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I had spotted the truck a few weeks ago. There it was parked quietly and unassumingly on Broadway in the middle of the Upper West Side. I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but as I got closer and could start to make out the white script lettering against the antique yellow paint job: Van Leeuwen, Artisan Ice Cream. I would have sampled a bit of their Ginger or Giandujia ice cream right then and there, but since I was approaching the truck with a small cup of Grom’s Caramel gelato already in hand, I would have to postpone my maiden tasting until a later date.
This whole summer seems to have been filled with some very happy, happenstance discoveries – and not all of them culinary (believe it or not). While paying a visit to the Museum of Modern Art, I not only gained a further appreciation of architecture through "Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling," and continued to be wondered by "Dali: Painting and Film," but I happened to stumble upon "Kirchner and the Berlin Street."
I don’t think I had ever noticed any of Leon Kirchner’s work before at MoMA, the National Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, or any other museum; and if I had, they had never caught my eye and brain in the way they do know. The main focus of the exhibition is Kirchner’s representation of some of the seedier elements of street life of Berlin right before World War I. Cocottes. Prostitutes. The paintings and subject matter are both beautiful and ugly at the same time. Vibrant and veiled. Exciting and dangerous. There is one pastel – "The Red Cocotte" – where the artist’s hand, his strokes are so deliberate, almost violent, yet they do nothing but bring life to a patch of pavement on which his figures stand.
It surprised me just how intrigued I was by the exhibit as a whole, but in particular the larger canvases. The colors, the sense of motion, even a palpable sense of desperation coupled with cautionary discretion. It was all new to me. New to my eyes. New to my mind.
So, as I left MoMA earlier today after paying another visit to the Kirchner exhibit, I began to walk back towards Columbus Circle in order to hop on the A or D Train back uptown. I stopped into Petrossian, but once inside, I decided that a pain au chocolat was not what I was really in the mood for. Once I was at Columbus Circle, I then stopped into The Shops, and checked to see what Bouchon was offering today. Again, I passed on selecting anything from their assortment of cookies, tarts and pastries. As I left the glass-enclosed air conditioning and stepped back onto the late-August, summer sidewalk… Ice cream! Where was that yellow truck again?
What followed was a personal, technologically-hindered comedy of errors. I tried to search for "van leeuwen ice cream truck" via Google on my iPhone, but the connection kept timing out. I called directory assistance, carefully spelling out the name of the company, and was automatically connected to a company that sells "natural casings" for sausages. -Didn’t I say "ice cream company"? I tried Google again: "van leeuwen ice cream phone number". The connection timed out again. And again. Well, if I’m going to treat myself to ice cream, I might as well keep walking up Broadway. And if the truck is not there, then I can just go to Grom again.
61st… 62nd… 63rd… As I reach each intersection, I try my best to peer ahead to the next one and beyond, looking – hoping – for a glimpse of that yellow truck. I walk past Lincoln Center… 67th… 68th… 69th… The only ice cream trucks I spy are Mister Softee and his imposters. 72nd… 73rd… My heart begins to sink… Grom it is.
But as I finish crossing 73rd Street, I catch a glimpse of yellow just beyond the next corner, partially obscured by some pay phones and a news stand. Even though a smile had crept back on my face, I had not yet breathed a sigh of relief. There’s no line. Is it closed? I exhaled as I saw a vanilla cone being handed over to a mother, who then passed it down to her stroller-bound daughter. I quickened my pace.
As the gentleman in front of me ordered a scoop of "John-duh-doo-gee-ya", I finalized my order. A medium – two scoops: one of Red Currant and Cream, one of Chocolate. -Although, the "John-duh-doo-gee-ya" was also still a possibility. However, I would opt for a sugar cone instead my usual cup. I did stick to my original order – and the cone – but I also asked for a sample of the Ginger too (for future reference).
Before finally sampling my first – and formerly postponed – taste of this "artisan ice cream", I had to document the occasion with my camera. -Another new development cum requisite whenever I come across a new food, treat, indulgence. Since I had a slowly melting ice cream cone in one hand, and a camera with room for only three more pictures, I had to work fast and efficiently. Click. Click. I was not happy with the first two pictures. I thought the truck would "read" in the background, but it didn’t seem to frame the two scoops properly. Then I took a few steps to the right, and realized that the front part of the truck would provide the perfect backdrop – the yellow of the truck, the windshield, the headlights, even the white script lettering. And if I turned the ice cream cone just a quarter to the left… Click. Perfect!
After that final delay, I took my first taste. The Chocolate was indeed chocolate-y: cold, creamy, sweet, smooth. Then came the Red Currant and Cream. At first, I thought I was tasting ice, like the bits of water from the ice cream scoop that refreeze after scooping, but then I realized that I was tasting the red currants. Fresh red currants. Each now-frozen, little red berry providing a cold crunch, a brief hint of acid, sour, and a bit of texture in direct – but complementary – contrast to the not-at-all vanilla vanilla ice cream. Ruby red polka dots in a field of white. -Well, off-white.
The ice cream consumed – enjoyed, savored – the napkin crumpled and thrown into a trash can, my thoughts turned to tomorrow. My birthday. My 40th Birthday. What everyone else seems to be calling, "The Big 4-0!" "You should plan a big party." -No, I’ve never been one for big parties. "You should do something really special for yourself". -Possibly.
So there I was on the corner of 82nd and Broadway. My thirties coming to a close in a matter of hours. No party planned. Something special still just a possibility. Then as I noticed the small dribble of vanilla ice cream on my t-shirt, I took stock of what had happened so far today. Not only had I just revisited a few pieces of Art, but I had also discovered, tasted and experienced something new. But couldn’t that new discovery have taken place a few weeks ago when I had first caught sight of that yellow truck? Could I have not wandered almost accidentally into the Kirchner exhibit earlier this afternoon instead of during the Member Preview Days?
Today, I am 39. Tomorrow, I was 39. Today is and was a day just like any other day. Tomorrow will be too. It just happens to be My Birthday. However, I will not only be turning 40, but I will also have another chance to try the Ginger. Or the "John-duh-doo-gee-ya".