!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

National treasure hidden away in plain sight!

Antelope Canyon: A surrealist dream come to life.
Antelope Canyon spread all about, a swirl of colors and twisting shapes, beautiful and poetic. Climbing down into the lower canyon is like tumbling into a serpentine maze that manages to be both claustrophobic and expansive. The hidden space -- it's beneath the scarred and sun-bleached landscape of northern Arizona -- is just one of many highlights on a recent trip out West with two of my brothers and a nephew.

The journey began in another colorful place, Las Vegas, a jarring mix of ginormous hotels and casinos, souvenir shops and bars, upscale retail stores, malls and specialty restaurants. Hordes of tourists, conventioneers and locals jostle their way along the city's neon-soaked strip, the air heavy with the stench of cigarette smoke, hope, greed and, yes, sadness.

After all, only a week earlier a gunman had murdered 58 people attending a country music concert in Vegas and injured hundreds of others in what is now considered the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. That's not to suggest that the city has gone dark. It continues to twinkle, especially at night when a pleasing blend of music and lights offer up dreams of hedonistic delights that add weight and meaning to the city's marketing slogan, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!"

Las Vegas: Still twinkling despite recent tragedy.
For me and my traveling companions -- Gary, Larry and Ryan -- the city was mostly a footnote on this trip, a brief stop and gathering spot. Truth to tell, we were much more interested in spending time with Mother Nature then ogling showgirls or feeding the slots!

The good news is that it only takes a moment to shake the Vegas vibe and find a welcoming landscape of craggy hills and sun-baked plains nearby. I-15 splits Vegas and crawls across the southeast corner of Nevada, just touching the northwest tip of Arizona before playing out in southern Utah.

Mother Nature has done a splendid job here, filling the region with natural wonders and beauty: soaring mountains and majestic canyons; verdant meadows and burbling brooks; pristine rivers and lakes and an abundance of wildlife. So it's not at all surprising that the area has a number of state and national parks featuring a wide range of awesome sights.

Finally out and about, our little group took a short break at Valley of Fire State Park, 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. It's mostly a bleak and desolate prairie filled with brilliant formations of eroded sandstone and sand dunes, all aflame in shades of orange. The landscape is grand an unique, both bizarre and beautiful.

Zion National Park: Grand and Unique, stunning and beautiful.
Truth to tell, such words and thoughts could be mixed and matched and easily used to describe the half dozen or so places we visited over the next several days, including Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah. We then turned south and, backtracking a few hours, explored the Glen Canyon National Recreation area and a couple of slot canyons buried in a rocky and remote area of Arizona known as the Navaho Nation Land.

The canyons, the last stop on our mystical and magical dance with Mother Nature, provided a colorful exclamation point for the journey. Only a day earlier we had been walking about the ancient hoodoos of Bryce Canyon -- tall, thin spires of rock that spilled across the landscape -- certain that we had been privy to the very best Gaia had to offer.

Au contraire mon ami!

Bryce Canyon: Bizarre hoodoos dot the landscape.
The lower Antelope Canyon, on the outskirts of Page, Ariz., is a surrealistic dream come to life, a glorious blend of light and color, eroded rock and Navaho sandstone. Flash floods helped form the undulating corridor, smoothing out hard edges over time and creating "flowing" shapes in the rock.

The canyon, opened to the public in the mid-1990s, is about 120 feet deep. You enter from above, gingerly working your way down a series of metal steps, in some spots having to squirm through small openings in the rock with little to hold onto. Once on the ground you'll have to weave your way along the twisting canyon floor, squeezing around spots where the path becomes pinched and outcroppings of rock block your path.

The traveling gang: Ron, Gary, Larry and Ryan.
The trip, of course, is worth the effort.

I've been fortunate enough to see a number of natural and man-made wonders in my life: the Grand Tetons and Grand Canyon; the Eiffel Tower and Tower of London; Masada and the Western Wall; the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge!

The Antelope Canyons easily rest alongside these other places as wonderful and wondrous. The lower canyon is both beautiful and awesome; its colors and shapes an ode to the quiet, unyielding power of nature. Given the right frame of mind, it's here and in other such sanctuaries that I find the static of life gives way to something grand and sacred, a national treasure hidden away in plain sight!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Las Vegas: Twinkling lights and a memorial for the dead

Vegas Strip remains bright and dazzling despite recent tragedy.
The first surprise when stepping onto the Las Vegas strip in early October is the weather. The blast furnace of summer has clicked off in recent days and been replaced with moderate temps that hover in the low 80s. It's still warm, but not unbearably hot, and crowds of tourists are out and about like bees in search of nectar.

For first-time visitors, getting around can be an unexpected challenge. The massive scale of the hotels and casinos that line Las Vegas Boulevard -- Caesars Palace and Circus Circus; the Luxor and MGM Grand; Bellagio, the Venetian and a dozen or so others -- give the impression that a festive playground is easily within reach. It's not.

The resorts are huge and trekking about is a tiresome and time-consuming affair. The illusion is only magnified when the sun goes down and the Vegas lights come fully alive, offering up a dazzling, multi-colored fantasy land.

Memorial honors 58 people killed by deranged gunman.
It's this twinkling world, filled with dreams of hedonistic delights that adds weight and meaning to the city's marketing slogan, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!" Tragically, the dream morphed into a nightmare earlier this month when a deranged gunman opened fire from his suite in a high-rise hotel, the Mandalay Bay, raking a nearby concert venue with thousands of rounds of gunfire.

In just a little over 10 minutes, the shooter managed to murder 58 people, injuring hundreds more in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Police report that in the midst of one 31-second span, the shooter fired a staggering 280 rounds, roughly nine bullets every second.

I'm in Vegas to meet up with two of my brothers and  nephew, a brief stop and gathering spot for a trip that will take us across southern Utah to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. But for the moment I have joined with dozens of other tourists to walk about a temporary memorial resting at the foot of the neon-soaked sign welcoming visitors to "fabulous" Las Vegas, Nevada!

And off in the distance a yuuuge golden blemish.
The space is filled with a jarring mix of balloons and banners, flowers, candles and personal notes and prayers for the victims. A line of wooden crosses, one for each person killed, cuts across the grounds, a sobering remembrance and reminder of this most recent madness.

This isn't the first such memorial I've visited. Last year I was in Orlando only weeks after 49 people were murdered at Pulse, a gay bar on the southern fringes of the downtown area. The Vegas memorial echoes the melancholy vibe found there and, sadly, in another few days, perhaps a week or two, the lawn here will be swept clean and Las Vegas will become yet another painful memory of a place where evil once visited.

The names of the dead and injured in attacks stretching back decades are mostly forgotten in a world moving at the speed of light. Inevitably, the locations are what we recall: Columbine, Blacksburg, Newtown, Aurora, Fort Hood and Charleston; San Bernadino, San Ysidro, Washington, D.C. and Tucson.

City a jarring mixture of hope, greed and really expensive cars.
The full list spans the country. No region is immune to the momentary madness of mostly boys and men directed by hate, fear and a grotesque anger fueled by job and personal issues, teen angst and mental illness.

Our political leaders, starting with the yamster-in-chief in the Oval Office, have offered their thoughts and prayers while, yet again, failing to take any sort of legislative action to deal with the problem. Their tepid response, a predictable show of institutional madness, is simply to ignore the issue. It's a rancid position -- bought and paid for by the NRA -- that will certainly result in additional slaughter, thoughts and prayers!

Some "patriots" argue the lack of gun control, the shootings and mass murder, is the price of freedom. If that's the case then the cost is too high. That becomes clear in the heartbreak that hangs heavily above the Vegas strip this day and the knowledge that other innocent victims will be picking up the check in coming years.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Neo-Nazis a wakeup call for Trump's supporters?

Tiki-Torch toting neo-Nazis, other hate group members in Charlottesville.
There's a notion among many people who aren't Jewish that a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. The thought isn't built around bigotry or racist ideas, but a theological construct that suggests all Jews believe and practice Judaism in the same fashion. Of course Jews know this to be false and that there is a wide spectrum of religious and spiritual beliefs both connecting and dividing "Members of the Tribe"!

Once upon a time in America, however, the belief that a Jew is a Jew is a Jew was arguably true -- at least in the political arena. For most of the last century Jews were Democrats, a solid part of the coalition that supported the rise of labor unions and the rights of workers; FDR's New Deal and the world's epic, cataclysmic and, ultimately, successful battle against fascism; MLK's dream and the country's ongoing struggle to provide life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all its citizens.

This leaning towards the left was often a matter of self-preservation. After all, Jews, like most other immigrants making their way to America, were not immediately welcomed into the country with open arms. The embrace of Lady Liberty and the Democratic party's message of hope was a refreshing boon for a folk fleeing repressive regimes, intolerance and persecution.

Melting pot takes on yiddishe tang in recent years.
Skip ahead a century or so and assimilation and hard work has stripped away most of the stumbling blocks Jews faced after paying their dues in the Lower East Side of Manhattan and, decades later, across the Levittowns of America. Quota systems were junked, antisemitism crawled underneath a rock and the country's melting pot took on a decidedly yiddishe tang!

In recent years, opportunity and success have had some Members of the Tribe rethinking their political views, moving gently toward the center before testing the conservative waters of the Grand Old Party. A few -- Henry Kissinger, Alan Greenspan, Ari Fleischer, Eric Cantor, Bernie Marcus -- have even managed to drive the Republican message in ways both grand and small.

What the hell must they be thinking today!

Like many other Republicans, Jews on the political right have spent the last couple of years -- yes, it's been over two years since The Donald walked down that escalator in Trump Towers -- shrugging off the odious comments of the man now sitting in the Oval Office. He's not a politician, they argued, he's a businessman; he'll get the economy moving and drain the swamp; don't take him literally, but take him seriously. And the piece de resistance: He's not great, but he's better than Hillary!

The Donald moments before tossing his hat into the ring.
Meanwhile, white nationalists and a legion of other bigots are certain they have found their champion, a man-child who has surrounded himself with a gaggle of sycophants and, worse, a coterie of aides -- Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, Michael Anton and Sebastian Gorka -- offering up a toxic mix of nativist ideology and racist beliefs.

The yamster-in-chief has spent months tilling the soil of hatred and stoking the flames of white supremacy. His bounty could be found in Charlottesville over the weekend, a mixed bag of misfits -- neo-Nazis and klansmen, armed paramilitary footmen and other such haters -- strutting about like preening fools.

Believing that the country's commander-in-chief is their ally, the rabble offered up a disturbing and disgusting message filled with anti-semitic tropes: Jews you lose; Jews will not replace us; the Goyim know; the Jewish media is going down. And they marched, holding aloft tiki torches that lit up the night sky and stretched far back into a darker time when evil was set loose about the globe.

A Jew is a Jew is a Jew. When I write those words it's a statement of identity or an exploration of faith. When a dolt waving a confederate flag and wearing a tee-shirt emblazoned with a swastika offers up that thought the message becomes much darker and more sinister.

So I'm wondering where my Jewish friends on the right are today? I'm wondering if they're still shrugging their shoulders and supporting the man who's paved the way to such mayhem with his winks and whistles and endless lies. I'm wondering exactly what it would take to have them pull their heads out of the sand and, finally, I'm wondering about Edmund Burke and the triumph of evil.

It's time for good men -- good people -- to speak out. It's time!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Two geezers, a geyser and a walk in the park!

Grand Tetons snow-capped peaks rise 14,000 feet in northwest Wyoming.
The day had been splendid, driving and trekking about Yellowstone National Park, a euphonic blend of bubbling brooks and mist-shrouded waterfalls, expansive meadows and plunging canyons, snow-capped mountains and pristine forests.

If there was anything missing at all this day in the massive park filling the northwest corner of Wyoming, it was the lack of wildlife. My brother Larry -- a tour guide extraordinaire -- had promised we'd be stumbling across a veritable zoo of beasts. Maybe not lions and tigers and bears, but plenty of elk and bison and moose.

We did spot the occasional chipmunk and squirrel but, apparently, Yellowstone's animals were on break, at least for the moment. That would soon change and the snap decision I had made only a few days earlier to drop all I was doing and fly 1,500 miles across the country would eventually register big in the winning category.

The adventure began with a cryptic text from Larry, asking if I was interested in visiting the Grand Tetons? Both parks -- the Tetons and Yellowstone -- were nestled atop my bucket list and, at the time, I was nestled atop a comfy couch in my den.

Larry and me at Hidden Falls in Grand Teton National Park.
So, naturally, I responded "sure"!

Three days later, thanks and a tip of the cap to Frontier Airlines, I was meeting up with my brother in Salt Lake City. Another five hours and 300 miles later we were pulling into Jackson Hole after passing through parts of Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, three states that for me had been only distant blips on a map! A fourth state, Montana, would also drop into my "been there" basket during the trip.

The journey, especially through the Teton Pass -- 25 miles or so of twisting and plummeting drop offs that spill into rocky canyons and verdant meadows -- offered up a memorable preview of the next few days.

I got my first up close and personal look at the Tetons the following morning. The mountain range stretches to the far horizon of Grand Teton National Park -- 40 miles or so -- and its snow-capped peaks rise 14,000 feet above the valley floor. Because there are no foothills along the eastern side of the range, the view is, in a word, breathtaking!

Larry and I spent an hour or so orienting ourselves, driving along a twisting road in the park that hugged the landscape with a dusty embrace. We eventually stumbled across a trailhead that caught our attention and decided to hike into the nearby forest. We weren't alone.

A field of wildflowers one of the joys of hiking in our national parks.
There were a couple dozen vehicles -- cars, trucks and smallish RVs -- littered about the side of the roadway, and an assortment of hikers making their way along a nearby trail. The good news is everyone spread out quickly, finding their own pace, managing to enjoy the morning both together and apart.

There was much to see. The path was a cornucopia of wild flowers and evergreen trees, a trickling creek and gushing waterfall. Off in the distance, the Tetons stood watch, a hovering presence forever reaching out to the sky.

We stayed busy enjoying the bounty, following the marked trail that took us ever higher. Around each bend was a new find, often something small and simple like a field of Glacier Lilies or a ledge covered with Alpine Forget-Me-Nots. Occasionally there was something grand and memorable: a wooden bridge spanning a gushing stream or a picturesque meadow that stretched into tomorrow!

Only 40 minutes or so into the hike we hit a plateau, surrounded by trees and an assortment of flowers. High above, the Tetons remained a quiet sentinel, lightly mirrored in the chilly waters of a mountain lake that spilled across a distant valley. All was quiet. Only a passing breeze dared break the ethereal silence.

Old Faithful popping off yet again.
The following morning we traveled an hour north and ventured into Yellowstone in search of hot springs and hot wildlife. We found the springs, but the wildlife -- elk and bison and moose -- remained hidden. So we busied ourselves exploring the park's expansive network of geothermal wonders.

There were boiling mud pots, vividly colored hot springs such as the Grand Prismatic Spring and a host of regularly erupting geysers, including Old Faithful that faithfully popped off only minutes after we arrived.

We spent most of the day walking about these other-worldly sites while also taking in the other natural wonders of the park: gently rolling meadows and cascading waterfalls, fields of colorful wild flowers and acres of virgin forests. But the day was playing out and one of the park's main attractions, the animals, were still AWOL!

We had managed to work our way up to the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District, the administrative and concession headquarters for the park, just outside Gardiner, Mont., where a park ranger seemed surprised we were having difficulty finding any wildlife. After all, more than 60 mammal species, including gray wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, lynxes, bison and elk have been spotted in the park in recent years.

Finally we spotted a herd of bison spread across a field in Lamar Valley.
Oh, he also mentioned there was a herd of elk nearby, just around the corner, in fact. And if we didn't mind backtracking an hour or so there were herds of bison spotted recently in Lamar Valley, an expansive area of Yellowstone often referred to as the Serengeti of the U.S. for the extraordinary diversity of animals living there.

After checking out the herd of elk -- amazing, simply amazing -- we were back on the road, racing against the clock and a pale blue sky filled with storm clouds growing dark on the far horizon. Only 30 minutes later we spotted several cars that had pulled off the road, generally a good sign that something interesting was in the area. And so it was!

Just 50 yards ahead, a herd of bison were making their way to a field, crossing the road in front of our car. They paid little notice to the attention they were receiving from a gaggle of tourists. Their young -- the bisons, not the tourists -- scampered about playfully while their elders focused on the good eats in the meadow.

And after the storm this amazing rainbow appeared.
We spent another 30 minutes driving deeper into the valley, spotting additional herds of bison before the heavens finally opened and a powerful summer storm sent us, and most of the other tourists, scurrying for cover. Minutes later the downpour slackened to a drizzle and the most amazing rainbow -- in fact, a double rainbow -- appeared in the sky. It perfectly framed the road ahead, and spread across the valley like a whispered remembrance from childhood.

The evening was upon us as we headed back toward Gardiner. I asked Larry to pull off the road as the sun began its final descent of the day and glanced about at the natural beauty of this place. A gentle and distant promise filled my soul and at least for a time I found myself a human, as the saying suggests, simply being ... and it was evening and it was morning and it was good!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A dose of reality on the streets of Boston

Bumping into "someone" and offering a helping hand.
The lovely Miss Wendy and I were wandering about Back Bay, taking an early evening stroll on our last day in Boston. The weather had cleared and the oppressive heat of the afternoon had given way to a pleasant chill.

Families and couples were out and about, along with gaggles of college students and tourists enjoying the final hours of the weekend. There was much to see and enjoy: trendy restaurants and boutiques; intimate gardens and expansive parks; soaring skyscrapers and ivy-covered town homes.

All was not perfect, however. Off in the distance, as we neared Copley Square, I spotted a bag lady struggling to cross the street.

She had managed to cart a suitcase and black garbage bag to the median strip of the divided roadway, had made her way back to the sidewalk and was struggling with a second battered case and several other bags as we neared. I figured it was going to take her several trips to reach the relative safety of the far sidewalk.

So I handed Wendy my camera, approached the woman and asked if she could use some help. She was fixated on her stuff, fussing about and mildly agitated. She glanced my way and mumbled something that sort of sounded like "yes" as I took hold of the case and a second bag and began to cross the street.

She told me I needed to wait until the traffic signal changed. I remain unsure if it was a legal or safety issued that captured her attention. A moment later she caught up with me and her bags and, because I'm a giving sort of guy, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a handful of bills.

It wasn't until that instant that I had a chance to get a good look at her. She appeared to be well into her 70s, a little ragged around the edges, but clean with a pleasant face surrounded by a swirl of white hair. I couldn't help thinking that she reflected the sentiment of a sign I once saw a homeless person holding: I USE TO BE SOMEONE! Someone, indeed!

I started to give her the money I was holding when she stepped back a foot or so, glanced over at Wendy and asked if she was my wife. I nodded, yes. Then things got a little weird!

The bag lady apparently had a set of rules that govern her life and quietly explained to me that she never takes money directly from men. She asked if I would please give the money to my wife and have her hand over the cash.

I can't fathom the philosophical or psychological gymnastics at play in her mind. And even though I was curious about the why of it all, I decided to play along and pass the cash to Wendy who passed it along to her.

Wendy and I still had things to see and places to go. As we headed off in search of a sugary treat and  last look at the nearby skyline, I glanced back at the bag lady. It had only been a moment, but she had vanished into the twilight, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

An ode to Avi on turning one

Avi is turning one and he's darn excited!
The noise is what you notice first. It's a jarring blend of banging mashed up with a banshee howl! In an instant Avi whizzes by in his baby walker, colliding with whatever happens to be in his path. His destination? Pretty much wherever he sets his sights!

Welcome to Baby Watch 101, an exercise that's more or less like herding kittens or trying to catch the wind. The good news is Avi always stumbles about with an infectious grin across his face and his wails of excitement are filled with good cheer.

As he finishes up his first trip around the Sun and officially turns one this week, he has mastered all those firsts you'd expect of a healthy, happy baby.

Avi poops and pees just fine, thank you very much; is just about finished with nursing and now enjoys a wide range of tasty foods; is talking gibberish that I'm thinking will morph into recognizable English sooner then we might expect and is pulling himself up and cruising about with abandon!

He's also at that exasperating stage where there is no corner he doesn't wish to explore, no staircase he doesn't want to climb, no sharp and shiny objects he doesn't have to grab! He's a study in rapid motion and energy and a challenge to watch and contain!

Bailey and Avi are already the best of friends.
Avi is also a joyous spirit, filled with the stuff of life; a malleable piece of clay that with proper care and attention will find a unique place in the world one day. The poets and philosophers among us might explore how a meaningful destiny patiently awaits his arrival just this side of the horizon, second star to the right, and straight on till morning!

My birthday wish is much simpler, that he remains healthy and happy!

Fortunately, that shouldn't be a problem since Avi has loving and doting parents, Lauren and Josh; loving and weary grandparents, Janice, Steve, Wendy and me; and an older sister, Bailey, who finds her younger brother adorable!

It's clear that all is well with the world when Bailey wants nothing more than to gently hug Avi and give him a kiss before heading off to preschool each morning. Bottle up such sweet innocence and sprinkle it about and I'm thinking all our days would be a bit brighter.

So Avi, dude,
you're now working on two;
and all I can say
is HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
Oh, it's also true
that we all love you ... and the check is in the mail!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Taking another bite out of the Big Apple!

Exploring new transport hub near World Trade Center.
The lovely Miss Wendy and I were four hours into a six-hour walking tour of lower Manhattan when we stumbled across Rocco's, a pasticceria in the West Village. The shop was a sugary delight and one of the many highlights of a recent trip to the Big Apple.

Yet again Wendy and I had pulled out our winter gear -- heavy coats, scarves and gloves -- and traveled north for what's become an annual pilgrimage to New York; a trip to the really big city to attend a few Broadway shows and eat our way across Manhattan. This time around we added a couple of tours so we could finally get an up close and personal look at several of the diverse neighborhoods -- Chinatown and Little Italy, SoHo, NoHo, the Meatpacking District and Chelsea -- that fill and define the southern end of the city that never sleeps.

The walking tour offered a sweeping historic overview of the area, from its founding and development around the southern tip of Manhattan to the impact its early settlers and residents had on the rapid growth of the region and country. A second tour at the Tenement Museum off Delancy Street on the Lower East Side focused on the immigrants who flooded into the area during the last half of the 19th Century.

Thumbs up: "Evan Hansen"
The tours were both fun and enlightening, but it was the delightful blend of Gotham energy, entertainment and good eats that made the trip memorable. Of course Broadway, as usual, was part of the mix!

"Dear Evan Hansen", one of three shows we attended during our four-day vacation, is breaking box office records at the moment and was the proverbial cherry on our holiday sundae. It's a musical with a message, exploring loneliness, bullying and suicide with a powerful and creative digital twist.

The two other shows -- the long-running musical "Chicago" and a one-woman play, "Not That Jewish" -- were amusing and distracting in an entertaining, if predictable fashion. "Evan Hansen", meanwhile, is wholly unpredictable and, I'm thinking, will be a big winner at this year's Tony Awards.

Sangria at Rafele's packs a tasty punch.
Fortunately, there was plenty of time between tours and shows to enjoy a few of the city's classic and unique delis, bakeries, diners and restaurants. We stumbled across a couple of new places and revisited a few familiar spots: Ben's Deli in Midtown and Le Marais, a kosher steakhouse a few blocks north; Zabar's on the Upper West Side and Katz's just the other side of Houston Street and around the corner from Russ and Daughters, the Jewish grocery specializing in caviar, smoked fish, herring and bagels.

What's mostly lingering about in my noggin at the moment, however, is the wine Wendy and I gulped down at Rafele's in the West Village. The restaurant -- we discovered it on a food tour several years ago -- has the best sangria I've ever tasted. We started off with a single goblet of the fruity nectar, but managed to polish off another two glasses as we dined on an assortment of Neapolitan dishes.

Italian bakery in West Village perfect way to end the day.
We then staggered out into the Village, a lightly falling snow covering the neighborhood with a modest dusting of the white stuff. The setting and vibe seemed just about perfect -- or maybe it was the alcohol ... I did mention there was booze, right? The day's outing only got better when we found ourselves wandering passed Rocco's.

Turns out the Italian bakery is a New York institution -- who knew? It's filled with a variety of goodies that are fresh and tasty and a perfect way to end a perfect day! Despite a yuge variety of cakes and cookies, pastries and other such sweets, we kept things simple and shared a mini-eclair and fruitamisu, a bit of pastry topped with a hefty glob of cream and fresh fruit.

I'm thinking we'll be back again, both to Rocco's and New York. After all, if you can eat it there you can eat it anywhere! Not at all sure what that means, but if it was good enough for the Chairman of the Board, it's good enough for me!