My goddaughter Alex, age 21, swept into The Jockey Club on New York City's Central Park South and gave me a boisterous hug. She is tall, lovely and self-assured. She is full of life: coping with her first job amid the rigors of Manhattan.
In a rich, low voice, she was describing her flat in Greenwich Village, her work for the designer Adrienne Vittadini and some of the New York City characters she has met.
Then, suddenly, she stopped talking, her mouth still open, her eyes transfixed at a middle distance. I followed her gaze.
Walking toward us was a vision in satin, white hair and luminous skin: the actress Jessica Tandy, fresh from her Academy Award. The crowd in this elegant lounge parted and fell silent. A handsome woman near the bar seemed to curtsy.
"Miss Tandy," a gentleman said, rising from his table. "Congratulations."
The tableau--with its remarkable response of respect and admiration--reminded me of the night I met Queen Elizabeth when the English royals were touring California a few winters back. Ms. Tandy and the Queen have the same porcelain complexion, and an inner glow that bathes their faces in light. The actor Hume Cronyn, as invisible as Prince Philip, followed his wife into the restaurant.
"Isn't she wonderful?" my goddaughter said, finally turning back to our table. "Did you see her face? Have you seen the movie 'Driving Miss Daisy?' Did you see the play? I hope I look that way when I'm 80."
Alex, though star-struck by the best of them, had recovered her sense of speech.
This encounter was a happy reminder of the pleasures inherent in meeting a friend or relative in the middle of a trip. You may want to travel alone, but that does not mean that you can't ring up a cousin who's living in Basel or a neighbor who's studying in Rome.
After a week or two of singular adventure, it's nice to trade notes with a friend--especially if that person knows the city where you meet and will share inside tips.
For example, a friend had told me that The Jockey Club--a mellow, pine-paneled restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel--is a magnet for celebrities who seek fine food and privacy. The Tandy-Cronyn arrival certainly filled that bill. And the night before, Betsy and Walter Cronkite had been there celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.
My goddaughter, however, had made other dining plans, so we grabbed coats and umbrellas and pushed into the rain along Central Park South. Lines had formed under the canopies at each hotel. Doormen's whistles trilled in the dark.
"No chance for a taxi now," Alex said with native wisdom. "The theater, you know, and the rain."
And so we walked--or strode--at a brisk New York City pace toward Fifth Avenue. Rows of wet horses and hansom cabs were curbed near the Plaza Hotel.
"Their stables are on the West Side in the 30s," said Alex, who loves animals. "Poor things. I bet they'd like to go home and get dry."
I always learn unexpected things from traveling with Alex.
Alex had made reservations at the Paper Moon Milano on East 58th. We stepped into this cozy copy of a Milan favorite and stacked our umbrellas by the door.
From a tempting menu, Alex ordered in Italian: penne all'arrabbiata (tube pasta with tomato, parsley, garlic and crushed red peppers) and the special pappardelle (a wide, flat pasta with bacon, Parmesan, tomato and cream). She told the waiter that she had discovered the original Paper Moon Milano during a college term in Florence.
His dark eyes sparkled. He asked when she had lived in Tuscany and complimented her on her accent.
And then Alex started to blush. Like red wine poured into a crystal goblet, her face had a sudden glow.
It was not the cool, luminous light she'd admired in Jessica Tandy. But it was young and charming. And at the next table, an Italian couple nodded in approval.