Sunday, June 22, 2008

Miami Vice

No matter how I much I love New York, I physically and emotionally feel the need to take a break away from the City every 6 weeks or so. I'm not really sure why - perhaps because I keep myself so busy (too busy?) here or because it can be an overwhelming metropolis where it is difficult to get away from the energy and the noise .. All I know is that after a few weeks here, I start feeling extremely run down.

As soon as I started feeling the above symptoms, a couple of weeks ago, I hatched a plan to finally visit Miami with Larry for a long weekend of fun. We had talked about it for a long time and I had never been to Miami, where Larry has spent a lot of time over the years, so it was an obvious choice.

So I boarded my plane from JFK on Thursday evening last week, excited by the prospect of lying on the beach and swimming for the next 3 days. I felt on holiday as soon as I stepped off the plane and was hit by the humid heat and even more so when my taxi left the airport area and I spotted the first palm trees. I love that feeling- you know you are away from your normal life and responsibilities and your mind somehow empties of every day worries and of anything at all in fact.

I arrived at the Beacon Hotel, a wonderful Art Deco affair facing South Beach, at around 10.30pm. Larry, who flies on standby, was meant to get there before me but couldn't get on a flight until much later. The hotel wouldn't let me check in as the reservation was in his name so I found myself doing something I have never had the courage to do before: having a glass of wine by myself, sitting in the open air bar of the hotel. Miami is so laid back that I didn't feel self-conscious about being on my own at all. The waiter was very friendly anyway, spent most of the evening talking to me and didn't even charge me for my drink.
Larry eventually arrived at around 1am and we strolled down Ocean Drive, which was a vision of white and pastel coloured buildings, neon-lit signs, cars slowly cruising with music blaring out of them. I felt I had stumbled in the middle of a "Pimps & Hos" costume party as the dress code in Miami is distinctively "bling, tight & short" for both men & women.

Our hotel was great and we were excited to find that our room was fitted with an ipod player, as we had both brought ours. It made for some amusing games though as I would play Kanye West or Hotel Costes and Larry would switch it to Maria Carey or House music at every opportunity ... thankfully, we found some musical common ground in R Kelly's "Ignition" and Madonna's new album, which became the soundtrack for our holiday.

A few things about Miami surprised me - the most obvious one being that people addressed me in Spanish first. It is very much the first language there and there is a huge Cuban and Argentinian community, which adds to the exotic feel of the city. I was also surprised by the daytime drinking culture, where it's not unusual to see people drinking Mojitos from what looked like enormous fishbowls as early as 10 in the morning.

In addition to the relaxing sunbathing and frequent swimming in the wonderfully warm Ocean, it was very much a party weekend, filled with many fun memories. Chatting and sipping Caiparinhas on a friend's balcony overlooking South Beach. Lying on the beach at 3am while philosophying about love and life. Spending a boozy afternoon at The Palace, a fantastic gay bar, chatting to all the boys (including a Matt Damon lookalike) and laughing to the point of tears when their drag queen show involved these giant "ladies" strutting down Ocean Drive, singing and waiving rainbow flags, jumping in passing cars and hugging startled bystanders ... at 3 o'clock in the afternoon ...


Marie officially moved to New York last week, in an apartment just a couple of blocks away from mine, and it is wonderful to have another friend in the neighbourhood. With most of my friends living downtown, I constantly hop on the subway or in a taxi to meet them - it is a well known fact that it's nearly impossible to make a "downtowner" travel uptown.

And the advantage of having one of my best friends close by became even more obvious yesterday.

I woke up with a raging hangover after a great night out with a group of friends at Pier I, an outdoor beach style bar on the bank of the Hudson river. Marie was feeling similarly awful for the very same reason as me, so when she called me in the morning suggesting that we meet for breakfast at Barneys Greengrass, it was an offer I could not refuse. There is nothing better than eggs, bagels, bottomless coffee and gossiping about the night before, to cure a hangover.

The rest of the day was devoted to helping Marie settle into her flat, which is in a brownstone on a wonderfully bright corner of 87th and Columbus. We stopped at the local pet shop and I helped her pick a goldfish - little Harry is now happily swimming in his tank. I had to google instructions on fish feeding and learnt some very valuable facts, guaranteed to make me the star of any dinner parties: who knew that the oldest goldfish lived 43 years, that they can develop gas problems or that they can be fed hard boiled egg yolk and lettuce!

Then came time for some hard work. We put on Madonna's new album and set about building the various pieces of flat pack furniture she had bought at Ikea a couple of nights before. I have painful memories of building all my furniture myself when I arrived here. Despite zealously reading the instructions, it always resulted in me having to rebuild everything twice as I never got it right the first time - cue tears of frustration, copious amount of swearing and regular refill of my glass of wine. Somehow, I was determined to do it all by myself, which was frankly very stupid ... and which is why I happily offered my help to Marie.
It seems that my skills have improved somewhat as this time, I only had to rebuild the chest of drawers at a relatively early stage of the process. We had no tools other than a screwdriver and decided to use Marie's blue snakeskin stilettos as hammers (yes, you read this right). I looked up at one point as I was banging on a screw, shoe in hand, to see Marie doing the same thing - causing an inevitable fit of laughter.

I love seeing her place take shape - it reminds me of my own settling-in experience, of creating a new home, mixing in objects from my past with new ones. Realising that it is really where I live now and that there is no going back. Feeling the excitement and fear that come with making a new start.

Moving to another country is the most rewarding and character forming experience I have been through (twice!) and I only hope it will be for Marie too.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


My relationship with my Little Sister, Jenny, seems to be going from strenght to strenght.

When we are alone she can't stop talking, excitingly telling me about her latest sailing trip or school project - in stark contrast from her near silence of a few months back. We still communicate online often, although she has now realised that I have a life of my own and that we have to arrange a time to talk that works for the both of us. She has a new found interest in poetry, after an assignement she had to complete for school, and often sends me her poems which I am actively encouraging her to keep writing.
She recently asked me to help her with her maths homework: "If the shadow of an 8 feet tree measures 4 feet, and a nearby building's shadow measures 16 feet, how tall is the building?". I realised that I don't remember any of the hard-learned mathematical formulas of my youth but the solution was very easy of course and didn't require them - this is a problem intended for 11 years old children after all so even I can manage that! The hardest part came in trying to guide her to the solution, without giving it to her on a plate, despite her insistence that I do so.
In our second to last session, we were asked if we wanted to pair up again next year and I am happy to report that we both agreed to. I am glad that I will carry on mentoring Jenny and see her hopefully flourish over the coming months.

But the reality of New York City or, more precisely, the New York City that our Littles live in, dawned on me in a particularly gruesome way this week.

We learned that the mother of one of our Littles was brutally murdered last week. We were all shocked by the news and have been coached on what to say, should our respective Littles want to talk about it. Jenny has not mentioned it yet but I can't imagine how I would have felt as young child if one my school friends' mum had been killed ... In fact, I can't even imagine what it would feel like as a 33 years old woman as I've never lived in an environment where something like this could happen.

New York is a much safer place when it was in the 80s, at the peak of the crack epidemic, and by the end of the 90s crime had dramatically decreased (as explained from a very interesting angle in "The Tipping Point"). But even in 1998, the year in which I first visited the City, I remember mistakenly ending up on a corner of Bowery, feeling watched and unsafe despite the afternoon hour. Bowery is now an up & coming area, rapidly filling up with edgy designer boutiques, a cool new museum and trendy restaurants, and I often stroll through the very same corner when walking from the Lower East Side to Soho.

My New York is incredibly safe and I have never felt in any danger, however mild. But I am now even more aware that it is in a very privileged New York that I live and play in every day ...

Monday, June 2, 2008


A Sex & The City craze swept New York a few days ago.

Cinemas across the city started screening the movie from midnight on Wednesday and every half an hour thereafter. Absolutely every girls and gay guys I know had plans to see the movie, usually with a group of friends as part of a night out, and it has been a major topic of conversation and source of excitement.

On Saturday night, Larry, Marie, Samantha, Jules and I met outside the Loews Theatre on 3rd Avenue and 11th Street, on the edge of the East Village. Queues outside were a colourful display of party dresses and glittering high heels. As we had a quick drink at the bar opposite the cinema before the screening, we noticed another large queue forming outside Webster Hall, down the street. They were hosting an Eighties Prom night and I have never seen so many tiaras and puffy metallic dresses in my life. The mix of the two crowds made the atmosphere that little bit more surreal.

The movie itself was both satisfying and disappointing. It was great seeing the characters five years after the end of the series, but it didn't work very well as a film. While that annoyed me at first, I was able to enjoy it a lot more once I saw it as just an extra-long episode. But what I loved the most was the ambiance inside the screening room - people were cheering, clapping, laughing and crying throughout the movie. I don't remember the last time I witnessed so many diverse feelings openly expressed.

I think it is a testament to how important SATC is as the first TV series addressing some of the concerns of my generation of women - we have romantic visions of love but know that it's not easy even after you find it, we see our close friends as our chosen family, we care about our careers yet we want to have fun too, we want to see the world, we want to improve ourselves (physically, intellectually, emotionally), we want to give back to the community, we want to make our parents proud ... and yes, we love fashion and especially shoes!

While I often think that the characters are overly one-dimensional (the romantic one/the career-driven one/the traditional one/the sexually liberated one) and lack depth, it is when you take the four of them as a whole that you get a better understanding of the multi-faceted personalities of women today, often balancing conflicting desires and priorities.

The night wouldn't have been complete had we not ended it in typical Sex & The City style ... sipping Cosmopolitans and talking about men. It's good to be one-dimensional for a few hours sometimes!