My husband Kirk works for a food importer and distributor, so twice a year he trades in his usual tee-shirt and jeans for suit pants and a nicely pressed long-sleeved shirt and sets off to schmooze with customers at the Fancy Food Show. In January the show is held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco and in June it is held at the Javits Center in New York City. I’ve been to New York before, once pre-Kirk, to visit a certain male friend of mine (infamously known in our house as The Cross Country Booty Call) and a few times for work. I immediately fell in love with the urgent energy and unique beauty of the city which is both glitteringly polished and charmingly ramshackle. It feels quintessentially American and also international in a way few American cities do. This is the first time we’ve been able to make the trip together, something we’ve both been looking forward to.
The first three days we stayed with our friend Amy, a book rep who splits her time between her work territory of Georgia/Florida/Alabama and her 5th floor walk up in east Harlem. We’ve known Amy for years, in fact I met her and Kirk at the same dinner back in June of 1999. She was our neighbor in Oakland and frequent dinner guest so we’re basically family at this point; we drive each other nuts at times but we usually end up laughing about it later. Her place is great, it has wonderful light and she’s made it cozy without being too cluttered. You can hear music and the noise of the neighborhood floating in the window from below at all hours.
Amy is almost always in motion not unlike her adopted city, so she had a jam-packed itinerary lined up for us. First on the list was a tour of all the fabulous food her neighborhood has to offer, our favorite of which was a Dominican restaurant called El Neuvo Caridad. We ended up having brunch there Thursday and dinner on Sunday. I can safely say they offer the best cafe con leche I’ve had outside of Spain and I still haven’t gotten over the AMAZING chicken stew, though they did think it was weird we wanted to watch the World Cup rather than baseball.
Now, I’ve not been much of a soccer fan prior to this trip but being in New York during the high of World Cup fever is infectious. And with teams from both my home countries, New Zealand and the U.S., doing much better than expected I had an incentive to get interested. We ended up watching both these teams go down fighting and Spain win out over Chile in a tense game that had me bouncing out of my seat. We also happened to arrive right in the middle of herring season, so Amy took us to meet a group of her friends at the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station which offers traditional herring plates and beer during it’s annual Holland Herring Festival. I can’t say I was converted to this ritual with the same level of enthusiasm, but I enjoyed meeting Amy’s friends and the lovely setting.
Also on the agenda: museums. I gorged myself on the beautiful pieces on display at the Met (antique armor and guns, egyptian jewelry and linen, artifacts from Africa, Oceania and the Americas, and an exhibition of women’s clothing from the Victorian era through the 1930’s. Drool!) the MOMA (women’s photography, a sound installation by Bruce Nauman, prints and drawings by Picasso, and a collection of mid-century design) and the Brooklyn Museum (stunning work by Kiki Smith, more great clothes and shoes, paintings by Kehinde Wiley, Assyrian reliefs and mummies!) I was surprised when Amy told me the Brooklyn Museum has Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party on permanent display. When Rucha and I were small girls one summer our mother Judith packed us up and sent us off to spend a few weeks with our grandparents in Washington state. She set off to work as a volunteer needleworker on The Dinner Party. Though we often poured over the catalog at home, and had seen pictures of the work she did I’ve never seen it in person and at first I couldn’t remember if I had the place setting right. But as we came closer to Susan B. Anthony I felt a jolt of recognition looking at the stitching style. How amazing to feel her presence, see her hand in this inanimate object. I took a ton of pictures at all three museums, very few of which do the actual pieces justice and made me want to throw my camera away, which you can check out by clicking on the flickr link to the right. This will give you a taste though:
Once the Fancy Food show started I had more time on my own and spent hours roaming around Brooklyn and Manhattan, sticky with sweat and feet aching and totally happy. We had more great food of course: midnight Indian at the taxi-drivers’ hang out, vegetarian kosher Indian, fancy Indian with lichee martini, luscious new york style pizza, hole in the wall knock-out-good sushi, mouth tingling buffalo wings and savory meat pastries. I think I probably gained 10 pounds, but it was worth it.
I always feel a little sad when I leave New York, I couldn’t help feeling a pang as our cab driver barreled through the traffic, dodging cars, honking and cursing while blaring Christian radio. But driving down our street in Raleigh after midnight we had to slow down to let a tiny spotted deer work her way out of our path and in the morning I opened our back door letting in the birdsong and cool humid breeze. Nice.