Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pet Penance

lady and  tramp

The last few mornings, I've woken up at 5am (or thereabouts), startled from sleep by dreams of a dog we had when I was growing up.  His name was Tramp and he was a border collie.  We bought him and his sister Lady (of course) when they were both puppies.  When they were still young pups, we gave Lady to some family friends and kept Tramp to be our newest pack member.  He took the job very seriously as I recall, not really liking the company of strangers - or anyone really - who came to visit us.

But the dreams I keep having revolve around the fact that I don't think I was very good to Tramp.  He was always an outside dog (only coming inside during thunderstorms or nasty rain), but to be honest I don't really remember spending a lot of time outdoors with him.  Did I play with him a lot, or even just hang out with him while he sat out there all alone?  I couldn't say.  When he was a puppy, I know I spent lots time with him - we cuddled, we played, we fought, and we play-fought a lot.  I remember baby sister picking up Tramp's puppy needle teeth when he started to lose them and the big-dog chompers started to grow in.  And I clearly remember when Dad took Tramp to the dog parlour to have his hair cut prior to the start of the hot Aussie summer.  His long hair had been cut so short he looked like a punk rocker!  When he bounded up to greet me after school (he was always so happy to see us), I remember being so shocked at his drastic new hairdo that I burst out laughing.  Just as suddenly, poor Tramp put his tail between his legs and shuffled away - his feelings were so obviously hurt.  We made up of course and I gave him lots of hugs and reassurance but years later, I still feel bad about upsetting him in the first place.  Why would I even remember that?!

When Tramp got older still, hip dysplasia set in and as medications got less effective and therapy options more remote, my parents had to make the tough decision to put him to sleep.  I am so glad that me and baby sister were not consulted about this beforehand, nor did we have to go to the vets with Dad.  It was certainly my first conscious memory of losing someone close to me, and even today I don't tink I was ready to deal with it.  Death wasn't something I was ever very good at.  I just remember Mum telling us in the lounge room that Tramp wouldn't be coming home and that putting him to sleep had been the best thing for him because he was in such pain.  And I do remember the tears.  Oh man, the tears.  I'm so lucky that I've never had to make such a heart-breaking decision.

When I think back on Tramp, I recall a lovely dog who cared about his family.  He wasn't so well-regarded by our friends because let's face it, he was a grouchy dog who didn't like new people.  But that was our fault too, because we didn't socialise him.  I guess we didn't see it as important at the time - as long as Tramp loved us, and was good with us, that's all that mattered.  But I have to say that ever since, and maybe it's because of Tramp, my family has done a 180-degree flip on dog ownership.  Our dogs since Tramp - both Barkley and Anniebot (and even baby sister's lunatic pooch, Jax) - have been supremely social, lovely-natured dogs who spend most of their time inside with us.  They are humans in fluffy coats, really - an extension of our nuclear family.  Whether we knew it consciously or not, I think we've all made a concerted effort to make our dogs a big part of our lives - and not leave them outdoors, looking in.

So I'm not really sure why Tramp has been on my mind these last three days, and so early in the morning too.  I certainly remember him fondly, yet I do not remember my treatment of him that way.  As a consequence, I've woken up every morning feeling kinda miserable about myself.  If this were a 12-step program, I'd call Tramp and apologise for all the crummy things I believe I did, or the good things I should have done to make him happy.  But you can't do that to a dog, and certainly not one who has been gone for over 12 years.  So I suppose all you can do is write about it, and just hope that it helps.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

That didn't take (or last) long

We celebrated Memorial Day in the US yesterday and it was really nice to get outdoors and enjoy it.  Or so I hear, anyway.  Yesterday's celebrations in the city were the culmination of Fleet Week, a seven-day stretch when young (and usually uniformed) men and women sight-see in the streets of New York, while ordinary citizens like you and me get to thank them for their service - or else just stare at them, depending on how you're feeling at the time.  I got winked at on Thursday, and that pretty much made my day.

Fleet Week celebrations came to an end on the other side of Manhattan from me yesterday with parades, boat cruises, US Coast Guard displays, and Air Force flyovers.  I, on the other hand, steered well clear of all this pageantry (but mostly just escaped the heat) by hiding out at the cinema.  Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows" is exactly the sort of film we've come to expect from the legendary director.  Johnny Depp was typically madcap but to be honest, I spent most of the movie coveting Michelle Pfeiffer's jewelry.  I must have it.

The day before, after having my hair dyed a super-summery white-blonde hue, I stuffed in a delicious wood-oven pizza at Madison Square Park and then dragged my still-hungover ass into the cinema to see "Men in Black 3".  I can't comment on the storyline but I can assure you that casting Josh Brolin at a young Tommy Lee Jones (or as anything really) is just genius.  The suit, that drawl, it's just a lovely combination.

So with two weekend movies under my belt, you can imagine how much popcorn I devoured, ugh.    Today I start the short week with a renewed commitment to the eating regime I instituted prior to baby sister's wedding.  Gym - up.  Gluttony - down.  Fear not though, kids.  This time around I'm not going to be quite as hardcore (for instance I will allow myself coffee & booze, in moderate measure) but I've just consumed the world's most unimaginative home-made salad for lunch, and roasted chicken and an equally-unimaginative salad is on the dinner menu tonight.  Yawn.  I'm totally bored already.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Say Whaaa?

The last time I went out with Westo and Kittykat, we celebrated old-school New York.  This time around was no exception.

On Friday night, after what felt to me like the longest week EVER, we met up at Cafe Wha, a subterranean haunt in Greenwich Village.  I had never been there before, and I don't  know The Village very well anyway, so there was much (inner) rejoicing when I arrived at the right place to find Kittykat, Jimbo and his fiancee M-Train on the footpath outside.  Westo's cab arrived a few minutes later and downstairs we went.

Cafe Wha has been entertaining people since the 1950s and one of the first things you notice about it is that it is dark.  It's one of those basement-level, dingy bars that you'd expect to find in New York, but there is something about it that is so exciting too.  Maybe it's the music paraphernalia around the walls, album posters and Rolling Stone covers harking back to the 1960s and 1970s.  Or maybe it's the wall-mounted TVs dotted around the room that blast out music videos spanning decades.  Or perhaps, and this is my guess, it's the small stage area in the middle of the bar, set up for a live band.  And not just any live band, but the Cafe Wha band - known as "the best Goddamn house band in the city".  We settled down in a booth by the back of the bar and waited for the magic to start.

My night started with sooo many delicious buffalo chicken wings and buckets o' beer (oh yeeeah) and then a comedian took the stage as a warm-up act.  He'd been on the Dave Chappelle show before, though I'd missed it, but he was really good.  I always admire stand-up comedians for even getting out there in the first place, but he was good and the audience enjoyed his act.  Plus when he came off the stage, he walked past our booth towards the wait staff who were nearby, and I could see how relieved he was that his act had gone over well.

Before long, the band took the stage and the night was on like Donkey Kong.  I did my typical edge-of-the-seat anticipation dance, rocking it out like the whitest girl in the room.  Heading out to the bathrooms, I passed a very sharp-dressed man whose sequinned waistcoat and suit jacket had caught my magpie's eye.  I told him he looked fabulous and he thanked me, baby.  Cafe Wha was just getting better and better.

A few minutes later, my sparkly friend took the stage with the band and introduced himself as The Soul Man.  Like some sort of southern preacher, he bounded around the stage, singing some of the best old-time hits, looking and sounding like someone just beamed in from old school Motown.  I was in heaven. He was casting spells on the ladies left and right.  He dragged a Norwegian man up on stage and got him to demonstrate his "soul walk".  The poor man didn't have much of a soul walk, but nevertheless right on cue, his legs and arms turned to rubber and he ROCKED IT OUT.  I was super impressed - even the Soul Man seemed to love it.
Then I got super jealous of the Hispanic waiters because the Cafe Wha band took us to Spain and played some Gipsy Kings.  I was trying to sing along of course, and the fact that I know very little Spanish just made the whole exercise more pathetic.  But I gave the chorus of this one my best shot.

Me, Westo and Kittykat carved up the tiny dancefloor a few times too, belting out a bit of Cee-Lo Green, The Beatles, and Journey, among others.  The repertoire of the band was really impressive, and their charisma really helped get the audience on side, not to mention on their feet.

We got to Cafe Wha at 8.30pm on Friday night and finally stumbled back upstairs close to 2.30am.  Where had that time gone?  I'm not normally a stay-out-late person, but I had such a fabulous time, I can't even tell you.  The bar is hosting a booze cruise on 18 June and I think I might need to be part of that.  I need to take my fantastic dancing skills on the water.  Plus I need to keep my eye on the gorgeous band members, and see what sequin numbers The Soul Man is gonna rock.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Are you lonesome tonight?

No wonder I don't do PR for the theatre - my sales pitches are terrible!

Over a Pinot Grigio, a huge pile of salted radishes (fantastic bar snack, btw) as well as some amazing fried zucchini at Ca Va - Todd English, I was trying to describe the play to the bartender and I managed to turn it into something that even I didn't really want to see!  My plot summary had come from a scant few online reviews and half-assed attempts at 'official site' visits.  I heard myself saying things like "nervous breakdown" and "legally blind" joined up with "romantic comedy", and the bartender wasn't convinced that the combo meshed all that well.  I had to agree with her.  And in the end, the one thing we BOTH agreed on was the most important thing.  For me, this play was all about admiring The Topher.

When I bought my theatre ticket to the seriously wonderful production of LONELY, I'M NOT, I knew Topher Grace was playing the lead role.  Yes I think he's good looking, fine.  But I also think he's been in TV shows and movies where he seems kinda fun, you know.  So I though, how bad can this be?  Topher's leading lady is Olivia Thirlby, who you might remember as Juno's best friend.  She was awesome in that; she was equally so in this.  Theirs is a fantastic combination.

For 90 minutes we watched as former whizkid corporate genius Porter (Grace) fumbles through efforts to rebuild his life after a nervous breakdown and a spell in rehab leaves him jobless and - as a result, feeling worthless, rudderless, and with nothing to offer anyone.  Through a mutual friend, Porter agrees to go on a blind date with Heather (Thirlby), who is - somewhat ironically - legally blind and 100% independent.  She doesn't need Porter, she doesn't need anyone.  Yet Heather finds Porter totally refreshing - someone who is honest (because he has no reason not to be), self-effacing (because 4 months of rehab will help you know yourself), and he lets Heather see him exactly as he is (because he's got nothing to lose).

One of the reviews I (half) read assured me that this play is a romantic comedy - and it really is, but not in the mushy way that so many often are.  The characters are real.  I knew what Porter meant when he was describing to Heather what his life was like at the top of his game.  He had everything he'd ever wanted - a view from the top of the corporate ladder, working all the time, having lots of friends, making money, and yet feeling like it was all nothing - like an illusion, not something he could really hold onto.  Heather doesn't understand him of course, but I did (and I'm pretty sure a lot of other people did too).  And as the story rolls along, you want Porter and Heather to end up together - he needs to give a little, she needs to give a little - but if they did that, they'd be on!  It would be fireworks.

When the play ended (and it did, rather abruptly for my taste) I wanted to go back to the bar and tell the bartender all about it. But people think you're weird when you do things like that, so I just took the subway home and thought about it to myself.  My fried zucchini reprise will have to wait another day.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What's in a name?

I've been a bit annoyed over the past few days, reading online articles from the press back home about the pressure on my home state to change its name.  Apparently "South Australia" is confusing to people, partly because it is not specific enough (it seems to suggest the entire southern half of the country), and its initials give the impression of South Africa.  Both of these assumptions are fair, but come on!

This article/opinion piece even alluded to the fact that our new Premier was erroneously introduced to an international audience recently as the Premier of New South Wales.  The article suggests this is South Australia's problem.  Uh, no.  This is a presenter problem.  Clearly whoever introduced our Premier was an idiot who hadn't read his/her briefing materials properly.  Naughty.

I remember telling my English teacher in my final year of high school that I wanted to be the Director of the SA Tourism Commission one day.  I loved the idea of selling my State to anyone who would listen - anyone who wanted to stop by - and show them why I loved South Australia.  Indeed, when I started working for the State Government's environment agency and spent a month or so zipping around South Australia's national parks, counting chainsaws and tractors and other physical assets, I saw stretches of our natural coastline that would take your breath away.  In the 7 years I stayed there, I met so many amazing characters with great stories, and I ate and drank some of the best local produce I'd ever had in my life.  Blissful.

Granted, I never did become the Director of the SA Tourism Commission (well, not yet anyway), but I am still a big fan of my home state.

When I meet people overseas who have visited Australia, they talk to me about the great times they've had in Sydney or Melbourne, Cairns or Perth.  Friends have spoken fondly of the landscapes and scenic drives in Tasmania, or the majesty of the Outback, but by and large it's the cities - and not the states in general - that have left the most indelible impressions on them. 

When I left Australia for the first time, one of my very first international friends was from Sweden.  I was so happy when she told me she'd visited Adelaide.  But when I asked her what she did there, she told me that she had slept. She'd been running herself ragged playing tourist in the eastern states, so she spent her time in my home town just sleeping off her jetlag.  I remember being so crestfallen, just thinking of all the things she missed out on doing. 

Now you may well laugh, but you're just proving my point even further.  South Australia does need an image overhaul but it's not our name that's the problem. 

We need to rebadge Adelaide as a place worth visiting (and I'm presuming we do want them to visit).  We need to show the world what they're missing by flying over us - get them to fall in love with what we love.  And I just mention Adelaide as a first step simply because it's our capital city and the Adelaide Airport is the first impression most visitors will remember when they go there.  Fortunately the airport is looking pretty sparkly right now, so I think we're well on our way there.

When visitors come to Adelaide, don't we want them to love our food, wine, sports, churches, climate, beaches, national parks, and festivals? 

Don't we want them to proclaim Coopers the best beer they've ever had on a hot day (or any other)?  

Don't we want them to love Mr. Villi and his spectacular baked goods?  And don't visitors need to know how good those baked goods taste when washed down with a Farmer's Union Iced Coffee? 

Or what about how luxurious a bag of Haigh's chocolates can be, and how well they pair with any local wine you care to sip with them? 

Don't they need to appreciate that you can never get truly lost in SA - not with the beaches in one direction, the wineries in the other, and the national parks in yet another? 

Come on kids, it's a total no-brainer.

I don't think it matters what you call our State - it's what you offer visitors when they get there that matters.  Why would tourists spend extra money (and time) to fly to South Australia from the super-accessible eastern states when they know next-to-nothing about what to expect when they get there?

I can say with confidence that our networks of Australian Consulates, Embassies, and State Government offices fly the flag for all the states back home equally, and we have a wonderful expatriate group of Australians living abroad who do the same.  We support visiting politicians, artists, sports teams, philanthropists - the list goes on.  We get locals involved in Australian football, BBQs, and one of the funniest things we ever did in Chicago was to teach a bunch of our American friends how to do a TimTam slammer.  GOLD.

Admittedly Adelaide has its problems - moronic bikers and Hindley Street thugs being just two that spring to mind.  But the eastern states have those problems too - and hell, London and New York have the same (if not worse) examples of street violence like that and yet they get fantastic visitor traffic.  I don't think we should ignore these societal probems, but we can certainly overcome them.

And okay fine, I know what you're thinking.  If Adelaide's so great, why aren't you living there?  One day if the time is right, and the job is right, and the stars align, maybe I will.  But right now, my life is in New York.  But while my family is in South Australia, my heart is there.  And so I will always be supportive of it and I will try and inspire as many people as I can to get out there and enjoy it. 

If you go to South Australia and have a good sleep, that's great.  You'll need it.  Cause when you wake up, South Australia (or whatever the marketing goons decide to call it) will show you a really great time.  If you let it.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Music to my ears

After a rather lazy day, some of which was spent watching the much-better-than-I-thought-it-would-be "Avengers", I turned up rather uncharacteristically late to meet Westo, Jimbo and Kittykat at The Carlysle, a truly beautiful hotel on New York's Upper East Side.  Knowing what sort of place we were going to, I had warned Westo that I was planning to dress up.  I don't get many occasions to put on a pretty frock these days, so I figured "why not".   I chose a black satin dress with a lacy, sequinned skirt that I had bought in London and had not worn once yet.  Plus I teamed it with the shoes I wore to my sister's wedding and as a result, I may have overshot "glam" and landed squarely in "overdressed", but I didn't mind.

We were meeting at The Carlysle because in the hotel's Bemelmans Bar, the nightly entertainment is just fantastic. The first thing that struck me when I arrived is that the lights are set way down low.  You can barely make out anyone at the small cabaret tables (which is probably exactly how they like it).  Around the walls you see a one-of-a-kind mural created by Ludwig Bemelmans, author and illustrator of the Madeline books.  Word has it that Mr. Bemelmans painted the mural in return for his accommodations at the Hotel and ever since, it has served as the only public commission of his work anywhere in the world.  But what I liked most about the mural?  Bemelmans drew scenes of Central Park and every one of the characters - from the humans, to the rabbits, to the dogs - they're all smiling.  It's a truly happy scene and a lovely mural to set the mood for the bar.

Before long, the jazz pianist started up and we must have enjoyed three or four sets during our evening.  Against this elegant backdrop we had some delicious cocktails (I stuck to the passionfruit royale, a delicious blend of passionfruit vodka and some champagne on top) but when it came to ordering food, the challenge was on.  The bar offered two of my favourite things - steak frites and burgers.  But I didn't think either of them was a terribly appropriate choice, given that I was wearing a sequinned frock.  But I wanted something more substantial than salad.  Seriously, I could never be the leader of the free world.  In the end I settled on steak tartare, which was served with delicious little toast squares and some shoe-string fries.  I was a very happy girl and the steak was tender, lemony, and so filling.  Just like steak frites, but a little more classy.

At around 9pm, the waiter brought over a little advertisement saying that a jazz trio was going to start playing at 9.30pm.  If we wanted to stay, we would have to pay a cover charge ($15 per person at the bar, or $30 per person at a table).    As we had finished our meal and cocktails, and didn't much fancy paying any additional money, we decided to bounce out.  As we were leaving, we could hear the music of Woody Allen's band playing in the other bar, across the lobby.  Apparently he plays oboe and people will pay a small fortune cover charge just to watch him.  I wonder how many of those people know what an oboe even looks like before they go in?  Still, the band must be relying on Woody Allen as the drawcard, as his name is all over the signage.  Part of me not-so-secretly wants to go back and see him too.

Anyway, at this point in the evening Jimbo headed back to his hotel and me, Westo and Kittykat grabbed a taxi to Harlem.

Arriving at the Lenox Lounge, you get the distinct impression you've gone back in time.  It couldn't be more different to the Carlysle if it tried.  And yet, somehow I felt just as happy there.  The musicians were performing in the back/restaurant section of this historic jazz bar, so their music only blasted out whenever anyone opened or closed the door.  We didn't really feel like paying the cover to go in there (plus we had already eaten so didn't really feel like ordering any more food).  But from our front bar location, in a gorgeous booth, we listened to the juke box - or maybe someone's very cool iPod playlist - and had a lovely cool drink and people-watched.  A guy wandered past us at one point and said something to me and Westo.  I thought he said we looked like cool cats, when in fact he was complimenting us on our hair cuts.  Memo to me: schedule hearing test.  And another memo to me: come back to this bar another night for sure.

After our cocktail, we figured we'd head for home but taxis were really hard to come by.  We stood on separate street corners, trying to catch taxis heading any which way, but with no success.  Me and Westo had started to groove to some tunes we could hear coming from the direction of Red Rooster, where I'd taken my parents for a Sunday gospel brunch on New Year's Day.  Like the Pied Pipers of Harlem, the band attracted us over to them.   As it turned out, the music was coming from a live band performing in the restaurant just next door to Red Rooster.  People were dancing on the street, and that says nothing about inside the restaurant, where patrons were on their feet and dancing up a storm.  Women went into the kitchens and came out with big shaker musical instrument things, and started rocking out.  It was all so infectious and looked like so much fun - so we just had to be a part of it.  The three of us barged right in the front door and started grooving in the middle of the walkway.  Nobody stopped us, or made us sit down and order something, they just let us be.  It was then that we strongly suspected we had crashed a private party (something I've only ever done once before - thanks for the memories and the glass of bubbly Trevor, whoever you were).  As much as we all loved the band and the chance to dance a bit, we felt a bit funny being at someone's party so we made our escape.

Taxis were just as hard to come by but one finally stopped for us, but two other guys had spotted it too and dashed across the street.  Westo got to it at the same time, and she must have charmed them into giving it to us.  As a compromise they wanted to share the cab with us, but we had to break their hearts and remind them that Kittykat was dashing across the street to join us.  Still it was much more taxi courtesy than I've ever experienced before - normally when it comes to night time taxis in New York City, it's survival of the fittest.  So thank you fellas, it was much appreciated.

And thank you, Westo & Kittykat - for showing me a great night out in this beautiful city.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Stop, look, and listen

Residents of Fort Lee, New Jersey have been well and truly put on alert this week, with their police chief re-issuing his warning that people caught texting while crossing a street would be fined up to $85.  An increase in car accidents involving pedestrians prompted local law enforcement to crack down on people paying too much attention to their phones, and not enough attention to where they’re walking.  Since the start of March, 117 people have already been fined.

I just hope that Mayor Bloomberg isn’t too inspired by this money-spinner (I mean, life saving measure), because if it finds its way onto New York streets, I will be in big trouble.  Sure, jaywalking is illegal in the US but it happens so often that I’m sure the police just turn a blind eye.  They could never keep up with all the pedestrians committing the offences left and right anyway.  By and large, New Yorkers don’t cross at pedestrian crossings and if they do, they don’t always wait for the little green man, preferring instead to play chicken with the cars and just get where they need to go.  I’ve only ever seen one girl get hit by a car, and she did a spectacular stuntwoman roll across the hood/bonnet, barrel-rolled on the ground and sprang up, totally unscathed.  As she ran the rest of the way across the lights, she breathlessly reassured all of us horrified bystanders that she was “fine, totally fine”.  It was pretty awesome.

In truth, I’m not much of a walk-texter; it requires a level of dexterity that I have never possessed.  But if I’m guilty of anything just as dangerous, it’s walking through the streets while listening to my iPod.  I’ve got the sound turned up just enough to drown out city traffic noises but not too loud that people can hear the truly terrible 1980s tunes blasting my eardrums.  I do sometimes get busted for public dancing (aka absent-minded grooving while waiting for the lights to change) but I’d like to see New York’s finest try and fine me for that!  And besides, at all times I do try and keep good spatial awareness, so I don’t step out in front of people, or otherwise cut them off.  Public courtesy and whatnot.  And I do tend to pay more attention to traffic signals if I’m listening to my music so I'm doing all I can not to get squished by a car.

Nine times out of ten the iPod is a good deterrent against conversations with weirdos, which is good. But as I discovered last night, not wearing my iPod encourages the chatterbox in me too.  While I waited at the bus stop after work, I hadn’t had time to put my iPod in before I struck up a conversation with two tourists from Virginia.  A little older than my parents, they were on their first visit to NewYork ever and were a little puzzled about how the bus ticket system worked, and how they were going to get back to the Port Authority bus terminal.  Before I knew it, I had brought out my street map and commenced an elaborate show-and-tell charade worthy of any city tour guide.  The woman latched herself to me and blathered away about all the sights and attractions they’d seen that day and I was powerless to resist.  We compared notes on the corned beef sandwich at Katz’s, the sombre beauty of the 9/11 memorial, and the sensory overload that is Chinatown.  Any minute, I expected to be invited to their Christmas dinner, but it didn’t happen.  When we got on the bus, they befriended a retired Army sergeant who stood about 6’3”, was as bald as a bowling ball, and had lived in New York all his life.  As we stop-started through Times Square, he jabbered away to them about Broadway musicals.  He knew a staggering amount about them, and he was entertaining all of us at the front of the bus with his showtime stories, and my Virginia friends were also lapping it up.  When they got to the bus terminal, I let them know it was time to disembark and the husband – a man who had said very little up till now – patted my shoulder and told me I was a “darling and very helpful young lady”.  Damn straight.

So you see?  Sometimes it pays not to stick the headphones in.  You never know what compliments are going to come your way.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Gab, Mags and Judes

As the lights went down and I shoved my hand into the seemingly never ending bucket of popcorn the lady behind the candy counter had given me, I still couldn't remember the name of the movie I was about to see.  All the way home on the bus tonight, I certainly couldn't remember it.  And when I got to the cinema, the only reason I knew the movie is because it was the first option on the automatic ticket machine.  By the time I sat down in the theatre, it had gone again.

And then the opening credits and there it was, the title of the movie in letters at least a foot tall: "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and it stars the most adorable bunch of old British codgers you're ever likely to see on film, including my favourite Dames - Judy Dench and Maggie Smith.  Sigh those women are forces of nature on screen.  Even Dev Patel, who was nigh on adorable in "Slumdog Millionaire", is equally so here. The story is fast-moving, funny and very light.

And much like when I saw "Monsoon Wedding", I was so close to leaving the cinema tonight and booking a flight to Jaipur.  The movie was that sensual - I could almost feel the oppressive heat and the people; smell the unusual blend of pleasant (and not so pleasant) smells; and hear the non-stop sounds of vehicular and human traffic.

I've never been to India but I think seeing the country through the eyes of older, lilly white British characters made the country even more relatable, if that's even possible.  I was frustrated with the character who couldn't appreciate the colours around her - I gasped at the gorgeous sparkly scarves and saris that the women wore, and the bowl after bowl of goat curry that came out from the kitchens.  I laughed at the fact that everyone lived on top of everyone else, with no personal space to speak of at all.  But I also felt for the travellers who had come all that way, to such a foreign land in every sense of the word, and how their hearts broke when they spoke to (or about) their families.

The best lines and scenes are reserved for the Grand Dames, as far as I am concerned.  And that has made me more resolved than ever to befriend them, drink lots of champagne with them, and talk about boys. I reckon they'd totally be up for that.  Bill Nighy can come to drinks too, now that I think about it.  He is simply too awesome to be left at home and besides, we can talk about "Love Actually" and how I need to watch it every Christmas, if not before.  He'd probably hate that, but I would just have to say it once to clear the air.  There, done.

Don't be a dull boy

I don’t think it matters how old you are, you can always learn something new about yourself.  Last night, for instance, I learned that I do not very much enjoy being in a dark environment, wearing a mask, with no clue what’s going on.  But there I was – a spectator in the very unusual and definitely original production of “Sleep No More”.

I’d heard a lot about this show beforehand; not so much the plot, but about the premise. The show takes place in an old warehouse that the theatre company has called “The McKittrick Hotel”.  Inside, the hallways are pitch-black and I basically had to go in and feel my way along until I came to the coat check desk.  Then I had to pay $3 to surrender all my possessions (except my credit card) and then walk to the end of the hall to the front/check-in desk.  Once there, a woman gave me a playing card – my room key – and she instructed me to go upstairs to the bar.  Again, I was plunged into darkness and already at this point I was starting to feel a bit unsettled.  I am not scared of the dark by any means, but I honestly didn’t know where I was going or how many stairs or corridors it would take to get me to the bar.  As I gripped the walls and felt my way along them, it wasn’t long before I heard soft music and the sound of talking, so I followed the noises and emerged through two heavy velvet curtains into a scene that could have been a New York speakeasy in the 1930s.

The bar was abuzz with actors/performers in beaded dresses and fur stoles, and men with slicked-back hair and suits with suspenders.  But do you know the first thing I thought about?  “The Shining”.  It was an impression that stayed with me for the rest of the night.  There was something other-worldly about this place and I felt “off” the entire time.  Like I was in a dream, possibly a nightmare, and I had stumbled on a scene in which I had to find my own way – with no instructions, and no help of any kind.

I ordered a glass of cold prosecco from the actor/barman and sat down to people-watch.  I had arrived a little early, and so from my little cabaret table I observed a bunch of people wandering in, stumbling through the velvet curtains into the unusual bar.  Nobody seemed quite sure what they were supposed to be doing, so in a way I felt good that my confusion was not unusual.  Every few minutes a man would get up on the stage, martini in hand, and slur a bunch of numbers and garbled instructions about finishing our drinks and entering the hotel.  The numbers corresponded to our “room keys”.  I was waiting for K and her friends to arrive, so I didn’t move at all, but I did watch groups of people peel off into the darkness of the Hotel.  Part of me really just wanted to stay in the bar, where even the creepiness was at least starting to feel familiar.  The idea of the unknown was not exciting to me at all.

Before long, our group had assembled and we were soon fortified by prosecco and the notion of “safety in numbers”.  We lined up and were given a large white mask (semi-Venetian I guess, and very reminiscent of “Eyes Wide Shut” – another reason I was feeling weird).  The masks were essential because they helped differentiate you from the performers inside the hotel, who were not wearing them.  We were instructed not to remove our masks at any time, and not to talk at all.  Similarly, we were told that there were people scattered around the hotel who were wearing black masks.  They were there to help guide us out, if we wanted to leave – but even still, we weren’t allowed to ask them questions.  We were told that things were not as they seemed in the Hotel.  Again, I wasn’t even excited anymore; curious maybe, but in a way I was also dreading it.

Little by little I lost the members of our group.  My experience ended up being a lot like a picture book I had as a child (and I cannot remember the title) but it’s about a family that goes to an old mansion for a day trip and one by one, each family member gets swallowed up by the house and overgrown garden, and in the end only one little girl gets out alive.  Yep, it’s a kid’s book and it freaked me out for years.  And yet here I was, live and in living colour at the McKittrick Hotel, blending in with my other masked audience members and waiting to encounter something. 

From time to time though, I stumbled into a room where actors were actually performing.  They were surrounded by masked audience members, intently watching the talented dancing and focussed interplay.  And you can’t argue the physicality of the dancers – they were amazing, for the bits that I saw. But stumbling on this sort of scene, totally out of context, you really don’t know what you’re watching.  Is there a story?  Where in the plot am I?  What IS the plot?  Often the dancer/actor would leave the room, and groups of audience members would high tail it after him/her to see where they would go next. In that way, the performance became what you made it.  I suspect that if you followed one particular actor, you could craft a better sense of what the overall plot was supposed to be.  I’d heard that the story was supposed to be “Macbeth” but I have to admit that the disjointed performances I saw last night did not give me that overall impression.  For instance, I couldn’t recall the rather graphic and strobe-lit episode with the witches sacrificing the human babies in the version of the play that I had read.  Indeed, when we talked about it later, I realised I had (fortunately) missed visiting the hotel room with decapitated baby dolls nailed to the wall.  But hey, perhaps it’s all a question of interpretation.  And I couldn’t deny the talent of the performers to remain focussed, even when surrounded by masked audience members standing about 3 inches away from them.  I don't think I could ever concentrate with someone's masked face right up in my business.

As weird as it sounds, given the potential for exploration and full immersion in the unusual experience, “Sleep No More” was totally innovative but it really didn’t do it for me.  I just couldn’t relax in there.  I didn’t know what was going on, I couldn’t find the exits, and I couldn’t make sense of the episodic, mostly silent, dances I witnessed.  I think by the time I had started walking around and became quickly disoriented, “The Shining” had become so embedded in my brain, I was convinced that I was surrounded by menace.  I could not relax and just surrender to the experience; there was just something unseemly about it.  So I was sincerely relieved when I stumbled through another set of velvet curtains and found myself back in the bar again.  Removing my mask, and sitting back to listen to beautiful jazz music and singing, I started to feel like myself again.

Like it or not, “Sleep No More” is definitely a show that will stay with me.  It was not necessarily an experience I would like to repeat, but it’s definitely a creative, immersive idea and I’m very glad I went along.  I just wish I could have blocked “Here’s Johnny!” from my mind and relaxed into it a bit better.

Monday, May 14, 2012

"You DID say diamonds, I can tell"

“I apologise in advance if I sing all the words,” I cautioned Fitz & Bolts, “but Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is one of my favourite musicals and I know every line”.  Honestly sometimes I am really full of it.  As it turned out, last night’s final performance of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at New York’s gorgeous and recently-renovated Citi Center hardly resembled the movie version I love so much.  The performances were brassier, the Dorothy & Lorelei roles were not as even, and the plots & scripts were just plain different.  Plus the stage version had a whole bunch of songs I’d never heard before, and omitted a lot of the songs from the movie.  I was totally lost, and yet totally enthralled.  It was another example of embarrassing edge-of-my-seat theatre viewing, but at least I could spare everyone my sing-a-long.

Prior to the theatre show, me and Fitz and Bolts enjoyed some hors d’oeuvres in the front bar at Benoit – where the décor and food were wonderful but the service, not so much.  Why a French waiter would want to conform to an inaccurate cultural stereotype is totally beyond me; but his snootiness was totally misplaced with us.  Fortunately we were able to ignore him for the most part and just enjoy our delicious mix of nibbles: pigs feet; asparagus; fromage frais; pickled beets - yum yum!  Then we migrated down the street, and underground, to a cavernous and slightly dodgy bar playing jukebox Journey tracks, and we knocked back a couple of pre-theatre beverages to get us all in the mood.  We returned here afterwards to enjoy a few more drinks, though I can assure you I did not need them.

I think the only thing saving me is that I had enough food in my belly to deal with the influx of naughty things.  I’d had a delicious prix fixe brunch that morning at Cinema, a busy café down the road from my apartment.  Then I’d stuffed in my first Pinkberry of the season, a yummy combination of salted caramel & chocolate swirl frozen yoghurt topped with mini chocolate-coated pretzels, pineapple and raspberries (the fresh fruit balanced the guilt).  Plus I wasn’t sore from Saturday boot camp, leading me to wonder whether I am acclimating to the torture, or perhaps I wasn’t doing the exercises right.  Either way, I was a happy girl.

Monday has been the kind of day you can imagine, after a wonderful weekend rounded out with vodka.  As I stare headlong into a new week, I feel quite smug that I have finally posted baby sister’s birthday present (three days before her special day, but still too late to actually make it to Australia on time).  But I also feel quite icky at the idea that our warm, rainy weather will bring humid conditions that might put me in a rather dour mood.  I have several social engagements this week – again, totally out of the norm – but I am determined to stay chipper for the duration.  This week will not beat me already.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Focus on abs, then on beer

Weather-wise this week has been the pits.  We've had fog, cloud, fog and cloud, brief glimpses of sun, rain, drizzle, and then cloud again.  So imagine my surprise when I leave the house this morning and (by comparison at least) it is HOT!  Naturally I was not dressed for it, decked out as I was in gym gear with a long-sleeved top.  Granted I had a sleeveless top on underneath but I wasn't quite ready to show New York my arms yet.  I certainly hadn't had enough coffee for that display!

Walking to the Pilates studio, I was quite nervous about how I'd go in Boot Camp today.  Anything had to be better than my last class there, and so I took special effort to drink a lot of water, and eat a decent meal beforehand.  I outsourced this responsibility to the Cosi store on Park Avenue.  Their mango smoothies are delicious, in case you needed to know.

I think other students are starting to twig that this class is a killer, because only one other student turned up today.  Everyone else was "sick", they said.  Yeah right.  They were either steering clear of the torturous class, or they decided that it made much better sense to be outside in the sunshine.  Either way, I envied them immediately.

But anyway, I had made it and the class pressed on.  Fast forward to about 45 minutes into it, when I had to excuse myself briefly to splash water on my face.  I had to switch an extra fan on too because there was just no air circulation today and I was totally overheating.  Other than those vastly unflattering consequences, I feel like I kept up with the routine.  But you know what?  I don't enjoy it.  I don't derive the same feeling of satisfaction from these boot camp classes that I do from regular Pilates.  I don't think it's just because I'm struggling a lot more with the speed of the cardio parts of the class.  I also think it's because these boot camp classes are the same every week - I know the routine now, and I get stressed by the harder exercises that I know are coming.  When I do normal Pilates, 9 times out of 10 I have a new instructor, so the exercises are different or the focus of each hourly class varies.  And I walk away from those diverse classes MUCH less sweaty and defeated, but still feeling like I worked and actually did something good for myself.  I don't know whether I mention all this to say that I want to bail on Pilates boot camp, but I am not sure I want to continue doing something that a) I feel crap at; and b) I don't really enjoy all that much.

After the class, feeling a bit sorry for myself, I walked around the corner to Madison Square Park, intending to cool off under the shade of a big tree, and enjoy a cup of freshly-cut pineapple and an ice-cold Diet Coke.  Good therapy, no?  I was indulging in all that when I saw on Facebook that my friend Fitzy was of a similar mind and was at that very moment holed up on the other side of the Park, flicking through old copies of Vanity Fair.  A quick series of texts and we met up on the grass, under a tree, to lay very still and chat about life.  Before long, Bolts joined us and we were a happy trio just aimlessly whiling away the hours on a sunny Saturday.

When Bolts casually mentioned she had a craving for fish and chips, suddenly I did too and so I got out my Google-machine and (as luck would have it) identified a fantastic southern place right opposite the Park, on West 23rd Street, celebrated on Yelp for its Louisiana seafood dishes.  Live Bait is an unassuming place, with lino tables and those plastic, coloured chairs that you might remember from primary & high school.  But the beer is icy cold, and the menu is so good that I hope to get back there again soon.  Bolts got her cornflake-crusted catfish & chips; Fitzy enjoyed a Jamaican jerk chicken sandwich; and I wolfed down a pulled pork sandwich (ever on a quest to find the best one in the city - except for my own, of course).  We washed down our meals with a delicious New Orleans beer called Dixie and it was very refreshing.

Everything that happened to me today (after Pilates boot camp) was totally restorative.  I got my fix of some sun, some shade, some food, and some friends.  And really, when 99% of those plans happened entirely by accident, you've got to feel good about what the rest of the weekend might bring.

So you're one of those "arty types"?

This has been a really tiring week, and it's not even that I've been rushing back and forth or anything like that.  My work week has been busy, walking to the United Nations building for meetings, and then back to the office to write about those meetings.  Then a couple of evenings I had some fun events to attend.  So while I wasn't rushed, the commitments I had across the board were enough for me to sit on the couch on Friday night, breathe really deeply, and be grateful for an early night.

Tuesday night was a blast.  I went with Fitzy to the Clearview Cinemas in the old and beautiful Ziegfield Theater to see a screening of the Stephen Sondheim musical, The Company.  Fitzy is a big Sondheim fan and so when I'd seen the production advertised in Time Out New York, he was the first person I thought of to invite along.  I didn't really know much about the musical, and indeed Fitzy said he knew the songs but had never seen the show itself.  The production we saw starred a bunch of familiar faces - Neil Patrick Harris; Jon Cryer; Martha Plimpton; Craig Bierko; Patti Lupone; Christina Hendricks; and Stephen Colbert - just to name a few.  Plus the music was provided by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, so it was a star-studded offering across the board.  Here's a little taste:

See what I mean? Amazing.  And sure, it' s a bit strange to watch a live musical on a cinema screen.  The woman in front of us still applauded loudly at the end of every song-and-dance number (and she was pretty much bawling at the end), but it was still a great show.  Oh and mind you, parts of the it DID cut a bit close to the bone at times.  I mean, the whole show is about a guy celebrating his 35th birthday.  He has a bunch of married friends who he's always hanging out with (as the third wheel), and each couple keeps asking him when he's going to settle down.  He looks at the couples, sees that their marriages aren't perfect, and wonders where the attraction of marriage is anyway.  But trust me, this is NOT a depressing musical - in fact, it's pretty hysterical and I certainly loved it.

Wednesday night I went to live theater this time, taking PL along to see The Columnist starring John Lithgow.   Seeing this show was pretty much a 180-degree turn from Sondheim.  The material was serious, the performances were intense, and (as I later read in one of the NY Times reviews), you come away from the show more educated than enlightened.  I think this is largely because the play is based on real-life people and real-life events, none of which I really knew much about.  I thought Lithgow was wonderful as the acerbic, stubborn, and unapologetically arrogant Joseph Alsop.  The material was a bit heavy though, and it was one of those plays that just ended rather abruptly, so perhaps this explained our need to have sliders and martinis at Bobby Van's Steakhouse afterwards.  Maybe.

Thursday night I went along to another show that I similarly didn't research beforehand, but was instead encouraged by Westo's enthusiasm that it was going to be a great night.  We were heading off to the Union Square cinemas to see a beamed telecast of This American Life, a weekly radio show on NPR.  The show was actually being recorded a short distance away, at a cinema on the NYU campus, but we had tickets to see it at the Union Square cinema.  I don't listen to public radio here - in fact, the only radio I listen to at all is the old lady music station that K and me always joke plays the contents of our fathers' vinyl collections.  But Westo is a NPR devotee and so when This American Life was being adapted as a live show, complete with dancers and animation and music performances, she definitely wanted to catch it.  The clever thing about the show is that even though it was being recorded live at NYU, it was actually being beamed live via satellite to more than 600 cinemas in the US and Canada, and even one cinema in Brisbane.  Can you believe that?  The show's theme was about blindness and making the invisible, visible (quite apt when you think it was actually a recording of a radio show - where normally you don't get to see anything anyway).  The way that the musicians, comedians, dancers and actors chose to interpret that theme was really interesting.  I very much enjoyed all of it - even the modern dance, which is never usually my thing.  Now I have to go back and download the podcasts so I can catch up on previous radio-only episodes of the show.  I think I will get a kick out of them too.

So when you read back over my week that was, you're right to think it was largely punctuated by arty-farty stuff.  But before you think I'm getting up myself or something, rest assured that the week also featured the following episodes:

  1. my skirt blowing up over my head in the middle of rush hour on 42nd Street
  2. a man in an elevator staring squarely at my shuddering boobs - which were not actually shuddering, thanksverymuch; and
  3. a ful-force spray of dry shampoo in my mouth, when I had stopped concentrating and misdirected the nozzle.

So you see?  All is right with the world after all.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Un Feliz Cinco de Mayo

mexicanos, originally uploaded by chavezonico.

Yesterday was my second Cinco de Mayo celebration in New York.  Admittedly I have turned it into quite a thing for myself, even though I have no Mexican heritage or connection (save for having spent three glorious days laying very still on a pool chair in Puerto Vallarta a number of years ago).

When I celebrated Cinco de Mayo last year, K's mum was staying with us and we did a bit of a neighbourhood crawl until we found barstools we liked (ironically, we found them at the awesome Mexican place right next door to my apartment).

This year I had less of the drunken 2007 celebration and more of the home-style 2008 one.  And I had two friends from work over to make sure the fiesta stayed on the straight and narrow.  Plus I didn't invite Patron or Jose Cuervo to the party, so we did very well.

Admittedly I cheated a bit with the menu, opting to assemble many of the dishes from pre-prepared ingredients rather than starting from scratch myself.  A shout-out to the good people at Fresh Direct for their help on that front.  The groceries got delivered early yesterday morning, so I had the whole day to relax and psych myself up slowly to the evening ahead

On arrival, the girls and I enjoyed some spicy guacamole, with carrot stick & celery dippers, as well as those devilish and SUPREMELY addictive Doritos corn chips with lime.  You know the ones.  The French champagne we enjoyed with it was hardly Mexican, but it was amazing.  Hey, perhaps we had the bubbles in memory of Napoleon and his French troops, who (as you surely know) got their ass kicked on May 5th at the Battle of Puebla, which gave rise to the whole Cinco de Mayo celebration in the first place?  Yes, let's go with that rationale.

Next up was entree (or "main course", if you're playing along at home).  I had bought some thick and firm tilapia fillets and wanted to roast them in some spicy salsa verde.  But the jalapenos in the salsa verde were SO intense that the sauce was just too hot.  This is clearly one of the downsides of buying pre-packaged food.  So I improvised and mixed it with some tomato puree instead.  I roasted the fillets for 25 minutes and they came out of the oven perfectly cooked, flaking beautifully, and not at all spicy.  I served the fish with some creamed corn (2.5 minutes in the microwave, thank you Jesus) and some home-made Mexican rice (the only home-made element of the menu!).  The plates were colourful, healthy and the meal all came together so quickly.  The French white wine complemented the meal beautifully and gave us another reason to think of Napoleon.

Dessert was neither Mexican nor French.  Instead one of the girls took us to Italy by bringing along delicious Talenti gelato in three flavours - chocolate; coconut; and raspberry.  The combination was amazing and even though none of us were all that hungry, we managed to find enough belly room for several spoonfuls each.

By the time the meal was through and our conversations had solved all the problems of the world, it was after midnight.  The evening had gone so fast, but I had a really great time and I hope the other girls did too.  I reckon we all had a happy Cinco de Mayo and on reflection, I don't think any of us minded the absence of margaritas, tequila shots, or mariachi bands much at all.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Lay like broccoli

Originally uploaded by CityPhotos by Rod.

So I went to Pilates again this afternoon to do Boot Camp class #2.  For the last few days my calves have been so tight and sore, but otherwise I felt that my body had pulled up pretty well from Wednesday night's hour-long torture.

The routine for today's class was the same as Wednesday, so I was confident in the exercises I was doing, and didn't need any correcting from the instructor about my form and such (phew!). There were only two other girls in the class with me, so we were getting really close attention and cheering from the instructor/sadist and really, that was good too.

I remember on Wednesday that one of my biggest fears was about my hands slipping during the plank-pushups, sending me crashing onto my face. Rather prophetic, as it turned out.  Because about 40 minutes into today's routine, I started to get really dizzy. I didn't feel like I was getting any air and so I got light-headed and had to sit down. I talked to one of other instructors as I gulped cold water and tried to cool down.  I didn't do things too fast, just in case I fell down in front of everyone. Sure, everyone in today's case was only 4 other people, but to my mind that would have been four people too many.

I re-joined the class towards the end, for the stretching and breathing (aka cool-down) portion - by which time I was feeling slightly better. Physically, I mean. Mentally I just felt like an old lady who couldn't keep up.  Shameful.

My instructor wasn't too worried - he just said that sometimes your body isn't ready to kick its own ass. He didn't say I shouldn't do the class again, but I'm wondering for myself whether I shouldn't just stick to the lower-impact Intermediate classes that I really enjoy, and leave the high-impact, running and jumping and weights to other (fitter?) people.

It doesn't help of course that the top half of my head is besieged by allergies and the daily anti-histamines I'm taking are doing squat. Can I blame my lack of fitness on allergies? Cause I totally will, if it helps.  Hmm I probably can't.  But it feels like crap anyway.

I guess the good news is, I don't need to feel too uncomfortable about today's effort in the long run. I mean, I contained the humiliation by not fainting or otherwise falling over or anything. But wimping out is a bit like blacking out, isn't it?  So perhaps I really have to think seriously about whether this boot camp business is for me after all.

And the good news is that if I decide these classes are not really my thing, I can always transfer the remaining lessons I've already purchased into "normal" Pilates and still kick my own ass - just at a much more controlled speed. And laying down. Better.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Sexy or Slimy?

A tummy rub, can I PLEASE get a tummy rub?
Originally uploaded by ucumari.

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a girl at work about how much she loved running on the treadmill at her gym. "Don't you just love sweating, Gab? Doesn't it just feel great?". She wasn't asking rhetorically. The speed and emphasis with which I replied in the negative surprised her, I think.

I don't really understand the appeal of sweat. Oh sure, I can appreciate the appeal of the ole "bow-chicka-wow-wow" kinda sweat (sorry, Dad) but you know that's not what I mean so let' s move it along. Gym sweat, THAT sort of sport sweat, just implies slime and stinky feet to me. Issues? Maybe.

But tonight was Episode 1 of Pilates Boot Camp and I'm pretty sure I sweated out of my eyeballs. I didn't even know you could do that. At one point I think I almost blacked out. My body has not worked that hard on Pilates machines in a long, long time.

It doesn't help that my teacher is an utter sadist. He has so much energy I can't decide whether to be inspired by him, or kill him. I guess he knows he's safe; killing him would require muscle control I simply don't have right now.

I was a legend at the start of the class - jumping jacks; grapevine walking; all muscles alert and ready to go. By the time we progressed to stepping up (and jogging up) onto and over the Reformer machine, I was starting to puff. Cue the ninja squats and alternate knee raises. Better. But then when the 5lb weights got involved, I was struggling. I noticed that a couple of the girls were using 3lb weights instead. Clever bitches. Where did they get those?!

Very little of the class was actually laying down tonight; a marked change from my usual Pilates workout. Still, I know that my abs are going to hate me over the next few days, cause we definitely used them throughout the full hour workout tonight.

Our last exercise before the stretches were push-ups. I totally suck at them. And just when I thought Mr Sadist Teacher would wind us down, he had us do planks, then a push up, and then a little bounce on our hands. LIke a jumping push-up. I thought I might die. But I still did 4 of them, and didn't land on my face once. That said, had I landed on my face I don't think I would have got up. At least unassisted.

So there you have it - one class down, and nine to go. Here's hoping I can stave off muscle atrophy long enough to keep sharing the stories with you.

Close your mouth, dear!

My lethargy since the NYC Half Marathon is well-documented and with the exception of a couple of Pilates classes, I can honestly say that all I’ve really been doing is growing my hair, stuffing my face, and procrastinating. 

I’ve even had odd jobs to do for weeks around the house and yet I’ve found every reason to put off doing them.  My letter back to Grandma is mentally written (whatever good that does), and my new bedroom blinds aren’t going to install themselves.  Every time I look at my coats (leather, trench, and winter varieties) I see how badly they need a dry-clean.  And yet I have found excuses to avoid all these outstanding tasks.  It hasn’t helped that these last few days I’ve been fighting off the start of a cold and seasonal allergies: snotty nose, sore throat yadda yadda really attractive.

Now that’s not to say I’ve not been enjoying my life lately.  I mean, among other diversions what’s not to love about trying to be hip at a Sesame Street staff talent show at the Village Lantern, grazing on mac & cheese at Beecher's, getting a trivia fix at Saloon NYC, dining French-style at Café d’Alsace or brunching and boozing at the shiny, new NY Beer Company and the not-so-shiny or new Jimmy’s Corner?  No complaints here, let me tell you.

But this is the last week I’m letting myself get away with such self-indulgent nonsense, because this is Week 1 of Pilates boot camp.  Twice a week for the next 5 weeks, I’m taking myself back to the Pilates studio for hour-long physical punishments.  Just me, a sadistic instructor, and three other terrified students upping the cardio and full-body workouts.  And I’m actually paying for this.  What the?!

I’ve seen a Pilates boot camp class in progress.  Granted I only watched about 5 minutes of it, because it scared the hell out of me and I had to turn my attention back to my magazine.  Even when I couldn't see it, I could still hear the painful winces of the students, as they strained to do one more push-up, or plank for 30 seconds more, and I could sense their pain as they tried to hold those weights aloft just a little bit longer. 

But I’ve decided that enough is enough and it’s time that I got up amongst it.  I might prove to be the slowest, most unfit person in the class.  I may even cry, give up, or die.  But I might also be none of those things.  Either way, I have to give it a try and see how I go.  I’ve put my money down and I’m giving myself 5 weeks to meet my teacher half way.  He promised me a beach-ready body, so now I have to do my part.  And I’m ready for it.  I have a cute new gym top and everything.

Ane even though Pilates starts this week, I am still allowing myself a little reprieve on the diet and drinking front.  Continuing a seven-year, unbroken tradition I simply must celebrate Cinco de Mayo this Saturday and I can’t wait.  At this stage my menu plan includes tilapia cooked in salsa verde, Mexican rice, and corn chips with guacamole and salsa, all sloshed down with margaritas.  Hell to the yeah. 

And if my teacher scolds me, I’ll do some additional ‘penance planking’ or something.  It's all muy bueno, amigo.