It was galling to confess to a New Yorker that we had trailed all round Central Park but somehow mislaid the zoo.
“You couldn’t find the zoo?” our friend gazed, baffled, at the two adults in charge. She assessed the situation efficiently in a few Manhattan seconds and turned in a businesslike fashion to Maddie and Felix.
“You know, I’m not going to tell your Mom and Dad the directions, I’m going to tell you. Felix, Listen up. This is what you do to get to Central Park Zoo….”
Felix listened solemnly, as he was bequeathed the way to the zoo. Solemnly, he assumed the aspect of one of Arthur’s knights listening to directions to the Holy Grail. We leaned across and tried very hard to pay attention. It takes a few days for the grid that is New York to slip into place in one’s mind, but Central Park’s a great place to start.
We sat in a little restaurant on 71st Street, out in the garden, with a beautiful roof made almost entirely of vines. The evening light gleamed palely through the leaves as we all sat round, appraising a proper restaurant menu for the first time since we arrived on the island.
And we were not alone.
We would never have found this little place without a friend we had never met before this evening, though I ‘talk’ to her often. Virginia Antonelli has just published her first book: Lame Adventures: Unglamorous Tales From Manhattan; but she started out just blogging New York from her perspective. Her blog is addictive; so much so that when Sandy struck last year and Virginia went quiet I worried.
Thank goodness for Twitter and e-mail. She didn’t blog for a while but kept us in the picture. And ever since, we hear from her once in a while; so that when I got to New York I dropped her an e-mail and she suggested Bello Giardino, the place with the best meatballs in Manhattan.
It was the nicest meal I had in the city by a New York mile. But the conversation was way better than the food. Virginia was like Macaulay; not the fangs , I mean, or the long hairy ears; but when that dog set paws over our threshold it was as if he had never not been there, as if we had never not known him. And as we all settled down to put the world to rights in the little garden restaurant in 71st Street, everyone felt right at home.
Time for pudding; and Virginia had plans. We settled the bill and headed for the Magnolia Bakery: the people who started the cupcake craze in New York.
We went via the Dakota, of which more another day; the place John Lennon lived and died. A neo-North German Renaissance fortress for the elite, and the only place I spotted fan vaulting in the city. We oooh-ed and ahh-ed at the great power-sconces outside and took pictures and milled happily around.
And then we skirted three sides of the building to check out the back door, before heading cupcake-wards.
Oh, the cupcakes. Feather-light, pretty pastel shades and chocolate misdemeanours, comfits which went down without us even noticing them. Maddie’s eyes were shining. Later, she asked us: could she have a cupcake icing set for her imminent birthday, please?
And we pottered out, replete and high on icing sugar, and Virginia walked us back to the Met and that iconic fountain where Nicholas Cage met Cher in Moonstruck,, and where, tonight, Phil and Kate and Virginia and Maddie and Felix schlepped contentedly about making silhouettes against the lights.
Too soon, it was time to mill home and we said our goodbyes. But as we sat at JFK, days later, and asked everyone: what were your favourite moments in New York? Every member of the family said: the evening with Virginia.
And thanks to her: Felix got us all to Central Park Zoo without a hitch.