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Revisiting unique NYC

Memories flood back with each visit

We lived on Thompson Street and could see the World Trade Towers. Now visible at the end of the road is the World Trade Center Memorial building. Photo by Carole Wendt

Every year I revisit my old neighborhood in Manhattan. My late husband and I lived in Greenwich Village for many years. Our neighborhood is now called Soho and a popular place to live and to tour. When we arrived in the 1950s, it was just called “the village.”

We lived on Thompson Street, six blocks south of Washington Square. We had an unobstructed view of the World Trade Center towers, about a 20 minute walk from our apartment. That is, until September 11, 2001. Now, there is only one tower, a memorial to that terrible day. As I walked through my neighborhood on this trip, I looked at that memorial from my street. At least, it somewhat filled that “hole in the sky” — the result of the attack 18 years ago.

Filmmakers like to make movies in our neighborhood because it still looks like old New York – tenements, delicatessens, neighborhood bars and bakeries. It was originally settled by Italian immigrants. When we moved into our apartment, Wendt was the only non-Italian name on the mailboxes.

For the last several years, I have come back to New York City to attend the annual NBC Retirees Lunch at Sardi’s, a legendary restaurant in the theater district. I always stay in a hotel on Washington Square, the heart of the Village. From there it’s a short walk to my old apartment building in Soho.

My stroll as always brings back many memories. The delicatessen on the corner is still there. Once owned by Italians, it is now run by Portuguese immigrants. It has the same atmosphere. The sandwiches are still much in demand. Once I was standing in line for some bagels and lox when I noticed the man in front of me; he looked familiar. Tall, long hair, dressed all in black. He glanced my way and our eyes locked for a moment. It was Academy Award winner Daniel Day Lewis. Being an experienced New Yorker, I registered no emotion. Just another neighbor waiting for his lunch. But, I am sure, he knew that I knew who he was and I knew that he knew I knew. We pretended he was not a major superstar. That reminds me of the day I passed Gwyneth Paltrow and her then-boyfriend Brad Pitt chatting on my corner. We three had just gotten slices of the excellent Sicilian pizza for sale at “my” pizza place. I stopped there again on my trip this April, and it was still delicious. I noticed they had taken down a newspaper article showing Madonna in front of the place taking a big bite out of her slice.

Our third floor apartment faced the street and one day we watched Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe rehearse a scene for a movie being shot below us. My husband Bill, who was an actor, went downstairs and chatted with his fellow performers during a break. It seemed every other week there were lights and trucks and cameras set up ready to make another movie. I once had to jump out of the way when actor Jude Law zoomed by on a motorcycle, heading for his movie on the next street.

M&O Deli, my regular deli. This is where I saw Daniel Day Lewis. Photo contributed by Carole Wendt

This trip, I also paid a call on St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church which serves the parish. Bill and I attended Mass there many times and enjoyed the annual street festival. The first Godfather movie was shot in and around the neighborhood. In gratitude for the cooperation of the local residents, the film company donated a park and a wading pool for the kids. I noticed the park is still in use.

My tenement building is intact despite fears of the residents it might be torn down to make room for high rise apartments. Activists protested long and hard and managed to stop such plans, though one very expensive hotel did manage to edge its way in down the block. It has a popular bar on the top floor. I was curious about what it looked like and persuaded a friend to barge in with me, right after we saw Sean Penn pass through the revolving door. It was a nice quiet elegant bar.

Many New Yorkers are always on the lookout for the latest hot spot. One of those hot spots is the Dominique Ansel Bakery across the street from where I lived. I paid them a call; they’re still busy. The bakery rose to fame when the chef/owner created the “cronut” which became a must-eat among the “in” crowd. It is a cross between a croissant and a donut. Word spread, via social media, and every morning starting around 6 a.m. a line would form. Only a limited number of cronuts were baked each morning and when the supply ran out, that was it. Only two per customer. One day, people were so intent on watching their phones and waiting for their cronuts, no one noticed a man lying on a park bench next to them. Turned out, he was dead. It made the papers after someone finally called for help. Reportedly, the whistle blower stayed to get his two cronuts. I finally tasted one; it was delicious. I’d never do it again; I don’t stand in line at 6 a.m. for a donut. Lucky for me, my visiting niece did the job so I didn’t have to. Ironically, she did not like it; too sweet, she said. Chef Ansel is still going strong; he’s opened another bakery about a dozen blocks away. Lines there wind completely around the block. This trip, I tried again and lo! They are baking cronuts all day long so I was able to get one in the afternoon – hardly any waiting. Still delicious.

As I strolled along, I looked up at the third floor window of our old apartment, and I remembered a summer day years ago.

Me in front of the playground the Godfather production company built as a thank you to the neighborhood for their cooperation in shooting the classic movie. Photo contributed by Carole Wendt

Bill studied opera to improve his voice. That day he was learning a dramatic aria from Andrea Chenier. His voice was a big, rich baritone. He launched into the aria playing a character denouncing his enemies. The window was open. Bill sang with dramatic gusto and ended with a flourish. Instantly, from the sidewalk below came a loud burst of applause. He looked out. There on the sidewalk below stood a crowd of neighbors and passersby. Dozens of people stopped their busy days, held by his beautiful voice and the soaring music of the aria. Bill opened the window screen, leaned out, and with both arms spread wide, he bowed to the crowd, the way opera singers will to their admiring public — to another burst of applause.

Bill later appeared in Man of La Mancha, Milk and Honey, and the Fantasticks. His singing and acting talents stood him in good stead. But that impromptu concert from our window on a summer day in the Village, he said, could not be topped.

And that’s New York City –filled with energetic, ambitious, talented people who are all looking for their big chance. They make the city vibrant, challenging, fast, loud, and most of all, lots and lots of fun.

The highlight of my trip this time was the “Frosties’ reunion — those of us who had worked on the David Frost Show, a two-time Emmy Award winning talk show broadcast from 1969 to 1972. It was the middle of the Vietnam and civil rights protests, and the beginning of the women’s liberation movement, Turbulent times. We first got together to pay homage to David Frost who died in 2013. We have met every year since. All of us agreed that that time is still the most interesting of our careers.

It was a good trip. I enjoy returning to my other hometown. But, I also love to get back home and watch the lilacs bloom, the wrens nesting, and see my family and friends.

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