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 ...