Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sweet Escape

Monday 17th March
1.03pm - My friend Marie tells me on gmail chat that she is thinking about going away somewhere hot for the long weekend.
1.07pm - I tell her that I am also desperate for a break in the sun.
1.09pm - Marie exclaims "let's go together!"
2.08pm - We agree to meet in Los Angeles.

Friday 21st March
9.30am - I board my Virgin America flight to LA, in a state of excitement that leaves me almost breathless.

Last minute decisions are the best ones by far.

I had booked us a suite at the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard, in what seemed to be a fairly central area of LA, which is a difficult thing to work out not only as the city is so spread out that there is no centre as such, but also because I had no time to actually research hotels.

It was everything we could have wanted. Historically, it was were the first Academy Awards were hosted in 1929 and where Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant and Montgomery Cliff permanently resided. More recently, it is where many episodes of "Entourage" have been filmed and where Lindsay Lohan partied one last time before collapsing and going into rehab.

The pool (complete with David Hockney underwater mural) is where we spent most of our time, only interrupting our sunbathing with a dip in the water or a sip of a champagne cocktail. It's a beautiful space, framed in contrasting primary colours - clear blue sky, dark wood furniture, bright white soft furnishings, vivid green leaves of the palm trees. The Roosevelt is clearly a hot spot for the movie industry judging by the number of people reading scripts by the pool, Vin Diesel drinking at the bar and the 3 writers we saw huddled together, typing furiously on their respective Macbooks.
But mostly, being at the pool was like walking into an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue. The "square foot to hot men" ratio (a valid scientific measurement) was simply staggering. The women were beautiful too of course, although they all featured fake breasts, carefully styled blonde hair and size zero bottoms.

Yet, despite the "scene", the atmosphere was incredibly laid back and there was a lack of pretence that surprised me. I fully expected to want a liposuction and breast augmentation procedure while I was there, but I never really felt uncomfortable. Perhaps because there were plenty of normal looking people too but also because I felt so removed from it - it was like being in a zoo, catching glimpses of these incredible creatures flexing their impressive muscles while hiding behind the security fence of my dark sunglasses.

On Saturday night, the hotel secured us a table at Ketchup (which I have since learned is the new hip restaurant in town) and we enjoyed a delicious meal, served by an even more delicious waiter. Marie & I were both tired and decided to head back to the hotel pool bar for one last drink. Anyone who knows us both will guess the rest ... A group of very friendly people started talking to us and we ended up having a wild night of partying with them, first at The Standard, then at their poolside cabana, until the early hours of the morning.

On Sunday, after soothing our hangover with a solid room service breakfast and a couple of Mimosas, we were picked up by a chauffeur who took us on a tour of the area in a big Lincoln town-car with tinted windows.
We headed to Griffith Park for a great view of the Hollywood sign and gigantic LA. As we were taking in the sprawling panorama at the observatory, a Mexican guy approached us and gesticulated at his camera. We thought he wanted us to take a picture of him & his friends but instead he wanted to have his picture taken with us! Stunned, we silently complied but barely managed to hold our hysterical laughter & tears before they walked away.
We then drove to Santa Monica where our driver left us to stroll along the crowded promenade of Venice Beach, which was bursting with colourful things and characters: tarot readers, middle-aged oiled up perma-tanned body builders, Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols (yes, really), an actual freak show, beggars, hippies, paintings of vaginas ... We felt overwhelmed after an hour or so and headed back to the safety of our car. After a detour in Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive, we arrived back at the Roosevelt and collapsed in exhaustion.

On Monday we had planned to have lunch at the Ivy but couldn't physically peel ourselves away from the pool and sipped more champagne until it was time for us to head for the airport, slightly tipsy but deliriously happy.

The highlight of our trip however came upon our return. As I landed back in New York from the red-eye flight at 7am, I noticed an email from my sister. Unbeknown to us, a paparazzi had taken a shot of JC Chasez (from N'Sync) and Chase Crawford (from the series "Gossip Girls") at the Roosevelt pool and Marie & I were in the foreground! My sister had randomly stumbled upon the picture while browsing a gossip website!

I can't think of a better, more fitting way, to end a trip to Los Angeles.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Warning - this story is borrowed from my lovely friend Esther.

In boutique handbag shop in the World Financial Centre:

Sales girl: "I make some of these bags myself you know".

Esther: "Oh, they're great, I really like them".

Sales girl: "I love your accent, where are you from?"

Esther: "Australia, I live in Sydney".

Sales girl: "Wow, your English is amazing!"

Esther (puzzled but not wanting to embarrass the girl): "Thank you ..."

Sales girl: "So what language do you speak in Australia?"

Esther (as the next customer in line giggles): "Err ... English ..."

I better go and submit this on now!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I decided that 2008 would be my year of "learning" - of taking courses in subjects that I have always had a keen interest in. After breaking all of my other New Year resolutions on the very night of New Year's Eve (a record, even for me), this seemed the easiest resolution to actually keep.

My life is so full of extremes at times that I felt I needed to balance it with an intellectual challenge of a different kind, one that would appeal to my academic nature while broadening my horizons. I am also concerned that I have developed an attention deficit disorder, a need to be constantly challenged that maybe this could help appease.

So I enrolled in an Art History course at New York University in February. NYU always held a mystical appeal to me. The University buildings, scattered around Washington Square in Soho, look modern and vibrant, crowds of "too cool for school" kids hanging outside.

The reality is that I am stuck for 2 hours every Monday evening in a windowless room along with 20 other students, crammed in a small and over-heated space, sitting on the same uncomfortable chair/table combination that you can spot in every American teen movies.
Our teacher is a lovely but slightly absent-minded old lady, always dressed in head to toe black. Her soft voice is almost drowned by the loud noise emanating from the projector she uses to show us works of art - sculptures, buildings, paintings, ceramics. She is completely useless with even this basic form of technology and every week something goes terribly wrong with the projector, sending her in a state of mild panic and us in a state of amusement.

The course is a little basic for my liking. Probably due to the fact that we are covering everything from Cave art to Modern art in just 10 weeks. But also because I realised that our European education puts a great emphasis on learning about history and art, which may not really be the case for Americans.

But I really enjoy it nonetheless. I haven't studied in such a long time that I forgot to take a notepad and pen to the first lesson, awkwardly realising that my blackberry (the centre of my daily life) was not going to cut it as a device to take proper notes on.

I am already planning my next course which I have decided will be Global Politics. If anything, it will be fascinating to hear it from an American point of view, which I'm sure will have me cringe in my seat more than once.

Friday, March 7, 2008


I landed in New York, on a dark and cold night, exactly a year ago this week.

I remember sitting on my bed, the only piece of furniture in my otherwise empty flat, wondering whether I was brave (as all my friends insisted I was) or completely insane ... while personally leaning towards the latter.
I felt that I was not only leaving 12 years of my life in London behind but also jumping feet first into the most challenging situation I have ever encountered - on my own, far away from my family and from friends who mean the world to me. But I was also excited to be achieving my dream of living in this amazing city and doing the job I have always loved doing, and will never tire of, but on a much larger scale.

It therefore seems an appropriate time for me to reflect on whether living in New York has changed me in anyway. Have I picked up new habits? Am I a different person to the one who left London 12 months ago? If anything, it's a good excuse for yet another random list ...

* I no longer get lost on the subway. Probably because I have officially given up on public transport anytime past 7pm during the week and at all times during the weekend. I'm afraid my brain is now wired to automatically choose the more expensive but much easier option of jumping into a cab. I used to be amused when taxi drivers asked me how I wanted to get to my destination ... until a few weeks ago, when I surprised myself by instructing the driver to take the West Side Highway to get me downtown. I now shamelessly debate the best routes to take with taxi drivers on a regular basis, as a true New Yorker would.
* I have started to say "how you doing?" instead of "how are you?" and also noticed I have the tendency to add "right?" in a higher pitch at the end of sentences - sometimes with a southern drawl if I have been spending too much time around Larry. A few American words have also weaved themselves into my vocabulary. My diary is now my calendar. I take the elevators. I live in an appartment, not a flat, and I don't call the subway the tube anymore ... While these adjustements were essential to make myself understood, I still stubbornly refuse to spell words the American way!
* I have developed an even keener interest in politics, no doubt fueled by being in the midst of one of the most important Presidential campaigns of recent times. I have watched the debates, torn between Obama and Clinton and admiring their witty repartie. Until I took a quizz on, which concluded that I was more closely aligned to Barack Obama's views. I haven't studied politics since my Masters but I will be joining a class on Global Politics at NYU in May to brush up my knowledge.
* I have picked up an expensive cocktail habit - my favourites being Hemingways at Bookmarks, Mojitos at Cafecito, Apple Martinis at the Merc Bar, Bloody Marys at Jane and Expresso Martinis at Garage. A "large glass of white wine" is still my favourite however. Some things never change.
* I have completely changed my mind about rain boots - from thinking that they were a dubious fashion statement to realising that they are an indispensible (and very practical) accessory. The same goes for hats and padded North Face coats.
* I have come to see the Caribbean as a weekend destination - in less than 3 hours, I can be on a white sand beach with a cocktail in my hand and I am planning to escape to St Martin for a long weekend very soon.
* I seem to have aged since I got here. I used to be asked for ID whenever I went out in my first 6 months here but it hasn't happened at all since then. The city has clearly taken its toll on me and I sadly don't look under 21 anymore.
* Most people I meet, and even people who have talked to me occasionally at work, think I'm British. Of course, I feel flattered by that. But I have heard myself on video and was shocked at how French I sound so I find it funny to have to explain to people who I have casually talked to for the last few months that no, my parents don't live in London, and yes, I really am French ...
* My obsession with sushi has only intensified and eel maki is a new and surprising addition to my repertoire of favourites.
* While on my ritual shopping expeditions in Soho at the weekends, I am physically unable to walk down the streets without clutching a tall Starbucks coffee, while still complaining that I cannot find decent coffee on this island.
* If someone had told me, 12 months ago, that I would be helping an 11 year old girl with her homework, I would have laughed in disbelief. But it seems that the level of nurturing I thought I could only feel for my family, my close friends and animals, can also be transposed to children!
* I have fully mastered the complicated art of swiping a metro card through the turnstiles in the subway. It's all about slow walking combined with a smooth wrist action - confidence is key! You just cannot show fear.
* Despite a few enjoying trips "up north" (including a great night in a Jazz club on 105th and a memorable brunch on 103rd), I still believe that Manhattan starts at the World Financial Centre and ends at 86th Street where I live.

While these are relatively trivial changes, this city has changed me in more radical ways too. The year I have spent here has been an incredible emotional roller coaster and I gained a few more hard-earned battle scars. But I'm staying on for the ride, which I am sure will continue to be both exhilarating and terrifying.