Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Manhattan Is for Fun Lovers; NY Part Dos

I didn't go into Manhattan to necessarily escape Mama Luz and them. I had planned the excursion for months. And BFF Betsy was coming in from NoCal to meet me in the city for the three days since she had to visit friends in Boston also; she turned it into an east coast tour.

The point of the Manhattan leg of the trip was to have the most fun possible in a short amount of time. That and eat, which is super fun too, right? And Betsy is the person with whom to do all of the above. I planned meticulously -- kind of embarrassingly so -- which wasn't really to feed into some Virgo Planning Sickness I have, but it was really fueled by my addiction to efficiency. If my work and busy life need to be efficient to run smoothly with the least amount of stress then why shouldn't I approach the fun parts in the same way? I appreciate a Go With The Flow approach, but I tend to meander and get distracted by the Flow, losing opportunities I wish I would have taken advantage of. Believe me, I scheduled some Go With The Flow time within the plan. Mmhmm, judge all you want. So, how could I have the most amount of fun in NY? First, invite Betsy. Then, research bars and restaurants, make reservations. Lastly, locate myself in the center of fun, which to me is the LES, the lower eastside.

We stayed at the E. Houston Hotel. It was reasonably priced with TINY rooms (who needs much room anyway?), but it was very clean and simply, chicly decorated. Mainly, it was in the most perfect location. Almost everything I planned was in walking distance. The action was so thick on the street; bars, restaurants, parks, Whole Foods two blocks down just in case I needed a comforting center point; WF is like a pacifier for me in a far-off city. The hotel was across the street from some busy handball courts. I loved waking up to the thwack of the ball. It went on all day. We checked out the court action a few times.

Watching the women hold it down.View from the hotel roof top.While waiting for Betsy's plane to come in, I ate at one of my regular fav's Wild Ginger in Little Italy. I saved her my leftovers of black pepper seitan and the pineapple fried rice made with tofu scrambled bits, pinenuts, goji berries, pineapple and avocado. It's a type of dish that makes you want to violently kick something, it's so good.That night we had dinner rezzies at Counter Organic Restaurant on First Ave. The portobello sliders were to-die, but mainly we were excited about going to the mysterious bar Milk & Honey later, after dinner. M&H is this sort of exclusive speak easy where you need a reservation and practically a secret handshake to get in. The place is not detectable from the street. Ssshhh, very secret, this place. Here I am getting buzzed in. The place was cool, but not really our speed. It was dark and quiet and did not promote any kind of interaction with anyone else, which is the thing B & I like best about a bar. We love to yell things like, "Hey! What are you drinking??" The place was not as pretentious as I thought it would be; the staff was super nice and the drinks were out of this world. They have a list of House Rules and the thought of that made me roll my eyes, until I read the first rule: "1. No name-dropping, no star fucking." Wha? Gotta love that. There is no drink menu. They ask you what spirits you like and what flavors you'd prefer. Mine: Aged Rum. No dairy, no eggs, no bacon -- hey, bacon is the flavor of the minute so you never know. And I got an Aged Rum Lime Daiquiri with shaved mint. YUUUMMM. Betsy: Tequila and ginger. She got a sort of tequila, fresh ginger juice collins with club soda and topped with candied ginger. YUUUUMMMM. After one drink we jetted though. Enough of the dark and quiet. It was after midnight and we walked back to the hotel, talking nonstop, and thrilled to be in the bustle and brightness of the city.

The next day, we took it to the streets and tooled around, going into the million unique and genuinely interesting shops in the LES, from updated men's tailors and milliners who made hats by hand, coffee shops that roasted beans onsite to custom skateboard shops to top of the line thrift boutiques and a revolutionary bookstore. Every effing store was beautiful and interesting and artful. Damn. Like, you want to hate a place for being so spontaneously, rocketously hip & popular, but goddamn if it wasn't worth the hype. I'm LES hook, line and sinker, baby. Anyway, scenes from the street:
This was on the wall of a shop, along with a few others yarned-up bikes. I was kinda shaking when I took the picture 'cause I wanted it so badly!This is from the day before in SoHo, but love the pic.Of course, we had to get over to BabyCakes, vegan bakery, where we ate cinnamon bread and jammed biscuits. Delish!We stumbled into a Brazilian-Cuban spot with a beautiful staff and watched the Ghana-Uruguay soccer match and ate the perfect meal of black beans, coconut rice and platanos at the bar. We cheered and yelled with all the other patrons. Fun! (And this was on my Go With the Flow list; for Betsy too because at first she didn't want to watch any World Cup, but this was a ton of fun even as the game went into double overtime and then a shoot out. Another round of drinks please!) After, strolling through Washington Square Park, we accidentally watched Curb Your Enthusiasm being filmed. We saw Larry David and Wanda Sykes and them. Betsy pretended to take a picture of me to stealthily get Jeff Green! haha.We then booked it back to the Village to meet Shannon for drinks. Shannon is Betsy's husband's son, but he's only about 10 years younger than us. He's great company and a lot of fun and lives in NYC. We met at Cuba and drank unbelievable mojitos with sticks of sugar cane to chew and swirl the drinks around. Too good. A singer, conguero and keyboardist set up in the corner and a man began to hand roll cigars in the other corner. I was feeling the drinks and the buzzing, crowded spot and the liveliness on the little street outside throbbing with bicycles and pedestrians and early-evening light bouncing off awnings and apartment steps.

But on to the next place! One of the places that I was most excited about going to was Mehanata, the Bulgarian gypsy bar on Ludlow. It sounded so fun. And know what? It was! Firstly, Lauren met us there. Hooray for the wonderful Lauren!Betsy, Shannon and I had parked ourselves at a little table near the stage around 10pm. The place was totally empty at that point, but we didn't care. Then Lauren walked in, and we absorbed her into our table, talked like we've always known each other (because we have, kinda) and it was an insta mini party. The table next to us had ordered a hookah and we were like, we want that too, with the mango tobacco please.
Like this?

Naw, like this. Smoke it out, Shannon.
The place started to fill up and we downed homemade vodka apple cider ladled from a big glass jar that sat on the bar. Diced apples floated to the top. Then we met this guy, Wiki, who was just standing around the tables observing the scene. You'd think he thought he was cool wearing douchie shades in a club/bar, but when I looked down, I noticed he was wearing these sort of jean culottes with white tube socks and I thought, He's not a douche, he just weird. "Join the party, Wiki!" Wikki wikki wikki I said all night, like the 80's song Jam On It? Btw, Jam On It was an anthem for Betsy and me in 1984. We never did get Wiki to take off his sunglasses though through different stages of drunkeness, we tried hard. He pulled them down his nose one time on the dance floor. We considered it a victory. Wikki, wikki, wikki.After we pulled Wiki into the fold, we watched a six-foot tall dreadlocked white girl walk in wearing a fedora. She stood alone by the bar and stared toward the stage. Betsy yelled at me to ask her over. I said, "Come over and try the hookah!" And she said, "Ok!" I said, "Hey! Lauren is six foot also!" And that's how we pulled beautiful Michelle in too, who, even more radly, was a forest fire fighter from Canada. Then it was kind of on. The place got packed and we drank more and more apple cider wudka!The band appeared on the step-up stage and started in with some gypsy swing. Much to my dismay, there was no accordian, but we managed to channel our inner gypies anyway.Man, we had a great time. We trotted back to the hotel, through still-packed streets, at 3am.

The next morning, Betsy & I tried to pretend we weren't so trashed and went over to Teany for breakfast. Then we took the subway up to Central Park to ride bicyles. Renting the bikes was sort of a hilarious transaction with a group of Russian hustlers. $20 for two hours and they didn't seem too concerned about the getting the bikes back. The tires were a little deflated and let's just say there was duct tape wrapped around near my rear derailler. Off we went! The day was perfection. Classic Central Park crowd, tourists and locals sprawled throughout the park, intent on thoroughly enjoying themselves. It wasn't hard.

That night was going to be our big, fine dining night. We went to Pure Food and Wine, the gourmet, raw phenomena near Union Square. We couldn't wait to eat here. We were seated closely to two women dining together and we talked to them a little about what they were eating. They asked us if we were going to order the tasting menu offered and after considering the menu I said, "Knowing us, we'll order a ton of plates and create our own big-ass tasting menu." They laughed like I was joking, but after we ordered a salad to split, two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts, they realized we weren't kidding. We don't mess around. Simply, the food here is so outrageously good, we mmm'ed and ooo'ed loudly with every bite.

Here's the desciption of my Zucchini Lasagna: basil pistachio pesto, sun-dried tomato sauce, macadamia pumpkin seed ricotta. Come on!Betsy had the Sweet Corn and Cashew Tamales with Chili Spiced Portabella with salsa verde, cashew coconut sour cream, avocado, raw cacao mole. Delicious. Here was my dessert: Strawberry Shortcake with pistachio gelato, orange blossom caramel. Unreal. I was so happy with the whole experience.On to the next place! After dinner, we went just over the Brooklyn Bridge to DanceSport Manhattan, the biggest annual ballroom dance competition in NYC. Titi Jennifer's husband was a judge and they gave Betsy and I seats around the dance floor! Yay, Titi.I was so excited to see the Latin dancing, but quite honestly when Katusha Demidova, the world champion (world!) of the waltz and the like, danced we were awed. I got goosebumps watching her glide around the floor. I couldn't get any good pictures because of the movement and my shitty camera, but really when she danced, we just stared, slack-jawed. So beautiful.The next morning we ate at Teany again and then Betsy got on a train to Boston and I got on a train back to Mama Luz's house for the party. So, see? Jammed-packed, serious and planned fun, all in three days. Thanks Cuz for such a great time. Seriously, it was the best.

I took Maya and Mina to the city the day after Mama Luz's party, but I'll save that post for Part 3.

Friday, July 09, 2010

These Streets Will Make You Feel Brand New, Part 1

Just got back from New York. The trip was all I had hoped it would be from sweltering uncomfortable familial accommodations to serious play time in lower Manhattan.

Mama Luz was out of her gourd this trip, and I say this with the utmost amusement and a tiny bit of concern. It's not beyond me that's she's probably menopausal, but when someone like her gets her hormones extra fucked with, it's like swinging the mood pendulum from the Gateway Arch of St. Louis. The pendulum hitches and sticks on the frazzled, annoyed side much longer, however. The shit she blurts out had me rolling most of the time, but sometimes I was like, Damn Mama Luz. I will say that she is happiest messing around with the girls, especially Maya who has always been her running buddy, since Maya was 2. They are equally rough - I mean rough! -- and will laugh until sides hurt. Mina gets in on the action too of course, but she will land in Big Papi's lap or by his side, watching WWF, which Big Papi calls his soap opera. He filled us in on all the characters.

Ug, so sweet . . .Here's what's hard to talk about: The deep grime of their house sends my anal sensors into a hissy fit. Mama Luz will spend hours and hours -- it's gotten so much worse with age -- straightening and rearranging the house. Her ADD, and the fact that she drinks coffee from dawn to midnight, does not allow her to sit still ever. So, she rearranges. I was constantly asking where my suitcase was, damn. So, the house is fairly neat (though she won't throw anything away), but there is a layer of grime and dirt that gets ignored from all the straightening. It's not outright obvious, but because of my own neurosis it barks out at me as if sirens and flashing lights were swirling. I never took my shoes off. I had to talk myself down to take a shower. I wouldn't touch the kitchen. I opened doors with towels and closed shit with my knuckles. I felt like a crazy person in that house. I feel guilty writing this because it was an equal mix of her neurosis and mine, but either way, I didn't get much sleep and I didn't eat well because of it. Other than that, good times were had in that house no matter how sweltering hot it was (102 humid degrees with no AC) or how cramped we were (up to seven to one bathroom). I felt big, big family love and I will squash all my squeamishness to feel some of that.

Some stellar Mama Luz Quotes:
"My cousin has been menstruating for 3 months straight. It won't stop. I told her to have the doctor yank all that out because FUCK. THAT. SHIT."

"So, I get these bootleg DVD's four for $20 and this last time she throws in a fifth one for free so I get Shrek 3. And of course all the DVD's are ALL FUCKED UP EXCEPT FOR SHREK 3!" Big Papi chimes in, "Yea, but we can return them." Mama Luz: "Yes, she very good about that. I just have to be at the laundromat from 2-3."

Maya says, smirking and trying to hug her, "Mama Luz, I love you so much. Give me a hug." Mama Luz, "STOP HARASSING ME, BITCH!"

Baby Luz, who's like a real sister to me, has had a chipped tooth and one bad false front tooth since she was 10 years old. She's 38 now and recently got them fix and said, "Ma, look at my teeth!" Mama Luz: "YOUR TEETH NEVER BOTHERED YOU BEFORE. NOW YOU'RE TOO GOOD FOR BROKEN TEETH?" Baby Luz (because believe it or not she is more volatile than her mother): "WHAT THE FUCK!"

Maya just told me this story: Maya, Mina, Big Papi and Mama Luz were visiting an amusement park and went to a diner to eat before entering the park. Mama Luz downs her coffee and there is only a bit left in Big Papi's cup. She goes to take a sip from his cup and he softly protests, "Honey." Mama Luz, insulted, slams the cup down on the table and walks out of the restaurant. Haha. So clearly she's in a panic about getting enough coffee at the park. She buys a coffee at the park and puts it in the locker to cool so she can enjoy it after a ride, but she gets so mad about something else (unclear about what) that she does this overhead baseball pitch of the coffee right in the garbage can. Maya said it was so funny, but she couldn't really laugh too much. But see, the moods are amp'ed up a notch. Maya said by the end of the next ride, Mama Luz was all happy again. When I talked to them last night, I couldn't hear half of what they said because they were all laughing so hard. I'd hear Mina get hit with a pillow by Mama Luz, then Mama Luz yelling; Maya was wheezing the entire time.

Anyway, on and on with the stories . . .

July 4 is her birthday and this birthday was her sixtieth. If you said "60" or old or "grandma" to her, you'd likely get your clock cleaned. Big Papi organized a huge party at the house. He organized and then Mama Luz's ADD went into overdrive about what was needed and what needed to be where and how and naw, change it again and this and that and on and on . . .yo, it was miserable. I escaped to Manhattan the three days leading up to the party (more on that later) and left my children, Baby Luz, Big Papi and other family members to fend for themselves. Before I left, I told the girls, "Don't take anything personally. That's just her." Then I was like, Peace, I'm out!

On the day of the party, I came in on the train, back from the city, and arrived at the house around 2 in the afternoon. It was about 101 degrees, but the tents they put up in the backyard covered the newly arrived guests nicely. People streamed in from then on; family mainly, but friends of family and neighbors too. Around 3, I asked Mama Luz if she was having a good time yet and she stared me down with stink eye. Then she told me to get the ef out of her way.Cousin Nancy then got to making her famous Mango Mojitos which acted like a sledgehammer to bad moods,whether it was an unshakable stress about party planning, the beat down from the heat, the vice grip of menopausal hormones, whatever; mango mojitos were the cure. Rum it up, Nancy!Later that night, around 10ish, Cousin Tuty got the bright idea to mix a drink with half mango mojito and half straight Bacardi! Ai, dios mio. She called it the "I Love You" Drink because certainly after a few sips you were sloppily telling everyone you loved them.

At 3:30 in the afternoon, Mama Luz's happy switch went brightly on (mojitos kicked in) and stayed on until late, late into the night. The homemade food was laid out -- serve yo'self y'all -- drinks were flowing, music pumping. We danced on the hard concrete patio from afternoon until one in the morning, when the cops finally came to tell us to shut the racket. One in the morning is an early night by Mama Luz Party Standards, but all in all, the night was so fun. Here are some pic's.

Us with Titi Elsie, Luz's sister.The girls with their titi Luz. Mama Luz had gotten all the ladies in the family Old Navy flag tank tops. By the time I got back from the city, Mama Luz had rearranged my tank top out of existence. Of course she was mad at me about it. Ok, its on.

It ain't a party without some dominos. Here's Tio George, Mama Luz's son, and Papi Guillo, Mama Luz's dad, talking shit.Speaking of Papi Guillo, the mango doesn't fall far from the tree. At 83, he out danced us all, and just as flirtily as he did 10, 20, 60 years ago.The original PR Playa of the family.Don't stop, won't stop. Dancing with her cousin Nelli who drove four hours from Virginia to come to the party, then drove fours back after 10 o'clock.What the -- Guillo!Shake it, babies.Maya keeping our dances alive with Baby Luz.On and on til the break of dawn . . .Group picture! Except Uncle Raymond was balancing his mojito on my head in this one . . .Then Baby Luz risked her life and climbed on top of the house to get this great shot.Happy Birthday, Mama Luz. I love the fuck out of you.I was gonna write about the Manhattan leg of the trip too, but this got too long and Manhattan & Betsy deserve their own post. It will be soon coming; it won't take a month it's been taking me to write a post lately. Thanks for the nudge Pixilyn - much love!