Sunday, November 8, 2009

Parent Trap

Great things about my parents visiting me for two weeks:
* Saving a significant amount of money from the enforced quarantine away from my party-loving friends.
* Sleeping soundly for 10 hours every nights (see above point).
* Having a seemingly endless of supply of bagels in the house as my parents are strangely obsessed with them and made daily trips to H&H to stock up.
* Feeling like a child again as we sat down for breakfast every morning (I had to build in an extra 30 minutes in my morning schedule), Mum cooked some of my favourite dishes (and froze them so that I could have homemade food when they left) and they generally looked after me as if I was not much older than 12.
* After many trials and errors, finally finding a decent baguette in the City at the Food Emporium.
* Quitting smoking.

Not so great things about my parents visiting me for two weeks:
* Trying to look very interested while Dad showed me all the pictures he took of the vegetables growing in their garden.
* Being completely up to date, in sometimes more details than strictly necessary, on all of our extended family's news.
* Realizing, after they had left, that Mum had subtly reorganized all my kitchen cabinets.
* Being left with a fridge full of cheese and a brand new pot of Nutella.
* Being shamed into realizing there are still so many areas of New York that I have yet to explore such as Brooklyn Heights, Ellis Island and well ... the Upper East Side, while my parents on the other hand adventurously wondered around by themselves despite their very limited command of English and came back from their escapades with wonderful observations and photographs.
* Quitting smoking.

All joking aside now, the greatest thing about my parents' visit is that it turned out to be quite a revelation for me.

When they first came to see me here I was so new to the City - barely 7 months in - and although I had managed to pack in many experiences in that short time, I didn't know the City in the way I know it now and I also wasn't the person I am now. Despite our enduring love affair, New York has kicked me pretty hard to the ground a couple of times very early on and taught me tough lessons ... some of which I only very recently finally absorbed and accepted.

So in the midst of all this, I hadn't really realized until my parents' second visit that in the past two and a half years, New York has actually become home. Not just an exciting adventure. Not just a place in which to temporary put my bags down for a while before moving on. But instead the place where I belong. Where I feel comfortable and happy. Where my heart is.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I have a new job and an amazing new view of the City seemingly lying at my feet from my desk ...

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Autumn is quite possibly my favourite season in the City.

The air is as clean and crisp as freshly laundered bed linen yet the sun still warms your face during the inevitably long and leisurely walks you take to enjoy its last balmy rays before the frigid cold of the Winter.

I love that, at the very end of October, it is still possible to share a delicious blueberry cheesecake from Pinisi bakery while sitting outside without a coat on.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


On the few occasions that I have walked past Grimaldi's, steps away from the Brooklyn Bridge in DUMBO, I have always been puzzled and slightly put off by the line of people snaking down the block to get inside.

But in my experience, there is only one thing that New Yorkers are willing to patiently wait in line for and that's great food: Grimaldi's pizzas are widely recognized to be amongst the best ones in town. It is is also one of the few remaining vestiges of a New York of an earlier era - they don't take reservations, do not deliver and never sell pizza by the slice. 

It is therefore with some trepidation that my friends and I joined the queue late one Sunday afternoon and we were not disappointed. Entering the restaurant is a little like stepping back in time as the decor doesn't seem to have changed much since it opened. You can easily imagine how it would have been a meeting place for local Italian American families but these days they are very likely to have been pushed out of the now trendy area by rising property prices and the clientele is very mixed.

One side of the room is adorned with black and white pictures of Frank Sinatra (including a mug shot from a police arrest) while the other boasts a myriad of pictures of celebrities and notaries who have graced the establishment with their presence. The wood burning oven takes center stage at the back of the room and watching the flurry of activities, including some pizza dough throwing of course, is fascinating.

We opted for a simple pie - tomato, pepperoni, mozarella and basil - which came on a perfectly thin and deliciously chewy crust. Washed down with a cold and crisp bottle of Pinot Grigio, it was simply heaven. Slightly dazed and confused from the carbohydrate overdose, we left the restaurant and walked across the bridge to get back to Manhattan, stopping every few minutes to take in the breathtaking scenery and wonderfully pink sunset over the City skyline.

The perfect conclusion to a perfect meal.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Delayed grief

When L, K & I went for dinner and drinks at Roc in Tribeca two nights ago, we thought we knew exactly what our main topic of conversation was going to be. L had just been through a bad experience with a guy and was in need of girl support so we were going to be indulging in one of my favourite past-times of late (I'm sure it's just a phase!): man-bashing.

Which is precisely what we did, fueled by the flowing wine that kept being poured into our glasses by the attentive waiter, while enjoying probably one of the last balmy evenings of the year sitting in the outdoor terrace ... that is until the sun started to set and we noticed two tall blue lights emerging from between buildings, where the World Trade Center would have been. And our conversation took an entirely different turn.

I remember watching a documentary on 9/11 around six months after I moved here. I was catching up on emails late one night with the TV tuned into the Natural Geographic channel in the background. The documentary came on, and while I would have normally opted not to watch it, I found myself not only engrossed by it but also crying uncontrollably.

Like everyone else I remember that day and the shock I felt. But I found myself overcome with new grief and sadness that night. My office at work overlooks Ground Zero so I was surprised by my strong reaction as I am essentially reminded every single day of what happened. But when you live in Manhattan you come to appreciate that, despite the skyscrapers and the wide avenues, it is really just a tiny strip of land and I truly realized for the first time the scale and enormity of what happened to New Yorkers that day.

Both L and K were working in the World Financial Center and hearing their first hand experience of the events of that day was heartbreaking. The panic of the evacuation, the dust they were covered in, being unable to reach their families, seeing people jumping out of the blazing towers (a sight they both still have nightmares about) - these are accounts I had heard on TV but hearing it from two of my best friends made it terrifyingly real. They explained that the terrace we were sitting on right now would have been covered with flyers about missing persons. They told me of the emptiness of the City for the first couple of weeks following the tragedy with no taxis, no public transport, no-one in the streets. A ghost town. A city striken by grief.

Boy troubles obviously paled in comparison. There are much more important things to be concerned about as well as things to be truly thankful for, and our evening, however emotionally intense, helped put everything in perspective.
Photo by richardkingphoto @

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Swinging Manhattan

Not, of course, that type of swinging but while looking through some photos I took on my Iphone a few months ago, I remembered some of my favourite music-themed nights out this year which haven't made it onto this blog yet.

A picnic in Central Park is by far my favourite summer past-time. I love the hive of activities that Sheep Meadows becomes as soon as the first rays of sunshine appear. Finding an empty spot, as well as navigating your way through flying frisbees and other airborne implements, can be quite a challenge. But one that I do not mind.
Marie, Larry, Caroline and I had our first picnic in the park back in April on one of the first truly beautiful weekends of the year. Everyone will tell you that it is illegal to drink alcohol in Central Park and if caught, you will be fined. So far, it is a risk that we have been more than prepared to take and we had a wonderful afternoon, whiling away the hours chatting, laughing, eating and, of course, sipping wine.

As the evening dawned, Larry and Caroline decided to go home but Marie and I were of course still full of energy and she took me to the skate circle. I had never been before - it's an area of the park where groups of roller bladers congregate every weekend and dance until late at night. At first, we sat on a patch of grass and watched in awe as the skaters swirled and jumped. But it wasn't long before everyone there, whether skaters or spectators, started to dance together and a couple of guys dragged Marie and I into head spinning routines, the kind of old-fashioned couple dancing that I do with my dad at every family parties. I'm not exactly sure but I think that we stayed there and danced non-stop for four or five hours, amazed at how friendly, fun and eclectic the crowd was.

I am a huge fan of little Jimmy Scott, the 84 years old Jazz vocalist whose amazing and almost feminine voice combined with his physical frailty bring me to tears whenever I see him perform.

His live performances are very far and few between now because of his age and ailing health but I was lucky enough to see him at the Dizzy Jazz club at Columbus Circle when I moved here in 2007 and when he came back for a brief stint at the same venue back in April this year, I jumped at the chance and took along music-loving D, who I knew would enjoy it as much as I would.
Little Jimmy did not disappoint even though his set was much shorter than it was even two years ago with just four songs. But he delivered them with such emotional intensity that it sent shivers down my spine and made the evening even more special for me. The venue itself only added to the experience as its huge floor to ceiling windows overlook Central Park and 59th glittering in the night.

I really like Razorlight - to me, they are very much the epitome of alternative British rock bands: skinny lead singer, dodgy hairstyles, but with solid beats and occasionally thought provoking lyrics.

While they are big in the UK and would normally play at venues the size of Wembley stadium, they are pretty much unknown in the US and Libs, Marie and I got the chance to see them at the Hiro Ballroom, a smallish club in the basement of the Maritime Hotel on the edge of the Meat Packing district.

There were probably no more than a hundred or so people packed in the venue and unsurprisingly, they all seemed to be British. We perched up on the stairs leading to the balcony which afforded us fantastic views of the stage and the band. The atmosphere was electric as they played their original hits ("In America" and "In the morning") alongside tracks from their latest album "Golden Touch" .... and while we may have been feeling too old for the mosh pit, it didn't stop us from jumping up and down and head bang like a bunch of teenage groupies!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Outer Borough

Just when I thought, especially after relentlessly pounding its now familiar streets with my sister over the past week, that I had pretty much seen everything there was to see in the City, an outer borough excursion showed me that New York as a whole has so much more to offer and plenty of surprises still in store for me.

Laurie and I headed to Brighton Beach, at the very end of the Q line in Brooklyn, this past Sunday. It is better known as "Little Odessa" because its patchwork of residents are primarily from former Soviet Union territories such as the Ukraine and Latvia. We landed in a bustling market street as soon as we exited the subway, filled with people shoving each other (and us) out of the way to get to the best fresh produce and haggling for them in Russian. In fact, we hardly heard any English being spoken ... the journey from the Upper West Side may have only been 20 miles but culturally we were thousands of miles away and I regretted not learning how to say "hello" and "thank you" in Russian ahead of time (the two expressions I always make a point of learning in the native language of whichever country I am visiting).

After fighting our way through busy Brighton Beach Avenue, we opted to have lunch at Cafe Glechik, a traditional eaterie frequented almost exclusively by Russian locals. We sampled a plate of pickled vegetables (incredibly garlicky and including pickled watermelon which was surprising to say the least), pork Pelmini and potatoes and mushrooms Vareniki (both are types of dumplings) to the nostalgic sounds of gypsy music - making the experience even more "out of this world", especially when the bill came to just $7 per person for what was a very generous meal.

We walked off lunch by heading towards the sea and the boardwalk which leisurely stretches to Coney Island. The latter has never been on my list of places to see - I had very low expectations and anticipated a run-down and tacky amusement park, possibly full of shady characters.
But perhaps it was the strolling in the sea on the way there (which made me feel on holiday), or the brilliant sunshine or maybe the company (Marie and her friend L had joined us by then) ... whatever it was, I was won over by Coney Island.
Sure it is indeed a little tacky with its arcades and fun rides and there are plenty of colourful characters meandering about, but it all made for fantastic people watching. It was also surprisingly clean and friendly and I loved the small booths lining the boardwalk, each playing different types of music that people danced to in broad daylight without an ounce of self-consciousness. My favourite was the open air karaoke which made American Idol's worst contenders almost sound talented. A bumpy ride on the Wonder Wheel was (quite literally as it stands 150ft tall) the high point of our visit as it offered unbeatable views of the Ocean on one side and the distant Manhattan skyline on the other.

I may well have become one of those annoying Manhattanites who dread leaving the safety and familiarity of their tiny island, but after this taste of an almost entirely different universe I am more determined than ever to stop whinging about the long subway rides and absence of taxis and get to the business of seriously exploring New York's more culturally authentic boroughs.

* While the "shoot the freak" photo may alarm some of you, fear not - it's only a paintball game ... catchy name though.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Memory Bank

My sister is visiting from France for two weeks and, as previously mentioned on this blog, there is nothing I love more than having people staying over and making the most of the City with them. It makes me fall in love with New York a little more every time.

Laurie and I are actively building up a pretty cool memory bank of experiences together ...

Visiting the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibition at the Guggenheim with Libs ...

Followed by oysters at Ocean Grill.

Fighting our way through the crowds at the first Japanese street fair hosted in NYC ....

And chilling out at Cipriani's in Grand Central afterwards, the calm and serenity of which still amaze me to this day.

A stroll through wonderfully tiny Chelsea Market ...

And walking the High Line on a perfectly balmy evening.

Cutting shapes to Britney Spears' "Womanizer' at Madison Square Gardens with a bunch of girlfriends.

And enjoying amazing bruschetta alfresco with some chilled Pinot Grigio at Oscar in Soho last night.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Transient City

As I attended not one but two farewell parties this weekend, I was reminded of the transient nature of New York City. Both friends felt their time was up - one is moving back to London while the other has decided to try his luck in Thailand and enjoy a more sedate lifestyle for a while.

I believe that transience is quite unique to New York and an intrinsic part of the social dynamics in the sense that it changes the way friendships are formed (and perhaps one could argue also the volatile nature of romantic relationships). I met most of my friends here through shared UK connections - it is very natural for people to meet up with friends of friends if they have just moved to the City and quickly include them in their own social group. There is a common acknowledgment that the City can be a big and daunting place if you don't know anyone. It makes building new friendships in the City a much faster process but it also creates a fairly tight knit expat community as I am finding now that a lot of my friends here are British.

It is with a little sadness that I am facing this first wave of departures but I also have long been preparing myself for it. As with any expatriate community, a lot of people have no real sense of how long they will be staying in their new adopted City. But I also know first hand that true friendships can withstand geographical distances.

At least, goodbye parties make for memorable evenings. K's party on Saturday night was a pretty wild affair - we started with drinks at Madame X, a small and dark Soho bar modeled after a bordello with crimson walls and odd paintings on the walls, before hopping in a taxi to Fat Baby. We danced relentlessly until four o'clock in the morning and although I paid the price for it dearly the next day, I still have the awesome beats of DJ Kool's "Let me clear my throat" running through my head and putting a smile on my face two days later!

On the other hand, S had opted for a relaxed dinner gathering on Sunday night to bide her farewell to New York. A group of about ten of us went to Public, which may well become one of my new staple restaurants in Noho. We opted for the amazing Sunday tasting menu and were in for a little surprise ... The restaurant was primarily filled with the head chef's friends (who happen to include the actress Julia Stiles who was sitting at the table next to us) for a special screening of his appearance on Iron Chef America, where he won the challenge ... with the exact menu we had just sampled!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Lover

One of the things people most often ask me about my life in New York is what dating really is like in the City.

The thing is that I don't really do dating. Primarily because I seem to only possess an on/off relationship switch with nothing in between - I either fall in love (which has only happened to me twice) or I just want very casual fun. In the latter instances, I am terrifyingly commitment phobic and basically run away before anything even resembling a relationship can materialize.

But in the anthropological experiment that is New York City I recently met a strange and rare species, the Relationship Guy, and somehow fell into the dating trap. I certainly fought against it and most of my friends only know him by the nickname I gave him from the start: "The Lover". But I enjoyed his company and therefore decided to at least try for a change .... or my own dysfunctional interpretation of trying anyway.

I was very clear and honest with him from the start about what this was for me - I wanted to keep seeing him but I didn't want us to be a couple. I found excuses not to meet his friends and never gave him the opportunity to meet mine. I usually only made time for him in my schedule once a week, normally after I had already been out with my friends (I believe the technical term is "booty call" - ha ha ha) and I turned down his offers of doing couple things - even when they included innocuous activities like going to the cinema together.

Despite what should have been obvious warning flags, the Lover moved very quickly through the relationship cycle all by himself and much to my horror and panic. A few hours after we first met and upon telling him that I was here on a visa, he made me google the words "Green Card". By our 3rd meeting, he was telling me how much he wanted to meet my family. By the 5th, he told me he was in love with me (I completely freaked out) and by the 6th I had to have the cliche and awkward "it's not you, it's me" conversation.

Even after that, he stuck around with the patience of a Saint or perhaps more accurately that of a mad man. And at the exact point when I was wondering whether I should give him a proper chance or end it once and for all, he went from Relationship Guy (albeit a scarily intense version of him) straight to your garden variety New York man - he stopped calling and basically vanished into thin air with no explanation.

I felt relieved that everything came to an end without anyone's heart being broken. Neither his as, despite his grand words he knew exactly what was going on and I am convinced that I did not hurt his feelings - I was on the wrong side of unrequited love once and would never wish it on my worst enemy, let alone put someone through it knowingly. Nor mine as I never invested myself emotionally in the relationship.

However, this latest experience does nothing to change my perception that New York men are, quite frankly, complete freaks. I hate to generalize but I can't think of any other reasons why I just do not understand them and all my single girlfriends feel the same way.

Of course, I am far from being perfect myself and I carry my own complex emotional baggage, my own little dose of freakiness. But I am more convinced than ever that having a straight forward relationship in New York, one that unfolds at a standard pace or without undue complications, is nearly impossible.

So dating in New York City? Not for the faint hearted although it does provide plenty of funny stories to share with girlfriends over a few glasses of wine ... The key is simply to lower your expectations quite substantially and to keep your heart well out of it!


I haven't written about my new restaurant finds in quite a while. It's not that I don't discover new places anymore, but I guess New York is not quite the brand new adventure playground that it used to be for me. I have lived here for two and a half years now and it is home so I don't feel the urge to try as many things as possible with the same sense of urgency as I did before.

I have also very much come to terms with the fact that I am an Uptown girl and a lot of my regular eateries now are either on the Upper West Side (where I live) or in Tribeca (where I work). Both neighbourhoods are a little more "homely", less showy and trendy than Soho or the Meat Packing district, and therefore suit me far better.

Sushi of Gari - Columbus Avenue btw 78th & 79th, UWS
I'm a huge fan of sushi and cannot wait for my trip to Japan next month, where I hope to sample the best in the world at the Tsukiji fish market. In the mean time, Sushi of Gari, located near the National History Museum, will more than do. It is by far the most inventive and delicate sushi I have tried and considering that I have had the chance to dine at Nobu, it is no small feat. The decor itself is fairly non-descript and minimalist in a rather clinical way, but this is not your average corner sushi restaurant - the Okamase (which I heartily recommend) and a bottle of wine will easily set you back $150 per person. It is well worth the treat - the waitress will bring you each of the chef's specials of the day until you beg for mercy. With a bit of luck, they will include the simply amazing tuna nigiri with a dollop of creamy tofu puree and salmon nigiri with roasted tomato on top amongst many other delicacies.

Mermaid Inn - Amsterdam Avenue btw 87th & 88th, UWS
This is one of the places that Marie & I regularly frequent, especially if we are feeling lazy as it is only a couple of blocks away from our respective apartments. The Mermaid Inn is famous for its mainly French inspired cuisine and has a compact but fail safe menu of perennial seafood classics. The atmosphere is incredibly laid back yet refined, the service attentive but not pushy and the beautiful vintage maps adorning the exposed brick walls set your mind traveling to distant shores. We both prefer to eat at the bar counter, perched up on the high stools and invariably order the same thing: a bottle of the delicious house Rose, half a dozen local oysters and the tasty pan-fried skate wing. I also love the complimentary cup of dark chocolate mousse they offer at the end of the meal.

Hi Life - Amsterdam Avenue btw 84th & 83rd, UWS
Hi Life is very much my go-to neighbourhood restaurant and bar. The food is good, plentiful and affordable and spans anything from American classics (burgers and fries) to sushi - while this is normally not a good sign, it works there as they execute every type of cuisine perfectly. The bar area has a speakeasy feel which is particularly cosy during the cold winters. In the summers, I like to sit outside and watch the world go by. It's quite a famous little institution here on the Upper West Side as the bar played a central role in an independent movie of the same name. I just like the fact that I can go there wearing yoga pants, a little white vest and not a scrap of make-up (like I did last Sunday) and not feel out of place or self-conscious.

Flor Del Sol - Greenwich btw Harrison & Franklin, Tribeca
I have a sentimental attachment to this place as my friend Fionuala and I have made a habit of meeting there for tapas when we want to have a long, leisurely catch up. We always sit at the same table in the minuscule outdoor patio, set right on the street on a lovely corner of Tribeca. And we also always order the shrimp ceviche, ham croquettes and the pan-fried chorizo with plenty of bread to mop up the smoky juices, along with our favourite Chardonnay of course.

Ivy's - Greenwich at Moore Street, Tribeca
My friend Kim introduced me to Ivy's a couple of months ago and I loved it straight away. This is my kind of place - small and intimate, with a tiny outdoor area and friendly service by what seems to be young wannabe actors (it reminds me of LA in that way). Their traditional Italian fare is hearty, generous and delicious. Many evenings have been spent there with a bunch friends since, sipping wine on balmy evenings while sharing their fantastic brushetta and antipasto or filling up on spicy sausage pasta.

Friday, July 24, 2009


I finally have the time to report back from my trip with the girls. A roadtrip is always an exciting adventure but many of my American friends in particular were surprised by our choice of destination. As neither particular fans of country music or fried food, a drive through Virginia and Tennessee seemed like an odd choice but not one that I regret. It is a well known fact that New York is unique, almost an anomaly, but it became even more obvious to us as we progressed further South and we very much felt like we were visiting a different country altogether.

But first, there were two instrumental players on the trip. Starting with "Chad", as we had ironically named our beautiful convertible car. Chad drove very much like a tank but the trip would not have been the same without him. Having the roof down all the time, with the music blaring out (we evolved an amusing car dance routine to the Black Eyed Peas "Boom Boom Pow" which kept coming up on the radio) and the wind blowing in our hair added an invaluable thrill and fun element as well as guaranteeing a suntan. And how else would we have been able to dry our bikinis after a swim but by hanging them at the back of our seats and let the wind do its job!?
The second, but no less valuable character, was my beloved Iphone. We shunned traditional paper maps and relied on Google Maps to tell us exactly where we were, how to get to our destination and how long it would take. The Starbucks locator app was also a lifesaver, especially in the mornings - you can take a girl out of New York ...

It is difficult to pick out memories from such a diverse trip, filled with so many new experiences ... Enjoying a huge pile of steaming hot whole spice rubbed crabs at Obryki's on our quick pit stop in Baltimore. Staying in our first motel in Virginia which looked like it belonged to a horror movie film set. Driving through the verdant gentle hills of the Shenandoah valley. Arriving in Pigeon Forge Tennessee to find that instead of being the quaint village I had pictured it to be, it was essentially a miniature version of Las Vegas - minus the casinos but packed with themed restaurants and tacky souvenir shops. Staying in a secluded log cabin for a couple of days at the foot of the Smoky Mountains, complete with rustic decor, fireplaces and a huge terrace overlooking the forest with an outdoor jacuzzi and a barbecue. Falling in love with s'mores (a wonderful American bbq/camping tradition I had never had before) which consists of letting a marshmallow brown over the fire before squeezing it between two Graham crackers and a piece of Hershey dark chocolate.

Our short stay in the Smoky Mountains was also the more adventurous part of our trip as we went river tubing (a normally relaxing affair except for the part where Marie nearly drowned!) and also ziplined through the forest, which despite being a much tamer version of the ziplining I did in Costa Rica, was still a lung bursting experience. We even visited Dollyworld purely out of comedy value - we were disappointed to find no statue of Dolly Parton there which ruined our plan of having our picture taken groping her considerable assets although Marie and Libs improvised with a life-size picture of her instead!

Nashville's heart beats to the sound of country music, which I expected, but what I didn't was how much a party town it is. After a brief attempt at line dancing (which is much harder than it looks) at the Wild Horse, we spent our two evenings there crawling honky tonk joints. Bustling dive bars and a very friendly atmosphere where the backdrop to rugged looking singers in cowboy hats and boots belting out country music classics, one of which includes probably one of the best chorus line in music history: "save a horse, ride a cowboy". While I cannot possibly divulge whether we did save a horse while we were there, let's just say that if you are a girl looking for fun then Nashville is the place to be!

Memphis offered a stark contrast to Nashville, firstly by its size but also because of its state of derelict - lovely residential areas seemed to be lost in between long stretches of desolated buildings and boarded up houses, giving it a definite unsafe edge. I wanted to look beyond appearances but as we were making our way to a supposedly great soul food restaurant in the outskirts of town and drove past policemen handcuffing a group of teenagers in the street, I agreed with the rest of the girls that we should lock the car doors and head back downtown! But despite this, we very much loved Memphis. We stayed at the Peabody Hotel on our first night and watched its famous ducks march to the pond in the morning. We hit Beale Street and listened and danced to live music. We had the best ribs in town and a side a slaw at Rendez Vous. We visited Sun Studios, where a young and unknown Elvis walked in one day to record a song for his mum ... very much feeling the weight of history in this tiny place where not only Elvis but also Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and BB King's talents, amongst many others, were first spotted. No visit to Memphis is complete without seeing Graceland of course, which is surprisingly not as ostentatious as one would imagine and feels more like a museum dedicated to interior design circa 1970 (not a good year for interior designing, that's for sure). A tour of the National Civil Rights museum was an eye-opening and emotional end to our trip as we learnt, much to our horror, that some of the last segregation laws were only abolished in the South in the late sixties ...

Throughout the trip, I was fascinated by some of the cultural differences we encountered. Small ones like people saying hello to us in the streets, strangers striking up conversations easily or the fact that every single waiter was shocked that we wanted to split our bill four ways (it appears people pay for their own share in the South). But also larger ones like the prevalence of religion everywhere we went. The church to inhabitants ratio was staggeringly high and it appeared that professing your religion with car stickers was mandatory, my favourite ones reading "Jesus loves", "God knows", "Keep Christ in Christmas" and the guilt-inducing "If you feel ignored, guess how God feels now". I also chuckled at all the self-proclaimed "Christian stores", selling anything from books to furniture, all approved by God himself I presume ...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Starting something

Marie, Libs, Caroline and I are embarking on our much anticipated road trip together tomorrow morning. We will be driving South over the course of a week, loosely planning to stop over in Baltimore, Blacksburg VA, Pigeon Forge in the heart of the Blue Smoky Mountains, Nashville and finally Memphis before hopping on a flight back to New York. I will no doubt be blogging about the trip upon my return, but we've already had a spectacular start.

We picked up our rental car at La Guardia airport tonight, a sleek and sexy Chryster Sebring convertible with the tiniest trunk ever designed once the roof is down - we are going for looks rather than practicality here, much in the same way we tend to pick our men come to think of it!

Marie bravely volunteered to drive us back to the City even though, like the rest of us, she had never driven in Manhattan before. After spending some time getting used to driving an automatic (as it turns out, using your "otherwise unaccustomed to being left idle" left foot to brake is really not a good idea!), we confidently set off, admired the view of the glittering skyline as we crossed the Robert Kennedy bridge and entered the City in Spanish Harlem.

We drove West on 125th and upon nearing the Apollo Theatre, we heard Michael Jackson's "Wanna be starting something" loudly playing in the street. The traffic slowed to a stand still in front of the famous landmark which was packed with crowds of fans waving pictures and banners, singing and dancing to the music while all the surrounding cars were beeping in unison. The atmosphere was electric, somewhat surreal, but I was happy to see people publicly celebrating his work rather than breaking down hysterically.

What a perfect way (and soundtrack) to be "starting something", even more so when it is a trip to America's historically laden Deep South with great girlfriends.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


At the end of my first year of blogging, I came across a website called which enables you to turn blogs into customized, high quality hardcover books relatively easily.

Despite a slight guilty feeling of self-indulgence, I couldn't resist and have since got two books printed from the posts I published in 2007 and 2008. It's a little treat for myself - I really enjoy leafing through them from time to time, looking at the pictures and reminiscing about the experiences I have been through and the events I have been lucky enough to witness since moving to New York, such as Obama's historical victory.

But above all, if I do eventually leave this wonderful City, the books will be original mementos of my time here ... tangible traces of my adventures and fluctuating state of mind.

So go on, treat yourself as well - I highly recommend it.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Case in point

I had drinks with a couple of my account directors from our media buying agency the other night. I had always thought that the guy, J, was gay. Nothing in particular suggests it apart maybe from his collection of almost exclusively pink shirts ...

Anyway, my gaydar is clearly failing me quite spectacularly as he spent most of the time rubbing my back and even, much to my horror (as I don't like him in that way), touching my hair. At this stage I was still really hoping he was gay, but the conversation we proceeded to have proved me very, very wrong.

He asked me if I was dating and I said "kind of". Then he asked if I was in love and I could not help but burst into laughter. I told him that I had given up on New York men as potential serious relationship material a long time ago. He asked me why and I explained that when you've been seeing someone for a month as I have and yet are seriously considering asking the guy if he may already have a girlfriend*, you know that you have spent too much time in New York already ...

He seemed perplexed and I explained that a lot of men here seem to have a "don't ask, don't tell" attitude in that unless they are specifically asked they can quite casually go on without mentioning a small, insignificant detail like being in a relationship already. At this point, J reached over to me, touched my leg and said "I'm not like that", only to be interrupted by the other account director who exclaimed "J, you not only have a girlfriend but you also live together!" ... to which he replied, completely undeterred, "yeah but I'm not married!".

Case in point indeed.

* I asked. He doesn't.

Friday, May 22, 2009


I went to my lovely friend F's birthday party at the weekend. She had picked an Irish pub, primarily because she is of Irish descent but also because the birthday girl gets to drink for free there and her guests for half-price. I must say that it wasn't exactly my kind of watering hole (large TV sceens, wet floors from all the alcohol spilled) but we had fun and danced to incredibly cheesy tunes while singing at the top of our lungs until the early hours of the morning.

What struck me about the evening however is that I felt I was on the set of a wildlife documentary ... F had invited some of her girlfriends but primarily a lot of her gay male friends. A couple of the girls in particular seemed frustrated about that - complaining to me that they were never going to find a man if they hung out with gay guys all the time. It's at that time that my friend K turned up and came over to give me a hug and say hello.

It's like the atmosphere changed in a split second. I had brought with me the only single, straight guy to the party! Not only that but one that also happens to not be bad looking and can actually string two intelligent sentences together. The two girls in question immediately asked me who he was and whether we were seeing each other - turning before my very eyes into what I can only describe as predators. I explained that K and I are just good friends and the hunt started to unfold with both girls trying to get some alone chatting time with him.

K and I spent most of the time hanging out together and I could feel the predators getting increasingly frustrated ... their evil stares at me turning into full blown sulking from one of them towards the end of the evening. I wasn't trying to get in the way at all and in fact made a conscious effort not to, but K and I get on well and were happy to catch up.

I unwittingly delivered the coup de grace when K and I left the party together to share a cab as we both live on the West side. I could almost feel imaginary knives being thrown at me as I turned my back to walk away.

K and I chatted about it on the way home - about how as a single, straight guy in New York, you can sometimes feel like a prey. Not that he is complaining about it much though but I get the feeling that it does get a little tiring after a while.

Have I ever felt like a prey? I'm not sure I would even realise .. most of the time I am blissfully unaware that I am even getting chatted up in the first place unless the guy makes it blatantly obvious - it's one of my quirks that my friends find highly amusing when a typical exchange after an evening out might go "Steph, that guy was hitting on you" - "Really?! I thought he was just being friendly!!!".

Sunday, May 17, 2009


I recently realised that most of my life can happily be lived within a 5 block radius and that I don't have to walk for more than 10 minutes to get everything I want or need.

I think this illustrates the notion of neighbourhood I have often referred to better than words.

Click on the flags and move the map around for descriptions.

View My neighbourhood in a larger map

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Gym

I have always found the gym to be an absolutely fascinating place for people watching - it is unnatural to put human beings of all ages, shapes and sizes in a small space, make them frantically exercise and watch them turn all shades of red while they carefully avoid looking at each other.

As my "February Fitness" burst is still going strong, I have had plenty of opportunities to observe some of the differences between gyms in New York and the ones in London and so far have identified three of them.

1. An unsettling amount of public nudity in the Ladies locker room
I am no prude but I consider it normal that, after having a shower at the gym, one should try to remain covered under towels while discreetly changing back into clothes. It does involve some amount of contortion and dexterity but it is feasible. However, training in the art of not unecessarily exposing one's private parts is not evident here at all.

I have not seen so many naked women since I went to the famous Gellert Baths in Budapest - an experience I found so traumatic at the time that I only lasted 20 minutes in there ... There was only a limited number of times I could deal with rather mature ladies insisting on bending over to pick up seemingly invisible objects from the floor!?!

I am getting slowly used to NYC women's lack of self-consciousness and their general disposition for doing as much as they can completely stark naked - be it leisurely walking around the locker room, chatting to each other for ages or even drying their hair and applying make-up! In fact, I applaud them for that ... but won't be joining them anytime soon!

2. Male bonding
I hate going to the gym when it is packed so I have taken to exercising early Friday evenings, which has lead me to another observation. This particular time slot seems to be the primary setting to the new phenomenon of "man dates". Throngs of men invade the gym at that time and it is endearing, albeit highly amusing, to see them exercising on the weight machines in pairs, coaching and encouraging each other while slyly comparing muscle size. My personal theory though is that they are merely "pumping up" before going out on the pull ...

3. Halfhearted exercising
And finally, I have also been shocked at the number of people who exercise with a Starbucks coffee in one hand and a cell phone in the other. As usual, New Yorkers are uniquely masterful at multi-tasking.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Just Married

Julien, my little baby brother, got married last weekend.

At 27 years old and standing nearly 6 foot tall, there is nothing remotely little or baby-like about him but to me he will always remain the fragile little thing my parents brought home from the hospital when I was 6 years old.

While the vast majority of my coupled-up cousins skipped the wedding step altogether in favour of immediate procreation, my brother was always the more traditional one in our family so it was not a surprise when he announced his engagement to us last year.

I think I have already mentioned that I have a large family as my mother has 10 brothers and sisters, who in turn have up to 3 children each, so the wedding was not a simple affair. Add to that a lot of family friends, as well as Julien and Catherine's own friends, and you are left with an awful lot of people to entertain.

The day started early as my sister & I had our hair done at 8.30am at the local salon. It was quite surreal for me to go back there after a 13 years hiatus but the salon owner (who used to cut my hair when I was a teenager) looked after me and when not lamenting the fact that I don't do anything special with my hair (thanks!), literally bombarded me with questions about my life in London and New York.

We then headed back home and Julien picked us up so we could meet his future wife in a nearby picturesque village for the official wedding pictures with a professional photographer. My sister and I were the "little helpers" during the shoot - our job being to alleviate their pre-wedding nerves, re-arrange Catherine's dress or Julien's tie for the photos and generally carry umbrellas, coats and scarves ...
This was actually the best part of the day for me - Julien, Catherine, Laurie and I are very close and spending that time together as a tight unit, away from the rest of the wedding party, fooling around and laughing was very special for us. It was also when we shed our first tears of the day as Julien welled up when he saw Cath in her wedding dress, prompting us to spontaneously burst into tears at the sight of him crying.

Traditional French weddings follow a long established pattern. They start mid-afternoon with a civil ceremony at the local Townhall, followed by a Church blessing, a "vin d'honneur" (drinks essentially) and finally the wedding dinner and dance - all of which with their own etiquette regarding the guest list.

While only very close friends and family are invited to the civil ceremony (primarily because townhalls tend to be small), a much larger group is welcomed to the Church blessing and the vin d'honneur, in this case just over 200. Catching up with so many people was overwhelming and, I have to admit, rather tiring as I found myself delivering a set of standard answers to the exact same questions that were asked of me: "What is New York like?", "How is the economic crisis affecting you?" and of course the dreaded "Why aren't you married yet?". I had fully expected the latter question (tactfulness is not always a quality the French possess, at least not in my family!) and had already prepared a flippant answer to that one: "One has to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince and I'm having a lot of fun doing just that!". Not entirely true anymore these days as I gave up frogs, princes and anything in between for lent (ha ha!) but seeing their shocked faces provided me with endless amusement.

The dinner and subsequent party are the best part of the whole affair of course and 120 of us attended it in a lovely restaurant that we had hired for the night. The DJ was spinning great tunes after each course and I had almost forgotten how easy it is to get our friends and family on the dance floor. There is no need for ridiculous amounts of alcohol to loosen their inhibitions ... All of us were dancing, widely different age groups happily mixing together, enjoying old-fashioned Waltzes and Tangos as much as the latest pop anthems, until 5 o'clock in the morning! The French are particularly fond of group dancing to well established choreographed moves - it's difficult to describe but there are some songs (like Bonney M's "Rivers of Babylon") that we seem to know the exact dance routines to and can all perform in perfect synchronization. In many ways, it looks just like a flashmob event or this video that a friend helpfully pointed me towards (thank you D!). I also surprised and embarrassed myself by knowing all the lyrics to some 80s French pop songs I hadn't heard since that era - surely ruining any street cred I had left.

But mainly, the lasting memory I will cherish from that day is the overwhelming love I felt for my brother, for his new wife, for my lovely sister, my mum and dad and all our family and friends - very cheesy I know and ever so American of me to be quite so "in touch with my feelings". But I often feel removed from them because my life is so different to theirs, not only geographically but also in its essence, yet the sense of belonging I felt that day reminded me that I am safely part of a group of people all tied together by an unbreakable bound.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


There are few things that make me happier than witnessing newcomers to New York fall in love with it, probably because it re-ignites my own passion for the City every single time.

I was reminded of that fact once again this week as the son of one my parents' friends and his girlfriend stayed with me for a few days. They are both very young (24 and 22 years old respectively) and at first, I was a little nervous about it. I'm not really "au fait" with what kids like these days (especially not french ones) and they are also both countryside lovers rather than city dwellers so I wasn't entirely sure they would actually enjoy their visit.

It certainly didn't look very promising after their first day. I hadn't really given them any advice as they had already planned their itinerary but when they got back to mine that evening, exhausted after doing the tourist sights and complaining about having an atrocious meal near Times Square, I knew that I had to interfere and tell them what to do.

There are some very simple rules to follow when visiting New York to ensure a great visit, which in reverse order are:
5. Spread the obvious tourist sights over several days and don't try to do everything at once - while they are worth seeing and will provide fond memories (the view from the top of the Empire State Building, gazing up at the blinking lights of Times Square, catching a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty for the first time), they are not in any way reflective of what the City is about.
4. Do not ever, ever eat in Times Square or anywhere in its vicinity.An obvious fact for a New Yorker but clearly not for tourists.
3. While I always advocate walking around the City to get a feel for it, there is nothing wrong with hopping in a taxi (or if needs must, the subway) to shorten some of the distances. Manhattan is deceptively large ... on foot.
2. Double the tax to work out the tip in restaurants. And yes, you have to tip when ordering at a bar and when leaving your coat in the cloakroom ($1 per drink/coat).
1. But the number one rule is to ask a New Yorker to draw out an itinerary for you.

I have first hand experience of the importance of this first rule as even though I had visited New York several times before moving here, I never truly discovered it until I became a New Yorker myself.

My favourite places are seldom the ones you find in guide books. I either stumbled upon them by chance, read about them somewhere or, in most cases, my friends here introduced me to them. There is no end to uncovering hidden gems in New York which is why having a New Yorker as a tour guide is so crucial.

In the last few of weeks alone, I have discovered three new spots that I know I will keep going back to over and over again:
- Chelsea Market, housed in an old biscuit factory and home of the TV studios of the Food Network (as well as Google), packs in picturesque little delis and boutiques in an industrial and exposed bricks setting. It is the perfect place to stroll around in with a tall coffee before hitting the Meat Packing district for some serious shopping or as a stop over before walking to the West Village for brunch (or both!).
- N Bar on Crosby street, a tiny bar serving tapas. I have been there three times in as many weeks and during my last visit, my friend Isabelle and I were treated to a live spanish band that miraculously managed to cram a guitarist, a singer and 2 flamenco dancers (whose frantic, rhythmic tap dancing made the floor shake) in a small nook. While it was impossible to hold a conversation during their performance, I loved every minute of it if only because it was so completely unexpected.
- Fat Baby in the Lower East Side. Not a new find as I had been there once shortly after moving here but a completely different experience to my first visit. This time I went with a group of friends on a Friday night, the place was packed and a DJ was spinning brilliant music - the kind that you can not only dance to but also sing along to, as we proceeded to do until the early hours of the morning. So good, that in between dancing my heart out, I could be found hitting the Shazam app on my Iphone to instantly recognize and buy the songs they played on Itunes.

I know that many, many travel guides have been written about New York - but most of them in my experience focus on the obvious sights rather than the City New Yorkers live and breathe in every day.

But without fail, it is my version of the City, the "insider one", that my visitors fall in love with every single time ...

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Yesterday was Valentine's Day and marked my third year as a bona fide "Bridget Jones Singleton" - complete with reluctant scrutiny over my Body Mass Index, cigarettes and alcohol consumption monitoring and occasional parental disapproval.

I have always despised Valentine's day, even when I was one half of a happy couple for 10 years - the crowded restaurants, heart shaped balloons and corny cards were never my thing. But negotiating the rose-tinted cliches of Valentine's day as a single girl is another matter all together and it is an art that I seem to have finally perfected with a little help from my friends.

After grabbing a bite to eat early in order to avoid the pre-set menus and hordes of couples, my girlfriends and I went to see "He's not that into you" at the Loews cinema on 11th and 3rd. The film was as mediocre as I expected it to be (I hate chick flicks) but at least was not as one-sided as I feared it might be in the fact that there were instances of "she's" not that into you as well, which Libs, Marie & I identified with as much as the other way around. What I did like however was the atmosphere in the movie theater. It was clearly filled with disillusioned New York single girls and the unrealistic Hollywood romantic moments were received with loud caustic comments - much to my delight. For example, when Ben Affleck's character produced an engagement ring after swearing he would never get married, someone shouted "yeah ... right!?" and the audience burst into hysterical laughter. We finished the evening in "winebar", a cosy, brick-walled, candle lit bar in the East Village, sharing more laughs over a great cheese platter and an excellent bottle of Malbec.

I sometimes feel that your love life is like a scorecard and you actually need to go through a number of experiences in order to appreciate or even just recognize true love when it finally comes along. Like many of my girlfriends, I seem to have exhausted all the scenarios over the years - the "he's not into you", the "she's not into you" and the horribly confusing "it's complicated", as well as every other shades of grey in between.

Of course, being single is not always easy and it certainly was a shock to me as I have never been single before in my entire adult life. But I am actually grateful for this experience and I know it is something that I have to live through and enjoy, if only because I would have never otherwise experienced all of the above scenarios and therefore missed out on some invaluable life lessons.

There are things I miss from being in a stable, meaningful relationship (although topping the list is having someone helping me change the bed covers - my most hated household chore!) but joke aside, being in a committed relationship is fantastic. I hope I will have that again some day. But in the mean time, I see no point in pining for it and putting my life on hold while waiting for my "knight in shining armor" to magically appear ... there are far too many things I want to do and achieve by myself before that and I'm only getting started.

So here is to another year of filling up my scorecard!


When an impending global economic crisis started to be discussed last Summer, I was firmly in denial about its potential magnitude and impact on my life.

My state of oblivion rapidly changed by the Autumn, when the company I work for announced a 10% reduction of its workforce and I had the horrendous experience of having to let one of my team members go and watch some of my friends lose their jobs. Since then, there is hardly a week passing by at work without yet another alarmist communication from our executive team about new cost cutting measures, salary cuts or how incredibly challenging the current economic environment is.

Adverts on TV have noticeably changed in their tone and nature too in the past few months - from an increasing deluge of commercials about financial security, credit control and retail sales, to even more overt references to our precarious situation like the new ad from Hundai where consumers are encouraged to buy a new model with the guarantee that Hundai will take the car back if they lose their income within a year of purchase.

The bleakness has also spread to the streets of Manhattan. I realized a couple of weeks ago while walking around my neighbourhood that a few restaurants are now either closed or closing and that "For Rent" signs seem to adorn every other shop windows. On Tuesday this week, when Marie & I had planned to grab a couple of drinks at a local wine bar after our gym workout, we were surprised to see that it had closed early. It seems that a lot of establishments throughout the City are doing the same these days. The NY mag even wrote an article about it here.

In these circumstances, it can sometimes be hard to keep a positive outlook on the future. I like to think that I have dealt with a high amount of uncertainty, doubt and risk in the last two years of my personal life but I don't think that anything has prepared me enough for the road ahead and the challenges of 2009. This year will be a test of strength, resilience and adaptability for me and many people.

Will I lose my job? If I do, or decide to leave of my own accord, the chances of getting a visa are now null and I will be forced to move back to London jobless and with a sense of unfinished "New York business" ... The thing is that I love taking risks and yet I hate uncertainty. I crave and actively seek out adventure but secretly yearn for safety. I love surprises but I hate not being in control of my destiny. A constant state of dichotomy shared by many I am sure.

At least even if my New York adventure is cut short, it will be with the knowledge that I lived it to its fullest. It hasn't always been as easy, fun or even as glamourous as it may have appeared on this blog, but it has been incredibly intense and life-forming. I never do anything by half and this has been no exception.

The thing about not being in control however is that you have no choice but surrender yourself to fate - for better or for worse. So for now, I am enjoying each day as it comes and relishing every new memory that this fantastic City is helping me create.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Sometimes a photo can speak a thousand words ... But in short, Miami in the winter = sun, sea, fun, friends and even snakes!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The kindness of strangers

New Yorkers are known for being some of the rudest people on Earth.

While it is true in some cases, I have to say that my experiences point to the contrary. I have met some of the loveliest, most helpful and open-minded strangers in my time here and feel compelled to share some of these encounters.

I once ordered Thai food from a local restaurant to be delivered to my flat. When the delivery man arrived, I was very embarrassed to find out that they only took cash as I had none on me. I apologized profusely but he apologized even more than I did and graciously followed me outside to the nearest ATM. He detected that my accent was not entirely British and upon telling him that I was French, he got really excited. He was originally from Laos and had a passion for France, which is surprising considering our appaling track record in that part of the world. He told me how happy he was to meet a real French person, insisted that we speak French to each other and kissed my hand to say goodbye, which was so embarrassingly endearing.

I can not describe accurately enough the genuine neighbourhood culture of New York but one of its manifestations is that you get to know your "local service providers" very quickly and they always ask how I am with a warm handshake or a hug. Zafar, my concierge, always makes me promise to come back when I leave to go on a trip and when I recently came back from France, tired and crumpled from traveling for almost 20 hours (via an extended stop over in London), Mohammed the street stall owner told me that I had been away for exactly 13 days ... although he probably only counted because my cigarette habit alone pays for his mortgage!

In my building, everyone in the lifts makes small talk and strokes any dogs that happen to be in tow. I may not know their name and they don't know mine but there is at least acknowledgment that we live in the same place. I remember one of my friends telling me a story about 2 people who lived in the same building in London for 40 years and only talked to each other for the first time when a fire got them out of bed at 3am one night. I'm sure this happens in New York too of course.

If I ever look remotely lost or confused on the subway, usually when I am going to the Lower East Side as the subway maze to get there is mind-boggling, there is always someone who will ask me if I'm OK and need help to get to my destination. Every single time.

Sometimes, the kindness does go a little too far. I have been asked out on dates by various taxi drivers, the most notable one being an older gentleman who openly told me about having 2 daughters and a wife back in India. Mostly, my taxi drivers have been from all corners of the world and speak many more languages than I could ever hope to master.

I think that New Yorkers are only rude if you have the wrong attitude. If you are open and willing to accept that you don't know everything, New Yorkers will be the most helpful and friendliest people you could ever hope to meet.