Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Dreamy lights

Last night, we saw two movies at the NFT as part of the London Film Festival. The first, the Japanese Heart, Beating In The Dark, was a claustrophobic portrayal of a young outlaw couple holed up in a grotty flat on the run for having killed their baby daughter, and a parallel story of their middle-aged alter-egos reunited and battling one another to understand the reasons for having killed their child. It was the director's rethink of his earlier 20-year old underground classic of the same name and it intercut footage from the original to disturbing effect.

The second was Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century - a dreamy hallucination of a movie overlaying the stories of three doctors: a country hospital doctor preoccupied by memories of a dashing young orchid expert; a singing dentist who makes a quirky connection with a young Buddhist monk who dreams of becoming a DJ; and an ex-army doctor working in a high-tech urban hospital and his daily interactions with his colleagues who include a couple of aging female doctors who enjoy an alcoholic tipple or five. The movie entranced with its shimmering, languid, tropical pace. A real delight.

In between movies and beneath the Hungerford Bridge where trains rumbled by every few minutes, we ate a hearty Brazilian stew of sweet potatoes and hearts of palm, chicken fajitas, curly fries with smoked chilli aioli and corn chips with guacamole at the recently-opened and surprisingly good Latin American chain restaurant Las Iguanas on South Bank's Festival Walk.

When we first started dating, M lived north of the river and I lived south, making the South Bank a favourite place to meet up and go out after work. We haven't been along the South Bank at night for a long while so it was lovely strolling, arm in arm, marvelling at the lights weaving in and out of tree branches, at the buildings lit up in bright primary colours, at the multi-coloured reflections on the water and at the greater numbers of people crowding the thoroughfare now that Festival Walk has finally opened up its dark spaces to restaurants, bookstores and record shops.

Tonight, I returned home late from a long and intense day of work and was greeted at the door by the thick, heady aroma of wine, meat and tomatoes: M was making herby meatballs in a red wine and tomato sauce over spaghetti for our dinner, which we washed down with a rich and fruity Chillean Malbec the colour of violent violets. A peaceful Monday night with good food and good wine and good company.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Turks and Nautch girls

My first encounter with Harringay was four years ago when I visited the house of my two close friends Dg and J. The borough did not make a good first impression. I can be quite judgmental at the best of times, but fortunately age and experience has taught me the futility in relying on first instincts. Some of my closest friends, for example, were people I took an instant dislike or ambivalence to when I first met them. My first thought about Harringay was, "What a dump". Now it's proven to be the best place I've ever lived in in London.

The most established ethnic community in Harringay is Turkish, originally Turkish Cypriots fleeing the Turkish-Greek conflict over Cyprus. Greek Cypriots also arrived in the same part of London and more recent arrivals have been Kurdish and Kosovan refugees, as well as some Albanians and Bulgarians. The result is Green Lanes teaming with a spectacular array of Turkish, Kurdish and some Greek Cypriot groceries, cafes and restaurants selling everything from cheap kitchen towels, plastic clothes lines and mouse traps to heavenly baklava, meaty lamb and chicken kebabs and fresh herbs and spices sold by the fistful. The ornate and imposing Salisbury pub features poetry and music nights and is testimony to the growing number young professionals priced out of trendy neighbouring Crouch End and students moving into the area, though we've never drunk in it.

Shamuss Abbas
, on the strip of Green Lanes' shops nicknamed Grand Parade (established in 1899), is our local grocery store where we regularly stock up on feta cheese, honey, salamis, flat breads, yoghurts, parsley and fruits on the way home from work. Antepliler is our local Turkish restaurant, much mentioned in this blog, where we eat succulent, marinated and spiced lamb or chicken kebabs on those weeknights when we can't be bothered to cook.

Yesterday morning, M went out to pick up our drycleaning from Zephyr and to get his hair cut in Chris's Of London (as if "Chris" needs to distinguish himself from all the other Chris's barbers across the country!) down the road, before popping into the best Turkish bakery in London - Yasir Halim - to buy freshly baked croissants, lamb kibbe and spinach and feta cheese boreks for our breakfast and lunch. I stayed in the flat and uploaded a backlog of photos to my Flickr account. We ate over the weekend FT and I continued to surf online as M read and played the new Tekken on his PSP and Total Overdose on the PS2.

The day was grey and cold, but eventually around three o'clock, we roused ourselves from the snug warmth of our flat to jump on a succession of trains to Kilburn where we saw the Indian movie The Journey, or Yatra, at the Tricycle Cinema as part of the London Film Festival. Directed by Goutam Ghose and featuring my childhood Bollywood heroine, the ageless Rekha (if I ever have a daughter I will name her Rekha), the movie proved to be a slow and ponderous meditation of memory and fiction and an exploration of the alleged transition of Indian culture from the spiritual to the materialistic. It's not a film I will watch again, but once again it was wonderful being surrounded by so many Indians.

It was also fascinating to learn more about India's nautch girl tradition. According to Pran Nevile's book Nautch Girls of India: Dancers. Singers, Playmates,

"The Nautch girl as an entertainer of men belonged to a unique class of courtesans who played a significant role in the social and cultural life of India in the 18th and 19th centuries. She represented a delightful synthesis of different cultures and dance forms the classical and the popular. The Nautch girl was no ordinary woman of pleasure. She had refined manners, a ready wit and poetry in her blood. She catered to the tastes of the elite who had the time, resources and aptitude to enjoy her company. Her sexual favours were reserved for the chosen few. Over the centuries, she appeared in various incarnations, but chiefly as a temple dancer dedicated to the gods, for dance is believed to have divine sanction."

In The Journey, the aging nautch girl (Rekha) was a very contemporary incarnation delivering, in return for money, entrancing kathak dancing and classical singing along with sexual favours.

Afterwards, we walked down Willesden Lane for solid local Keralan cooking at Kovalam, where we ate spicy uzhunnu vada with sambar and Mysore bhonda for starters. We had main dishes of coconut-drenched and creamy lamb malabar, pan-fried pomfret fish curry, and a beetroot thoran encrusted with dried coconut and black mustard seeds. We shared a dessert of creamy vermicelli milk pudding with sago seeds, cashew nuts and sultanas. Not as spectacular as the Rasa or Masala Zone chains of South Indian food, or the Ravi Shankar on Drummond Street, but a lovely cap on a lovely day nonetheless.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Twilight zone

I rushed out of work last night to go to the Victoria & Albert Museum, but my journey was thwarted at every turn: a train stuck in a tunnel, a 10 minute wait for another one, an about turn decision to use another line which entailed a sweaty 10 minute walk through the sticky winding passages of the station, and the V&A subway side entrance being blocked off requiring an extended walk to the front of the museum which was cram-packed with people queuing for tickets in the entrance and for drinks at the bar. To top it off, I had forgotten my mobile phone. I was half an hour late in meeting M and I had no idea where he was amongst the throng.

I bumped into him in the South Asian room where we were both looking at the stone Vishnus and Ganeshas. Luckily he'd had the foresight to queue for tickets so we went straight into the Twilight: Photography in the Magical Hour exhibition.

The premise of the show is to highlight the magical hour between day and night as photographed by eight contemporary artists, including our favourite Gregory Crewdson (above) and Ori Gersht (below), but each photographer's work was hung in dark rooms so tiny that people - many with large backpacks - jostled one another for a good view. These were works designed to be viewed from a distance and with lots of space around it. Unfortunately, it was impossible to view them properly in such abysmal surroundings.

We left, disappointed, in less than an hour and made our way back north to eat delicious Turkish kebabs, chicken wings, pitta bread, hummus and red onion salad at our local Antepliler on Green Lanes in Harringay.

Finally satiated, we returned home and drank rich, soothing Malbec whilst watching Season 5 of Curb Your Enthusiasm. We didn't get into Curb Your Enthusiasm until a year go when we caught an episode in our Bangkok hotel on a trip to Thailand last summer. The episode that grabbed us by the metaphoric balls was Porno Gil from Season 1 where Larry and Cheryl attend the party of a former porn star and where Jeff, fearful of his wife finding his hidden pornography should he die during an upcoming surgery, asks Larry to move his stash.

Having never caught the Seinfeld phenomenon, we had no idea who Larry David was. But on the strength of Porno Gil, we bought every available season of Curb when we returned to London and have been gorging ourselves on some of the best comedy around ever since.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Hana and his brothers

Despite what I've written about before, the last two nights have once again been busy. On Tuesday, our entire team at work went out for dinner at the Italian restaurant Da Paolo on Charlotte Street where we ate good food (I had crab risotto and mozzarella and avocado salad), drank copious glasses of red wine and made the most awful racket (lucky we had an entire basement floor to ourselves). It was a great night and this morning both my head and my throat were very sore.

Last night, I met up with M after work and we ate prawn dumplings, shredded chilli beef, pak choi and deep-fried tofu, and egg fried rice at the cheap and stylish Chinese Experience opposite the Curzon Soho cinema. Then we walked across the Thames to the NFT for another London Fim Festival night, this time watching Japanese period drama Hana.

Hana is the son of a great samurai, passing his days teaching writing in an 18th century Edo shanty town while trying to plan out a revenge attack on the man who killed his father. Unfortunately getting in his way are three things he doesn't have any control over: One, he can't find the killer; two, he's falling in love with a young widow next door and her son; and three, he can't swordfight to save his life! Aiding and abetting him, and not very successfully, are his loyal and very crazy shanty town sidekicks.

Directed by Nobody Knows and Afterlife director Hirokazu Koreeda, the film is both funny and affecting, and has such a wonderful attention to detail that you are instantly transported to Edo, 1702.

The entire night at the NFT turned out to be a comedy: several people turned up late, I'm sure because they expected adverts; the audience was older than your usual cinema crowd and people kept getting up to go to the toilet, getting in the way of the subtitles and stepping all over our bags; the air-conditioning was off, leaving the air hot and stuffy; and the guy behind us kept laughing away like Beavis and Butthead rolled into one - even during the non-comedic episodes - as if he'd come to the film determined to laugh the entire time because he'd heard the film was meant to be funny.

Despite it being an excellent film, I was seething throughout and didn't stop seething the entire journey home. Of course, now I see the funny side.

I spent today in Slough again. Few days of one's life should ever be spent in Slough - it being one big business park - but because one of my clients is based there, I had no choice. In any event, the day-long meeting was a big success and I learned a lot from some very interesting people, and it also meant, because I wasn't in the office, I returned home on time to cook us both rice noodles with king prawns and purple-sprouting broccoli in a chicken and chilli broth for dinner.

When he came home, M surprised me with a lovely gift of a black watch I've been eyeing up in Muji recently. Now I'm catching up on my blogging while M is pretending to be Sergei Dragonov in the new Tekken game I bought him last week for his PSP. Then we'll eat Gu mini chocolate souffles and watch the newest season of Curb Your Enthusiasm on DVD.

Monday, October 23, 2006


What a mellow evening this is panning out to be. I left work on time today, popped into M&S near my work on Oxford Street in the dark drizzle, then made it home before M and cooked us a dinner of organic spinach stir-fried in soy sauce and garlic, rice flavoured with dashi and pieces of chicken char-grilled on the cast-iron grill pan. I settled into the sofa to read a little of Alan Hollinghurst's exquisite The Line Of Beauty while M listened to Lou Reed's Transformer CD and now M is setting up the ironing board to iron his work shirts in the lounge while we watch Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes on the new Five US channel. There's M&S lemon cheesecake in the fridge. The drizzle outside continues, but I don't care because I'm snug and warm inside.

The Namesake

It rained all day today and we were reluctant to leave our flat, but leave it we did to watch The Namesake at the Odeon West End in Leicester Square. I always get excited when I see an Indian movie at the cinema because it's one of those rare times outside of Diwali or Puja when I see so many Indian families gathered together.

When I saw the epic Lagaan in Oxford a few years ago, I enjoyed the many sets of Indian families - children, parents and grandchildren - tucking into the samosas or pakoras they'd smuggled into the cinema in tupperware boxes as much as I enjoyed the film. I loved the sight of so many sari-clad women as much as the movie Monsoon Wedding, which I also saw in Oxford. What I loved about tonight was the many Indian and mixed-English-Asian couples in the audience.

And of course, the film itself. I first read The Namesake by Bengali writer Jhumpa Lahiri a few years ago and remember being thoroughly immersed in the story of Bengali-origin, American-born Gogol Ganguli. I thoroughly identified with the highs and lows of being born to Bengali-immigrant parents in a western country and enjoyed following his story as he
negotiated childhood and then adulthood and struggled to define himself as independent from his parents and their culture.

But what made the film extra special was the focus on Gogol's parents, Asima and Asoke. The film followed them from their first meeting and arranged marriage in India, through their move to cold and depressing New York City, to their voyage through parenthood as they adjusted their Indian mindset to that of their American children in the suburbs.

A very special epic.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Invisible memories

We ventured out to deepest, darkest Hoxton today. Through the litter and the grime, we walked down a practically deserted Rivington Street in search of the inIVA gallery. Apparently, Hoxton comes alive during the night, and the endless graffitied and shuttered down bars and restaurants we passed testify to Hoxton's thriving night life. But on a cold, grey day such as today, we couldn't see the appeal.

Up to the second floor of the gallery in a smelly, pokey, wall-to-ceiling carpeted lift, we were greeted with a wall of sound so sublime I nearly teared up in the gallery lobby. Into the dark space we went, towards the light and sound emanating from a screen at the back, where artist Idris Khan had filmed Gabriella Swallow playing Bach's Cello Suites but had layered the film footage so that the cellist was playing all six pieces at the same time - the cellist's bow, her arm and the music spinning, colliding and veering from side to side and into one another. The effect was a singular wall of music that was at once quintessentially Bach and at once completely modern.

Khan has said of the new commission: "When we look at images or listen to a piece of music it can trigger memories, which often become blurred in our minds and mixed with all sorts of emotions. When I first began to listen to Bach's cello suites, I would play it so often that my experience of the music would become hazy and indistinct. This is a film installation that evokes the effect of memory where one can't quite see but the experience is still vivid and intense."

I fell in love with Bach's Cello Suites a few years ago and, as played by Pierre Fournier, it is now one of my favourite pieces of music of all time. I am even battling it out with M to have the Prelude accompany me on my walk down the aisle with my father. He thinks it's too mournful; I think it's perfectly joyous! However, I didn't know until today that Bach never intended the Suites to be performed as a concert; instead he composed them as recital pieces for strenthening the hands, arms and fingers as they are intensely difficult to play.

In the evening, we went to the ICA and watched Thai director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's riveting Invisible Waves as part of the London Film Festival. The film - featuring superlative cinematography by Christopher Doyle - follows Asano who, on his boss' orders, kills his boss' wife and flees from Macau to Thailand where he is pursued by his own bad karma, in the shape of The Lizard - his boss' gangster moll.

Afterwards, we ate salt and pepper deep-fried squid, beef in satay sauce and garlic broccoli and drank hot Chinese tea in our favourite Hong Kong Diner in Chinatown.

And then it was home to sip hot green tea with roasted rice and listen to snippets from Bach's Cello Suites as played by M's favourite Cassals, my favourite Fournier and also Tortelier.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Flowers and questions

Tonight, we went to the Tate Modern after work to the Fischli & Weiss: Flowers & Questions retrospective. The two Swiss artists take an often witty and irreverent look at everyday life and express their take on the world through photographs, film and sculpture.

Featured at the Tate were sculptures of such everyday objects as cupboards, childrens' wellington boots, cigarette butts, a child's alien toy, tables, armchairs and "wooden" crates hand-carved from polyurethane and indistinguishable from the real thing. There were a brick wall and the charred remains of a tree cast in black rubber. There were dozens of tiny hand-modelled, unfired clay sculptures depicting important and unimportant events in the history of human kind, such as Herr and Frau Einstein shortly after the conception of their son, the genius Albert and Mick Jagger and Brian Jones going home satisfied after composing 'I can't get no satisfaction', a loaf of bread, a teaset and a man sitting alone in his armchair reflecting on the unseen view through his window.

There were thousands of photographs on display too: the hilarious Sausage Photographs depicted incidents such as a car accident or shoppers in a carpet showroom featuring characters and props made entirely from frankfurters and cold cuts.

And my favourite part of the show rotated 3,000 photographs taken by the artists on their various travels around the world - simple, straightforward tourist shots, not dissimilar to the ones on display by ordinary people on Flickr.

Funny and engrossing stuff. As Tate ETC magazine puts it:

"The way things go, and don't - that's life. In its totality, life is more than we can fully grasp; and yet in all its mundane aspects and repetitiveness, it's filled with negligible details. Between profound meaning and meaninglessness, there's room for irony..."

Afterwards, we continued our own fascinatingly mundane lives by going to Sainsbury's and buying pepperoni pizzas, coleslaw, wine, coca cola and lemon cheesecake for our own dinner at home.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Mid-week departure

Before M and I moved in together, the only way we could see one another was to actually schedule dates during the week as well as the weekends. This meant that no matter how tired we were, we always made the effort to meet up in town after work and see a movie or eat out or go to a late night art opening. Now that we live together, we see each other every night after work when we both come home.

On top of this, our work lives have stepped up several gears and we are working harder than ever. I'm working on so many projects at once, that it takes me several seconds to make the transition from one project to another. For example, it always happens that someone asks me for an update on project 2 when I'm in the middle of project 7, or a project 6 client calls when I'm still working on project 4 (if this makes sense!). In any given day, I can be juggling three or four completely separate projects - for completely different clients - at any given time. The result is more exhaustion by the time the home bell rings.

The outcome of all this is that we rarely need or make plans to meet up after work to go out on a weeknight - saving it all for the weekend. On weeknights after work, we tend* to go home and we cook, we eat, we catch up with each other, we watch a DVD, we read: we simply enjoy each other and relax in each other's company. * I say "tend" because there are still weeknights when lots of things happen: Steve Reich or Marisa Monte at the Barbican and Akram Khan at Saddlers Wells, for example; Friday night at the Tate Modern; and this week will be particularly busy because I'll be out eating twice this week for work and the London Film Festival has begun.

But tonight was a pleasant departure from what has become our cosy weeknight routine. We met up with our friends D and J - friends from our Oxford days, who have three young children together and who both have busy, high-powered jobs. We ate at a local Spanish restaurant called La Vina on Wightman Road and ate deliciously moreish and fresh tapas, from artichoke hearts and tortillas to chorizo and my favourite black pudding. Lots of red Rioja of course.

It was lovely catching up on our personal lives and on our work. D is my witness at our wedding and we've decided to have our joint hen and stag party in Oxford, where all of us (including M and myself) met. It's going to be at the beginning of February and I'm looking forward to it as much as the wedding (only kidding M!).

Monday, October 16, 2006

Return to New York

We spent the day at home today - cleaning the house, doing laundry. M popped by Baldwin's butchers on his way back from the gym (his grandfather used to shop there too) and bought some stewing beef to make spicy Hungarian goulash with Turkish dipping bread for our dinner - perfect comfort food now the winter's setting in. And then we returned to New York for a few hours: first I transferred all our New York photos to our computer and then we sat down to watch first the disturbing Rosemary's Baby with Mia Farrow, and then the hilarious camp but ultimately sad Midnight Cowboy on DVD. Movie trivia from IMDb:
  • "Dustin Hoffman kept pebbles in his shoe to ensure his limp would be consistent from shot to shot.
  • Bob Dylan's song "Lay Lady Lay" was written for inclusion in the film but missed the deadline.
  • Before Dustin Hoffman auditioned for this film, he knew that his all-American image could easily cost him the job. To prove he could do it, he asked the auditioning film executive to meet him on a street corner in Manhattan, and in the meantime, dressed himself in filthy rags. The executive arrived at the appointed corner and waited, barely noticing the "beggar" less than ten feet away who was accosting people for spare change. At last, the beggar walked up to him and revealed his true identity.
  • The only X-rated film ever to win a Best Picture Oscar.
  • The only X rated movie shown to a US President while in office.
  • Andy Warhol was originally scheduled to appear in the Factory sequence. His appearance was cancelled when he was shot by Valerie Solanis."

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Business as usual

It was business as usual today - our first full day back in London after a week away in New York City. We lazed around all morning having a leisurely breakfast and reading the weekend papers; M went to see his uncle, aunt and two young cousins and to give them some Arsenal tickets; and then I met him at the Barbican for a scoot around the In The Face Of History: European Photographers In The 20th Century exhibition.

Featuring classic photographers such as Eugene Atget, Robert Doisneau and Brassai alongside more modern photographers such as Boris Mikhailov, Jitla Hanzlova and Wolfgang Tillmans, the exhibition collectively mapped out a century of European experience. From the First World War to the Cold War, the sexual revolution to the Velvet Revolution, and from communism to capitalism, the photographers documented the 20th Century.

One of the photographers that affected me was the little-known (in this country at least) Henryk Ross, who photographed the everyday lives of the Jews living in the ghetto in Lodz in the 1940s. Lodz was the second-largest ghetto established for Jews and Roma in German-occupied Poland. Ross documented the Nazi attrocities and then buried the negatives in a barrel deep in the ground before returning after the liberation to retrieve them.

A couple of years ago, his son released to the public for the first time a selection of photos shown today at the Barbican, showing aspects of Ross's own life as a privileged member of the Jewish elite who lived in comparative luxury in the ghetto due to their positions as wealthy and influential Jews used by the Nazis to organise the camps. Ross's photos show this ghetto elite in a form of symbolic resistance: persuing romance and dinner parties of relative plenty, theatre productions and concerts.

Also new to me was the work of Swedish photographer Christer Stromholm who lived amongst and documented the nocturnal community of transsexuals - many of whom worked as prostitutes, saving money for sex change operations in Casablanca - on the streets and in the cafes and nightclubs of Paris in the 1960s.

His son Joachim guided us through the photographs and divulged that one the transsexuals prominently displayed at the Barbican- the beautiful Nana - had successfully made the transition to womanhood and was now married to a high-ranking French military man who didn't know about his wife's past.

Finally, Wolfgang Tillmans's section showed photos of Polish immigrants bagging bargains at a market set in a muddy, rain-swept wasteland in West Berlin in 1989. The photos reflect the lives of the thousands of Poles who entered the country in 1988 after the immigration laws were relaxed, struggling to embrace and participate the free market economy.

We ate dinner at one of our favourite Japanese restaurants Abeno Too opposite the Photographers Gallery in Covent Garden. We sat at a wooden bar in the centre and watched as the waitress prepared our okonomi-yaki -- a sort of bubble and squeak mixture of cabbage, tempura batter, eggs, spring onions, ginger, pork, squid and prawns fried on the grill in front of us and served with Japanese brown sauce, mayonnaise and chilli sauce.

Then it was onto the very old Lamb and Flag pub nearby - a small wooden fronted pub, over 300 years old. It was once known as the Bucket of Blood because of the bare-fisted fights that used to regularly occur there. It is legend that the poet John Dryden was attacked there in 1679 by hired thugs in the alleyway by the side of the pub and nearly died. We sat upstairs in the Dryden Room and toasted my friend R, who is leaving London for adventures as yet unknown in Ireland, India and Hong Kong.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


We left New York City yesterday with a mixture of sadness and excitement. We were sad for leaving NYC and vowed to return next year; but we were also excited because we still had a weekend left to enjoy our beloved London again before we returned to work.

We had done so much shopping in NYC that yesterday morning we had to buy a cheap new holdall from a luggage store around the corner from the Rivington in order to pack all our new clothes and books. Wary of paying VAT at British customs, which would have nullified the savings we'd made by buying in New York, we cut out all the tags and ripped up all the receipts before packing. The flight was an evening one. I hate night flights because I never sleep on planes and always end up with more severe jet lag as a result.

Once we'd returned to our home sweet home in the late morning today, we caught up on our sleep, did a big grocery shop at Sainsbury's and now we've just finished watching Woody Allen's DVD Hannah and Her Sisters, set in New York City, and CSI:NYC on the TV! Hannah and Her Sisters trivia, according to Internet Movie Database:
  • "Many of Hannah's scenes were filmed in Mia Farrow's actual apartment. Allen said that Farrow once had the eerie experience of turning on the TV to a chance broadcast of the movie thus viewing her own apartment on TV while she was sitting in it.
  • According to USA Today, upon the film's original release, a movement was afoot to try to make Allen's script the first screenplay to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
  • Woody Allen has said that he was inspired to write this film after a chance re-reading of Tolstoy's novel "Anna Karenina"
  • With a box office gross of $40 million, this represents Woody Allen's most financially successful film to date.
  • Four of Mia Farrow's real-life children appear in this film. Two appear as Hannah's son and daughter in the movie, while the other two (including Soon-Yi Previn, who Woody Allen would eventually marry in 1997) appear as young guests in the Thanksgiving scenes."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Big Apple 5

Our penultimate day in New York City has been a cooler, greyer one. Despite the drizzle, we strolled through Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art - a huge, grand, elegant beast of a museum that is by far the best we've ever been to. London's British Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum boast a terrific and vast collection but they are collections housed in cramped and badly lit surroundings.

The Met, on the other hand, dazzled because everything was exquisitely spaced and lit. Two million square feet of European, African, Oceanic, Islamic, Asian and American art and artifacts are displayed here - including entire rooms given over to reconstructed Eygptian and Buddhist temples and American houses.

Paintings, sculptures, statues, pottery and prints fill every room and it would take several more all-day visits to appreciate everything this spectacular museum has to offer. The roof top courtyard had dramatic views overlooking the city and Central Park.

For lunch, we filled our basket at posh deli Dean & Delucca and picnicked in Central Park on meatloaf, sweet yellow beet salad and mashed potatoes (me) and chilli chicken with greens and garlic (M). I'm always blown away by the abundance of food on display in American supermarkets and delis - from South Dakota through Santa Fe to New York City. A nation of plenty indeed!

As the rain poured down, we took refuge in Barnes & Noble book store and Saks department store on 5th Avenue and then came back to the hotel, where we dined on roasted cod (M) and parmesan and mushroom risotto with garlic chips and pea shoots (me) followed by a luxurious fig cheesecake in our hotel's chic restaurant Thor.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Big Apple 4

Today we took the F-line south into Brooklyn where we wandered around the middle-class, listed Brooklyn Heights, filled with beautiful brownstone homes and a mellow atmosphere. We walked along the massive steel Brooklyn Bridge to the financial heart of NYC - the heavily-policed Wall Street with its gleaming concrete, steel and glass skyscraper canyons and reflected in silence at the empty cavern of the former World Trade Center.

From there we walked to Battery Park, took one look at the long queues and decided against getting a boat to the Statue of Liberty - preferring to gilmspe her highness from the Hudson River promenade. Chewing on salt pretzels, we strolled the promenade alongside the Wall Street district where city workers jogged or power walked in their sneakers and expensive sweat pants and vests during their lunch break and remarked on the large number of Indian financiers.

Onto Tribeca and its row upon row of expensive loft apartments to trendy and busy SoHo with its expensive wholefood stores and boutiques, where we lunched on vegeburgers, french fried and green salads and shopped in American Apparel and APC. Toward nightfall, we made it to Greenwich Village with its coffee bars crammed with NewYork University students and were struck by how little public drinking there is in NYC. Bars are less ubiquitous than in London and coffee houses are more packed out at night.

We ate the best pizza we've ever had at Lombardi's in Little Italy - America's oldest pizzeria, established in 1905. According to their website:

"Lombardi's was originally a grocery store, but it soon became a popular stop for workers looking for something to take to work for lunch. Gennaro started selling tomato pies, which were wrapped in paper and tied with a string, and the many workers of Italian descent would take them to the job site. Most could not afford the entire pie, so it was often sold by the piece. There was no set price or size, so you asked for whatever lets say 2 cents would buy and you were given portion of what was equal to the amount offered."

We ate an 18-inch thin-crusted pepperoni and black olive pizza and drank moreish Brooklyn beer (M) and non-alcoholic root beer (me). We saved dessert for a dessert bar called Room 4 Dessert on Cleveland Street, which we'd first read about back in London in Wallpaper magazine. Sitting in a dark, narrow room more akin to an intimate cocktail lounge than a restaurant, we rested our weary feet and indulged in a glass of layered on grapefruit liqueur, chesnut puree, foam of pomegranate and dried, powdered coconut. Then I had a tasting plate of assorted miniature white, black and milk chocolate desserts and M had a tasting plate of assorted pear-based treats. It was all very glamourous and hedonistic.

Although I am loving New York City, I am also feeling a little underwhelmed by it. Perhaps this is more to do with the fact that NYC does and can not ever live up to its own legend as built up in the movies, in literature and in the photography of NYC I love so much. I miss the history, the winding streets and the architectural diversity of London. I miss the fact that in London we have numerous big parks, each with its distinct personality, and that the modern art scene is more comprehensive. In London, we have more smaller, independent art galleries that show a greater eclectic range of work, and London's Tate Modern receives twice the number of annual visitors than MoMA.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Big Apple 3

Alot more shopping got done today, at Banana Republic and Bloomingdales in and around 5th and Madison avenues, Uptown. As someone who loathes shopping for clothes in England, I doubted I would spend time going in and out of shops in New York City. How wrong I was.

Shopping in New York is as stress-free as they come. As soon as you have more than a few garments in your arms, a shop assistant will whisk them away and hold open a fitting room just for you. You can then deposit there any other clothes you pick up and there is no limit on how many things you take in, making it easy to try on different styles and sizes. The assistants work on a commission so it's as much in their as your own interest to help you. The result is alot more sales for them and a comfortable experience for you.

It wasn't all shopping today, though. We visited the glass-fronted Museum of Modern Art in Midtown. MoMA has a strong, worldwide reputation despite, in my eyes, paling in comparison to London's Tate Modern (which houses its treasure in a building as stunning as its collection, which is in a sublime location on the River Thames and which receives twice as many visitors per year). Unlike the Tate, though, we were allowed to take photos so long as we didn't use flash, so I took photos of artists I have loved since I was a teenager: Marc Chagall (below), Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (above, third) and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (above, first and second); as well as of artists recently discovered: Bernd and Hilla Becher, and Gerhard Richter.

For lunch, we ate burritos with beef and chilli (M) and sweet potatoes with black beans and corn (me) and Oreo chocolate bars at Digby's. We had dinner at the cosy, teal-walled, basement restaurant Cafe el Portal on Elizabeth Street in NoLita, where we ate authentic Mexican comfort food: chicken tamales and chilaquiles (tortillas soaked in lemon and smothered with refried beans, chicken, salsa and chilli sauce) and drank extremely strong mojitos and margaretas. The last time I had tamales as good as these was 8 years ago on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico. The perfect ending to the perfect day.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Big Apple 2

Jet-lag drew me out of bed and to the picture window of our hotel room at 3 in the morning. My eyes wandered away from the still glittering skyline to the busy Lower East Side streets around Rivington: the grocery store with its brightly lit yellow signage was still open and a couple of old men with brown paper bags wrapped around cans of beer were hovering by the doorway; young clubbers were milling around a trendy nightclub.

The scene reminded me that though the Lower East Side has traditionally been an immigrant (first mainly Eastern European Jews packed into the mass tenement buildings that define the Lower East architecture, now more likely Latin Americans), working class neighbourhood, it has undergone gentrification in recent years and is increasingly populated by young professionals, artists, musicians and students. As a result, the Lower East Side today is an eclectic mix of cut-price garment stores, groceries, Jewish delis, trendy bars, chi-chi boutiques and thriving restaurants.

I woke up again at 7am in time to watch, from my bed, a beautiful pink dawn wake up the Wall Street and Midtown. I showered with hotel-supplied Ren products in the black tile and slate bathroom then breakfasted on ham and cheese on rye, peach pastries and coffee in the Rivington's famous Thor restaurant.

We took the subway (the F-line) to Lexington, amazed at how grubby and bland the NY Subway is compared to the brightly-lit, cushion-chaired, more designed London Underground. We strolled through the 2.5-long and 0.5-wide rambling green oasis of Central Park and watched the thick mass of joggers pounding the pathways against the magnificent backdrop of residential and commercial concrete skyscrapers.

We walked down the oppulent 5th Avenue with row upon row of ornate, pre-war concrete residential blocks, designer shops and restaurants for ladies who lunch, to the Guggenheim and Cooper-Hewitt museums. At the Cooper-Hewitt we saw the Frederic Church, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Moran: Tourism and the American Landscape exhibition showing the rising popularity of paintings and drawings of such places as Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park to encourage tourism amongst 19th century Americans. At the Guggenheim we saw a retrospective of the designs and drawings of innovative and maverick Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid. We were disappointed with the bittiness of the museum's permanent collection of modern art, but the dramatic white spiral building designed by one of my favourite architects Frank Lloyd Wright delighted.

We walked down the down and dirty Lexington Avenue - made personally famous for me by The Velvet Underground's song Waiting For The Man, about buying heroin and featuring the line: "Up to Lexington 125 / Feel sick and dirty more dead than alive". At the 81-year-old diner Lexington Candy Store, in a bottle green leather booth with a candy pink formica table, we ate cheddar bacon burgers dripping with grease and salty french fries, and drank vanilla cokes served by middle-aged waitresses in candy pink.

And then we shopped till we dropped on Madison Avenue: The Gap, Ann Taylor, Barneys department store, Banana Republic... At Jil Sander we were served by a clerk who loved to shop in Leeds, London and Manchester, but who also loved, for some bizarre reason, Huddersfield!

As night fell, we joined the tourist hordes in the bedazzling, neon-lit Times Square, then into the beautiful and ornate 1913 Beaux Arts Grand Central Station, and a view of the gleaming art deco Chrysler Building built as an homage to the automobile and complete with radiator-cap eagle "cargoyles".

Exhausted, we returned to the Lower East Side for a dinner of red snapper, phad thai, mango salad and flambe ice cream at Thai On Clinton, while trying to both ignore and eavesdrop on the guy behind us trying very loudly to impress his female companion with tales of wanting to get married and having orgasms in his sleep.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Big Apple 1

The 7-hour flight on Virgin Atlantic had the best in-flight entertainment package I've ever experienced - hundreds of movies (including indie Japanese and Korean flicks) and TV shows viewable on a monitor at the back of every seat. To get in the NYC spirit, I watched the rivetting Jodie Foster and Denzel Washington thriller Inside Man and the hilarious and light Meryl Streep comedy The Devil Wears Prada. I always bring too many magazines and books on flights. In the end, I read nothing but a single Glamour magazine, watched the two movies, and ate vegetarian risotto and GU chocolate mousse courtesy of Virgin.

We took a $45 yellow cab from JFK International through Queens and Brooklyn, across the Williamsburg Bridge and into the Lower East Side, where our hotel - the trendy, sidewalk to sky glass Hotel on Rivington - was located. My first impression of the Lower East at 5pm was dismay: "It's like Brixton rolled into Wood Green, but ten times worse," I foolishly thought as I looked at the graffiti-splattered walls, the five and dime stores selling cheap clothing and luggage and the shuttered-down cafes and bars. Mild paranoia is one of my worst traits - along with snobbishness and impatience - and of course, when the bell-man disappeared with all our luggage, my first thought on the Lower East Side was that he'd scarpered with them.

But the hotel was sumptuous and modish with dark, bordello-red hallways, white linen sheets, Babes in Toyland goodies in the minibar, flatscreen TV on the wall, black slate bathtub and heady views of Wall Street and the Empire State Building from our floor-to-ceiling room windows.

Of course, on strolling the neighbourhood in search of dinner I discovered that the Lower East Side springs to life after dark. We ate blood sausages, chorizo, french fries and 10 oz filet mignon steaks and drank Malbec at the Argentinian restaurant Azul Bistro on Stanton and Suffolk Streets and saw how fantastic the Lower East is, buzzing with people, bars, restaurants and clothes boutiques that wouldn't look out of place in London's Soho or trendy Hoxton.

More fool me for having been so judgemental.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Cave

We spent an enjoyable night we watching The Cave at the Barbican, featuring music by Steve Reich, multi-channel video by Beryl Korot and a live concert by the Steve Reich Ensemble. The Cave explored Judaism and Islam through the biblical story of Abraham and Sarah and via 18 on-stage musicians, three acts, and five screens of fractured interviews with Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans. These spoke of their thoughts (if any) of Abraham, his wife Sarah, her Egyptian handmaid Hagar, and Sarah and Abraham's offspring Isaac and Ishmael, who are portrayed in the Bible and the Koran as the respective progenitors of the Jews and the Muslims.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Nothing and everything

Today was one of those blissful Sundays when the rain is pouring, the wind is cold, but it's warm inside the flat. Nothing and everything happens on days like these: the laundry and ironing get done, the house gets cleaned, the chicken simmers into chicken noodle soup for hours on the stove... We put all the photos from our Thailand 2005 and Seville 2005 holidays, ordered from Photobox, into photo albums; flipped through Grazia (me) and Men's Fitness (him); watched episodes of The OC, season 2 (both of us) and Queer As Folk USA, season 1 (me) on the DVD; chatted with our parents on the phone; found our wedding invitations online (the perfect mix of Indian and Western); confirmed our NYC hotel reservation for next Saturday; ate chocolate biscuits and dranks lots of tea.

Art attack

Yesterday we excitedly set out for town with a day's worth of gallery hopping planned. We visited six exhibitions in total, all but two of which disappointed.

The Polish artist Jakub Julian Ziolkowski's surrealist landscapes and dreamscapes at our favourite gallery Hauser & Wirth on Piccadilly; the American Al Taylor's sculptures and drawings of his sculptures of shrunken heads and segmented fish at the Haunch of Venison; Fiona Tan's films of twin girls and found Japanese schoolgirl portraits overlayed by a colonial commentary at the gallery on Frith Street; and Zineb Sedira's photos and film taken of despairing and lonely residents passing time around the Port of Algiers. Though technically good, they all failed to engage me emotionally and I had the feeling I had seen work like these many times before.

Robert Mapplethorpe's photographic portraits of rock singer Patti Smith at Alison Jacques, on the other hand, were inspiring - in equal parts due to the gallery itself (an old, rambling, white-walled, creaky-wooden-floored terrace in Soho), the photographer's skill at capturing individual personalities, and the demented subject matter herself.

Also wonderful were Elisa Sighicelli's mesmerising nocturnal film footage of river life in Beijing at the Gagosian in Kings Cross. Projected onto four vast walls in a darkened space were night scenes from a camera panning slowing across shadowy houses and brightly lit warehouses, glittering restaurants and fleeting husks of passing boats. What drew the eye the most as the camera glided along were the multicoloured light reflections upon the water's dark surface - shimmering flashes of red and gold, undulating patterns of blue and green. A visual seduction.

We also saw, at the Barbican cinema, the wonderful movie Echo Park LA (also known as Quinceanera) set in the Mexican community in LA - one of the oldest areas of LA. As Magdalena's 15th birthday approaches, her life is complicated by the discovery that she's pregnant. Her preacher father kicks her out of her house and she goes to live with her never-married 87 year old great uncle and her gangster gay cousin. A funny and moving kitchen drama and coming-of-age story.

Flickr images of the real Echo Park, LA

For dinner we ate delicious prawn and coconut dumplings, chicken satay, beef massaman curry, mussels baked in a broth of Thai herbs, raspberry and chocolate souffle and lemon cheesecake with raspberry sorbet at Isarn - the wonderful Thai restaurant in Islington.