Being a Big Baby About a Little Rain

Being a Big Baby About a Little Rain

Ralph Gardner Jr. Endures Some Precipitation in Austin

By RALPH GARDNER JR.

Sept. 16, 2014 10:29 p.m. ET

There’s lots of work yet to be done on my personality, specifically regarding my attitude toward the weather. I know it’s incredibly juvenile, but I take it personally when the weather doesn’t cooperate with my plans.

I still hold it against Los Angeles that it suffered a cold snap when we visited in the spring of 2012. We’ve always considered ourselves a lucky family—among other reasons because the weather seems to break in our favor on vacations.

So what does it say about us when it doesn’t?

Rob Shepperson

My understanding is that by the time you reach a certain age you’ve come to peace with the fact that there are some things you can’t do anything about. You’re supposed to be a grown-up and take life with grace and equanimity.

I find my disposition heading in the opposite direction.

It’s not that I find existence unremittingly bleak and hopeless.

For example, I can’t understand why everybody doesn’t fight for the window seats on airplanes.

Or why some of those who score windows inevitably lower the shades.

This is the best planet so far. Interstellar space is cold, dark and hostile.

Yet, matter has managed to arrange itself in our neighborhood so that we have blue skies and puffy clouds, at least when it’s not cool and drizzling, as it was over the weekend in Austin where we traveled to my nephew Evan’s wedding.

After an unseasonably moderate summer in New York, I was looking forward to several days of global warming, to basking by the hotel pool in temperatures in the low 100s. As it had been all summer in Austin.

In anticipation, I even read the second volume of Robert Caro’s biography of LBJ—the one where a sweat-stained Lyndon Johnson barnstorms Texas during the sweltering summer of his 1948 U.S. Senate race.

I was looking forward to touring the LBJ library when I visited Austin, but as much for the air-conditioning as the American history, or for these neat phones you can pick up and hear recordings of the president cajoling, browbeating, flirting, and scheming with everyone from Harry Truman and Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham to Martin Luther King Jr. and J. Edgar Hoover.

My only other solid plans, as I may have stated, were to sit by the pool, tempt sun poisoning, eat lots of barbecue and attend my nephew’s wedding.

The night we arrived was suitably torrid and made me wonder why anyone would want to live there.

The following morning was equally equatorial. But that afternoon, the thermometer plummeted into the 60s and showers started. Locals told it hadn’t been that clement since the last Ice Age.

I was obviously elated for Austinites that their drought seemed to have broken.

I could almost hear the trees sobbing in gratitude.

But couldn’t the rain have held off until after I’d left?

I also visited the magnificent Texas statehouse and the Blanton Museum of Art, which houses the fine Suida-Manning Collection of old master paintings.

On the other hand, as magnificent as their Rubens, Claude Lorrains, and Guercinos, I don’t know how eager I’d have been to see art if the sun had been out.

Indeed, the only sun all weekend occurred Sunday evening during the wedding.

As the outdoor ceremony at the Salt Lick—not far from Austin, the barbecue joint is one of the more famous in Texas, if not the U.S.—was starting, the sun broke through the clouds as if to bless the union.

When all is said and done, that is what I’ll remember: the happiness of the young couple, the amount of tequila I managed to consume at the rehearsal dinner the previous evening without any trace of hangover, and the spirited toast my daughter, Lucy, offered.

Evan and his bride, Samantha, met in 2006 when he attended a play in which Sam and Lucy were performing at their high school.

Standing offstage between scenes, Sam asked Lucy who the handsome young man sitting with us was, and expressed a desire to be introduced.

The marriage last weekend was the result of that introduction.

The mind has a lovely way of enlarging some memories and minimizing others.

I’m confident that what I’ll best remember about the weekend is the maximum fun that everybody had, myself included.

And the entire experience will be bathed in sunlight, as it was Sunday evening as Evan awaited Sam at the chuppah, as her parents, Michael and Marita, led her down the aisle.

Lucy, booked on a later flight back to New York, told us the weather broke shortly after our plane took off. She and her boyfriend, John, even went swimming.

I’m sure there’s a lesson to be learned. I just haven’t figured out what it is.

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com

Italian Flair Meets NY Style

URBAN GARDNER

Italian Flair Meets New York Style

‘ITALIANY,’ a Photo Exhibit at NYU, Is Open Until Sept. 26

Sept. 14, 2014 10:32 p.m. ET

If you think Italian ex-pats in New York swagger a bit too much and behave as if we’re fortunate they’ve condescended to walk among us while sharing their superior fashion sense, then you probably want to miss “ITALIANY,” a photography portrait exhibition running at NYU’s Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo.

Structural engineer Manuela Stoetter in a photograph by Italian artist Alexo Wandael.Alexo Wandael

On the other hand, if you consider them endlessly charming and seductive, you should make your way to 24 W. 12th St. before the show—a collaboration between photo journalist Alexo Wandael and the Italian beer company Peroni Nastro Azzurro—closes on Sept. 26.

“I have this concept to take pictures of Italians who made this choice to leave everything behind and live and love and work in New York,” explained Mr. Wandael, himself an ex-pat Italian. He has lived in New York for 14 years. “I feel a New Yorker,” he said. “They say after 10 years you can consider yourself a New Yorker.”

Yet I have the impression, based purely on anecdotal evidence—such as sitting at the next table at restaurants and listening to their melodic language—that no matter how long Italians have lived in New York, their pride in their Italian-ness appears to make them impervious to American culture. They’ve come here not to learn, but to teach and serve as role models.

Mr. Wandael said that’s not true, though they seem to clean up much better than we do. “They look at New York as something particular.” He means a meritocratic society, at least more so than Italy. “They came for a reason. Italy you have the connection or it’s very difficult to arrange. In America you need connections as well. But there’s this sense you can get this connection.”

Among the show’s subjects who have scaled the heights is Xavier F. Salomon, the chief curator at the Frick Collection. He’s seated in one of the Frick’s galleries on a Monday when the museum was closed. And with his neatly trimmed beard, tailored suit, and confident gaze he looks no less intense and commanding than the El Greco portrait of Vincenzo Anastagi, one of the Knights of Malta, over Mr. Salomon’s right shoulder.

Then there’s the exquisite image of ballerina Alexandra Ferri, dancing on the roof of a building, enwreathed in a veil. Mr. Wandael said that each of the portraits was a collaboration, the subject deciding where and how he or she wanted to be portrayed.

“She wanted to do the dance,” the photographer recalled. “We went to her place. She has this beautiful terrace on the Upper West Side.”

Mr. Wandael said he tried to capture a cross-section of the Italian experience in New York—executives such as Brooks Brothers Chief Executive Claudio Del Vecchio, artists, actors, chefs. Even a structural engineer, Manuela Stoetter, who doesn’t look anything like my notion of a structural engineer.

‘When you grow up in Italy, you’re exposed to art, fashion, style, culture. It’s almost like DNA,’ says artist Alexo Wandael. Andrew Lamberson for The Wall Street Journal

Posed in the middle of a Chinatown street, she’s as beautiful and self-possessed as any fashion model, even in a simple blouse and slacks.

That’s the thing about Italian ex-pats in New York. They all seem to exude success. Surely some of them must lead desperate, miserable lives like the rest of us?

“As people we’re very individual,” Mr. Wandael stated, perhaps putting his finger on what’s so special about Italians, whether here or in their homeland. I’ve never met a generic Italian. Whatever their status, they exude their own style. “That part is inside you,” the photographer explained. “When you grow up in Italy, you’re exposed to art, fashion, style, culture. It’s almost like DNA.”

Nonetheless, the quality they have in common, that trumps all others, is their passion for New York and the U.S. “They have the courage to leave Italy and come here, leaving friends and family, trying to fill their dream,” Mr. Wandael said.

There’s a portrait, slightly rougher around the edges than some of the others, of Pasquale Cozzolino and Rosario Procino, partners in Ribalta, a pizza restaurant on East 12th Street. “They look like Camorra,” Mr. Wandael joked, referring to the Neapolitan Mafia.

I mention the duo as a public service. Mr. Wandael contends that Ribalta serves the best pizza in town. He says it’s better than in Italy. “The water in New York is pretty good to do the dough.”

I also like the restaurateurs in another portrait—Alberto Ghezzi, Michele Casadei Massari and Gianluca Capozzi, owners of the Piccolo Café restaurants. They’re posed beside the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the southwest corner of Union Square Park.

Mr. Wandael explained the composition: When the trio was just starting out Mr. Massari came up with a novel way to advertise. “Michele had this idea to put a sign on Gandhi,” the photographer explained. “The police arrived and asked who had the idea.”

A native New Yorker would have denied it up and down, or been long gone. “Michele was very proud. They almost arrested him.”

There you have the difference between a New Yorker and an Italian, perhaps no matter how long they’ve lived here. Their charming instinct for anarchy. Which is something we can all learn from.

—ralph.gardner@wsj.com

A Sailor-Turned-Doorman Finds Refuge in Art Collection

Sept. 10, 2014 9:24 p.m. ET

Ron Dominguez, an Upper East Side doorman, in front of a piece in his collection, ‘Do Ask, Do Tell.’Craig Warga for The Wall Street Journal

If you want to know what the life of a typical New York City doorman looks like after he sheds his uniform and goes home to his family at night, don’t ask Ron Dominguez, a doorman at a building on Fifth Avenue in the 80′s.

“I don’t happen to know any other doorman that happens to be a psychotic art collector,” Mr. Dominguez said as we sat in his art-laden Harlem apartment beside his newest acquisition: a 6-by-8-foot canvas of a black rhino that he commissioned from the artist Martin Wittfooth.

The work is called “Do Ask, Do Tell,” and it’s rippling with iconography, as I discovered when Mr. Dominguez launched into a lengthy discussion of its elements. These include, in no particular order, lovely tocororo birds, which are indigenous to Cuba. His family fled the island in 1971.

There’s also a mooring post with the letters “NMMI.” That refers to the New Mexico Military Institute, from which Mr. Dominguez graduated. And a number. “My military ID number,” from the days he served in the Navy aboard submarines and submarine tenders at a military base the U.S. shared with Italy off Sardinia.

Hence the sub bobbing just offshore in the painting.

And then there’s the rhino itself. “The rhino represents having an elephant in the room,” the elephant being the Clinton administration’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy that took effect while Mr. Dominguez was stationed overseas.

“It was a double-edged sword,” the doorman remembers. “I wasn’t out yet. If you decided to come out, they sent you home.”

A sculpture David Cho is part of Ron Dominguez’s art collection. Craig Warga for The Wall Street Journal

But more than anything else, I suspect that the rhino represents Mr. Dominguez’s passion for art. It’s a statement piece, the statement apparently being that now that he owns the painting he is going cold turkey and spending his hard-earned salary and holiday season tips on something other than the Pop Surrealism he adores.

“I have to stop collecting art,” he insisted, as much to himself, describing the rhino as the apartment’s “piece de resistance.” “I think I’m done. In a good way. I promised Michael I was going to stop. I don’t want this place looking like a salon.”

Michael Millare, a registered nurse, is Mr. Dominguez’s husband. “We have this agreement,” the doorman explained. “I buy art. Michael deals with furniture.”

Handsome, unobtrusive midcentury modern, to be precise. Mr. Dominguez’s taste is somewhat more outré. Indeed, the rhino is staid compared with some of the apartment’s other objects.

For example, the cartoonlike work by the artist Gary Baseman, and a fantasy light fixture that more than holds its own beside the “Do Ask, Do Tell” rhino. Titled “Phaedra,” it’s by Adam Wallacavage—the bulbs extended on octopus tentacles.

To be honest, I didn’t ask Mr. Dominguez what about the Lowbrow movement, as it is also called, appealed in particular to him. Similar to other passionate collectors, he overwhelmed me with the names and dates of every piece, as well as stories about how he acquired them, and his friendships with artists and dealers that grew from his pursuit.

I suspect the art was also a reflection of the doorman’s personality and the style he brings each morning at his prewar building.

“I work with a wonderful staff and I’m blessed with wonderful residents,” said Mr. Dominguez, who asked not to reveal the building’s address, where he has worked since 1999, to protect his tenants’ privacy. “I’m a jack-of-all-trades. We do packages, deliver pharmacy. We deal with dry cleaning. We’re not a concierge building per se but we do concierge stuff.”

A sculpture by Adam Wallacavage Craig Warga for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Dominguez said that some residents know about his collecting. Others don’t. A few probably have impressive art collections of their own, given the neighborhood’s demographics. If so, Mr. Dominguez said he wouldn’t know, and certainly hasn’t asked to see them. It’s a line he’d never cross.

“I stay in the trenches,” he explained, referring to the front door. “Occasionally I go to their vestibule. The guys who work in the back, they go into the apartment.”

He doesn’t discuss, with his co-workers either, Picasso, whose Blue Period sparked his interest in collecting, or his travels to museums abroad. “Most are married men with children,” he explained. “They’re more sports guys.”

Mr. Dominguez said that much of his collection was amassed between 2000 and 2006.

“I worked three different buildings,” he recalled. “I was hustling a full-time job in one and a part-time in two others to support my art habit.”

When we met Tuesday evening, he’d done a day shift but was returning at midnight to pick up another shift. Supposedly, it wasn’t for the purpose of accumulating spending money.

However, in the next breath he mentioned a new artist whose work he’d love to acquire. “Please do not write that down because Michael would have a…” and he resorted to a lighthearted expletive. “With a doorman’s salary and a nurse’s salary this is it. But it’s been a wonderful journey.”

—ralph.gardner@wsj.com

Getting Smashed at the Open

Sept. 9, 2014 8:53 p.m. ET

Columnist Ralph Gardner Jr., right, with Texas A&M junior Harrison Adams at their meeting at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Ralph Gardner/The Wall Street Journal

The U.S. Open is over for another year. But I’m still recuperating—and from a first-round loss, no less.

It came in the pursuit of what I suspect is any tennis fan’s fantasy: to rally with Roger Federer, or someone of his caliber.

You wouldn’t demand much of Mr. Federer’s time. Say 10, 15 minutes. Preferably at Arthur Ashe stadium. One of the practice courts would certainly do, though.

You wouldn’t want too many spectators because, obviously, you’re going to be a little nervous and wouldn’t be bringing your “A” game, at least until you loosen up.

So last week I decided to share my fantasy with the U.S. Tennis Association.

I didn’t ask for Mr. Federer, of course. Besides, he was still in the tournament. And I was rooting for him to take the whole thing, as I’m sure millions of others were.

The last thing I’d want is for him to slip a disc while chasing one of my shanked balls.

A 16-year-old competing in the juniors tournament would do. We could hit some practice balls.

I still doubted the USTA officials would go for the idea. They had a lot on their plate. But they did. They offered Harrison Adams, one of the nation’s top-ranked college players, a junior at Texas A&M.

Mr. Adams was in town competing in the inaugural American Collegiate Invitational at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

As it turned out, Mr. Adams was an alternate and didn’t end up playing. Which doesn’t mean I could touch his serve. More about that in a moment.

My first consideration was my wardrobe. I didn’t want to look like one of those fans who parades around the Open in tennis attire, as if anybody is going to mistake you for a player when you’re 60.

On the other hand, I was actually going to be playing. I decided to take the classic route: a white Lacoste tennis shirt, khaki shorts and sneakers, of course.

Mr. Adams, 20, is ranked ninth among college players in the U.S. Ralph Gardner/The Wall Street Journal

A word or two about my level of play. I’ve played only twice this summer. Both times with my younger daughter. We have a tennis court with giant fissures and plants growing out of them. But that keeps you on your toes.

My forehand is decent. My backhand deserted me in the late ’70s, never to return.

Mr. Adams made it to the third round of the U.S. Open junior tournament in 2012. He’s 20 now and ranked ninth among college players in the U.S.

His best win may have been against Sam Groth, an Australian, right before he went to college. Mr. Groth lost in straight sets to Mr. Federer in the second round of this year’s Open.

We started to rally and I did OK. But that’s only because Mr. Adams was hitting the ball to me. I also played net.

I don’t think I’m any worse than I was at 20. Problems generally only arise the next morning when I wake up with a limp.

Finished toying with him, I asked Mr. Adams to serve a few. As hard as he wanted.

It was an educational experience. I don’t generally play against people who can serve a ball at 130 mph, and place it wherever they want.

Having a ball land in the service box and then bounce over your head was novel for me.

To have returned it would have required me to stand farther behind the baseline. Say down the boardwalk by the entrance to the 7 train.

By the way, we weren’t playing in the tennis center, proper. But on a court I hadn’t previously known existed, before you enter the gates at the Open. Which was a good thing, because nobody was around to watch.

When I suggested we take a break—it was to be permanent—I shared a bit of my tennis history.

I told Mr. Adams about the time I tried out for the tennis team at Middlebury College my freshman year. I didn’t make it.

Mr. Adams, who comes from a tennis family—his father and older sisters played at Texas Tech—said it would be impossible for a generic freshman to make the tennis team at a Division 1 college, such as Texas A&M, Stanford or UCLA.

“There are top-100 in the world who aren’t even in the starting lineup for Division 1 schools,” he explained.

He’ll decide whether to pursue a pro career once he graduates.

“I’ll give it two years and see how I’m doing,” he said. “It’s hard to see how you’re going to do unless you play a full schedule.”

I discovered we had something in common, if not our serve.

Mr. Adams also fanaticizes about playing with Mr. Federer.

“If I got a wild card I’d want to play Roger first round,” he said. “A night match on Ashe.”

—ralph.gardner@wsj.com

Artist-in-Construction

Sept. 8, 2014 9:39 p.m. ET

Artist Noa Charuvi is the artist-in-residence at 50 West St. Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

Bulldozers, jackhammers, cranes and cement mixers are common sights—and sounds—at New York City construction sites.

But an artist-in-residence may be a first.

That’s the role Noa Charuvi, an Israeli artist, is playing at 50 West St., a 64-story luxury residential skyscraper going up in lower Manhattan.

A model of the 50 West development in Manhattan. Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

“We’re two weeks away from completing the foundation,” reported Francis Greenburger, the founder, chairman and chief executive of Time Equities Inc., the building’s developer. “It took 10 months to build the foundation.”

And Ms. Charuvi has been documenting the project’s progress for the last three of those months.

“It’s been remarkable to see people build this skyscraper with their bare hands, and in any weather,” said the artist. “I’m humbled.”

Ms. Charuvi, whose previous work has been focused more on ruins and destruction than on building things from scratch, comes and goes as she pleases from the construction site, wedged between Rector and Joseph P. Ward streets.

“I have a hard hat with my name on it,” she said proudly.

I was curious about the sort of reception she receives from New York City’s famously hard-boiled construction workers.

As amazing, even Whitman-esque as the process of building a skyscraper—at 780 feet, 50 West will be one of the taller towers in town—they might not be charmed by an artist toting an easel in a demolition zone.

Ms. Charuvi has been documenting the building process in paintings. Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

“I think they were really excited to see me go in and see the work,” said Ms. Charuvi who doesn’t actually paint in the pit. She takes photographs, then returns to 40 Rector St., where the project’s sales and construction offices, and her studio are located. It’s there that she translates her vision onto canvas.

“They were really happy to see somebody who appreciates what they do.”

Ms. Charuvi is the first of three emerging artists who will document the building’s progress. Next will be Paul Anthony Smith and then Hugo Bastidas. All are alumni of Art Omi, an artist residency program in the Hudson Valley founded by Mr. Greenburger.

“I thought it would be an interesting environment for an artist to work, to be in dialogue with the construction of the building and how that inspires them,” Mr. Greenburger explained. “And we also thought we would install some of this work in the building—’before’ and ‘after’ pictures.”

Ms. Charuvi didn’t seem disappointed that her residency will end well before the building is completed.

“It’s been a tremendous gift to be here,” she said. “For an artist in New York to get a space to work in itself is incredible.”

The residency includes an honorarium, and Ms. Charuvi also seems to be enjoying the respite from the solitude that is the typical artist’s lot.

“I know everybody in the office,” she said. “I feel kind of part of the team, in a very small way.”

“Not so small,” Mr. Greenburger assured her as we made our way from the 50 West sales office, dominated by a gleaming model of the Helmut Jahn-designed glass curtain skyscraper, to the construction office across the hall.

Ms. Charuvi’s tools. Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

There, the creative chaos of Ms. Charuvi’s studio stood in contrast to the surrounding offices, filled with blueprints and dedicated to the exacting mechanics of building a high-rise.

“I never heard of an artist becoming part of a skyscraper,” Ms. Charuvi observed, as we examined paintings whose subjects included bulldozers, rubble buckets, piles of rebar, and mud—lots of mud.

“You do see that in photography,” Ms. Charuvi said of construction photos, such as those of the emerging Empire State Building, by the likes of Lewis Hine and Berenice Abbott. “But it’s not common to see paintings of it.”

Time Equities also will be documenting the construction process using time-lapse videos. But technology “will not capture how the sunlight hits the rubble bucket just so” as Jennie Lamensdorf, the curator of Art-in-Buildings at Time Equities, pointed out.

So will Ms. Charuvi’s work be featured in the lobby of the completed skyscraper?

“We are going to put our heads together and some paintings that will come out of that will belong to 50 West,” Mr. Greenburger said. “Exactly which of these paintings is a question mark.”

The developer has to think not only of his taste, or those of us who find majesty in a hardscrabble construction site, but also of residents who might not consider renderings of bulldozers—no matter how artistic—in keeping with their high-end real estate investment.

Mr. Greenburger sounded unconcerned.

“The lobby will be a changing work,” he explained. “If some residents don’t like it, in six months it will be something different.”

—ralph.gardner@wsj.com

For Rizzoli, A New Nook in Nomad

Rizzoli closed its doors at 31 W. 57th St., top, in April with a promise to return. Keith Bedford for The Wall Street Journal

When Rizzoli closed its doors at 31 W. 57th St. in April, the elegant bookstore promised it would be back.

That’s what everyone says.

But given the challenging economics of brick-and-mortar bookstores, I assumed Rizzoli was toast and assigned it a choice niche in the columbarium of my memory. It’s a space becoming increasingly cluttered with the ashes of beloved restaurants, bakeries and bookstores.

But Italy-based Rizzoli turned out to be as good as its word. Company executives told me Friday afternoon that they’ve signed a lease to reopen next spring.

The new store will be at 1133 Broadway—that’s between 25th and 26th streets—on the ground floor of the St. James Building, an 1896 Beaux-Arts structure.

Rizzoli executives looked at more than 150 locations, including Brooklyn, whittled the list down to six, and then to two before choosing the space in the Nomad neighborhood. They also used focus groups to identify the best location for a high-end destination bookstore in the city.

Indeed, one executive—for some reason, apparently steeped in Italian corporate tradition, he declined to be quoted by name—went on for several minutes about the delights of the area. He provided a virtual walking tour to bolster the company’s belief that this is a part of town as receptive to books as Fifth Avenue was when Angelo Rizzoli opened his original shop in 1964 at Fifth Avenue and 55th Street.

At that time, Rizzoli joined as many as a half-dozen other bookstores on the avenue. The shop moved to 57th Street in 1985.

The executive mentioned the nearby Nomad and Ace boutique hotels, as well as Madison Square Park; and he seemed to attribute almost talismanic importance to the fact that Rizzoli will be only two blocks from an institution that has successfully managed to bottle the essence of Italy, or at least a supercharged, Americanized version of it—Eataly, the destination food store, espresso bar and multiple dining establishment.

He also cited the trend of artists, galleries and bookstores moving into an area, making it desirable, boosting real-estate prices and eventually becoming victims of their own success.

Apparently the hope is that Rizzoli will add a touch of class to this stretch of Broadway, which—despite its good bones—also has its share of tacky storefronts.

The bookstore is known for its coffee-table books. Keith Bedford for The Wall Street Journal

Rizzoli’s 57th Street store covered three slightly cramped floors. But that was part of its charm. It was as if you were entering Henry Higgins’s private library. Simply by setting foot in the emporium you felt patted on the back for your erudition and good taste.

The new store will be approximately the same size—5,000 square feet—but on a single level.

Nonetheless, Rizzoli insists it won’t forsake its appeal. The ceilings are 18 feet high and much of the old store’s décor has been salvaged: the dark wooden bookshelves, the chandeliers, the sconces and the furniture.

My first reaction to the news of Rizzoli’s new address was knee-jerk, uptown chauvinism.

But the more I thought of it, the more sense it makes.

I don’t think anyone can argue that 57th Street, which grows more unsympathetic by the day, particularly with the towering luxury condominium skyscrapers rising along its path, harbors the city’s soul.

Or perhaps it does.

But there’s something about the human scale of Broadway in the ’20s, especially now that much of it has been given over to bike lanes, that recalls a more deliberate era, one when books were the computers of their day. In fact, it looks little changed from the Gilded Age when you could leave work at the St. James and dine at Delmonico’s nearby.

I was told that the Nomad neighborhood’s appeal included a ready population of “young creatives.”

There was also access to public transportation—since there are only so many young creatives to go around and who knows how many of them are inclined to purchase physical books.

Rizzoli will be back next spring on the ground floor of 1133 Broadway, above. Andrew Lamberson for The Wall Steet Journal

Another consideration was that there be no competing bookshops in the area. That doesn’t seem a particular challenge since bookstores are an endangered species.

While Rizzoli will continue to sell literature, it’s best known for its “illustrated books.” The market for them is said to remain strong; I suppose coffee-table books don’t translate well onto an 8-inch tablet, no matter how dazzling the resolution.

The challenge will be persuading customers in far-flung neighborhoods to get out on weekends and during the holiday season, when Rizzoli sells 50% of its books.

But if people can come from all over the city to the Strand bookstore on 12th Street, there’s no reason why Rizzoli shouldn’t also become a destination.

Especially if you can pick up a cappuccino and biscotti at Eately on the way.

More Timeless than Torches

Sept. 3, 2014 9:52 p.m. ET

Jason Price, in Tarisio’s display room on West 54th Street Andrew Lamberson for The Wall Street Journal

The majesty of New York City is that you can stumble across amazing stuff, even when you’re just trying to find the men’s room.

That’s what happened a few weeks back when I visited Nola Rehearsal Studio on West 54th Street to watch a rehearsal of the Timeless Torches, Madison Square Garden’s middle-aged cheerleading squad.

On the way to the bathroom during a break, I passed a glass door and behind it a reception desk. But what caught my eye was an adjoining room, stacked floor to ceiling with cubbyholes. Each hole held a violin. And a young woman was standing in the middle of the room, playing one of the instruments.

Maybe it was because there was something unapologetically Everyman about the squad’s shameless booty-shaking performance, but the contrast between the festive atmosphere in their studio and this other space—it turned out to belong to Tarisio Fine Instruments & Bows, an auction house for violins, violas, cellos and bows—couldn’t have been more stark.

The tone of Tarisio trilled the tranquility of a scene by Vermeer—the amber light streaming through the windows and onto the violins looked as if it had been transported from 15th-century Holland.

While I should have gotten back to the Timeless Torches, I made my way through the glass door and met Jason Price, the company’s director.

“People see things here and play as long as they want,” Mr. Price explained. “They can bring their parent, teacher, stand partner, anyone. And they make their choice and go home and bid.”

“The auction houses—Christie’s and Sotheby’s—they all did violin sales,” but no longer do, Mr. Price said.

Tarisio, with offices in New York and London, holds 11 online auctions a year; the average price for a violin is in the $20,000-$30,000 range.

A row of bows for stringed instruments Andrew Lamberson for The Wall Street Journal

In 2012, though, Tarisio sold the “Primrose” Guarneri viola, made in 1697 by Andrea Guarneri in Cremona, Italy.

“There are six in the world,” Mr. Price said. “This is the best. It sold for $4.2 million. That’s the current record for a viola at auction.”

Had he ever handled a Stradivarius, I wondered?

In June 2011, Tarisio auctioned the “Lady Blunt” Stradivarius of 1721 for $15.9 million, a world record.

Indeed, Mr. Price had three Stradivariuses (or is it Stradivari?) in his walk-in vault.

“And one Guarneri del Gesu,” whose instruments rival those made by Stradivarius, he said as he led the way toward his inner sanctum. “Actually there are two Guarneri del Gesu.”

Mr. Price showed me one of the “Strads.”

“It comes from a private consignor in Europe,” he said. “A musician. He’s had it over 40 years.”

“We do lots of consignment trips,” he added. “We go to cities and go through orchestras, musicians unions; a pretty big network of players we’ve built up. A lot is word-of-mouth.”

I really had to get back to the Timeless Torches, who were undoubtedly breaking out new dance moves and working up a sweat. But I couldn’t pass up the invitation when Mr. Price offered to show me Antonio Stradivarius’s personal label.

He held the instrument under a light and there, inside it, was the delicate lettering.

“Antonio Stradivari made this in Cremona,” he said, translating.

Then, Mr. Price offered to show me Isaac Stern’s Louis Vuitton luggage.

“They came to us,” he said, of the violinist’s estate, which was sold in 2003 and included instruments, bows, musical ephemera, and even Mr. Stern’s humidor.

There was also a poster hanging in the vault that Mr. Stern had owned. It announced a London farewell concert by Paganini dated Aug. 17, 1832.

“Every spare inch had a picture of some musician,” Mr. Price remembered of Mr. Stern’s apartment at the Beresford.

Tarisio has a violin workshop on the premises, too. (Mr. Price handed me the disassembled front of a violin, made of spruce. It was light as a feather.) If I’d had more time I’d liked to have seen the workshop.

“It’s one of the things that made us distinctive,” he explained, adding that some of these instruments have been sitting in closets or safe-deposit boxes, gathering dust for decades. “Sotheby’s and Christie’s would sell as is. That’s fine for a restorer. But a musician can’t play that.

“It’s a really fun business,” he added “It’s been a real ride to take over the business from Sotheby’s and Christie’s; it’s too small for them. But if you concentrate on a niche business and do it right you can make a lasting business.”

I returned to the Timeless Torches and their rehearsal. But somehow my interest had waned.

Bright as they burned, they didn’t feel quite as timeless as a Stradivarius.

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com

It’s Open Season for Beer at the Tennis Tournament

The Wall Street Journal

Sept. 2, 2014 10:03 p.m. ET

Parm’s Jeff Zalaznick, left, and Mario Carbone, at the Heineken House Getty Images for Heineken

It was only a first-round match.

Nonetheless, it was the great Roger Federer playing under the lights last Tuesday night at the U.S. Open.

You’d assume that almost everybody on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center would be filing into Arthur Ashe Stadium to watch the show.

Not so.

Just across the way, the Heineken Red Star Café was packed with people who seemed in no hurry to see tennis.

“You can have people from the day session going home,” explained Pattie Falch, Heineken USA’s brand director sponsorships and event marketing. “Or the night session not going in yet.”

And there may be a third category that Ms. Falch failed to mention: fans who are content—who might even prefer—to watch the matches on one of the pub’s 18 or so TVs. Even if the matches are occurring live within spitting distance.

Indeed, when I encountered Ms. Falch a couple of days later, it wasn’t at the Red Star Café, but at Heineken House, a separate destination on the grounds of the tennis center. In terms of the recreational opportunities, one might say the cafe is Tanglewood compared to Heineken House’s Disney World.

The restaurateurs are serving their sandwiches at the watering hole. Getty Images for Heineken

When I arrived, a beer-pouring contest was in progress.

“Every day at 2 o’clock, they do a perfect-pour competition,” explained Luka Dukich, a publicist working on the Heineken account. “The perfect pour had 90% beer, 10% foam.”

A cheer went up from the crowd, but it wasn’t in response to the action on the courts.

“I guess they declared a winner,” Mr. Dukich said, referring to the contestant who produced the best foam-to-beer ratio.

The beer-pouring contest was but one of the attractions, or rather distractions, from the U.S. Open.

There were also helpful Heineken hostesses in tank tops (“Promotional model, I guess,” one said with a shrug when I asked her job title); a Heineken boutique; and a photo booth where fans could get their picture taken using props, such as a giant tennis racket and a giant tennis ball, and then share the excitement on social media.

“All these tennis balls are glued together,” Ms. Falch explained, of one prop. “You can act as if you were balancing them on your hand.”

I have nothing against fun and games. But my understanding had been that that’s the urge the tennis is supposed to satisfy; that’s why people are paying all that money for a ticket, plus the handsome handling fees Ticketmaster tacks on.

Indeed, that’s the allure of the first week at the U.S. Open: There’s more than enough action occurring simultaneously on many courts, stadiums and practice courts to sate any tennis fanatic’s appetite—without a beer-pouring competition, a photo booth, or a round of cornhole, another sport that was being played at Heineken House during my visit.

The game was unfamiliar to me.

“You see it at the beach a lot,” someone told me.

The rules seem simple enough: You toss a bag of corn, or sand, or whatever and try to get it into a hole.

“We’ve been watching games since we got here, and playing this little bags game,” explained Mike Beck, who hails from St. Louis and was judging the tosses of his family members with the exactitude of the chair umpire across the street at Ashe. “We’re taking a little break from the sun and the matches.”

I can certainly sympathize. With the heat and the sun beating down on you all day, the rarest commodity at the U.S. Open—besides affordable food—is shade. By the end of the day you crave nothing more than air-conditioning and cool sheets.

But might not Heineken House’s “cabanas” be a bridge too far? These were basically outdoor living rooms, each with its own TV.

“We have all the matches on the feeds throughout the tournament,” Ms. Falch explained.

Admission, as well as use of the furniture, is free. The beer, however, and a couple of signature sandwiches made by the restaurant Parm—a zesty Italian combo and the grilled mozzarella “Godfather”—are anything but.

I approached Elizabeth Ross-Norman, a guest seated in one of a handful of casually arranged Adirondack chairs. Serena Williams had just won the first set of her match 6-1 against Vania King, also of the U.S. But Ms. Ross-Norman seemed to be paying scant attention to the duel, broadcast on a jumbo screen in front of her.

In fact, she was reading the newspaper.

“We have tickets for the stadium,” where Serena was holding court at that moment, “but this is so wonderful and comfortable and not sunny,” she told me. “We decided to watch from here. Unfortunately, our tickets weren’t really close.”

But what of the action on the outside courts—where you can watch tomorrow’s stars? And what of Ms. Ross-Norman’s husband, seated across from her in his own Adirondack chair? Wasn’t he chafing to watch Grand Slam tennis live?

“He looks very comfortable,” his spouse observed. “Doesn’t he?”

I was forced to admit he did.

“See you out there?” I asked, before departing for some actual tennis.

“Maybe,” Ms. Ross-Norman replied.

Central Park Goes to the Dogs

Sept. 1, 2014 9:00 p.m. ET

Rob Shepperson

After a lifetime in this city, I embarked upon a rite of passage last week that I had happily managed to avoid all these years: the Central Park dog run.

Mostly due to laziness, I never walked our previous dogs any farther than the corner. I always assuaged my guilt by telling myself that the pet was free to roam upstate on weekends—even if we were too isolated for her to make new canine friends.

But my wife decided that Wallie, the newest addition to our family, deserved a social life. So she started taking her to the park, and returning with stories about how well Wallie played with others, how Wallie was something of a star, and how both she and Wallie were making lots of acquaintances.

I was happy for both of them, but not tempted to join them.

For starters, I write this column first thing in the morning, prime off-leash dog walking time in Central Park, which ends at 9 a.m.

Next, I’m not terribly sociable, particularly early in the day. My idea of hell is staying at a bed-and-breakfast where you’re expected to be pleasant to your hosts or fellow boarders over pancakes.

If the dog-walking rules could be altered ever so slightly so your dog could roam free at cocktail hour, and the cops agreed to look the other way when you arrived at the dog run with a martini in hand, I’d be more than happy to exercise the beast.

Finally, there’s my fear of the dog bolting. One of my most terrifying moments—ever—occurred in Central Park when I was around 10 and our Boston terrier, Skippy, started running toward traffic at approximately 30 miles an hour. I saw not only the dog’s life, but my own, flash before my eyes as I returned home to tell my mother that her beloved and pampered pooch was roadkill.

Fortunately, Skippy came to his senses at the last moment and managed to live several more years. When he eventually died, I had nothing to do with it.

But Wallie is different from all our other dogs. A Bracco Italiano, or Italian pointer, she falls into the “sporting” breed category. Her biological destiny is to hunt, to flush fowl from fields and streams. It’s not to be sitting in an apartment systematically consuming the carpets and furniture, and our personal effects whenever she’s not sleeping.

In other words, she needs exercise. Lots of it. Indeed, our only hope of salvaging our décor seems to be to keep the pooch in a state of perennial exhaustion.

The last time I wrote about Wallie she was a cute 22-pound puppy. At five months, she’s still cute by double the size and weight. Even though I’ve never owned a lion, I suspect the experience isn’t dissimilar from being dragged down the street by Wallie.

The circumstances that found me contemplating a visit on Thursday to Central Park arose because my wife was out of town, inconsiderately having left Wallie behind.

I couldn’t employ my boilerplate column-writing excuse because I don’t write a column on Thursday.

Hence, I faced my fears, leashed Wallie and headed out the door.

When we reached the park, it wasn’t even 8 a.m. However, people and their dogs were already leaving. They all seemed to know Wallie, though. One woman reported that she’d owned a Spinone, a longhair version of a Bracco. She described the breed as high maintenance, but confided that they calm down by the time they reach 3.

By the time Wallie is 3, we won’t have any furniture left. All our computer power cords will be gnawed through. Our leather shoes will have been reduced to beef jerky.

We made our way to where my wife told me Wallie meets his friends, but the space was occupied by a lone Dalmatian who showed no interest in anything but his ball and owner.

I was starting to feel lost—I called my wife who guessed that maybe everybody was out of town already for the Labor Day weekend, but counseled determination—and we continued on to Cedar Hill, a second spot she recommended, just inside the park at 79th Street and Fifth Avenue.

Bingo! It looked like Westminster, but with the dogs running the show. There were big ones, little ones, purebreds and mutts—all raising a ruckus. Wallie was befriended by Whiskey, a Bernese Mountain Dog/Poodle mix.

But she really bonded with Pele, a 3-year-old Border Terrier with boundless energy. For the next 45 minutes Wallie and Pele chased each other around like a circus act—running, banking and rolling; they even took a water break together, sipping from a sprinkler. Which just goes to show that dogs, like people, have better chemistry with some than others.

I’m looking forward to Wallie and Pele having a long, fruitful friendship and many more play dates that end in almost crippling exhaustion. There are few things in nature more delightful than a sleeping dog.

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com

Putting It All on the Line at the U.S. Open

The Wall Street Journal
Aug. 27, 2014 9:51 p.m. ET

Line umpire Jill Spencer is working her 11th U.S. Open. ‘The more court time, the better you become,’ she said. Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

Of the most thankless tasks, in perhaps the most thankless of cities, line umpire at the U.S. Open would have to rank near the top.

You’re all but invisible when you get the call right. But get it wrong and the wrath of 22,000 fans may well rain down on you, not to mention the verbal opprobrium of some of the world’s most highly compensated athletes.

So who would sign up for such combat duty?

Jill Spencer, for one. She was among the line umpires patrolling the baselines in Tuesday’s spirited late-afternoon grandstand contest between 16th-seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and Misaki Doi of Japan. Ms. Azarenka won in three sets.

“I always say, if I had a penny for every time I was told I was the worst umpire in the world, I’d be a rich woman,” Ms. Spencer said after she came off the court in the middle of the second set. She’d just completed a typical one-hour-on/one-hour-off officiating shift.

I had lots of questions. But foremost among them was how she manages to maintain focus. I was there to watch her in action rather than the match—though action is a relative term when it comes to line umpiring. Yet, I couldn’t prevent my attention inexorably shifting from her to the point in progress.

“For me, it’s no different than taking up a sport,” explained Ms. Spencer, who is working her 11th U.S. Open. “The more you practice, the more court time, the better you become. As you get better, it becomes easier to stay focused.”

Nonetheless, she confessed her concentration occasionally betrays her, especially during boring matches.

‘You want to make sure your eyes get to the line before the ball … ,’ says Jill Spencer, a line umpire at the U.S. Open. Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

“You totally zone out, or you’re standing in the wrong position. It happens to everybody. It’s embarrassing, and all of a sudden the chair umpire is … “—she mimics a discreet hand gesture on the umpire’s part—” ‘You need to move over.’ “

Working matches and watching how top players put together points has also helped her own game—and her officiating, by being able to predict a player’s thinking.

Ms. Spencer describes herself as a high intermediate player. (Her husband, Wayne, is a former tennis professional and a line umpire at the Open.)

“The strategy of where to hit next,” she explained. “Also, I can anticipate where the ball might go next.”

The line umpire tried to explain the art, or is it the science, of seeing the ball accurately as it bounces in front of you at well over 100 miles an hour.

“You want to make sure your eyes get to the line before the ball, so you can see it coming in,” she said, as she recuperated from the heat in the umpires’ cafeteria in the bowels of Louis Armstrong Stadium. “If your eyes are late it will create an optical illusion; it will look out when it’s actually in.”

One would assume the best way to do that would be to track the ball from the instant it leaves the racket of the player across the net. But Ms. Spencer, a global relationship partner at IBM IBM +0.16% in California when she isn’t officiating Grand Slam tennis tournaments, said that is not true.

“The trick is not to get to the line too early,” but to anticipate where the ball is going to land. “It slows down the ball a lot when you get your eyes to the line before the ball.”

Looking over her shoulder is the Hawk-Eye instant replay system. I would have thought being watched like that, and potentially second-guessed, would be intimidating.

But Ms. Spencer said it’s just the opposite.

“I love Hawk-Eye,” she said. “It takes the emotion of the players out of the game. They have a way to create the final word. It’s not just me and my opinion.”

The most difficult player whose games Ms. Spencer has had to officiate was Andy Roddick. The easiest: Roger Federer. “Hands down polite, professional, all business.”

However, her most memorable match over all her years at the Open is the 2009 five-setter that Mr. Roddick played against fellow American John Isner, ending in victory for Mr. Isner around 2 a.m.

“Isner is 6-10 and his serve comes at you like a bullet,” Ms. Spencer recalled of match point. “All I could think of was, ‘Don’t screw up now.’ “

“It was in,” she added. “I didn’t screw it up.”

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com