Sunday, July 30, 2017

NYC: How Lucky We Are to be Alive Right Now

I feel that I'm basically spending this summer tracking down my closest friends in different cities, and New York was a big one for me! This was my second July in a row in New York City, and my trips there keep getting better.  I love getting to know a city to the point where there aren't any more tourist check boxes I'm enticed to mark off, and I instead spend my time wandering the city with newly-minted locals, imagining what my own life there could be.  

I should mention I was there for work, but don't worry, it didn't detract from my fun.  

The weather was unpredictable-hot sticky muggy with the occasional downpour, highlighted by a day of sharply dropped temperatures and cool breezes.  And the smell!  Imagine a men's locker room after a football game.  The hot guys were even there.  But the whole experience is still just kinda...pungent.  

One of the things I was looking most forward to was being reunited with Lauren, who moved to Box London early this year.  We shared a wonderful evening catching up and indulging. 


We started at her hotel's rooftop bar, called The Heights, drinking frozen rose and gazing at the Empire State Building, followed by a delicious seasonal dinner at Park Avenue Summer.  We capped off the hot summer night with gelato from Eataly and firefly-spotting in Madison Square Park.


The next night I met up with Shawn and headed to Summer Stage in Central Park.  We had gone to a throwback DJ set in the same spot last year, so I was familiar with its awesomeness.  This time we chowed down on fried chicken sandwiches and Ommegang beer while waxing philosophical with each other, and later swaying to the Amy Winehouse-meets-Gwen Stefani grooves of Chilean artist Mon Laferte.  No photos of us from that night, but Shawn will definitely make a reappearance later in the week!

The next night I reunited with Preetam, who lives in Seattle, just completed his PhD, and is city-hopping for job interviews.  We decided to spend our night together on Broadway watching Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.   It was such an incredible, immersive experience!

Firstly, the stage was one-of-a-kind.  As you can see from the photo below, the stage weaved its way throughout the theater, with audience members on, in and around it in all directions.  Throughout the show, the actors roamed the pathways, strutting and playing instruments, winking or nudging theater-goers; sometimes, they even pulled up a chair and sat at a cocktail table with paying guests. 

Second, it was so interactive!  Within the first minute of the show, a member of the company threw a dumpling at me, which Preetam and I shared.  Lots of other fun, unexpected things happened throughout, like egg shakers being distributed so everyone could partake in the percussion.  There were maniacal strobes, fanciful costumes, even a 19th century Russian rave.  Basically, the show was a tactile, in-your-face, at times over-stimulating brouhaha of a performance.  Preetam leaned over countless times to ask, "What the hell is going on?!"  We absolutely loved the show and couldn't stop raving about it after.

My dumpling!
I didn't know my mouth could open that big.  Sheesh.

Friday we celebrated Shawn's 30th birthday with friends and coworkers with happy hour, pizza, and karaoke.  One face I was happy to see was Kevin's, who was part of Gio's masters program in Bologna at the same time I was at the villa (here's a throwback to our trip to Ancona altogether in 2011).  He referred Shawn to his job at IIE and now they both work there together.  He did a hilarious double take when he saw me (since it's been at least 5 years and I live in CA), and it was really fun catching up. 

After happy hour, Preetam and Rachael met up with us at karaoke, where we upgraded to a larger room 4 times as more people from Shawn's work joined our ranks. 

The girls missed the memo

We were there for hours and seriously got into it.

Saturday was Shawn's actual birthday, and after transferring from my work hotel in midtown to his apartment in the Bronx, we decided to head even deeper into his borough to check out Little Italy.

 Shawn LOVES my photo ops

We roamed the market, ate pasta for lunch in July against our better judgement, and sipped coffee on the sidewalk while watching the world go by. 

Where I'm headed in less than a month!

Resting back at his place, we grew increasingly obsessed with DJ Khaled's summer hits, primarily Wild Thoughts, which became the soundtrack for our weekend.   We the best music!

That night we met up with Christian (remember my behind the scenes tour of the UN last year with a Mexican diplomat?  That's him!) for Shawn's birthday dinner.

We had a spectacular meal at Mountain Bird, an incredibly fresh French/Japanese restaurant they frequent often-the kind of place you'll only find in New York.

Happy birthday, Shawn!

I know what you're thinking: Saturday night!  New York City!  Shawn's 30th birthday!  You guys must've had quite the night out on the town.  Nope.  We went back to Christian's place and played Mario Kart, happy to relax together.  That's what happens when you turn 30.

Sunday morning, on our way to meet up with Rachael and Preetam on the upper east side, we saw two fights, one on each of the subway trains we took.  One lady was evicted from a train Survivor-style (the tribe has spoken) for speaking to another woman's man.  While moments like those can feel charged and a bit scary, there was a certain solidarity in the whole thing, where you knew people on the train would stand up for you if something not cool happened.

Back in the normal world, we met the crew at Maison Kayser, a delicious, authentic French bakery chain that they apparently have all over Paris and New York (how had I never noticed these?).  We talked about life and careers and ultimately how the four of us should really have a podcast together.

Next we wandered Central Park, listening to crooners under the arches and sweating a lot.  Some of us even joined the throngs of children for a ride on the carousel, while dad (Shawn) looked on. 

Finally, as a reward for our hot walk, I insisted we go to Grom for gelato, which brought us all back to life.  They should keep that stuff in stock at hospitals-miracle drug!  

Then Shawn and I said our goodbyes to the others and headed to Christian's friend's house (who is also a Mexican diplomat) for a BBQ with a community of Mexicans and Spaniards who were doing a fusion meal to share each other's cultures.  We had spent last 4th of July on their rooftop and it was so fun reuniting with them, not to mention we got to eat like kings!  Best of all, we were regaled with hilarious stories about the Mexican President's visits to New York and all the ways they have to scramble to make his trips go smoothly. 

Rooftop smiles

That night we grabbed burgers from Harlem Shake (didn't know this was a place), and watched the premiere of Game of Thrones (another wild night!).  

Time in New York ticks faster than in other places and before I knew it, it was my last morning with Shawn.  We jumped on the subway headed to Bryant Park and got stuck for about an hour underground.  We shrugged and made the most of it, just enjoying our last couple hours together.

Despite its particular frustrations, what a joy New York is, with friends around every corner, and excitement and possibility just waiting for you to uncover them.  Can't wait for next time!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Makin' Waves and Catchin' Rays

As a fitting celebration for the 4th this year, I got four whole days off.  A double weekend!   Kristen and Daniel were in town for the week, and I was joining them for a couple days with their family friends in Berryessa.  Daniel's journey that morning started in a cab to the airport, a flight across the country, and another cab to my house in SF.  Next, we BARTed to the Ferry Building and had lunch and #angrymargs with Ari, before taking the ferry to Vallejo.  After a couple rousing games of 20 questions for us and a cat nap for Daniel, my dad picked us up and carted us to Vacaville, where Kristen's mom and her husband Brenn picked us up and drove us the rest of the way to Berryessa.  It was quite a journey!

 Photo with parents in Vacaville

It was lovely staying at their family friend's house in Berryessa, which has really been outfitted to accommodate large groups!  Plus, there's a long deck with a gorgeous view over the water and the sunset.  They've been doing a 4th of July Berryessa weekend for decades, and have it down to a science, with spreadsheets and shopping lists and each couple responsible for one dinner.  There was a wonderful rhythm to the whole thing that I could really get on board with.  They were so nice to include me!

 Calabria boat!

Spent much of the weekend drinking Bud and riding in trucks, and the most fun was on the boats!  They have a pontoon as a well as a speedboat out on the water (severely different vibes depending on which boat you choose!).  We spent the first day primarily on the speedboat, alternating between gangster rap and country and pretending to be adventurous. 

We all took a turn knee boarding.  I was happy just to get up on the board (Kristen's a great coach), Daniel was eager to try out some tricks, and Kristen was actually capable of doing some pretty badass ones.

That night at the house we had an amazing dance party on the balcony that really felt like we were at a family wedding; in fact we joked that someone should get hitched right there and then just so we didn't waste the perfectness of the moment!   The evening culminated in snippets of Spotify's one hit wonders playlist and us seeing who could guess the most correctly.

The next day we dedicated ourselves to the pontoon boat and cruised the waters peacefully.  My favorite moment was when our fearless captain put on Little Big Town's fantastic lake anthem "Pontoon".  I just ate it up.

On the pontoon
Makin' waves and catchin' rays up on the roof
Jumpin' out the back, don't act like you don't want to
Party in slow motion
Out here in the open
Mm, motorboatin'

After my two days with the group in Berryessa, I headed back to Vacaville to spend part two of the weekend with my family. 

On our full day together, after seeing Baby Driver, we spent the perfect summer night as a family: a walk with Emma and treats from the ice cream man, dinner and cards on the patio, and finally air/shovel guitar solos to DJ Daniel's playlist.  It was one of those perfect, surreal nights when you know you're making a memory and don't want it to end.

And summer ain't over yet!