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 CafĂ©, 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.