Sunday, November 23, 2008

New York missive no 33 - Zarela's, and Chelsea art

In New York stories just present themselves, there’s no need to invent them. I arrived at my writing class last Thursday, as always a little late, to find everyone in mid conversation about the teacher’s selection of a Doula (his wife’s due to give birth on the day of our 4 Dec class). Two have made the final shortlist: a 6’1’’ tall former marine, and a Norwegian former potato farmer. What made them decide to become Doulas? What skills from their former professions do they apply in their new one?

Sleeping patterns are a bit skewed this weekend. Mexican food at Zarela’s in midtown East on Friday night with Si and A. The restaurant’s namesake moved to New York with her two young twins after a failed marriage in Texas and opened it with $20,000 of savings to bring good, regional Mexican dishes to Manhattan and beyond – she succeeded. Somehow it was 3am by the time I got to bed, then was up again at 6 to head into the office for our last 2 interviews with candidates for the Dakar-based Francophone Africa post. After a gym work-out to sweat out the sleepiness met S to gallery-hop along W21 and 22 Streets in Chelsea where every second building’s been converted into an airy space for contemporary art, and the buildings in-between into apartments only crazy people can afford or shops like Comme des Garcons, that only crazy people can afford. Then girly natter over beer and broccoli soup at La Graine cafe. S has moved out of her Weehawken Street box room now (to move in with her soon-to-be-husband, which makes sense), but the others are still hanging on in there…ok yes I was just a bit crazy to have moved out when I did. Then homewards for what I thought would be a nap before a Saturday night out but turned out to be an epic 13 hour slumber…

This morning made progress buying an amusing collection of items that Ra wants me to send to Chennai (he'd forgotten to put the order in before I left for India). A certain variety of Old Spice High Endurance Deodorant; a Mr Clean magic eraser (?!); Paul Mitchell's Instant Moisture Daily Shampoo to, apparently, zap the damage done by the Tamil Nadu humidity. And now heading to South Street Seaport. Given the Fulton fish market's no longer there, we're going to get a taste for it vicariously through the rosy prism of a reminiscent art exhibition.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New York missive no 32 - Obamapolitains

This weekend marked a year since I moved to NYC. On Saturday night I found myself sipping pink and lethal Obamapolitains at an Obama victory party, hosted by a Columbia professor in her spacious apartment overlooking Central Park. The apartment, which had taken 14 years of moving and shaking to get hold of, inspired almost as much conversation as the election. Though not quite. The sitting room was packed with campaigners and supporters, old and young. Some had quit their jobs and spent the past six months working twenty-hour days rallying support for Obama in Republican corners of Pennsylvania. When I asked one of them whether he’d be going back to his former job with a small veterans' non-profit he said no, he feels with this experience he can take on something bigger (and better paid!) now. There were kids for whom politics suddenly meant more than talking heads on TV. There were a couple of English girls fresh from university who’d come over to help out, figuring it would be more fun than frittering away their money in London bars while looking for jobs. There were a few guests who quietly confessed to “only” having voted. My trip to the Philly suburbs on election day to help get out the vote just about qualified me for my first, if not my second, Obamapolitain.

I felt it was late enough by then not to be accused, rightly, of foreign meddling, got the train down with K and other NY volunteers, and spent the day navigating up to front doors with a Lebanon-born New York psychologist between luminous Halloween decorations (blow-up pumpkins, frankensteins, shiny skeletons) that competed for attention with the Obama-Biden, McCain-Palin signs.

The end of this year has also finally brought some kind of closure to the Tigger-Eeyore pendulum that had continued swinging in my mind a little too long. That analogy's a bit unfair. Eeyore had (has!) plenty of dynamism that escapes in unexpected ways. And Tigger wasn't (isn't!) immune to melancholy. Anyway, time spent in Chennai with the T and a short phone conversation with the E in which much I'd planned to say wasn't said, plus a failed attempt at purging feelings by writing a short story about them (never a good idea - long live healthy detachment from creative subjects) have stilled that pendulum. What remarkably remains are two treasured friendships. Onwards...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

New York missive no 31 - Obama wins

Well there’s a lot to say about the past four weeks, during which I’ve found myself in London, Kyiv, Delhi, Chennai, Madurai, Kochi, New York, Connecticut, Philadelphia and Washington DC. Just a bit to be absorbed and described. I’ll start with Tuesday, the event shared with millions of others.

During the Democratic primaries one of the comments that used to annoy me was people saying they were going to vote for Clinton because “America’s not ready for Barack Obama”. And is America not ready because you’re not? I felt like asking (and sometimes did). Well, America was ready.

In a previous entry I said it can be dangerous to focus on “America” as a whole, projecting a single idea of what the country represents and in doing so brushing aside the experiences of those who don’t share the same idea. Yet in the last few days that sense of shared purpose has worked in an overwhelmingly positive way. Because, I guess, the idea of "America" that the majority chose to revive is one where every individual counts, regardless of background and beliefs.

Race didn’t feature as much as it might in the minute-to-minute struggle of the campaign. It’s now that the enormity of having a black President of the United States is sinking in. Beyond that message though, there’s the change Obama will bring in his approach to politics: listening carefully to all voices and through to the common purpose, and hopefully solutions, that lie beneath them; remaining calm, consistent and level-headed in the midst of tumultuous events; and strengthening the political process by bringing people back in.

Now off to see Man on Wire about Philippe Petit who tightrope-walked between the twin towers. "Nothing is impossible," says one of the people interviewed in the trailer.