Park Here

Recently I had a meandering afternoon with a friend that reminded me of some of my favorite days in Paris—not particular memories or people, but collectively, as I spent many a nice day meeting up with a companion and taking a long walk with pauses in between to sit or lie in a park. There was the luxurious sense of having time and not having to take the most efficient way to the next destination. Sometimes while experiencing those days I recognized them for the treasures they were and was grateful for the pleasure.

This past time, I was in Manhattan, sitting at the southeast corner of Central Park waiting for a friend around 5:30 pm while horses and carriages stood nearby and tourists hovered over maps. I had become acquainted with this friend last year. We had both arrived in the U.S. around the same time, the difference of course being that I was returning home to New Jersey after having lived in Paris, and he had just embarked on a year of travel from his home country of France (he is from Bourgogne and had been living in Montpellier). He had initially planned to stay in New York for three weeks and ended up staying double that, not wanting to leave. He eventually did go on to travel elsewhere in the U.S. before going back to France for a few months. Now he was back for another three months in New York.

He texted me to let me know that he had arrived across the street from Central Park. I found him sitting at the base of a statue, his skateboard in tow. He asked if I wanted to sit down for a while. Sure, I agreed, though I wondered why we wouldn’t just walk the few steps into the park and find a nice bench in there instead. He lit a cigarette and said, I can’t smoke in the park, can I?

Ohhh, I said, That’s right. I wouldn’t have even thought of that even though I knew smoking hasn’t been allowed in New York City parks for five years. That’s because none of your friends smoke, he said. This is true—most of my friends in the States don’t smoke. This was definitely not the case in France. I used to come home smelling of cigarette smoke from spending the evening with a smoker. Sometimes I would even delay washing my hair if I knew that night my clean and shampoo-scented cheveux was going to be cancelled out by second-hand smoke anyway.

As you can see my thoughts are as meandering as my day spent with my friend. We headed into Central Park and followed different paths around ponds and up and down paved slopes flanked by grass where birds and squirrels hopped. I was again reminded how amusing it is to hear a French person say ‘squirrel.’ It is a joy that I sadly forgot until this day that he stopped to take a picture of two écureuils. I brightly said, “What do you call that animal in English?”

We saw a ballerina near the Bethesda Terrace, watched boaters on the lake, and walked along the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. As the sun set, joggers and bikers were out in full force. 101_0176101_0178101_0180

We headed down into the 86th Street subway station. My friend realized that he had to refill his metro card. He only had cash and all of the machines were temporarily not accepting bills (though I can tell you this happens often). While he lined up to pay at the booth, I decided to test a function I don’t usually use at the machine even though I didn’t need to refill my card. A worker cleaning the station immediately came over and tried to help me, telling me how to refill my metro card. Oh my goodness, here I was, passing for a tourist! He asked me if I had studied Egypt. This seemed out of left field until I realized he was referring to my tote bag, which sported the image of an ancient Egyptian woman in profile. Oh, no, I replied, without going into how I won this bag as a child one summer for reading the most books at the Bookmobile my mother took us to. If you like Egypt you should go see the pyramids, he told me. This friendly Asian man, obviously a true New Yorker from his New York accent, reminded me why I like being a tourist, albeit a false one.

My friend and I got off at 42nd Street to walk west towards Bryant Park. As we passed Grand Central Station on foot, he said, “What’s this building?” “You’ve never been to Grand Central??” I asked. Somehow I had assumed that during his last stay in New York, which lasted a month and a half, he would have visited the iconic station. It was a reasonable supposition considering that he had done random things like go to an Irish music session I recommended to him and a barbecue restaurant in Brooklyn that another acquaintance had mentioned. 101_0181

We entered the central part of the station and soaked in the grand hall and humming atmosphere. He took pictures as he had all day.

Unexpected mission accomplished, we then continued on to Bryant Park, where the lawn had opened after weeks of being prohibited to the public in order to ready itself for the spring and summer. My friend oohed and aahed over how green and fluffy it looked. We lay down on it, and it was even softer and more luxurious than I had imagined. I don’t remember ever having felt such nice grass.

I later saw a blog post on Bryant Park’s web site announcing that the lawn had just opened that day at noon. We stretched out on it a mere nine hours later. No wonder it felt so new. I hope it will still be as soft next week.

The Sunday Roast Mystery

On the last day of my long weekend in Yorkshire, my friend took me on an amble through the Shambles, a charming historic street of shops in the city of York. 100_6738100_6736

We saw the York Minster cathedral exterior, the Ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, which are now part of a public park, and other sights in the area.

It’s good to know that kids are still interested in magic. 100_6735

I could have stayed and wandered in and out of little shops for hours, but we had to get on to experience my first Sunday roast. I remember when a British friend from Birmingham first described the concept of Sunday roast to me. “It’s a big meal with meat, potato, and some kind of veg…” You mean like a normal meal!? I did not really get it. Meat, veg… this is what I’d usually eat for lunch or dinner, except that I’d call them “vegetables.”

At the restaurant, the server went around our table of eight or ten people to take our orders of appetizers and entrees. I was the last one.

“I’d like the summer tart,” I said.
“The what?”
“The summer tart,” I said a little louder.
The waitress paused uncomprehendingly. I was equally confused, as others had ordered the same appetizer before me.
“The summah taht,” the native Yorkshireman sitting to my left repeated.
“Oh, the summah taht,” the server noted.

I couldn’t believe it. I felt like English wasn’t my native language. The disbelief on both of our faces leading up to the clarification still gives me a laugh today.

I also saw for myself what makes a Sunday roast different from any other meal with meat and veg. My roast beef and gravy was topped by a huge Yorkshire pudding made from eggs, flour, and milk or water. Quite a sight to behold. 100_6744

Yorkshire was a lovely peek into a different lifestyle and landscape (and accent). I now understood why during my hostess’s visit to Paris, she remarked that we walked a lot, more than she was used to, that Parisian parks were small, and that she’d be more comfortable taking a taxi from Montmartre to her lodging even after I assured her that it would be simple to take the metro, just one switch involved. In Yorkshire she has to drive to get anywhere from her village home. She walks her dog in a vast, wild field rather than on a busy city sidewalk. Her furthest immediate family member lives only an hour away. Her wonderful swinging bench on her back patio negates the need to seek out restaurant terrasses. I certainly fell in love with her backyard features that she designed herself. Ain’t nothing like jumping into someone else’s pond for a few days, especially a saucy British lady’s.

A Day at the Races

During my trip to Yorkshire a while back, I went along for a day at the York Races with my host, one of her daughters, and her daughter’s fiancé and friend. I had brought my bright coral dress to England expressly for this event. That morning, my friend tried on several of her long summery dresses, asking for all of our opinions before settling on her red flowery maxi dress.

Everything about that day was a welcome bombardment to my senses. It was hot, the British girls were out in their colored printed dresses and showing skin, and excitement surrounded each horse race. I saw a grown man dressed as a baby surrounded by his pals who were in button-down shirts, ties, and trousers. It was prime time for people watching.

Everything about that day was a welcome bombardment to my senses. It was hot, the British girls were out in their colored printed dresses and showing skin, and excitement surrounded each horse race. I saw a grown man dressed as a baby surrounded by his pals who were in button-down shirts, ties, and trousers. It was prime time for people watching.

Can you find the former jockey below?

And the baby-man?

At the end of the day, the Scottish band Wet Wet Wet gave a concert. It was fun to see my friend singing along and swaying to the music. She was in heaven. If you don’t know this group that was especially popular in the 1980s and 90s, like me you may at least have heard the song “Love is all around.” “I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes…”

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Afterward, we stopped in the pub where my friend’s other daughter worked.

Pubs. British fashion. The York Races. Wet Wet Wet. Everything about the day was out of the ordinary for me. Americans share many similarities with the British, but we still have our distinct cultural characteristics.

A Castle and a White Horse

As my guide to Yorkshire, my friend decided to take me to Castle Howard, whose construction began in 1699 and was completed over 100 years later. The exhibits inside included one dedicated to the adaptions of “Brideshead Revisited” that were filmed there. The movies and TV series are based on the 1945 book by English writer Evelyn Waugh.

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I enjoyed exploring the grounds and gardens. 100_6658100_6663100_6669100_6666100_6668100_6671100_6670

On the drive home, my friend pointed out “the white horse” to me. She told me that a teacher created it in the mid-1800s. How funny. Can you imagine saying to yourself one day, “I think I’m going to etch a horse at the top of that hill.” Why not? 100_6675100_6674

We had time to drive to Kilburn village and walk along a trail to catch a view that was hazy but somewhat romantic because of it.

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Yorkshire

Sometimes when I walk through a city park, I think of the time I took an acquaintance to the Place des Vosges in Paris. She was from Yorkshire, England, visiting Paris for the first time on business, and I acted as her enthusiastic guide. Place des Vosges, located in the center of Paris, has grass, benches, and a fountain and is surrounded by old beautiful architecture. The day we went was beautiful and sunny, and many people lounged on the grass. “I love this park,” I told my new friend. She laughed, and not one to mince words, said, “You call this a park? It’s so small!” I was confused and remained so until a few months later, when I visited her in Yorkshire.

I stepped out of the airport in Leeds, England, where my friend awaited me with the little blue Mercedes convertible she drove for her employer. I had never ridden in a convertible and was thrilled as we zipped away to her village, our hair whipping around as we caught up during the hour-long drive.

Upon our arrival at her place, I noticed that her house was neither isolated nor crowded because she had neighbors directly on either side but vast space in front and behind her property. Her home was lovely. A red roof topped a brick structure that featured a perfectly-sized back garden and patio along with a small pond and nursery.

Approaching the back fence of her garden, my jaw dropped when I saw what seemed like endless miles of cornfields. They didn’t belong to her but ensured that this amazing view would not soon be obstructed by new buildings. I suddenly understood why she thought Places des Vosges was small. If only she knew how Parisians considered a tiny balcony prime real estate. When her two young adult daughters arrived at the house to join us for dinner, she laughed and remarked to them that I had taken photos of the cornfields.

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From my time with my friend and her family, I noticed that most of them had lived in Yorkshire all their lives and were happy there. She told me that all of her family lived close-by except for one of her daughters, who lived in Leeds. Leeds was only an hour’s drive away! Her considering that as far made me think about how I was an eight-hour plane ride from my own family and how my parents were halfway around the world from their families. I love traveling and feel lucky to have lived in different places, but I also thought about how nice it could be to be the type of person who is content staying put. Not to say that my friend and her family didn’t travel—they had all gone on vacation to different countries in Europe—but it was clear that none of them had that yearning to move somewhere else. 100_6626

My friend served a pitcher of the English alcoholic drink Pimm’s to which she had added slices of cucumber and fruit. We ate dinner outside at the table on the patio: my friend, her two daughters, one daughter’s fiancé, and the other daughter’s new beau, whom I only realized was a new boyfriend when my friend started questioning him conversationally. My friend’s husband worked long hours on the field and would not be home until later.

As darkness fell we all sat in the living room that was in an extension of the house covered with a glass roof and walls. It was interesting having the light on and night around us, being inside and outside at the same time. I remember a similarly warm and pleasant night when my friend and I had reverse roles; she was the visitor and I was the host. I took her to a restaurant in Montmartre and we ate French food at small round tables outside on a steep little street, other diners seated closely on both sides of us. How different an evening may be in different parts of the world.

On my first night in the English countryside, I was kept company by this boy, whose name is Paddy.

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Arthur Avenue and Blossoms in the Bronx

Recently three new friends and I ventured up to the Bronx to check out Arthur Avenue, the “real” Little Italy in New York. Our day got off to a delayed start due to half the group confusing which subway line they were supposed to take. To their credit, it is confusing that the subway stop “125th Street” is in fact four different stops across the city that ten lines pass through. Both people are also not long-time residents of this region.

Having shown up early to our meeting place in the subway station, I acted as an unofficial informational point for tourists who wandered in and wondered which direction to go, as there were two platforms, one for trains going uptown and the other for downtown. The answer was always: head downtown. You want to go to Columbus Circle? Washington Square Park? Downtown. Do you realize how far up north you are? Most of the island is south from where you are right now.

I can only assume they were coming from attending a Gospel Baptist service in Harlem, as many non-American tourists to New York seem to be interested in doing. Most Americans I know, including myself, have never attended one unless they are part of the church or were invited to a service by a friend for a special event.

Almost an hour after our originally scheduled meeting time, our group of four was complete. We started by having lunch at an Italian restaurant (on the back patio! It is spring!!). Before digging into our meat and pasta dishes, we split a plate of arancini, a Sicilian dish of fried rice-stuffed meatballs. Everything was delicious. The restaurant, quiet when we had entered around 1:30, was full of long tables of families chatting and having their Sunday lunch when we left.

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We stopped at an indoor market and a deli, purchasing cannoli, fresh mozzarella, truffle lemon zest, tiramisu, ham, and uncooked pasta. We watched an older man at a cigar stand hand roll cigars.

Toting our little plastic bags of goods, we walked to the New York Botanical Gardens for our very first visit. At least I think it was my first visit—sometimes I can’t remember if I’ve been somewhere when I was a kid. It was lovely. The cherry blossom and flowering crabapple trees were in full bloom. Slopes covered by innumerable daffodils celebrated the gardens’ 125th anniversary. Maples from all over the world lined walking paths.

Funnily enough, we spoke in French the whole day (to each other, not to all the Italian servers and sellers). Even though none of us was French, it seemed natural because we had met in a French setting in New York and I was the only one in the group whose native language was English, so it was not as if English would have made communication easier. I thought about how in France if I was in a group of French people, we of course spoke French, but if I was in a group of expats, we spoke English even though usually everyone knew French. I think this is because although many of the expats I knew whose native language was not English spoke French very well, they spoke English almost flawlessly, plus there were usually at least two native English speakers in the group, whether from the U.S. or United Kingdom.

When I initially moved to France, I thought I might meet some expats where our only common language would be French. As it turns out, although there are many monolingual people in the world, a non-French person who moves to France to study or work for a company often speaks English, whether they come from Asia, Africa, Europe, or South America. Many others don’t—I knew a Peruvian and a Russian in Paris who didn’t know any English—but a lot do.

How funny that what I imagined I would live in France—going out with a group of international people and speaking in our second language, French—instead happened in the States, in an Italian neighborhood in the Bronx, nonetheless.

Hanging Out

These guys were laughing and having a good time while cleaning this building. Colleagues, good or bad, color one’s work day.

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I’ve lucked out with most of my colleagues at past jobs. At one company, when 6:00 p.m. hit my two peers in my department and I would slide open our metal desk drawers, break open the snacks, and share them while talking about difficulties encountered that day, which might be clients, co-workers, or situations. It was also the moment when our normally composed, professional selves dropped away and the craziness came out.

I fondly thought of that time as “snack and bi***.”

Our job was not rosy by any means—if we were having a snack at 6:00 p.m., you can imagine that meant we were planning to stay for a while—but working side by side and munching on a cookie while having a laugh made everything more bearable and sometimes even fun.

Welcome Back

On my recent bus ride back from Boston, I turned on my wifi as we entered New York City and inched in traffic on an elevated road with residential neighborhoods on both sides. A number of personal networks popped up, including:

Fu** off [asterisks mine]
I can smell your weed
Roaming pigeon

Ahhh New York.

Do Americans Eat Burgers Every Day?

When I am outside of the United States, people often ask me what Americans eat. Burgers? Bacon and eggs?

Well, the following is what my friends and I ate during my recent trip to Boston from a Friday afternoon to Sunday midday. Keep in mind that this is not our regular daily diet, as many of us usually eat cooked food at home, but this is an example of a weekend eating out with friends.

– Butternut squash risotto with mushrooms and a fried egg (I like fried eggs but have never understood putting one on top of anything, whether in French, Korean, or American cuisine)
– Duck salad with bleu cheese, dried cranberries, and apples
– Almond brioche
– Gruyere cheese croissant
– Coffee with milk and sugar (I am no longer in the land of espresso)
– Japanese buffet with lots of fish, sushi, delicate salads, and green tea soft serve (soft serve is a kind of ice cream and may be called something different in your country)
– Raw oysters
– Lobster roll (lobster pieces on soft, warm buttered bread)
– Cannoli
– Prosecco apple cider cocktails
– Pretzel bunny (a soft pretzel shaped like a bunny, in case you had a doubt)
– Smoked salmon and arugula sandwich
– Lamb and tomato chutney sandwich

Thank goodness my friends are gourmands, meaning we all love to eat.

I will admit that half the reason for making this list was so that I could relive my food pleasures. I am guessing that reading it is not half as interesting or enjoyable as eating it.

To note, I like a good burger once in a while. I probably have a burger less than once a month (except when I had two French friends visiting and they wanted to have burgers almost every day. At least we sampled different restaurants). I usually eat oatmeal or cold cereal for breakfast and only eat eggs on the weekends, usually fried or scrambled. I like bacon but only eat it about once or twice a year.