29
Sep 16

A tiny dress, tinier handwriting — and a huge literary legend

charlotte_bronte

The summer before my senior year in high school, I tried to read Wuthering Heights. I think I read the whole thing, but it was a struggle. The novel was too dark and complex for me at the time.

During the school year, a classmate recommended Jane Eyre. That I devoured. I was Jane. All of us plain, quiet girls were, and we loved dark and troubled men (or boys, at the time) like Mr. Rochester. I read the novel several times, and later her biography (not Elizabeth Gaskell’s). I wrote about Jane Eyre for AP English (and got an A although I thought I was bullshitting). In college I watched the miniseries version with Timothy Dalton (or tried to, I wasn’t into it) and I read Wide, Sargasso Sea.

So when my friend and I popped into the Morgan Library over the weekend as part of the Smithsonian’s free museum day, I was over-the-moon to see their exhibit on Charlotte Bronte.

The exhibit marks the 200th anniversary Charlotte’s birth. The Bronte children were born in Yorkshire to an Irish immigrant father and English mother. Charlotte had two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, who both died of tuberculosis at ages 11 and 10, respectively, and within a month of each other. Just a few years earlier, their mother died of uterine cancer. Left in the family besides Charlotte were her father Patrick, younger sisters Emily and Anne, younger brother Branwell, and their aunt Elizabeth who helped raise them after her younger sister’s untimely death.

In the end, patriarch Patrick was the only Bronte to live to old age, outliving all of his children. Branwell and Emily died the same year, at 31 and 30, respectively, and, like their sisters Maria and Elizabeth, within months of each other and rom tuberculosis. Branwell was also an addict, and legend says that his failed romance with a married woman only worsened his condition.

Anne died the following year at 29, also of tuberculosis, and Charlotte, six years later at 38, from complications of pregnancy although it’s speculated she might have also had typhus.

The exhibit focuses less on the tragic side of the family and more on the imaginative and whimsical. Included are the miniature replicas of books and magazines she and her siblings created for their toy soldiers, her teenage poems (one of which she bragged took her only an hour to write), her drawings and paintings, and of course her famous works.

My friend and I were fascinated by the teeny-tiny handwriting all the Bronte siblings used. It’s said that they started out writing that way to match the size of their toy soldiers, but then it became a sort of secret code. I had heard of her “miniscule handwriting” before, but I hadn’t realized it was that miniscule. The Morgan helpfully offers magnifying glasses so you can actually read it although they didn’t really help my 40+ year old eyes.

We both wondered how it was even possible to write so small, until my friend joked that maybe along with her teeny-tiny frame (Charlotte was all of 4’9” with an 18-inch waist)

she had teeny-tiny hands that made writing so small easier.

In addition to her artworks, there’s the famous family portrait by Branwell Bronte.

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

That’s, from left to right, Anne, Emily and Charlotte. The portrait is usually housed at the National Portrait Gallery so I must have seen it during my two-week stay in London several years ago, but I don’t remember. So seeing it in real life for what felt like the first time made me swoony.

Branwell had originally included himself in the portrait, but then painted himself out because he didn’t want to “clutter” it. Now as the painting has gotten older, you can see the “ghost” of Branwell between Emily and Charlotte.

The exhibit’s piece de resistance is a portion of Charlotte’s original handwritten manuscript of Jane Eyre (written in regular size by the way). This is usually at the British Library so like the Bronte portrait, I must have seen it before, but again I don’t remember so it felt new and just as swoon-worthy. Of course I wish I could have taken a picture of it, but, understandably, they don’t allow pictures.

You’ll have to go and see it for yourself. The exhibit is open through January 2.


25
Sep 16

Paris 2016: Food and drink

Neck and neck with my obsession with museums when I travel is that with food. Maybe especially food at museums.

Museum cafes

It all started with my best high school buddy. We had traveled together in China, but it was in Amsterdam that we started hitting the museum cafe before the actual museum. I remember waiting in line for the Rijksmuseum to open, dying for coffee, and making a beeline for the cafeteria. Soon it became a tradition.

Nowadays the museum cafe isn’t always first, but I usually end up there at some point.

During our first visit to Palais de Tokyo, we just had some drinks. I was craving an apple juice, and struggled with asking for one. Luckily the girl behind the counter spoke a little English and was able to explain that the drink was almond and apple, as well as carbonated.

“Carbonated,” she should have said. It was extremely subtle. The almond was less so but it was delicious all the same.

We returned to Palais de Tokyo because we were in the area and to partake of their photo booth. This time we had lunch. I was looking forward to a jambon beurre (not that I hadn’t had a few already). But they didn’t have any so I settled for tuna.

Which was really good. That and British salt and vinegar chips, and a fantastic vanilla panna cotta made for a quick yet yummy meal.

Next, the Musee D’Orsay. Last time when we went, I didn’t enjoy my sandwich. The bread sucked, surprisingly. This time we had already eaten so I just got a chocolate-caramel brownie. Holy cow. It was almost like flourless chocolate cake. Delicious.

The only museums I didn’t eat at were the Cartier Foundation (I wasn’t hungry for a change) and the  Musée Jacquemart-André. The restaurant was more upscale than I wanted. So instead we went to…

Random places

this place. We had passed it on the way to the museum, and we figured since we might not be getting a lot of fresh vegetables during our stay, it would be a good choice.

And it was! It was a bit like Chop’t only without the chopping. I got an Asian type salad with tuna, which was tasty and filling. My only disappointment was my “dessert.” I got a fromage blanc, which was definitely not dessert-like, at least not to me.

Another sort of random place we ate at was a cafe not far from the Catacombs. A couple of my friend’s friends happened to be in town, and after a visit to the boney undergrounds, we stopped for an impromptu, al fresco lunch.

I had a little arugula salad and the “hamburger,” which came without a bun and lots of fries. So good. Complimentary were little glasses of red wine mixed with soda (at least I think that’s what it was). Delicious all around and lovely to eat outside and enjoy the day.

Soya

One of the few vegetarian places in Paris, Soya is one of our favorite haunts. Vegetarian, you might be thinking? But I’m a total carnivore. That’s true, but my friend isn’t, and the food at Soya is really good.

We were introduced to it by a friend of a friend during our first visit. At that time we had a very angry waitress who practically threw a water bottle at us. Since then the waitstaff has been very nice.

This time I think I might have gotten the same dish as last time. A vegetable masala curry. The sauce was amazing and the vegetables very fresh. it was quite filling. For dessert we got lemon and fig tarts. I wasn’t in the mood for fig, but the lemon was delicious.

Eating our way through the 2nd arrondissement

I had two things I wanted to get: a Paris Starbucks mug (which I got on our first day) and nonnettes au miel. Last year I randomly bought a package, needing a gift for my parents, and they turned out to be amazing. The ones I got were orange flavored, and that combined with the gingery, delicate cake made me want more. The thing is they’re so French you can’t even get them off Amazon.

I thought during my walks I’d discover some little shop with my beloved nonnettes. No such luck. I didn’t think we’d ever find the original store, but of course my friend had noted the name during our last visit. It’s actually a wine and liquor shop with a limited selection of foods. They didn’t have any nonnettes unfortunately, but I picked up some hazelnut and chocolate wafers.

The block was full of little food and beverage stores. While my friend paid for his purchases (all sorts of interesting flavors of tonic waters), I popped into a coffee shop next door — and guess what, they had the nonnettes! I bought two packages, one for my parents and one for myself, along with a pound of Cuban coffee.

For lunch we at at Kapunka, a Thai place. I had a beef curry dish. While the sauce was really good, the meat was a bit tough. Probably should have gone with the chicken.

After that it was dessert at L’Eclair de Genie, which we had seen earlier.

Éclair selfie obligatoire. #éclair #LÉclairDeGenie #selfie #aGaymericanInParis #cremeCenter

A photo posted by yonkey (@yonkey) on

They were smaller than eclairs in America — in other words, the perfect size. I got a super-chocolately one, and it was super-good.

After a bit more walking around, we popped into this cookie shop, Jean Hwang Carrant Simply Extraordinary Cookies. And guess what, Jean Hwang was there and she turned out to be a Chinese American from Kansas! We had a nice little chat with her. I got the last of their best-seller, black sesame, which was very subtly sweet, just the way I like it.

Grand Train

The one Saturday I was there, we had the chance to go with my friend’s friend to this place called Grand Train.

Grand Train is a former railway station with a variety food and drink kiosks and counters. It’s also a place where people, including families with little kids, hang out, talk, and, because this is France, smoke.

It’s very popular and there was a huge line when we got there. Luckily my friend’s friend was already there so we didn’t have to wait long. I didn’t try any food although we did get a bottle of white wine. It was sweet, the way I like it, and I drank too much too quickly. While tipsy, I felt perfectly fine — that is until we were standing in line for my friend’s pizza. Suddenly I felt, let’s just say, unwell. But with some deep breathing and a fruity lozenge, I was okay.

Next up: random sights!


19
Sep 16

Paris 2016: Museums! Museums! Museums!

What’s a trip to Paris without a lot of museums? This year I revisited two favorites, and checked out a few new ones.

Musée Jacquemart-André

I had read online that the Musée Jacquemart-André is a lot like the Frick here in New York, and that it was: a beautiful former home filled with eclectic art. The only thing missing was an indoor garden.

One painting that caught my eye was “Saint Georges and the Dragon” by Paolo Uccello.

saint-georges-terrassant-le-dragon-uccello-c-c-recoura_1

Something new I learned was that Christians took the legend of dragons from the Chinese “to symbolise the deliverance of the church, oppressed by Paganism.” In other words, slaying dragons was about slaying Paganism.

Cartier Foundation

Last year I really enjoyed the Louis Vuitton Foundation so I thought I’d have the same experience with the Cartier Foundation. Not so, I’m afraid. It’s quite small, and all there was when I went was an animal sounds exhibit. Maybe good for kids, but it didn’t interest me. The nicest thing is their outdoor space with lots of trees and plants.

Musee D’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie

The Musee D’Orsay is our favorite museum so of course we had to visit it again. For some reason this time there was zero line. We couldn’t believe it. And it wasn’t too crowded.

Then we realized that might have been because one whole wing was closed. But there was still a lot to see. I got my art nouveau fix, and for the first time we went out to the roof.

My friend’s photo turned out way better than any of mine.

Another day we checked out Musée de l’Orangerie, my second time, my friend’s first. It’s very small but I love it. And if you like impressionist art, you’ll love it too.

Les Arts Decoratifs

This was a first-time visit for the both of us to Les Arts Decoratifs, mainly to see the Barbie exhibit.

It was fun although some of the displays weren’t well-lit. Plus it was really warm. We noticed that about a couple of museums. I’m used to the ones in New York that are freezing.

The exhibit traced the history of Barbie, which has had many variations. Here’s the French Barbie, in honor of our trip:

Oh lala! French Barbie at the Barbie exhibit #barbie #france #paris #museeartsdecoratifs #museum

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

Palais de Tokyo

At first I didn’t know what to make of this contemporary art space. The upper floors had some kooky stuff.

Enthusiastic #paris #france #palaisdetokyo #museum #art

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

Plus it was too warm AGAIN. Then my friend pointed out their more interesting collection on the bottom floors. That stuff reminded me of the Whitney. Unfortunately I was a bit lazy about taking pictures. But my friend took some great photos and videos.

Next up, my second favorite thing about traveling: food.


13
Sep 16

Paris 2016: Getting there and where we stayed

eiffel_tower_2016

Like last year, I ended the summer with a visit to the City of Lights.

Unlike other trips, my travel buddy and I were flying out together. He had already upgraded to “comfort zone,” and when I checked in, I decided to too since it was a red eye and just $90. It was totally worth it. More leg room, lots of free movies, and, coincidentally, the same row as my bud with no one in the middle. Score!

As is my M.O. I couldn’t really sleep.  Instead I watched Mad Max: Fury Road, which was awesome but for some reason on a higher speed so that the action scenes looked cartoonish, and Spotlight, which I’ll have to watch again since I kept falling asleep.

We landed at about 8:30 in the morning. It took forever to get through customs. In front of us was this batshit lady. I had noticed her at JFK: maybe in her 70s, tons of plastic surgery, too-tight clothes. She kept commenting randomly to people, “This is ridiculous!” Her speech was quite slurred. I don’t know if she had a neurological disorder or was on a lot of drugs, or both. Either way, I tried my damndest to avoid eye contact, and was relieved when she cut into another line.

To get the apartment, we took the RER to the subway. The RER is never speedy, but this time it was ridiculously slow. Apparently there was some “incident.” We were supposed to pick up the keys by noon and were worried that we wouldn’t make it. Luckily we did, with 30 minutes to spare.

As with past trips, my very enterprising friend had arranged a (free) apartment swap. This year we stayed  in the 14th arrondissement, close to Parc Montsouris. The apartment was just lovely. The bedroom and living room each had a door, and the kitchen and bathroom were off a hallway so no going through the living room to get to either. So that meant lots of privacy for both of us.

Next up, what else? Museums!


25
Jun 16

A molten day on Mohonk

Hiking is something I enjoy but don’t have the opportunity to do that often. So when my friend Aki invited me to go for a trek on the Mohonk Preserve, I jumped at the chance.

Cafe Mio

First though, some pre-hike sustenance. We had lunch at this place in Gardiner, New York. I got the eggs over corned beef hash:

Yum!

Mohonk Preserve

Turns out I really need that fuel because the hike turned out to be pretty grueling, especially in the heat.

First, a little about the preserve. It’s 8,000 acres in the Shawagunk Ridge (nicknamed the Gunks), which is part of the Appalachians. Nearby is the Mohonk Mountain House, an amazing looking spa and resort.

Back to the hike. At least two other times Aki has said we were going hiking, and we ended up not hiking. So I thought this was one of those times, and as a result, I dressed completely inappropriately: dress, Keds, purse. The only right thing I did was wear a hat and sunglasses.

We hiked about three miles, much of it uphill. Despite my non-hiking gear, I did okay (all that running, I suppose), although Aki left everyone in the dust.

Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery

After our strenuous excursion, we were rewarded with a trip to this distillery. Along with a couple of the guys, I tried a flight of their spirits, one of which was basically making your own mini Old Fashioned with their yummy Basement Bitters. Needless to say, I got pretty tipsy.

Saigon Kitchen

Our last stop was this pho restaurant in Fort Lee. Exhausted, hot, starving, and slightly drunk, it was the perfect way to end the day. I had the seafood noodle soup:

It was sooo good, especially the broth, which was positively delectable. Even Aki the picky eater liked it and in fact finished what I couldn’t.

Check out all my New York adventures.


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.


07
Feb 16

NYC Adventures: The Lunar New Year Edition

I don’t usually do much for the Lunar New Year, but this year a weekend visit from my friend Aki happened to coincide with the festivities.

Friday night

First thing: noodles! This time at Mew Men in the Village.

Eating long noodles during the New Year and on birthdays is important in Chinese culture since long noodles symbolize longevity. But mostly we had them because we’re ramen fiends.

The pork was kind of tough, but the broth and noodles were excellent. Plus each was only $5 with a coupon Aki had.

Afterward we walked up to Union Square and stopped in Korean beauty product store Nature Republic. We both ended up buying this Korean version of Baby Feet, that feet peeling kit. I’m kind of scared to try it since the results, while effective, are supposed to be disgusting.

Saturday

We had a very packed day ahead and needed to start it with some sustenance. Blue Stone Lane to the rescue.

While overpriced, I do think their food and coffee is really good. Usually I get the avocado toast, but I felt like changing things up and had the soup instead – lentil Italian wedding. It was so good, as was the toasted bread that came with it. And when we left, I couldn’t resist a $5 vegan apple cinnamon donut for a snack later (that was delicious too).

Our next stop was The Met, where there was lion dancing:

Like most things you do on the New Year, lion dancing is supposed to bring luck and chase away evil spirits. Plus it just looks and sounds really cool. The lobby was packed to the gills, but we had a pretty good view.

Besides lion dancing, we checked out the Temple of Dendur, then went upstairs to see it from the Asian art wing.

Next up: lunch! Aki had heard that the best xiao long bao in the city were at Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao in Flushing. So out to Queens we went.

There were tons of people waiting. They told us about 20 minutes, and that’s what it was. We got dou jiang, one youtiao to split, and pork and crab and pork buns.

Pork and crab soup dumplings #nanxianglongbao @bangbangcloud @joeboy369 #flushing #queens

A post shared by Dave Brue (@davidbrue) on

The verdict? I don’t know if they’re the best in the city since I haven’t had all the little juicy buns in New York, but they were damned good and well worth the schlep and the wait.

After lunch we went to New World Mall. It was a tad overwhelming, and since neither of us were hungry, it was kind of a waste on us. I’ll have to go back on an empty stomach.

Our last stop of the night was, you guessed it, food! We hit another ramen place, Nakamura, this one on the Lower East Side.

I wasn’t too thrilled about it at first, to be honest. Although there were a ton of empty seats, we were told we had to wait 30 minutes (I guess there were reservations?). And the fact that the waiter was wearing a fedora didn’t help matters. I wanted to leave, but Aki convinced me not to.

In the end, I’m glad we stayed because the food was really good. Aki, who’s super picky, pronounced it one of the best bowls of ramen she’s ever had.

I absolutely loved my Japanese curried spice ramen.

It also had something a little different: cilantro, which Japanese food never has.

Sunday

Aki was all set to leave that morning when she said, “I want bagels.”

I couldn’t argue with that.

We went to a place not too far from my apartment, H&H Bagels (which doesn’t have a website, weirdly enough). There was a line, but it wasn’t too crazy. I got my usual sesame bagel with lox spread.

Aki got a sesame bagel with nothing on it, figuring I’d have more than enough cream cheese, which was true.

The bagel was really good. I ate mine in about five minutes, Aki said, which is a bit of an exaggeration. But I did eat it quickly.

Interested in more of my New York adventures? Check them all out.


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.”