Monthly Archives: May 2012

I have left the love of my life indefinitely, but it doesn’t mean that we’re broken up.  Let’s just say, we’re seeing other people.  Or, I’m seeing other people.  After all, they say the best way to get over somebody is to get under somebody else.

That’s right; New York and I are on a break.  I’ll be back sooner or later, but in the mean time, I’m going to be cheating on New York City with Orlando, New Orleans, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

I’m going to be spending the remainder of May road trippin’ across the country with five of my favourite people.  I’m flying down to sunny Florida and meeting the gang, and then, after visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we’re driving to the jazz capital of the world, New Orleans.  We’re flying from New Orleans to Las Vegas, where, after one wild night on the strip, we’ll be camping in the Grand Canyon, rollerblading down the Venice Beach boardwalk and ending our trip in San Francisco, a city I’ve had a crush on for years.

I spent my teenage years obsessing over the transformative road trips I’d read about in books (On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson) and seen in films (Magic Trip, Little Miss Sunshine, Thelma and Louise, True Romance, Y Tu Mama Tambien, The Motorcycle Diaries, Badlands, Into the Wild).  I can’t believe that after all those logged hours of wanderlust, I’m finally going on my own road trip.

This three week-long trip is going to be the grand finale of my great American adventure, and I think it’s safe to say, I have never been more excited for anything in my entire life.

I’ll be sharing my adventures with you on my return.  In the meantime, I invite you to join me in spirit by pressing play below.

Last Friday was my last day in New York.

I took the bus into the city with my roommate, Sunny, and we talked about our shared love for the city all the way into Manhattan.  What are your Top 5 New York Moments?  Where’s your favourite place to eat downtown?  Which museum do you like the best?  Do you remember when you saw Madonna inside Macy’s?*

We arrived at Port Authority, and headed straight to the Chelsea Market, one of Sunny’s favourite spots in the city.  I’d never been before, and was suitably impressed.  I found myself marvelling at the plethora of delicious-looking food and drink and flowers, annoyed that this was my first and last visit.  We decided to eat lunch at The Green Table, one of the market’s many sit-down restaurants.  We opted for comfort food; Sunny went for mac and cheese, I had soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, and we laughed and talked and tried not to talk about our impending goodbye.  We had dessert to-go, a brownie from the Fat Witch Bakery.  It was good, of course, but not the best brownie I’ve eaten in the city .

We had planned to visit the 9/11 Memorial, and so we headed downtown to the Financial District.  Unfortunately, neither of us was aware that in order to enter the site, you had to have tickets.  We made our way over to Vesey Street in an attempt to procure tickets, but the next available viewing slot was 4PM, a time that didn’t concur with either of our schedules.  We had a brief look around the Vesey Street’s photo exhibition, but were somewhat unsettled by the amount of 9/11 Memorial related merchandise available for purchase.  To make money off such a tragic event seemed distasteful, inappropriate even.  It was a disappointing visit, a rushed debacle of an afternoon.

Frustrated, I left Sunny and headed back up to Midtown to grab a goodbye coffee with Jenan, who among her many other talents, works part-time in the PR department at Victoria’s Secret.  We went to Starbucks and talked about the trials and tribulations of studying abroad.  Jenan studied in England last semester, and completely related to my experience.  Studying abroad isn’t all glamourous weekends in New York and exotic spring break vacations in Puerto Rico; it’s dealing with a completely different system of education, it’s not seeing your family for five months or more, it’s trying to find people in your near-vicinity who will support you.  We talked about being screwed over by so-called friends, and finding solace in travel.  It was exactly the kind of cathartic, reflective conversation I needed to have.  I hugged Jenan goodbye, sad, but confident that I’d see her again soon.

After saying goodbye to Jenan, I walked over to Penn Station, to meet another friend.  Will and I studied film together this semester, and I’d managed to coerce him into coming along to a rooftop film screening with me.  As much as I love exploring the city alone, some things are better with friends.  This seemed like one of them.  We spent the afternoon wandering the Lower East Side, trading stories and talking about our families.  After having dinner in an upscale diner called Alias, we walked over to the Open Road Rooftop, a public space that sits atop the New Design High School.

I’m serious; I watched a movie on the roof of a high school.  I’d read about the event in TimeOut New York a while back, and knew that I had to go.  I was smart to book tickets; the event sold out, and the evening did not disappoint.  The venue was incredible; a huge, covered rooftop with amazing views of the glorious Manhattan skyline I’m so in love with.  A band called Crinkles opened up the evening with a half-hour set, just as the sun was setting.  The atmosphere was perfect.

The film programme itself however, a series of short films, was somewhat hit-and-miss.  Some were excellent (A Brief History of John Baldessari, as narrated by Tom Waits), others were less so (Aaron Burr, Part 2), but the venue’s dreamy backdrop more than made up for it.

And so, the programme finished, and the evening came to a close.  Will was taking the train and I was taking the bus, so we took the subway together and parted ways on 34th and 7th, outside a flower shop.  As I walked through Midtown, back to Port Authority, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a movie.  But, of course, all good movies end, and so I stepped on the midnight bus for the last time with a heavy heart.

But, it’s like Will said:

“New York’s not going anywhere.”

And he’s right, the city isn’t going anywhere, even if I am.  But who knows, maybe I’ll be back. After all, New York City is the perfect place for a sequel.

*True story.

I was in New York again last Wednesday.

I took the train in, and headed to Chelsea to meet with Stephanie, a woman I had met at a concert two weeks before.  After exchanging a few emails, she agreed to meet with me and show me around her gallery.  What I thought would be a brief, friendly chat turned into an inspiring, important two-hour mentoring session about my future.  She shared her story with me, and talked about her journey from L.A. to Philadelphia to Barcelona and finally, to New York.  I was nervous when she pressed me about my plan for the future.

Growing up, I was sure that I wanted to be a journalist.  In fact, I was so sure that I wanted to be a journalist that I never even considered other career paths.  The past six months have sent my then-concrete future ambitions into a state of flux, leaving me feeling somewhat ill-equipped to handle the terrifying abyss of “options” out there.  I confessed these sinking feelings to Stephanie, trying to verbalise the pervasive conflict between my burning desire to create something important and my immobilising fear of failure.

But of course, being the guardian angel that she was, Stephanie saw past my anxiety and talked to me about creativity and networking and creating my own opportunities and the non-linear trajectory of life.  I couldn’t believe that this busy, successful, important woman was giving me, a stranger, so much of her time.  But we sat, and we talked, and we strategized, and I left her office with more clarity than I could have ever dreamed of.

Maybe Stephanie and I will be life-long friends.  Maybe she won’t be anything more than a fleeting, formative presence, a brief reminder of this chapter of my life.  It doesn’t matter how our respective futures pan out; that conversation made me feel like I’d been thrown a life line.  Maybe meeting Stephanie was coincidence.  Maybe it was synchronicity.

I left FLAG, and stepped into the elevator, where I met a friendly, pierced carpenter called “Jonas”.  In our brief conversation, we discussed hailing from England, and what it was like to work in the same building as Calvin Klein.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; everyone in New York is so fucking interesting.

I headed uptown to La Bonne Soupe for lunch, a bustling French bistro, tucked away on West 55th Street.  Cloth napkins, carafes and delicious French onion soup; I decided if I was going to eat alone, I was going to have to commit.  After my Sex and the City style single lady lunch, I walked over to Columbus Circle, and looked around Jazz at the Lincoln Center, a small museum and music venue.  I took in the breathtaking view from the 5th floor one last time before making my way downtown.  I set up camp in a tiny neighbourhood bakery in the Bowery area called Sugar Sweet Sunshine.  I sat down with my cupcake and my cup of coffee, and plugged in my laptop.  It was the perfect afternoon.

Satisfied, I made my way back uptown to the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, for a free talk, part of Columbia University’s annual film festival.  I’d read about the event earlier that morning, and spontaneously decided to stay in the city to attend.  The talk was called “What Glass Ceiling? The Remarkable Success of Columbia’s Women Filmmakers”, and boasted an impressive panel of Hollywood directors including Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right), Kimberly Peirce (American Splendour, The Nanny Diaries), Larysa Kondracki (Amreeka) and Nicole Holofcener (Friends With Money).  The panel was chaired by Bette Gordon, an articulate, feminist-y professor at Columbia.

The talk itself was amazing; I loved hearing these powerful, successful women talk about the challenges that they faced in financing their ventures, writing scripts, and acquiring distribution for their films.  However, whilst all four women are undoubtedly talented filmmakers who had a lot of interesting things to say, what didn’t sit with me was the way in which they were all so quick to dismiss the title of “female director”.  I think that their decision to gloss over the difficulties that women face, especially in the male-dominated film industry, was pointedly insensitive, particularly after Bette Gordon’s opening barrage of uncomfortable industry statistics.  To pretend, as Cholodenko so fervently did, that if we stopped putting women into the category of “female directors” the disparity between male and female directors would somehow magically disappear, seems positively unfounded to me.

It was still a cool event though, and I’m lucky that I got the chance to attend.  Only, it’s not really luck.  It’s knowing where to look and being observant, something that I’ve been getting the hang of recently.

I made my way back to Penn Station in the bittersweet knowledge that I would only be taking one more trip into the city before leaving the Tri-state area.

Breaking up with a city is hard.

Or, on learning when to say no.  Last weekend, I found myself in a post-finals haze of joy and delirium.  I went straight from my exam to dinner with a friend to dessert and more dessert with said friend.  A brief visit to Montclair, NJ quickly turned into a full-blown farewell party with Harleen.  I presented her with a mixtape to mark the occasion, and we embarked on our “trip” (Montclair is about an hour’s drive from New Brunswick).  We had dinner at Cuban Pete’s, a vibrant Montclair hotspot, drank sangria and reminisced about our Henry James class.  This was followed by not one but two dessert places; delicate lavender and honey macarons, followed by graham-cracker flavoured ice-cream from Applegate Farms.  Both of us in a slightly-delirious food-coma, we drove back to New Brunswick.  Deciding to prolong our fun, Harleen invited me to sleep over!  We went back to her family home in Edison.  We watched The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and her mum made pancakes in the morning.

I was back in my apartment for approximately seven minutes before I had to leave again, to visit another friend’s family home.  Jenan, overachiever and all-round goddess, invited us (twelve endlessly grateful international students) to her beautiful house in Montville.  Thrilled to be presented with a home-cooked meal (my second in one day!), and to be hanging out with my friends in Jenan’s (vast) back garden, my post-exam weekend was perfect, and filled with friends, food and laughter.  Even if we did get kicked out of a lake-side country club.

However, all play and no rest makes for a tired girl.  Unfortunately, the “you can sleep when you’re dead” philosophy has been ruling my life as of late, and so ignoring my better judgement, I booked tickets to see the Mets (the New York baseball team) with Clare for the following day.

On Sunday morning, we took the bus into the city and headed to the borough of Queens.  We found ourselves in Corona, the heart of Queens’s very own Little Ecuador, a treat for Clare, who studies Spanish.  We went to a popular Italian ice booth called Lemon Ice King Corona; I had peach flavoured gelato, Clare had lemon.  We sat in a park, at a chess table, taking in the Sunday morning surroundings; old men playing  bocce, chatting in Italian, enjoying the warm weather.  We walked through Flushing Meadows Park and gawped at the Unisphere, a giant sculpture of the globe overlooking the Queens Museum of Art.  We had a brief look inside the museum, and were blown away by the “The Panorama” of New York’s five boroughs, a stunningly detailed aerial-view model of the city.  Last updated in 1992, the Twin Towers are still part of the panorama.  Though some people might find this distasteful, a crass reminder of the past, I thought it was interesting to see this preserved piece of New York’s history.  It would be nice to see an updated model alongside it, to see how the geographical landscape of the city has evolved over the last two decades.  If you find yourself in Queens, you should check it out.

After our brief but poignant stop at the Queens Museum of Art, we made our way over to the Citi Field Stadium, home of the New York Mets.  Clare and I had managed to get $10 student rush tickets.  The atmosphere was amazing; we were completely surrounded by thousands of intensely passionate baseball fans, all dressed in blue and orange.  As we made our way to our seats, we passed teenagers eating hot dogs, little boys sitting on the shoulders of their fathers, couples in matching sports jerseys and one particularly hilarious group of rowdy young women, cheering enthusiastically.  It was like a movie.  So what if the Mets aren’t as famous as the Yankees, Clare and I were at a baseball game!  A baseball game!  Naturally, our seats were on the sixth level, but for $10, we were expecting the worst seats in the stadium.  Luckily, we still had a good view, and so we watched the game, bemused by the loud team spirit that those around us expressed.  It was awesome.

Until I started to feel sick.  Hit by intermittent, alternating waves of nausea and a throbbing headache, I wasn’t feeling very well.  Could it have been because I hadn’t eaten?  I remember wondering.  Clare and I went off in search of food, and I tried to choose wisely.  I went back to my seat, still feeling ill, my salted pretzel in one hand, a bottle of water in the other.  I nibbled my pretzel gingerly, hoping that I would feel better with some food in my stomach.  I didn’t.  I snuck off to the bathroom, literally feeling as though I would vomit, but managed to keep my cool.  I told Clare I would have to cut our trip short, and needed to head home.  Ever the good friend, she rode the subway with me, making sure I got back to Port Authority in one piece.  As we waited for the 7 train at Mets-Willets Point, an outdoor subway station, I started to feel worse.  Trying to be discrete as possible, I quietly vomited into the bin next to me.

That’s right.  I vomited in a New York subway station.

Throwing up in a New York subway station, in hindsight, is probably the lowest point in my New York experience.  However, Clare’s sage words made me feel better:

“I bet every New Yorker has thrown up on the subway!”

And so with that, I flipped my traumatic experience of vomiting in a public place, and did what any real New Yorker would do.  I hid behind my sunglasses and pretended it never happened.

The Sunday of “Big NYC Weekend” was officially a party, with the inclusion of my roommate Güliz.  We almost missed the bus, but the driver kindly opened the doors for us at a traffic light, providing a suitably urgent start to the day.

An hour later, we arrived in New York, and headed uptown to Central Park, where we had breakfast at the Central Park Boathouse.  After my morning hit of caffeine (and one sticky raspberry Danish pastry later), the girls and I joined the queue outside the boathouse and rented a rowboat.  I’m not exactly the world’s best rower (I forayed in kayaking in Puerto Rico earlier this year, and was sufficiently traumatized), so I let Clare and Güliz take the reins on this one.  The weather was glorious, and the view of the park from the lake was beautiful.  We even saw a family of baby turtles, hanging out on a piece of driftwood.  It was perfect, and just like the movies, until I realised that I’d lost my receipt.  The staff were jerks, and wouldn’t refund me my $20 security deposit. Twenty fucking dollars!  You win some, you lose some.

We left Central Park for the deepest, darkest depths of Brooklyn… Coney Island!  Home to the legendary Lunar Park, Coney Island is a beach, located at the southern tip of Brooklyn, a 45-minute subway ride from Manhattan.  It was kitschy but charming, with excellent street food, gorgeous ocean views, a boardwalk, and best of all, a crappy theme park circa Adventureland.  We took a strip of photos in an old-fashioned photo-booth, rode the Ferris wheel and went on the park’s oldest rollercoaster, The Cyclone.  We ate hot dogs from Nathan’s on the boardwalk.

From Coney Island, we took the subway to the edge of Brooklyn, and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge at dusk.  There’s a reason why the Brooklyn Bridge is a tourist trap; it’s a truly breathtaking experience.  The view really is something that I can’t put into words.  If you get the chance to visit New York, you really do have to see it for yourself.  You won’t regret it.  I promise.

I parted ways with Clare and Güliz once we had crossed the bridge; they headed home, but I had other plans.  I had managed to get my hands on a ticket to see The Shins play the first of three sold-out shows at Terminal 5, and so I made my way uptown, and lined up with my ticket.

After being ID’d, the attendant emblazoned my hand with a humiliating black “X” to let everybody know that I wasn’t 21 (the legal drinking age in the United States).  Extremely aware of the fact that I was alone, at a concert, I wandered the venue to get the feel of the place (and to make it look like I was doing something other than standing there, like a loner), as the opening act, St. Lucia played.  The experience would probably have been more enjoyable, had I been able to sit at the bar with a bottle of Brooklyn lager, but alas.

I tried to make conversation with one or two people sitting upstairs, but it was to no avail.  Surrounded by couples and people who didn’t want to chat to me, I started to feel disheartened.

Then of course, The Shins came on, and they played Australia, and everything was ok.  I moved towards the back of the room, hoping that there would be fewer couples holding hands, and a slightly better view.  I took up residence next to “JenJen”, a voluptuous young woman dressed head-to-toe in black, dancing and sweating enthusiastically.  She was clearly far more interesting than me, and I figured that if I danced next to her, nobody would notice me (and the fact that I was there alone).  As it turns out, she was lovely and exactly the kind of temporary friend I was looking for.

As I relaxed into the evening, I started to make conversation with the people around me.  I made a crack about being short to the petite woman standing behind me (at 163cm, it’s not always easy to see at these kind of events).  This impromptu ice-breaker turned out to be the catalyst for one of the most awesome New York encounters I’ve had to date.

“Stephanie” and I bonded over the lure of the city; she had migrated to New York six years before, from L.A.  She gave me a soul-searching pep-talk about making it in the big city and crystallizing my passion for writing.  Director of the FLAG Art Foundation, a contemporary art gallery located in Chelsea, she gave me her e-mail address and told me to get in touch.  After the concert, Stephanie and her friends (two charming, art-dealing Upper East Siders) invited me to go for a drink, but not being 21, and aware that I would be stranded in New York on a Sunday night if I missed the last bus home, I had to decline.  I was astounded at their kindness though; I had been chatting to these people for no more than the best part of an hour, and they wanted to hang out with me!  My trio of guardian angels were just that; they refused to let me take the subway, and generously paid for a cab to Port Authority for me.

Everybody has an opinion about New York.  It’s true that it’s exhausting, it’s relentless and it takes no prisoners.  It’s true that New Yorkers always have something to do and somewhere to be; it’s a city full of desperately passionate people, all hustling, all trying to be somebody.  It’s true that New Yorkers will not let you get in the way of anything.  And yet, all of the New Yorkers that I’ve encountered have been incredibly kind and generous-spirited.  Everybody I’ve met has been insightful, helpful, and fascinatingly, endlessly interesting.  This tiny island is home to the most compelling set of people in the Western world.  I’m sure of it.

The memory of that bus ride home, of gazing out at the twinkling lights of Manhattan from across the Hudson River is burned into my memory.

I can’t believe my life.  How can one person experience so many overwhelmingly incredible things in one weekend?  How is this not a dream?  Now do you see why I have to be a part of it?

*Photographs by Clare Anderson.

After Friday’s solo excursion into the city, it was nice to be a tourist with a friend.  Clare and I decided to mark the occasion by Dressing Up.  She wore my disco pants (surprisingly comfortable if ostentatiously shiny), I wore The World’s Most Dramatic Dress.  We both wore red lipstick.  The seven- minute walk to the bus stop in our ridiculous, glamorous outfits was somewhat offset by the fact that it was 8AM on a Saturday morning, and so  most of New Brunswick wasn’t awake to witness.  However, once we were in New York and aboard an East Village-bound L train, nobody batted an eyelid.  Street fashion is one of my favourite things about New York, and I’ve found that below 14th Street are some of the most stylin’ on the planet.

We had eggs and coffee at Veselka, a Ukrainian diner, before heading to Chelsea for a film screening, as part of the Tribeca Film Festival. I’d booked tickets some time ago, and so we were able to breeze past the rush line (though after last time’s rush debacle, said rush line had my utmost sympathy).  We saw Francophrenia (Or Don’t Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is), an “experimental art-house film”, about Hollywood actor James Franco and his stint on daytime soap opera, General Hospital.  The film was entirely self-indulgent, but kind of fun, and there was a Q&A session with the film’s director Ian Olds, and co-writer Paul Felton after the screening.  It was exactly what you’d expect from a dude who’s “been to film school”, but the film itself was appropriately self-deprecating, and not as wanky some of its reviews had suggested.

After the film screening, we walked over to Chelsea’s neighbouring district, the Flatiron, for hot chocolate at Sex and the City hotspot, The City Bakery.  The hot chocolate was decadent and the view perfect for people watching.  Refuelled, Clare and I took the subway to Brooklyn.  We visited the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens for the Sakura Matsuri festival, a celebration of cherry blossoms and Japanese culture.  We wandered the park, impressed and amused by the Anime-themed costumes, Samurai sword-dancing, origami workshop and real-life “Godfather of Sudoku”, Maki Kaji.

The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens are beautiful, and definitely worth a visit; Technicolor blossoms, naturally-formed woven huts and a stunning field of vibrant amethyst Turkish hazel were only made more magical by a wedding that we accidently stumbled across.  Apparently we weren’t supposed to take photographs among the hazel though, and Clare got some hilariously dramatic candid shots of me running through the field, my Dramatic Dress billowing dramatically behind me.

The festival ended around 6PM, and so we headed onward to Wild Ginger, a trendy vegan restaurant in DeKalb, for dinner.  One pot of Gypsy Love tea, a lot of Asian food and several layers of clothing later, we found ourselves at the DeKalb Twilight Market, a fairy-light strewn outdoor flea market.  We had cupcakes from the Robicelli’s stall, Clare considered purchasing a miniature terrarium, we made use of the free instant-photo booth, and discussed our shared love for red lipstick with the delightful ladies of vintage clothing stall, LoveJunkie.

Clare and I returned to New Brunswick exhausted, but elated.

If you had told me that I’d be having experiences like these six months ago, when I was living in grey, rainy Manchester, surrounded by a sea of paperwork and sitting in my bedroom, bored out of my brains, I wouldn’t have believed you.

I definitely wouldn’t have believed you if you told me that on the Sunday of “Big NYC Weekend”, things would get even better.

*The photographs in this post were taken by the lovely and talented Clare Anderson.

I can’t imagine getting sick of this city.

No matter how many times I see that Manhattan skyline, it never gets old.  I have had some of the most magical, memorable experiences of my life, let alone my semester abroad, in New York City.  Last time I wrote about New York, I wrote about how an ordinary, insignificant day was turned into something special by nothing more than the New York air.  Little did I know that that small, special afternoon was a primer for the next trip I would take into the city; a trip I’d been planning for weeks, a trip that Clare and I had been referring to for several weeks as “Big NYC Weekend”.

I arrived in New York on Friday afternoon, pressed for time and anxious that I wouldn’t make my manicure appointment.  First World Problems?  Perhaps.  I made it downtown to the Lower East Side in record time, to find the nail salon calm and serene, a quiet oasis in this bustling city.  A sweet girl gave me the most thorough, precise manicure I’ve ever had, and it only cost me $10!  After 45 minutes of affordable luxury, I headed to my favourite bookstore in the city, McNally Jackson, an independent bookstore in NoLita.  For dinner.  Of course, left to my own devices, I would end up eating in a literature-themed café.  I shared a table with a native New Yorker, who gave me some useful subway directions, and one soup/sandwich combo later, I made my way back up to Midtown.

A couple of weeks prior, my friend had informed me that writer-director Jason Reitman’s L.A.-based “Live Read” project was making its way to New York.  I immediately booked a ticket, but unfortunately said friend wasn’t quite quick enough, and so I ended up going alone.  I joined the queue inside the TimesCenter, giddy with excitement. I spotted Olivia Wilde (who, despite being a Famous Person, didn’t get to skip the queue!), looking blonde and perfect.  I sat in the front row, next to a friendly, dreadlocked screenwriter called “Damien”, and discussed teenage clichés and collegiate experiences and terrible movies.  How is it that all of the New Yorkers I’ve encountered are such great conversationalists?

The Live Read itself was fucking cool; a plethora of Famous People, including Emma Stone, Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis, Greta Gerwig, Tom Cavanagh, Cara Buono, David Wain and James Woods performed a dramatic reading of Billy Wilder’s The Apartment.  Greta Gerwig’s impeccable comic timing was my highlight of the evening, and comedienne Emma Stone’s performance proved surprisingly emotive and measured.  It was a one-off event and a pretty memorable New York experience, especially for a self-proclaimed cinephile like me.

I walked across the street to the bus terminal, wondering if this weekend could get any better, convinced that such a feat would be impossible, shaking my head at my own good fortune.