Leonard Nimoy, you’ve probably heard, now has a movie theater named for him on the Upper West Side. It used to be the Thalia-that grungy yet beloved cave at 95th and Broadway. Now the Thalia is the Leonard Nimoy Thalia. True, the new name is a little weird, but it could have been something like the Frito-Lay Thalia. So the Leonard Nimoy Thalia sounds pretty great.
We went to talk to Mr. Nimoy the other day at his new theater. He took a seat in the back row. He is tall and thin, and he wore a light brown V-neck sweater, khakis and white New Balance sneakers. He had a snazzy crew cut, and his hair was dark gray. Mr. Nimoy’s 71 now. He looked great. We checked the ears. The ears looked great, too.
The weird thing is, Mr. Nimoy had never seen a single film at the Thalia before he and his wife, Susan, decided to invest $1.5 million in it. He wasn’t one of those West Siders who could tell you about the time he held his wife-to-be’s hand for the first time during Children of Paradise , or watched a pair of rats in flagrante delicto during Jules and Jim . He wasn’t the guy at work who can’t stop telling you about the time there was a flood in the Thalia during the climax of Wages of Fear and, instead of leaving, everyone simply propped their feet on the edges of their chairs.
Mr. Nimoy just liked movies. He’d been in a couple, of course, and directed some, too ( Three Men and a Baby , don’t forget). But he also spent a lot of time in Los Angeles going to screenings at the Coronet Theater on La Cienega Boulevard. It was thousands of miles away, but the Coronet had the same “sensibility” as the Thalia, Mr. Nimoy said.
“You could see the silents, you could see the Truffauts and the Bergmans and the Fellinis and what have you, and you could see a film that you have always heard about but nobody ever played,” Mr. Nimoy said in a low, gravelly voice. “It would be coming up in about six weeks, and you’d mark the date and say you had to go there that night. It was that kind of place.”
The Thalia renovation is part of a greater renovation of Symphony Space, the performance hall upstairs from the movie theater. Mr. Nimoy had a relationship with Symphony Space from reading short stories in its “Selected Shorts” program, so the Symphony Space people asked if he’d be interested in helping with their overhaul of the Thalia. He came one day to witness the construction, wore a hard hat-“This place was a dug-out concrete hole,” he said-and signed on. That was about all he did, he said. For a guy with a theater named after him, Mr. Nimoy was pretty low-key about it.
The new Thalia is a souped-up version of its woebegone predecessor. There’s new paint, new seats, new acoustic paneling and fancy lighting that can be used for live performances. The old reverse-parabolic floor-the one you could drop a Raisinet on and have it roll away and then back to you like a boomerang-is gone. But it’s still small-176 seats, or about a third of the size of a multiplex coliseum.
Mr. Nimoy was joined in the theater by Isaiah Sheffer, Symphony Space’s artistic director. Mr. Sheffer was excited about a movie that was coming to the Thalia on April 20.
“We have this new print that Martin Scorsese has paid for us to have struck of Rossellini’s The Rise of Louis XIV ,” he said. “Fabiano”-Fabiano Canosa, the Thalia’s film curator-“is now in Paris picking it up. Scorsese gave some money to have it subtitled. Fabiano will bring it back in his hand.”
Alas, Mr. Sheffer said, not every classic is in such fine form. Time and mistreatment have done great damage to classic films.
“If you want to show Jules and Jim ,” Mr. Sheffer said, “the best print available is not so wonderful.”
“I have a good print of Satan’s Satellites if you want to run that,” Mr. Nimoy said. He added, dryly: “known as Zombies of the Stratosphere .”
Mr. Nimoy laughed and propped a sneaker on the back of the chair in front of him. Get a theater named after you, and you can do that whenever you want.
What’s all this fuss about cooking? If you ask me, cooking sucks. You’re gonna waste four hours of your life, then feel good because you made some food ? Hours, days, months in the kitchen-and for what? Just be a man and go to the Chirping Chicken on West 77th Street, get a whole chicken. Takes 30 seconds.
Cooking is practically a religion these days, it seems. But face it: There’s nothing elevating about food. It’s boring. On Sunday, April 14, there were an unbelievable seven- seven !-cooking shows on PBS. Food porno. These shows are barbaric. Amanda Hesser’s column in The New York Times Magazine ? Her, too. Centuries from now, they’re all going to be laughing at us.
Here’s my idea of acceptable food commentary, from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises : “We had a good meal, a roast chicken, new green beans, mashed potatoes, a salad, and some apple-pie and cheese.” Or this: “We ate the sandwiches and drank the Chablis.”
Hemingway never would have been able to stomach the first PBS cooking show I forced myself to watch, Mexico-One Plate at a Time with Rick Bayless. Mr. Bayless is a very annoying, bespectacled, goateed man who talks about Mexican cuisine in endless detail, and in hushed, almost X-rated tones as he over-pronounces words like “tortilla” (“tor- teeeee- ya”).
Then : A Food Memory . Grown men talking about things like the smell of bread in Grandma’s house. That madeleine bullshit. Next up: Lidia Bastianich’s show, Lidia’s Italian Table , if you need to remember when Mama used to cook for you.
At 4 p.m., I got a quickly delivered lunch from Sel et Poivre on Lexington Avenue consisting of a duck-pâté sandwich, mashed potatoes, French green beans and coffee. I ate it while watching Great Food , about a group of too-cheerful, early-rising lunatics who spend a week in a castle in Scotland and laugh hysterically as a master chef, a British plumper named Rosemary, teaches them to cook things like “scallops in a paper cup,” sole Amhuiinnsuidhe and fresh tarragon-fettucine profiteroles. I don’t understand food excursions. Why not pay to have someone cook for you and relax on your vacation, rather than blow $750 a day to spend six hours a day working in the kitchen?
My kitchen, conversely, is mostly where I put my beer bottles. I make corn on the cob, Annie’s Mexican mac and cheese from a box, and there’s nothing “retro” or “ironic” about it-I like it, I eat it, O.K.? Or I hard-boil three eggs, sprinkle some Morton salt on and then chow down. I cook jalapeño sausages in the microwave. Very occasionally, I will fry up a burger, put ketchup on it- not salsa-and eat it off a paper plate.
But more often than not, I pick up the phone and order something, like some fusilli with ground beef from Focaccia Fiorentina or chicken vindaloo from Chola. Or I’ll go to Hell’s Kitchen and get a tasty $8.95 skirt-steak sandwich at Cafe Andalucia or go to Island Burgers & Shakes for a Slick Willie (a burger with ham, relish, American cheese, bacon, sour cream, barbecue sauce and onions).
Back in the 1950’s, people used to eat normal. No one complained. No one was on a quest for the ultimate meal; they didn’t need this peak-experience crap. They didn’t spend half their day at the grocery store getting a bunch of stuff, bringing it home, washing it off, chopping it, slicing it, cooking, preparing, all that endless fussing and talking about it, all for something that was over in 20 minutes.
At 5 p.m., Michael Chiarello’s Napa came on. Seriously, do I want to tag along with this guy while he’s stocking up on pantry items for the “perfect pantry,” or when he’s comparing notes with Sally on preparing the “perfect picnic”? Or when he’s making vanilla gelato for his kids, or off on a mushroom hunt so he can “prepare roasted barley mushroom risotto”?
No, I do not.
Jacques Pepin Celebrates! came on. It was going to be a “puff-pastry showcase.”
I picked up the phone and ordered a medium cheese from Domino’s, and it was good-better than anything you’ve eaten in six months.