Monday, December 3, 2007

El Escape Dulce

One of the many things I like about New York is its wonderful proximity to warm and sunny destinations during the bleak winters. In a mere 3 or 4 hours, you can find yourself on a white sandy beach, staring at the turquoise sea while listening to the gentle sound of crashing waves.

I normally favour a more active and adventurous holiday, one involving a challenge (either physical or personal) or some kind of novelty. This year, I had planned to head to Cuba to listen to Jazz in Havana, or to take a whale watching trip to Alaska or perhaps to finally go Gorilla trekking in the dense Ugandan jungle.

But as the end of the year drew near, I realised that I just didn't have the strength to challenge myself anymore. That moving across the Ocean, taking on a new demanding role, making new friends and whole-heartily embracing the fanatical pace of New York had drained me beyond description. This year has been one of extreme and opposite emotions for me: joy and sorrow, excitement and fear, fun and stress ... some dreams achieved and others shattered. So much so, that all I wanted, to my shock and horror, was to lie on a beach with plenty of books and a good friend.

And so I found myself, a few days ago, on a plane heading to Playa Del Carmen on Mexico's Yucutan Peninsula, with my gbf Larry. Playa seemed to offer a slightly more rural alternative to Cancun's large all-inclusive resorts (which I despise) and we opted to stay in a lovely boutique hotel tucked in a small palm tree lined street, minutes from the Caribbean sea.
The town itself was a dichotomy, retaining the feel of a small place yet still touristy. Mexican joints happily cohabiting with trendy upmarket restaurants, tacky souvenir shops with sophisticated art galleries.

The whole short trip was exactly what I needed and I completely relaxed. Reading a book a day, on the patio of our villa overlooking the serene miniature pool while birds were singing. Interrupting my sunbathing on the beach only to swim in the crystal clear sea. Walking on clouds after having a facial and massage at the local beauty salon. Taking an early evening solitary dip in the sea to watch a breathtakingly pink sunset that seemed to have been staged just for me. Tirelessly enjoying guacamole and fajitas ...

Adventure was had however in the form of a wave-runner ride. I have an irrational but very genuine fear of deep water, where the sea turns a dark shade of blue ... which is unfortunately the only place where one is allowed to do wave-running, far away from swimmers. Facing my fear should have been enough of a challenge, had it not been for the additional adrenaline provided by Larry. He's very experienced and fearlessly rode the waves at alarming speed, creating higher ones so that we would literally be propelled off the seat and almost lose balance, swallowing gallons of salty water in the process.
I scarcely opened my eyes and gripped onto him so tightly that I was still shaking for 2 hours afterwards. It was exhilirating! I was petrified but loved it and even had a go at driving the infernal machine - eyes opened this time but screaming like the girl I am!

I should have been dreading going back to New York after spending a few days in paradise but instead found myself unable to stop humming "Start spreading the news ..." as soon as I boarded the plane. Not even the news that snow had fallen on the city (delaying our plane by a couple of hours) deterred my enthusiasm. You can take the girl out of New York, but you can't take New York out of the girl ...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hear it to believe it

You just have to love a place where you can hear conversations like the ones below, which are some of my favourites from

Conductor: Due to train traffic ahead, this train will be going local to Roosevelt. Local to Roosevelt.
Three-year-old kid: Fuck!
(Overheard on the F train)

Chick: Yeah, I've been dating my new boyfriend for two years now. About to make the big move into Brooklyn. Really exciting, except Brooklyn's so scary. We saw some neighborhoods that I really don't think I could walk around in late at night.
Dude: Yeah, but the East Village can be like that, too. The other day, there was this couple having a fight over their crack pipe. There were children present! But then they saw the kids and took it somewhere else.
Chick: Yeah, there were some people smoking crack at my birthday party, but I just thought they all had really fancy cigarette holders.
(Overheard on L train, between 1st Avenue & Bedford)

Girl: This popcorn is soft. I hate soft popcorn.
Guy: I know, I hate soft-core, too. It's such a tease.
Girl: No, no. I was talking about the popcorn -- it's soft. But I agree: if there is no penetration, it's not worth my time.
(Overheard in the Ziegfeld Theater)

Little boy pointing at mannequins: Bitch!
Mother: Hey! Didn't I tell you not to say that word? It's a bad word!
Little boy: That's not fair! You never yell at Daddy when he says that to you!
(Overheard in Macy's, Herald Square)

TSA employee to people in line: All liquids and gels are prohibited beyond this point. Dispose of them now.
Four-year-old boy to father: Aw, man! Does that mean I have to get rid of my pimp juice?
(Overheard at LaGuardia Airport)

Young boy to another, whispering: I'm gonna knock you off ,and then I'm gonna steal your M&Ms.
(Overheard in FAO Schwartz)

Little boy to little girl while nanny is distracted: I love outdoor shopping, because it's easier to steal things!
(Overheard at 11th & University)

White mom: Which kitty is your favorite?
Little girl holding book of baby animals: The black one!
Mom: The black one? He sure is a cute kitty.
Little girl, loudly: Once you go black, you never go back!
Passing thug, flashing her a thumbs-up: Word!
White mom: I don't care what your father says, we are so moving to Westchester.
(Overheard at Commodore Barry Park, Fort Greene, Brooklyn)

Conductor: Okay everyone, we're going to evacuate the train now. Just stay calm. This isn't the Titanic. I repeat, this is not the Titanic.
(Overheard on Acela, to NYC)

NY-er, as visitor friend hesitates at crosswalk: It is so touristy to be afraid of getting hit by cars.
(Overheard at 34th & Broadway)

Father to young son: The species tourist vulgaris is identified by the fanny pack and the new white sneakers.
(Overheard at 45th & Broadway)

Tourist: Excuse me. where's the Golden Gate Bridge?
Cop, puzzled at first, then nonchalantly pointing north: Just keep walking that way, you can't miss it.
(Overheard in Times Square)

Hot girl on cell: She moved to Oklahoma? People don't go to Oklahoma -- people are from Oklahoma!
(Overheard at 72nd & Columbus)

Old woman #1: How many times have you beaten the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas?
Old woman #2: I'm not sure. Maybe three or four times...
(Overheard on the A train)

Tourist dad with family, bumping into another tourist family: Excuse us! Thank you!
Other family's tourist dad: Ugh! Rude New Yorkers!
Nearby cop, to both: You do realize you're both tourists, right?
(Overheard on 48th & 5th Avenue)

Upper East Side trophy wife #1, in black dress: ... And the dress was only twenty-six hundred dollars!
Upper East Side trophy wife #2: Wow, that's fabulous!
(Overheard in David Burke & Donatella Restaurant)

Mom: Do you think they use dildos?
Dad, indicating 20-something daughter: I don't know. Why don't we ask our resident expert?
(Overheard on 116th & Broadway)

Receptionist: I'm sorry, Mr. Jones is out of the country... He went to Florida.
(Overheard at Hunter College)

Chick #1: I just felt sad, so I slept with him.
Chick #2: But... he's gay.
Chick #1: But he's a good kisser.
(Overheard on the 1 train)

There is something sad, endearing, funny, scary and yet fascinating about these exchanges and I'm not convinced they could have been overheard in any other cities in the world ...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The age of innocence?

I went to a "Big Sister Big Brother" training session last night and only wish I had attended it earlier in the programme, as it gave me some terrifying context into what my little sister's life is like.

My childhood was clearly so sheltered & idyllic that I didn't even conceive of the kind of things that the children we are mentoring are exposed to or are experiencing first hand.

Sure they are going through the same upheavals we all did as young teenagers - peer as well parental pressure, the desire to fit in, feeling uncomfortable about how they look, worrying about grades ...

But this is New York City and they face a lot of other, darker problems I never confronted as a child. Gangs - not just as a victim of them but also the pressure to actually be in one. Crime - the police raid their schools regularly, weapons are commonly carried and it is likely that they have seen someone being stabbed at some point. Drugs and alcohol - pot is passe and mixing up cocaine and amphetamines is all the rage apparently. And even sex - I was shocked to hear that the city had to eradicate the very popular "rainbow game" that girls as young as 10 were playing in all the schools: they would wear bracelets of different colours, each representing a sexual act and if a boy snapped one of them, they would have to perform that act on him.

Our "Littles" (we're the "Bigs") all come from inner city schools and receive benefits. This means that they live on or below the poverty line, which is a shocking $17,000 a year for a family of 3! I can't conceive of anyone being able to survive, let alone live, in one of the most expensive cities in the world on just $17,000, when this figure barely covers half of my rent for the year.

This leaves me with a moral dilemma ... How can I possibly justify my rather shallow lifestyle - centered around working, going out, traveling and dealing with boy troubles - when someone much younger and more vulnerable than me is going through trials I will never experience in my entire life? The guilt is something all the Bigs go through but it doesn't make it any easier to cope with.

I am more determined than ever before to make a difference for my Little, to be there for her and to be as much of a positive role model as I can be. Our last session was a vast improvement on the previous two as she is starting to feel more comfortable around me, and me around her.

There is a certain irony in the fact that it is taking a child to make me grow up a little at last ...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It's hard work being a big sister ...

I have started bi-weekly sessions with my "little" as part of the "Big Sisters & Big Brothers of New York" mentoring programme I signed up for .

I'm not sure what I expected exactly when I am well aware that I find it hard to relate to children at the best of times.
With my favourite topics of conversation ranging from music, politics, travelling, all the way to relationships, Richard Dawkins' evolution theory and shoes, it was always going to be hard to find some common ground with a child!

The early ice-breaker that the organizers set up involved us sharing what our favourite books, movies and hobbies are.
But how do you explain to an 11 year old child that your current favourite book is "One hundred years of solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez? That you really liked "Brokeback Mountain"? That one of your most regular pastime combines a rooftop bar, friends, cocktails and cigarettes!? Well, you don't ... but I have to thank Harry Potter for crossing the generation gap!

The fact that she's shy, clearly a little intimidated by me and replies to most of my questions with just "yes" or "no", doesn't help either. I will persevere of course - I can't (and would never) just walk away from the commitment, no matter how frustrating the 2 hours we have to spend together are sometimes.

It will take a little while for her to open up and for me to re-discover my inner child but I'm sure we will both learn from the experience.

In the mean time, I'll be raiding my local Barnes & Nobles children's books section to get up to speed and tune my DVR to Nickelodeon!

Monday, October 22, 2007

The French Invasion - Round 2

I always expected my parents to be overwhelmed by New York and I was right - after all, they are happiest when they are in our country house, in a tiny village surrounded by forests. So the scale of the buildings, the crowds of people and the dirtiness were a little hard for them to get used to at first.

But above all, they were overwhelmed by the constant noise, yearning for some piece and quiet which is impossible to get, not even in the confines of my apartment which overlooks busy Broadway... The taxis' horns, the constant sirens varying from the alarmist to the comical, people's tendency to chat loudly in restaurants, the rattling of the subway ... the noise was deafening to them and I realised that I had never really paid attention to it before. I was too busy marvelling at the energy to be annoyed by its by-product - the incessant sounds of the city.

But in their first couple of days, I managed to give them a feel for the different aspects of the city and show them why it is so special - from the madness of Time Square, to the quaint streets of the West Village, the luxury right next to the squalor of the Meat Packing district and the neighbourood feel of the community gardens in the East Village. They loved Central Park and Dad even rowed us on the lake before our gorgeous lunch at the Boat House.

They embraced the lifestyle much more than I thought they would - shopping for groceries at Zabar's, tightly clutching tall Starbucks coffees while walking around the city (this is from the people whose country demonstrated when Starbucks opened its first shop in Paris!), eating out almost every night (sadly, I was hoping for much more of mum's fantastic home cooked dinners), drinking cocktails on rooftop bars, eating sushi & Cuban food (where Mum got hilariously tipsy on one Mojito), enjoying the live performers in all the parks we went to, walking around the antique markets in my neighbourhood, falling in love with bagels in a big way ... They did manage to bring a little bit of France with them though - buying baguettes from Balthazar's bakery and shopping for cheese in Dean & Deluca. I even managed to find an Irish pub playing the rugby match for my dad to watch - I felt so bad about leaving him there on his own but he came home happy (if only a little disappointed by the result of course), with a broken voice from all the shouting and lots of new French and British friends.

They made me feel like I was a child again, my dad insisting on taking a picture of me as I was leaving the flat to go to work in my work attire ... just like he did on the first day I went to school!

It was wonderful having them here - they finally got a (parents-safe) glimpse of my life, know that I'm safe and settled and are completely won over by the city.

It was also an eye opener for me to realise that New York is not necessarily easy to love - you have to take the rough with the smooth ... I seem to have embraced both with equal fervour and can now make anyone fall in love with NY in 2 days flat!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Home Sweet Home

I once read somewhere that if you live in New York City, it has to be in an interesting building. And mine definitely fits the bill, in more ways than one.

I remember vividly talking through my requirements with the real estate brokers back in January. Watching Sex & The City had set my expectations too high. I was looking for a one bedroom apartment in a brownstone walk-up, ideally in the West Village but definitely below 14th Street... oh, and for $2,500 per month of course.
I essentially wanted to live in Carrie's apartment, perhaps hoping I would live the same life - without a closet full of size zero clothes and designer shoes in my case however!

When I came over for my relocation trip - 3 days in which I had to find a flat with the help of the brokers - I was surprised that the estate agent wasn't taking me to see brownstones, let alone in the West Village. All he had in my price range were portered buildings (with a concierge) in West Midtown (well, that's what he called it, the non-marketing friendly name being "Hell's Kitchen") and the Upper West Side. $2,500 barely gets you a small studio in trendy downtown.

But when I first visited the flat I eventually chose, I knew it was the one. Granted, it was the largest one I saw and had actual sunlight - 2 of the rarest things to find in the city - so the choice was an obvious one. The large walk-in closet that would comfortably house my shoe collection was another very persuasive factor.

I wasn't sure about the building itself at first, the hallways reminding me of the ones in "The Shining" - to this day, I still expect the evil twin girls to appear around the corner on their bicycles!
But I could feel the history and former grandeur of the place. It was built in 1902 and was formerly know as the Bretton Hall Hotel and still retains an impressive Beaux Arts facade.
Much to my sadness however, management seems intent on eliminating original features. I had to witness how they covered up the ornate cornices in the lobby and tiled over a beautiful mosaic floor during a recent refurbishment project.
Some original features I wish they had changed are still there though - I swear my cast iron radiators date from the turn of the century (they certainly sound like they do) and the plumbing is temperamental at times to say the least.

I love having concierges, as it's not only very practical (they take delivery of your laundry and collect your mail) but also very safe as you have to be buzzed in to get inside the building. They knew my name within 2 days of me moving in (impressive considering there are 461 flats in the building) and we always exchange pleasantries as I walk in and out.

But perhaps what I love the most about my building is the fact is that it contains some rent-stabilized flats which really contribute to the rainbow selection of inhabitants in the building.
I have seen every race and every type of people - the dope smoking students on the 3rd floor (you know as soon as the lift doors open on that floor), the frail looking elderly folks who look like they should really be looked after in a retirement home by now, the urbanites carrying small dogs in big designer handbags, the 2.4 children families along with the 8.2 children families, the sharply suited business men anxiously typing on their blackberries, the musicians cramming their instruments in the lift, the single girls toting yoga mats and perfect make-up, the weary taxi drivers on their way home from a night shift ...

I still harbour hopes of living downtown - the spiritual home of my social life - or so I tell myself every weekend as I take the unpredictable subway down to Prince Street ... but the fact is that this building feels like home and so does the relative tranquility of the Upper West Side.

The New York Man

I believe I now have the statistically significant sample size to describe the New York man, a very distinct breed, fairly accurately.

I usually hate to generalise and I realise this will make me sound bitter (I'm not), but the following observations are not based on my experiences alone, but also that of my girlfriends.

They are obsessed with their appearance - 5 times a week gym sessions, pedicure, manicure and eyebrow threading are all part and parcel of being a New York man.

They really believe that the grass is greener on the other side, not letting a small detail like being in a relationship get in the way of trying to sleep with you or at least flirt with you. There are many more single women than single men in the city, so you *almost* can't blame them.

Their blackberry is surgically attached to their hands and any attempts to distract them from it will induce withdrawal symptoms and a strange, vague look in their eyes - until said eyes settle on your cleavage or legs.

They come in 5 categories: married (50%), gay (30%), in an open relationship (a fact their girlfriends are unaware of - 10%), opportunistic single (5%) or desperate to get married (5%).

They always try to impress you, usually with tales of their glittering careers, marvelous friends and refined tastes in wine or food. If that fails, they will resort to flashing their membership card to the latest trendy club.

They never call the morning after the night before, no matter how much they want to. That would be, like, so uncool. There is an unbreakable 3 day rule that men have institutionalized here.

Their concept of commitment usually only stretches as far as booking that elusive table at the latest trendy restaurant for next week.

They are intelligent, successful, well read, up on current affairs and completely at ease with women - making them great company and irresistibly attractive unfortunately.

In 32 years of existence and with, what I thought, plenty of experience under my belt (no pun intended), I have never been made more aware that men are indeed from Mars ... it does make dating in the city that little bit more challenging but never dull!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

More random observations

* The subway operates according to its own mysterious and random schedule at weekends. Express trains become local trains or even change numbers and colours. That would be OK if there was some kind of predictability to it, but they sometimes change half-way through the journey and sometimes not all the time. I got lost in Harlem, thinking that the train I took was operating the local route only to be told by the train driver that today, it was local until 103rd and then express onwards. No announcements, no signs, no forewarning. I have come to realise that taking the subway at the weekend is the city's equivalent of the russian roulette, less deadly but similarly unpredictable and, of course, infuriating.
* I have noticed the same woman, sitting in the Winter Gardens of the World Financial Center, every single day without fail for nearly 7 months now. She sits on one of the benches and sometimes wonders outside in the Marina, doing nothing and meeting no-one. She's not homeless - in fact, she dresses up every day. I am puzzled as to why she is here when she clearly doesn't work in the building. My theory is that she is hoping that, one day, a rich investment banker will notice her, ask her out and maybe they'll marry and have lots of children. That's clearly, and depressingly, the kind of desperate measures one has to take in New York!
* I once watched - OK, oggled at - a very good-looking and fit black man, sporting tracksuit bottoms and a bare chest, running backwards in the middle of Broadway (possibly one of the busiest avenues in the city) while throwing boxing punches. He narrowly avoided being run-over more than once but seemed unfazed by the danger.
* At the subway station at 181st Street (yes, I did venture that far north), you have to take a lift to get back up to street level. The lifts are operated by a man who has decided to numb the dullness of the job by setting up his own DJ booth in the lift, spining out loud Reggae tracks, much to the amusement and pleasure of the passengers.
* According to the NY Times quizz I took, my New York age is 27. I clearly have a lot more to do here before I can consider myself a local. I will make sure I take the quizz periodically and I aim to be achieve a NY age of 50 before I can really call myself a local.
* In my hotel room in Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, I watched the film "Showgirls" on TV and was amazed that they didn't bother bleeping out the numerous swear words but instead recorded bad voiceovers (that didn't even match the actors' voice) to re-phrase the offensive sentences in a more politically-correct manner.
* My favourite slogan t-shirt sighting - "Rehab is for quitters". Enough said.
* One of my favourite sites is - a collection of things that people have heard other people say in New York. Funny, stupid, rude, raunchy - it's all there. I hope to contribute to it one day!

Ce n'est qu'un aurevoir

It is with a heavy heart that I waved goodbye to my brother and his girlfriend on the subway platform at 86th Street, as they began their journey home to France.

But it is also with a head full of wonderful memories of their stay ...

How they fell in love with bagels and eggs benedict. The boat trip around Manhattan, sipping cosmopolitans in the sunshine while gazing at the skyline. Walking around the tiny streets of the West Village and the ornate community gardens of the East Village. Encountering live music and performances in every single park we went to. How quickly they realised that eating out in New York is not a luxury but a way of life. Watching their jaws drop in Times Square and then again in Grand Central. Feeling like we were in the middle of a secluded forest and then an enchanted garden in the northern part of Central Park. How we seemingly ate our way around the World while in the confine of the city - Cuban, Argentinian, Chinese, Japanase, Italian, French, Jewish, and American (both "nouveau" and traditional) of course. Realizing in horror that they have freak shows at the San Genaro festival in Little Italy ("Pay $1 to see the world's smallest woman, smaller than a 2 year-old child!"). How they mastered the intricaties of the subway system much quicker than I did when I moved here. Laughing at the rudeness of the waiters at Barneys Greengrass, my local Jewish deli/diner. Revelling in the crowded atmosphere of Harlem, its streets lined with market stalls selling everything from books and socks to mysterious scented oils and braiding sessions. Looking out for European religious artefacts in the Cloisters. Enjoying a very American barbeque in Brooklyn on Labor Day, complete with macaroni & cheese, corn on the cob and a guy sporting an impressive "Village People" moustache (don't ask!).
And absolutely everywhere, marvelling at the architecture, the beautiful weather, the friendliness and simultaneous madness of people and the raw energy - feeling lucky to be alive and here.

Just as I had hoped, they fell head over heels in love with the city and didn't want to leave.

Jules, Cat - it was wonderful having you here ... please come back very soon! New York City and I miss you very much already ...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What happens in Vegas ...

doesn't necessarily have to stay in Vegas ...

My trip started well. I picked up a book on my stopover in Chicago, something of a ritual of mine. I like seeing books on my shelves and remember which far flung airport I happened to buy them from, my choices either influenced by the trip itself, friends or random encounters.
This time, I bought "Naked" by David Sekaris because I spotted a guy reading it on the subway in New York a little while ago. He couldn't stop laughing to himself during the whole ride and the title intrigued the vixen in me. I highly recommend it by the way.

It got a little less smooth however, when I reached Las Vegas. My luggage hadn't been transferred and I had to go to Caesar's Palace, tired and crumpled, without them. I was meant to attend my friend Lia's (whose wedding I was going to Vegas for) bachelorette party that evening in the Belaggio but didn't get my luggage until around midnight, by which time I had collapsed from jetlag anyway.

As soon as I started walking through the airport, I realised that I was not in the normal world as we know it. The slot machines and bars everywhere were the first clues. The crowd around the luggage carousel was an interesting mix of morbidly obese American tourists and size zero girls sporting enormous fake breasts that even I couldn't take my eyes off.
Driving to the strip and spotting the billboards advertising "hot babes direct to you" and places named "Fat Burger" were other unmistakable signs that I had arrived in the land of hedonism.

Las Vegas is like no other place in the world.

It is where one doesn't bat an eyelid upon seeing women wearing full ball gowns at 4pm. Where one can get beer, drugs and or whatever else they desire at 7am – and not realise it is 7am anyway as there are no clocks anywhere. Where one can share an escalator with Cleopatra & Marc Anthony impersonators and be unfazed by it. Where one gets asked if they want to sit inside or outside while dining in a fake Italian trattoria inside the Venician hotel, despite being very much indoors either way. Where one can get sickly sweet cocktails by the yard in brightly coloured plastic receptacles. Where one can get severe sunstroke by standing outside for less than 15 minutes. Where one can lay by the pool and feel that they have wandered onto the set of Baywatch - in a "face like Crimewatch, body like Baywatch" kind of way.

However, the wedding was wonderful and much fun was had in the form of reckless dancing to 80s tunes late into the night.
I didn't gamble and therefore didn't have to sell my body to cover my debts. I didn't marry my gay best friend and therefore didn't have to get divorced. All in all, a good weekend away.

I had to catch an early flight back to New York the morning after the wedding, in a drunken daze, the flashing lights of the slot machines torturing my sensitive eyes.
The crowd at the gate looked like they had all just come out of a nightclub (which they probably did) - bloodshot eyes, shaky hands, slumped uncomfortably over the chairs.

The air crew team on Southwest Airlines was another Las Vegas stereotype - a freaky Barbie & Ken type pairing. Her - too thin, penciled in eyebrows and lips, caked on foundation and unnaturally jet black hair. Him - too muscular, penciled in eyebrows and lips, caked on foundation and unnaturally jet black hair. Maybe they do each other's make up or at least share clumsy beauty tips.

Las Vegas is like no other place in the world ... and it's probably better that way.

Monday, August 20, 2007

New York virgins

I am so excited about my brother and his girlfriend coming to visit me in a couple of weeks time. They have never been to the States, let alone New York, and I can't wait to see the awe on their faces as they first glimpse at the city's infamous skyline.

I almost envy the fact that they haven't been to NYC before. I wish I could experience the overwhelming feeling I had when I first came here on a windy day in March 1999 again.

We had landed in the early evening and somehow, I had missed the approach to the city and driving through it as I was asleep.
It was only when I stepped out of the bus at Grand Central Station and looked up at the towering buildings. Took in the snaking taxis. Processed the sound of the car horns. Breathed in the heady scent of asphalt, exhaust fumes and stale hot dogs. Sensed the raw energy through every one of my nerve endings. That I felt it ... love at first sight.
I slowly uttered the words "New York ... just like I pictured it" from Stevie Wonder's "Living for the city". I seem to remember that I even said it with the accent (which must have sounded comical - listen to the song and you'll understand why I will never sound like that).

I knew, there and then, that I would have to live here some day. My long love story with New York started that very minute.

I will make sure that I visit places with them that I haven't discovered yet. But for our first weekend, I want to give them: "my perfect New York weekend".

They arrive at lunch time on a Saturday. We'll stop over at H&H Bagels, on 79th & Broadway, and head over to Central Park to eat them under the shade of an old tree in Sheep Meadows. We'll walk down to 71st and take a boat trip on the lake.
We might stroll down 5th Avenue for a little while, where the buildings are so impressive. I'd like to end up in Times Square by early evening, catching the tacky yet jaw-dropping light show that it is, amongst the sea of backpack wearing tourists and dressed up theatre goers.

If by luck they can still walk/remember their names/keep their eyes open by then, I'll take them to Bryant Park and eventually to Grand Central, where we'll try to avoid bumping into people while walking with our noses in the air, admiring the elaborate ceiling. Maybe we'll stop at Cipriani Dolci on the upper concourse for one of their fiery (jet-lag kicking in this case) Bloody Marys and to take in the atmosphere of the station a little longer. But that's a probably a little optimistic.

On Sunday, we'll have brunch of course. Trying to convince my brother not to have breakfast until 12.30 will be nearly impossible. But these are the New York rules - it's totally, like, uncool to brunch before that time.

So we'll hop on the subway (hopefully encountering plenty of colourful characters for the full experience) down to Prince Street in Soho. I'll take them to Jerry's because, if you have read this blog properly, it is my NYC institution. We'll get a booth and I will force them to have eggs Benedict and a glass of champagne.

We'll walk down Prince Street a little further, hitting West Broadway, turning right onto Thompson, all the way to Washington Square Park. Have our picture taken in front of the gate. Head down West 4th and stop over at "Extra Virgin", a recent fantastic find, sitting outside under the awning for a restorative beverage (coffee for them, cocktail for me).
We'll then get lost in all the little streets in Greenwich Village, popping into some of the quirky boutiques, until we reach Little W12th and the start of the Meatpacking District.
We'll walk along the Hudson and the paved streets. Go to the top of the Gansevoort Hotel for the fabulous view.

Then we'll jump in a cab - "East Village, Tompkins Square Park please". We'll stroll through the small park, go down to 6th street to see all the small but artfully decorated community gardens that line it. Then back up to 12th to have Cuban food at Cafecito.

I can't wait, I really can't. And the best bit? I'll be doing it all over again, with my parents & my sister when they come in October, wearing a few more layers but minus a few cocktails.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Lost in translation

I've just had a lovely green salad with ham, green pees and beetroot ... Not something worth blogging about you may think but when what I actually wanted was a green salad with turkey, sweetcorn and roasted mushrooms I think it is.

But let me provide some context. There is a lovely little deli, just downstairs from my apartment building, called Cafe Broadway. I have already admitted to given up cooking as soon as I landed in JFK 6 months ago, so I often go there because they have a big salad bar with lots of fresh ingredients that you can pick, as well as a dizzying array of salad dressings.
The thing is that you don't physically make the salad up yourself. A lovely and helpful person behind the counter makes up the salad for you based on your specific requests.

And this is where the problem begins for me.

As lovely and helpful as the deli boys are ... they do not understand a word I say. What is puzzling is that I haven't had any problems in making myself understood anywhere in New York despite my accent - I mean this is the city that manages to pack more than 170 different nationalities in just 23 square miles!
But for some reasons, these guys just don't get me, despite my desperate pointing at the items I actually want and my (clearly poor) attempts at an American accent (you know, the whole "tomahto/tomayto" thing).

Most of the time, I persist until they get it ("on your right, now up, up a bit more and then right again") or resort to getting outside help. Like once, when the gentleman behind me, in witnessing what was happening, proceeded to "translate" everything I asked for to the deli boys ("she said broccoli").

But I was too tired today to do so. Oh well, I enjoyed it anyway.

Analyse this ...

The Blogalyser reveals...
Your blog/web page text has an overall readability index of 18.
This suggests that your writing style is intellectual
(to communicate well you should aim for a figure between 10 and 20).
Your text contains 16 sentences, which suggests your general message is distinguished by verbosity
(writing for the web should be concise).


male malefemale female
self oneselfgroup world world
past past presentfuture future

Your text shows characteristics which are 63% male and 37% female

Looking at pronoun indicators, you write mainly about yourself, then the world in general and finally your social circle. Also, your writing focuses primarily on the present, next the past and lastly the future.

So, I'm really a man, far too much into himself and the present and writing too much intellectual (!) non-sense.

Good to know. Not going to stop me though.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Big Sister

I first heard about the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America from a friend who is part of the scheme. It's a mentoring system for teenagers coming from under-privileged background or facing difficulties with their family or at school.

I will be spending 3 hours with my little brother or sister, twice a month, trying to be a positive role model and supporting him/her with any issues they are facing.

That is if I am accepted. The screening process is understandably pretty thorough but, to my knowledge, I have no criminal record and I intend to keep it that way.

They ask who our role model is and I was surprised to realize that I couldn't come up with one and that I had never given it much thought. Family, friends, even colleagues ... more a collection of people and some aspects of their life & personality rather than a single one.

I'm not becoming Mother Teresa or anything, but I like the idea of helping someone, particularly at such a difficult age. I personally hated my teenage years so I want to show someone that dreams can happen if you work hard, that things do change, that life does get a little easier ... or maybe more difficult, but in a way than your adult self is more apt - in most cases - at dealing with.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Steph's restaurant reviews - part 2

I’ve decided to continue with my restaurant reviews, this time focusing on the East village, Tribecca and the Lower East Side.

Café Cito – 185 Avenue C, East Village
One of my favourite place in the city, Cafecito is a tiny, authentic Cuban restaurant, complete with white formica tables. I usually start by drinking mojitos while sitting on the high stools set on the sidewalk at the bar protruding from the front windows, watching the world go by, being amazed that almost everyone walking past seem to know each other and loving the real neighbourhood feel of the area. The actual restaurant is very small but the food is delicious and good value.

Churrascaria Riodizio – 221 West Broadway, Tribecca
I still can’t pronounce the name but it’s definitely one for the boys (or certainly the boys I was with that night). Churrascaria is a Brazilian steak house and the concept is that the waiters will keep on piling your plate high with 15 different cuts of meat off a huge skewer until you tell them to stop (or turn your coaster from green to red). I may have managed only about 4 types of meat, but they were all delicious. The décor is resolutely unlike a steak house though – think leather chairs and brick walls.

Nobu – 105 Hudson Street, Tribecca
As a huge sushi fan (or even addict), I was very much looking forward to dining at Nobu and I was not disappointed. While I didn’t like the signature miso cod that much (it was surprisingly sweet), I loved the sashimi and the sushi, which were some of the freshest I’ve ever had. The atmosphere was quite cold though, the dining room being overly modern for my liking. We did come across our CEO there though, who was having dinner with one of his key advisor – might not sound like much, but in a company with 90,000 employees around the world, we never see our CEO on a face-to-face basis and it was a little like meeting a movie star, complete with the “he’s shorter than I thought he would be”feeling.

PJ Clarke – World Financial Centre
OK, so it’s not located in Tribecca, the East Village or the Lower East Side and moreover, it’s a chain restaurant. But I spend so much time there that I feel I should write about it. It is located in the World Financial Centre, where I work, and is therefore so convenient that I usually end up there if I fancy a quick drink (or 5) with some work colleagues. A bit like the American equivalent of a local pub.
They have oysters happy hour (50c a piece and a selection of at least 5 varieties), which made me try oysters again for the first time in many years (still can’t eat more than 3 though). They do fantastic crab cakes with more crab than potatoes and their portions are huge, leading me to order everything in appetizer size. But the setting is glorious – sitting outside, watching the sunset over the Statue of Liberty and the numerous yatchs in the harbour. I wouldn’t go to any other PJ Clarkes in the city, but this one is worth it.

Stanton Social – 99 Stanton Street, Lower East side
Such a beautiful place and I love the concept of small plates where you order a number of dishes that you can share with your dining partner – allowing for unlimited greediness. There’s a bar upstairs which we unfortunately didn’t get to experience after dinner as it was so busy. The Lower East Side is the new trendy part of town, still very rough around the edges but being “gentrified” a little more every day. I haven’t spent that much time there but intend to do so in the future. It was the area where most of the early immigrants settled and has a lot of history.

Fat Baby – 112 Rivington Street, Lower East Side
This is the bar we went to after giving up on the bar at the Stanton Social. I was not convinced at first, as the place was industrial in design and completely empty but my companion knew what he was doing. As I was ordering drinks at the bar, my date disappeared, only to come back a few minutes later to lead me down to the basement where he had paid the entrance fee and somebody proceeded to draw an intricate design on our hands (to prove we had paid, I assume, rather than show off remarkable artistic skills).
What followed was probably one of my most memorable night in the city. The basement was hosting live music or “battling” to be precise. I love Eminem and the movie “8 Miles” and I felt I had stumbled onto the set of that film. These young, very talented, kids were rapping and improvising, the crowd rhythmically moving to their beat and anger. I watched in awe, my mouth literally open, unable to process how different downstairs was from upstairs and how lucky I was to be witnessing this. I fell in love even more that night, if it was even possible.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Perfect day?

I had a picnic with Larry in Central Park today. I have been dying to have one for years actually, having been deprived of the pleasure by my ex who hated them. So when Larry suggested we spend the day in the park, I jumped at the chance.

We met up in Columbus Circle to go to Wholefoods in the Time Warner Centre and get some supplies. Wholefoods is an upscale deli/supermarket with amazing food, albeit fairly pricey – in other words, heaven for the discerning foodie.

We stocked up on goodies from the salad bar and deli counter, bought some Chardonnay and stopped at the corner newsstand to fill up on trashy magazines before making our way to Sheep Meadows, a large expanse of green in the Park.

The weather was beautiful – clear blue skies and bright sunshine. Larry had brought a sheet (from which a pair of boxer short fell off, provoking fits of laughter) and we positioned it in the shade of a large tree.

We spent the rest of the day glossing over the magazines, discussing deep philosophical and world changing issues such as Angelina Jolie’s weight – or lack of – and whether Jessica Biel is in fact pretty – I think we decided she was in the end. We did talk about politics a little though, as every New Yorker does.

We ogled at all the semi-naked men who happen to be wondering in our vicinity, definitely confirming the high level of body consciousness of New Yorkers and shaming us into planning to visit the gym more often.
I took lots of pictures of Larry wearing his silly plastic teeth for his facebook profile, ensuring that he would never get a date from that site.
We talked about our trip to Las Vegas next weekend and whether we should just get very drunk (well, that’s a certainty), do a Britney Spears and get married by an Elvis impersonator in a drive-through ceremony, agreeing to never actually consummate the marriage and to get it annulled the next day.
I can picture it already – it will be the only wedding in town where the bride and groom refuse to kiss and we’d get some massively over-weight old gamblers from the Mid-West for witnesses. Pure class.

A picnic, gorgeous men, lots of laughter, light-hearted conversation and wedding plans – could this have been the perfect day?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

120 blocks or so ...

There are times, like today, when I’m not so in love with New York City.

Apparently torrential rain and violent wind fell upon the city before dawn – I slept through it – but it was bad enough to bring it to a complete stand still. Of course, it had to happen the day I had to be in the office for 8.30am for a very important all day meeting when I had to present to a bunch of eager and overly smart Senior VPs.

I absentmindedly heard something on the radio, when I was getting ready, about the subway being a “little” disrupted but thought that setting off at 7.15am would leave me plenty of time to get to work (at the other end of Manhattan) for 8am.

I took the short walk to the subway outside my building, Ipod firmly in place with uplifting music on, only to find that my subway station was closed. I walked to the next stop (79th- I live on 86th-) and it was closed too. I thought that maybe the A or the C (I normally take the 1 & 2/3) were still running and walked across to the Natural History Museum, a couple of avenues west… where I managed to get on a train that stopped at 72nd and refused to go any further.
I walked to Columbus Circle (57th) but soon realised that there was absolutely no subway trains going downtown at all, anywhere in the city …

I started to walk down 7th avenue, along with hundreds of other people, and it was weird knowing that there was nothing we could do but just walk and sometimes hold our arm out (to no avail) when a taxi came into view. We all live in one of the most sophisticated cities in the world and yet we were all stranded and helpless. All the taxis were taken and all the buses were crammed. There was no way to get anywhere in the city, regardless of status, gender or age … Manhattan never felt so big.

I walked for many blocks hoping that I would chance upon an empty cab… until I finally reached Greenwich village when I realised that I was so far down that there was no other option but to walk all the way to work to the World Financial Centre.

What I haven’t mentioned is that today was one of the hottest (35C) and most humid day of the year. In the end, I walked about 120 blocks, which took around 3 hours, drenched in sweat (not an attractive sight, but then everyone else was the same), before I made it to the office in time for my presentation at 11am. By that time, I was too exhausted to even remember my name, let alone explain “Steph’s Grand Plan” as it has become known …

To add insult to injury, I had been to the gym the night before and ran 5 miles on the treadnmill, so a 7 miles walk in tropical weather and kitten heels was not what I needed …

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Back in Blighty

Being back in London was a strange feeling. It felt like I never really left, although I realised when I was there that I've been away for 6 months already.

It was wonderful seeing everyone and picking up right where I left off. I was constantly on the move, staying with close friends in Streatham, Primrose Hill, Mill Hill and finally Kingston over the course of 10 days. I never had time to unpack but I quite like being a nomad anyway.

London was very much unchanged bar the odd buildings having been torn down in Victoria. I spent an unreasonable amount of time in Topshop and Marks & Spencer (just admiring the perfectly arranged vegetables, how sad!) - guess I missed those shops more than I realised.

I was freezing cold though, having ignored most people’s sound advice about packing plenty of jumpers. I had optimistically taken a few summer dresses with me, which obviously never saw the light of the day.

The main change really was the smoking ban, which the city seem to have taken extremely seriously. It’s almost fanatical actually – I even had a complete stranger tell me on the street that I was “too beautiful for that cigarette’! As any girl would do, I decided to take the compliment and ignore the insult.
Special wardens seem to have been given the specific role of shooing away people who attempt to smoke outside of office building or from outdoors areas that happen to have a tiny bit of a roof over them – I decided that it must be some kind of job creation scheme. There were also constant announcements in Victoria station reminding evil smokers that they were not allowed to do the deed anywhere inside or near the vicinity.

It’s a positive thing though, but not just because of the obvious reasons (death and other bothersome health conditions for example) … it means that almost every single bar and restaurant has now managed to find outdoor space on pavements or courtyards I didn’t even know they had to set tables outside. It struck me how much it now looks a little like New York and that therefore a lot of the alfresco areas here are designed to accommodate smokers. I think it creates a lot more atmosphere and livelihood, right in the streets.

I had a wonderful but exhausting week, very much burning the candle at both ends – I’ll be back at Christmas doing it all over again though!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Call me Indy

I must give a quick update on the “skyline” thing I did with my dad, which was not quite what we expected … We thought it consisted of a few adrenaline fuelled jumps from trees on a cable-system but it turned out to be some hard core training which would have surely left Indiana Jones weeping like a girl.

Two and a half hours of walking on single ropes, on moving logs (sideways and lengthways), uneven & broken steps, Tarzan style jumps into nets, climbing and crossing rivers while suspended on a steel cable – all of this while at least 12 meters in the air.

The result: rope burns in places I didn’t think you could get them (under my arms before you ask), bleeding hands, bruised and scratched legs …
I have also learnt that I do not possess the essential skill of being able to do a Tarzan swing from a rope, should I find myself stranded in a tropical forest (although I can do everything else).

But I absolutely loved it! It was scary and exhilarating. I cursed my adventurous spirit more than once but I would do it all over again – well, after nursing my wounds that is …

La douce vie

My life in France couldn’t be more different than my life in New York or London. Of course, my parents have a big house and garden in a relatively peaceful small town in the Loire region of France - hardly a hub of urban activity! I also only go there 3 times a year on holiday so I am in a different state of mind.

But my days here have a marvellous and soothing routine to them …
They start with breakfast on the patio outside and must involve lashings of Nutella on any kind of toasted bread. My mum makes all kinds of wonderful jams from fruits we pick in the garden or the forest, but I need my fix of the nutty chocolate paste every time I’m home, much to her despair.

Breakfast is then followed by an energetic 2 hours mountain bike ride with my dad on the small paths along the riverbank. Although we are breaking with the cycling tradition tomorrow as my dad and I will be trying “skyline”, which involves swinging between trees, above the river, while hanging on for dear life on (hopefully very strong) ropes – Dad & I are the adventurous ones in the family, so I can’t wait! (click here for more details on skyline:

Lunch will obviously be taking place outside too and will last for a minimum of 2 hours as we tend to linger over a full platter of cheese and afterwards a few cups of coffee (with a small piece of dark chocolate). Lunch time in France (or certainly in my family) is the perfect time to talk about politics, global warming, unemployment - generally how bad the world is basically (the French are a pessimistic breed) - or the latest news about our extended family & friends. As we tend to all have different opinions, these conversations are never dull.

In the afternoon, we’ll all don swimming suits and try to catch some rays while reading our books, apart from my dad who will have found something to fix in the house/garden/computer (or even in a neighbour’s house) and will be busy attending to it. Today, there was nothing to fix, so he made alcohol – “Verveine Liquor”… pretty handy to have my dad around …

If my sister & I are feeling brave, we’ll play squash for an hour and work out any deep seated frustrations we may have – I may only be 5’3 and her 5’1, but when we play together, there is no mercy and we’re like tigers!!

At some point in the afternoon, we’ll be foraging the garden in search of the latest young courgettes or tomatoes that seem to grow overnight so that we can cook them in the evening.

At around 5pm, we’ll all start thinking about dinner, debating whether to grill the fresh sardines or the huge prawns on the bbq tonight or would it be too greedy to have both? We’ll have an aperitif or two (Martini for the girls, Pastis for the boys) and enjoy a leisurely dinner on the patio again, sometimes carrying on with some of the heated debates we started at lunch time …

To say that it is pure relaxation is an understatement. Nothing is required of me apart from being there, lending a helping hand from time to time and generally be happy.

I am amazed at how I feel equally at home here, in London & now in New York considering the immense difference of lifestyle in each places … perhaps I have a multiple personality disorder I am not aware of …

Sunday, July 15, 2007

My very own NYC dining out guide

I have been to so many restaurants and bars since I’ve been here that I feel compelled (and justified) to publish my own reviews and recommendations.

These are not all the places I’ve been to … just the ones I have something to say about.

I’ll start with Soho, the West Village and the Meat Packing district and will post about other areas later …

* Café Noir - Grant & Thompson
Bustling tiny tapas restaurant with a great atmosphere. I recommend the pitchers of excellent Sangria but take no responsibility for your actions after consuming a couple of them – they are lethal.
* Balthazar – Spring Street, between Broadway and Crosby
The place to see and be seen. Don’t be put off by the hour long wait for brunch (spend it browsing the great MoMa shop across the street), you will feel like you’re in Paris once you’re inside (minus the rude waiters). The place is decorated like a bistro with huge mirrors and tables crammed too close to each other. The food is excellent – I would recommend the eggs Benedict (best I’ve had in the city so far) and a glass of champagne. New Yorkers really know how to brunch.
* Jane - West Houston, corner of Thompson
Another great brunch spot in the Village. No queues, great food and they didn’t mind Joe & I staying & chatting over many glasses of champagne for over 3 hours (there’s a recurring theme here I fear). I recommend the enormous French Toast, drenched in maple syrup. Yum!
* Garage - 7th Avenue and Grove Street
Quite odd looking – like a large pub with a fireplace. But they have live Jazz and make the best Espresso Martini in the city! Don’t go for the food though. Just sit at one of the stools lining the oval bar and enjoy the music and the cocktails.
* Tea and Sympathy - Greenwich Avenue, corner of Jane Street
Fantastic for nostalgic Brits. A tiny little tea shop with an eclectic décor where you can get your fix of cream tea, cucumber finger sandwiches, beans on toast and Shepherd’s pie. The owners have started a petition to nickname the area “Little Britain”. I hear it’s catching on.
* Jerry’s - Prince Street between Mercer & Greene
I’ve loved Jerry’s ever since my first visit to NYC almost 10 years ago. It’s an upscale diner, complete with leather banquettes and excellent eggs benedict. Unfortunately, over the years (going there has been a ritual of mine every single time I’ve visited the city), the quality of the food has gone down hill but I still love the atmosphere and it will always hold a special place in my heart as my very first New York institution.
* Slane - Mac Dougal Street, between Bleecker and W3rd
A very nice, laid-back bar where the bartenders learn and remember your name. For dinner, pop into Ciao next door for some simple, great Italian food. Sit at one of the tables outside and soak in the atmosphere of this bustling corner of the West Village.
* Hotel Gansevoort – 9th Avenue at 13th Street
One of the coolest place in the city – great rooftop bar where you can drink until 4am (and then you can catch a limo home, long story …). The restaurant, Ono, is wonderful – think Japanese fusion - and “Garden of Ono”, the downstairs bar is also fantastic ... landscaped Japanese gardens, a compelling water-feature (just remember not to put your handbag on the ledge, another long story …) and eye-wateringly expensive drinks ... the perfect NYC night out.
* Pastis – 9th Avenue, corner of Little 12th Street
Another “see and be seen” place, where celebrities hang out (although I haven’t seen any myself). Good food, but nothing to shout home about. It’s more about sitting outside, watching the world go by.
* Soho House – 9th Avenue, corner of 13th Street
Apparently, I should feel privileged to have been to Soho House, the New York offshoot of the famous London members only club. I had a really wonderful evening there but it was more to do with the company than with the food. Still, they have a smoking room complete with a pool table (very cool and almost unheard of in New York), as well as a small cinema and rooftop swimming pool. All you need to get in is someone with a membership! Easier said than done ...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Living in America

I’ve been watching some old “Sex and the City” episodes thanks to HBO on demand and a hangover and just texted my gbf exclaiming how much our lives were like the series. The fun, the trials, the cocktails, the no-cooking under any circumstances policy, the reliable friends, the unreliable men … and the fear of leaving the city, even for one day, for god forbid, the suburbs …

I only ever realise that I live in America when I leave the city and the experience invariably terrifies me. The big houses with a front porch, the white picket fences, the 2.1 children, the patriotic flags, the SUVs … quiet suburbia disturbs me.
The thing is I am really a country girl at heart, I love nothing more than spending a weekend in my parents’ country house in the middle of nowhere, going on mushroom picking expeditions or just walking in the forest. But I can never take it for too long and need the vibrancy and energy of a big city to feel truly alive. I need madness around me to distract me.

Of course, having watched “Sicko”, the latest Michael Moore documentary doesn’t help with my reservations about America. I was horrified by how brainwashed this country really is.
Moore, as usual, over-simplified how great things are in France, the UK and Canada but the message was clear – it’s a fucked up country, ruled by blind capitalism and Bush really is the dumbest man alive.
It made me realise that I would never, ever, live outside of Manhattan and that I want to grow old back in Europe. Of course, I am part of the lucky few with a good medical insurance policy but even that might not be enough and I don't feel comfortable living in a country with such inequality.
As usual, Moore's documentary leaves me wanting to take action and change things ... but what can I do apart from trying to convince a few thousand people to march in the streets, french style?!

Having said all this, who wants to bet I will end up with 2.1 children in a big house with a front porch living in Irvington, Upstate New York when I finally grow up? If I do, can someone please remind me of this post?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sex And The City

I had a slightly surreal experience today. I was working late and bumped into my boss’ boss (our Senior VP) on my way out of the office. She lives around the corner from me so we took the subway home together.

After some chitchatting, she mentioned that she had signed up to a couple of days earlier. I admitted to her that I did the same thing too!
Now, one does not expect to discuss the upheavals of dating in the city with one’s big boss … but that’s exactly what we did, exchanging horror stories during our 30 minutes ride. She’s forty-something, obviously very successful, intelligent, attractive with a wide circle of friends and interests – in summary, she’s a catch!
But finding Mr Right (or even Mr Right Now) is an elusive quest, especially in New York it seems.

I have yet to meet any of the guys who have got in touch with me through I’m not sure I actually really want to. I signed up on a whim rather than with a purpose – so much of my life is facilitated by the Internet that I thought I could at least try to meet people that way too!

But it has been an interesting experience already. I find reading people’s profiles fascinating and hilarious at the same time … from the 30 years old cute widower, who didn’t bother writing about himself and instead stated that he was looking for older women with big breasts (I guess that’s one way to cope with grief)… to the guy who emailed me saying “It must be nice to be the kind of woman who enters a room and turns every heads” (nice try, not like you’ve emailed that same line to every women on this site!) … to the 5’4 “lovingly cuddly” geek who thought it was a good idea to admit to a love of computer games & sci-fi books …Oh, and of course, there was the freak who posted an intense, very long love letter to his future wife, littered with complicated and poetical words he clearly didn’t know the meaning of!

Anyway, I’ll stay on for the entertainment value if anything. I’ve realised that dating in your thirties is harder because we have more expectations and more baggage than in our twenties. We know what we want and what we don’t want. We have mostly achieved our ambitions, built a great network of friends and traveled all over the world … We don't need someone to define us anymore but we start looking at everyone we meet and think “is he/she the one?” and “can he/she fit into my busy life and add to it?”. We tend to forget about just having fun and taking things slowly.
In New York, it's like a race with too many contenders - apparently, there are 185,000 more single women than single men in the city so the grass always seems greener on the other side ... for men!

I have to say, the more I watch “Sex & the City”, the more I realise how realistic it really is and how we all have a bit of Carrie/Samantha/Charlotte/Miranda inside of us … only wish we had the same wardrobe too …

Monday, July 9, 2007

Spirits ...

It seems that there are 2 types of people in Manhattan: the ones worshiping at the alter of alcohol & parties and the ones worshiping at the alter of "spirituality" ... be it God, Buddha, or some unknown mystical figures.

A lot of people I have met either go to Church on a regular basis or consider themselves "spiritual" in some way. Is it the product of living in a city that's so fast-moving, so overwhelming and so centered on the material things? Is it the transient nature of the city that makes people here feel more lonely and compels them to believe in a greater force?

You probably know, of course, which camp I fall under ... As my friend Larry hysterically puts it "I do believe in spirits (vodka & tequila mainly), just not in the spiritual".
It is striking how differently people try to fill the emotional void in their lives. While I would never judge anyone based on their beliefs (I wish I had some sometimes!), I do find it hard to take someone who practices nude yoga as a form of spiritual enlightenment seriously ... And I have met a couple of people who do!

Each to their own I guess. Amen.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

I learnt a new skill ...

What is a girl to do when borrowing her gay best friend's mobile phone for 48 hours?
Generally organise his life, pretend to be him (as no one knows I have his phone) ... and partake in a bit of gay text messaging!
I'm getting very good at it but he's scared that I'm going to be sending random exes to his house without his knowledge (I have so far resisted the extremely strong temptation!) so I'm just going to have to give the phone back :-(

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Dada, dadadam ...

I went on a yatch sailing around Manhattan today. The sun was shining, I managed not to be sick when the Hudson got choppy and really enjoyed it.
I'd never seen Manhattan from that perspective before and it made me realise what a small island it really it. When you're in the city, it feels so large and the distances much greater. That's how I am justifying spending half of my salary on taxis anyway ... But from the water, it really just looks like a tiny piece of land, crammed full of skyscrapers ... concentrated craziness. I also realised how different the areas around Manhattan are - very middle America - and that I would never live outside of the city.

I generally got up to no good with my friend on the boat, drinking Chardonnay out of plastic cups and making inappropriate comments. They played Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" and we thought it would be a good idea to change the lyrics so it would reflect our "Sex & the City" lifestyle a little better ... I hope to god that not many people heard us although singing it all afternoon may have ruined the odds ...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sweltering New York

I met up with my friend Isabelle tonight for our ritual bi-weekly girlie chats at the Bookmarks rooftop bar, at the top of the Library Hotel.

We stumbled across this place for the first time back in early April. We had originally planned to go to the Campbell Apartment in Grand Central but found it closed for a private party. We asked for a recommendation and they suggested Bookmarks on Madison & 43rd.

It was a cold evening and I remember how we justified drinking copious amounts of wine as the only way to keep warm. We haven’t looked back since and always meet there. The service may be painfully slow and the drinks expensive, but it is more than made up by the fantastic views of the city (the Empire State Building in particular), the cool music and intimate size of the actual deck.

Unfortunately, tonight, our hang out was hosting a private party and we had to go to plan B – the outdoor Bryant Park Café, just in front of the majestic New York public library.
They asked for ID before letting us in. I’m getting pretty used to it here as I constantly get checked (hey, I’m not going to complain if they really think I’m under 21!) but this time, they actually stamped our hands! Having to go to the bar and discretely showing the stamp to get a drink was hilarious, if a little embarrassing.

It was probably the hottest & most humid night of the year – imagine a cross between being in a sauna and a steam room. It’s pretty hard trying to look glamorous when you’re "glowing" a little too much and your hair is starting to look like it could rival Foxxy Cleopatra’s afro! But this time, we justified our consumption of chilled white wine because we were desperately trying to cool down.

Eventually, the inevitable happened - the skies opened dramatically and torrential rain forced us to run out of the bar in search of a taxi.
New Yorkers will tell you that there are no taxis in Manhattan when it rains. A fact that I can most unfortunately confirm. We got drenched, huddling under the same small umbrella, almost jumping under any taxis that were going past us in an attempt to make them stop.

A man on a bike taxi asked me where I was going and when I answered the Upper West Side (a good 50 blocks from where we were), he said he would take me but that it would be $30. I have never paid more than $20 for a taxi ride, not even from Battery Park at the bottom of Manhattan to the UWS, but desperate times require desperate measures so I hopped on.

I spent most of the (rather bumpy) ride texting my friends explaining that I was being cycled around by this poor guy – at least I was protected from the rain but he wasn’t!
In the end, I felt so bad that I gave him $40. Most expensive, but most unusual & fun taxi ride so far!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Random observations & encounters

  • In the ladies at work, there is a sign offering detailed instructions as to what one should do – it includes pearls of wisdom such as the importance of washing your hands of course, but my favourite advice is the one about “avoiding contact with people showing influenza-like symptoms” at all cost. Nanny state?
  • I have never witnessed so many public arguments and general upfront behaviour since I have moved here. Either between complete strangers on the subway (“Could you stand any closer to me dude?!”) or between lovers.
  • At the same time, I’ve never had so many strangers talking to be on the subway – makes a change from the tube in London where everyone buries their head in their newspaper or book. The last time was a few days ago, when an older man stopped me on the platform and told me to “never, ever cut my hair” … apparently it’s just too nice!
  • On the Food Network channel (a strange obsession of mine), I once watched a show where cooks from different parts of the world competed for some kind of title – the only cook who was given subtitles was the French one! He didn’t even have such a strong accent!
  • Talking of accent, I have yet to meet an American who realises straight away (or at least in the first 15 minutes) that I’m French and not British. They seem to have no perception for accents.
  • I have not cooked a single thing since I have moved here and have no intention of doing so. My nice shiny oven and stove will stay that way (much to my parents’ horror – I am supposed to be French after all). The closest I have come to "cook" was reheating pre-prepared meals (they’re very good here) in my microwave. I eat out most of the time and when I don’t, I either get take out (all the restaurants, even the posh ones, offer this service) or go down to the Deli downstairs and have them make me a nice salad with any ingredients I want.
  • Continuing with the convenience culture that is so prevalent here, I haven’t looked back since the day I found out that I could get my laundry picked up, washed/dry cleaned, folded and delivered back for a mere $8. Why would anyone want to do their own at that price?!
  • I was excited one day when I saw that a movie I like, “8 Miles”, was being shown on one of the cable channels. The problem is that I could barely follow the movie as every single swear word was bleeped out, making it impossible to watch.
  • I love all the TV adverts about medical products here – because of the suing culture, they have to reel out the list of secondary effects one might experience as a result of taking the medicine. My favourites are impotence and death. Enough said (especially if you get both in that order).
  • Food portions here are really very big (except maybe in very posh restaurants). I learned very quickly to order everything in appetizer size. However, the quality of food is overwhelmingly good and also very good value, especially when compared to London.
  • One of the most surreal thing I’ve seen so far is this very old, hunched over man who often plays in the subway in Times Square. His act consists of him singing Edith Piaf songs (he’s not French though), while playing on an electronic organ, on top of which sit a series of bizarre dancing dolls. I just had to give him a few dollars for originality and for reminding me that I love the song “La vie en rose”.
  • This is closely followed by the weird experience of seeing a man, coming out of the World Financial Centre, wearing an all over white knitted jumpsuit, complete with matching balaclava and proceeding to walk very calmly towards the promenade. Maybe it was an art project or maybe an investment banker gone mad. I will never know.
  • Favourite TV show title so far: “Paralized and pregnant”. I wish I was kidding, but I’m really not.
  • I love New York cab drivers. They are, for the most part, completely insane, but then who wouldn’t be driving around this congested city all day/night? The majority of them are constantly on their mobile phone, through headset, so you never know if they’re talking to you or to their friend/partner/child/lawyer/dispatcher/psychologist.
  • I had the enviable experience of going to the Social Security Office to get my social security card and wait patiently for 3 hours to put in my application. The experience was made a lot more interesting by a strange, but very much in love, couple. The lady was tall and rather on the large side. Her partner was a much smaller, skinny guy. There were not enough seats for both of them to sit on, so she made him sit on her lap, talked to him like he was a child and called him “puppy” the entire time.
  • In the same Social Security Office, they also had a very handy sign reminding us what not to do – “No drinking, no smoking, no eating, no sitting on window sills, no writing on walls, no radio playing”. I can *almost* understand the reasoning behind all of them but the “no writing on walls” really threw me.
But all of the above is why I love New York so much and wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m looking forward to a lot more random experiences.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

You know you’re a New Yorker when …

You do something like this …

Marion & I went to meet Joe and a couple of his friends at a beach in Rye, a 40 minutes train ride from Grand Central. It felt like a mini-adventure but the fun ended when we arrived at the train station in this picturesque and quiet town.

There was an empty taxi stand and not much else. We sat down on the curb, patiently waiting for some kind of yellow car to arrive.

After about 15 minutes, Joe called us wondering what was taking us so long. He couldn’t believe that we couldn’t conceive that, unlike in Manhattan, the chances of a taxi showing up were extremely remote and that they would certainly not be yellow! He advised us to go into a shop and call a car from there ... amused but slightly exasperated that we had both become such New Yorkers!

Friday, April 20, 2007


Had another very New York experience this morning. My flight back to France was leaving very early in the morning so I asked the receptionist in my building if she could recommend any taxi companies that I could call to pick me up.

She recommended that I call a certain Mr Mahmood who also lives in my building and would take me to the airport on a flat fare. I called him at about 7pm yesterday and he agreed to meet me in the lobby at 4.30am.

He was a lovely man, originally from Pakistan, who had lived in the city for 20 years and was married to an American woman.

So how come a taxi driver & I can both afford to live in the same building on the Upper West Side? He told me that he lived in one of the few rent stabilized apartments available and that he was determined to hang on to it for as long as he could!
He pays $600 per month for a large studio – I pay $2,400 for a large 1 bedroom …

I should feel a little peeved about this but I don’t at all. In fact I love it and I’m glad the system still exists (although the number of apartments available under the scheme is reducing every day), otherwise it would take away from the true multi-cultural aspect of New York.
I have seen so many different types of people in my building – every single ethnic origins, business people, old people, families, students. It’s what makes the city special.

Mr Mahmood got me to JFK in half an hour flat and even bought me a cup of coffee. He’s officially my favourite NYC cab driver.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sangria & Cream Tea

I am amazed and very happy at how quickly I have made friends here. I think it’s partly because a lot of people come & go in New York so groups of friends are very transient and fluid. You become less protective about having distinct groups of friends and not wanting to add new people into the mix. We are also all united somehow by our unconditional love for the place, which seems to help form bonds quicker.

Last weekend I met up with Marion, Joe, Mitsy and Guy and we went to Café Noir in Soho (a weird little French/Spanish place but lovely) and then to a bar. We consumed far too much sangria than should really be allowed – there’s a real pitcher culture here and the drinks are much stronger than in Europe. Much fun was had though.

On Sunday, I met up with Raff & Libs for a proper English cream tea and finger sandwiches at “Tea & Sympathy”, a cute & tiny English tea shop in Greenwich village. The weather was beautiful and New Yorkers were out in mass enjoying it. Saw a guy walking his dog & skateboarding at the same time – now that’s what I call muti-tasking in style!


My flat is starting to take shape. I bought some picture rails from Crate & Barrel and Larry (my gbf and surrogate husband) came over with his drill and put them up for me. I’m surprised that neither of us sustained any injuries considering how much we were laughing. They look brilliant, just like I’d imagined it, and I had already bought some beautiful lacquered picture frames and had my favourite photos printed in black and white, so I was able to put everything together straight away.

It’s funny because when I was in London, I had no pictures of my friends anywhere and only a couple of my family but here I really need images of the ones I love and miss.

In terms of family pictures, I have the wonderful picture that Laurie & I took of ourselves in Whistler ... a “hold the camera with one arm extended” job which worked so well, neither of us wearing a scrap of makeup – something I wouldn’t normally recommend! – and looking so happy and similar that there is no mistaking we are sisters.
Then a lovely if a little blurry picture of mum & dad that I love because they didn’t know I was taking a picture at the time – they are playfully joking with each other and look so in love.
A great picture of Julien proudly holding an enormous mushroom he found during one of our ritual mushroom picking expeditions in the woods near our family country house.
And too many pictures of friends to be able to go through them all - all of very happy times.

Larry & I then walked over to Central Park to watch the St Patrick’s day parade. It was beautifully covered in snow and it was wonderful to see families sledging on the slopes and I even saw someone skiing! It was cold but crisp and sunny. The parade was fun too – I am told that there will be many more during the year.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

First night in the city

That’s it – I’ve done it! Flew into New York on a one-way ticket.

I arrived on Saturday night, tired and weary (after one last night out with friends). It’s funny how I am looking at the city differently now that I know I’m going to be living here. It’s not an unattainable dream anymore, but it still feels new and exciting, albeit more real.
I am noticing the beggars more, how run down the buildings are, how unsophisticated supermarkets are (I miss Marks & Spencer already!). How normal people are here too … it’s not as glamourous as when looking at the city with the eyes of a tourist. Even clothes don’t seem as cheap somehow – although that’s probably because I am now paid in US dollars!

Yet, I still love it. Looking out of my window, taking in the view of Broadway – the taxis snaking up & down the busy avenue, the “Do Not Walk” signs glittering, the subway entrance around the corner, the very New York looking red bricks building in front of me, the smoke coming out of the subway air vents, the beautifully arranged fruits & vegetables in the shopfront of the grocery store.

I keep looking at this spectacle happening in front of my eyes and I still can’t believe I’ve made it! I’m living in New York! From a half-baked dream that I never thought would really come true, to it really happening. I must be the luckiest girl alive!

I've been threatening to do it for a while ...

and finally found myself with nothing to do over the weekend for the first time in months and thought that this was the perfect opportunity to start my own blog!
It will be a good way to document my experiences here and let friends and family follow my life even more closely.
I will try very hard to keep it up, but I can't promise anything! Except lots of random musings, in no particular order.