THE BLOG

On the Culture Front: Ribera Y Rueda Tapas Crawl, BAM and WNYC's RadioLoveFest, and Sonia M'Barek

05/26/2015 05:01 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2016

Saul Steinberg's iconic 1976 "New Yorker" cartoon ("View of the World from 9th Avenue") depicting the world fading into the distance beyond the borders of the Hudson River satirizes a snarky mindset of exceptionalism while also acting as a love letter to a city that squeezes in more diversity and culture per capita than any other in the world. Even as the edges have been smoothed and layers of indelible character have since evaporated with the grime, there's still no place like the awkwardly tubular landmass of Manhattan and its amorphously shaped and ever-growing neighbor, Brooklyn - which in any other part of the world would be a big city unto itself.

More than what's distinctly of the city are all the experiences it holds that are authentically from distant lands. I was reminded of this while on a tapas crawl the other week that brought me back to San Sebastian where I hopped from bar to bar taking in a glass of wine, delicious bites called pintxos, and great company - an essential part of the Basque experience. My friend Ronnie Rodriquez, led an intimate group to three places in Chelsea to show off wines from the regions of Ribera del Duero and Rueda, including Café Riazor, hidden down a few steps on 16th street. The Marques de Riscal was so quaffable - the perfect breakfast wine. Served with tenderly grilled octopus and chorizo, I was tempted to stay but part of the fun is in the journey. More civilized than a pub crawl but less fussy than a pairing, it's the kind of event that pauses time for bit as all your senses expand. There's a Zen like quality to the Spanish pace that replaces the frenzy of expectation with the joy of contentment - a welcome addition on the food culture front.

Tunisian food was present in abundance at the reception for Sonia M'Barek's concert at the French Institute Alliance Française. Prepared by chef Sami Rezgui, the many dishes I had were a first for my taste buds. There are traces of Ethiopian, Indian and even some European traditions that may be linked the country's location on the tip of North Africa connected by Mediterranean Sea to both Europe and Asia. M'Barek's voice communicates volumes with powerful intonations that personalize the Middle Eastern melodic structures that punctuate her songs. It made me wonder if the experience could have been any more authentic in Tunis.

Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! host Peter Sagal opened a live taping at BAM's Howard Gilman Opera House by thanking people for buying tickets to a show they could have listened to for free. The event was part of RadioLoveFest, and there was a palpable excitement in the air at all three shows I attended. People were eager to laugh and feel deeply as the intimate radio atmosphere opened up into a communal space. One of many highlights was a surprise guest appearance by Steve Buscemi who answered trivia while baring parts of his soul in a rare exchange that felt like it could have taken place at a barbeque. Panelist Jessi Klein admitted to having a crush on the Brooklyn-born actor.

The most cathartic event I experienced during the fest was The Moth and Radio Diaries' show on teenagers hosted by ambassador of teen angst Molly Ringwald, who made many mentions of "The Breakfast Club" throughout the night which culminated in a story about her experience watching it with her adolescent daughter and how it gave her more empathy for the parents in the movie. There wasn't a weak story in the bunch, mostly of adults looking back on defining moments of their youth, but when current teenager Isobel Connelly took the mic to talk about her father's cancer diagnosis, the room became still. She spoke with clarity, vulnerability and optimism as she recounted the thoughts going through her brain when she found out, the effect at school, and finally an appearance on Fox News that showcased both the insensitivity of the network and the strength of her mother to stand up to it - a lesson she's held long into her father's remission.

Finally, I was just made aware of a unique event at the World Science Festival that looks quite promising. Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione and biomolecular archeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern will talk about their collaborations (Midas Touch, Chateau Jiahu, and Kvasir) based on ancient recipes from Turkey, China and Scandinavia while doling out samples along with rolling out their new native American-inspired Two-Rabbit Pulque. Science will probably never taste so good.