Tag Archives: Harlem

Eat Pray Love: Take Two

Count me among the over six million people to buy Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. And count me among the many who didn’t finish the  New York Times bestseller. My gold Oleg Cassini bookmark is right where I left it three years ago. On page 72.

It would seem that I, of all people, would be able to relate to Liz’s story for I too had moved to Italy on a quest. But unlike Liz, who embarked on a “search for everything” after her marriage failed, I went to eat, drink and pray for love. And she, unlike me, had a finite number of days she wanted to spend in the boot-shaped country before moving on to more serene pastures in India and Bali. I went in 2003 with the notion that I’d never leave Italy, which I ended up calling home for just two years due to the weak dollar and failure to find a Count worth marrying. Still, I was eager to read about her soul-searching journey and saved the book until a three-week sojourn to China in spring 2007. During a brief solo stay at the desolate Red Capital Ranch, where I hiked alone along a crumbling and non-restored Great Wall, I struggled to get into the book. Although I dog-eared some pages and put stars next to passages that resonated with me, it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as I had hoped. Finally I gave up.

I thought it was just me who couldn’t get through the book but over the past few years oodles of people, mostly writers, have confessed that they didn’t finish it either. Just before the theater lights dimmed at last night’s screening, a colleague seated nearby told me that neither she nor her boss cared for the book either. (I’m sure Liz doesn’t care any more than, say John Grisham or Dan Brown, two commendable storytellers whose prose don’t match up to their book sales.) My failure to connect with Liz’s words didn’t stop me from wanting to see Julia Roberts, whom I adore, portray the author on the big screen for in the end it is the subject that fascinates me most.

Rarely is a movie better than the book on which it was based but even those who couldn’t stomach reading Eat Pray Love should enjoy the flick. I know I did. With my recent month-long stay in Tropea and few days in Rome still fresh in my mind, I salivated at the Italian scenes. The days of dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing) and outings with female ex-pats and local men were reminiscent of my time in Firenze and Positano when lengthy dinners like the one in the photo above taken in Positano were common. Brava to Julia for nailing the Italian accent and the filmmakers for capturing the essence of my adopted country. (Although I’ve never seen such chaos in trying to order a cup of coffee anywhere in Italy.) Most of the dialogue isn’t memorable and another round of editing is needed. But the acting, characters, colors and cinematography captured my attention — and made me want to book a flight abroad.

Outside of my visits to several spas, I didn’t fall in love with Bali when I visited in 2000 but maybe that’s because I didn’t meet anyone as sexy as Javier Bardem.

I’m willing to give Indonesia another try. And despite having a visa for India in my passport, I never took the trip. I’m sure I’ll get there. Some day.

And maybe one day I’ll finish reading Eat Pray Love. I promised myself I would and now that I’ve seen the movie, I’m more inclined to do so. It says something that I moved the book from my Upper East Side apartment to Harlem then to L.A. If I didn’t want it, I would have tossed it when packing my belongings for each move. When I opened the book last night after returning from the screening I found the Oleg bookmark with the words, “To be well dressed is a little like being in love.”

Two people who can attest to that are Liz Gilbert and Felipe.

Attraversiamo.

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Filed under Beauty, Dating, Dining, Fashion, Harlem, Italy, Travel, Wine

My Lasts

It never escapes me that everything I do in my neighborhood is now the last time.

As I walked to the subway this morning, to return Time Warner’s equipment, a friendly owner of a store that seems to sell any item I need such as string, hooks to hang photos, etc., said “hello beautiful” to me as he always does. That will likely be the last time we see each other.

As I descended the stairs at the 145th Street station, I thought, this is the last time I will go down these stairs.

When I return from running this errand I will likely stop in the Subway sandwich shop and order my final BMT on roasted garlic bread at this location. I’ll enjoy it as I wait on my movers to arrive.

I am glad I got to experience Harlem for there are some wonderful things, such as the abundance of parks. No, I didn’t go to them when people were there but seeing the greenery is nice. Jackie Robinson Park is just north of me and St. Nicholas Park to the west. I sometimes walked Lucy through JR in the morning.

And I liked walking down the historical Striver’s Row, 139th and 138th Streets between Frederick Douglas and Adam Clayton Powell. Being on those streets were inspirational. Having the streets named after many deceased African-American leaders was nice and kept their accomplishments fresh in my mind. Who knows when I will hear their names again.

I just got off the A train at Columbus Circle and spotted a rat scurrying around the tracks. Earlier this year there was one on the platform, waiting for the train I guess. As I wait for the D or B train to take me to 34th Street I am forced to listen to a former crack head turned preacher. At least he’s not begging for money. Just spreading the word and telling how he used to steal from his mother to support his habit. Glad he saw the light.

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Counting down the chicken bones

Chicken bone in Harlem

As soon as I walked out of my front door last night, en route to the Art Bar in the West Village for my going away party, I heard music blaring from a parked car. Now that winter is over, the natives are getting restless and beginning to hang out at night.

I am leaving just in time. Just as I was silently counting my days until I lived in civilization again, I spotted, just three buildings down from mine, a lone chicken bone on the sidewalk. I whipped out my BlackBerry and snapped the accompanying photo. Yes indeed, summer is approaching. And thankfully I will not be here to experience another.

I hate to leave New York, a city I really do love, on such a sour note. I don’t prefer my last memories of New York to be that of uncivilized Harlem any more than I want my last memories of my mother being her months in a skilled nursing facility, unable to respond to commands, talk or eat without a tube. But such is life. We don’t always get what we want.

A while back my friend Karen asked me if I had problems with Harlem because it was a black neighborhood. Hardly!! I know almost nothing but black neighborhoods. I grew up in Windsor Hills. Bought a house in Ladera Heights. For most of my life the overwhelmingly majority of my neighbors have been black. But of a different ilk than the majority of those I have encountered in Harlem. I know there are plenty of sophisticated folks in my ‘hood but I don’t see enough of them for they are not hanging out on the corners, shooting dice against stoops, leaving chicken bones on the sidewalks, peeing in the street.

I have witnessed so much public urination that I have been scarred. No lie. It has gotten to a point that whenever I see a man standing still with his back to me I think he is peeing. A couple of days ago I saw a man standing in front of a wall in the subway station at Rockefeller Center. Being that I can’t keep my mouth shut, I walked toward him to chastise him for urinating. Then I saw another set of legs. His girlfriend was standing with her back to the wall and the two were making out. I left them alone. Relieved that he wasn’t peeing.

But I hate that New York has put that fear in me. I can be in the cleanest city in the world but when I am out at night I am constantly looking for rats and mice. I don’t blame Harlem for that because I have never seen a rat outside of the train station. The rats are fierce on the streets of Tribeca and SoHo, daring you to cross the street when you encounter them from the opposite way. Mice ruled the Upper East Side. I don’t know how long it will take me to get over searching for rodents when I walk.

L.A. has its share of creatures too. I’ve seen possums wandering the streets of Ladera at night. Lizards are plentiful in the hillside behind me. One even got in my dining room one day. I’ll never forget going over to pick it up, thinking it was a leaf. When I realized it was a lizard, I screamed and ran away. I called my mother at work and asked her how to kill a lizard. She said to hit it on its head with a stick. I did just that, whacking the poor creature so hard that it went flying into the living room.  Not knowing what to do next, I picked up a stack of newspapers and dropped it on the lizard, flattening the poor sucker. When my date came over that evening, I asked him to pick up the papers and dispose of the lizard underneath.

Every city has something.

When I was in L.A. last month, my friend Cheryl joked that she was going to put chicken bones outside my house to make me feel at home. We laughed. But it’s really no laughing matter.

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The countdown lands at the Double Eagle Steak House

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I hadn’t put Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House on my list of things I must do before I leave NY because it is a restaurant I have frequented often during the past 4 years. And there are plenty of great steakhouses in LA. There is no Yankee Stadium or Coney Island in Cali.

But last week when I received an email from Lori, who introduced me to Del Frisco’s a few years ago, saying we have to go to Del Frisco’s before I leave, I gave it some thought. And not just because I coincidentally was walking past the eatery, on Avenue of the Americas and 49th Street, at the time. I had stopped by the restaurant the previous week, on a beautiful, sunny, spring day. But turned around and left when I saw the shades were drawn to block the rays. I am big on sunlight.

When I suddenly found myself with some free time on my schedule today, I decided to pop in for a  late lunch. I emailed Lori and asked if she wanted to meet me but she was in Bristol. I tried to get Tiffany from People to meet me but she had interviews, meetings and a mandatory Cinco de Mayo celebration.

So I went alone, as I usually do anyway. I don’t come here every week or every month but I am known here. Lori introduced me to Felix, the gregarious host, a few years ago. And I later met the executive chef Clarence Van De Mark and the folks behind the bar.

I love coming here as much for the atmosphere as the food. This photo taken with my BlackBerry does the place no justice. Housed in a former bank, Del Frisco’s is a gorgeous, two- story restaurant with a long L-shaped bar, a lot of wood and glass, a beautiful staircase and floor to ceiling windows stretching 38 feet and offering views of Radio City Music Hall, the bright red news crawl wrapping around the Fox News Corp bldg., Simon & Schuster, the McGraw-Hill flag blowing proudly in the wind next to Old Glory. Skyscrapers galore from the windows! Because it is a block away from the Time Life Bldg., I became a semi-regular a while back. There was a point where I went into People’s offices every day for a few months, and came down here after work. Outside of that then it was occasionally but faithfully.

Even during the Fashion Week, which takes place just down the street at Bryant Park, I would stop in here in between shows, carrying my Women’s Wear Daily and The Daily. I would sit at the bar and stuff my little face, providing the perfect excuse as to why me, being a size 8 (OK maybe 10 on a bad day), was not on the catwalk with the size 2 and 4 bean poles.

And the music is always incredible. As I am sitting here now typing this post on my BlackBerry, I am listening to the Isley Brothers’ Who’s That Lady. The Staples Singers’ Mr. Big Stuff, Stevie Wonder’s You Are the Sunshine of my life, the Marvelettes’ Mr. Postman. Music gets no better than this!

At nighttime it so packed that you can’t hear the tunes. But I usually come in after the lunch crowd has dispersed and before the happy hour madness begins and sit at the bar and have a long, leisurely lunch. Like today. Lunch stretched 90 minutes. Felix came by to say chat.

Then Clarence, the executive chef, came over. I said something about going home to Harlem and he said he was moving there from Jersey City next month. I told him what a big mistake he was making. He is going to be further south than me and on the east side. I don’t know that area but to me it is still Harlem. I told him I would send him my “Farewell to 2008” email about Harlem, comparing it to walking off the set of “The Jeffersons” and onto the set of “Good Times” when I moved there from the cultured Upper East Side.

I won’t miss Harlem but I will miss coming to Del Frisco’s. As I sit here now, I wish I could stay here and eat and drink as the place fills up. But I’m stuffed after fried oysters, fillet tips of beef and potatoes, a chunk of bread with a bowl of butter and two glasses of Malbec.

I just asked for the check and was informed that Clarence had picked up my tab. How sweet of him! Here I was just an occasional (albeit faithful) customer who was leaving town. He didn’t have to do that. But that’s the kind of guy he is. I remember the first time I met him and he suggested I should try the crab cakes. I balked but eventually gave in. So glad I did. They are THE best crab cakes in Manhattan. No lie. I should have had them today, now that I think about it. But it’s always a toss-up on whether to go with the oysters or crab cakes when I have beef, a must. Maybe I can come back for the crab cakes?

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The countdown begins: Coney Island

nathans-coney-island-1My days in New York are numbered. I’ve done nearly a year’s time in Harlem and will soon be paroled for adequate behavior. I’ll miss this wonderful and exciting concrete jungle called Manhattan.

Although I’ve done a lot in my nearly four years here, there’s still so much more to see and do. In between working and packing I’m getting out to check out some of the things I’ve put off.

Being a hot dog lover, a visit to Coney Island to eat a hot dog at Nathan’s was atop my last things to do list. I rode the D subway for an hour to get there and I must say it was a pleasant ride since we were above ground for part of the time. Since it was 90 degrees and a Sunday, Nathan’s was jam-packed as you can see from the photo above. Nonetheless, I waited patiently in line to order a frankfurter, fries and a Corona while Stacie and her 11-month-old son Alessandro grabbed a table.

Of course I’ve had Nathan’s many times before but the unhealthy meal seemed even more delicious while in Coney Island, which wasn’t too bad either. Outside of the overflowing trash cans that were eyesores on the Boardwalk, the place wasn’t half bad. The wind was horrific, as you can see from my out-of-control coif in the photo below, so it was impossible to lie down on the beach without ending up with a head full of blowing sand. And the wind made it much chillier than I expected so I kept my beach towel wrapped around me like a cape. But the sound of the crashing waves, the relatively debris-free sand, the blue skies and the soaring seagulls made everything bearable.

Up until yesterday, I didn’t even know I could come to Coney Island and enjoy a beach. Granted, it’s not the French Riviera, Anguilla or Malibu but all things considered, it was a fun little journey and peaceful. The old-fashioned Boardwalk put me back to a time prior to my birth. I thought the rides had closed but a rickety roller coaster was still operating. I even went out on a limb and used a public toilet. I thought I would have to hold my nose in there but it too was decent, all things considered.

The funniest thing was watching a seemingly cracked-out woman entertaining herself and the crowd by seductively dancing with a singer who performed on the Boardwalk. At one point she unloosened her belt and I gasped, waiting for her to strip. Thankfully she thought better of doing so. I was able to leave Coney Island with pleasant memories.

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How much is that doggy in the window?

lucy_sorrento_mediumMaybe it’s me being my usual grouchy self, but I am fed up with strangers coming up to me while I’m walking Lucy and asking me how much I paid for my dog.

It is none of your business! I would never dream of asking a stranger how much they paid for anything. It’s rude, or at least that’s the way I was brought up. But in New York, rudeness knows no boundaries.

I never got this question when I lived on the Upper East Side, where the residents are more refined. It’s only in Harlem and when I lived in the newly-termed Clinton (formerly known as Hell’s Kitchen).

One grizzled old man said to me one day, “I bet that dog cost you a lot of money? How much did you pay for her?” I snapped back, “I don’t ask you how much you pay for anything you buy so why would you ask me?” Of course I kept walking and didn’t stick around for an answer.

When I’m in a good mood, I have taken the time to find out why someone wants to know. No, I don’t ask but I do have a way of looking at someone  that lets them know what I want. A couple of times women have told me that they’re thinking of buying a dog and they want to know how much they cost. I explain that so many factors go into buying a dog that you can’t just ask someone how much they paid. Number one, my dog is 8 years old and there’s something called inflation. Also, my dog wasn’t bought in New York, where everything costs more. Also, someone shouldn’t think of what it costs to buy a dog but rather what it costs to maintain a dog with annual teeth cleaning, emergency veterinarian visits, etc. And they really need to consider the breed of the dog for their environment because not all dogs should be kept in an apartment. I’m sure everyone who rushed out to buy a Beagle after adorable Uno took Best in Show at the 2008 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show realizes this now.

I don’t presume that most of the time people want to know how much I paid for my dog because they’re dog shopping. They’re just nosy and want to be able to tell someone, “I met a crazy lady who paid $3,000 for a little runt of a dog.”

But I’ll never give them that satisfaction.

“She was a gift,” is my favorite answer.

And if you’re too young to remember the song that this post is titled after, click here to watch Patti Page’s rendition on YouTube.

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Ghetto or practical?

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I was appalled when I looked out of my kitchen window yesterday and saw a makeshift refrigerator on the window sill of a neighbor’s apartment a few yards away. Egg nog, poultry and who knows what else adorned the window sill in the 24 degree weather.

I’m sorry but this is ghetto! But it’s what I have come to expect living in Harlem, where I reluctantly moved last May. For all the hoopla over the gentrification of Harlem, it still has so very far to go. I speak as an outsider, not someone who ever spent any time in Harlem back in the day. Had I, then I’m sure I’d be doing back flips over the offerings now available to the bourgeois. Instead, I walk around with my nose in the air, shaking my head in disgust, fighting back tears and explaining to Lucy that we’re poor and can’t do any better right now. I honestly have walked down the street with her and said, “Lucy, we live in the ghetto.”

Today’s photo verifies that. I’m sure in the backwoods of the country, folks keep their bottles of milk outside. But I’m sorry. I’m living in what is America’s most sophisticated city and the main borough at that. I should not view the belongings from someone’s fridge on the window sill when I look outside.

It’s enough that there are chicken bones on the sidewalks. Stacie even called me one morning shouting that she saw a whole fish head on the sidewalk. The public urination in Harlem is appalling as well. I recently watched a guy stand outside a bodega, talk on his cell phone, smoke a cigarette and pee against the side of the building. I shook my head at him in disgust. Another time as I walked Lucy I saw a man come out of a building, go toward a SUV, take a leak right outside his vehicle then hop inside it. I’m like, WTF? Didn’t you just leave someone’s house, if not your own? Wasn’t there a working toilet in there? These disgusting MFers piss me off to the nth degree. Another time a guy taking a piss on the street, as I walked my dog, apologized for doing so. Is it any wonder that when strange men approach me in this neighborhood and want to shake my hand, I recoil in fear of the pissy germs they’re going to spread. And I don’t feel about it. I don’t shake because I know they have just tapped. We should all be doing the fist bump thing like Barack and Michelle. It’s much more sanitary and will be an upcoming post.

For now I’m on Harlem.

And I could go on forever.

But it’s late. I’ve just finished watching “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” for the umpteenth time but the first time since I moved. I used to live on the same Upper East Side street as Holly Golightly’s apartment and played the movie daily because it felt like I had a good friend in the apartment with me as I worked. It was comforting watching the movie tonight but really all it did was make me long for my old neighborhood. Yeah, the UES is full of mice. I even saw one outside of Holly’s apartment one night when I walked the dog. I swear, if it wasn’t for walking that darn dog of mine I wouldn’t see so many mice, chicken bones and men relieving themselves in public.

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