30 October 2006

New York City - Part Deux...and a few thoughts

[For the curious among you:
I've had several E-mails asking me
if Michel,
who recently joined me in NYC
and appears in a few of my posts,
is my date,
fiancee -
Fortunately for Michel,
he is my friend. :-)
Michel is too smart
to get tangled up with me!
The fact that we are not
romantically involved
is the reason we're still friends!]

Stop This Train...

"So scared of getting older.

I'm only good at being young.

So I play the numbers game,
to find a way to say that life has just begun..."
~ John Mayer

If you haven't listened to John Mayer's latest CD, "Continuum", you really should. And if you do, pay particular attention to "Stop This Train" and see if you relate. If you're over the age of 40, and I'm six years past that, it resonates. It reverberates. It haunts my mind, but mostly in a good way. Maybe it means a little more with a bit of history.

It was also almost the reason I missed my flight back home to Wilmington. Not that I didn't get to La Guardia in plenty of time, but I kept playing that song on my iPod so many times and I was consumed with a million circulating thoughts, that I didn't hear the announcement that my gate had been changed. In a divine Act of Providence, my ear piece popped out of place and I heard this startling announcement, "Would passenger Susie Parker, please report to Gate 2 for boarding. This is the final call for Susie Parker - Report to Gate 2." It was a "Home Alone" moment. I sprinted. I'm sure I looked like a freak. Oh well, it was New York City which meant that I probably looked normal.

Anyway, to sum up the rest of the trip, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, just like Thursday and Friday, were exhilarating, fun and filled with unexpected surprises, the good kind, and blessings scattered all around me - disguised in the form of sights, sounds and the people hanging in my orbit. I really love whatever galaxy it is that I am currently inhabiting. I just don't quite know how I managed to find it. Or maybe it found me.

On Saturday, Michel and I headed to Union Square because he wanted to see a NYC farmer's market and how impressive it was! We walked around until Katie joined us around noon and then she took over the itinerary as only she can.

We headed for "The Strand" bookstore, having heard from Erik at PC Magazine, that it was a "must see", and Katie quite concurred. Four incredible floors of BOOKS! New books, old books, out of print books, gently and not-so-gently used books, you name it - and it was probably there. I set up camp in the basement and would still be there if Katie hadn't reminded me there was more of NY that Michel needed to see. We made our purchases and found our way back outside and in a taxi.

Next stop: South Street Seaport. Katie, John and I had lunch there last May at Pacific Grill, and it was such a warm, sunny NY afternoon, it seemed like the right thing to do once again. After lunch, we decided a harbor tour might be cool, but we couldn't' have been more wrong. Oh, the tour was fascinating - but it was FRIGID! The wind whipping up off the water soon chased Katie into the more temperate reaches of the tour boat, but Michel and I braved the winds because the view was just too perfect. It was like sailing in a picture post card scene except for the wind. I loved how the boat bounced, but I did miss it when the feeling left my face and hands. Michel was kind enough to share his overcoat and scarf, but even with that - my southern blood was protesting.

But the views! It would have been impossible not to fall in love with Manhattan that day. The skyscrapers gleaned, the water was white-capped and the sky found just the perfect shade of blue. It was one of those moments when the non-NY'er that I am, felt, well, extreme pride! Considering all that this city has dealt with and weathered, "Can do" was stamped all over the place. My fondness for Manhattan bubbled up, kind of unexpectedly. Having said that, when our boat sidled up to the Statue of Liberty, I did turn around and thank Michel given that he's French and it seemed like the polite thing to do. It is pretty impressive, all the more so since 11 September. One of the most touching parts of the day was when the boat got into position for the "Statue of Liberty Photo Op", every single person on that boat stood up - even the ones without a camera. All eyes turned toward the torch and I think there was this collective feeling of "awe". I still feel it when I look back at my photos. It was a goose bump sort of moment.

After the boat ride and post-sail thawing out, we weaved our way through the financial district and found a cab which deposited Katie on Avenue C and we made plans to meet up with her later for dinner. Michel took off for a walk to find something for his son, Brieg. I took off...for a nap.

The wait for dinner was something like an hour or so, but it was more than worth it. We found the most sumptuous restaurant, just around the corner from the hotel and I had no idea it was the home of the same chef who authored "Kitchen Confidential". Brasserie Les Halles is definitely worth a visit and whatever wait you may encounter. You have to understand, that after eating at NY Athletic Club on Friday Night, was a hard act to follow for whatever restaurant we chose, but through pure dumb, inexperienced, naive luck, we encountered a contender.

I said everything was fantastic - Katie and I ordered Filet de Boeuf Bernaise which was mouth-melting, as was the Salade d'Auvergne and, of course, the tea...well...trust me - good stuff. The only puzzling thing was Michel's entree: Steak tartare, Frites. I just couldn't understand eating raw beef with a bunch of stuff tossed in to make it appear (and I use the word loosely) cooked. Michel insisted that I try it and I did, but it tasted and felt like something I would give Cassie were I to try and hide a pill she needed to take. My unsophisticated palate found it to be...raw meat with stuff tossed into make it look cooked. Ugh. What was he doing to me? The first night we take him out he orders Kangaroo sausages and then it's raw steak. I think it was a sly French device for taking me to task - probably because I didn't walk fast enough. I didn't sense any obvious malice or resentment, but it could all be very passive-aggressive. Of course, I am teasing. Michel would have no problem getting in my face and expressing to me his displeasure with one of my actions - in a polite sort of way, of course. The French are very civilized like that.

Oh well, his digestive system, not mine. It must have agreed with him - or maybe that's why they are so serious about their wine - to take the edge off having to eat ill-prepared dishes. I really can't say. I guess if I tossed back a couple of glasses of vino, I'd easily overlook that someone forgot to put the meat over a flame. It reminded me of the time he ordered oysters for us on the Eiffel Tower and right when I was about to swallow one, he pointed out that it was alive. This was in my "pre-sobriety" days and I recall needing a half bottle of champagne to get the taste of THAT out of my mind and off my tongue.

What can I tell you - I'm such an American! Michel, I know that if you're reading this, you are probably rolling your eyes right now.

Sunday Morning was spent in the deep woods of Central Park. John joined us after seeing his mother off as she headed back for North Carolina the day before me. It's always fun to have John along and he's so easy to spot since he's generally the tallest person around and never gets lost in a crowd. Of course, Central Park was beautiful and the leaves were turning and it was nice to feel so far removed from the noise of cabs, buses, subways and 8 million people, give or take a few thousand. I love Central Park. It takes the occasional claustrophobic feel that I sometimes experience when I'm in that town. We followed paths and rambles and saw all manner of wild life, and there were some animals as well. The weather was still warm and it was a nice way to spend a Sunday Morning.

We had lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant which was very nice and then, given that Michel only had a couple of hours left for sight-seeing, I decided his sights needed to include the chaos that is Times Square for a little "sensory overload" which is the essential NY experience. Michel didn't quite know where to look first. So he looked a little lost and, of course, I captured it. I always have my camera. He's still handsome even when he looks lost.

Soon enough, it was time to head back to the hotel and the train that would take him to Newark and then to the plane that would fly him to Milan and then Nantes and the French 'hood he calls home. Or whatever the French word for home is...Chez Le Seac'h.

After bidding him a safe trip and goodbye hug, it was time for me to catch a cab for Greenwich Village for a fun dinner with John's Aunt Daria and Uncle Bill, John, Katie, another John, Cathy and Joan, who I met for the first time and enjoyed immediately. How kind of them to invite me to their Sunday Night dinner at El Charro. The only person missing was Melanie (John's other lovely Aunt). The food was warm and spicy and the company and conversation even better. What a great way to wind up a spectacular weekend. Sometimes I am amazed at the individuals who light up my path. I'm not sure how it all happens, I know my buddy Bruce B. has his own theory with regard to such encounters, but I know this much: I am so thankful, regardless of the machinations that make it so.

Monday Morning, I had one more meeting to attend. I figured it would last an hour or so, involve a cup or two of coffee and then I'd be on my way to hop around the Upper East Side as I waited a couple of hours for Katie to take off from work for lunch. What was supposed to last one hour, became three hours that flew in a blink! I met a very special person who was a surprise and delight. And so talented! GE - it was a pleasure and I really am working on my assignment - I just had to take a little time off to blog this stuff or it would recede into the far recesses of my cluttered mind. I promise to get back to work. I'll make you proud. I won't let you down. I won't let me down, either. Thank you for that SURPRISE Tuesday phone call.

Finally, as noon approached, I checked out of my hotel and headed for the charming place where my daughter spends her days. I met her fantastic friend Eric, who graciously guarded my suitcase while Katie and I ate at the Moonstruck Diner, just around the corner from the Queensborough Bridge, and then I returned to meet the beautiful and vivacious director, Anne Marie, other staff and, just as important, some very cool cats. No really, I met cats. I walked into a room that had at least 60 cats and it was like this huge cat daycare center - all cats, all the time. Everywhere my eyes landed, there was a cat engaged in cat-like activities and, as it turns out, NY cats pounce, swat, stretch, sleep and purr, much as their southern counterparts, three of which who call my place home. I will say that I met a very cool urban NY cat named Patterson who, I am told, is running for mayor and should I be granted HSNY voting privileges, he's got my mine. Katie works in such a purrrrrfect environment and it's a good fit for her.

Soon it was time to collect my over-sized suitcase, ask Eric to take one more photo and though I was sad to leave, Katie tried to make me feel better about not seeing her again until the holidays - "Mom, Christmas is like ten minutes away! You'll see - it will fly!". Right.

The weirdest part of all is that, though I was thrilled to be back home and see my son, my parents, Stephanie, Princess, Sylvester, Felix, Cassie and the birds - for the first time ever, I found myself missing the noise, the crowds, the shadows of skyscrapers, the subways, the taxis, the smells of a million different restaurants and street vendors, my friends, both old and new, and so much else that epitomizes that crazy city. Except the weather. When I left there was a biting wind whipping around those buildings and off the East River and I do NOT miss that mind and throat numbing cold, but I miss so much of the warmth I felt on this trip. I never ever thought I would feel that way. Then again, I never thought I'd have a kid living in Manhattan.

When I think about all of the fun I had on this trip, the adventures, the dinners, the meetings, the unexpected familiarity and even a little deja vu tossed in for good measure, and I recall leaving NYC in May when I was miserable and at the end of a relationship that was doomed to fail, the tears that I dripped all over the Financial District and Battery Park as I left my daughter in Yankeeland, and the very sad flight back home realizing all that I had to confront and feel my way through, I can't help but feel astonishment and gratitude for all that has come to pass in what is a relatively short span of time.

I couldn't know back in mid-May that all of that pain and frustration would deliver me to this place in my life. I am not quite sure how I got here, but I keep coming back to something I hear often and believe with all of my heart, "the promises are being fulfilled among us - sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will materialize if we work for them." There was a time I couldn't totally buy into those promises, and there were times I thought they might be meant for other people, but certainly not me. I now know they are dependable, reliable and non-discriminatory. They are true for everyone. Even me.

"Don't stop this train
Don't for a minute change the place you're in

And don't think I couldn't ever understand

I tried my hand
John, honestly, we'll never stop this train..."