Old photograph of a Victorian Gentleman, from the
Victorian Parlour at Failte Irish Pub, in Mississauga
[Photo by KPA]
It seems appropriate to commemorate Larry Auster's second year of his death at Failte Irish Pub, here in Mississauga.
I had a 1/2 pint of Harp, which he told me was his favorite Irish beer. I posted on Irish beer and poetry, and Larry, here.
And here's a post I wrote in April 2013 (just about a year ago).
Larry's New York: Beauty in Unexpected Places
The first time I met Larry was in 2009, when I went to New York to participate in an event for the Danish Cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. I went with a group from Canada called the International Free Press Society. Larry knew about my trip to New York, and he and I met separately. He gave me a spot to meet in the middle of Manhattan, a small diner called The Red Flame. He had never met me before, but I had my blog up with my photo for a couple of years by then. He politely came up to me and asked "Are you Kidist?" rather than make a rude assumption. He ordered a hamburger, which I found out is a favorite of his, while I had a chicken salad. He was impressed with my dietary choice, and it was one of the best chicken salads I've had.
After lunch, we walked for many blocks up Fifth Avenue, with Larry pointing out various New York landmarks and spots. He was especially keen to show me Rockefeller Center, which clearly still surprised him even though he was a long-time resident of New York. The Christmas tree and decorations were up, and skaters were pirouetting beneath us.
We kept walking down Fifth Avenue and at some point we found a beautiful courtyard interior. I cannot find the name of this place, but New York is filled with such unique surprises. We got some refreshments, to take a break and to enjoy this interior. I ordered a diet coke, and Larry talked about ordering a whisky. But he was too polite to do so, and we sat drinking diet cokes together.
We met again almost two years later, in 2011. Larry planned a VFR Christmas dinner for his readers and friends. The group met at an Irish pub/restaurant in mid-town Manhattan called Kennedy's. I was honored to have been included in this list, and made every effort to attend. I was able to attend, and at the same time spend a few days in New York.
This time, our cultural visit was to the Metropolitan Museum. Laura Wood, from The Thinking Housewife also came. The attraction was the annual Christmas Tree with a Neapolitan Baroque Crèche. We looked at the figurines with amazement. How could such small sculptures be crafted so perfectly? We looked for Baby Jesus, and found his tiny, perfect form. After the visit, which included rushing through various exhibits in the museum, we went down to have a snack in the restaurant/cafeteria. Larry said he liked coming there for a meal. I agreed that the food was of high quality. I suspect it was also the cultural environment that Larry liked, when he went just for a meal to the museum.
I traveled again to New York in August 2012. I stayed about a week. This time, I went to try and get some sponsorship for my book project. I also did my usual rounds of shopping and museum viewing. I telephoned Larry to say I was in New York (I had emailed him about my trip), and he suggested we meet at the lovely Straus Park, which is near his home, as well as near where I was staying. I had bought my (computer/portable) tablet then, and Larry, with his perennial curiosity, wanted to look up more about the Park, while we sat on the bench in front of the statue "Memory."
According to this site, on the background of the Park:
In 1912, the City named this park after the Strauses, who had lived in a frame house at 27-47 Broadway, near 105th Street. Public subscriptions of $20,000 were raised to commission this monument. The work consists of a granite curved exedra, a central bronze reclining female figure of Memory (for which the celebrated model Audrey Munson posed), and a reflecting pool. The monument was dedicated three years to the day after the Titanic sank.
We nonetheless had cheerful things to talk about. I told Larry I went to Macy's earlier in the morning, and he asked me what I'd bought. It was a pink polka dot blouse which, I proudly told him, I'd gotten for half price on sale. Larry was in tune with clothing and fashion, and would notice small things like hats, bracelets and the patterns and colors of dresses, which he wasn't shy about commenting. I showed him a catalog of Carolina Herrera's evening gowns whose flagship store in mid-town Manhattan I'd also visited. He had some very clear preferences, and didn't like the low cut, "one-sleeve" evening gowns, and said it spoilt otherwise beautiful dresses. I agreed with him, that all this skin exposure was diminishing the beauty of the dresses, and the beauty of women.
My museum trip this time around was to the Cloisters. I had read about them in my tourist guide, and in an article a while back in some magazine, and was intrigued by them. I've written about them here. Larry was not so well by then, and I told him the trip is long. We'd have to take an uptown bus all the way to Washington Heights, then change buses to take us to the Cloisters. Once there, we would have to do a shortish walk on cobbled stones to get to the museum. He was hesitant, and I made the decision. "Let's go," I said. "We can always take the bus back, or catch a cab, if it is too difficult." We made it. It was a lovely trip. The Cloisters feel like a remote, hill-top castle. Even though they are technically in New York City, they feel like they're miles (geographically and culturally) away from the city. One lovely spot of repose is by the compound's walls, with a view of the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge.
Larry lived off Riverside Drive, which has a beautiful path by the Hudson River. We walked along the drive to view the various luxury homes, with their elegant mouldings and brickwork, and to experience some of the natural paths that are part of New York. There was a cool breeze coming from the river, a welcome respite from the hot August sun.
Recently, in December, I was in New York once again, and once again I attended a Christmas dinner for friends and readers of VFR. We met again at Kennedy's. Larry was weaker this time, and I think the dinner tired him. But he was good company. I met with him a couple of times after the dinner. This time, our cultural visit was to the Morgan Library and Museum, which houses Pierpont Morgan's collections (later expanded by his son J. P. Morgan) of books, manuscripts, sculpture and paintings in mid-town Manhattan. It is an eclectic and interesting place. Once again, I had gone earlier, and suggested to Larry that this would be a good place to visit. There were seats all around the museum for resting, and it is not overwhelmingly big. Larry seemed to acquire energy from somewhere, because we stayed viewing the collections longer than I thought we would.
Larry always liked to experience things, staying a little longer at an especially beautiful spot, or walking down an interesting curve in a path, or spending time before a sculpture or a painting. New York is a haven for beauty in unexpected places. Even the subways and buses were places for this unexpected beauty. In order to take his mind off his ill-health, Larry would recite poetry he had memorized. During one subway ride, he recited poems by W. B. Yeats to me. He said reciting these poems (aloud or silently) refreshed him and helped him to absorb his attention and put him in a calm state. He posted many poems by Yeats at View From the Right. I read and studied these poems over the years, and grew to know and to somewhat understand them.
One of the most enchanting places we visited was the Plaza Hotel near Central Park. I had visited it earlier and again told Larry we should go there just for coffee (a meal would just be too expensive). We entered the lovely lobby and went into the Palm Court. It was late afternoon, and the staff was closing down (tea can only be served for so long, after all). Larry asked if we could just sit at the edge for a little while, and the staff obliged. We also dared to walk around to view the "marble caryatids representing the Four Seasons on the westwall." The wait staff patiently left us alone. Covering the Palm Court is a spectacular, restored art deco stained glass ceiling, which gave a regal and grand air to our brief stay.
We went downstairs to the "food court" for a quick snack. For some reason Hamentash, a Jewish delicacy traditionally eaten during Purim, was available. Larry suggested I try one with apricot filling. It was a dry, sweet pastry, and the apricot gave it a distinct and sophisticated taste. So we did get our tea (or coffee) at the Plaza after all.
Later that week, we had dinner at West 107 on Broadway, where I had one of the best pork chop meals. There was enough left over to take home. Rather than have dessert, Larry suggested that we go to his neighborhood restaurant, The Broadway Restaurant (which is really a diner), for hot chocolate. It was a real treat, with whipped cream piled on top of the rich chocolate drink.
My last visit with Larry was at a hamburger meal in a restaurant called Toast, where we went after our visit to the Morgan Library. "Cook it rare" he told the waiter. He educated me on the best way to eat this American tradition: "I don't know how people eat the dried up, over-cooked hamburgers that has become normal fare. The meat has to be moist, and to do that, you need very good meat, and you cannot over cook it." And it was the best hamburger I have eaten.
At Toast, Larry decided to have a glass of his beloved whisky. He was very particular about the kind he wanted. The brand he chose he said was lighter and more delicate. I ordered the house wine, to keep him company, and to enjoy a glass. It was a lovely fruity, light wine. Larry picked up my glass and said he just wanted to smell it. He did so with relish. This episode encouraged me to write (and research) about wine. Here is the article I posted which I titled The God of Wine.
I could tell that Larry loved New York; the old, original, artistic New York. His neighborhood gave him a lot of pleasure, and almost every corner was for discovering. I think he enjoyed my company, and was happy to show me his New York. And he was protective. If we went too long without a break, he would suggest a snack or a meal, and he would more often than not pick up the tab. He put me in a taxi one late evening, and paid the driver the fare before I had time to protest.
Back in Canada, I received notice from a group of VFR readers that they were planning an intercessory prayer for Larry. I went to my favorite Irish pub in my neighborhood, Failte's, to toast Larry with my favorite beer, Harp. I emailed Larry photos I had taken of the interior of the pub, and that I had gone there to have a glass of Harp in his name. He wrote back that Harp was his favorite Irish beer. I found that uncanny, and a sign that I had done the right thing, and perhaps these prayers would make a difference.
If we had more time, I am sure he'd have found many places to discover, and to rediscover. And a few more things in common.
He wrote to me in an email in mid-January (2013): "There is something appealing about your semi flow-of-associations writing. Not everything needs to be big and important. What you provide is a feeling of your life, of yourself."
I hope with this account, I have provided a feeling for Larry's life, as I understood it and as I experienced it.
Posted By: Kidist P. Asrat