Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Additional photos by Barbara Angelakis
Last night, in one of those philosophical “let's solve the big questions” moods that result from being with good company, a great meal (magret de canard with sour cherry and green pepper sauce) and a couple bottles of great wine (the last of my Chateau Lafite Rothschild ‘82) we tried to decide which was the greatest city to live in the world. We have all traveled extensively and some had lived abroad for extended periods of time; though nowadays we are all residing in Northern New Jersey.
Everyone had their favorite city.
I thought of Paris, the City of Lights… the temple of the two hautes that attract visitors from all over the world, couture and cuisine; I believe it’s one of the world's most memorable cities. I have very fond memories of mornings at the Louvre, afternoons at Le Mistral bookstore (nowadays Shakespeare & Company), evenings at La Coupole or Chez Popoff’s, and sunrises struggling to my room at the run-down rooming house at 9 Rue Gît-le-Coeur (nowadays the Relais Hotel du Vieux Paris) from nights of revelry. On my desk, an ashtray in the shape of a top hat keeps my memories of the Lido Cabaret alive, and still almost 60-years later, I sometimes think of Max(ine) my Parisian love, who was a dancer at the Folies Bergère.
Vienna came up too, the world capital of classical music. Great conductors, famous divas and temperamental tenors keep grand opera grand at the Wiener Staatsoper as nowhere else; Mozart, Strauss and Lehár operas and operettas are still performed at the Volksoper to full houses, standing room only; the Musikverein showcases great concerts including the annual New Year's Gala which is telecast worldwide. And at the Café Sacher, the original Sacher Torte is still served with coffee, as well as Apricot Palatschinken with lots of schlag i.e. whipped cream.
Another guest proposed London, the fountainhead of theatrical and musical traditions that started with Shakespeare and has been the home to George Bernard Shaw, Gilbert and Sullivan, David Garrick, Lawrence Olivier, the Beatles, Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Mick Jagger, and Eric Clapton.
Rio de Janeiro was another contender; a fun city that dances year round to the propulsive beat of the samba. It is blessed with 55 miles of white sand beaches including Copacabana and Ipanema, where many of the world's beautiful people party.
My birthplace, Athens, the cradle of Western civilization, and Venice, the magical city where the light changes with the seasons glinting off the water to reflect into the interiors of churches and palazzos, were both deemed a bit too provincial. And the same was thought of Helsinki and Copenhagen.
We all agreed that Berlin and Munich had their heyday in the nineteen thirties.
Hong Kong was considered; but due to the 1997 handover to the Peoples Republic of China resulting in the mass exodus of much of the affluent population and the current troubles, we decided it was premature to make a judgment as to the probable future of this town.
No one seemed to like Tokyo, or Cairo, or Riyadh, or Rome.
A few liked Shanghai, Istanbul and Barcelona, but the current political climate in these cities made the proponents uncomfortable
Bangkok, with its hot-hotter-hottest climate, and Moscow, with its cold-colder-coldest seasons, were rejected for obvious climatic reasons. They were both deemed very interesting places to visit, in the right season, but not for permanent residence.
And that left as the main contender the city whose lights we could see from the dining room window. A city with some of the greatest variety of restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, clubs and shopping than any other in the world. The city of Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway. The city that is the capital of the US financial and banking industries. The city that has more art galleries and more important museum collections than any other. Also the city that’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It’s a city that never sleeps… a city that works hard all day and parties harder all night.
New York City has over 3,000 restaurants (over 900 have closed in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic) from coffee shops to over 40 world renowned establishments with a multitude of Michelin stars, including 3 that serve mostly caviar and champagne. Every kind and style of food can be found; French haute cuisine, French Provençal, German, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Turkish, Persian, Jewish (Kosher and non-Kosher), Russian, Mexican, Colombian, Argentinean, Brazilian, Cantonese, Hunan, Shanghainese, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Moroccan, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Tibetan; every ethnic group and every country is represented… you name it, it’s here.
There are over 300 hotels, led by five-star luxury properties belonging to world renowned international hospitality groups, as well as locally owned establishments.
And when it comes to foodstuff and wines, the finest that the world produces is available in New York City, year round.
Paris has Fauchon, Les Halles and Marché Président-Wilson; London has the food court at Harrods, Marks & Spencer, Mercato Metropolitano and Bang Bang Oriental; New York has Zabars, Balducci, Fairway, Petrossian, the Cellar at Macy’s, Mercado Little Spain and Eataly to name but a few. Whatever you wish, whenever you want it, you’ll find it in this city.
At Astor Wines & Spirits, Acker Merrall & Condit, Millesima, Ambassador Wines, and many other liqueur stores (as the establishments that sell wines and spirits are known) you can have French Grand Crus at prices sometimes cheaper than what they retail in France. And if your fancy runs to American, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Australian, Chilean, Argentinean, Greek, Israeli, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Turkish, Cypriot or any other wine or spirit, they are plentifully available.
There are cheese shops that offer over 500 varieties of cheese, from mass-produced in Wisconsin to hand-crafted in the Swiss Alps and the creameries of Spain. And produce and fruit, from field greens to grapes, to lemongrass, to avocados, to artichokes, bananas, cherimoya and sour-sop are always in season, as they are shipped from both the North and South Hemisphere to end up on New Yorker tables.
New York City is a microcosm full of paradoxes, the “melting pot” of the world; where billionaires live cheek to jowl with paupers.
There are the department stores, and the Madison Avenue boutiques, and the Fifth Avenue luxury retailers and the flagship stores of Italian, French, English, Japanese and, of course, American designers but also the discount outlets of the Lower East side and the thrift-shops and flea markets of Chelsea, where current fashions or fashions of the last couple centuries can be had at a fraction of their list price. If you need to find photography or sports gear or electronics of any kind and cost, you can find it in New York City for less than anywhere else, including countries of origin; but you have to be a knowledgeable shopper knowing the merchandise and prices, because the shopping districts are full of shady retailers ready to fleece the unwary or ignorant.
Yes, finally, all of us agreed that New York City and the surrounding suburbs are the best place to reside in the world!
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