Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Paris vs. New York

Since I began writing this blog, I have followed a few others.  The ones I read often are listed on my profile page.  A new one called Paris Versus New York, a tally of two cities came to my attention today (thank you, God, I Love Paris).
It's obvious what's going on here.  The graphics are clever, as are the concepts and cultural difference that are being visually compared. 

It's just a bit of fun, for a lover of both cities.  In this contest, there are no losers, only two winners, though what would we do if we couldn't compare and contrast, brag and whine?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Not My Style

We haven't talked much about my style in clothes.  Well, why would we?  No one cares about that but me.  And that's as it should be.  We each have our own style, or as spoken by Terrance McNally's imagined Maria Callas in "Master Class," which I recently saw on Broadway and loved, "Get yourself a LOOK!"

My "look" isn't this.
However, on Friday, a workday, a day-before-all-mass-transit-was-shut-down-for-an-epic-hurricane day, I walked all over the Upper East Side (its trottoirs more accustomed to the click-clack of Manolos and Louboutins), wearing these land boats (as a friend likes to refer to his hiking boots) to break them in.  I'm planning to head to Ireland for some hiking (also not typically my style, but we should all be open to change, I'm telling myself a lot these days), and I didn't want to face blisters over there wearing brand new shoes.

But, geez, I hope I don't see anyone I know.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene, and post-Irene

Others will say more, and better, about Hurricane Irene and its impact.  I can only speak to my little world of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, especially since the subways have been shut down since yesterday and are likely to stay that way for at least another 24 hours.  Perhaps if the winds that are still whipping die down by tomorrow, I will do my moving about as a bike commuter to travel to other parts of town.

But, first yesterday.  Much was closed, including Joe, my regular coffee source on Columbus.  It seemed a good time to try MUD, which opened up right across the street from Joe, and perhaps would have been a Caffeinated Weekends post, which I am behind on.  It was not to be.  I got in this line, and then a sweet smiling young lady informed me that they were going to close and that the man in front of me was going to be the final customer.  Who can argue with hurricane-panic logic?
So I took a walk over to Riverside Park to see how the Hudson River was doing.  I did a double-take to see a cruise ship pulling out of its midtown pier to start an Atlantic Ocean cruise.  Wait, what?!?  My stomach was churning at the thought of being on that ship, tossing my way into the hurricane.  Wonder how that worked out.
After that, one more trip to the supermarket somehow seemed in order, heeding all media advice and marching in the steps of the other Manhattan lemmings.  I found that the beer aisle had been hit hard.

 So, too, the meat case.
However, herring was plentiful.  (I'm surprised Bloomberg didn't remind us all to stock up on pickled fish, too.)
On the way home, I noticed a number of picture-takers in front of Town Shop.  Again, I wondered?  I'd already gotten my photo op yesterday, I thought.  But, no!  A new sign had been added, echoing the sentiment most Manhattan residents wish their neighborhood cafés, restaurants and bars had also felt. 
Because, man, were we bored yesterday, just wandering up and down Broadway with that glazed look in our eyes.  What would be next?  Were we really ready?  Or was this just busy work for the main event over which we knew we had absolutely no control?

Today, after Irene passed through us, there was more walking, and again, today I was back at Riverside Park, to see what nature can do, as a result of my first hurricane in New York City.  Here is a bit of what I saw:
A watery visitor far from home
A youthful, yet succinct, viewpoint shared by most
Hudson River with actual waves
Dramatic tree damage
Those in other parts of New York City and within the rest of the path of Irene did not fare as well as we did here on the Upper West Side.  And, even so, it was a scary night, filled with pounding rain, loud winds and frightening televised warnings.  I'm grateful for the relative calm of a more typical Sunday evening.

Quelle experience!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Emergency Preparedness - part 1

Sign on door of lingerie boutique, Town Shop, Upper West Side
New Yorkers don't scare easy.  We're cynical, we believe very little we see, hear and read, and particularly so from the media, here in the media capital of the United States (I guess we realize how much spin is in the recipe, because we're the ones baking it.)  So, I wondered how we'd be responding to the warnings, the evacuation mandates, and the heeding of the shop-till-we-can't-lift-another-Poland-Spring-bottle directions.

As usual with us New Yorkers, I saw it all yesterday.  The subways were busy, the sidewalk cafés were full and the grocery stores were emptying out in an orderly, almost party-like fashion. (I laughed as one young man walked by with his arms full of large tubs of Ben & Jerry's, and he responded with a knowing smirk - that he was indeed going to have to eat quickly if the power goes out.)  The biggest surprise was the overflowing nail salons - did I miss the memo requiring picture-perfect finger and toe nails during a hurricane, or are a lot of women just preparing for some overnight dates necessitated by a closed subway system?  (Remember the Blackout Baby Boom of 1965?  No?  Well, I wasn't here then either, but it's urban legend in NYC, and perhaps there's a Hurricane Baby Boom to come.)  
Water bottles on the N train
At Fairway last evening, doing a little unofficial visual surveying, it seemed that the barest shelves and those garnering the closest attention were the water and bread shelves (depleted by 10pm) and the snack aisles.  Today I'll see how the liquor stores are doing.  

Of all the preparedness lists I received from helpful friends, the most interesting item was coffee - make pots of coffee, I was told, to avoid the grumpies in case the electricity goes out.  Oh dear, I received an email from Joe Coffee that their store near me would be closed both today and tomorrow - a weekend without Joe OR the subway.  Unthinkable.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Boulud Corner

That would now be the southeast corner of West 64th Street and Broadway.  Épicerie Boulud opened on that corner at 1900 Broadway, across the street from Lincoln Center, this spring, and it's a great addition to the pre-theater dinner scene.  More importantly, it's the best alternative yet to the grab-a-quick-sandwich-before-theater-or-film near Lincoln Center.  

This is one of prolific chef Daniel Boulud's recent openings on that block.  It is adjacent to Bar Boulud, the Lincoln Tunnel shaped tube of a dining room that has been a beautiful and civilized restaurant spot for a few years now and is one of my favorites for dinner before Lincoln Center.  And it's also next door to Boulud's newest and fabulously reviewed restaurant, Boulud Sud, which I have not yet had the opportunity to try.  But, all in the name of research, of course, I'll be making an effort...

One sunny and temperate summer evening a few weeks ago, before a film at Lincoln Plaza, I arrived early and hungry (this is often the case; luckily, New York is so easy for curing that situation, in just the right form and price range).  It was my first glimpse of the épicerie, its glass front completely open to the sidewalk, where sit-down tables and standing bar tables had been placed outside to permit the take-out process to end about five steps from the wine-by-the-glass bar, oyster bar, charcuterie, fromagerie, patisserie, and fresh sandwich and salad display cases.
And so, one purchase of a glass of rosé and a lobster roll later, I was contently seated at a table right on Broadway, watching the passing scene and listening to my three bling-laden table mates discuss their recent "holiday" in England and the financial troubles in Europe. (It was all a bit incongruous, but that's New York!)
I even had time after my impromptu sidewalk picnic to wander over to check out the music that was wafting over from Lincoln Center Out of Doors.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earthquake, Bread and Clouds

Back in New York City after a week of sitting, low to the ground much of the time, and not much moving, the outside heat of Dallas just dragging me down even further.  In reality, though, it was a time of love, of family, of support, of memory and of pride.  Loss of a parent.  Words don't come to me yet to write much about that now, and so I won't, yet.

But I needed to move today, in a big way.  So, I walked, probably 3 hours of walking all over town.  Apparently, I walked right through the East Coast Earthquake.  It's so strange to start to realize something is going on around you as you try to figure it all out from the signals you try to pick up with all the senses.  The first thing was all the people - why were there so many people huddled together just outside office buildings, not just one, but many?  Why are all those people staring into their cellphones?  And then the stray word pops by:  "feel it?"  "earthquake"  "Virginia."
New Yorkers appreciate something novel for about 10 minutes.  Then, it's back to the same old, same old.  I kept walking.  I got hungry.  I was on Ninth Avenue, which is such fun all the way up from the 30s through the 50s for its array of food stores and restaurants of every cuisine.  Amy's Bread caught my eye.
It was tough to choose just one.  And many other earthquake walkers must have felt the same way, as there was a wait.

But it was a beautiful day, with blue skies and white puffy clouds and 77 degrees.  We don't usually have much sky to enjoy here in NYC, because of all our big buildings blocking it.  Today, however, I made a point of looking up, a lot, drawn to the stark contrast of the crisp white and the bright blue.
Besides, the sky is sometimes a great place to look to find your memories and the kindest thoughts of those you love.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Summer Packing

All my luggage for 10 days in China in July
I will stop talking about China, but I want to say a few words about packing.  Obviously, everyone has their own needs for what's to be packed away and schlepped along on a trip.  And every trip is different as well, as is the weather, which matters tremendously as to how much bulk is going to come along.

That said and admitted, I have developed a few tactics (it seems everyone has, but I find I pick up a few good tips every time I read what works for a fellow grown-up - not just a shorts, jeans and backpack - female traveler).  

This trip was going to be in hot weather, but might also be rainy from time to time and I'd be outdoors a lot (as is often the case when traveling).  I'd need to dress up a bit at least twice, for theater and party-type events.  I'd possibly go to a beach or country-side for hiking/walking, or both.  And I'd have a bunch of days of sight-seeing in the city.   I always bring running clothes with me wherever I go.  And, last but not least, I have no upper-body strength and yet must be prepared to bounce and drag my luggage down and up subway and/or train station stairs at either end of the flights.

With those qualifiers (which may or may not apply to anyone else!), this is what I came up with:

- short nylon casual rain jacket
- running outfit (shorts, bra, top, two pair socks, shoes, baseball cap, cotton undies)
- wide-brim squashable summer hat
- 1 cotton skirt/1 linen skirt
- 4 t-shirts (2 tank/2 short-sleeve)
- light sweater (I should have left this home; never wore it)
- light jean jacket (only worn on freezing plane, with capri-length jeans, t-shirt, scarf and sneakers)
- 1 pair nice slacks and woven linen sleeveless top
- underwear/bras selected to work with each item, and then I packed half of them
- toiletries (wet in the regulation-size baggie/dry in a similar-size clear plastic zip pouch)
- two dresses (one silk, one cotton jersey)
- two pairs well-worn flats (red, tan)
- swimsuit
- white gauze button-down shirt to wear over swimsuit, or over other things for light warmth or sun protection
- two tan shorts (one knee-length for city/one shorter)
- ipad/keyboard/ipod/charger and cords
- neck pillow/Bose noise-canceling headphones
- very little makeup/no jewelry except what I wore on the flight
- two books (Tina Fey's "Bossypants" was devoured on the outbound flight)
- a Longchamps foldable small backpack/handbag
- and, most importantly, passport and currency

The bottom line at the end of all this packing was - tada! - there was loads of room left in the bags.  Worrier that I am, I couldn't just accept my good luck.  Rather, I spent way too much time wondering what I must have forgotten!  In the end, however, I had just the right amount.  It was lovely to travel without so much choice and with it being so quick and easy to repack when necessary.  

There are three caveats, though, to make this happen:

1.  I had to do a little hotel sink hand-wash every few days, using the hotel shampoo for the suds.  Everything I packed could be hand-washed like this other than the dresses, skirts and nice slacks.  And it was necessary because it was hot and muggy and certain items were just not going to be wearable a second time otherwise.  (In winter, of course, one can pack a bit less and also wash a bit less.)

2.  Rolling up clothes for packing.  This is the most fantastic invention ever (which apparently I discovered late in life).  I can find everything so much more easily when it's in little rolled up units, and every nook and cranny of the suitcase can be used.  It's fantastic (yes, I know my enthusiasm is a bit over the top on this point, but it really works and anything that leaves me more room to pack my souvenirs is something to get excited about). 

3.  Making sure most everything can be worn with most everything else.  That means colors, or lack thereof.  For this trip, I had some red accents (flats and scarf), but everything else was either white, gray, navy or tan.  I tried to avoid black because of the heat of summer; in winter, I would have brought less white and tan and more black and gray.

If this isn't helpful to anyone else, at least it's going to remind me what to pack for the next trip - that just happens to have exactly the same type of climate for the same type of experiences.  Oh well, we must be adaptable, and I think this wardrobe adapted quite well.  It's a bit bare-bones and not accessorized at all.  But I reminded myself there would be time for accessories at home, which would happen soon enough.  And that was enough to keep me content with my light-weight travel companions.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Last Word on China (this time around)

Now just about a week since I've been home, and still battling a bad case of jet lag,  my son found me sprawled out, face down, on my bed yesterday afternoon and shared the comment, "nice look, Mom" as he blew past.  That pretty much sums up how I've been doing most afternoons.  Nonetheless, no regrets.  Travel is amazing, and as long as I can do it, I'm doing it.

As for that last word on China (this time around), it's hard to stop talking about it; I have many more indelible impressions to write about, but I'm back home now - late summer in New York, one of my favorite times of year here, quiet with the exodus of my fellow New Yorkers, the slower, steamy pace of life, and the joy, wonder and confusion at times visible on the faces of international visitors in all pockets of the city.  

The sign above at the Summer Palace in Beijing says a whole lot more (to me, anyway) than it intends.  

Ça suffit.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

China Charm

More than anywhere I've traveled, in China I can't take my eyes off the people.  I'm sure it's primarily because I keep wanting to figure it all out, what makes this society and its communities tick, how they really live in this jumbled up environment of old/new, rich/poor, etc., as I described in an earlier post.  

The mix among generations is also appealing because, unlike in the US where we customarily are out only with our peers, I very often saw young and old together in Beijing.  For example, the large Chinese restaurants with the family-size round tables for ten with the "lazy susans" in the center of the table spinning with numerous dishes are a common occurrence.  All generations often dine together, noisy, deep in conversation, and small children sit quietly or move from parent to grandparent to cousin, food being the glue holding it all together but definitely not the center of attention or the main attraction.   Reverence is not paid to the food (as in France, for example) but rather to the people gathered together to share the meal.  All chopsticks dip into all the bowls and plates that pass by, so that even the plate itself is communal and shared.  

I enjoyed watching this aspect of Chinese culture.  The family unit appears to be very important.  In fact, what do the Chinese do on major holidays?  They don't run off to a resort for "holiday," even if they can afford to do so.  Rather, they get on every available train, plane and bus until overflowing, and they go "home."  Paying tribute to dead ancestors is also an important ideal and there's a holiday for that, too.

There are certainly a number of aspects to contemporary Chinese culture that are hard for this Westerner to understand and hard to accept as representing the highest standard of humanity, but one can also say the same, to a certain extent, about most countries.  Love and respect for family (and children) appears to be one of the highest priorities, though, from what I perceived, and I had a super time trying to capture some images on my camera.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Quotable Coco

On the plane from Beijing to Newark, I got my tiny dose of France and French for the week in the form of the film "Coco Before Chanel," a French film released in 2009 that I somehow missed.
It made for the most pleasant two of the thirteen and a half hours of the flight.  (I watched another movie later in the flight, but by then I had lost too many brain cells to altitude boredom and, for the sake of my educated adult respectability, I shall not repeat the name of the insipid rom-com fluff that at least helped keep me - for another two hours - from looking up every few minutes at that nasty bright blue monitor on the bulkhead telling me how high we were flying, how inhumanly cold it was beyond the confines of our large flying metal tube and how many more hours we'd (hopefully) continue to do the same.  Can you tell that I'm not a big lover of flying?)

So, thank you for in-flight entertainment, Continental Airlines.

More than midway through the film, the wealthy man who has taken Coco into his home remarks off-handedly, upon seeing her shorn of her formerly waist-length raven hair, "A woman who cuts her hair, is about to change her life."  From her look in response, we in the audience know that she knows this to be true, too, but how will that change take shape?  Perhaps she knows, perhaps not.  Either way, it was a moment that made me smile, as a fellow recently "shorn" woman with changes taking shape in her life.

That quote from the film reminded me that Coco Chanel was responsible for some pretty good quips during her life.  Here are a few I particularly like:

"A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous." 

 "In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different." 

"Don't spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door. " 

"How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something but to be someone."  

"Elegance is not the prerogative of those who have just escaped from adolescence, but of those who have already taken possession of their future." 

"To achieve great things, we must first dream."

Ah, to dream, to be classy, to be fabulous (whatever that means!), to be different, to stop beating on walls, to deserve to be elegant, and to decide to be someone.  Such pressure!  Great quotes, but maybe a bit unattainable?  Perhaps I'll just try to live by this much-easier-to-achieve quote by Coco Chanel:

"A woman should wear perfume wherever she wants to be kissed." 

That I can handle.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Global Consumers Above All

Among the many signs I photographed in China last week (especially those that don't quite master the use and meaning of English words and phrases), this one, though using no English, spoke volumes to me.
This outdoor wall poster in Beijing clearly advertises Pepsi.  Yup, I'm sure that's what the Chinese characters spell out (not really), but we Americans all know the Pepsi logo.  But I was surprised to see one of the largest US brands using the Chinese revolutionary poses so iconic in their propaganda materials of that era.  Well, whatever sells, I suppose.  And I learned, while in Beijing, that there is much nostalgia for that period.  I cannot fathom that, given all that transpired in those years.  But, then again, we love the old movies, songs and fashion styles of the 1940s, '50s, '60s, '70s and apparently even '80s (big hair and shoulder pads?!?), even though we surely don't want to relive those years for a whole lot of other reasons.

So that's China.

Today, though, back in New York, what do I see in Times Square?
As of August 1, 2011, China's government-run news agency, Xinhua, has one of the key LED billboards in Times Square, measuring 60x40 feet (right above Samsung, which is right above Coca Cola - I hope this is not symbolic of anything, but given recent global financial news, who knows?).

The US is in China speaking its language; and China is in Times Square  - ditto.  Both speaking the language of commerce and commercialism.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Jet Lag

I'm home and hoping to return to daily remarks but for now I just can't believe that it's day when my body says it should be night.  And it took me over a week to convince both mind and body the reverse just a few days ago.  Hoping the return trip will take a shorter period, it did help to sleep in my own bed last night.  However, the return to a stack of bills in the mail, an empty refrigerator and a hot August month in which to plan a very active September is a "Welcome Home!" to reality.  

That, and the one hour wait staring at the "Welcome to the USA" sign at Passport Control at Newark Airport as I wound my way back and forth through the maze watching the same tired faces on either side of me as we would wind back to face one another every few disorienting minutes.  (Did we fire all the federal workers while I was away?  I do know we finally got past the debt ceiling issue; that was certainly a fascinating story to follow in China.)

It's impossible to describe Beijing, because it seems to be everything, all at once.  Perhaps it's clearest to call it a city of contrasts, but that just sounds so weak (I mean, New York could be described that way, too, but if that's the base line, then Beijing is New York on an overdose of steroids).  Nothing is moderate; everything appears to be at the most extreme ends of the spectrum - rich and poor, sparkling clean and filthy, crowded and peaceful, communist and capitalist, friendly and threatening, over-the-top luxury and squat toilets, 12-lane highways encircling the city and tiny "hutong" alley mazes. 
 Two consistent features, though, are the air pollution (which only seemed to clean itself to a bright blue sky after a solid day and night of rain) and the scale of everything, which is huge (and coming from a Texan, that means something).  Huge multi-lane highways and streets abound, filled with everything (again, all at once - pedestrians, pedicabs, cars, pull-carts, motorized bikes, scooters and pretty much whatever moves).  Crossing one of these streets is taking your life into your own hands.   
There are so many things to say about Beijing, but maybe after a nap when perhaps day will turn to night and everything will begin to make sense.