Monday, October 13, 2008

Perfect Day

Recipe for a perfect day.

Take two best friends in need of cheering up.

Order Eggs Benedict at Nice Matin, eaten alfresco in the still warm air and brilliant sunshine.

Decide to walk off brunch, with no particular destination in mind or aim other than soaking in the atmosphere of the bustling streets.

Stop over at Columbus Circle and literally bump into the actress playing Hermione in the Harry Potter movies. Fake ignorance but can't help feeling star struck.

Take 8th Avenue down and chance upon one of the last street fairs of the year. Buy freshly made lemonade and check out the various stands. Stop at a palm reader's booth and decide it's a good idea to have your palms read for the first time in your life. Learn that you will both live until 91 and that it's important that you "close the door", which can only be achieved with the help of $125 crystals ... which can handily be bought from the psychic. Politely decline and walk away laughing hysterically.

Continue strolling down 8th, nearing 34th street and decide that you are too far down to stop now. Remember the Bansky exhibition in the West Village that you've been meaning to see and walk until you reach it. Experience the surrealism of the small space, set up as a fake pet store -

Realise that it is now early evening and that the Meat Packing district and the wonderful rooftop bar of the Gansevoort is not that far.

Sip champagne on said rooftop until the sun sets.

Repeat all the above as often as necessary until blissful happiness is reached again.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I Hate New York

I know I said I love New York over and over again on this blog, to the point that it is probably boring.

But what I failed to mention is that I, and many of my friends, have a love-hate relationship with the City too. As I mentioned before, this is a transient place - most people weren't born here and have come to the City on some kind of quest for the perfect life. Our expectations of New York are very high, higher than they would be of any other cities in the world because in most cases living here is a life-long ambition, a fanciful dream that finally became reality.

And reality is invariably not as glamorous as the dream. Living here doesn't make you happy if you weren't happy before you moved. In many ways, New York has a way of blowing out your previous "unhappiness" (regardless of how small it was before) to new proportions. If you felt lonely before, New York will make you feel lonelier. If you felt you were not achieving enough, New York will make you feel like you are achieving nothing. If you were looking for love ... well, let's not even go there!

It is the City where every single person you meet is an over-achiever. Where it's normal to have pre-dinner drinks with one friend, dinner with another, and post-dinner drinks with someone else. Where we cram everything we can into the very little time we have. Where relationships of any kind are either passionately intense (and therefore short-lived) or dreadfully casual. Where the palpable energy can stimulate you and suck you dry at the same time.

As a few of my friends are leaving the City after 3 or 4 years, disillusioned and exhausted, I am making a conscious effort to enjoy New York until I cannot stand it's frenetic pace anymore. I do feel lucky - I have the career I always wanted to have, friends who love me and are always there for me and I live in a place that provides me with endless excitement and intellectual stimulation.

But New York sometimes has a way to make me look at my half-full glass as decidedly half-empty. Nothing is easy here - you always have to fight for everything, all the time. I have seriously considered leaving the City a couple of times already - going back to more familiar, safer, quieter territory like London.

But a taxi ride from downtown Manhattan to the Upper West Side gets me every time - catching a glimpse of the neon sign on top the New Yorker Hotel, going through Hell's Kitchen's bustling streets, crossing the West Side Highway bridge with it's amazing view of the glittering skyscrapers ... It always makes me realise that I am not quite done with New York yet. It may have thrown me on the floor and kicked me in the guts a couple of times but the battle is not over.

New York 2 - Steph 1. The next move is mine.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Manhattan Nights

I realise that I haven't blogged much about some of the most entertaining nights out I had over the summer. I've always liked a party - I take it from my Dad who always has to be the last one to leave, just like me. This is especially true since I became single two years ago. With no-one to answer to or to alert of my whereabouts, the party girl in me has truly been unleashed ...

Singing Queens
One of Marie's friend is a DJ who regularly plays in New York. He invited her to dance boat party where he was DJing and we decided to make a girls night out of it with two other girlfriends, Lisa & Libs. Donning our best summer nights outfits we made our way to Chelsea Pier, the idea being that we would sail around Manhattan for around 3 hours while drinking and dancing.

As soon as we started queuing to get on the boat, we realised that it might not quite be our scene. Our fellow party goers were clearly avid clubbers and on the young side. Our fears were confirmed when we eventually boarded. We went straight to the bar and ordered some white wine, only to be told, after the barman poured us a glass each in a plastic cup that this was the last of it ... Clearly, wine was not the tipple of choice at this party and we suspected that alcohol was probably not the vice of choice in any case.

We managed to find an awkward corner in which to stand, surrounded by sweaty crowds. The hard house music was deatheningly loud. I was bracing myself for three hours of hell when Libs and I exchanged a panicked look and I knew then that she felt the same way as me. We hatched a hurried plan to get off the boat as soon as possible. Marie and Lisa also shared our feelings and we literally jumped off the boat minutes before it sailed.

Instead, we went to the rooftop bar of the Gansevoort Hotel, in the Meat Packing district. Sipping cocktails in real glasses, with cool music playing in the background, is much more my idea of fun these days. It came to that time of the night when, after a few drinks and lots of chatting, our feet started tapping along to the music and going to a Karaoke bar seemed like a very good idea ... We hopped in a taxi to Sing Sing in the East Village and while the rest of the night is a little blurry, I do know that we spent hours in our private room, belting out 80s hits until the early hours of the morning.

Friends Melting Pot
Paul, an old friend of mine, was in town from London and staying with me for a week back in July. On Friday night, we made separate dinner plans but agreed that we would meet later at a birthday party he had been invited to in the Lower East Side.

So I first met up with Kimmy, Debbie, Joe and some of his friends at Kum Gang San, a traditional Korean Barbeque restaurant in Midtown. One of our dinner companions was Korean and ordered everything for us. It was a wonderful way to sample new and exciting dishes. One of them was a seafood soup: plump prawns and scallops were floating in a fragrant broth as well as something round, dimpled and white, which I could not identify. Joe and I happened to take a bite of "it" at the same moment and our faces convulsed. Upon biting on the chewy exterior, a bitter liquid came out of it and we both immediately spat out the offending "thing". Joe's friend laughed and told us that we had just tried something called "sea squirts". We googled it on our blackberries and were horrified to find out that it was a slug-like sea creature, known for eating its own brain when it found a rock to set up home. I won't be trying that again.

I left my friends who were going on to Soho and went to meet Paul. The party was on the rooftop of a newly built apartment block, with amazing views of the City glittering in the night. As Paul started to wholeheartedly embrace my love of living in New York (not difficult when you're sipping a cocktail with a view like this), Marie called me and we decided to leave the party and join her and a few other joint friends at Toy Company on Norfolk Street.

No, we did not go to a children's toy store. The Toy Company is a "secret" bar that could easily be missed if it wasn't for the small sign on the entrance gate, surrounded by burly bouncers. A short walk through an underground tunnel leads you to a bar that looks like a Victorian living room, complete with a huge fireplace, antique chandeliers and velvet paisley wallpaper. There is also a back room which can only be accessed through a sliding bookcase. The main quirk of the place is that all drinks are served in tea cups. It was impossible not to lift our little fingers as we drank from our dainty cups and I had to convince myself a couple of times that it was indeed wine I was sipping and not the finest Earl Grey.

Brooklyn Barbie
Strictly speaking, this event did not happen at night and did not even take place in Manhattan but it is one of my favourite summer memories. Larry hosted one of his infamous barbecues at his house in Brooklyn on July 17th. He spent hours cooking southern style pork and twice baked potatoes, bought enough meat to feed an entire army and a group of around eight of us made the trip across the East river to attend it.

Larry lives on the ground floor of an old factory, set in a quiet residential street populated by families and elderly people. The barbecue was set up right on the pavement and thankfully one person in the group actually had any kind of meat grilling skills. Pop music was blasting out of his appartment and competing with a rather odd-looking group of teenagers who were practicing line dancing in the park across the street. Evidently, we drawned out their music and engaged in an hilarious dance-off with them. Phil had the best dance routine, writhing around on the balcony in suggestive ways.

More salacious entertainment was brought on by the children's paddling pool Larry had also placed on the pavement and we spent hours throwing water at each other. I believe that Larry changed outfits a record number of five times due to the constant soaking, while we were left to dry off as best as we could until the next water fight.

Other highlights of the day included putting make up on Phil's face while he was "resting" from drinking a little too much vodka, as well some rather rude things being done to a Little Mermaid Disney figure ... I don't think the neighbours have quite recovered from our antics yet.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Barack Obama is stalking me ...

He really is. I get almost an email a day from him, his campaign manager or his running mate, Joe Biden. Sometimes even his wife emails me. I admit it is because I have donated to his campaign 3 times now. Of course, the irony of this is that I am not actually "allowed" to donate to a presidential campaign as I am not a US citizen but I ticked the box anyway. I did it because I am absolutely terrified that John Mc Cain will win.

This election is fascinating to me. While I am sure that Obama will not be able to deliver on all his promises, this country has the opportunity to change and show the world that it does not support the terrible decisions Bush made during his tenure, that it is in fact a liberal and progressive country, free of old-fashioned bigotry and prepared to help it's people.

The reality, however, scares me. The country is so divided. Look at an election map showing which states are Democrat or Republican, and you will see a big red area in the middle, while the East and West coasts are resolutely blue. I believe that race is not as important at this stage of the campaign now (it should never have been in the first place of course) and it is now a pure left-wing versus right-wing decision and a matter of who can demonstrate that they have the interest of the "average American" at heart. I am not convinced that Middle America is ready to make the change and cannot imagine the consequences of having yet another aging, conservative leader at its helm.

I am awaiting the 4th of November with bated breath, watching the candidates debates with a passion I haven't felt since Le Pen came close to be elected in France a few years back. I will be starting a new course at NYU next week on the language of American Politics - studying some of the most important political documents and speeches from the days of the Constitution to present time. I'm sure it will be fascinating and will give me more insights into the intriguing political landscape of this country.