Monday, 31 December 2012

Room with a view.

I can't believe this year is over.

I've been meaning to write a clever, not-too-serious, not-too-long piece about the good things which happened to me this year, and not so good things from which I learnt from. Perhaps it's the early morning, when I'm writing this, but I feel it is too difficult of a task. So here is my realisation of where this year has gone:

I got stranded in Poland in January. I learnt a lesson about kindness. Said helo to Brooklyn from above a few weeks later. I spent my Saturday mornings in the book cellar and pouring coffee down my throat at the French cafe. I had a few affairs. I bought hats. I watched friends and family come and go. I did the Cliff Walk. I lived at the MET. I celebrated my birthday on the 60th floor of a hotel in Midtown. I saw a play in a park in Harlem. I watched friends getting married. I discovered "Jules" and the "Fat cat". I ran around the East Village. I pigged out on macaroons. I went to the Hamptons. I found a painter. I found a gallery in Chelsea. I switched schools. I tought myself how to draw. I read, I ran, I've written a lot. I got addicted to pumpkin soup. I survived the hurricane. I visited two new countries. I got hooked on almond masala. I lost a friend, gained a few new ones. I found somebody who loved me and let them go. I found somebody whom I could love and let them go too. I kept the songs in my head. I went back to the Court Square Diner. I took pictures and had my pictures taken. I got high on chocolate. I've had a mark made on my wrist. I stepped my little feet in Brooklyn and liked it. I lost and found myslef. I fallen apart and rebuilt myslef. And I did it all for the view.

I really can't believe this year is over already, though as the song says It was a very good year. I was walking through Herald Square last night, it was freezing cold and I just couldn't wait to get home and put my palms on a heater. I was passing by homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk, cardboard separating their bodies from the ice cold concrete. That's another thing about New York, you're being reminded how blessed you are. So I'm counting my blessings and I'm fully aware I have a few (rather more than few) people to be thankful to. 

So to all of you out there, Happy New Year! Hope to see your lovely faces in 2013!


Friday, 16 November 2012

The Chocolate Show.

Fleur de Xocoatl's New York series.

Pieces of chocolate beans.

Sunday morning in Chelsea. It’s Gabbi, Barrie and I. Armed with water bottles and non-sweet snacks. We’re on a mission. Our stomachs empty, our pants loose. We’re ready. We enter a huge pavilion, where sixty-five companies from forty countries present their chocolate products. And I don’t mean Hershey’s. I mean fine quality, handmade chocolates. Four hours of sampling. At least that’s how long we lasted.

Chocolate peanut butter, chocolate ice cream, chocolate fudge, brownies, cakes, macaroons, éclairs, truffles. Live cooking demonstrations, chocolate dresses, chocolate sculpture. You’re feeling nauseous yet? Chocolate covered bacon. Chocolate wine, which is a combination of chocolate flavour and red wine. I take a sip, feeling my knees getting weaker. Hold on, have I died? Is this heaven?

We circle around like hungry vultures on the battle field. Between the stands with No chewing allowed [1]- French truffles - I don’t need to explain, do I? ; Raw Chocolate by Gnosis - which apparently has healing properties[2], and Pralus - pistachio nuts, almonds and praline coated with milk chocolate; we find Hawaiian chocolates with salt. They make a perfect combination, like wine and cheese, like pumpkin and cinnamon, like me and a bucket if I won’t take a break soon.

We stop by Éclat Chocolate[3]. Looks like Antohny Bourdain and Eric Ripert have their own chocolate bar, called Good & Evil, which had its debut on Friday. It is made with extremely rare Peruvian cacao beans and studded with nibs. Here is part of the PR description:

Good & Evil captures the essence of the two iconic chefs’ personalities while telling the story of one of the rarest cacao trees on earth: a prized variety called Pure Nacional that was thought to be extinct for nearly a century before being rediscovered growing on small isolated farms within Peru, the only place in the world where it is found. This duality mirrors the connection between Ripert, who only sees the “good” in food, and Bourdain, who embraces the “evil” of the dark cocoa nibs. Together with Curtin, they hope Good & Evil will give everyone who tries it a sublime taste experience of the world’s rarest cacao beans.

What can I say, it is to die for. I’m at my happiest - chocolate, wine, chocolate-wine, Anthony Bourdain, Peruvian beans…I’m somewhere in between smiling and running around in ecstasy. And then I turn, and notice Him. He’s wearing a white apron, holding a bowl of chocolate in his hands. He’s saying something with this incredibly charming, familiarly sounding accent. He’s French. Of course he is. Handsome, French and Chocolatier in one sentence. Things don’t get better than this. Now, I’m in love and seriously considering proposing. I’m saved by Gabbi, her face looking paler but she’s still on top of her game. She shifts my attention to the cookies. And I mean THE cookies. I don’t even like cookies that much. But these cookies I’d marry tomorrow and have their babies. And I don’t even like babies. They’re called Oh my God Cookies and that’s exactly what we said after tasting them. They should be called The Orgasmic Cookies. We’re past the point of endorphins, happy hormones and aphrodisiacs. Here comes the dizziness. I feel my head spinning and pulse raising. I’m having difficulties speaking. I’m high. Literally, high on chocolate.

I need to breathe. I need distraction. We make another loop and meet Fleur de Xocoatl.[4]She’s a young lady from Paris, who makes probably the cutest chocolates I’ve ever seen. Four years ago she decided to change her career, and became a chocolatier. Clearly it was a great choice. Her chocolates are not only delicious (she uses pure cocoa butter and seasonal fruits) but also beautiful to look at. Each chocolate is hand painted, unique. For this years’ Chocolate Show, she designed bonbons to honor New York. In three boxes we see tiny, painted faces of Woody Allen, Audrey Hepburn, Roy Lichtenstein. They’re almost blinking at us. I’m stunned, fascinated by Fleur’s passion. The combination of sophistication, creativity, elegance and taste. This is the point where chocolate meets the art. Bon appetite!

We end up watching a presentation by Allison and Rhonda Kave[5]. A mother and a daughter, fixing Chocolate Manhattans. I can’t taste the chocolate anymore. The whiskey though is as strong as my headache will be tomorrow morning if I have two more glasses. I’m sipping on it, while Gabbi takes it as a shot. The girl can hold her liquor. And her chocolate for that matter.

Out of curiosity I bite a piece of chocolate bean. It’s really bitter, the flavour gets even more intense with the second piece. I’d ask for milk and sugar to turn it into chocolate, but I can’t take it any more.

Oh sugar, I had enough of you for the next few months.

Enough, something I never thought I’d say, about chocolate.


[2] I tend to doubt many things, but healing properties of chocolate aren’t one of them []
[4] Fleur (that’s her name) de Xocoatl (the name of the nectar reserved for the Mayan gods).
[5] Butter&Scotch and Roni-Sue’s Chocolates.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Montreal 2012.


- What’s worse, bad sex or no sex? – asked Gabe.
- No sex! Bad sex!

We answered at the same time. There were seven of us at the table and we were all nodding our heads like we’d had a serious moral issue to resolve. Each of us reached the point of two glasses of sangria, two large jars(!) of drinks, a few beers and visit at the hookah bar. The only problem was - Gabbi and I were still sober. There is something about Montreal’s air. It makes you sober I swear.
Gabe started swinging on his chair and kept going :

-…this one girl, she just laid there – Starfish! He spread his arms and legs at the same time – we roared into laughter but he was already demonstrating the Snail-bed-moves of the other one.  

Look at me, look at me…strutting down the streets of Montreal like a pro and if anyone was surprised it was me. All you hear about Montreal in New York is how beautiful and French it is. Well yeah…sort of. It’s trying really hard, but contrary to Washington D.C the results are rather adorable than tacky. Except for, Café Coffee Starbucks (seriously?!). Montreal won’t sweep you off your feet. It won’t overwhelm you with its architecture and style. Perhaps the only thing, that Montreal has in common with Paris are the names of metro stops. Apparently Canadian accent sounds to the French the same way as Cockney does to Etons graduates. But unlike Paris almost everyone here speaks English. And they’re not snobs about their language either. Montreal looks like any bigger European city but…Stick your nose out of the guidebook and you’ll find out that Man this place is fun. We[1] climbed the hill of Mont Royal and kept finding some grammatically perfect sentences around like : you on fire. The view of the city from the top was worth a climb. We walked down to the Vieux Port and it was so touristy and crowded we left as fast as we came. We switched it for little vinyl shops and two or three stories tall townhouses of the streets of St.Laurent and St.Catherine[2]. We saw the new Batman, without even realising what was going on in Colorado at the time. We discovered nights at La Distillerie, covered with colorful, delicious mixtures that went straight to our moods. They made us ready for the Game Bar where you could find us sitting with pieces of paper tapped to our foreheads or laughing our bottoms off about drawing we just created. We had long conversations of life and death and movies and literature, just when I thought they died for me since I left college.

You know the Canadians, they’re so…nice. Though it’s not like you’re first association with Canadian is – party. Have you ever heard somebody saying:

- Dude I got smashed last week with these Canadian chaps, I haven’t got sober for a week.

The truth is I had better time in Montreal’s French Quarter than I often do in the Lower East Side. It’s label-less ( Hipster vs Eastsider) ; label-less (Ralph Lauren vs H&M) and label-less (- Oh so you know Steven Klein? No?). In New York we’re tolerant of your beliefs and judgmental of your shoes[3]. In the meantime Quebec is having a marvelous time sipping wine and absorbing fair amounts of fried goods. Perhaps it is the French soul in Quebec. L’Art de Vivre. Culturally they could be a separate country. Away from Toronto. Keep calm and stay away from Toronto. 

And then there was food…the orgasmic crepes with Nutella, topped in caramel bananas at L'Avenue[4]. French toast with berries. And lots of meat. Talking about meat. Steak was a theme of the trip for Gabbi. Poutine with steak in the middle of the night, steak with fries for breakfast, steak for the barbeque, which our kind hosts Maxime and Martin made for us. I don’t have to mention cheese and wine right? The last night of our stay, Gabbi and I skipped the dessert after dinner and went out. We found our way back at 5 am and made a discovery. It was there, just lying on the counter, covered with foil…Maple syrup bread pudding.

- I’ll just have a taste – I said sticking my finger through the golden-sugared top.
- Mmmm it’s goooood…
- Let me try - said Gabbi. Thank God she didn’t bother with a spoon either.

We firmed the edges in a nice looking - nobody has eaten it over night - square and went to sleep. The next morning Gabbi woken up, and found me sitting on the bed,

- Would you like a piece? I said handing her the plate.


[1] We drove to Montreal from Boston with Matthew and his girlfriend Sarah. In Montreal we met our hosts Maxime and Martin and their friends. Last but not least we met up with Gabbis Haitian high school buddies. Hope to see you all in New York soon!

[2] I stolen the name of the crossroad form Sam Roberts song :

[3] I wish I would have come up with this line myself.. It’s again the add for Manhattan Mini Storage


Sunday, 19 August 2012

Puerto Rico 2012


Abdiel sat down on a rock. He drew up his knees, closed his eyes, took a deep breath. The cave opened to the view of the green valley below and tops of the mountains rising above it. A year ago this place was still a secret spot. This year we were climbing down with people whom Hunter S.Thompson called The beasts of obesity arriving on the cruise ships in search of bowling alleys[1]. They’re brining the noise with them, scaring the bats away, leaving the garbage behind. Abdiel was sitting at the edge of La Ventana cave, exactly the same way he did the day before, in the rain forest[2], while Monika and I were running around, taking pictures like Japanese tourists on ecstasy. The sadness on his face was clear. He could still climb the mountain barefoot, lead me to dive underneath the waterfall, look down on the green valley. But he couldn’t help worrying – was his country going MAC? 

I landed in San Juan at three in the morning. I took a cab to Calle Cruz and as we were heading to the old town, we passed – Burger King, Marshalls, KFC, Planet Fitness…Bloody hell, didn’t I just escape this?!

A week later I sat down in Mallorca Cafe, the local joint on Calle San Francisco. The waiter handed me the menu, and before I even got to open it I asked – In the meantime could I have some coffee please? Small, plain black, thank you! Surprised he glimpsed at me and answered – Can you wait a minute please? I was on New York mode, the - I want this and I want it NOW mode. He wasn’t. And I needed it. Coffee in Puerto Rico is really black - once you go black you never go back. It has a strong, fresh flavour, and it’s made of grains that are being picked up in the mountains not that far away from where you are. It makes New York coffee taste like a bucket of sludge. I ended up ordering  Mallorca with ham and cheese[3] and browsed through the pictures on my camera :  

The fortress of El Morro was built in the 16th century to guard the entrance to the Caribbean. Legends of pirates, Spanish gold, English fleet. It’s still here, and it made me feel like a little girl dreaming of the hidden treasures again. From El Morro I walked along the ocean shore, passed the crosses of Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery and sneaked to the shabby streets of La Perla. It's[4] is a tiny little district, squeezed between the massive walls of Old San Juan and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s kind of ironic that slums are the most colorful. You know you’re probably not supposed to enter the street, to whose entrance is guarded by a police station. Somebody gave me a look that could kill, somebody called somebody, somebody gotten in the car. I chickened out and was out of there before I could say plantain.  I saw the dungeons of Castillo de San Cristobal that day and tasted Mofongo for the first time. I remember thinking, how refreshing it was being in a place where not everyone has an I phone, and usually it’s the I phone they’re having dinner with. Puerto Rico is an interesting place. They have two flags, two governments, two languages. They measure distance in kilometers and speed in miles. They’re a separate country which hasn’t got their independence and doesn’t want it either. There are more Puerto Ricans in New York, than they are in Puerto Rico. The Streets of San Juan were empty on the 4th of July, since it’s a National Holiday and everyone was off. It was like seeing the East Harlem hanging out on a beach. Though it seems like Puerto Ricans care about the 4th of July the same way Scotts do about Queens Jubilee.

I knew I had to leave the Spanish architecture of the streets of Old San Juan, for the narrow paths of coffee plantations. See the country, eat well, do what locals do.

We rented a car and headed West towards Isabela city. We were driving up and down the hills, passing villages and haciendas. It was like a sigh of relief. The genuine Puerto Rico, was still there. With signs written in Spanish and home cooked meals, staying away of the monstrosity of chain restaurants, soulless hotels and tacky souvenir shops. High in the mountains we found Caguana Indigenous Ceremonial Park. It is considered to be the most important Taino Culture archeological site in the Antilles today. At the beginning of the 16th century there were between 20,000-50,000 Taino on the island. They were happily living their lives until the Spanish arrived. Within 30 years as a result of decease and slavery the number lowered to -€“ 60. Spanish king ordered to save the lasting population, but the slavery continued - ships from Africa started arriving. Then came the English, and the Dutch…and…It hit me in the head while visiting museum of the Americas that out of thousands of tribes who lived in Central and South America only 22 survived European conquest. Some of them count 500 people.[5] Talking about dying cultures and disappearing languages. If there was ever the time to see it, it is now.

We took our shoes off, walked along the empty beach, the sun was setting down. Palm trees were rustling. The intense blue of the Caribbean water, the sky brightened with orange and pink. The taste of salt in my mouth after the stroke of waves had washed me back to the shore. The laughter of friends picking themselves up to jump into the ocean again and again.
The idea of owning your own time. The switch from - I want it now – to - I am, now.


[1] Hunter S. Thompson Rum Diary.
[2] El Yunque is the only National Forest in PR. Did you know that the clouds and the amount of rain over there is affected by Saharan Dust?
[3] Pictured above, Mallorca with ham and cheese is an equivalent of American grilled cheese, but it’s served with sweet bread and powdered sugar on top. So good!
[4] Quoting Wikipedia: La Perla was established in the late 19th century. Initially, the area was the site of a slaughterhouse because the law required them and homes of former slaves and homeless non-white servants – as well as cemeteries – to be established away from the main community center; in this case, outside the city walls. Sometime after, some of the farmers and workers started living around the slaughterhouse and shortly established their houses there.
[5] PS. Taino invented a game that is really similar to modern football. Look at that Britain.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Gratitude in the Bronx.

Every day my train to the city goes through the Bronx and East Harlem. Last week I noticed a billboard above the warehouses. Gratitude it says. It makes me smile, and perhaps that's its purpose. Or perhaps not, but you have to admit it is kind of ironic to have it written in orange against the brown blocks of one of the New York's worst neighbourhoods.

The pictures are a series of random shots of East Harlem and the Bronx, taken from the train one afternoon.