Visiting Hannah in Manhattan, part two.
Yesterday it was pouring rain. Since Hannah had to work, I planned to entertain myself - my first mission was to find a long modest skirt to wear to services at Shearith Israel (the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue, the oldest congregation in North America).
I downloaded a list of thrift stores and headed out. It seems, though, that as rents have increased thrift stores have gone out of business. I wandered in a zig-zag manner, through the rain, heading downtown, finding store after store defunct, replaced by Bengali restaurants, laundromats, etc.
About 40-50 blocks later I found the still-extant Salvation Army Thrift Store.
An excellent selection, but no dressing room. I had to try on my skirts in the open, at the only mirror, taking turns with a gorgeous young woman who had a big basket of finds and each one fit her perfectly and was spectacular. She was not wearing underwear. The sad old guys who were dispiritedly picking through men's clothing didn't even look up to enjoy the view.
I got a skirt and some shoes (because I'd only packed workboots for this trip), and headed back uptown.
To get relief from the rain, and to find a bathroom, I holed up at the Borders café on the second floor near Madison Square garden, near a window with a phenomenal view of the world. I doodled Celtic designs on graph paper to reduce my feeling of overstimulation.
The guy at the table next to me was intently looking through binoculars at the street scene below for a long time. I wondered if he was a Private Investigator.
Later Hannah got off work, the Urban Caballero showed up, and we were off to services. Shearith Israel is gorgeous and in the hallway you can read parchment documents from its early history, including a register which informed congregants testily that, owing to the war (the American Revolution), weddings were not being recorded properly.
We were the first two women up in the balcony, and when services started there were only about ten people in attendance. Three guys in tall hats sit behind the cantor, who had a wonderful voice, and there was a fabulous all-male choir in the balcony (women's voices are evidently too seductive). Though I tried to follow along in the prayer book, most of the time I sat dazed by all the air that choir was moving. I think the pulsating sound waves in my brain were like a drug. They reminded me of Zlatne Ustne Balkan brass band, a group which starts up with the director's announcement: "Gentlemen, start your engines."
People kept coming, even unto the last ten minutes of the proceedings! The services ended very abruptly, everybody stopped mumbling and got up and started milling around.
I intercepted the choir director on his way out and asked if there were a way for me to get a copy of one of their arrangements for my choir in North Carolina. Most New Yorkers would just say, "No," and push on past. This nice guy, though, took me up into the choir loft! He went through his filing cabinet full of crumbling octavo editions of ancient, fabulous Sephardic liturgical arrangements, saying "it's got to be here somewhere."
He was mortified not to find the specific one I'd requested - he stared sadly into the empty space where it should have been. He was tempted to take a copy off one of the music stands which were set up for the next service, but said, "this is my starting lineup, they've each marked up their music... I'm sorry..." Imagine!
He gave me a couple other pieces and said if I wrote to him he'd send the one I'd asked for. I left triumphantly clutching these crumbling scores, what a phenomenal souvenir. We were the last ones out of the building; the maintenance man turned off the lights and locked the doors behind us.
Today there's going to be a logistical nightmare in this tiny apartment - one person is moving out, down the narrow five flights of stairs, and another will be squeezing past him as she tries to move in. There will be parents involved.
Hannah and I plan to make ourselves scarce; we'll take flour, butter and brown sugar over to the Urban Caballero's house and make hamantashen. He has never used his oven before.