Monday, March 27, 2006

vignettes from nyc

Steve and I returned yesterday from our long weekend in New York, where my college friend Regina was married. We had such a good time. The whole weekend was ... relaxed, which isn’t a word commonly associated with NYC. We slept in every morning, ate leisurely breakfasts in our B&B room, and gave ourselves plenty of time to do whatever we felt like. Here are a few tales from our trip:

• Our B&B hosts in Soho were really nice and welcoming. Joan is a therapist; her husband has the same name that we already are calling our baby, so it felt like synchronicity. Their townhouse had a big fisheye window in the front door, which set it apart from other places around it. Restaurants were everywhere - Thai, Italian, French, Indian. We felt like we were really living in a neighborhood.

• On our first afternoon, we walked up and down Spring and Prince Streets, which are full of art galleries and the types of shops Minnesotans might find at the Galleria or Southdale but with lots more character. Eventually, we found Dean and DeLuca on the corner of Prince and Broadway and bought a baguette, a hunk of “artisan” cheese, some olives and a slice of double chocolate souffle. It was too chilly to eat at a park, so we took it back to our room and devoured it - it was one of our favorite meals of the whole trip.

• I love traveling with Steve. I’m more of a planner than he is, but we both have the same style of sightseeing, which is to pick a place to go and then just wander without too much of an agenda. I don’t have to wonder if he’s having a good time or wishing we were doing something else. We just know, or we tell each other and accept each other. More than that, I feel free with him to truly be myself without self-consciousness - without that extra (sometimes exhausting) layer of awareness that I find myself putting on with other people. It is rare for me to find kindred spirits like that, and I feel so lucky to be married to him.

• At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Steve went off exploring for a bit while I rested my feet. I sat in my favorite spot, in the room in the American wing with all the sculptures and Tiffany windows. I used to go there during college to reflect and get away from the stresses of life, and it felt much the same now. I can't imagine how I must have looked, gazing rather tiredly at the sculpture of Pan the Piper, but a few minutes later, a Japanese woman came up to me and introduced herself in broken English. She said she was an artist and had been watching me sit there and thought I had a certain “look.” (Maybe it was the pregnancy “glow” - people have been telling me I have it.) She wondered if I’d be willing to e-mail her a photo of myself so she could do an oil painting of me. She was nice, and I was flattered, so I agreed to check out her Web site and think about it.

• Good deals found at Century 21: An $86 pair of Ralph Lauren sunglasses for $19.99 (for me). A $198 Joseph Abboud jacket for $99 (for Steve). Bad deals: No dressing rooms for men’s clothes, and women can’t try on bras before they buy. Who buys bras without trying them on first?

• We had cable in our B&B, and one night, we found a late-night repeat of Sunday’s episode of The Sopranos. Most of it took place in Tony’s dream state, while he was in a coma after being shot. In his dream, he was stuck in Costa Mesa, away from his family, his wallet and briefcase (his identity? his soul?) lost. Instead, he is stuck with the wallet and briefcase of another man, Kevin Finnerty (in-Finnerty - infinity?). He found out he had early stages of Alzheimers, and by the end of the episode, he sat at the edge of his hotel bed looking out the window at a strange light flare in the distance. He seemed so alone and desolate, and it felt so real and so heartbreakingly sad that I started to sob, and I lay on our bed with my forehead pressed up against Steve’s, just crying and holding onto him for dear life. Just in time, we found an episode of The Office to watch for levity.

• Steve and I spent Friday afternoon having lunch with my college friend Cathy at her apartment on the Upper West Side. They live on the 16th floor of a building that overlooks Broadway and has some cool views of other buildings in the area. She had her second baby boy in November, so we had plenty to talk about in the parenthood area. (Plus, she sent me home with some of her maternity clothes.) It is always refreshing to see Cathy. She is one of the kindest and most grounded people I know, and she also happens to be fantastically talented and accomplished on top of that.

• That night, we had tickets to see the American Repertory Ballet perform at Symphony Space. The show was amazing. It was four shorter pieces, fairly modern, each with its own unique style. There were moments that took my breath away. Thanks, New Yorker magazine, for the heads-up!

• We were less than pleased with the New York subway system. Those Metro cards didn’t work half the time - you would think formal training was necessary to learn to swipe them just right, and we apparently didn’t have the knack. I don’t know how many trains we barely missed because we couldn’t swipe our way through the turnstile in time. I miss the old dollar tokens, but those days are long gone.

• But the subway wasn’t all bad. One time, a man stood up and gave me his seat when he saw I was pregnant. Another time, we witnessed complete strangers discussing the proper care of a big plant someone had hauled onto the train. And one night, as a street musician played classic rock songs on his guitar, a couple spontaneously started dancing together. At those moments, New York seemed profoundly human and beautiful, not at all like the tough-edged veneer that sometimes gives the city a bad name.

• Regina and Richard’s wedding was a lot of fun - and it really reflected their personalities. It was an evening affair in a downtown loft and decidedly non-traditional in the best of ways - no attendants, no tuxes, no garter or bouquet tosses. The bride honored her Catholic heritage by having a reading by the Jesuit theologian-scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (which Cathy read very nicely in her “litigator” voice). The groom honored his Jewish-Polish roots by having his sister read a Jewish text in both English and Yiddish.

The first dance was to God Only Knows by the Beach Boys (one of my favorite songs, too!). Richard is really into music and knows a bunch of musicians, so the band was made up of some of his friends. I forget their name, but it was foodie - Custard Cakes? Custard Cupcakes? At any rate, they rocked. At one point, Richard even got up and sang a song to Regina with them - it was cute. We had left by the time everybody danced the hora, but at brunch the next morning, Richard’s sister said it was one of the most rocking, punky versions of Hava Nagila ever heard - and that even the older relatives were out on the dance floor. Brunch was at Les Halles, a French bistro-style restaurant near Wall Street, and I’m so glad we had time to stop by before we left for the airport. The pastries were delectable, the families were relaxed and happy, and it was great to see Richard and Regina one last time.

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