Thursday, September 30, 2010


One of the things that you quickly notice when moving to New York is that all the women are immaculately groomed.

Perfectly manicured nails/toes and impeccably arched eye-brows are the norm, rather than the exception.

In fact, I am convinced that there are more nail parlors and waxing salons in the City than Starbucks stores - and that’s saying something!

The “beauty” of them is that they are cheap. Whereas in London a manicure is a rare luxury costing north of $80, in New York you can walk away from any corner street nail salon with a perfect one for $15 at most, including tip.

I didn’t give into the wonders of this ritual until quite a few months of living here. But a friend of mine suggested a girlie trip to our local salon once and I have never looked back since. The whole experience, even in what might look like a slightly run-down place, is pure heaven and I like the ritual as much as the end result.

You first walk in and say what you’d like done to any of the ladies, who are usually busily attending to other customers. The wait is either nonexistent or very brief and you are told to choose from the vast array of nail polishes they have available on a high shelf (you can also bring your own).

Upon sitting down at a small (but perfectly constructed for the purpose) table, your manicurist will carefully remove any previous polish, soak each of your hands in a warm soapy solution, apply a mysterious serum, push back and/or cut your cuticles as needed and proceed to cut or trim your nails to your desired shape. She will then apply a moisturising lotion (which has been warmed up in a special cabinet) to your hands and massage it only to then wipe it off afterwards with an even hotter towel - the most heavenly part of the ritual for me . After this, you will be asked to pay - this used to surprise me until I realised that you can’t reach into your purse with a fresh manicure. 

The polish application part can then commence with an undercoat, two coats of your chosen polish and finally a top coat being applied, after which you are taken to a drying station and given a brief (but wonderful) back rub while you wait.  You will be left with nails more unbelievably perfect and polished than you could ever have imagined and thereby catch yourself admiring them at any given opportunity - like when you are grabbing on a subway pole while commuting, writing notes at work or even pointing at random things. It’s weird I know, but girls will understand me on this one.

The whole process takes at least 45 minutes from start to finish and is therefore not something you can do if you are in a hurry. You have to build it into your schedule as I do now on a bi-weekly basis, usually on a Saturday morning after the gym but before brunch.

I have come to consider it the best “me” time I can get. The only time when I am not checking my emails or talking on the phone. When I can truly feel disconnected from the rest of the world as I watch in absolute awe the expert skills of the manicurist tending to my nails, each coat of polish seemingly soothing my otherwise hectic mind.

I don’t even have to talk as chit-chat is not really encouraged in such places. I have seen many women yapping on their phones while getting their nails done but I consider it to be rude to the manicurist and I prefer to sit there in silence, occasionally smiling and telling them what a wonderful job they are doing. I do however remember a conversion with a girl who was giving me a pedicure once and told me that in her country looking at feet, let alone touching them, was forbidden and that she cried the first time she had to do it. This only made me more respectful (and guilty) of the work they do so skillfully and perhaps unwillingly do to make ends meet. I always tip generously to make up for it - my lowly contribution to a strange system, I realise.

I have yet to indulge in eye-brow threading - a practice that still instill incredible fear in me, not lessened by the fact that every eye-bow threading shops in the City advertise their services by playing a constant loop video of said procedure in their store window for every passers-by to see. They make it look painless and almost pleasurable. I don’t believe them.

One thing at the time ...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Campbell Apartment

A couple of my oldest friends are making great progress in launching their business into the US market which is not only great news for them, but also for me as it means they have to make frequent business trips to New York as a result.

This gives us the opportunity to leisurely catch up over several evenings, rather than the usual crazy schedule I have when I visit London as I always try to fit it seeing as many friends as possible.

So when my friend SM spent a week here for meetings after attending South By South West in Austin a few months ago that's exactly what we did. We pretty much spent every evenings together and SM gamely followed me on a tour of some of my favourite New York haunts, from live Jazz at The Garage to expensive but exquisite sushi at Gari's, all the way to late night drinks at Hi-Life. But we also went to a place that had long been on my list to try - The Campbell Apartment in Grand Central.

Drinking in a train station may sound far from glamorous but Grand Central is probably the most beautiful, serene and grandiose station in the world and I love having fiery Bloody Marys at Cipriani on the raised concourse while watching the world go by. But this time, I wanted to try something different and SM and I made our way (with some difficulty as it is hard to find the entrance) to the Campbell Apartment instead.

The strict dress-code (no jeans or t-shirts) ensures that this grandiose drinking den is fairly clear of tourists. The "apartment" was the former office of rail road executive John W Campbell who had it built in 1923 to resemble a 13th Century Florentine palace. It takes a few minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness but entering this space is like stepping back in time, complete with an atmosphere of quiet and old-world luxury. One almost feels in a museum and we almost reluctantly raised voices above whispering level when asking the hostess for a table. Their cocktails are also to die-for.

SM is coming back to New York in a few weeks time and has already requested that we go back. I shall gladly oblige of course.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Oyster Fest

Lots of people. Lots of oysters. Lots of margeritas. But nothing can beat a slice of pizza to finish a day that lasted well into the night!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


The weather here can be so extreme that it always brings the word "Armageddon" to my mind because sometimes it is so bad, that it can feel just like the end of the world. This kind of weather is largely unknown to us Europeans, apart from (thankfully) rare spectacular floodings.

As most of you will know, that was the case last Thursday when severe storms hit the City and violent winds tore through parts of Brooklyn, uprooting numerous trees and damaging properties and people in its wake.

I was at a work happy hour when it started. The skies turned black and the gusts of winds and pouring rain - even while in the safety of a bar - were very scary. My friend LJ sent me the above picture of his street near Park Slope that he took on his iPhone.

The storm finished almost as quickly as it started. The New York Times has some haunting pictures of its aftermath here.

Pomander Walk

I spend a good amount of my time trying to find out about little known New York spots so when I stumbled across a mention of Pomander Walk in my Upper West Side neighbourhood, I had to go and check it out myself.

Pomander Walk consists of a dozen or so Tudor houses, squeezed in between rows of perfectly modern and much taller buildings on 96th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue. I have since learned that it was created in 1921 by an entrepreneur who originally intended to build a hotel on the site but was unable to secure adequate funding. These English style houses were built instead and have been a residential haven ever since. The name originates from an old London street and a stage play.

While it is not possible to walk through its iron gates (unless you know someone who lives there), peering through them is like taking a charming, almost whimsical, and certainly completely unexpected step back in time.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

San Diego Fun

I was in San Diego with LJ (a.k.a my gay best friend) for a few days. We've been going together for the past 3 years as we attend the same annual Media conference there in beautiful Coronado Bay.

We've always managed to make a fun trip out of it and this year was no different.

We visited the fantastic and famous San Diego zoo and saw everything from Pandas to black Panthers and Flamingos.

We did silly things with inflatable ponies and took pictures of it (most 5 year-olds have a more sophisticated sense of humour than we do!).

We experienced the tremors of an earth quake in the middle of the night.

And we even cycled to Mexico - granted, the border is only about 8 miles from where we were staying but I certainly never thought I would ever be able to say that I actually cycled there!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

To Do

I love everything about making lists - writing them, adding to them, crossing items off them ...

I always keep a list of clothes & shoes I want to buy, household chores, work tasks and projects, packing lists, movies to see, music to download, books to read, restaurants/bars I want to try as well as the ones I have been to ... but perhaps the most fun of all my lists is the never ending, always growing, one of things I still want to see and experience in New York.

So I thought I would share just a couple of my “To Do’s” in the City coming up in the next month or so.

Queues waiting for Eataly to open last week!
 Graze around Eataly
 The latest Mario Batali venture is a huge Italian market/restaurant/grocery store opposite Madison Square Park near the Flatiron called "Eataly".

I actually popped in there with my brother and sister last week but I think the beautifully designed and wonderfully stocked space requires a more thorough exploration. As it is, I got an enticing sneak peek at their extensive range of cheese, wine, fresh pasta, vegetables, meat and fish.

And as there is nothing I love more than a platter of cheese and cold meats washed down with an excellent red wine (which is what is served at various high chairs & tables dotted throughout), this is at the very top of my list!

Stone Street by Katz & The City(c)
Go to the Stone Street Oyster Festival
I used to be very sceptikal about oysters and frankly quite grossed out. While it is customary to eat them every Christmas in France, I was never one to partake.

But in NYC, oysters are bountiful, delicious, cheap and served pretty much everywhere - so when I moved here and started meeting my friends for Happy Hour drinks after work, I saw them sharing huge platters of the things ... and I really felt like I should give them another try and now I love them!

This annual festival takes place on September 25th this year in cute and cobbled Stone Street (one of the oldest streets in the City, in the heart of the Financial District) and the restaurants and bars lining it will be hosting tasting sessions, but also serve lots of beer and feature live music acts. I believe that another festival will also simultaneously be held at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central.

Photo Alexandre Rizos (c)
Watch the Bryant Park Petanque Tournament
What can I say? I am still French after all! Petanque is a very old and traditional game played most prevalently in the South of France.

I (like every other French child I would assume) grew up playing it and while I don't normally seek out French activities around the City, there cannot be a Petanque tournament in Bryant Park without me at least seeing it briefly!

This particular tournament will be taking place on September 28th & 29th but I understand that there are some throughout the year, as well as free lessons available, weather permitting - you can find more details here.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


After being away from home for almost 15 years now, you'd think that saying goodbye to my family would get easier. It doesn't. And waving my sister and brother farewell this time around was no different. I miss them more than words can express.

But we will always have the memories - walking for hours up and down Manhattan (and even Brooklyn!), sharing new experiences together, laughing and talking late into the night while sipping delicious cocktails.

Below are just some of my favourite shots we took during their stay.

Cycling in Central Park
Walking in the Meatpacking District

Near Gramercy Park
On the High Line

High Line
View from my living room window
Classic NYC
Charlie Parker Jazz Festival @ Tompkins Square Park
Rowing on the Lake

Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Perfect Weekend

I have just had the most perfect, quintessential New York weekend and I don't think that there is a single thing I would want to change about it.

Starting with the cast of characters. My sister had been with me for just over a week when my brother skyped us to say that he had booked a last minute flight arriving in NYC on Friday night. He hadn't planned on joining us so this was a fantastic surprise and being able to spend so much quality sibling time together is a rare and wonderful luxury.

The setting was of course the City itself in all its glorious late summer beauty, the soaring temperatures made enjoyable by a complete lack of humidity in the air, and clear blue skies that made the perfect frame to every pictures we took.

We loaded up on various combinations of bagels, lox and eggs at Barney Greengrass, one of the oldest Jewish deli in the City and much beloved institution that happens to be just one block away from my apartment, as mentioned before.

We leisurely strolled all around the Lower East Side, Nolita, Soho and the West Village. We dipped our toes in the Washington Square fountain while watching the break dancers performing breathtaking stunts and watched a special screening of Woody Allen's classic "Manhattan" in Central Park while sharing a lovely picnic on the lawn.

We took my favourite boat trip around the City on the NYHRC yacht, complete with buffet lunch and bar. Unbeknown to me, the route changed slightly this year and afforded us better views of Governors and Roosevelt islands, the latter in particular (which used to house a psychiatric hospital and is pretty much in ruins bar a couple of apartment buildings) offering a stark contrast to the modern buildings behind it.

Amazingly my favourite Jazz vocalist of all times, Jimmy Scott (who at 85 years old only performs once a year), happened to be playing at the Charlie Parker Jazz festival in Tompkins Square Park on Sunday and we were lucky enough to listen to his incredible, emotional and "back of the neck hair-raising" renditions of a his classics.

We wondered around Chelsea market and all its small specialist food vendors and boutiques after buying one of the best coffees in the City at 9th Street Expresso.

We strolled the length of the High Line which I love because people tend to go high above ground to get a view of the City so the High Line (at just a few storeys high) offers a completely different perspective of it.

And finally, we completed our long weekend with a round of shooting golf balls as hard as we could at the Chelsea Piers driving range - a first for me and a highly recommended experience because it's not only a great stress buster but the views across the Hudson and onto New Jersey are pretty spectacular!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

About me - Part 3

With my baby brother
Here is the third (and final) installment of my interview with Amelie from The Heimweh Safari.

As before, you can read it below here or on her blog.


Here’s the third and last part of my conversation with Stephanie (read part 1 and 2 and go to her fabulous blog) where she talks about what she likes about NYC in general and— attention, all uptown expats!—in particular. On top of that, she lets us know where she finds good bread and cheese and gives some good advice for the NYC-newbie.

What do you love most about NYC? Name three reasons why living in NYC is better than living in Europe.
  • Convenience – I can’t think of any city in Europe that is truly as “open 24/7” as New York is. From supermarkets, to restaurants and bars. This is truly the city that never sleeps. 
  • Weather – perhaps this is more in comparison to London/Paris than other more southern European cities, but you can’t beat New York’s weather. The winters may be bitterly cold but they are short – temperatures don’t usually become bone-chilling until early January and by March, a light coat/jacket can be worn again. Summers are hot and long, the heat normally lasting well into October, to leave in its place the most glorious autumn I have ever experienced with its mild temperatures and constant bright sunshine. 
  • Energy – I have often tried (and failed) to describe the energy of New York both in my blog and also to people who haven’t been here before. In the end, it can only be understood when experienced firsthand. But what I know for sure is that I have never felt quite this level of raw, almost frantic, restless energy in any other cities I have visited in the world.

Name your three top favorite places in NYC.
It’s so hard to choose just three but if I have to be ruthless, I would go with:

  • Grand Central station – my long-standing favourite building in the City, which still sends shivers down my spine whenever I enter the main concourse. 
  • Central Park – not very imaginative but I am pretty sure it would make every New Yorker’s top 3 list. It’s just so diverse - from the densely populated southern part with the zoo and Sheep Meadows in particular attracting the largest crowds, to the quieter areas around the Harlem Meer and the botanical gardens, I love it all. My favorite way to explore it is by bicycle and I am lucky enough to live just a few minutes away from the reservoir so I can get my nature fix easily by just walking around.
  • The area around the National History Museum – not only do I love the museum itself, but at the weekends there are some cool artisan market stalls lining Columbus, as well as an antique fair on the corner of 77th. The block is also packed with boutiques stocking small designers, my favorite sushi restaurant (Sushi of Gari) is on 78th and there is also a Pinkberry. What’s not to love!?

How do you deal with the city's crazy price level? Where do you find your best bargains?

 Compared to London, I don’t find New York expensive at all to be honest and I am a terribly bad bargain hunter, so not the best person to provide insights on this.

Where do you find decent bread in this city? And affordable cheese?
Great question to ask a French person! Whenever my family visits, we embark on an endless and by now ritual quest to find an authentic baguette. We have deemed the ones from Balthazar bakery, Dean & Deluca and Whole Foods to be poor imitations, and found the ones we picked up in the delis in my Upper West Side neighborhood to be either too soggy or too hard. In the end, we found a decent version at the Food Emporium, so I would recommend that.

Good cheese however is much easier to find and Fairway, Zabars and Dean & Deluca have pretty good selections of French and Italian cheeses although I am not sure they would necessarily count as affordable. I have been told that Murray’s Cheese Shop in the West Village is amazing but have yet to check it out for myself.

Do you have important advice for the NYC-newbie?

Enjoy it! Learn to take the rough with the smooth as there will be plenty of both. New York is not the easiest place to live in at first and making friends as soon as possible is crucial. The first couple of years can feel like a roller-coaster ride, but it is always exhilarating and remember: when you make it here, you really can make it anywhere. ;-)