Summer Solstice Eve (A Very Long Drive, Music, Stars, Isabella’s restaurant & More Driving)

 Last night was Summer Solstice Eve, the day before  the earth’s tilt is at the greatest vantage point for the sun to shine on it’s northern hemisphere for the longest stretch of time. This means that this is the longest day of the year, and of course that is misleading: we don’t have more time (it keeps trouncing on), but the illusion of more time, because of longer light!

American Museum of Natural History

Today is hailed to be the first day of Summer, but I like the more pagan view of it, and this actually being Midsummer, when ghosts, fairies and goblins are out doing mischief and the plant world especially trembles with life, (think Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and you’ll get the picture).

“I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine” (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

I find if you don’t have something planned on semi-obscure days like this, one tends to forget about them until they have passed. When my sister-in-law Jennifer said that her string quartet (Cassatt) would be ringing in the Summer Solstice in the Hayden Planetarium at America’s Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, and if we would like to come to listen while watching the stars and planets dancing on the domed ceiling, I was delighted. It sounded a little more magical and apt than anything I could have planned (besides a pilgrimage to Stonehenge), and it would be a chance to hang out with my brother and his family.

“Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere” (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare)

It takes about 2 hours to drive to Manhattan from our house, and by-in-large that is a pretty accurate estimate. Sometime however, I have been stuck in traffic due to a road accident (other unfortunate people, not me as yet – touch wood), or when there are a gazillion cars trying to squeeze into the city at the same time. I planned for these events yesterday and we set out 4 hours before the performance. With a little nail-biting and gnashing of teeth, we made it 10 minutes before the lights went out and the stars appeared, making it the longest time it has taken me to get to the city ever!

“I must go seek some dew-drops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear” (from A MiDsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare)

Was sitting in the Hayden Planetarium and watching a detailed astrovisualization of the Solstice sky, while listening to music performed by Cassatt in perfect synchronicity worth the harrowing drive, and then the dead heat of the city? For me, it is a resounding “yes” and by all accounts everyone present seemed to be in the same revery for the hour-long event as I was. During the music that I found particularly beautiful, I became aware of a feeling that I can only describe as happiness. That definition changes for me on a daily basis, so I am more than pleased that I not only had that experience, but also glad that I recognised that fleeting moment among the mostly routine moments of my life.

“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear” (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare)

Isabella’s at 359 Columbus Avenue at 77th St. NYC

After that it was off to dinner where Jennifer had made reservations a few blocks away. We walked through the little park adjoining the museum to Columbus Avenue and 77th st. to Isabella’s. Apparently, the restaurant was named after Queen Isabella of Spain, who had sent Christopher Columbus sailing across the ocean to discover the New World. This is the story that came from a lovely conversation I had with Carly the manager, who was one of many very friendly staff members working the dinner shift last night.

Columbus Avenue, NYC

OK, so why do people go to restaurants? There are many reasons for me, and the food is definitely very important, but last night was a little different. The food was good enough for me not to complain, but not so spectacular that we talked about little else while eating.

diners at the outdoor cafe at Isabella’s

The thing that will bring me back to this part of town was the refreshingly wonderful staff and the complete and undivided attention our waiter bestowed upon us. This is a city where the choices are so varied and endless it takes nothing more than the slightest negative gesture by a restaurant’s help to send you out of the place, never to return.

Herb Roasted Chicken with Broccoli Rabi & Carmelized Onions

Granted, you can tolerate arrogance and the feeling of being invisible if the food is sublime, but frankly, I don’t know what food is worth being treating badly over? And, then there is just downright incompetence, where you wait endlessly for a fork to eat your spaghetti, or for that important initial drink when you first sit down.

Cheeseburger with Fries

These things play a big part in the whole “dining experience” So many times I have been in restaurants where the food is so-so but the service is so good, it melts your culinary-hardened   heart. This is not a restaurant I would have chosen, having an aire of sophistication that is off-putting to me. I look for different characteristics depending on where I am, and when in Manhattan, I seem to like a hipper place where the food can be anything from very traditional (authentic French, Italian, Asian) to something more modern and experimental (like Momofuku).

Hay & Straw Linguine with Chicken, Mushrooms, sun-Dried Tomatoes & Herbs

When we walked into Isabella’s it was alive with diners and the lady at the reservation desk was simply lovely. What else about this place won me over: our waiter Boudhi (who is known in the city as Brandon because people had a hard time pronouncing his name?) had drinks on the table and the specials listed before I had time to put my napkin on my lap. He also gave in to my request to sell the house prosecco (sold by the glass only) by the bottle, and then never left my glass empty. He was attentive without being a sycophant. I shouldn’t mention that he was tall, dark and handsome, but it would be a shame not to, as tacky as that might sound.

Eve really enjoyed her Berry Sorbet!

I know I may have gone on a bit of a tangent but I wanted to write about a place that I would normally just skip over by saying we had dinner at some no-name restaurant on the Upper West Side, and that would be that. I found something charming about the place, and will remember it for it’s warmth and inviting atmosphere.

Time Square

What happened next? Well it was time to say our goodbyes and drive home. It was so late at this point we decided we may as well as drive through Time Square for one last adrenalin rush before leaving the big city. I am also happy to report it only took 2 hours to get home. We were all dead by the time our heads hit our pillows, but it will be a Summer Solstice I will remember.

“The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve;
Lovers, to bed; ’tis almost fairy time”

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