The Stranger at Chock-Full-o’Nuts

I was early for our appointment and the day was lovely – cool and the air was crisp.  I decided to walk to the restaurant which was on Varick Street, close to Janna’s gallery.  I turned on West Fourth Street in the direction of Sheridan Square.  I passed a Starbucks on the corner of West Fourth and Seventh Avenue.  I remember that spot as a Chock-Full-o’Nuts when I lived in the city.  Chock-Full-o’Nuts seemed to be on every other street corner then;  now their numbers seem paltry in respect to the ubiquitous Starbucks that haunt every other street corner.  But perhaps I am the one that is being haunted.  It was at Chock-Full-o’Nuts that I had met Sebastian.

Sebastian was mysterious with beautiful sad eyes.  It was his eyes that first attracted me.  I just  had gotten my first role in a play and worked the morning shift in Chock-Full-o’Nuts on 57th Street.  It was a good job – the tips were all right and I had plenty of opportunity to observe characters.  Young models with Gucci bags who ordered black coffee that they never finished, poising themselves then glancing nervously at their large round wristwatches with neon bands, then rushing off to the interview that would be their big break.  Old ladies with all the time in the world who would order two of the Chock-Full signature whole wheat doughnuts covered with powdered sugar and proceed to eat them with pleasure, being long past caring how they looked in a mini-skirt or Capri pants.

Then one day, the manager asked me to switch to the late shift instead.  I, of course, agreed, not wanting to risk losing my job.  Along the downward slope of the after-work rush one evening, a very interesting man came in.  He had piercing eyes, but they were not cruel.  He sat at my station, ordered black coffee and – in what seemed an afterthought – a single signature doughnut.  I smiled at him as I handed over this so-called breakfast.  As customers were becoming fewer and fewer, I managed to linger long enough to offer him a refill of his coffee.  He accepted.

He looked me over.  He was sly about it, but I was in the habit of observing.  I smiled and offered even more coffee.  He accepted.  Then he asked if I were a student.  I answered no.  Was I an artist?  I was an actress.  He smiled, seemed embarrassed and asked if I would allow him to offer me dinner tomorrow night, but very late.  To myself I thought, “Of course!  How could I not?”  To him what I uttered was a hesitant acceptance.   And so it began.

We arranged to meet the following evening, a Friday.  Fortunately, the Chock-Full-o’Nuts on West 57th Street, was basically a breakfast and lunch establishment, although we stayed open until seven o’clock for the after-work/working late crowd who wanted a snack on the way to Port Authority or Penn Station.

Six-thirty pm had arrived at last.  I began to clean up my work station.  At six-forty-five, Yvonne, the manager, locked the door so that no more customers could enter.  I finished wiping down my counter area, removed my apron and took the net off my hair.  I remember closing my eyes and tossing my head to let my hair flow down my back again.  When I opened my eyes, I saw Sebastian standing at my station.

“I hope you didn’t forget – tonight we have a date,” he said softly with a slightly wolfish smile.  “I’ll meet you at the restaurant in an hour.  We’ll have a martini at the bar first and a steak dinner afterward.”

“How did you get in?  I thought the door was locked.”  I was surprised to see him, and I hadn’t heard the door open.

He smiled again.  I turned to hang my apron on its hook.  When I spun around again he was gone.  This doesn’t seem normal, I thought.  I was beginning to wonder.

I left Chock-Full and headed to my small furnished apartment on West Eleventh Street.  It was getting dark earlier now.  This was the day of the autumnal equinox, and starting tomorrow, night would outlast the day.  Even though it was already night and I was tired, I decided I would walk to the home, rather than contend with the subway.  The air was crisp and cool that night as well; the slight autumnal wind began to sweep upward.  I felt safe walking in the dark, even though everyone warned me about how dangerous New York was.  I always felt safe.  Deep down, I believed I led a charmed life and no harm would befall me.  And even if it did, I could figure my way out of harm’s way.

As soon as I got back to my apartment, I took a shower to wash the smell of coffee out of my hair.  I put on my black lace panties and bra.  Not that they would be seen tonight.  Oh, no.  Never on a first date.  “We’ll see where he takes me, what he’s willing to invest,” I said to myself.  No, I was building a costume, creating a character.  I would no longer be the laboring waitress, beautiful but poor.  Nor the struggling actress, talented but undiscovered.  Tonight, I would be a charming, sophisticated woman of the world.

At nine o’clock, I applied my make-up and sprayed on some cologne.  I remember it was called “Vivons”.  It’s a long-ago scent that has since disappeared from the shops.  This is unfortunate, for I loved how it smelled on me.  I still have a handkerchief that I had splashed some on and carried with me for a while.  It too now lies in my drawer and on a dry day, gives off its aroma.  Next, I put on a black mini-skirt and fishnet stockings.  I selected a grey silk blouse with a high lace collar.

I was ready when the buzzer rang.  I rang back and sprayed cologne around the room.  Just as I finished, the doorbell rang.  I opened it and there stood Sebastian.  He smiled, and we looked each other up and down for a few seconds.

Then he said, “Are you going to ask me in?  I cannot enter unless you invite me.”



The vision took place in the West Fourth Street station – the one where the Sixth Avenue and the Eighth Avenue lines converge, then go their separate ways.  I had no intention of getting off there.  I was just passing through on my way to meet Janna at a nouveau foodie restaurant on Spring Street. 

I was safe now living a life far from any city and from mountains, just stretches of beach.  Although, the ocean occasionally caused anxiety.  Because here the ocean is too low, away from the road, at the bottom of a bluff.  And it’s as calm as a pool, no waves.  Everything on the bluff is flat – no soaring mountains, no hidden villas, no mule trails winding down, down, down to the seductive turquoise Mediterranean.  Nothing to call me into it’s depths.   My ocean is a real ocean, cold until late summer, always a greenish grey, never bright blue.  Not as beautiful as the Mediterranean, but safe.

On that day, I had left my cozy house by the ocean because Janna wanted to be a lady-who-lunches.  It is to be a celebratory lunch because Janna has a new show opening in the prestigious Broome Street Gallery.  Janna always manages to be involved in the most prominent of galleries and to be in the center of the most important of events.  I am celebrating Janna’s good fortune despite my unwillingness to share in it.  It is safe that way.

So, I undertook a journey on the Long Island Railroad to help Janna affirm life and her love for art.  I myself am now childless and have renounced a promising career.  It was a bright day, neither hot nor very cool.  I knew the restaurant on Spring Street (apt for the season, now that I think of it).  I remembered that they don’t accept credit cards, but I had already gotten off the LIRR and made my way into the subway, the Eighth Avenue line and was on the E train.  I knew that there is a branch of my bank near the West Fourth Street station.  Hence my getting off the train at that stop.

I knew which exit to take – the one on West Third Street.  It seemed that the bank was now where O. Henry’s Steak House once had been.  I had memories of very happy times at O. Henry’s Steakhouse with Sebastian, where, ravenous after a performance, I always had a rare sirloin burger – rare, I say, but it was in fact raw in the middle and charred on the surface.  Red wine accompanied it, at least two glasses and sometimes three.  Salad, though.  Never fries.  Fries were seductive, their appearance and aroma beguiling, but their substance nothing but disappointment. 

So, I got off the E train at West Fourth Street.  I had a vision of Sebastian standing at the Third Street entrance, as he did long ago.  But maybe it was something more substantial.  As I approached the stairs I saw a rat looking at me with sad eyes before he ran away.


Roman Ruins of Paris

IMG_1283It has been chilly and rainy here in New York –not a pleasant time to be out of doors.  This damp but not-too-cold weather takes me back to this past January in Paris where it rains some time almost every day, but is almost always 41degrees F.  When I first arrived, the Seine was still flooded, but had crested and was beginning to recede.


The Flooded Seine











I had planned to visit the crypt at Notre Dame, but was afraid it might have been flooded.  But fortunately, the crypt was open, and I was able to visit Roman Paris.

The Romans under Julius Caesar invaded and conquered Gaul, which included France, around 58 BC.  The Gallic tribe settled on Île de la Cité – the island in the Seine where Notre Dame Cathedral stands today –at that time were known as the Parisii.  In 53 BC, with Vercingetorix as their leader, they revolted against Caesar.  Unfortunately for the Parisii, they were defeated; still Vercingetorix  is considered to be the first French national hero.

The Romans proceeded to build a new city on the left bank of the Seine, which they named Lutetia (Lutèce in French). They, of course, introduced Roman customs and entertainment, traces of which can be found today.  My first visit was to the Arènes de la Lutèce, a Roman amphitheater in the 5th arrondissement.










The arena was used from the first to the third century, then destroyed during the time of the barbarian invasions, its stones being used for building materials.  The site became buried under layers of soil











The exact location of the amphitheater was forgotten over time, although the place name Clos aux arènes remained.  The remains were discovered in 1869 when the Compagnie Générale des Ominibus opened the street to construct a space for its vehicles.   Nowadays the amphitheater is a public park than one can enter through a stone archway on Rue Monge.  It wasn’t very chilly, and the rain had stopped the afternoon of my visit.  Kids were playing, and people were sitting on benches watching them.  It was a very peaceful end of the day.

Next, I visited Cluny.  Once a mansion for the Cluny abbots in the fifteenth century, this complex is now a museum of the Middle Ages.  

Fountain in courtyard at Cluny


However, it is built over what once were Roman baths.  Built in the first century AD, the baths were places where people gathered to conduct business, exercise, gossip and relax.  There were open to the public and fees were low.  Having public baths was the Empires attempt at the Romanization of conquered Gaul. 










I was fortunate that the crypt of Notre Dame Cathedral on Île de la Cité did not flood when the Seine did, and that site was the next I visited.  During the third century AD, Germanic tribes began to invade Lutetia.  The residents fled the left bank and relocated to the island in the Seine – Île de la Cité.  Stones from abandoned monuments were used to build a fortifying wall.around the new settlement.  Over time the Roman streets were buried under medieval and modern layers of construction to be rediscovered in the 1970’s when the city began excavations for a parking lot










My last excursion was to Montmartre, famous for free ways, artists, and bohemian life in general.

Street in Montmartre

However, this hill is so named for the martyrdom of St. Denis, the patron saint for France.  In 250 AD, Denis was the Bishop of the Parisii; however, Christianity was still outlawed in the Roman Empire.  Citizens were required to do reverence and make sacrifices to the Emperor and the traditional Roman pantheon.   Denis had been sent to convert the Gauls to Christianity and was so successful that the Roman officials had him arrested and executed.  He was beheaded, along with two other clerics, on the highest hill in Paris then known as the Hill of Mercury and Mars and which subsequently became Mount of the Martyrs or Montmartre.  Legend has it that St. Denis picked up his head and walked several miles while continuing to preach.

Montmartre is famous for the 19th century church Sacré-Coeur.  


However, there is another, older church nearby – Saint-Pierre de Montmartre – founded by St. Denis in the third century.  There are not many Roman ruins to be seen, but supposedly the columns on the interior are of Roman origin.  In any event, it is a charming and peaceful place to visit.


Paris is always lovely – another part of the world where you can find the past awaiting you, if you just look.






AMERICAN ITALIAN CULTURAL ROUNDTABLE, INC. Presents From the Heart: A Treasury of Italian Songs

Commendatore Aldo Mancusi, President  in association with Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo & The Enrico Caruso Museum

Understanding Through Culture 

Presenter Bill Ronayne

Noted Lecturer on Opera, Songs, Classic Films and Television      


Wednesday, May 30, 2018 6:30 PM                       

Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo

24 West 12th Street

New York, NY 10011 


All welcome to join us for refreshments following the program

For Additional Information Contact:

Commendatore Aldo Mancusi  

at 718-368-3993  or                         

SAVE THE DATE  Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Musical Celebration in honor of Italian Heritage and Culture Month

Presenter: David Maiullo, Pianist and Singer

Admission Information:  Member of AICR – FREE / NON-MEMBER – $15.00

Non-Members must reserve seating by mail. Money cannot be accepted at the door.

Please mail checks to

AICR, c/o Pat Constantino, 40 Third Street, Apt. #4, Brooklyn, NY 11231 


** SPECIAL OFFER FOR NON-MEMBERS: An opportunity to become a member for the last three programs of 2018 (May 30th, September 26th, December 6th)

Single $25.00: Family $35.00

Membership includes free admission to all four programs.

We are a 501c3 Not-For-Profit Organization – Your donations are tax deductible.



Easter, Passover and Leonardo’s The Last Supper


When we saw Leonardo’s The Last Supper in Milan earlier this year, Jim made an observation about some of the imagery in the painting.  He wondered why the loaves of bread on the table appeared to be leavened bread.  The historical Last Supper is traditionally believed to have been a Passover Seder at which only unleavened bread should have been eaten.  The Last Supper took place on a Thursday, followed by Jesus’ trial and the Crucifixion on Friday and the Resurrection on Sunday, which was Easter Sunday.  This is the reason that Passover and Easter overlap in present times.


No one seemed to know why Leonardo depicted leavened bread.  Did he not know that the Last Supper was a Seder?  He was incredibly curious and learned, so that seems hard to believe.  Did the Church suppress this fact?  The command to eat unleavened bread is in the Bible.

I asked my friend Mary who is an artist and knows a lot about art history why Leonardo would have ignored this fact.  She has, moreover, just finished reading Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson and here is what she has to say:

Isaacson’s book depressed me because it seemed like da Vinci never completed very much—he was brilliant but never really devoted to art or painting.  Finally I realized that I wasn’t appreciating who he really was.

Da Vinci wasn’t the kind of artist who devoted his life to art because his ideas couldn’t be limited by painting.  He was an incredibly accomplished painter by his early ‘20’s, but his ideas were already far exceeding what was possible in painting.

His genius and his life-long passion lay in his attempt to unlock the mysteries of nature – to penetrate the laws that govern physical, natural and artistic realms, and discover the similarities and correspondences between them.

His paintings are incredible examples of his technical skill, but their silence and aloofness don’t give us a glimpse into his personality and emotions.

We have a better understanding of da Vinci through his notebooks which show his unmatched interest in so many areas – what might be called his unquenchable thirst for discovery and understanding.


I felt as though I had gained a deeper understanding of Leonardo, but still I asked, “Why the leavened bread?”  Mary’s answer was that because da Vinci wasn’t captivated by painting and also was not religious, that he really didn’t concern himself with the historical accuracy of the picture.

I remembered that Leonardo had not finished The Last Supper, which had been commissioned by Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, to embellish the family mausoleum.  Leonardo worked on the painting sporadically while devoting time to his other interests.  During that time Sforza had started a war with the French, and both he and Leonardo fled Milan after the Duke had been taken prisoner.

True, Mary concurred and added:

Da Vinci was true to himself – he was an artist-scientist-engineer and he remained so all his life!  We all need that kind of courage.  He was never and cannot be pigeon-holed.


I am grateful to my friend for her insight into this fascinating Renaissance man.  Wishing all my friends a Happy Easter and/or Passover,


Milan — and Roman Ruins

Our winter vacation began in Milan on a pre-ski tour to see The Last Supper.  I had always thought of Milan as a Renaissance city, despite its reputation as a world-class business and fashion center, famous for its shopping gallery.  Which indeed it is.


Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, built in 1861

IMG_Galleria 10001



But I love to delve into the past and Milan’s Renaissance history appealed to me.  When Jim invited me to join him on his pre-ski trip specifically to view this painting, I happily accepted.  The Last Supper was commissioned of Leonardo da Vinci by the Duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza, also known as il Moro, around 1495-96.  Leonardo worked on it until 1498.

Ludovico Sforza had caused much turmoil in Italy during the period in which The Last Supper was being painted.  In 1494, he allied himself with the French king Charles VIII, who had a claim to the throne of Naples.  This city had, about fifty years earlier, passed from French to Spanish rule.  Moreover, the Spanish king had established an alliance with the Pope so that Naples would be inherited by his son.  To protect Milan against this Spanish-Papal alliance, Sforza invited Charles III into Italy so that he could make his way to Naples to re-claim it for France.  This opened the way for French aggression in Italy. Ultimately, in 1498, Charles VIII’s successor claimed the throne of Milan.  In 1499 both Sforza and Leonardo fled Milan; in 1500 Sforza was captured by the French, living the rest of his life as a prisoner in France, where he died in 1508.  Leonardo also spent his last years in France, at Amboise, one of the Chateaux of the Loire Valley, under the patronage of Catherine de Medici.  And his greatest painting remains in Milan.

Our visit to The Last Supper was scheduled for late in the afternoon.  That gave us a large part of the day to explore the city and learn something of its history.   Our visit began, normally enough, with a visit to the cathedral.

A visit to Italy is always a trip back in time, however, and Milan was no exception.  Besides, we are always on the lookout for Roman ruins.  Were there any in Milan, a city noted for its Renaissance culture and contemporary design?  Anyone who has studied Latin in high school has heard of Cisalpine Gaul, as the region in which Milan is located was known to Julius Caesar.  The city itself had been conquered in 222 BC and from then on was under Roman administration.  And, yes, there were traces of that time, though not many.

Very impressive nevertheless were the Columns of San Lorenzo.  They are believed to have been part of a pagan temple or a bath house of the second century AD.  Two hundred years later, they were moved to the parvis or the area in front of the Basilica of San Lorenzo


By the fourth century AD, Milan had been Christianized.  In fact, it was from Milan in 313 AD that the Emperor Constantine issued the edict that allowed tolerance for all the various religions of the Roman Empire.  From that point on Christianity could flourish openly.

Emblematic of this history, are the vestiges of this 5th-6th century church which we saw on the way to the Columns.  According to the signpost in front, it was built over “the remains of a lavish Roman residence.”


And also this niche that we found on our way to Maria delle Grazie. 


It was now the end of the day and we were making our way to see The Last Supper.  As we passed from ancient to modern times, we came upon a very interesting public building, the Stock Exchange.


It is a wonderful example of “fascist architecture.”  It is imposing and stark.  Very little of its structure is given to decoration, but what is, exemplifies Roman power and virtue.   This building calls attention to the authority of the State.  In front is an award-winning sculpture from 2000.  Its visual statement says it all.

It was the end of the day and growing dark when we finally arrived at our purpose – viewing The Last Supper.  Ludovico Sforza had purchased the monastery Santa Maria delle Grazie around 1494.  The mural was originally intended as decoration for the family mausoleum.  It was only later that the room containing the mural became the rectory for the monks, the subject of the painting being appropriate for them to contemplate while dining.


The Last Supper was a Passover Seder at which Jesus announced that one of the Apostles would betray him.  Our guide pointed out the various expressions of suspicion and horror on their faces, each man wondering who it would be and trying to assert that he himself would not be the one.  Judas is depicted as holding a purse, representing the thirty pieces of silver and reaching for Jesus’ bread.

Jim had a question:  Why was the bread not unleavened instead of the round loaves depicted since it was a Passover Seder?  We have not been able to find the answer.

It was dark when we made our way to the metro and back to our hotel and a delicious dinner.  A great ending to a great day.  Tomorrow I would be on to Paris, where I had decided I would spend part of my time looking at still more Roman ruins.



The Roman Wall in London

We have just returned from a winter vacation.  Rather than remain house-bound, we faced the cold and went north.  Jim went skiing in the Dolomites and I went to Paris.  But we landed in Milan on a pre-ski tour to see the Last Supper.  Thoughts of separation and being on my own, made me realize that I would need a focus – and objective, in fact – for my solitary stay in Paris.  This was inspired by the sight of Roman ruins we came upon while walking the streets of Milan and by the memory of an earlier trip to England with my friend Jody.

My search for traces of Italy in my travels had really begun with a trip to Cornwall and a stopover in London with my friend Jody.  The first day in London Jody and I slept.  The next day, we went on a couple London Walks.   We learned that London was established in 43 AD by the Romans, after Claudius’ invasion of Britain.  The wall was built as a defensive structure between 180 and 225 AD.  It was on one of these London Walks that we found the remnants of the Roman wall.


The wall, enclosing the Roman city, marks — more or less — the perimeters of The City London today.  (The City of London is the one square mile of the historic center and business district.  It is an entity unto itself.  The surroundings areas are really the City of Westminster.)

This is what the Roman area of London looks like today.

Roman London seen from across the Thanes
The Gherkin, a modern building in what was Roman London


And then Jody noticed something in a brochure.  The remains of the Roman Baths in London can now be visited by the public.  So, the search began.  The address was 101 Lower Thames Street, Billingsgate.  When we arrived, we found modern office buildings, but no number 101 Lower Thames Street.  No one knew anything about Roman baths.  We were near the Tower of London, so we asked in the tourist information office.  The receptionist didn’t know, but she asked her supervisor.  Oh, yes, was the answer.  She had been there herself.  You have to go through an office building and they will let you into the basement.

I was ready to give up, but not Jody.  She found the spot!  We went in.

Jody was very happy to have discovered the site of the ancient Roman baths.

Oh, yes, we could visit the baths, but only on Sundays.  Maybe we could come back.

Here is the link to the site of the Roman baths.

If you visit London, I hope you can see them, for Jody and I never got to.  We did see other sights, however.

First we visited Midsomer Murder country and some of the places frequented by Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby and Sgt. Ben Jones.

This is Henley-on-Thames where some of the many episodes were shot.

The Argyle pub is a spot where Ben Jones is said to hang out.  Alas, not when we visited.


Our next destination was Cornwall.  Our first stop was Port Isaac, otherwise known as Port Wen where Doc Martin has his practice.  This was turning out to be the British television tour.


IMG_1126- Entering Port Isaac
Entering Port Isaac, aka Port Wenn


IMG_1123-Doc Martin's House
Doc Martin’s surgery
Mrs. Tischler’s


Jody went on to Paris and I met up with Jim on Dartmoor.  On our last day, Jim and I went to London.  It was a Sunday and I thought we would certainly visit the Roman baths.  However, we did something better.  We spent the afternoon in A Friend at Hand pub with Charlie and Georgie Knaggs.


Charlie, Jim, me and Georgie



Georgie is a writer who has also lived in Naples.  We had both studied Italian at different times at Centro Italiano.  And that is how I met her – the school suggested she contact me and, happily for me, she did.  Georgie maintains a blog,  She is a wonderful writer and photographer, so I hope you will visit her blog too.

Maybe next time we’re in London, we’ll visit the Roman baths.  But now searching for Roman ruins wherever possible has become a goal.