Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Savoir Faire

"Philosophers and plowmen, each must know his part. To sow a new mentality. Closer to the heart."
Rush "Closer to the Heart", 1977




Today I visited a local start-up business called Raleigh Denim. The owners are a husband-and wife team and have agreed to be our Guest Speakers at graduation. One of my roles at work is to coordinate Commencement activities. I like this aspect of my job- it is such a positive part of the college experience. The really fun part has been selecting and meeting the folks who will deliver a speech to inspire our students.

I was fascinated by my trip to their store! They use all local North Carolina materials. The denim itself comes from Cone Mills’ White Oak plant, a 100-year-old local mill where they weave the fabric on the old-fashioned shuttle looms- the only working looms of this sort in the US! All of Raleigh Denim's design, pattern-making, cutting, sewing, washing and finishing, meanwhile, are carried out by hand in the company's Raleigh workshop. They use these really neat looking vintage sewing machines and their storefront is in front of their factory. The store was filled with mirrors, wood floors, and beautiful jeans folded on antique sewing tables. I am intrigued. And inspired. I know they'll have some motivational words to provide students just starting their careers in design fields (and I think it will be relevant to culinary students too).

Interestingly enough, I have recently started researching my personal genealogy. Two of my not-so-distant relatives in particular both were designers (I knew this before I started my research though). My Grandad K who just died in 2006 had his own loom. He was brilliant. He would throw the "shuttle" with the yarn through two rows of this really thick strong thread and then bring this big part of the loom down to "press" it. Then he would repeat the process. His primary products were rugs and blankets. This was in the early 80s. He was so ahead of his time, because he connected his loom to his computer to create advanced designs. He was an engineer. An artist. A designer. An entrepreneur. He also owned and operated a small machine shop for many years. His rough weathered hands were often stained black. But he used those strong hands to gingerly mold raw materials into something beautiful. His loom was his passion. His machine shop was his livelihood.

A small, but lucrative business.

Another family member who worked in the design field was my Great Grandma Valentino. I continue to admire her bravery and her quick learning skills. She came to New York City on a ship, at the age of 18 and she worked as a seamstress. She learned English as she went. Her job was to sew sleeves on shirts. She worked in the garment district and ironically she lived in Chelsea, a block away from one of my old apartments! To the best of my knowledge anyhow- my Grandma V (her daughter) remembers that her mother would talk about living across the street from where they filmed silent films. I did some research and found out this was done on 26th Street, approximately where Martha Stewart's studio is today. Amazingly when I lived on 27th street, Martha's studio was in my backyard. I knew there was something special about that apartment! At any rate, my Great Grandma sewed sleeves on shirts and eventually she left New York for Akron Ohio where there were more career opportunities for her to work and raise her family with my Great Grandfather (who died before I was born). She was a pioneer. A fast learner. A brave woman. Another entrepreneur.

When I was at Raleigh Denim today, I saw the old fashioned sewing machines and the workers sewing jeans by hand and I had an immediate chill. A sense of recognition. Maybe even an odd sort of deja-vu. A spark of familiarity. I guess it just made me think of my Great Grandma, and imagining her in the 1910s behind a sewing machine: blood, sweat, tears and broken English to move her way forward in life.

My entire family seems to be full of designers, teachers, entrepreneurs and hard workers. Another great grandmother, Babba, came from Slovakia. She regularly collected and gathered mushrooms in the field to cook for her family. A culinarian!

My great grandma McVay took a boat down the Ohio river to attend college at Marietta. Way ahead of her time- during that time period, women didn't go to college like they do today. She had one leg up on her counterparts. She became a teacher. She was a grammar quru. So is my Grandma K (her daughter). Grandma- if you are reading this blog now, I saw the perfect shirt for you the other day. It said "The Grammarian about whom your mother warned you."

Brilliant.

My aunt Patty has her own dog training business in northeast Ohio. http://www.cleverpup101.com/ She loves what she does and she is great at it. Genius. She made her passion into her career. When I was in Ohio recently, I had the opportunity to visit her "schoolhouse". She crafted a barn in the Akron/Cleveland suburb of Bath, Ohio into the cleverpup101 training center.

My family is brilliant. They inspire me. Sometimes my students inspire me too. Recently I met with a student who wants to own and operate his own microbrewery. NOW we're singing my song! I love the art of beer being brewed.

Are any of you fans of Ayn Rand? Did you ever read "Atlas Shrugged". It is the story of this brilliant woman named Dagney Taggert. She is Vice-President in Charge of Operations for Taggart Transcontinental, under her brother, James Taggart. However, due to James' incompetence, it is Dagny who is actually responsible for all the workings of the railroad. The book is quite complicated but essentially it is about how Dagney's ability and independence leads to conflict with others, but how she perseveres nevertheless to achieve what she values.

I guess in the midst of all this, that's what I'm trying to do myself. I had a conversation today with a colleague about "working for the man" and how sometimes we are disabled from creative expression because of corporate requirements. Don't get me wrong- I value all that I'm learning in my career and I love the challenges my job offers, but I have this itch, this urge, this instinctual knowledge that I should also be using what I learn to do something else. Something more. Something to inspire me every single day. Something that makes my eyes light up when I tell people about it.

Does anyone know or have suggestions about how I can combine beer, international travel, higher education, and writing into a start-up business?

Yeah, me neither. But I'm working on it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fresh Ink

Writer's block. Lackluster. Uninspired. Listless. Insipid. Crestfallen.

The Rime of the Modern Mariner is thirsting for nourishment. My inspiration is sterile. My writing is fruitless. Growing conditions seem fine at first- I begin to plant a seed. But then I get disenchanted. I never do anything to nourish the roots. My friends, I'm afraid the day has come. It is the very day the music died. Drove my chevy to the levee. But....{you know the rest}.....the levy was dry....

It would be unfair to blame my lackluster imagination and writer's block on Carolina (nothing can be finer than Carolina in the mo-o-orning, don't you know?) No, that wouldn't be fair. New York lends itself to poetry and stimulation every single solitary day, the city was my muse, but so was South Africa and so was Spain and so was Thailand and so was Guatemala. Geography has nothing to do with it. It's really just.... me.

So now that I am done beating myself up, and nursing my proverbial black eye, I am just making things up as I go for the sake of resurrecting my written word. This is the part where my blog is supposed to come to some sort of climactic crescendo. Did you ever listen to "Rock Me" by Great White? Well I can't stop listening to it lately. There is this release in the song. Where every lyric, every beat, every acoustic stroke leads up to this....this...this magic. This upsurge. This power.

I think my blog used to do that.

So I suppose I could write these languid stories of the past month:
* My trip to Wilmington with my friend Douglas. Pretty little seaside town. Front Street Microbrewery with the $1.99 Oatmeal stout. Ghost tour with kitschy guide dressed in a weird costume.
* My trip to Houston to visit my friend JoAnn and go to her Flight Attendant Halloween party with her. Meeting sweet Michelle, her other BFF who flies out of Newark. Drinking wine. Laughing.
* My trip back to New York to get dental work done. Spending Halloween weekend sauntering around the Village. Poking my head into little shops and drinking coffee. Having bloody mary's and mimosas for the weekend brunches that I miss so much. Dinner with friends on the Upper East Side. The actual dental procedure (which took TWO days- left side of my mouth Monday, right side on Tuesday). Lots of Novocaine, some bloody gums, and plenty of drool for the day. (And absolutely no vicodin, unfortunately.)
* My upcoming trip to Ohio this weekend for my sister-in-laws baby shower. Seeing my family, visiting some old friends from college.

Patchy fragments in my head. There just aren't stories yet.

When will there be stories? Poor Douglas, my sweet sweet friend must be the absolute most patient friend in the world. I call him and tell him my stories. My grandiose ideas. My plans. My goals. And I whine about writer's block, about the south, about what I wish I were doing instead of....this. He listens. And he also picks me up from the airport in my car, which he has filled with gas. My lord, I don't think anyone has done anything so sweet for me in my entire life. When I came back home from trips before, I would stand on a cold gray train platform at Newark Liberty Airport. Wait for a train that took 50 minutes to come after 11 PM. A crowded train without any seats or smiling faces. Just a one-way trip to the gritty Penn Station where I catch another train, even more crowded than the last. But there Doug was at RDU waiting just for me, with a warm car, right at curbside. And a tank full of gas. I have spent yeaaars flying into lonely LaGuardia or Newark at midnight or overwhelming Kennedy, and taking public transportation back into the city, during the wee hours of the night when all the weirdos shared the ride with me. Drugged up junkies, needles falling out of their pockets, exposing themselves and begging me for money. (But I still miss it like crazy.)

In my mind, I paint a picture. It is framed by the Manhattan skyline. In the painting, it depicts me picking up my life as I knew it in New York. Me and Kitty. Perhaps throw Douglas into that picture, but unfortunately Doug is staying put right here in North Carolina and has no intention of ever going to the northeast again. (At one point Doug lived in Hoboken, just across the water from me, but he doesn't miss it so much.)

I am indeed going back. I will stay here for awhile and work here in NC, as I have made a commitment to stay and build a department at my job. I've got some awesome opportunities on the horizon; things that I have never dreamed of doing in my career like partnering with a development company to build a new student residence facility. I am learning so much and so grateful for the opportunity. But this will not be my permanent home. The south leaves me impatient and longing for more. I miss my friends. I miss the hustle and bustle of the city. I miss the restaurants and the pubs and the convenience of everything just around the corner. I miss the cobblestone streets downtown. I miss the diversity. I miss bloody mary's and mimosas at brunch.

I don't enjoy the strip malls and chain restaurants and the cookie-cutter looking buildings of *this* place. What I do love are the challenges and the eye-opening quirks of my job. I have students who reveal shocking sentiments when they meet with me. Things like "Black people always cause problems." or "People from other countries are stupid." Students' parents call me and complain about their son's roommate and surely their son can't be the one doing anything wrong because they are Christians! That seems to be the stock reason that students and their parents give when they are trying to justify why they are exempt from all wrong-doing. Frankly, I don't see how that is relevant to their behavior. Oh- and the best: "I can't live with a gay roommate because I am a Christian." I cringe. I bite my lip. And then I think of the irony of it all. If I get angry and think of the student as stupid, then doesn't that make me just as judgmental as that student?? So that leaves me another option: I try to be developmental with them (as opposed to taking them by the shoulder and shaking their dimwitted, uncultured little souls as hard as possible), and I recognize that perhaps they just need more time to develop and to learn and to accept and to understand the way the world works.

The xenophobic, racist, and homophobic attitudes indeed stun me. But it is helping me to reach all sorts of new levels and methods for providing enlightenment and sharing stories to aid them in learning. I recognize I can't change the way they think, but I also understand college student development theory and recognize that students in these early vectors of development will mature and progress to a higher level of thinking.

I knew it was the south. I knew it was the bible belt. But I thought that the "Research Triangle" area would be a little bit more progressive. So my time in the south will be good research for me as well. Look, the northeast part of Ohio wasn't the be-all, end-all for cultural nor ethnic diversity, but I went to college in a fairly diverse area. And then I left. So that I could learn. Which I did. I lived most of my adult life in THE mecca of cultural, racial, sexual orientation, and religious multiplicity. So it is good for me to be exposed to a part of the country that is different from that. It is doing wonders for my own personal and professional development and understanding.

Aside from being developmental, I also enjoy being a wise-ass with students who make ignorant remarks. With a straight face, my response to these folks is usually that I am gay, Jewish, Chinese and black (sometimes I throw in paraplegic for good measure) so as a person of ethnic, religious, and racial minority their reasoning is clearly lost on me.

Conversely, my sarcasm is lost on them.

....whew.....This blog is becoming quite deep for being uninspired. Perhaps there was a lot on my mind, after all. And also for the record- not allllll students in NC have attitudes and thought-patterns like the one described above. In fact, many are very bright and well-enlightened. Only a few behave as I described. And those are the ones who stand out. And who give me material for blogs.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

NC

Here I am.

Today it finally rained and the temperature is in the low 70s (about time). I am enjoying the rain. It suits me. I am enjoying the feeling of summer being over finally and autumn hitting. It appears that this week the temperature will linger in the mid 70s. I’ll take it! Finally has reached a comfortable level, although I’ll be truly happy when it’s in the 60s and the leaves start to change color. So much really does indeed depend on the weather.

Much like the temperature, one could say that I too, am approaching a comfortable level here in North Carolina.

The morning before the movers arrived I sat in an empty apartment waiting for them to arrive. There really are a million things one can do in an empty apartment: make snow angel patterns in the carpet; count the number of paces from one wall to the next; turn various light switches on and off, etc. When they finished unloading the very sweet Foreman asked me if I needed anything else. I told him no, and he and said to his partner “Okay, let’s wrap it up and get back up to Brooklyn.” That’s when a sick feeling entered my stomach. Reality had hit: I would not be going back with them. *This* is my home now.

By Day 3 all bets were off. I gave up unpacking and went to the pool instead. I couldn't find my bottle opener, so I bought cans of Mike's Hard Lemonade and proceeded to drink every last one. My friend Douglas came over after work. I don't think he expected me to find me still in my bathing suit, slightly (okay more like *extremely*) tipsy, hair a mess, surrounded by mounds of unpacked boxes. Sweet Doug tolerated my inebriated behavior and after a long day I woke up around 2 AM on my sofa- Doug had covered me with the green blanket that my sister-in-law knit for me. I went into the kitchen and discovered that it was all unpacked for me. Dishes in cupboards. Bottle opener in a drawer. Magnets on the refrigerator. Pots and pans in the cabinets under the counters. Doug is my North Carolina angel.

But not everyone here moves at a pace like Doug. I am adjusting to the people and the much slower pace of North Carolina. It is going to take awhile for me to get used to this. I found it hilarious that my credit card company contacted me about some “suspected fraudulent charges”. I can use it in Ireland and Brazil and Namibia with no problem, but use that credit card at Art & Mo’s Filling Station in “Hicksville, Virginia” and it sends a red-alert. And I had to call them back and tell them it is ME! Me! I am the one who is making “questionable charges”.

The new job is great. I am very satisfied with that aspect of the move. I enjoy my new colleagues, my new level of responsibility that came with this promotion, the students, and the campus. I am learning to address conduct issues, process and make decisions about criminal records on admissions applications, navigate the archaic DOS-based database that we use, and learn how to "forecast" and how that differs from "the plan". I feel very grateful to be working in this setting. American Tobacco Campus is a beautiful venue. I find it mildly amusing that it is smoke-free there. The campus is in a corporate office facility, which is a former warehouse where Lucky Strikes were once manufactured. There are businesses, restaurants, and the campus contained in this structure. If you live in New York, you could compare the “gutted warehouse” architecture to Chelsea Market. If you live in northeast Ohio, think Quaker Square. I am really enjoying the loft-style buildings, the history behind the old warehouse environment, and the exposed brick walls.

My apartment is beautiful and spacious. I love the crown molding, the kitchen, the French doors, the walk-in closet, the washer/dryer, the dishwasher, the pool, the amenities, and the grounds, but I am running into some complications with the management which are too long and boring to post here in this forum. I am addressing them as I type this.

I bought a car. Hyundai Sonata. I enjoy it, as well. May re-finance for a better rate and also curious about my insurance rate. May do some shopping around for that too. It is somewhat complicated to do so from my office. My phone has not yet been set up in my office (come on, really? It’s been a week!) and my cell phone doesn’t get reception in my office, so I can’t get much done.

As you can see, it feels as though I’ve got a lot of loose ends. I hope to tie them up with a pretty ribbon and get into a pattern and really feel comfortable here. I once took a class and the instructor taught us to roll with the current instead of swimming against it and fighting it. The sea lends itself to many metaphors, which are perfectly adaptable to most life-scenarios. I have come to recognize that you have to roll with the waves instead of swimming against them. Otherwise you drown. I don't plan on drowning in Durham.

I do miss New York like crazy. I don’t know how a divorce feels, but I imagine it must feel somewhat like this. You grasp onto memories, but can’t quite keep ahold of them in a tangible way. I am nostalgic for autumn nights and walks through Central Park with auburn leaves crunching under my feet. I am nostalgic for my friends at my old job and drinks after work in Tribeca. I am nostalgic for the smell of coffee from the many carts throughout the city served in the Egyptian coffee cups. I am nostalgic for the straight-forwardness of the people. I am nostalgic for everything being closely contained and the corner bodega and pizzeria, and not having to hop in a car to get something. I am nostalgic for the Indian ladies who thread my eyebrows for $6. I am nostalgic for lunchtime walks along the Hudson River. I am nostalgic for the energy. I am nostalgic for listening to my ipod on the 6 train each morning and sharing my hilarious subway encounters with my friends on facebook every day. I know I’ll be back there again to live one day.

Listen, my goal here is not to complain about this place, nor sound negative but I don’t sugarcoat things either. Do I believe I’ll get used to some of the quirks and differences? Absolutely. Do I enjoy my new job? Definitely. Do I believe that I will soon dismiss and forget New York and my lifestyle there? Not a chance.

Okay, that's all I have to report. Now I'm going to go and try to assimilate and fit in. Maybe I'll even go have a glass of sweet-tea.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Craic

Craic: (pronounced "crack") A Gaelic term for the lively, witty, relaxed conviviality, gossip and talk that makes life worth living.

Just experienced a week's worth of craic in Ireland. Although I was a bit nervous about going because of some snags in the moving process (maybe another blog to describe those snags), I decided not to back out of this trip, and that a break away quite possibly could be just what the doctor ordered. Now, THIS is the place for me. It is dreary and rainy and overcast all the time, and temperature in the 60s- perfect weather for a jacket and jeans. I've been ready for some autumnal weather for quite some time and beautiful, dreary, green and most of all- wet Ireland quenched my thirst.

My best friend from high school, JoAnn is a flight attendant and the two of us had originally planned to go together. Actually- Dara and I had talked about going last year, but it just didn't work out with our schedules. So the plan was that Dara would meet JoAnn and I there. Then poor JoAnn got a reserve schedule this month, which basically means she is at the beckon call of her airline. Although I was sad she couldn't go, JoAnn encouraged me to go without her and we will plan another trip together at another time.

So off I went! And in First Class, no less. I was so grateful. Here was the menu on my flight:

To begin: warm roasted nuts and white wine
Hot Appetizer Cart: a demitasse of fresh shellfish soup with bay scallops accompanied by wild mushroom and vegetable purse (a "purse" is a satchel-shaped puff pastry)
Salad and Warm breads: hearts of romaine with cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, and Parmesan Reggiano cheese
Main Course: Grilled Sterling sirloin steak with garlic and herb butter, Delmonico's original steak sauce and creamed spinach, onion has brown potatoes and fresh asparagus spears
Fruit and Cheese cart: assorted imported cheeses, grapes, and port wine
Dessert Cart: Vanilla a ice cream and choice of toppings and freshly brewed Emilio Cafe' Italian Expresso

And then there was this television with 40 different movies, games, tv shows, and music. You could create a "jukebox" with a play-list of your favorite songs. But after all the wine, all I really wanted to do was just fall asleep. Every time I would start to doze off, another course would come at me!

Ireland was off to a great start. Once I landed in Dublin I was greeted by the most friendly Customs & Immigration Officer ever and upon seeing my address on my landing card, he told me I was staying "right in the heart of it all" and to enjoy his country. We stayed in the Temple Bar district, which is touristy, but very convenient and very fun. Dara had arrived two days prior to me, and I arrived on a red-eye, around 7 AM as her "wake up call". We took a short nap and then we went to Explore Dublin. And to drink Guinness. A note about the Guinness in Dublin: it is creamy and frothy and tastes so smooth. It goes down like root beer and it is easy to lose track of how many pints you've had. Easy to understand why the Irish love their drink!

Slainte'!!!!


To summarize my trip, here are the basic highlights day by day:
Day 1 Visited Kilmainhaim Jail- learned a great overview of Dublin's history, especially the potato famine in 1845 (when many people were imprisoned for begging in the streets, including children) and the Irish revolution in 1916 when the country became free.

Went on a ghost tour. Visited the Brazen Head pub, which is the oldest in Ireland. http://www.brazenhead.com/ Enjoyed many pints of Guinness. Chatted with our tour guide (who happens to be a historian) and our tour guide told me about the surname "McVay", which is my grandma's maiden name. They are from northern Ireland he believes. **Note: once I get this move over with, I plan to do my full-blown ancestry research. I would love for my next trips to be Italy and Slovakia.

I just adore the way Irish people talk. Our historian/tour guide asked us to follow him "oop da stars" to see a part of the pub on an upper floor that is allegedly haunted. (Dara likes to make fun of me trying to speak in an Irish voice- and she believes I sound more like the "Swedish Chef" from the Muppets.)

Day 2 Saw a rainbow (it's faint, but you can see it in the photo below). Got a tour of Trinity College by the cutest tour guide ever, Ceiran and wandered around Dublin





Oh dear- I'm afraid that I appear sideways in the rainbow photo above. I guess that's what all these pints of Guinness have done to me- I can't seem to stand up straight. For some reason I am having a lot of trouble uploading my photos to this blog in general. There were so many more that I wanted to add to this blog. Seriously, being that I've been back for over 24 hours, I am fairly certain all the Guinness is now out of my system.... Go figure. Oh well- I guess I will just keep writing and go ahead and blame it on the Leprechauns like the Irish do.

Day 3 Day trip to Limerick, Galway, Bunratty Castle http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g212526-d214758-Reviews-Bunratty_Castle_and_Folk_Park-Bunratty_County_Clare.html and Cliffs of Moher


Day 4 Leprechaun Museum (a bit kitschy, but really fun). Here I am leprechaun size:

The day ended with an evening visit to O'Donoghues which allegedly has "the best pint of Guinness" in Dublin. Met some cute Australian ex-pats who have lived in Dublin for about ten years. Shared many pints and experienced much laughter and craic. Our sweet Aussie friend walked us back to the hotel at 2 AM and I had to get up to go back to the airport around 5 AM.

On Day 5 I flew back to New York. DUB is such an efficient airport. Security moves fast and they have people helping get you and your items through the ex-ray machines. It is not necessary to remove your shoes. But for some reason they wanted to open and examine my umbrella. They did that with several people. Anyone know why this is?

Fortunately, I got First Class again. This time it was a lie-flat seat. Continental has upgraded half of their fleet with these seats. Another wonderful meal selection (this time I had the lamb), but I was too tired to eat anything else after that course, so I went to sleep and I was completely comfortable. This is what the pod looks like in its upright position:

Thank you, Continental! I love you!

Although I was happy to be flying home in such comfort, I was feeling a little melancholy, as well. Right now I have a bit of a heavy heart. As much as I loved Ireland and greatly appreciated the craic, I don't think it would be appropriate if I didn't end my blog today with a token of my appreciation and my condolences. The date yesterday: September 11, 2010. I landed in Newark airport yesterday, on a morning with weather not dissimilar from the weather 9 years ago in New York city on that tragic morning that so many of us remember so vividly, as it was yesterday. I looked out the window to see the New York City skyline (absent of two tall towers), and as I listened as landing gear go down I said a silent prayer of thanks for my own well-being, and a prayer of remembrance for those unsuspecting folks who died this very morning nine years ago. They boarded a plane just like I did, expecting to land safely just like I did. But their fate was quite different. I am so grateful for the people who work hard to make this world a peaceful and better place. Thank you to all of our military, every single airline employee, and deepest condolences to all of those who worked in the Twin Towers, those on the hijacked flights, and those who had loved ones who died that morning. God rest your souls 9/11/01.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In a New York Minute

I pulled my coat around my shoulders
And took a walk down through the park
The leaves were falling around me
The groaning city in the gathering dark

In a New York Minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute
You can get out of the rain
In a New York Minute
Everything can change

In a New York Minute

-Don Henley, "New York Minute"

I believe in signs. And I am also a little bit superstitious. I throw salt over my shoulder. I don't dare walk under ladders. When I was in Brazil this past spring I had a bracelet tied around my wrist. Basically a yellow ribbon, known as a "fita". It was tied in three knots. With the tying of each knot, a wish is made. I forgot what my wishes were, but all I knew was that I couldn't tear nor cut that son-of-a-b^+ch off until it fell off on its own or the wishes wouldn't come true.

This "fita" is a tradition in Salvador, the northern part of Brazil. The bracelets look like this:

People ask me what it is all the time, and when I tell them all this ballyhoo about wishes and not breaking them, they roll their eyes. So instead I simply tell them "it's a tan line indicator".

But I'll come back to that.

On another note, I've been working in my career field for about 10 years. I am ready to really either make a career change or to have a position with a little more responsibility (and a little more salary!) So a position came available to me at my current job- a promotion. Only- it involves a transfer to our campus in Durham, North Carolina.

{Gulp}

So I flew down there, interviewed, and was offered the promotion two days later. I hemmed and hawed, trying to decide what to do. Decided I'm not gonna go. It's not enough money and I love New York. I really can't see myself anywhere else. My mind was made up.

I did some research. I looked at the cost of living. Basically if you make $100,000 in NYC (which I don't, but I'm just using a whole number for comparison sake), you only have to make $42,000 in NC, or some-such number.

And I could have for $800/month a 1000 square foot apartment with a pool, a dishwasher, a washer/dryer, a fireplace, a parking space, a private movie theater, a gym, central air, and all of this other stuff that I can't even think of right now. Whoa. I won't even divulge what I pay in rent here.

Rethink this?

No WAY. I've lived in New York for the past decade and it's my home and I love it here. 4th Floor walk-up and all. And I'm not ready to go. I hate packing. I hate moving. I don't want additional responsibility. I don't want to pay for a car and insurance again. I love Sunday brunch in the city. I like working with my current boss and we have a great rapport. I don't want to change my mailing address.

Seriously, I've thought of every silly and pointless argument in the book of "why not to go". (Although I do argue that some of my reasons are very valid!) And besides, Autumn is my favorite season in New York. No way I'm missing that. The leaves change and it's beautiful. In my opinion, the two best months in New York City are October and April. Those two months are when everything changes. The leaves change color from green to red in October. And then in the spring they change from barren skeletons to beautiful white blossoms. Wardrobes change from shorts to jackets in the fall. Weather changes from sweltering heat to a brisk chill in the autumn and from bitter cold to pleasant and sunny in the spring. Coffee flavors change from coconut to pumpkin spice in October.

It didn't take long to recognize that maybe it is ME who needs a change. I just wrote a stupid blog about less-than-desirable dating pool here and how frustrating it is. (By the way, that tall hottie that might have been my future husband- wellllll, I think he was married. Not to me. He was "visiting a sick family member" every single weekend in CT and his phone was mysteriously off every evening. Funny. Another one bites the dust.) I always complain about my small apartment with all the stairs and no washer/dryer. I have only made lateral moves for the past 10 years. The rush hour subway makes me want to punch someone. My career needs some development.

What am I doing?

Reluctant to budge, I was prepared to turn down the position.

But I vacillated.

Should I stay or should I go?

I decided I should just go ahead and accept it. It just makes sense. I will be the Director of an entire department. I will make more money. I will be able to better utilize my talents. The people are so friendly. I am so qualified for this job and I have good ideas for it. They are paying for me to relocate. I am ready for the next step. I love the idea of a beautiful and comfortable home. I am ready to own a car again.

The very morning I prepared myself to call HR and accept the position, my fita fell off.

I think it was a sign.

So I gingerly signed the contract with trembling hands, I carefully dialed and faxed it back, and then I violently cried my eyes out.

(To be continued.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Phoenix Dactylifera

“Laurie, you’ve got issues,” my friend told me the other day.

Issues?

Issues.

I do. No denying it.

I am sick and twisted. I like tying tight strings around moles and watching them get hard and tight and red and ready to burst. Then I like waiting for three days until the blood-flow is completely cut off, and last I savor the moment of peeling off the final result, which looks like a dry, shriveled-up grape.

I like squirting whipped cream directly from the can into my mouth.

I enjoy telling friends that I have an important work event when I really just want to stay in because I know “Silence of the Lambs” is going to be on television that night.

My ultimate bliss is the “Twilight Zone Marathon.”

I like to go to the public pool in East Harlem, and smuggle in booze and sip it slowly, while I spy on people behind my sunglasses, and pretend I’m at some exquisite resort far away from New York.

Are these really issues, though? Tell me who the heck doesn’t have some ridiculous quirks.

One of my bizarre quirks is dating.

Why do we use this stupid term anyhow? I prefer the variety of “dates” that grow from trees in the middle-east. Places like Morocco. I really like dates in cereal, perhaps with some almonds.


Phoenix dactylifera commonly known as the Date Palm, is a palm in the genus Phoenix, extensively cultivated for its edible sweet fruit.

Ironic, since my dating efforts are often fruitless…..

Date night is the stupidest term ever. I hate when married couples start calling their time together date-night. I think dating is a job for single people. Not some relaxed setting where flatulence and messy hair are widely accepted. It’s a misnomer really, “date night” is.

So I guess since I seem to be “off in tangent” mode when it comes to dating, I’ll go ahead and focus this particular blog on that very topic.

Disclaimer: My views may be offensive to some. Don’t worry- I still adore my friends who use that stupid friggin term “date night”, whether you agree with me or not. You get to choose the way you feel and what you call “dinner and a movie with no make-up on in some crappy chain restaurant like Applebee’s, with your spouse” and you don’t have to like what I have to say. I still respect you. You’re probably smarter than I am anyhow and I’m totally okay with that.

I like to think of getting married. I am just more interested in wedding cake than a wedding dress. I am fascinated with planning a honeymoon. I am beyond annoyed at the thought of planning a wedding itself. I think the ceremony and fluffy dress are both dumb. I’m too old for that. It’s just too annoying. The appropriate age for a big wedding is 27. After that it’s an annoying expense. I would rather just use that money to put the down-payment on a house. There are precisely three things I like about weddings: the cake, the honeymoon, and the cookies. I think that is a northeast-Ohio tradition for Italian people. There are millions of cookies. Millions. A whole table just for cookies that our family has made. Okay, never mind, I do want a wedding, after all. I love the cookies. And as for the honeymoons, I go on plenty of those myself, without even getting married!

So back to my focus- lately I’ve been dating a little bit.

I always ask my friends to set me up with friends. I think that’s a good way to meet people. For some reason, they always give me these sluggish hesitant half-ass, wishy-washy responses. For example, my friends Holly & Jay, a married couple have a really cute/sweet friend named John. “You’d eat him alive”, they told me. I don’t know what that means- I am sweet and demure!

But, fortunately, my friend Dara’s boyfriend said “I have a friend named JR.” Wait a minute, I KNOW JR! Suddenly my interested is piqued. J.R. is a rockstar. Really an honest-to-goodness rockstar. He has a guitar. Here is J.R. (and here I am with the red eyes, screaming along to his song):


Cute, right? J.R. does not know he is in this blog. But J.R. is my friend on facebook and sometimes he sends me messages inviting me to his shows. Dara told me he sends those messages to a lot of people, but then admitted that SHE never got one, so that makes me think he just sends them to me personally.

Dara looked at J.R’s relationship status on facebook. “In a relationship” it says.

I said it must be a mistake. And I’m going to email him tonight to find out if it is in fact, a mistake. If it’s not a mistake, I’m going to ask him if he wants it to be a mistake. Because I could totally be a groupie for his band “Slam One Down”.

So since I am doing PR for “Slam one Down”, I’m just gonna go out on a limb here and do a little shameless PR for Laurie, Inc. If you are single, tall and interested, go ahead and email me.

If not- no worries, I have plenty of other bad dates to write blogs about.

I had a cute date the other night. We’ll call him Guiseppe. (Because that really is his name.) He was such a cutie. A little short for my taste, but that’s okay. His parents are off-the-boat Italian, the type of Italians who make wine in their basement. (They do not stomp on the grapes with their feet though, because I asked him that question too...) He was so sweet; we had tapas and sangria and then coffee. We walked around West Village for the evening and laughed and had great conversation. Guiseppe lives in Westchester, so he had driven into the city. He took me home. I think it was a pretty good date for the most part. When he dropped me off, he took one look at my neighborhood and jokingly asked me if I own a gun. “I prefer knives,” I told him.

Which leads me to an important point: it is wayyyyy too difficult to date men who don’t live in the city. People from New Jersey, Westchester, Long Island, and Connecticut. Maybe, just maybe it could work if they live in one of those places and WORK in the city, because then they get the lifestyle to a degree... But otherwise they just don’t get the customs of Manhattan. (Whoa- I just re-read what I wrote and I sound like such a snob, but that's not my intent- I am not in any way, shape, nor form passing judgement on these men, I am strictly speaking in terms of convenience.)

Yes, my neighborhood can look a little dicey at night. Yes, you have to park on the street, not a garage like you have in White Plains or Short Hills or Darian. NO, I don’t have an elevator in my building. Five flights. No central air. No dishwasher. I send my laundry out to be cleaned. The stores on my block board up their doors after 9 PM and there are sometimes hoodlums lingering on the corner. It’s not the glamorous lifestyle. It’s Manhattan on the salary of a single person who works in higher education. It is what it is.

I also hate when you tell someone 23rd and 9th and you need to google map it for them. People who live in the city know exactly where to go, what train to take, and approximately how long it will take to get there when we meet. I can also throw in “northeast corner of the street” and they even understand which stairwell to use when exiting the subway station so as to end up on the northeast corner, as opposed to having to cross the street from the southwest corner. It is just so much easier to date city people. Plus, on top of that if it doesn’t work out, I feel bad that they took the time and effort to pay the $8 toll to cross a bridge or tunnel and find parking in the big bad Skyscraper National Park, that I call home.

But at the rate I’m going, I can’t be too choosy…... strike that- actually, I can be, because I’m not in any sort of race. I just date for fun and if something comes of it, that’s even better. At one point in my life, maybe like 5 years ago I put a lot of pressure on myself. I would have 10 dates a week. Two dates on some nights! One for coffee, one for cocktails. It was so stressful. I would run from Chelsea to the Upper East Side in a matter of minutes. I never really met anyone who became serious using that method. Maybe they noticed that I was too harried. Maybe I was too busy trying to keep them all straight, that I just confused them and myself in the process. Whatever it was, it just didn’t fly. There were like 8 Johns. I gave them all nicknames. John from Brooklyn. John with the green eyes. John the tall one. John the Baptist….just kidding on that last one, but nonetheless they all had a nickname. And I think it further confused them when I started to CALL them their nicknames. Ay yi yi.

Last week I had another date with another guy we’ll call Brad. (That’s NOT his real name, but this one might actually work out, so I have to speak in code.) Brad is tall and has these hazel eyes that melt me. Caramel colored skin (he is a mix of ethnicities) and a tall athletic build (he played college basketball). We just had coffee for Date #1, and Date #2 is in the works. **Sidenote- a lot of first dates never lead to date 2. We just fade each other out, although sometimes I try to fade them out and they won’t leave me alone. But that is a blog in and of itself- a blog about crazy guys who won’t go away. So anyhow, Brad is hot and we are not fading each other out of the picture. Brad and I have spent every day since our coffee date texting back and forth. Brad is visiting his mother this weekend and he told me he’s going to show her my photo. This is serious. Very serious. I hope he becomes my husband.

So here is my ideal first date (which should really happen no more than twice per week): We meet for a drink after work. On some arbitrary night, like a Tuesday when it’s quiet and we can hear each other talk in the venue of choice. The guy picks the venue and we agree upon a time. I am perfectly capable of picking a good venue, but I like men who take some initiative to do it! The venue should be a cozy, loungey type of space, maybe dimmed lights with lighted tapers on each table.

Perhaps in the East Village or SoHo where these venues run aplenty. We’ll have no more than 2 drinks, because after two drinks, my judgement is impaired and I may think I like the date more than I actually do. (Been there.) On this date we will possibly pick at some appetizers. Finger food. Nothing too messy. We’ll have a great conversation and laugh the entire time. Maybe he’ll gently touch my arm when we’re talking or wink at me when he says something clever. After our no-more-than-two drinks we’ll walk around the neighborhood and peer into cute little shops. Maybe stop into a coffee shop. Then we’ll walk to the train together and part ways with a kiss. Not a big-blown-out-sweep-me-off-my-feet-kiss though. Just a regular kiss. Save the big kisses for the next date. Then he’ll text me when he gets home to tell me how much fun he had. We’ll plan Date #2 within the week. Pure bliss. That sounds perfect to me.

I really need to do another blog about all the bad, crazy, and psycho dates I've had. This one is just getting too long.

So there you have it. A glimpse into my world when it comes to dating. I honestly hope I never have to write blogs about a bad date again. I am ready for the next step, I am ready to write a blog about a bad marriage instead. (Kidding!)

So before I published this blog, I went ahead and researched date palms a little more. Date palms can take 4 to 7 years after planting before they will bear fruit, and produce viable yields for commercial harvest between 7 to 10 years. Mature date palms can produce 176–264 pounds of dates per harvest season, although they do not all ripen at the same time so several harvests are required. In order to get fruit of marketable quality, the bunches of dates must be bagged or covered before ripening so that the remaining fruits grow larger and are protected from weather & pests such as birds.

Wow! This is a great metaphor for dating. I love it. Although I started dating more like 14 to 17 years ago, not 4 to 7. So I am more than ready for some ripe and viable fruit. “Several harvests are required”? Ain’t that the truth! And I especially love the last part: Dates must be bagged or covered…..hmm….no comment on that part, but it sounds like good advice to me.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Quel che non ammazza, ingrassa


Part I The Italian Job

My original intention was to write this blog exclusively about obtaining a table at the most exclusive and difficult reservation in the entire city. Maybe in the entire world. A place where you are less likely to get a table than to be struck by lightening.


But we’ll get back to that…..instead I have to write about something else too that fits along the lines of the subject matter of my original blog.


Today I worked one of my side-gigs. Nothing extraordinary or unusual for a Saturday afternoon. I think most of you know that I have a side-gig doing marketing and promotions. Sometimes it’s a gig for Hebrew National Hot Dogs sometimes it’s for Remy-Martin VSOP and sometimes it’s for Vaseline Lotion. The gigs I do run the gamete. Today it was mozzarella. A brand called Galbani that has been around for 125 years in Italy, but is just now being launched in the US market. So I showed up this morning at 50th street and 6th avenue (which was renamed “Avenue of the Americas”, but none of us call it anything but 6th in this city) where there was an International Culture Festival going on today. I checked in with the event staff. As I looked at the list I realized everyone on there had an Italian last name. The marketing company made an effort to hire brand ambassadors of Italian origin. Which makes sense. Italian company. Italian cheese. Who else is better for the job?


I do wonder, however, if the people from Galbani realized the difference between NYC/NJ Italians and Italians who live in Italy. I think I may have been working with every single person who auditioned for Jersey Shore, but was not cast.


Important disclaimer: I am not knockin’ Italian-Americans, I am just observing some things here. I love Italians, heck, I AM one myself (at least partially)! What’s not to love about Italians? Italians are beautiful people with striking features, curvy beautiful bodies, dramatic eyes, and they exude this sensuality (think Sophia Loren). They are smart, they are good lovers, they appreciate good food.


At any rate, many of the folks working this promotion with me were 20-something Guidos, Dagos, Guapos, whatever you wanna call them. Here’s an example of a conversation with one. Just to give you a visual, he had a haircut called “The Brooklyn Fade”, which looks not dissimilar from the texture and shape of an artichoke.


He wore form-fitting black pants with buttery leather Italian loafers. (This gig involved 7 hours of standing in 90 degree weather, outdoors.) So we’ll call him Gino. I forgot what his name actually was, but I think Gino sounds about right. Gino wore a lot of cologne. Armani maybe? A LOT of Armani. Gino pointed to the mirror set up on the stage to showcase the chefs who were making traditional caprese dishes. In his thick Staten Island accent, he asks “You see that mirrah up theh?”


“Yeah?” I asked, wondering where this was going….

“That mirrah”, Gino declares, pointing his finger, “would be reeaaaal nice above my bed.” And then he nodded matter-of-factly.


I laughed. This pretty much sums up my entire day. I think if the marketing company told me I had to work this gig for free I still would have done it, knowing how entertained I was the entire day by antics such as this.


Part II The most coveted table in the entire city (and maybe the entire world)

So my colleague John and I have been drooling over and talking about Rao’s for years. Rao’s is a very old Italian restaurant in my neighborhood. It was founded in 1896 when 114th Street and Pleasant Ave. used to be known as Italian Harlem. Finally John and I went ahead and set a date to just go there. If you call the restaurant, the message is something along the lines of this (try to read this with a Bronx accent):

"Thank you for calling Rao's. All the tables for 2007 are reserved. Thanks, have a good day."


(Yes, I realize I said 2007- it might still say that until about 2027.) No option to leave a message or even think about a table whatsoever. It is illegal to think about getting a reservation there.


There is one seating: 7:30 PM. That’s it. They are only opened Monday through Friday. They don’t need to be opened on the weekends. They only take cash. Or personal check. (Hmmm….) No credit cards.

If you talk to anyone who knows anything about food in the city, they will explain to you that there is an elite haute class who “own” each of the ten tables. You have to either know someone or be really wealthy or really famous or all three of those things to get a table at Rao’s.


It is just that exclusive. The likes of Madonna and Donald Trump and Rudy Guilliani and CEO's of companies like Ferrari and a few others are the types who dine there.


But, the one loophole is this: you can sit at the bar. You cannot eat at the bar. But you can drink at the bar. And observe.


Precisely our goal.


John and I met up around the corner from Rao’s. We were dressed to the nines. You have to be. We are both are Italian. We would be okay. We had faith. We walked through the park, which is situated across the street from Rao’s and stood outside the red façade. We were nervous. There were important people in fancy suits having important conversations. The restaurant is small.


Should we chicken out we asked each other?


Not a chance. We are walking in. And we are walking in like we BELONG there. We are confident. We are sitting down at that bar. We are ordering a drink. We are observing. We are important. We are Italian. We are supposed to be here.

We walked in and John asked one of the servers if we could perhaps sit at the bar and have a martini. The bar was mostly empty. The surver looked over at Frank Pellegrino, the owner, questioningly. Frank looked both of us up and down carefully. For a moment he looked perplexed. Finally, “Okay”, he nodded.


How did I know it was Frank Pellegrino? Because he is a legend in the city. He sometimes breaks into spontaneous song at the restaurant. He has been on Law & Order, and also the Sopranos (quel supris) and I believe several others.


John and I made it just at the right time. We were dressed to Frank’s satisfaction. 8:15 to be exact. At 8:30 the bar was packed and there was not a seat to be had.


So we gawked. We laughed. We admired the people. There was one guy who looked like he belonged on the cast of the Godfather trilogy. Every time I looked his way, he managed to lock eyes with me. John too. It was not a happy locking of eyes. I thought it might not be a surprise if we ended up dead before the night was over.


The men of the restaurant just as well could have been at a casting call for “Goodfellows”. The men wore suits of the finest threads. And those buttery soft Italian leather loafers that I mentioned earlier on Gino’s feet at the Galbani gig. The women wore leopard print. Four inch stilletos and gold. Lots of gold.


See the guy centered in this photo below? He's handsome. I think he may have caught me snapping this shot. If you do know him, please guide him to my blog (or maybe not.)

There was a jukebox in the corner playing Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. There were Christmas wreaths with white lights. (This is June.) The bartender introduced himself as Nickie. He is known as Nickie Vest because he owns so many vests.


So John and I continue to sit at the bar and sip our Grey Goose martinis with three perfect olives. We continue to whisper to each other as we observe the people dining at the restaurant, their clothing, their behavior, their food, their wine.


That’s when Frank comes up to us. “You two look like you want to eat.” Oh crap. Crap, crap, crap. We are busted. Busted for staring at all of his patrons!


Lo and behold, we were not, in fact busted.

“Well I think we can arrange for you to have a table,” Frank smiles.


My jaw dropped. I felt like a little kid who had just been told that she is going to Disney World.

“Oh.”

“ My.”

“God.” John mouths to me. We are getting a TABLE. People wait for six years for a table here. People pay $3000 in charity auctions to get a table here. People DON’T get a table here.


We. Got. A. Table. At. Rao’s.


Frank couldn’t have been any sweeter. “Beautiful eyes she has”, he told John. I was flattered. And I was hungry.


There are no menus at Rao’s. Frank rattled off our choices with the familiarity of a priest officiating a bride and groom’s wedding vows. That menu is sacred to him.


We ate a caprese dish (fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes with olive oil and sea salt); clams; mussels, a pasta dish rabe, shrimp, and I don’t even remember what else. I was so caught up in the environment and my palate was just so pleased it didn’t even know what to do. It just went into this delicious satisfied trans-like mode. I love that on the right hand side you can see the chef's feet in the kitchen. John pointed that out to me in this photo:

Between courses, I was immensely entertained by the environment. The atmosphere of Rao’s was somewhere between an Italian wedding reception in my family and the basement of someone’s Italian home in New Jersey. We were just missing the Jordan Almonds and a boxing bag hanging from the ceiling.


We could have been in 1959 and part of “A Bronx Tale” with Chazz Palminteri and I would have believed you. You are transported back in time at this joint. The first six notes “When the moon hits your eye” made John and I both roll our eyes and smile at the same time. It is SO kitschy and SO quintessential Italian at Rao's.

We danced. We laughed. We tried to discretely take photos. The next thing I knew, I was in a congo line.

Yes, you read that right. A congo line. A congo line that tried to go into the kitchen, but got kicked out and had to settle for the narrow aisles between the ten tables of the restaurant.


It was a magical night. It ended with coffee with Frangelico. John and I both shared the same sentiment: this was an amazing and magical once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The next day at work I was called in regards to a pretty serious student emergency and I was dealing with this student in peril near John’s office. I cannot really disclose the details, but it took awhile and I had to put on my serious hat and attempt to help this student. John asked me if she was going to be okay (she was) and as he observed me in my professional role, guiding this student, he could only think “Yesterday she was in a congo line at Rao’s.”

Friday, May 14, 2010

Aloha Oy (Vey!)

Aloha!

This Wahine returned from Hawaii about a week ago. But I've been trying to find time to write this blog ever since. I went with my best friend from High School (JoAnn) and her mom (Jane). I am so grateful to have had this vacation with such wonderful ladies- it was peaceful, relaxing, and fun....just how a vacation should be.

Everything in Hawaii is beautiful. Everything. The flowers. The beaches. The people.
Below is my favorite Hawaiian flower. It always looks somewhat fake when I see it, yet it is real. It is called antherium:


This is early morning Waikiki Beach.

This is JoAnn below. We are drinking pineapple wine at approximately 5 AM (still on eastern time...it was an early wake-up every morning) out of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki's coffee cups, since there were no wine glasses to be found.


But then when we realized how tired we would be since awakening so early, we thought we may need coffee. Which we had no glasses to contain, since we had used all the coffee cups for pineapple wine. So we used the Hyatt's regular glasses for the coffee. Makes sense, no?



Since this was a very relaxing trip, there is not a lot of narrative to write. We have all been to Hawaii before, so we were able to relax at the beach a lot. Here were some of the highlights:

JoAnn learning how to paddleboard:

Me, standing around:

Oahu ghost tour led by "Uncle Joe". He was pointing at an "orb", a bundle of haunted energy (or something like that). Do you see it? It kinda reminds me of "Tiny Bubbles". Except not "in the wine".

Then we went on a dinner cruise. Then we went to a luau at Paradise Cove, which is also where I went in 1985 for a luau with my family (please see blog archives under "labels" and under "Hawaii". ) It still looked the same:

Above is my favorite part of the luau: the pig. I think in Hawaiian language it's called an emu or something, although that doesn't sound quite right.

Anyhow, mahalo for reading this very brief blog. No more vacations planned anytime soon, but I do promise to come up with some more substance in my blog. Aloha.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Num doce balanço, a caminho do mar


When my baby smiles at me I go to Rio De Janeiro, my-oh-me-oh......I go wild and then I have to do the Samba And La Bamba....Now I'm not the kind of person with a passionate persuasion for dancin' Or roma-ancin'.......But I give in to the rhythm And my feet follow the beatin' of my hear-eart.....

- Peter Allen, I Go to Rio

Rio de Janeiro. Now THIS is the place for me. (However, never during Carnivale....I do much better on the off-season. Crowds and I do not mix.)

My vacation to Rio and Salvador was last week. I met up with two friends/former colleagues from Semester at Sea. There is Bama who is from.....you guessed it....Alabama. And there is Zella who is from Canada. Zella was already there, as she was hired to work another Semester at Sea voyage. The ship was docked in Salvador, so we were to meet up for a couple days.

The trip started out quite lovely. I flew the red-eye to Rio and had an entire row of three to myself. What fortune! Loving Delta Airlines right now. I was able to spread out and nap quite comfortably. Upon arrival into Rio it was early morning, so the first thing I did was head for the beach. Copacabana Beach is clean and the water is soothing. For less than $8 US dollars I had cold beer delivered to me, cold water, and a lounge chair with a towel and a beach umbrella. A bargain if I ever did see one!



Unfortunately because of recent mudslides and graffiti, the most popular Brazilian Icon {Jesus Christ the Redeemer} had a blanket over his head. He was undergoing some surgery. I'm sure he will be fine in no time, I mean, he is Jesus. Miracles run aplenty with him. I was just sorry that I did not get to see him during my visit. Actually you still could go visit the statue, swaddling clothes and all, but the experience was altered, as the train was not operational and had been temporarily replaced by mini-vans. So I said a few hail mary's and called it a day.


After my day of beers and beach and bathing in the sun, I was quite exhausted. I slept from 4 PM until 8 AM. And it was very cold in my hotel room. I think the air conditioner was broken, as there were ice-cycles growing out of my nose. Much like Jesus, I draped a blanket over my head throughout the night to stay warm. I do try to mimic Christ in my day-to-day behavior, so this just made sense.

The next day Bama and I walked to Ipanema. I couldn't stop singing:

Tall and tan and young and lovely The girl from Ipanema goes walking And when she passes, each one she passes goes - ah When she walks, she's like a samba That swings so cool and sways so gentle That when she passes, each one she passes goes - ah

Which version do you like best? I think I like the Frank Sinatra version. But Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald both did an alteration of the song: "Boy from Ipanema" that I like too. And then there is a "loungy" sounding version by "Echo", which I dig. Kind of a sad little song. This beautiful tan girl walks by each day, but she never pays this poor guy any attention. Oblivious and beautiful, she walks the beach and just keeps going. Sad.

But I was happy. Happy to walk such a beautiful stretch of beach. The people in Brazil are supposed to be the most fit people in the world. Similar to South Beach in Miami, I expected string bikinis, with thongs of dental floss and ultra-tan beautiful people. Not so much. They had the skimpy bathing suits, but there were a lot of overweight people there. And a lot of "banana hammocks". Gross. Don't get me wrong: Brazilians are beautiful. But much like New Yorkers, they come in all shapes and sizes.

Here is what Ipanema looks like. Please note "all shapes and sizes" in the background:



After the long walk, we went to a Brazilian soccer match. Bama was cheering loudly in English, which made this Brazilian guy turn around and look, and crack up laughing. He was cute. He came over to say hello. His name was Thiego (pronounced "Chee-Ah-Go"). He asked me out. I said yes. He was very sweet and funny, but not the "sleazy South American guy who picks up tourists" type of guy. Just a good guy. He worked for some sort of sports media company and invited me to meet the "estrelas" (stars) after the game. The main estrela of the soccer team we went to see was this guy named "Fred". Everyone else had these big long Portugese names, except for "Fred". I liked Fred. I cheered for him too. I don't really understand soccer, but I liked the atmosphere. I must say it took some getting used to. It is not disneyfied like some of our MLB ballparks with food of every type and music and jumbo screens. It was quite simple. Very few announcements. No elaborate concessions. No Jay-Z blasting on the sound system. Just the sport. And my own personal, very sweet Boy from Ipanema. Oh. And Fred.


Because I know some broken Spanish, which sounds vaguely simlar to Portugese I decided to go ahead and give that a try. Thiago (as well as many others) told me that this was a wasted effort, as more Brazilians understand English than they do Spanish and I was making it more difficult on both parties. But I couldn't help trying anyhow. And the Spanish word for star is 'estrella' which is JUST like 'estrela' only missing one "s". So there-to! It *is* the same language in my book. Just with a twist.

The next day I ventured to the north part of the country. A cute town called Salvador. Bama and I met up with Becca (aka Zella) and we stayed at a very cute hotel called Casa Amaralindo. HIGHLY recommend this place. A beautiful roof-top deck with a piscina (pool) and beautiful gardens with cheerful little hummingbirds who happily flounced among the foliage. Here you can take your breakfast, where the very sweet hotel staff provided fresh guava and papaya and some sort of ham and egg dish, as well as cafe' con leche.


Salvador felt hotter and less safe than Rio. Apparently some of the students there with Semester at Sea were mugged. I don't know if it's because I'm from NYC, but I always feel pretty on-guard and I have never felt threatened. Zella, Bama and I spent our time exploring the cobblestone streets and watching capoeira, which is a Brazilian martial art which sort of looks like dancing. We had this fantastic dinner of shrimp and rice and pork and steak and of course Caipiriñhas. This is a drink, not to be confused with the earlier word I said- capoeira, the martial art. This drink is much like a mojito without the mint. It is rum, cane sugar, lime, and I don't know what else, but it was yummy.

Salvador reminds me a little bit of San Juan, Puerto Rico (old town) and Cadiz Spain. There are buildings in many shades of pastels and narrow alleyways and steep hills. Little shops line the streets and vendors welcome you in to look at their art and jewelry. It was sad to part ways with Zella, but I am certain our paths will soon cross again.

When you sail around the world and then meet someone again a year later on another continent, it makes the world seem quite small.


I must say the flights on this trip were quite wonderful. We had an unanticipated, yet much welcomed upgrade to First Class on the flight back to Rio from Salvador. Here is me, quite confused:



Back in Rio it was a beach day once again. I got slightly burned. Up until that point, people thought I was Brazilian, which made me feel good. Brazilians are beautiful, so I was happy to be among those ranks. I looooove going to a foreign country where people think I am a local......until they start speaking their language and I smile, wide-eyed and without words.



The flight home was yet another red-eye. This time I had two seats to myself. Not quite as roomy as the flight on the way there, but still quite comfortable. Thank you, Delta.
I got home to some fraudulent charges in Sao Paulo. Ummm....I did not go there. Aaand the money was withdrawn when I was on my flight back home. But I think it will soon be straightened out and I'll feel better. I am non-plussed at this point and quite frustrated with my bank's condescending and lackadaisical approach to assisting me. In the market for a new bank right now. Aside from that, this was a great vacation.
Next stop: Hawaii.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Floundering


You know those Gym Goddesses who prance on the treadmill, with tight firm little butts and rock-hard abs, and cute little foreheads which barely break a sweat?

Well that's not me.

In fact, I pretty much hate working out. Not just "don't like it", but flat out "hate it". Unless I can trick myself into working out. An example of this would be swimming. It doesn't feel like a work-out, it feels like fun. And I am not hot and sweaty. I am cool and refreshed. Or maybe walking miles and miles all around the city, exploring new neighborhoods. I lose track of how far I've walked, and end up wandering the streets of Manhattan for five miles. Enjoyable to me. Even sometimes the elliptical machine can be fun to me, as long as I have fast music and I feel like I'm dancing. I probably look bananas, but it works for me.

I just booked a trip and got my tourist visa for Brazil in April. Rio de Janeiro. And then I am going to Hawaii with a friend of mine, JoAnn in May. So it is time to get my arse in gear. *Love Weight Watchers, by the way. I've been following the point system and have lost about ten pounds so far. But I haven't really been working out, aside from walking up the 4-5 flights of stairs in my building.

So there is this place in the Meat-Packing district called The Gansevoort Hotel. It is very Sex & The City. In fact, that show has filmed there before. At the Gansevoort is a spa called Exhale. A friend of a friend was having an event there. Cocktails, mini spa treatments, and a "core fusion" class. Sounds fun right?

Here is what the rooftop pool looks like at the Gansevoort. So very Manhattan. So very meat-packing district. So very Sex & The City. So very posh, well-polished crowd.

It was a snowy day and a lot of people were backing out of the event. Here is what it looked like outside my office that afternoon:

It was a near-blizzard outside by the time 6:00 rolled around, and I was close to backing out of the event myself, but my friend talked me into going anyhow. Early, even, so that I could attend the free "core fusion" class at the spa, before the massage treatments and cocktails.

Do you guys know what core fusion is? I thought it might be similar to pilates. I liked pilates. I did it once five years ago. It felt fun and not so scary.

As a side note- I do, however, hate yoga. I went once and I sat in the back of the room and made my grocery list. It was a yoga class called Bikram where they heat up the room. It was so crowded, there were stinky women packed in the room like sardines, and I couldn't concentrate whatsoever. How is one supposed to relax in a tightly packed, 90 degree room with smelly women in "downward facing dog" two inches away from me? I told my Mom on the phone "yoga is still a little too 'new age' for my taste." Her reply? "Honey, yoga really isn't 'new age' anymore."

Where was I? Exhale. The Gansevoort. Right.....so my friend Dara and I trek it down to meatpacking through the snow. (Dara, smart girl, opted out of the class, by the way.) The class begins and there are two people "team teaching". We'll call them Jack and Jill. Jack and Jill have been married for 30 years and teaching this class together for just as long. Jill was this little waif of a woman in her 50s who didn't have an ounce of fat. Jack was similar in description. There was a DJ in the room spinning tunes to Jack & Jill's instruction and probably about 30 skinny, firm, sculpted women. And then there was me.

Oh yeah.....upon arrival, I found out that we are to do the class wearing socks. Guess whose sock had a big hole in the bottom?

We started out doing this sort of marching in place thing on the side of our mats. Okay, I thought, I can *do* this! That's when Jill instructed us to do push ups. Okay, I do not *do* push ups. This is where things go bad.....

Instead I just chose to lie down on my stomach and watch. Uh oh. Here comes Jill with her wireless mike. "What is your name?" Gulp. "Laurie?" I breathed, hesitantly.

So for the rest of the class I heard over the DJ's pounding techno beats:
"Laurie! Flex your foot!"
"Laurie! Get that butt down."
"Laurie! Your back should be flat!"
"Laurie! You need to be lower to the ground when you do this!"
"Laurie! You should not be lying on the ground lifeless like that!"

You get the drift......

I obediently tried to get my arse in gear, to no avail. I was floundering around on the mat like a dead fish for most of the class. All of the graceful butterflies around me seemed to have this down to a T. They all effortlessly did what Jack and Jill instructed. When Jill wasn't telling me what to do, Jack was at my side demonstrating. Good lord.

I couldn't even roll my eyes anymore, because they hurt.

The ONE single thing that I *could* do was a split. I was so proud of myself. My high school majorette skills have not completely vanished. Look Jill, look at me! I can do one of the things in this stupid class. Look at my perfect split! Look! I am so proud of myself!

Jill wasn't looking.

One of the last things we had to do was a full "bridge". You know- the thing where you're in a back-bend, holding yourself up. I cannot do this. It gives me a headache. I had lost momentum. When my brother and I used to play Nintendo back in 1990, there was this cruel thing you could do to the other player. You pressed the "pause" button right when Mario was in the middle of jumping over a deep ravine, and he would basically lose momentum and fall to his death and then your turn would be over. This was how I felt. Someone hit my proverbial "pause" button. I just lied down on my mat again, sweating and panting, my face red and my body exhausted.

Jack, and Jill, could you please go up the hill to fetch me a pail of water?

They did no such thing. Jack did not fall down, nor lose his crown. And Jill did not come tumbling after. The only one tumbling down was me.

Finally the class was over and everyone clapped. I clapped too. I think I was clapping for a different reason from everyone else. I was clapping because I'll never ever ever have to attend "core fusion" again.