Big Apple layover

KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - August 13, 2012 - 12:00am

 Barely 72 hours of a layover in New York followed eight days in Smallville, USA, capping what was an exhilarating sojourn that featured baseball, nature treks, shopping and meals galore, as well as meet-ups with old colleagues and hearty camaraderie struck with new friends.

From Easley, South Carolina where the Big League World Series was held and where our MLL boys representing Asia-Pacific had done us proud by winding up third among the foreign teams of 16-to-18-year-olds, it was a 30-mile drive to Greenville-Spartanburg airport and a brief hop to Dulles in DC thence another to JFK.

Children’s educator Mayette Elepano Branwein lived quite close to the airport, thus tasked herself to welcome and pick us up for the long drive to Northport in Long Island, where we were hosted by Tina Punzalan-Roxas and Pitong Roxas.  

Surprisingly, it wasn’t as hot a summer day upon our arrival, on the first day of August. The large deck attached to the Roxases’ lovely home provided quick respite with occasional breezes and an expansive view of the large backyard replete with woods that characterized the pleasant neighborhood.

The sight of an ashtray plunked down by the super-genial Pitong on the al fresco table as soon as we took a seat calmed us no end, especially since we had lacked sleep and tobacco through the second-leg portage. Why, he even lit up ahead of us. Good to find out, too, that he was a fellow-Bedista, albeit for college and many years after our own long season in Mendiola.

Some guys one only needs a few minutes to unwind with, and you know you’ll get along well beyond the first bottle of good red wine shared towards sundown. That this fellow could also whip up terrific plates of steak while recounting his early days in Bataan and how he raised a family in the USA, from LA through Orlando to NY, suggested that we’d be in for more serious carousing once he pays a balikbayan visit by mid-September.

Tina and Mayette were exuberant that their Kulasa sister Ditas was finally home with them on the eastern seaboard. Oh the premium outlets that would be the serial destinations in the fortnight she’d spend with them. 

We were all brethren — as were the twins St. Benedict and St. Scholastica — under the motto ora et labora. The dinner of steak and sweet corn and mashed potatoes (sweet russet with the skin thrown in) was the communal prayer of fate that brought us together in this foreign if oh-so-familiar country, under a looming moon nearly drawing full, 12 hours distant from our homeland. 

Meanwhile, we also had our work cut out for us in the next two days, old friends to reconnect with lest they make tampo. And we only had till the weekend to course through the commitments.

From the Northport train station it was a little over an hour’s ride to Manhattan, time enough for a nap in that lulling environment of slow passage in comfortable seats. From Penn Station we went up 37th St. and raced the pavement denizens a couple of long blocks towards Fifth Avenue.

Quick snapshots of Gotham’s sundry features. The Empire State. A Chocolat shop. Our Philippine Center, where an art exhibit was on, except that the Pinoy officials manning the fort couldn’t tell who the artist was. We read his name from a poster. St. Patrick’s Church wrapped up in scaffolding, presumably for a paintjob. A couple of naked hunks posing for photo-ops with volunteer women in front of a clothier’s shop. 

And soon we were entering MOMA on 53rd St. We picked up our freebie tickets courtesy of a former mentee in poetry, Marie La Viña who had worked there — with the Picassos, Gauguins, Modiglianis, Manets, Kahlos etc. on the fifth floor. A hurried appreciation, and sweet throwback to our Humanities days in Peyups Diliman where poet Virgie Moreno had first introduced us to slides of these same artworks: our early memes of modern art.

On the 4th floor were the American modern masters; again, not much time left, not even to go out to a terrace for MOMA coffee, or pore over the architectural and design displays on the 3rd floor.

A merry literati’s get-together at Piopio Peruvian resto in Hell’s Kitchen, with, among others, Lara Stapleton, Luis Francia, Nerissa Balce, Sunita Mukhi, Gina Apostol, Bino Realuyo, Nita Noveno and Hossanah Asuncion

It was back to ground level so soon, to meet up with a trio of Bedans we had graduated with from high school, all of half-a-century ago. They didn’t look “retarded” — as senior citizens often joke among ourselves: Nito Abad, Fred Quijano and Oying Pinto, whom we had last seen during our Golden Jubilee at our beloved Mendiola campus in February 2010.

Three years before that, while also on a flyby or overnight stopover in this capital of the world, Nito and I had spent the night at the Quijanos’ place in New Jersey. Oying had beer-ed and steak-ed up with us but could go home, also in NJ, while Nito from Connecticut had to deposit me the next morning at JFK.

Oh yes, Nito had his Commander Leticia along. They had driven all the way from Richbury, CT. And oh yes, we three had also met up relatively recently, for an hour at LAX last February when they happened to be visiting West and went out of their way to check me out during yet another brief stopover.

This time, after the abrazos, we walked the streets of Manhattan towards Rockefeller Center, where Tony, or “iN” as we call him in our SBC ’56/’60 e-loop, short for “iNiot,” took serious photos with his bulky camera, of Ditas who recalled having posed on the same spot as a teener. A few years ago (deadpan choke).

Behind the lit-up landmark was our destination for the evening: Alfredo of Rome, elegant resto recom’d by Tina, not only because her sister Nanette is married to owner Russell Bellanca.   

Winner of the Diners’ Choice Award 2012 and many other culinary distinctions, Alfredo is particularly renowned for its original Fettuccine Alfredo dating back to 1914 in Roma.

Yes, we had that, as a main course and also as part of the Three-course Prix Fixe, along with Ossobuco, braised veal shank with mashed potatoes, and Pizza Valtellina topped with gorgonzola, mozzarella, fresh pears and truffle oil, and Zuppa Di Pesce — scallops, clams, jumbo shrimp, mussels, calamari, salmon and halibut in a soupy lobster bisque reduction.

And I swear, the food porn in my iPhoto collection had never been as memorable as the inputs that evening, from a classy place of retro art deco accents and with large celebrity portraits by no less than A. Hirchsfield. 

Old friend Dominique Gallego who worked a few blocks away joined us in time for the fine repast served with excellent Pinot Grigio, a second bottle of which came on the house, thanks to the Tina/Nanette sister-act connection.

Then we sauntered burping past Radio City for photo ops a la Rockettes, and on to bustling Times Square of the resplendent neons, for more of the same to post in our e-loop. Before we called it a night, abrazos and beso-besos with the Abads. Then Fred and Oying saw us off underground for the proper subway ride back to Penn Station.

The next day was a repeat foray to Manhattan, this time for a cursory look at the World Trade Center site, but too late for the 9/11 memorial museum, so on to look for Piopio Peruvian resto on 10th & 43rd (Hell’s Kitchen) where we met up with a barangay of glittering Big Eypol literati.

The ringleaders were senior poet, historian and journalist Luis Francia who just got back from Manila by way of Hong Kong where he had workshopped creative non-fiction students together with our buddy and Philippine STAR colleague Butch Dalisay; Nerissa Balce, assistant prof at State University of New York at Stony Brook (SUNY), also just back from Manila and Dumaguete where she had mentored for a month (but alas, that evening sans hub Fidelito Cortes the premier poet, who was down with flu); Gina Apostol the rising Fil-Am literary star with her new novel Gun Dealer’s Daughter published by Norton (she handed me a signed and dedicated copy, beh); Bino Realuyo of The Umbrella Country fame, also a Philippine National Book Award winner for his poetry; and the event organizer Lara Stapleton, whose seminal short fiction collection The Last Blue Flame Before Nothing had been a staple in my Ateneo Fiction class. 

Sweet Marie came with beau Jason; Monique joined us again. And we were privileged to meet three literary ladies for the first time: Sunita Mukhi, director of the Wang Asian Program at Stony Brook, and who turned out to be yet another Kulasa, the best bud too of my sis-in-law Nina Macaraig Gamboa; Hossanah Asuncion who works at the Institute of Culinary Education; and Nita Noveno who’s originally from Alaska and is working on a literary project she had e-mailed me about months ago.

The last two proved to be nearly as madcap as Bino, who pranced around our long table while seated in one place, but whose backpack yielded emo treasures for me to take home: a bottle of Brugal Ron Dominicano Reserva Familar Extra Viejo, and a plastic bottle of M&Ms.

With good and not-so-sweet sangria did we wash down a myriad of shared delectables: the popular Chicken Pio marinated in a unique Peruvian sauce and served with salsa criolla; Chupe de Camarones or fresh shrimp soup served with rice, green peas, Peruvian baby corn and batted eggs; Ceviche Limeño or fish chunks marinated in lime juice and mixed with red onions, cilantro and hot pepper, served in a sweet potato bedding;

Empanadas de Pollo or traditional Peruvian-style patties stuffed with chicken; etc. etc.

Such was the lively porn of hearty camaraderie, with friends old and new, sisters and brothers of the Big Apple, where a jaunt no matter how brief turns into stuffed empanaditas of delight.

BINO REALUYO GINA APOSTOL LARA STAPLETON LUIS FRANCIA NERISSA BALCE PIOPIO PERUVIAN STONY BROOK SUNITA MUKHI
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