Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Airport Ramblings

American public places have a preference for the color beige.
They also tend to be dingy.
I’m talking JFK airport right now, and I’m comparing it to Frankfurt or Hamburg airport.
JFK is a BIG airport, isn’t it? It’s big seen from an international standpoint, I believe. And yet it is dingy, beige and uninviting. I wonder why that is.
The music is too loud, too. There’s nothing here that makes me want to linger, and maybe that’s the intention. But the place also looks as if it had been built in the 70s and then let to sit here, no renovations, no rebuilding, nothing.
I mean, really? A huge big airport, and just ONE - ONE! - line for security checks? They really like to herd people here, make them stand in line, no matter if you get on a plane or come off it. 

Aha, Bette Midler is singing “Wind Beneath My Wings” while I hang here, waiting to board.
 I have a lot of time to kill. The cab needed thirty-five minutes to get me from Jersey City to JFK. I know, it’s the ninth world wonder, but the streets were actually totally clear on this Tuesday morning. Driving toward Holland Tunnel we saw an amazing sunrise, the Empire State Building hazy in the distance.
Yes, I was humming “Leaving New York” when we drove through Manhattan on Canal, it was that kind of feeling.
And sitting here now, I want to close my eyes and go back to sleep, be somewhere else,  be where it is  quiet and cool and dark.
Air travel in the USA is no fun.
There’s also no elegance to it, nothing of the worldliness and exuberance it still has in Germany.
I’m a bit homesick right now. Homesick for the comfort and style of my home country, for the solidity of stone buildings that were meant to outlast centuries, wars and storms, and that look weathered but never beaten down.
I’m longing for porcelain plates and metal forks even in takeout places, and I would like to not see old people swiping the floor of this eating area at JFK to make a living.
I’m tired. It’s nobody’s fault. I’m just tired from getting up very early, not having had enough coffee and standing in line for too long. In fact, the in-line-standing will make me think very hard and long before I come back to the States. They do that really well here, and with enthusiasm.

At JFK, all by myself.
A lone traveler, lost somewhere in the USA. 
Somehow it feels different, going forward on a journey, than returning home. Going home, all pretences can be dropped, and nevermind the suitcase full of dirty laundry. Going onward, you still need to keep yourself together, dress properly, be on good manners, be your best self.
I’m going to a place I’ve never yet been: Salt Lake City
I have to let go of the fetters of New York City now and give myself to the West, to dry heat and a high altitude, to different food and strange, new faces.
It’s the reason why I love these trips: I want to meet new people who have been friends on Twitter or Facebook for a long while, but who I’ve never met in real life yet.
Traveling like this makes me feel alive and real like nothing else ever has done. I’m myself, and yet someone totally different.
I can do this!
I can navigate an airport, a strange city, a strange country, all on my own. 
I’m not afraid of accosting strangers if I have to, and I can buy food and coffee for myself. I even figured out how to use an American ATM machine!
I can sit patiently at an airport for three hours until boarding time if my cab was way faster than expected.
I can sit here at JFK airport and wait to get on my flight to Salt Lake while the silver bodies of the American Airlines planes glint in the sun as they roll toward take-off. 
And now I wish this bloody airport had free wifi so I could post this blog.
But like for everything else, they make you pay for that, just like you have to pay an outrageous $25 if you have to check in luggage.
Really? How come European airlines don’t have to do that, and you even get your meals free, and the airports are prettier?
Planes are standing in line, too, waiting to take off. I can see them from where I’m sitting in the lounge. 
I’ll finish my coffee now and slowly make my way to my gate. Maybe I’ll find a manicure parlor on the way.
PS: American airport coffee is awful.

Monday, July 23, 2012

In A New York Kind Of Mind

My time in NY for this year is nearly over. As always, I'm sad to leave. This city is such a special place, and I'm so lucky, the friends I have here are such special people, too. It's always a great treat, being here.

What shall I tell you about New York City that you don't already know?
It's huge. But then again, not as huge as one would think. It's loud, but it has sweet, tranquil corners. It's dirty, but then you drive up Park Avenue and there are all the Niki de Saint Phalle statues set up in the middle of the road.
New York City speaks all the time. It whispers, hums, moans and sings. It howls if there's need for that, and it talks to itself in moments of boredom.
It's a great beast stretched out in the sun, the turtle of life,  patiently carrying the parasites of humanity and everything that comes with them on its back. It has forgotten most of itself over the centuries, but its still there, and it still breathes.

Men have tethered it to its place. They call these shackles "bridges" and "tunnels", but the beast knows better. It knows that only one shrug would free it and toss aside the small creatures that hustle around on its
shell of concrete. It lets them build new towers and expand into the sky.

It lets them light up its night and disturb its sleep, and it lets them scurry and hurry across its back during the day.

It feeds them, and it breeds them. They are the beast's pets. They are its children, and it lets them play in its lap, and even bring their friends.

I'm imagining it watching me leave with sad eyes, eyes as large as little moons, humming at me to return some day, to not forget it completely.
As if I ever could. As if I ever would.
I'm taking the words hidden in that hum with me, the ones that say, "You haven't seen all. There are many secrets left. Come back to me, and I will show you."

And, leaving, I promise: I will be back.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Picture, And One Thousand Words

This trip is turning out to be quite a lot about food.
Which doesn't mean that I didn't get good food, and plenty of it, last year, but this time around I'm playing at "lunching out", and that's a totally different thing.

See what I mean: lunch with PJ Kaiser on Monday.

There's this lovely bistro around the corner, right here in Jersey City.
You have to remember this place, because here I was introduced to... BANANA CREAM PIE!
Banana cream pie is a little piece of heaven that found a new home on Earth. It may even be a serious rival to cheesecake, and that's saying something.

Yep, I just remembered in time to take a photo of it, before it was all gone. Lucky me!

Yesterday I went to Manhattan. On my own. In a cab. All the way from Jersey City to Penn Station, to meet someone I hadn't ever met before.
Now you must know that most of my life I've never done anything on my own. Or rather, most of my life I didn't feel like doing anything on my own, because there is always my hubby to go with me. I don't even much enjoy going downtown alone on my own at home, let alone in NYC.
But I did.
I told the driver where to drop me off, got out of the cab, and went into Penn Station, expecting to be lost and calling Emily to come rescue me.
But, no.
I managed! My friend was waiting for me right where we had said we would meet, and we had no trouble at all recognizing each other.

Someone on Facebook said for me to go and visit the "Serendipity" restaurant. It was a lovely place with great food and somehow connected to a movie or other... and for want of better ideas that's where we went, Val and I.
How blasé can you get: two women in a NY cab, being whisked from Penn Station all the way up to 60th St., right past the United Nations buildings, talking about their road to being published authors.

I still don't know what the special thing about this place is, but it was really fun. The entrees were great, but the desserts were amazing. I mean, really, really amazing.
Here's Val, slurping here "Frozen Hot Chocolate".

And here's my cheesecake. I think this cheesecake is better than Junior's, and that's saying something. Seriously.

The hot fudge was divine, but the cheesecake itself was perfect. Perfect. Perfect.

Leaving the place, we found this charming man sitting at a small table next to the entrance. He was signing books. When I picked one of them up to browse he informed me that he was the owner of Serendipity, and then went on to explain the images on the mugs they are selling to me. Needless to say, I'm one mug richer.
This journey will go into the annals as the mug-trip. Just wait and see.
I'm also two cook books richer. Not that I'll ever attempt to copy this cheesecake, but it feels good to have the recipe. And who knows. Maybe I just will.

Sorry, this photo is a little blurry, but I was still in this total state of cheesecake bliss. I'm sure you understand.

Times Square.
I know. A short while ago I said I'd be willing to live there in a tent, I loved it that much.
Uhm, no.
Either I've grown old within a year or I was delusional and utterly crazy last summer. Maybe it was because we just drove by, and it was nice and cool inside the car. But this summer, walking down Fashion Ave. in the humid, blistering heat of a July afternoon, it wasn't half as much fun as I'd thought it would be.
Still, here's the obligatory photo of a tourist in NYC. This is Val, btw. Not me.

It's hard to see from this pic that it was about (felt!) 110F, right?
Times Square on a July day: hot, humid, gritty, noisy, stinky and crowded.
Val said, "I wonder how many people would be left if they took away all the tourists? I think... like... six?"
I think she's right.

Oh, before I forget: I nearly, really NEARLY bought a purse. A $400 purse, and in lime green, too. I loved that purse. I wanted it. Badly. But I was good and didn't buy it. See, I can be frugal. Sort of.

Oh, since this is a blog about food, mostly: Here's my birthday dinner at Carnegie's. Yes, this is a pastrami sandwich. And yes, I know it's decadent, to say the least. But it was a fabulous birthday dinner, with much beloved friends.

And here's what the others had.

Tomorrow I'll go and visit the publisher. I'm very excited about that!
So expect a more "literary" blog post in a couple of days, ok?

And now excuse me while I go and get the left-over apple pie out of the fridge for breakfast.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Half A Million Miles From Home, At Home.

If you don't have a window seat in one of these big planes that nowadays fly across the Atlantic a trip from Germany to the US doesn't seem a a trip at all anymore.
It's more like being in a movie theater that shivers a bit from time to time, and with full service included.
I mean, Lufthansa really serves decent meals, and with style. No plastic knives and forks, and real food. Hot, tasty, and clearly recognizable as food.
Oh wait - they serve cocktails before feeding you. Someone once told me that everybody likes to drink tomato juice on a plane because it tastes better in high altitude, but I think that's a fable. It's good, but not better. I also think that some people shamelessly take advantage of the free drinks.

I watched the "Hunger Games" on this flight. Didn't make it quite through the entire movie, and I wasn't overly impressed. The hype passed me by. We had movies like that before. In a way, it reminded me of "Logan's Run" and "Soylent Green". Do you remember Logan's Run? That girl had the greatest legs ever. Jenny Agutter was her name I believe.

Funny thing is, I had to come all the way to NYC to watch Downton Abbey. Loving it! That show clearly tells me that I'm living in the wrong house. And I need a maid and a footman. No idea what I need them for, but now I do. In addition to a housekeeper, of course. Won't go into the social thing. I just want that beautiful house and the lovely Edwardian dresses. Call me shallow. But I love pretty.

Oh, immigrations! This time I HAVE to mention immigrations.
After my experiences at the Canada/USA border last summer I was in a panic about immigrations. One wrong answer, and that's it for you, right.
But not so! The immigration people at JFK are the nicest, most courteous, and attentive people. They make you feel welcome to the US, and they wish you a lovely day! THIS is the America I've known for so long! BIG kudos to whoever picked the men and women doing that job at this airport.
I was asked only ONE question: "Have you been to the US before?"
And I replied that yes, indeed, I had traveled here, they wished me a lovely day and stamped my passport. I was through in less than a minute!

Keith and Emily came to pick me up.
Driving back to their house was a strange, a lovely and actually weird experience. It felt as if I'd never been away! New York felt familiar. The streets felt familiar. It was exciting in the way it wasn't exciting.
This was the reason why I wanted to come back, and come back here, to this exact place:
visiting a city or people once is a wonderful experience. Visiting them again, is making them real. It means making them familiar, well-known, comfortable.
It's taking them out of a "once-in-a-lifetime" into "I'm at home with you".

In a few days I'll go and see my beloved publisher again, too. I'm excited about that, but in a different way than last year.
This time around I'm going to meet a friend, someone I've come to know well over the last year.
I'm looking forward to hanging out with her, the way friends do, and not only business partners.
In that, I'm the luckiest person. I have the publisher I need for me to be the best writer I can be, and she's also the greatest friend. Lucky, lucky, lucky me.

So here I am now, in Jersey City, on a sunny Monday morning, drinking coffee and eating a raspberry jam sandwich. It's my birthday, I was on the phone for an hour with afore-mentioned publisher, and there will be pastrami sandwiches and cheesecake for dinner.
I'm taking Keith and Emily to Carnegie's.
And I'll bring back a jar of pickles. Those Carnegie pickles... yum!

Tomorrow, Penn Station and a meet-up with @southboundcat's Mommy!
Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

How To Entertain Your Teenager

You didn't really expect an instant recipe, did you?

Here's the problem. It's called "summer break". I'm alone with The Kid (nearly 18) for two weeks while my hubby's gone to teach summer classes at an academy for highly talented children.
The kid's BB (best buddy) has been hogged by his family, and even worse, his GF (girl friend) has gone to the mountains with her sister and parents for a bit of hiking and climbing.
We are alone.

For all it matters, we could as well be alone on the space station. Or during winter in a science station in Antarctica. In that scenario, I would be the always busy and always enthused explorer, and the kid would be the love-sick guy mooning around in the kitchen. Or in his bunk. Or playing Tetris on the computer.
The REAL problem is, I'm the Mom, and consequently boring by default, and he's the teenager, bored.

"Let's go to the mall, kiddo. I'll buy you some new shirts, a DVD of your choice, and while we're there, we can have lunch!"
"Sure, Mom."

And you end up with a tall, unshaved, moody hulk slouching along beside you.
Just fabulous.

"Wanna go downtown?"

"Wanna go visit Dad at his academy?" (Which is located in a very pretty vacation spot on the North Sea! Beach and all!)
"Nah. Boring."


"Would you like to play Skyrim? I'll read you all the cheats!"
"You get on my nerves when we play Skyrim. You talk too much."

"Want to go to the movies?"
"Yeah, but I want to see Avengers!"
Right, I talked him into MIB 3, which was ok with him since that was on his list anyway.

A real highlight of the day for him is when the GF calls. Then he's gone for an hour into his room, and returns with misty eyes. Which is totally ok with me.
The mood in this house is not the best.
"Look, my new book cover! Do you like it?"
"Yeah, Mom, I get that you're a successful author now. You don't have to tell me."
NOTHING takes your enthusiasm out of you like that, trust me.

Here's the killer though.
"Would you like to come to NY with me if I could take you?"
"Nah. Don't dig sightseeing."


I'm off to make lunch now. He still loves his food. And the GF will be back on Friday.
YAY for girlfriends.
Mothers don't count once a kid is eighteen.
Come to think of it, I even believe that's a good thing.