New York's real estate bacchanalia is literally reaching new heights, facelifting Manhattan's iconic skyline until the end of time. Vanity Fair has already introduced us to the leviathan luxury skyscrapers rising below Central Park South (one of which I see through my window, not-so-gradually dwarfing the Bloomberg Building by the hour). . . Downtown, developers are targeting that top stratum's fraction of aesthetes through a disorienting orgy of design along the High Line

The Sounds of New York series takes aural urban moments that, together, capture the sensory experience of being a New Yorker. All recordings taken with my iPhone. 

Summer Concert at the Naumburg Bandshell

Promenading up the Mall in Central Park is one of the city's recreational rites of passage. An iconic spot in film and lit, it's a pleasure sauntering along this broad pedestrian avenue, canopied by elegant elms filtering late afternoon sunlight into abstract patterns on the concrete beneath you. Life's great pageant passing by, it's a rewarding path to take home from work after a trying day, an important reminder of why New York is the only city to call home.  

But the voices, buskers, and ambient traffic fall silent when you pass the Naumburg Bandshell.

In an instant, New York becomes Paris in the '30s, when Beethoven and Chopin were played en plein air in the Luxembourg Gardens. Since 1905, the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts have been staged every summer at the bandshell, a heavenly neoclassical structure crowning the east side of the Mall. You realize you've forgotten what real civilization looks like until you see rows of speechless people seated before a pianist at a Steinway. And all outdoors.

The night I happen upon the scene, an orchestra called The Knights is playing renditions of Sufjan Stevens, but I'm so glad I lingered for Ori's Fearful Symmetry by Russian composer Ljova. A lush, tear-jerking suite, he conceived it as an anthem for Israeli youth.

As those cinematic strings float across the balmy breeze, it's just getting dark enough to see the fireflies dancing by the elms. People are waltzing with their babies; heads are resting on shoulders; hands are pairing up. It's a major moment to be human.


Entering Anya Firestone's sun-drenched apartment in Hell's Kitchen, my eye intuitively pivots toward a blazing pink glow down the hall at left. It's unmistakable from the photos I'd seen that this is her bedroom. Like Belle mesmerized by the enchanted rose in the Beast's West Wing, my eyes are fixed on it even when we exchange la bise, the French salutation as natural to Anya as her taste for macarons.

Anya Firestone in her Hell's Kitchen living room. Top, Julien David. Skirt, Prada.

I'm seeing her for the first time since a chance café meeting on Rue des Martyrs in Paris, June 2012. I was vacationing, renting an apartment in Pigalle before studying abroad in the southeastern city of Grenoble. She, however, was in the painstaking process of completing a Masters in French Cultural Studies at Columbia University's Paris campus, writing the thesis that prepared her for her current work as a curator and professional aesthete in her native New York. "I had no adjustment period when I went to Paris," she says unequivocally. "It was so comfortable.

Before heading into the famous boudoir to see what outfits she selected for our shoot, I poke my head beyond the foyer. It's a capacious two-bedroom residence on a corner, awash in warm cream tones punctuated by Anya's colorful artwork on the walls -- a self portrait with her mother, a collage of salvaged price tags in the shape of Manhattan -- and some statement furnishings of an Architectural Digest variety. But the real drama is the panoramic backdrop of Midtown skyline enticing me out onto a small brick terrace. The sunlight is particularly piercing today, and Anya's hometown is in HD.

A Manhattan vista from Anya's kitchen window.

Turning back toward the bedroom, I'm bombarded by two miniature cocoa poodles with jangling collars and little silk scarves. The tinier of the two is named Zsa Zsa, the larger Cyrano, and for a hot second I'm back on the Left Bank watching doting moms in Hermès feed their pooches from small marble tables outside the Bon Marché. 

Cyrano (front) and Zsa Zsa, Anya's very French poodles. 

Paris is omnipresent chez Anya. Returning hurriedly to New York after the New Year for a job, she still has an apartment in the 7th arrondissement housing a few pairs of wedge heels that didn't make it into her luggage. It's fitting really, since she'll always have at least one foot in the City of Light.

When you investigate French culture, and specifically French Cultural Studies, the subjects and obsessions within them are those that have always been inherently mine as well,” she explains. “Those streets! Paris is overwhelming — in a [Mark Rothko]-staredown-intense kind of way. At times I can’t fathom why everyone around me isn’t dramatically crying their mascara off professing how good it all looks. Even the dirty parts. They too are suspiciously special.

Her wardrobe is a sartorial treasure trove spanning whimsy, humor, and even the formidable. There's no unifying element throughout marking some defining preference, yet it's immediately plausible that all of this could end up in a style exhibit at the Met bearing her name. But to Anya, curating isn't restricted to the museum -- it's a way of life.  

Dress, Jean-Paul Gaultier.

I’m hyper-aware of words, language, and images, and I know that there are ways in which I can put things together in patterns that have not yet been arranged or styled before. New combinations can provoke new ideas about the life of art, and art in life.

Shoes, Dolce & Gabbana.

Anya's taste is anything but minimal, yet none of her clothes, books, or furnishings appear superfluous, and nothing is there by chance. There's a person, a laugh, or at the very least a reason behind each accoutrement in this aesthetic sanctuary. "Every item I have has a provenance,” she says. And she rarely experiences buyer's remorse, a natural advantage to being hyper-selective when shopping. 

When I see something [I like], I have a visceral reaction to it, and not just art objects. If it’s a shoe, a pastry, a clutch, a painting. . . how it’s crafted. I value tremendously the human ability to create.

Anya's bedroom is a potion of elegant tricks, wit and her famous puns ("Je pun, donc je suis" is her personal mantra, not just her Instagram bio). Antique hand mirrors hang above her Rococo headboard, framing reflections of the pink wallpaper intricately scrolled with gold on the opposite wall. An ornately framed buzzer leans against an electric candelabra on her dresser, reading "Press for champagne." Her Olympia Le Tan clutch is a classic fashion pun, an accessory disguised as Emile Zola's novel Au bonheur des dames, about a Parisian department store catering to the capital's conspicuously consuming women.     

"Zola" Clutch, Olympia Le Tan.

Holding court: Maurice, one of two reigning Persians chez Anya.

But Anya's intellectual aesthetic is very much grounded in warmth and comfort, making her personal museum above all a livable private domain. "I could stare at a [Rothko painting] for hours, but I‘m not sure if I could take his looming forms staring at me before I put on my makeup or drink my coffee in the morning." She pauses. "But, you know, if someone offered me a Rothko, I’d take it."  

Being in a curator's home is an especially enlightening experience, because the decorative stakes seem substantially higher in the dwelling of someone for whom artistic selection is an occupation. For someone like Anya, whose curatorial sense is acutely heightened, the field of artistic sampling is huge. But that works for the curator, because making unexpected pairings of creative products -- be they sculpture, furniture, colors, or clothes -- is what she does. It's an ability to assemble the vast options and then make dynamic choices from them that's so admirable. 

"[At a party,] I’d play Kanye West. And then some belly-dancing music. But I’d start the evening with Ella Fitzgerald."  

 

Photos by Christian Frarey | Copyright 2014