Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch

Many years ago I was too intimidated to walk into a high end NYC department store such as Berdorf Goodman. My mother favored Saks Fifth Ave when we made our annual visit to NYC. Particularly their pocketbook sales. My guess now is that Berdorf’s intimidated her too. The somewhat haughty “May I help you?” used to make me think that they somehow knew just by looking at me that I couldn’t afford anything they were offering.

My shoes are a better quality now. So is my attitude. Somewhere along the line, maybe when I got older than the sales persons, I stopped feeling intimidated. Maybe it was moving to CA that made me feel and think I looked more or differently sophisticated and could therefore feel ok in this status conscious temple. I know that, at some point, the Upper East Side look,which initially fascinated me and seemed unapproachable started to look conforming and dated. Nothing to fear here, for sure.

Today I wandered into the store needing a new lipstick. NO problem. It was near lunchtime so I made my way to the top floor to find a seat at their restaurant Bg. I took a seat in the lounge, because they told me there was no space in the restaurant itself. I had a perfect vantage point by the entrance to the restaurant to watch the arrival of the Ladies who Lunch. and even surreptitiously take a few photos for this blog.

“Look how gorgeous you are!”exclaims one socialite to another. “I didn’t recognize you in this fabulous color!”

It’s a chic timeless room with a green canopy of trees from Central Park visible from the windows. The  upholstered small tables for two by the windows are understandably coveted. A place to see and be seen.

window seats

“A glass of white burgundy and ice water with a straw,” the woman seated next to me briskly instructs her waiter.

I easily broke the diners into categories. (90% female)
A. Those dressed all in black with and without a reservation, looking quite comfortable and more than pleased to grab a seat in the lounge when told there was no room in the restaurant itself. They know their way around here.
B. Those who step off the elevator looking uncertain. They are doomed to remain on the outside of this clubby enclave. Treated kindly as far as I could tell, but quickly turned away. The woman in the center of this photo epitomizes this look.

C. Young, polished, self-assured  creatures who were there to attend a private party in the curtained off back room.They swept right through the door by passing the hostess. No one dares to question their right to be there.

D. The impeccably dressed and coiffed single female guests, greeted with a hug and large smile by the maitre d. He is positioned discreetly across the door from the hostess whom most check in with, for such an occasion when someone of “import” arrives and needs to be fussed over and ushered into the inner sanctum. Maybe there’s always a table waiting for this kind of guest? Too obvious and too close to even attempt a photo here.

I couldn’t help noticing the power shoes that came through the door. It was easy taking the photos of feet.

 

LOoks like the afro is back.

The people watching was great here. Probably unchanged for the last century. I think the only thing that fortunately has changed is my frame of reference!

My History of Eating, Part One

Disclosure:  I’m Jewish. Food and its consumption are a part of my culture. That might have something to with the attention I’ve paid to food most of my life.  Taking it to another level, I married a Jewish man whose Jewish Mother wanted to know when we visited, what we wanted her to cook for dinner.  This was before we finished breakfast.

Although my father was a grocer, the food choices in mid-century New England were a far cry from what I’ve now come to expect since I’ve been living in CA. New England gastronomy was strongly influenced by early waves of immigrants from England, Ireland and Poland, not nations known for their culinary prowess.  I grew up working in my parents’ store, surrounded by food, much of it canned, bottled, some of it frozen, with a produce section that only drew my attention when local fruit and vegetables became available for a brief few months between the last freeze and first frost.

My mother worked in the store with my father most days.  For dinner, when I was growing up, I’d put 4 Idaho potatoes in a 350-degree oven about an hour before my parents were expected home for dinner. A most typical dinner included the potato I’d baked, a  broiled a piece of meat, and a side of once frozen, Birds Eye vegetables, usually green beans or peas, maybe canned corn. A side plate held a salad wedge of iceberg lettuce, topped off with Wishbone Italian dressing.  The meal would often be kicked off with half a Florida grapefruit, if they were in season.  If Mom felt daring, she’d occasionally broil the grapefruit with a melted brown sugar topping.  Oh, I forgot to mention a usual side of applesauce. Continue reading “My History of Eating, Part One”

Are You City or Country???

city mouse vs country mouseSome things about yourself change during a lifetime , others remain remarkably consistent. But then, some day you are likely to find, as I have,  that what had pleased you so consistently doesn’t bring as much pleasure as it once had.

I knew I was a “bi” before there was a name for it. I fancied myself part city mouse and part country mouse.  Maybe a little more city.  Now that I’m “older,” the life of the country mouse seems more appealing than ever and the city mouse routine is loosing ground.

City Mouse

My original city side liked the glamour, the energy, the cutting edginess of the big city.  I was particularly enamored  by the style, and the diversity of choices.  The city made my mind expand with ideas and experiences that I’d seldom, if ever, find outside the city..

When I was a teenager about to travel into NYC, I would think carefully about to wear.

city slicker

No matter how carefully I chose the outfits, in my own mind, I never made the grade. Now, I feel pretty comfortable in my own skin, and NYC has grown a lot more casual and forgiving.

At last, I don’t much care what other women are wearing, because it’s simply become irrelevant. By the time you’re in your 70’s, you’ve become largely invisible to the world of fashion, and have been for decades. That can make shopping challenging, but it’s also liberating.

Regarding the Big City world of food, I believed religiously that there was no place  better to eat than in NYC.  Now, I continue to enjoy the restaurants here, but detest the noise that literally bounces off the walls and floors.  Tables are too close together in this land of precious real estate.  Conversation can quickly become impossible if there are more than two people sitting next to you.  It’s then a game of endurance and the pleasure is gone.

Once restricted to Jewish environs, bagels are now available  just about everywhere. As youth, coming to NY meant eating a classic corned  beef or pastrami on rye.  Now, attempting that feat is an invitation to indigestion that could last and torture for an entire afternoon.

pastrami

OK, for live theatre, dance, and museums, NYC is unbeatable, but now there’s lots of inspiration online too.

For me, there’s too much ugly concrete. Too many buildings with the name TRUMP on them. Way too much traffic.  Too many luxury apartments towering over the city.  Too many people. Too many close calls.  On a daily basis, I come close to getting run over, be it from a reckless taxi driver turning into the pedestrian crossing or from a hell bent bicyclist riding the wrong way down a one-way street.

Country Mouse

So, I guess it’s no surprise that when we took an overnight trip to the NW Connecticut countryside, it felt like entering paradise. Here, the true charms of early summer easily revealed themselves.

Fields and meadows of waving grasses.  Green and deep woods. Deserted two lane country roads that insistently whisper, follow me.

daisies

By the ponds, marshes and lakes. Admire the wildflowers clamoring for attention during their brief growing season. Vines of wild raspberries and blackberries, clumps of daisies, pale pink clusters of mountain laurel, forests of ferns, all vying with each other for the title of Best in Show.  My country side mouse was grateful for the relief from the turmoil of the city. Deep breath in.

mountain laurel

And last, but not least, there is the quiet. Quiet. Quiet, only interrupted by the gusts of wind in the trees and the birdsong.  Deep breath out.

Green was the silence, wet was the light,
the month of June trembled like a butterfly….
~Pablo Neruda

Dianne & Clyde

The Setting

taxi in rain

The driver became agitated as soon as I told him I wanted to go to Brooklyn.  He began shouting at in me in an accent that was initially difficult to understand.  I knew drivers didn’t like to go to Brooklyn, but this level of anger was new to me.  He waved a wad of money in his right hand as he turned around while driving to announce that he would take me to Brooklyn, but only if I agreed that he could stop first at a bank downtown to make a deposit .  He repeatedly kept saying he couldn’t afford to pay a $40 late fee and that he had no time to waste.  If it hadn’t been pouring, I would have gotten out of the taxi then and there, but I was inside a dry vehicle that would otherwise be unattainable under the current weather and made me reluctant to move on.  Besides, I was tired.

 The Circumstances

He continued his rant, speaking far too loudly and far too rapidly.  I did not want to engage him in conversation, I just tried to assure him that we had enough time to make his deposit before 3pm when the $40 late fee would be charged. I wanted him to calm down. The traffic did its inevitable snarl as we made our way south on Park Avenue.
traffic nyc
 The theme of the conversation slowly shifted . He wanted to let me know how difficult it was for him to make any money driving a cab.  He became increasingly upset.  I told him that I understood how hard it must be, be he immediately countered that no, I didn’t understand!  He shouted that people think he must be stupid because he drives a cab, but he is not stupid, only acting that way because it makes his life easier. As we inched our way towards the bank, he went on to tell me about $90 tickets he had to pay for driving in the wrong lane. Then noting our situation, he added that it was impossible to make any money because traffic in the city moved so slowly. I kept agreeing, but it did little to help him regain his composure or assuage my nagging concern that I’d gotten myself into something I shouldn’t have.
I again considered asking him to let me off, realizing it was probably in the best interests of both of us, but I just didn’t have the energy to make a move.  His driving seemed ok, which was a big plus to stay put. Now,  about 15 minutes into the ride,  it began to feel a bit like a cool adventure and I was curious to see where it would all lead. I felt as if I was watching a a tv movie that could descend into dangerous territory at anytime, yet I also began to feel as if  I was ethically obliged to help him, maybe to show him that some people do care???

 The Plot Thickens

As we ultimately got closer to the downtown bank he needed, I asked him how he planned to make his transaction. After all, this was Manhattan.  No drive up windows here.   We had begun to have a bit of a dialogue, by now.  He’d figured out that he would find a parking spot, then shut off the meter. The plan called  for me to remain in the taxi, moving to the front seat so as to guard the cab from being stolen, as well as to guard his stuff.  Was their a gun in his stuff?  I was getting in deeper.  He told me he was from Haiti and the payment was to repay a student loan.  He had me now.  He added knowingly that cabs can easily become prey for thieves if they’re not guarded. I seemed like an unlikely candidate as a choice for a guard in NYC, but I guess he was desperate.
As we made our final approach to the bank, he looked at me and asked me why I appeared worried. Suddenly he seemed concerned with my welfare, or at least how it might impact him.   I told him I wasn’t so sure as to how his plans would work out, or as to my role in holding down the “fort.” He was undeterred and now that we were near the bank seemed  less anxious than he’d been a little earlier.  Of course, he was unable to find a parking space, so he quickly parked the cab illegally at a sharp angle in front of a mail box.  He insisted that I move to the driver’s front seat, but that seemed too weird to me.  I told him I’d only sit in the passenger seat, which he accepted.
The bank was across a very wide street. The driver told me he’d put on his emergency lights and leave the car running.  He promised to be back in two minutes.  I added a suggestion that he close all the windows first, making me feel slightly less vulnerable.  I had heard a story from another driver just that morning about being robbed at gunpoint. I wondered what I would do if someone spotted me with the intention of robbing the cab. For a fleeting minute, I realized another option I had would be to just drive away. But, where?  Never did I think of abandoning the cab. I started to reassure him, as if I were his coach.  I told him everything would be ok and even suggested that he take a deep breath. He could count on me to play my part. He departed.
There I sat as a most unlikely guardian.  I locked the doors as soon as he left.  Minutes passed and my imagination went into overdrive.  Maybe he was robbing the bank and I would become his unwitting accomplice?  An updated Bonnie & Clyde?
bonnie
At last I heard a knock on the window.  He’d returned from the bank. I quickly assessed that no one was chasing him and I heard no alarms or sirens.   I told him, ok, you can relax now.  As I was about to return to the rear passenger’s seat, he told me that I should stay in the front. I guess I’d become an ally.   Not wanting to offend him, I remained.  He was calmer now, but still shouting.  I decided  since the bank stint had been cool , it was time to learn more about him.

 Cheated Death Again

We talked like old friends all the way to Brooklyn. He quieted down dramatically. I learned he’d left Haiti 28 years ago, gotten a master’s degree in microbiology, got very sick for 6 months after working in a hospital lab, then went to medical school in Belgium where there were “terrible people” and “terrible things happened.”  He’d left medical school because of the the “terrible things” and came back to NYC.  He had no family and was working to pay off old school loans.  He seemed eager to make a change but was at a loss as to how to do it or where to go.
He displayed a broad knowledge of medicine and labs, but no longer wanted anything to do with the medical profession.    He had clearly lost his way and he was most likely suffering from mental illness or substance abuse..  From where I sat, I didn’t think it would end well. Sadly, there was nothing I felt I could do, but pay my fare and give him a generous tip, and wish him well.
My random encounter left me a bit shaken.  When I related the story to my family, they couldn’t understand why I had remained in the cab with that driver.  It was something, that to this day, I can’t fully explain.