25 October 2006

Manhattan with a French Twist

It was the best of times...it was the best of times!

Click on the moving photos at right ----------------> to see some scenes from NY.

It was...New York City. It rocked!

My suitcase isn't even unpacked. I think that's a sign of a good time that I wish wasn't over. Or perhaps it's a sign that I have more important things to do than tend to minor details. Or maybe I just really hate unpacking because I'm domestically lazy. Personally, I think it's a combination of all three.

I had a great flight up and even made it to the airport a whopping hour and one-half before my departure time. This was perfect because I ran into a friend whose flight had been delayed and we had over an hour to catch-up and Sam is HIGHLY entertaining, which only made the time fly...as I waited to do so myself.

I arrived at my hotel at around one o'clock on Thursday, 19 October, only to find that my room wouldn't be my room until 3:00 PM. What to do? Park my suitcase at the Park South Hotel and find someplace to eat and kick back and, since it was unseasonably warm, I found a great French restaurant on Park Avenue with outdoor seating and fantastic unsweetened iced tea! It doesn't get much better than that. Naturally, I had bought a copy of the current issue of a certain magazine because I wanted to see a certain article in print. Oh, and at this restaurant, they actually REFILLED my iced tea glass and DIDN'T CHARGE ME FOR IT! Now I know that I can never stay in a hotel too far from this place because it is a rare find, let me tell you. Nectar of the gods! I was at an address close to heaven, no question.

Three hours whizzed by fast because, if you're sitting in an outdoor cafe in Manhattan, the food may be pricey but the entertainment is free. I think a gazillion people passed by and what a cool place to "people watch"! I gave up trying not to appear as a tourist because it's so ridiculous for me to pretend that I see any of those sights every single day.

Katie wanted me to start my adventure with an authentic NY experience: We went by her apartment, grabbed her laundry and headed for "Manhattan Laundromat". Yes, you read that right. I was in the City all of five hours and was watching my daughter feed coins into a rusty front-loading washing machine in one of the filthiest laundromats I'd ever seen. Fortunately, it was right across the street from a cute Italian restaurant so we parked ourselves at an outside table and drank tea, coffee and I watched her eat disgusting calamari as we kept an eye on the clothes spinning out of control across Avenue C. Pretty exciting stuff. It was...not my idea of how to spend my first night in NYC but hey, at least it was short-lived.

Before long, my cell phone rang and I instantly recognized the familiar French accent on the other line..."Susie, this is Michel, I am at the hotel. Where are you?". YIKES! We grabbed the clothes and sprinted up to Katie's closet (aka apartment) and high-tailed it back to my midtown hotel and after six long years, it was great to see Michel! He hadn't changed a bit - maybe a little more handsome, but not one single year had stuck to him. He looked fantastic. It was wonderful to see him again. Warm hugs all the way around.

John soon joined us and off we trekked back to the East Village and we found ourselves at an Australian restaurant where Michel and John dined on kangaroo sausages (yes, real kangaroo - I tried to pretend it wasn't happening thinking that the poor kangaroo would have preferred not to be on their plate as well.). I had a salad, similar to the one I'd had an hour earlier at the Italian place a few doors down.

John still looked incredibly tall which, at 6'6", he is, but he looked positively thin! I guess walking all over NYC day after day will do that to you.

Friday morning, Michel and I walked down the street to Starbucks where we met up with Alan Levy, CEO of Blog Talk Radio, and we were fascinated as he told us about his new venture, how much it had grown since its late July launch, and he filled us in on his upcoming interview with Arianna Huffington. It's an interesting marriage of blogs and talk radio and I personally think it's poised to be the "next big thing" in cyberspace. Michel also found it an interesting venture and we both enjoyed meeting and spending some time with Alan. Alan's enthusiasm is infectious and his brilliance is obvious. Blog Talk Radio is definitely worth investigation and is already enjoying impressive growth. Alan Levy thinks outside the box AND the blog. I knew he was a cyber trailblazer the first time I spoke with him on the phone about a month ago. Meeting him only reconfirmed my initial impression.

After coffee with Alan, it was on to Ziff-Davis Media where we were joined by features editor Erik Rhey. When he asked me where we should go for lunch, I offered that I really enjoyed the place we ate at in May - great! We walked over to where it USED to be, only to find that it was no longer there. Fortunately, across the street was another restaurant and it worked out fine.

It was very nice to see Erik again and introduce Michel to a NYC magazine editor who is on top of his game. Erik filled Michel in on the differences between PC Magazine (US Version) and PC Magazine (European Version) and how it all worked. Erik also explained that his girlfriend was flying over to Paris the next day and that he would loved to join her. Michel told Erik that when he did finally make it to Paris, he would be delighted to serve as a tour guide and show him around. I think Erik will probably take him up on it and I can attest that Michel KNOWS Paris and makes a wonderful point person and suggests places that are better than anything Fodor's suggests in their guidebook.

Erik invited us back to ZD so that he could give me some extra copies of the magazine featuring my article and, as we made our way through a torrential rain, we arrived completely soaked and dripping, in spite of Michel's gallant effort to shield me with his overcoat. We basically looked and felt like drowned rats which is why my hair style works so well - it's always messy, so you can't honestly tell if I've been in a rainstorm, wind, or just didn't bother messing with it.

Erik graciously took some time to give Michel and me an impromptu tour of the magazine and soon we found ourselves peeking into the lab where equipment is tested, visiting the photography studio where equipment is photographed and checking out all sorts of areas where people were busily engaged in the business of putting out a top-rated, widely-circulated magazine. It was fascinating and so nice of Erik to take the time to give us an insider's view of the process that makes PC Magazine such a great read.

At one point, I excused myself to go to the bathroom and find a way to dry off just a bit and left Michel and Erik discussing Flaubert and the many works of great French writers. When I returned, Erik gave me a great assignment with a swift due date! (November 1st!). I was thrilled with it, but Monday and Tuesday will find me hustling. So what else is new?

Soon it was time to thank Erik and leave him to his work. We found our way back to the streets of NYC and headed into a suddenly chilly wind bound for an address that Michel thought might be the store of one of his cousins. It was now FREEZING! We walked...and we walked...and then we walked some more. Michel is accustomed to a LOT of walking and I'm pretty sure it's his favorite method of getting from point A to point B. Me, however, American that I am, thought it would make so much more sense to grab a cab, but not Mr. Le Seac'h! No, no, no, New York City, he felt, was best discovered by putting one foot in front of the other at a rapid gait.

I still have blisters. I'm not kidding. I was in Doc Martens and I still have blisters. Yes, we walked THAT much. I basically thought I was going to die. I still can't believe how much we walked. Now I know how Michel can eat that rich, delectable French food and still stay so thin. He's a hyperactive walker. I may be able to keep up with him when he's 80, but probably not. I don't see age ever slowing Michel down. Michel walks at two speeds: Fast and Blur. He's usually stuck on blur. Michel will never understand the concept of "stroll".

I don't know, maybe it's a French thing.

We arrived back at the hotel just in time to get ready for dinner with John's mother, Nina, her sisters (and John's aunts) Daria and Melanie, Daria's husband, Bill, John's sisters, Katie and Kimberly, and Kimberly's friend who's name I can't remember right this second, but was lovely. Dinner was at the handsome and perfectly appointed NY Athletic Club on Central Park South. We all congregated in the bar and then went up to the 11th floor to discover a breath-taking view of the city, and a menu that contained everything I loved and things I didn't know I loved, but apparently do. To say it was delicious, doesn't do that meal justice. Memorable. What a fantastic introduction into New York City dining for my French friend! Michel was in culinary heaven.

Fortunately for me, I was seated directly across the table from Nina (John's mother), and though we live a mere two hours from each other in North Carolina, we had to fly to NYC to actually get together! It was fun catching up with her and trading news about our respective lives, but we didn't finish which can only mean that there's a beach trip in Nina's future and she'd better not wait too long! We already have at least two dinner's worth and possibly a long lunch's worth of conversation and a wide range of topics to cover. Nina - if you're reading this - get with the program. It's time to head south.

What always strikes me when I see Nina and John together, is how in the world this petite, gorgeous woman could have given birth to a young man of such impressive height! I mean, 6'6" is pretty darn tall and Nina looks so very dainty! I'm not questioning his parentage, I just don't see how! It will remain an eternal mystery, I suppose.

As always, it was a special treat to spend time with John's wonderful family. His mother and aunts sort of just take you in and you almost instantly feel like you belong. They are warm, gracious and eclectic in the best sense of the word. We were privileged to share a great meal with even greater company. Thanks again to Bill, Daria, Melanie and Nina for sharing their time with us and making our Friday Night in Manhattan more than a little mesmerizing.

I felt extremely honored to be the "token blond" and honorary sister of the clan.

We took a few post-dinner photos and then we were off again and arrived back at the hotel around midnight, filled up and spent, all at the same time. I personally was never so happy to see a bed. Any bed. A park bench would have looked inviting.

Part Deux to follow!