26
Feb 16

What I Read This Week: Daniel Holtzclaw, Mommie Dearest, naughty words

mommie-dearestEvery week I read a lot of articles, and every Friday I blog about the most interesting ones right here, from listicles to long-reads to everything in between. This week: terrible journalism, why Joan Crawford hated wire hangers, and how to offend in Japanese.

SB Nation Publishes, Deletes “Complete Failure” Of A Story About Convicted Rapist Cop Daniel Holtzclaw

Deadspin has an excellent blow-by-blow takedown of the fascinatingly awful piece from SB Nation about convicted rapist and former Oklahoma City police officer, Daniel Holtzclaw. Deadspin says you should read the SB Nation piece first, and you really should. It’s an excellent example of what not to do as a journalist: don’t be biased, don’t speculate, and don’t include a ton of irrelevant information.

I Lost My Virginity to David Bowie: Confessions of a ‘70s Groupie

Lori Mattix was all of 15 years old when David Bowie invited her into his bedroom. Although Mattix describes the experience as “beautiful,” one can’t help but be disturbed by it, and by the fact that Bowie wasn’t the only rock star to engage in relations with underaged girls. (Another groupie became involved with Iggy Pop with she was 11 — 11!)  A fascinating if disturbing read.

12 Over the Top Facts About Mommie Dearest

I’ve seen this movie approximately one million times. It was one of those that HBO ran over and over, and somehow I never got sick of it. Despite my (weird) childhood obsession with the film, I didn’t know much about the behind-the-scenes, and this Mental Floss article has some interesting tidbits.

For instance, Faye Dunaway was almost as diva-ish as Joan Crawford herself, albeit in much less “ladylike” way, and Crawford despised those infamous wire hangers because her mother worked at a dry cleaners when the family was in dire financial straits.

Naughty Words

This fun Aeon piece delves into why some words are considered offensive, and the different categories of those naughty words, such as the blasphemous (“goddammit”) and the hierarchical (anything about anyone’s parentage).

My favorites are the Quebecois Mon tabernak j’vais te décalliser la yeule, calisse, or “Motherfucker, I’m gonna fuck you up as fuck”; the Mandarin 肏你祖宗十八代, or “Fuck your ancestors to the 18th generation”; and the Japanese “hierarchy-themed insult”: a derogatory form of “you.”

Jodie Sweetin’s Return to Predictability

Although I was already in high school when Full House was on, I still watched it. What else was a nerdy kid going to do on a Friday night? Besides, it was total brain candy, the kids were cute, and Uncle Jesse was cuter. Jodie “How Rude” Sweetin’s life hasn’t always been so, well, sweet — she battled drug addiction after the show went off the air — but she seems to on the road to recovery.


19
Feb 16

What I Read This Week: Pee-Wee, Winona, and the original welfare queen

Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY, 5/2/09 - 3 of 3

As an erstwhile news editor and content curator, I subscribe to a lot of great daily and weekly email newsletters. The Quartz Daily Brief, This.cm, Pocket, Digg, and The Week all keep me up to date on what’s happening in the world and what everyone is reading and sharing.

I often tweet and Facebook (that’s a verb now, right?) my favorite stories, but I thought I’d also gather them right here every week (or at least try to).

Pee-Wee’s Big Comeback

Although I never watched Pee-Wee’s Playhouse growing up nor did I love Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, I’m still a big Pee-Wee Herman fan. I think it all started with his first appearance post-scandal and continued with his appearances in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the movie), Murphy Brown, and 30 Rock.

Jonah Weiner’s NY Times piece is a fan of Pee-Wee’s creator Paul Reubens as well. It opens with Reubens showing Weiner a fabulous Walgreen’s in Los Angeles (which I want to visit), takes us through his latest project, and ends with him hard at work at a voiceover session.

Winona, Forever

I like when artists keep on working no matter what, which is just one of the reasons I love Winona Ryder.

I enjoyed this article by Soraya Roberts at Hazlitt because I enjoy most things Winona, and it’s important that it calls out the blatant sexism in Hollywood. For instance, Ryder’s entire net worth is only half of one paycheck Johnny Depp gets for a movie, and Robert Downey, Jr., despite a drug scandal, was able to bounce back to become a megastar while Ryder didn’t have as much luck after her shoplifting debacle.

However, I’m happy to see Ryder doing any kind work. Like Reubens doing voiceovers for cartoons, I admire Ryder for continuing to work, even if it’s “small” roles in big films. Not that I’m saying she should take what she can get, and I hope things change, but it’s better than not working at all.

And besides, Winona can do no wrong in my book.

The Welfare Queen

I stumbled upon this fascinating 2013 Slate piece while doing research on the term welfare queen. Josh Levin takes an exhaustive look at the craziness that is the original welfare queen, Linda Taylor, which by the way is only one of at least 80 pseudonyms she used. Cheating the welfare system is the least of her evils, which include abduction and possibly murder.

Another layer of the story is race. Apparently Taylor could pass for just about anything: white, black, Spanish, and Filipino. Much of her family claims she’s white, despite her “long black hair and dark skin,” which no one else in the family had.

The piece is hella long but well worth the read.

A Polygamist Cult’s Last Stand: The Rise and Fall of Warren Jeffs

Warren Jeffs is a sicko. That is all.


29
Jan 16

How to Enjoy a Cruise in 6 Easy Steps

Little lighthouse, Nassau, Bahamas

Little lighthouse, Nassau, Bahamas

Until a couple of weeks ago, I would have never called myself a cruise person.

The only one I’ve been on was many years ago with my family when my grandmother treated us to a three-day sail down the Baja coast. Parts of it were fun, like climbing the rock climbing wall, playing Pictionary, and telling funny family stories over dinner, but parts were awful, like the gluttonous buffet, the tiny windowless room my mom and I shared, and the noisy, hard-partying college kids on spring break.

The cruise I went on earlier this month with a group of girlfriends was nothing like that. In fact, I’d say it turned me into a cruise person.

Here’s how non-cruise people can better enjoy cruises.

Splurge on your room

If you’re going on a cruise, it may well be worth it to spend a little more. The room my friend and I shared was really nice with enough space for two small beds (yoga mat-sized, some of the girls called them), a loveseat, coffee table, and desk. It also had a veranda, and let me tell you, being step outside your room and see the ocean makes a huge difference.

Of course the bathroom was teeny-tiny, and the shower didn’t drain so well, but it wasn’t a big deal.

Go beyond the buffet

Another great thing about our packages was they included restaurants beyond the buffet. The one we went to every night for dinner was called Blue. I think the food was supposed to be healthier — either way, it was very good.

My favorites were a risotto (I forgot what was in it), a chicken and pasta, the filet mignon, the short-ribs, all the soups I tried (a corn veloute, a tomato one, and a parsnip one), a blue cheese souffle, the tiramisu, and the chocolate mousse birthday cake we had for the birthday girl. The only thing I didn’t like was the “sugar-free” cannoli which had absolutely no flavor, although I really shouldn’t have been surprised.

Our waiters were also very nice albeit somewhat corny. One apparently resembled the soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo.

Our package also included unlimited drinks that were under $13. Most of us could barely make a dent in our daily beverage allowance. It was especially a waste on an alcohol flush reactioner like me. There were also healthy options at poolside, namely this yummy Greek yogurt chicken salad and these quinoa and lentil salads.

Also, don’t get me wrong: the food at the buffet was good, and we ate there a lot. I gorged myself on full English breakfasts — including blood sausage for the first time — until my body begged me to stop, and then I switched to muesli, which was delish.

Embrace the touristy-ness

One of our port stops was Key West. It was totally touristy, but we were all in an accepting mind-set so it was pretty fun, even with the intermittent rain.

While the girls shopped for various tchotchkes, I didn’t buy much except for some coconut chocolate patties (which totally hit the spot) and a Florida Starbucks mug. I’ve recently started collecting them and have three so far: New York, Montreal, and now Florida.

We stopped for lunch at what seemed like a random hole in the wall. But the food was very good. I had the New England clam chowder, which was chock full of clam and potatoes.

We walked to what we thought was the southernmost point in the U.S. but was actually the southernmost beach. The waves were absolutely insane.

While I was down with Key West, by the time we got to Nassau in the Bahamas, I was less so. My roommate felt the same way, and after stepping off the boat for two seconds, we turned around and got back on. What did we do instead? Lounged by the pool, ate, and hit the sauna and steam room, a pretty nice alternative.

Get moving

A cruise doesn’t have to be all about lounging by the pool and stuffing your face. The one we were on also had a good gym and quite a few fitness classes.

I had big plans to hit the treadmill at least twice, but didn’t at all. Luckily, the enterprising birthday girl signed everyone up for Zumba class while my roommate signed us up for Pilates. I had mentioned wanting to try the bootcamp class, and when we were at the gym, my roomie made sure to point out the sign up list. No backing out now!

Zumba was fun but difficult. I’m not a natural dancer so I had a hard time keeping up with most of the steps. I got a few, but by the time I did, the instructor had moved onto a new routine. But like I said, we all had a good time and got pretty sweaty. The Pilates class was also good although maybe it could have been more difficult.

The bootcamp class however kicked my butt. Squats, burpees, jumping jackets, weights, ab work, and other stuff I can’t even remember. My muscles were burning and I was drenched in sweat by the end, exactly the results I wanted. My hearty breakfast and massage afterwards felt well-deserved.

And it was the class that kept on giving. I took the class on Sunday and I was sore all the way until Wednesday. Like barely-able-to-walk sore, but in a good way. I need to take more classes like that.

Treat yo self

On my last cruise I didn’t even consider trying out the hot tubs or pools. They were totally inundated either with horny 20-somethings or annoying kids. This time was another story.

Because we were traveling at an off time, there weren’t many kids. Plus there was an adults-only section, which had whirlpools and, my absolutel favorite, a thalassotherapy pool — that is, very warm seawater.

Late in 2015 I hurt my back. It was so bad in the beginning, I couldn’t sit at all. Just riding the bus was torture. A few months later it was better, and I haven’t had any other problems — until my plane ride to Ft. Lauderdale. I bent down to touch my toes, and felt that familiar, horrible spasm in my lower back. I was worried my vacation was ruined.

But after a couple of dips in the thalassotherapy pool, it was better. It was probably a combination of that, stretching, trying not to sit too much, and walking more. But I do think the saltwater helped. Plus it felt great on my skin.

We also took advantage of the spa. We all got massages and then another treatment. The massage was SO GOOD. My lady had a firm touch but not painful (although a little pain is good sometimes). The only time I winced was when she went at the balls of my feet. (I had no idea they were so sensitive, and she was surprised too. Guess I need to do something about that.) I wanted the massage to go on forever.

My facial was another story. I had signed up for a deep cleanse, but the woman convinced me to get the “vitamin infusion,” which involved putting a million different things on my face. At the end she showed me my reflection.

“See?” she said. “Isn’t it brighter?”

I saw absolutely no difference. “Sure,” I said. “Nice.”

The sauna and steam rooms — aka the Persian Gardens — were delightful. My friend and I would stay in a room until one of us, usually me, couldn’t stand it anymore, douse ourselves with cold water, and move onto the next one. Hanging out there also gave us lots of time to chat and catch up.

YOLO

If the cruise had a theme, this was it. It encouraged one of the girls to try blood sausage (she didn’t like it, unlike me), and most of the group to stay out martini-ing and dancing the night away (I abstained). I did however practice my own little YOLOs. I stopped and watched the sun set — and saw a pod of dolphins! — and the sun rise.

cruise_sunrise_Jan2016

I stepped out on the deck at night to look at the moon. I lost $20 at the casino. I had two appetizers and dessert every night. I tried the aforementioned blood sausage. I went on this cruise in the first place.


13
Jan 16

NYC Adventures: Ramen

Only second to my obsession with museums is my obsession with ramen (as evinced by the many noodle photos in my Instagram feed). Since moving back to New York, I’ve had the chance to sample a lot.

Zutto Japanese American Pub

I welcomed myself back to New York with some spicy miso ramen at this Asian-fusion place in Tribeca.

ramen_zutto

While the flavors were good, the broth was only warm instead of piping hot — maybe because it was a sweltering August day. But even in the heat and humidity, I like my noodle soup to be hot hot hot. Plus at $14 it was a little overpriced.

However, my dessert, a mochi tempura (with red bean mochi and green tea ice cream) was delicious.

ramen_zutto_greenteaicecream

Recently, I went back a second time and asked for my tonkatsu ramen to be “extra hot,” and it came out much better.

Ramen Setagaya

I used to go to Setagaya regularly when I lived on the Lower East Side, and it’s still one of my favorites. This past summer I paid it a visit and had the spicy miso.

ramen_setagaya

It had a lot more flavor than the spicy miso at Zutto, but it was a lot saltier than I remember. Or maybe I’m just older and can’t handle so much sodium anymore.

Ramen-Ya

A find by my friend Aki, who’s a whiz at sifting through Yelp reviews to unearth good restaurants. We tried the West Village branch, where I had the shoyu ramen in pork broth.

ramen_ramenya

I don’t know if it was because I was starving, but it was one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had. The soup was very rich and flavorful without being crazy salty, and the pork was melt-in-your-mouth.

Naruto Ramen

After I moved into my new place on the Upper East Side, I noticed that there was always a line outside this place. Partly that’s because there’s only counter seating, but I suspected that wasn’t the only reason.

Finally, one day I decided the wait would be worth it. However, luckily for me, a seat for one opened up just as I got there.

I knew I should have probably tried the classic Naruto Ramen, but the Tan Tan, ground pork in a spicy sesame broth, sounded really good.

ramen_naruta_tantan

And it was. So good that I had it again the next time I went.

The third time I was with Aki, my partner in ramen. I decided to change things up and got the curry ramen. Again, delish!

ramen_naruta_curry

Naruto also has a spicy ramen which you can get mildly spicy (1) all the way to burn-your-face-off spicy (5). My first visit, the large Korean man next to me got the level 5. He had no problem scarfing down the whole bowl although he was sniffling and sweating the whole time. My second visit, a skinny white dude tried to order the same thing.

“It’s really spicy,” the waitress (who was Asian) warned him.

“I know,” the guy said.

“I mean, REALLY spicy.”

“I know,” the guy said, more weakly this time. “I eat spicy things all the time.”

I felt kind of bad for him, but I knew what she meant: this was not white person spicy. It was Asian person spicy. It was make-a-large-Korean-man-sweat spicy.

In the end, he relented and got the level 3. I didn’t see how that turned out.

Jin Ramen

Another Aki find. I thought the ramen at this spacious Upper West Side restaurant was quite good, and we liked that they offered a “less salty” option, which we both got.

The only downside was that the place felt crowded and super-busy. I guess I prefer counter-only seating, like Setagaya or Naruto, or just a few tables, like Ramen-Ya.

Totto Ramen

The chicken logo should have been a dead giveaway.

My friend Ellen and I had just finished seeing An American in Paris on a chilly night so we thought this popular Hell’s Kitchen joint would be the ticket. I was dismayed to see the broth was chicken only, but thought I’d give it a go. After all, I love chicken soup.

We had a short wait, but the restaurant utilized our waiting time efficiently by taking our orders while we were still in line. I got the chicken paitan with pork.

ramen_totto

Looks amazing right? Well, it was only so-so. First of all, it wasn’t just not-hot, it was lukewarm. In fact, the middle of the egg was cold, and the yolk was hard instead of soft-boiled. And while the pulled char siu was yummy, the slices were dry and, again, almost cold.

The skinny? I would go to any of these places again, except for Totto unless I were desperate, in which case I’d go out of my way to ask for “extra hot.”

 


05
Jan 16

NYC Adventures: Museums

As you might know, I’m pretty much addicted to museums, and so after moving back to New York, I was especially excited to revisit some of my old haunts.

The Frick

An old favorite, I love the Frick because it’s small and easy to handle. Comparable to Musee de l’Orangerie in Paris, in my opinion.

The former residence of rich guy and union-buster Henry Clay Frick, the building houses Frick’s extensive collection of European paintings and sculptures, 18th-century French porcelain and furniture, and much more.

Plus who doesn’t love an indoor garden court?

The Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is practically in my backyard, and because of that and its enormity, it seemed like the right museum to join.

met_egypt_1115

In recent years, the Met’s most popular draw has been its costume exhibits. Last year I saw Death Becomes Her, and in September, China Through the Looking Glass.

met_china_0915

I loved both although both times were complete madhouses, especially the latter since my friend and I saw it on the last weekend, which happened to be the Friday night of Labor Day weekend.

But membership has its benefits. In the future, I’ll be able to see all special exhibits during off hours, ie, without the hoi polloi. One I’m really looking forward to is the opening of The Met Breuer, which will house modern and contemporary art, and is located in the Whitney’s old space.

But the permanent exhibits are nothing to sneeze at. Although I’ve been visiting the Met for years, recently I saw two exhibits that I’ve never seen before, one on late Baroque interior design and one on medieval Spanish art. I also revisited Arms and Armor while listening to the (free) audio guide app.

I feel like the Met is a place you can visit a million times and see something new every time.

The Cloisters

While I’ve lived in close proximity to New York for most of my life, I somehow never visited the Cloisters until late last year.

Whenever I think of the medieval art museum, I think of my brother’s school trip there when he was a kid and his coming home with a print of its arguably most famous work, The Unicorn in Captivity, which hung on his bedroom wall for years. Seeing the tapestry in person was a little like seeing a celebrity.

The surrounding area, Fort Tyron Park, is also lovely.

cloisters_1115

Getting out there is a bit of a schlep. At first my friend and I balked at paying $6 for the bus ride, but it turned out to be worth it. The seats were super-comfy and the ride was pretty quick at less than 20 minutes. If we had taken a regular local bus, it would have taken more than an hour.

The Whitney

When I was living on the Upper East Side before I moved to San Francisco (otherwise known as “New York, Take 1”), the Whitney was my favorite museum. It was very close to my apartment, and my work ID at the time got me in for free. On hot summer days, I’d just go there and hang out.

Now the Whitney is in the Meatpacking District right near the High Line. It’s a beautiful space with an amazing view:

whitney_view_1115

I thought it was going to be insane with people when I visited over Thanksgiving week, but it actually wasn’t too bad.

While I still love the Whitney, because of its new location I unfortunately probably won’t be visiting it very much.

Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum

Another museum that’s close to where I live. I always enjoy it although I found the recent Pixar exhibit somewhat disappointing. I liked the How Posters Work exhibit better.

And the rest…

Since moving back, I’ve also had the chance to visit the Museum of Arts and Design (love the jewelry); the Museum of Morbid Anatomy in Brooklyn (at least the store and a weird movie about old health films); the Morgan Library (specifically, Alice: 150 years of Wonderland); and the Princeton University Art Museum, which by the way is always free.

But the NYC adventures don’t end here. Next up, food glorious food.


02
Jan 16

A Canadian Christmas

montreal_snowyangel_1215

Christmas isn’t that big of a deal for my parents so for the past several, I’ve had untraditional ones. Last year I went down to Los Angeles to hang out with my brother and his girlfriend, which was great fun, and this year I had the chance to visit Mont Tremblant and Montreal.

Mont Tremblant

A friend from college was kind enough to invite me along on a family ski trip. At first I was hesitant since I don’t ski, but then I saw on the website that there were lots of other activities — hiking, ice climbing, snowshoeing, dogsledding — and though what the heck.

No snow

Unfortunately for all those non-skiing activities you need snow, and when we got up there, there was zero. They did make fake snow for skiing and sledding, but not for anything else.

monttremblant_nosnow_1215

Of course I could have gotten out of my comfort zone and gone skiing, but I wasn’t feeling it. However, I did find other stuff to do.

Hiking

Actually, it was more like a walk since it was a paved road. Either way it was lovely.

monttremblant_hike_1215

I ended up walking up to the casino (I peeked in though didn’t gamble), which felt like a trek but was less than two miles. It probably felt long because I wasn’t sure where I was going and there were few landmarks. It’s not like city walking where suddenly you realize you’ve walked five miles.

Saint-Jovite

From the ski resort there’s a city bus that goes into the little towns between there and Montreal. A nice young woman at the information center recommended either the Old Village, although she said in the winter it was very quiet, or Saint-Jovite, which was more happening. I chose Saint-Jovite.

“Happening” is a relevant term. The town was cute and picturesque, but very small. I stopped in a few shops and walked back and forth a few times, basically killing time until the next bus. Unfortunately I wasn’t hungry, otherwise I would have eaten. The restaurants did look pretty good. But it was nice way to pass the time.

Star sighting

While I was waiting to meet my friend for lunch, I saw this African American woman having her picture taken. She had brightly colored hair — which was what caught my eye — and was just stunning. I thought, That looks like that actress from Law & Order who’s married to Garret Dillahunt. (Don’t ask me how I know this. Okay, I’ll tell you. I have a crush Garret Dillahunt.)

Then I realized it was the actress from Law & Order (and many other things) and I thought, Is Garret here too? As she passed me, I saw that he was (almost unrecognizable in all his ski gear) and like an idiot fan girl, I gave a little gasp. But of course I was too chicken to actually go up to them.

By the way, Garret was also disappointed about the lack of snow.

Getting down to Montreal

I had figured out that I needed take the same city bus I took to Saint-Jovite down to the stop where the Montreal bus picked up. But then my friend was kind enough to give me a ride.

Before we left, we had a chance to grab breakfast with her son, after which he and I pretended to stomp on a miniature village.

monttremblant_nickyandme_1215

It had started snowing that morning (finally) so I was extra glad to have a ride. We got to the bus stop, which was at a Shell Station, in plenty of time for me to buy my ticket, for everyone to pee, and to get random snacks.

The bus was one of those big comfy ones, and it was packed. I got the very last seat, which was at first occupied by this guy’s giant duffel bag, but then I went to the driver, who asked the guy to move the bag.

While my seatmate came off as jerky at first, he was actually okay. Behind us were two of his friends, and after one got off, he sat with his friend so that for much of the ride I had a row all to myself. Except for the last 45 minutes that is. At that point, this large French Canadian man sat next to me, and was all insulted that I didn’t want to talk to him and wanted to listen to podcasts instead. Tough merde.

It took two and a half hours but felt very quick. Yay for podcasts!

Montreal

In addition to having fun on this trip, I realized that I’m a total city girl and not big on physical activities (unless those activities involve running, hiking, or punching and kicking things). So Montreal was more up my alley.

The hotel

A high school friend and I stayed at the Hotel Omni Mont-Royal. I picked it sort of randomly. The price was right and the ratings were good. Plus it was right in downtown Montreal.

I loved everything about the place and would recommend it. Our room was huge and everything seemed new and clean. Plus the customer service was excellent, from the front desk (who printed my train ticket at no charge) to the concierge to the guy who brought my room service.

Museums

We hit two museums during our stay. On Sunday we visited the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which was free for the holidays. It’s freaking enormous and confusing. I kept getting lost trying to get to the cafeteria to meet my pal.

I saw a few random things, including stuff about Napoleon, a couple of contemporary exhibits, some Dutch still lifes (which I’m a sucker for), and Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works. I would definitely go back to get a better handle on the place.

The food wasn’t bad either. I had a turkey sandwich, which was basic but hit the spot, and a panna cotta with caramel which was SO GOOD.

The other museum we went to was the Pointe-A-Calliere, also known as the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History. It was pretty good although I liked it less than the art museum. I had read articles touting the underground ruins, but those were just okay. They were no catacombs.

I liked better the Agatha Christie exhibit. While I know Christie for her mysteries, I didn’t know much else about her or that she had such a fascinating life. I think I had heard about her 10-day disappearance, which turned out to be the result of her husband leaving her for a woman named Nancy Neele (Christie checked into a hotel under the name Mrs. Teresa Neele).

But I didn’t know she was an amateur archaeologist (hence, her exhibit at that particular museum), and that during a dig, she met the man who would be her second husband. Max Mallowan was an archaeologist and 14 years her junior. When they married, he was 28 to her 42, which to me is pretty awesome.

We ended up spending about five hours there, two and a half of which was lunch. Service was, shall we say, leisurely. But the food was very good: a nice salad, pasta in a cream sauce with Spanish ham, and for dessert this delicious kind of fruit and nut loaf as well as pannacotta, although this one wasn’t as good as the one at the art museum. All in all, an excellent way to spend a freezing cold day.

Chinatown

While Montreal Chinatown is nothing compared to New York or San Francisco, I still liked it. We didn’t have a sit down meal, but we did have steamed pork buns from Patisserie Harmonie. We had no idea the place was so popular. All we saw that it was cute and on the corner, and the wares in the window looked good.

So good in fact that the next morning, we stopped in again, this time for roast pork buns. Those were tasty too.

And if you’re ever in that area and need a place to pee (and thaw), stop in the pagoda-topped Holiday Inn. There’s a very welcoming lobby on the second floor with a restaurant and fish pond. After using the ladies’, we had our buns in warmth and comfort.

Luminothérapie

Montreal seesaw

Need I say more?

Notre Dame Basilica and Old Montreal

We were lucky in that we got to see the Notre Dame Basilica at night and during the day. Unfortunately, the cold killed my phone battery so I wasn’t able to take any pictures of the beautiful blue-lighted angels. I did get plenty of inside shots however.

montreal_seesaw_angela_1215

Walking around Old Montreal was fun although it was so damned cold. And it always somehow ended up being dark by the time we hit that part of town — although that’s not difficult when sunset starts at 4:30.

Poutine, bagels, and maple syrup

A trip to Montreal wouldn’t be complete without trying poutine, their bagels, and maple syrup.

The place we got the poutine was a random bar in Old Montreal. We’re guessing the poutine was good — we got it with cut up hot dogs — but we have nothing to compare it to. It wasn’t bad, that’s for sure.

After a whole day out and about in frigid temperatures, my friend was brave enough to go back out one evening for bagels. (I, on the other hand, stayed in and ordered room service.) She was also kind enough to give me one. It was good although sweeter than a New York bagel. Her theory was that they make them with less salt. It was also less dense.

Finally, we both tried something maple syrupy. She had the famed maple taffy, and I had a maple syrup candy. It didn’t suck.

The trip back

Monday night the city was hit with more snow, which got my bud and me both worried about our bus and train, respectively. However, we made it out in time, even if our trips took longer than they were supposed to.

I had gotten to the station pretty early so I managed to get a window seat, which while annoying for peeing, is good for phone charging. The first third of the trip was okay, even though we sat on the tracks for a good 45 minutes waiting for a freight train to pass. I had my podcasts, worked on my writing a little, and ate bad food from the cafe car (another hot dog!).

We got to the border pretty quickly. My seatmate had said that on the way up, they sat at the border for two and a half hours. I was glad she told me so my expectations were set.

While driving through the border was fast, being on a train took longer. The border police came on and checked every single person’s passport and asked a few questions.

Most went off without a hitch — that is, except for a woman in my car. I didn’t know anything was going on until the police made her get up and go either into the next car or the vestibule. She was protesting a lot in French, saying, “Non!” and “Pourquoi?!” At one point she was screaming. Her kids got very upset, crying and such.

Eventually it seemed like the whole family was getting up to leave, but then I think the dad told the kids to stay with the other adult relative who was with them. The kids cried some more, but eventually they calmed down. A border policeman said, “It’ll be okay. Your mom’s just going back to Canada.” They probably thought she was being sent to jail.

I still don’t know why she was kicked off. Maybe her passport was expired or maybe she overstayed her last visit. But Canadians generally don’t need a visa to visit the U.S. Whatever the reason, soon after that we got moving again.

In all we were about an hour and a half late. We were supposed to get in at 8:50 but got in at 10:30. I was going to be frugal and take the subway, but between my luggage and being exhausted, I splurged on a cab and was home before 11.

The verdict?

While I might not go to a ski resort again (since I don’t ski), I would definitely pay another visit to Montreal, especially after the weather warms up.


07
Oct 15

NYC Adventures: Gyms

Exercising with Good Housekeeping

Now that I’ve been back for almost two months, I’ve started to develop a new routine. I’ve found my go-to morning coffee spot, my favorite lunch places, and decent take-out. But not all of my routine is about stuffing my face.

Since August I’ve been trying different gyms, partly because I wanted to join one, but also partly because I wanted to see how long I could work out for free. (The answer: about a month.) Here’s what I found.

24 Hour Fitness (SoHo)

This was the first place I tried since there’s one very close to work, and I used to go to the one in San Francisco. They offered a free one-day pass, but of course you can’t just go in and work out. You have to meet with a manager who’ll give you a tour and the whole spiel.

I was prepared for that, but what I wasn’t prepared for was waiting. And waiting, and waiting. At the time I thought I had to suck it up to get a free workout, but when I visited other gyms, I found that wasn’t the case.

Finally, after about 40 minutes, the manager — or rather, manager-in-training — came out. She was nice enough, but asked some strange questions. I had mentioned that I had belonged to a 24 Hour Fitness in San Francisco, but that was a few years ago. Later she asked, “So when was the last time you worked out?”

“Sunday,” I said. It was Tuesday.

She looked utterly perplexed.

Did I look that out of shape? “Sometimes I use the gym in my parents’ retirement complex,” I explained.

Still looking confused, she smiled. “Oh, okay. It’s good to change things up.”

Number one, what are you talking about? Number two, there are other gyms besides 24 Hour Fitness, and even other ways to work out besides the gym.

Then came the spiel. The price wasn’t too bad. They were waiving the initiation fee (as a “special,” but I soon found that most gyms were running the same “special”) and offered different levels from about $79 to $99 a month.

“Which package would you like?” the woman asked.

“I’m not sure yet,” I said. “I’d like to think about it.”

“What is it that you need to think about?”

Uhhh. “I just don’t know right now.”

She shook her head. “I don’t understand. What is it about this gym that’s not meeting your needs?”

Maybe you?

Eventually, her boss showed up, and she give me the hard sell too. And again she asked, “What is it that’s keeping you from making a decision?”

Then I said, “I don’t want to feel pressured. I’d like a little time to think about it.”

At that point they finally backed off.

The skinny

While the gym is pretty nice with lots of equipment (even a punching bag!) and classes, and a decent good locker room (I didn’t get to shower since I hadn’t brought a lock), they were such a hard sell I was completely turned off.

On top of that, they had kept me waiting for so long, and never followed up. They were supposed to contact me about a three-day pass after I returned from Paris but never did. Not even an email.

In addition, the location isn’t the best. While there’s a club near work, there isn’t one near my apartment.

Equinox (SoHo)

Equinox is my all-time favorite gym. I was lucky enough to belong to the one in San Mateo because we got a group discount through work. It was beautiful. Very clean, especially the locker rooms. Plus the showers had Kiehl’s products. Kiehl’s! And they have these amazing cold eucalyptus towels which are so refreshing post-workout.

The Equinox here offered a one-day free pass, and I was prepared for a long wait and a hard sell. I got neither. The manager came out right away, and although of course he tried to get me to sign up, when I said I’d like to think about it, he backed off right away.

The skinny

Sigh. I loved it. The workout floor was noisier than the the one in San Mateo, but it was tolerable. The showers of course were amazing. And the Kiehl’s products and eucalyptus towels! Double sigh.

However, while there’s a gym right near work, there isn’t really one near home. The closest one is 10 blocks away.

But most of all the price. At $225 a month, even without the $500(!) initiation fee, it was just too rich for my blood.

Crunch (Bowery)

Like the other gyms, you can get a free one-day pass from Crunch off their website, and like at Equinox, the manager met with me right away and didn’t give me a hard sell. In fact he gave me a three-day pass. The only sort of irritating thing was that he kept upselling their personal trainers and this “flying yoga” class although I said a couple of times that I had done krav maga and was into boxing.

The skinny

I really liked the gym. It’s kind of small, but it seemed like it was in good condition. The locker room was a little cramped, but the showers were nice. They had wood floors and Bliss products, which I love. I also liked the vibe. I went there on a Sunday afternoon, and it was almost empty and very peaceful.

However, the location isn’t the best. It’s more than a 10-minute walk from work and 10 blocks from home, which is fine in good weather but not bad. Moreover, the cost was a little out of my range: $104 a month, plus a $69 initiation fee.

Blink Fitness (NoHo)

The staff was super-nice and friendly. They even let you work out right away without a spiel, and although the spiel was super-short anyway.

The skinny

At $25 a month, Blink is by far the cheapest gym, and it’s fine if you want something very basic and don’t mind bringing your own towel (or buying one for $5, which is what I did). However, while there are plenty of machines, they don’t offer classes, and the locker room was REALLY small. Like, have-to-move-near-the-bathroom-stalls-to-rearrange-your-bag small. On top of that, there’s no location near my apartment.

David Barton Gym (Astor Place)

To be honest, I was a little scared of this gym because of the website, but they offered a free one-day pass so I sucked it up. AGAIN and unlike 24 Hour Fitness, the manager came out almost immediately and did not give me a hard sell. He gave me a tour of the gym (which was like if a goth club kid designed a gym) and that was that.

The skinny

It was pretty nice. Lots of machines, lots of classes, and a punching bag (which I worked on for about five minutes and was completely sore the next day). The locker room is huge and the showers decent (although not as nice as Crunch’s). However, it’s a little walk from work and about 10 blocks from my apartment. More importantly, at $127 a month, it was out of my price range.

New York Sports Club (Upper East Side)

Every manager I talked to at the other gyms scrunched up their faces at NYSC, and so before I even tried it, I was kind of against it. However, I still thought I should try it. They offer a 5-day guest pass for $5. I thought I’d get one for the one near work, but one day I popped in and saw how basic it was. So that’s why it’s just $19.99 a month.

I knew there was one near my new place, but I didn’t know how near until one night I was eating at Korean place one block from my apartment, looked up, and saw the gym across the street.

I popped in Monday night, and yet again, and I know sound like a broken record at this point, the manager came out right away, gave me a tour, and not too hard of a sell. While my guest pass had expired (turns out you need to start using it the day you purchase it), she let me work out for free that night.

The skinny

A decent gym. Lots of machines, lots of classes, and even a pool (although I don’t really swim). The locker rooms weren’t too cramped, and the showers are fine, although the water pressure is ridiculously strong. The whole place could be cleaner and newer, but the location is fantastic. It’s one block from apartment, and two from work.

And the price: it’s $69 a month for month-to-month or $59 a month if you sign a year-long contract. If you cancel the contract, there’s a $100 one-time fee. Also there’s no initiation fee right now. I don’t know if there’s always no initiation fee, but when I asked about any specials, the manager waived the $99. She also said the rest of October would be free for me.

The verdict

I’m going with New York Sports Club. The price and location are right, they didn’t do a hard sell, and the facilities are decent.

If I were rich, I’d clearly pick Equinox, with Crunch being my third choice. David Barton would be next, and then Blink. I have to say I’d put 24 Hour Fitness dead last because of my negative experience with the manager, although the gym itself seems perfectly fine.


11
Sep 15

‘Kate & Allie’ go to Paris

Kate-and-AllieMy travel buddy Yiannis and I are both TV junkies so it was pretty much imperative that we had something to watch while we were in Paris. Because we were outside the U.S., we were limited in terms of what we could watch on the interwebs. Netflix (to my joy) was available although with different content.

For some reason I mentioned Double Trouble, that ‘80s show about teenage twins. It was absolutely awful (we watched one episode; it doesn’t hold up) but we sixth grade girls were obsessed with it. A few in my class even put on a “play” that was just an abbreviated version of the dance contest episode (you know the one, don’t pretend you don’t).

Anyway, I was describing it to Yiannis, who had somehow never watched it: “It was about twins named Kate and Allison…not to be confused with Kate & Allie,” which inspired Yiannis to look for it on YouTube and set us up for several nights of binge-watching.

I loved the show when I was younger, and maybe it, along with Madeleine L’Engle’s Vicky Austin series, made me want to go to college in New York. As for how it holds up, it’s way cheesier than I remember (and soooo ‘80s) although still enjoyable.

Something we kept noticing, aside from Kate’s insane outfits, were all the pre-famous famous guest stars. Here are five of the most memorable.

  1. Kelsey Grammer

The very first episode! Kelsey Grammer plays someone Kate goes on a date with, only to find that she’s not into him. Turns out he’s not into her either and prefers former Connecticut housewife Allie.

  1. Ben Stiller

In the one with the sit-in, Stiller plays a rebellious college student.

  1. Stephen Baldwin

The youngest Baldwin brother is a high school student in The Trouble with Jason, which introduces later soap star Ricky Paull Goldin as a guy who has a (rather stalkerish) crush on Emma only later — spoiler alert! — to date Jenny.

  1. Ricki Lake

Lake and her pal think they have a problem with Emma in Send Me No Flowers, but it’s actually a different Emma they have a problem with. I hate it when that happens.

  1. William H. Macy

What do you know, Kate has hurt her back and is in the hospital (really, the actress, Susan Saint James, was pregnant, which the show was trying to hide). Allie also checks in — in her case, to have a mole removed — gets doped up and runs away. Hilarity ensues! Trying to catch her are two orderlies, one of whom is a pre-Oscar nom William H. Macy.

And those are just the episodes I watched. Who knows how many more there are?

This concludes my 2015 series on Paris. Got time to kill? Read them all!


10
Sep 15

Paris 2015: Locks and luck

Kanal svetog Martina u Parizu / Canal Saint Martin in Paris

I’ve talked about French word nerdery, museums, amusement parks, and regular parks — and now, locks and luck.

Lotsa locks

Where we stayed wasn’t far from Canal Saint-Martin, which I didn’t even know existed before this trip. What’s especially cool about the canal are the series of locks used to transport les bateaux over parts that aren’t level. Basically, the water drains and the boat is lowered level by level. Yiannis said it looked neat so we thought a boat tour on the canal would be even more so.

The boat ride was nice (when is one not, given good weather), but who knew going down the locks would take so long and that there’d be so damned many of them. We thought the whole thing would take about 90 minutes, but I think it was more like three hours.

The best part was when we went under this mile-long tunnel, and not just because we were out of the hot sun.

Unlucky but lucky

Before we went on our boat tour, we had another (mis)adventure. The canal boat website said that tours were given at 10:30 and 2:30. We went with the earlier option so that we’d have time to hit the Musee D’Orsay, which was the tour’s terminus.

However, when we got where the tour was supposed to begin, we saw no one. No boat, no people, nothing. We asked a restaurant worker what the deal was (luckily he spoke English and was very nice) and he said as far he knew, tours were only at 2:30.

You should really update your site, Paris Canal.

So unfortunately we had a lot of time to kill — but that turned out to be a good thing because soon Yiannis realized one of his phones was missing. (Yes, he had two phones. I won’t get into why.) On the way, we had sat down on a bench to get our bearings. The bench was pretty far away, but Yiannis had no choice but to jog back there (did I mention it was warm and sunny?) while I waited with his stuff. Luckily I had a book.

When he returned, he was unfortunately empty-handed but, to his credit, remained calm. All we could do was wait for someone to call. Until then, we decided to check out the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Europe’s largest science museum, which happened to be right nearby.

But! The museum was closed. A worker told us it was for “safety reasons” but didn’t elaborate. Safety reasons? What did that mean? A terrorist threat? A bomb scare? Murder? Turns out it was a fire. I’m not sure why she just didn’t say.

We headed back and got some food at the restaurant where we had asked originally about the tour. It was a beautiful day so we had a very leisurely lunch outside (burger and fries, yum! French hamburgers are really good). At one point Yiannis asked our waiter if anyone had turned in a phone, but no one had.

It was so lovely and relaxing sitting there, we decided just to hang out until it was time for the tour. Luckily we did because as we were finishing, one of the restaurant workers came up to us.

“I have a surprise for you,” he said to Yiannis in English.

Turned out security had found his phone right outside the restaurant, and for some reason not only didn’t call the emergency contact (which was me) but had turned the phone off completely. However, we were extremely grateful to both security and the folks at the restaurant.

Needless to say, for the rest of our trip, we made sure Yiannis always had both his phones.

Okay I lied, I have one more post after this one, although it has only the most tenuous connection to Paris.


09
Sep 15

Paris 2015: Not always a walk in le parc

Parc des Buttes Chaumont

In my last post I wrote about Parisian amusement parks. In this one I’ll discuss the regular parks we visited.

Parcs, jardins, et bois — oh my!

So what’s the difference between a parc, jardin, and bois, you might be wondering? We visited all three types and they all appeared to be what we’d call a park in English. However, there is indeed a difference, and that difference is size.

According to the Paris Insiders Guide, places, or squares, are the smallest; parks are medium-sized; gardens are bigger (I’d assume gardens were smaller but I’m imagining people’s personal gardens); and bois, or woods, are the biggest, which would have been great to know before we ventured on foot in Bois de Boulogne.

But anyhoo, on with the show.

Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (and Belleville)

Yiannis went running in this park during our last trip and told me about the cool rock formations so I thought it worth a visit.

The rock formations were cool, and the park seems like a nice place to hang out, but since the terrain was unfamiliar, I didn’t feel comfortable exploring it too much. What was interesting, as well as disturbing, was the part of town I walked through to get there.

Called Belleville, it has has a large Chinese population — and a lot of Chinese prostitutes. The first woman I saw, I wasn’t sure if she was. She had an a short skirt and was standing on the corner, but she was right across from a restaurant that looked to be about to open so I thought maybe she worked there.

But then on the next block I saw a few who were obviously sex workers, and then I felt both weird and awful. They were speaking Mandarin, which I associate with family and childhood, and except for their skimpy outfits, they looked like regular women. In the movies, prostitutes seem to be always played by models, but these women didn’t look like models. They looked any Chinese woman you’d see on the subway.

On my way home, I didn’t want to walk through that part of town again, and found an alternate route.

Parc de Bercy

This park in the 12 arrondissement was absolutely lovely and probably my favorite. Smaller and therefore easier to navigate, Parc de Bercy has several little ponds with plenty of water fowl and nice grassy areas where you can lie back and look at the trees swaying in the wind.

Plus it was right near a sort of outdoor mall so it was easy afterwards to get something to eat and catch a movie (American Ultra, if you’re curious, which was absolutely delightful).

Bois de Boulogne

This bois is described as being more than twice as big as Central Park. As a result, we, or at least I, imagined it being like Central Park. It wasn’t.

We did eventually find a nice lake, but until then we just sort of wandered around, which was no easy feat. There weren’t any paved walkways like in Central Park, just the road for cars and a sandy path that definitely required hiking boots, or at least sneakers, and not the sandals that I was wearing.

Traveling on foot seemed to be taking forever so I suggested getting bikes although the idea of it made me nervous. I haven’t ridden in a long time so I’m out of practice, and also I was wearing a dress. It turned out to be fine although wearing better shoes and pants or shorts would have made it easier.

Next up, the final Paris post: miscellaneous! I know you can’t wait.