The (Caffe) Vivaldi Requiem

“Nothing lasts forever,” the Buddha tells us, and that’s true of people, life, and certainly cities. I know that impermanence is the only thing we can be sure of, but when I spend time in Greenwich Village my heart beats out little prayers of gratitude for all the cafés and coffeehouses and jazz clubs that have held on through the years, keeping the flame of the Village’s bohemian character alight, however faintly.

True, lemmings are lined up outside [insert trendy dessert establishment du jour] for the chance to eat a cup of $10 fucking cookie dough or some other such nonsense, but in Washington Square Park one can still find bluegrass musicians, performance artists, protesters, families, and sentimental flaneurs and flaneuses like me who are contented simply to stroll slowly, taking everything in (preferably while eating a good old-fashioned ice cream cone, thankyouverymuch).

My favorite Village locales, from 55 bar to Corner Bistro to Mezzrow to Caffe Reggio, all share a certain timeless quality: if you squint a little, it’s easy to imagine you’re in Greenwich Village circa just about any decade from the 1930s to the present day. Caffe Vivaldi, a soft-spoken little haunt tucked away on Jones Street, is no exception.

A grand piano takes up most of the front of the room at Vivaldi. Portraits of various classical composers hang on the walls, watching over the patrons, who are a microcosm of Greenwich Village itself: an elderly couple in the far corner shares a bottle of wine and quietly discusses the play they’ve just seen at the Lucille Lortel Theater while a few NYU students rowdily talk politics over beers at their communal table; a lone tourist sits near the door nursing a cup of coffee and, brow furrowed, studies a subway map as (ahem) a jazz singer gets her music in order before her set. The café’s ember-glow light and the music being played inside—folk or jazz or classical or singer-songwriter—spill onto the sidewalk, causing passersby to stop and peer inside. “Let’s go in and have a drink,” they say, delighted to have (accidentally) “discovered” the place.

Proprietor Ishrat Ansari has presided over Caffe Vivaldi for thirty-five years. With the time-tested tools of food and wine, music, and hospitality, Ishrat has created much more than a café. He’s provided a haven for all of us who love Old New York and the culture of Greenwich Village.

Over the course of the past several years, Caffe Vivaldi has staved off a 400% rent increase and a heartbreaking litany of legal and financial attacks by a convicted felon whom the attorney general once called “the Bernie Madoff of landlords.” Ishrat suffered a stroke smack dab in the middle of this long and contentious battle and his recovery has impeded his ability to keep fighting. Enough was, eventually, enough. In a tale that has grown all too familiar, a(nother) beloved and vibrant institution is being shuttered thanks to greed and corruption.

As both patron and performer, I will miss Caffe Vivaldi and the Greenwich Village spirit it embodies. Before Caffe Vivaldi closes its doors on June 23, I plan to stop by, listen to some music, and raise a glass to Ishrat Ansari’s vision and steadfastness. I invite—nay, urge—you to do the same.

Growth is uncomfortable.

colicBeing born had to have been a highly unpleasant experience. We’ve all gone through it, we just don’t remember it. But I’ve seen the photos and the whole thing looks pretty miserable. Most of us were shoved forcibly from a warm, muffled cocoon into a cold, antiseptic (and, egad, fluorescently lit!) hospital room, greeted by a spanking. A spanking! Well, nice to meet you, too, Doc! And ever since that first indignant and terrified gulp of air, most of us have continued kicking and screaming our way through life’s many changes.

norman_rockwell_tallerAs children, our lives change dramatically on a daily basis. Think about it: one day, tired of just crawling on the floor, we are able to start walking! Surely our infant psyches are puzzled when, unannounced and uninvited, teeth begin to painfully assert themselves in our little mouths.

Later, those very same teeth begin to loosen and fall out without warning. We learn to read, to write, to navigate the long hallways of our elementary school. And just when all of that starts to feel like old hat, we’re thrust into the hell of junior high and the chaos of adolescence.

Growth is a by-product of drastic changes in our minds, bodies, and surroundings. From the moment we are born, we’re in a constant state of becoming. But somewhere along the way, we kind of lose the plot. Our minds, bodies, and surroundings don’t stop changing as we get older, yet in adulthood, most of us tend to react to change like this:

There’s something to be said for revisiting our childhood relationship to change. As children, surrender to change wasn’t so much a choice as it was a state of being. We just kind of muscled through transitions, knowing instinctively that what we were going through was just a phase.

Maybe what really scares us is the knowledge that life itself is just a phase. When loved ones move away, when we have to upgrade our reading glasses to a stronger prescription, when we outgrow a friendship, when our favorite restaurant closes, we’re reminded that everything–even we–must come to an end.

G61023Yet this selfsame awareness of impermanence is exactly what imparts sweetness to our lives. Instead of resisting the inexorable mutability of life, we have the choice to remain curious. We can remind ourselves that, however painful it may be, change provides us with an opportunity to become wiser, kinder, and funnier.

And when all else fails, we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we never have to go through junior high again.