In Which There is Company and Therefore Food

Any one of you who has ever visited me in any of my far flung places know that Brittney the Tour Guide has only two modes: walking and eating. If I’m not walking you half to death telling you all that I know about everywhere, I’m probably trying to feed you all my favourite local foods. If neither of those, well you might want to make sure you’re still following the right blonde ponytail. Which is how I have spent my week playing tour guide to my visiting mother.

Before she arrived on Wednesday, I managed a rather run of the mill Tuesday with tutoring followed by a little training, and bit of a chat with my fellow tutors. Turns out I work at a rather popular little research centre. I suppose it helps that we’re under the umbrella of the mammoth that straddles this city and reaches its tendrils halfway around the world—yes, I’m talking about NYU—but I’m always chuffed when people get excited when I say where I work.

The following evening I met my mom, having just made her way in from JFK, and we settled in for the first of many meals. I started with low hanging fruit, a Sri Lankan restaurant on Broome, Kottu House. They make wicked hot, wicked delicious little boxes of stir fried curried goodness and they’re less than half a block away, so I’m a bit of a regular. Having burned our way through a box of kottu each, we then wandered out for a stroll around the neighbourhood which inexorably lead to another of my dangerously accessible haunts: Doughnut Plant. We strolled in the door less than ten minutes before closing, so the doughnuts were thin on the shelves, but we did manage to grab an apple cinnamon cake doughnut and a Valrhona chocolate yeast doughnut. Given the proximity to closing time, we took our doughnuts to go and headed back to my flat to eat doughnuts and drink tea until bed time.

Thursday I bounded out of Brooklyn right after tutoring and set off to meet Mom at my favourite Southern joint, Sweet Chick. Heartbreakingly, they were closed for a private party but the manager put in a very good show, urging us to come back another time and maybe even have some drinks on the house. We pencilled it in for the weekend and set out to find another source for food. After a few indecisive loops of the neighbourhood, I turned to The Google. A few minutes later, we were stepping through the warmly lit blue and white doorway of Souvlaki GR. It’s a small space full of pretty little tables, charming servers, and the most delicious food. We ordered an eggplant spread followed by beautiful lamb chops and a gorgeous tray of grilled vegetables all paired with pita and tzatziki galore. I don’t think I’ve ever had such lovely lamb. It was absolutely perfectly prepared with just the right bit of saltiness and savouriness. Not too gamey, but with just enough of that rich lamb flavour. Simply perfect. Full of Greek food, we then wandered back to mine for more tea and conversation before I collapsed face first into bed.

And then, finally, it was Friday. When I got home from work, we set out on a bit of a wander in search of tea pots. You see, one of our researchers brought fancy tea back from China and that fancy tea, the third fancy Chinese tea to enter my current tea collection, was the final straw. Yes, I decided that I needed to give in and finally buy a gongfu tea pot. But alas, none of my favourite tea shops had quite what I was after. I’m not saying I’m picky, but I’ve a small budget and a precise vision, so we gave up on the teapots and headed to Vosges. Have I ranted about Vosges before? I’m sure I must have, but just in case you missed it, Vosges is heaven. For the girl who is inexorably drawn to the maddest cocktail at the menu, Vosges is a bit like crack. They have all the most exciting flavours of chocolate and this time they were offering rosewater prosecco and rose caramels. The caramels were heaven, as was the sample of guajilo chile and chipotle chocolate and somehow I left with $18 of chocolate, $8 of which were made up of my favourite turmeric, ginger, and coconut bar. It’s like chocolate and lassi made love to a chai tea and somehow the offspring was more delicious than any of the progenitors.

Wandering back over to the Lower East Side, we stopped by my little tamale shop where we found that they were all out of everything but the chipotle tamales. We got one each and ate them while people watching in the park. One tamale, however, does not a dinner make so we left the park hunting further food. We ended up in Cheeky’s. I’d heard about Cheeky’s but never managed to stop by. It’s a genuine hole in the wall famous for delicious southern sandwiches and by god it’s well earned fame. I got an oyster and shrimp po boy and Mom got the beef on challah. To say they were heavenly would be an understatement. The beef was especially fine. I’ve no idea what they did to it, but I’ve never tasted such tasty beef, especially not on a thick slice of challah with arugula and horseradish besides.

And as if that wasn’t indulgent enough, we then set off for my favourite cocktail bar on the Lower East Side: Nite Cap. It’s a dark, cozy basement bar with all the most adorable details and a six page cocktail menu that reads like a gourmand’s wet dream. Every possible ingredient has found its way into that menu at least once and all in the most unexpectedly perfect combinations. Fortunately, for both my liver and my wallet, the cocktails generally run $15 a piece so I’m usually able to keep myself away unless I’ve a special occasion, but this time, we were in early enough to learn about Aperitif Hour. $10 per aperitif. I mean, I didn’t want a functioning liver anyway, did I? My particular poison this round was a pistachio, rose, and tea creation that tasted like paradise in a glass. If anyone feels inclined to join me before 8pm on a weeknight, well you know what to do.

Saturday morning, we met at Sweet Chick for brunch. We were seated by the sweetest hostess who then plied us with chocolate muffins and chocolate chip cookies while we waited for our food. Mom had her first encounter with chicken and waffles and I adventured into another new realm of eggs benny. This one began with a light fluffy biscuit piled with ham and shredded chicken forming a nest for a perfectly poached egg all drowned over in the most fantastically adulterated hollandaise. Normally I get a bit tetchy about people messing with my hollandaise but this was downright divine. I can only imagine that they’d added a smattering of barbecue spices to an otherwise perfect hollandaise but, until I talk the recipe out of them, I might have to make a habit of it.

After our breakfast, we took off wandering northwards. We stopped at my favourite shoe shop where I found the butteriest leather replacement for my current disintegrating footwear, dropped some books at the library, and then hopped on a train towards the Lincoln Center. We people watched by one of the water features nestled between the concert hall and Julliard for a while before heading inside to take in some music. I do love that I now live somewhere where I can whimsically purchase concert tickets for a world class orchestra the night before the show. This time it was Grieg, Shostakovitch, and Sibelius, a lovely northern trio as frigid as they are passionate. After the orchestra left the stage, the music librarian and three long term players took seats on the stage and shared stories of the almighty Leonard Bernstein. Honestly, I’d not really known anything about him before, but after that 40 minute panel session, I was inspired to learn more and to look up all the youtube videos they’d referenced in order to better understand this iconic individual.

Having sat in a concert hall for almost three hours, we then set out on foot and somehow ended strolling about fifty blocks south to Chelsea Market. It was monstrously busy so we snagged a bowl of Very Fresh Noodles and found a standing table in a quieter hallway to scarf down our dinner. The noodles were as fresh and delicious as ever and the lamb was nearly as tasty as the Greek earlier in the week. The chaos of the market, however, soon drove us back out onto the sidewalks where we wandered onwards until we found a quaint retro little coffee and cocktail bar with sidewalk seating in the Meatpacking District.

I sipped a ridiculous coffee cocktail composed of chocolate milk, ancho chile liquor, whiskey, coffee, and bitters—yeah, I said ridiculous already—while Mom drank tea and we both savoured a lovely chocolate lava cake. As the sidewalk shifted from tourists and daypacks to stilettos and style mavens, we turned back towards home via Washington Square.

Despite staying up a bit late chatting, we made it out early-ish the next morning on an adventure to Queens via Roosevelt Island. The 6 train whisked us up to the Roosevelt Island tram which swung out alongside the swooping arches of the Queensboro bridge and deposited us on Roosevelt Island. In a light drizzle, we wandered around the island taking in the old mental hospital tower and the smallpox hospital ruins before returning to an F train in search of food. One stop later, we were off the train on our way to Astoria and all manner of Balkan deliciousness. About half an hour later, we were sitting in a homely little restaurant eating two very authentic slices of burek. You see, I was watching documentaries about Yugoslavia a while ago and, like a bolt out of the blue, I was struck by a craving for the filo wrapped food that carried me through the entire final month of my trip through Europe. Yes, I basically lived off burek in the Balkans. It comes in ropes and wedges and is always a delicious combination of meat or cheese and layer after layer of heavenly filo dough. They were also blessedly cheap.

The burek of Astoria are very nearly as good as the ones I ate all across former Yugoslavia, only lacking the red pepper jam that provided my entire vegetable intake for the better part of a month.

With tummies bulging full of burek, we wandered off to Jackson Heights via Little India. Just around the corner from the saris and the goldsmiths, we found ourselves on Roosevelt Ave surrounded by everything Latin. There were meat, horchata, and vegetable carts, taquerias, and great crowds of families out for a Sunday afternoon stroll. Somewhere near the end of the strip, we were getting a bit dehydrated so we stopped into a little bakery-cafe for a drink. Apparently, in Jackson Heights, you speak Spanish. I was sorely underprepared and made a bit of a fool of myself but managed to get my mom a snapple and myself a cup of jamaica. It was sufficient.

Another half hour of walking later, we found ourselves at Citifield, finally able to get onto a train, Flushing bound. We would have gotten on earlier, but the 7 trains were running express, so we got our exercise and made it to Flushing just in time to sip some tea and scarf down a few shengjianbao before heading back into the city.

Some sleepy stumbling later, we made it back and I passed out and rested my feet for an hour or two before hunting down another interesting place to sit, sip, and chat. I’m always amazed by the sheer density of awesome places in my neighbourhood and Black Cat was no exception. It’s a cozy basement cafe filled with couches and cushy chairs with affordable drinks and very lovely sounding sandwiches. I may have a new nest for novel reading and caffeination.

Today was that wonderful first day of the week, Monday. Thank goodness for tasty treats at Max Brenner and delicious udon in the East Village. Besides, there’re only four more days to the weekend.

Stuffed and tired,
The Salsa Girl

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In Which The Canadian Gives Thanks

Here in America, the debate is all tangled up around whether or not we ought to celebrate a day named for a notoriously bloody colonialist who also happened to snag the credit for ‘discovering’ North America. I’m fascinated by how deeply he is wound into the American psyche (on both sides) but mostly I am glad to be Canadian and celebrating an equally controversial but, for me, deeply warm and gracious Canadian holiday: Thanksgiving. Feeding people is one of the most rewarding things going and, when you’re feeding them a gorgeous golden turkey stuffed with all sorts of bread, herbs, and love, well, it just makes me feel good. But before I get to my Thanksgiving adventures, let’s back it on up and see what the rest of the week entailed.

Turkey

Tuesday was a fairly standard run of work, tutoring, reading, and sleep before, in a flash, it was Wednesday and the week was picking up. I started my day working from home before a meeting in Lower Manhattan which I reached via a very crowded J train. I guess everyone had a 10:30 in the Financial District. After the meeting it was off to the library to work for a while before attending a talk at the Center for Data Science. It was a rather atypical talk focusing more on biology than data but it was fascinating. It addressed the mechanism of the Allee effect in breast cancer cells. It seems that a critical mass of cells is required for proliferation as the cells produce the peptide and dipeptide precursors to proteins that their fellow cells need to proliferate—a finding which suggests that the introduction of the right peptidase could make a big difference in cancer outcomes. I shall be following the lab in question.

After wrapping up the rest of the afternoon at the office, I then slipped off to the chiropractor before a night of dance. Only two weeks after the last, we had another class with Karel Flores and she worked us hard! The focus of the class was foot action and strength which means that we did the entire warm up on relevé and then, with screaming calves, turned to the actual choreography. No matter how long I dance, I will always need stronger feet and ankles, and if I ever conquer those, I’m confident my shoulder alignment and core will keep me busy until the end of time.

By 10:20, I was at westie attempting to manage the magic entailed in turning my sweat soaked salsa self into some semblance of a cool, calm, and relatively fresh west coast swing dancer. I’m never quite sure of my degree of success, but it seems to be sufficient, for a Wednesday night at least.

The following day saw me peeling myself out of bed and dragging into work. I probably shouldn’t stay out so late on Wednesdays, but especially when I only arrive around 10:30, it seems sacrilegious to leave before the night ends at 12:30. And so I get home after 1am and wonder why it’s always so hard to get up less than 6 hours later. Either way, by the time I got out of the office I was flagging. I caffeinated myself into function for tutoring and then drifted my way home to collapse.

I was doing an excellent job of feeling sorry for my sleepy self, when my dear friend Mandy saved me from my lethargy with the suggestion of tea and/or wine. Sometime later, we were sitting on the floor of my room double fisting Pino Grigio and herbal tea. Judge away, it was lovely! After several hours of refreshing chatter, Mandy headed home and I climbed into bed with about seven hours before morning.

Come Friday, I was running out of time to prepare my part of the upcoming Thanksgiving dinner, so I stopped off at Trader Joe’s on my way home from work. They had most of the things I needed but oddly, almost no dried herbs or spices. So I set off for the quaint little spice stall in the Essex St Market. The charming proprietor sold me my last bottle of olive oil and nearly sold me half his selection of balsamic vinegars, but I resisted on that occasion, only eyeing the giant glass case of herbs and spices. This time, the trick was to resist the oil while bee-lining for the herbs. Letting me smell the intoxicating fragrances of each one, he sold me an ounce of each of sage, parsley, and rosemary, but alas, not even my wonderful spice man had savoury. The following day upon finding that none of my American friends had ever heard of savoury and that none of them could find it in their local grocery store either, I did a bit of research and discovered that it is in fact a “Canadian Thing”(TM). It’s always the strangest little things that prove to be impossible to find while living abroad, but fortunately in this case the savoury would not be much missed with copious applications of sage and thyme.

Still suffering from a decided lack of sleep, however, I carried my treasure trove home, sliced up my stuffing bread, left it out to dry, and lazed the rest of the night away.

Saturday morning, I hopped out of bed bright and early to conquer laundry and house cleaning before my day really kicked off. By 10:45 I was on the other side of Lower Manhattan waiting for the start of a walking tour all along the length of Canal Street. Our guide was a nearly life-long New Yorker who, from the sounds of things, spent the 70s as a teenager getting into all sorts of the best kinds of trouble in the big bad city that was New York at the time. We learned all manner of tidbits about the street and its surrounds before, about two hours later, returning to my end of Canal Street, where the rest of the tour group headed into a dumpling shop that once was a communist milk bar for lunch, I made a detour past North Dumpling and hurried off to acquire a few more grocery items for Sunday.

After that, it was time to run home, change, pack a dance bag, and head into the Midtown. It was not to be that easy. I was to discover a new and exciting lingering effect of my on-going battle with my credit card company and whatever charming soul managed to get my (now cancelled but apparently still functional) card number from the undisclosed merchant who had a little bit of a breach. Yes, despite the card being cancelled, someone was able to use it to set up recurring payments on Netflix who then were able to query the credit card company for the new number in order to charge the recurring payment. Every call I make to the that charming 800 number gets a little less patient and a little less friendly, but if we’re lucky, and if I’ve been as thorough as I think I have, we should finally be done with the nonsense.

Before you recommend it, no, I’m not really in the position to cancel the account and open a new one as, with only one year’s credit history in this country, I am basically ineligible for all but the worst credit products and have only just earned my way out of a safety deposit on my current arrangement.

Somewhat later than planned, I managed to get to the studio where I met Patrick for a bit of practice before the evening’s workshops at Gotham Swing. The inimitable Gary and Susan were in town so it was time to settle in and learn. Three hours later I was pleasantly inundated with information and off for a quick deli dinner and chat before heading back to Gotham to dance. It was a busy night full of excellent music and dance with a lovely interlude wherein I got to catch up with an old salsa friend from Victoria who was attending the salsa night in the next studio over.

When the music stopped and I stepped out into the night I was rather rudely reminded of the delights of the MTA by the recollection that neither of my normal trains were running over the weekend. Grumbling a bit, I climbed onto an R which took me to a J which was surprisingly full of young, stylishly dishevelled people who I must assume live either in Williamsburg or Bedstuy. I got off the train well before any of them, so I shall never know to which they belonged.

After a few hours of sleep, I was shaken out of bed by my alarm which sent me, laden with supplies, out to the train. I would like to say that I walked to the train, but really I swam. It was a veritable monsoon and, as Manhattanites know only too well, this city doesn’t drain, so I slopped through the rivers that once were streets and 15 minutes later finally found myself in the Spring St subway station waiting for the 6. From the 6, I made my way through the hallowed halls of Grand Central Terminal and transferred onto a Metro-North train to White Plains. About 45 minutes later I was tying an apron onto myself and taking over a kitchen.

One of my dance friends, Jessie, had generously offered to host a whole hoard of us for Canadian Thanksgiving and it was only fair that the Canadian (and lover of turkey dinners) get herself out of bed and into the kitchen to cook the turkey. I sautéed, I spiced, I tossed, and I stuffed and shortly thereafter, I had a big old bird in the oven—my very first Butterball. I’ve never done a Butterball before, but when in Rome… so I pulled the bag of gravy mix and the plastic wrapped instruction booklet out of body cavity and promptly pitched them in the bin before getting to work on the actual turkey itself. Due to a lack of skewers, the turkey’s various flaps were held together by an obligingly large safety pin. I have never claimed to be Martha, but I make it work.

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Once the turkey was safely roasting away, I helpfully plopped myself on the couch and played with the cat until it was time to start getting neurotic about the final few minutes of cooking which lie between food poisoning and dry, disappointing awful. Fortunately the neuroses did their work and by 3:30pm we were strewn all over the apartment, eating turkey, stuffing, soup, pierogies, salad, and the most American of all, candied yams! After letting the first course rest for a bit, we dug back into fruit, polish apple cake, and the most heavenly chocolate pecan pie with bourbon whipped cream. To call it a decadent afternoon would be a massive understatement.

Most of the party followed dessert with a hot tub, but this particular lazy-bones, only half intentionally, passed out on the couch. I did eventually join the others for a bit more socializing and dance practice but I was still a very stuffed, sleepy beast and in no time at all, it was time to head to the train back to the city and the impending workweek.

This morning, I faced another hot wet commute followed by eight hours in the freezer that is my office. I would like to send pictures of myself curled up in my blanket at my desk to whoever runs the HVAC in our building but somehow I doubt it would make a difference. Nonetheless, I made it through the frigid day and the toasty subway back to my cozy little apartment where judicious use of a fan has me so comfortable I just might fall asleep.

Bon Nuit,
The Salsa Girl

In Which There are Things More Exciting Than Sleep

Sleep and I have never gotten on all that well. When there’s anything else to do—and I do mean anything, work, play, bingeing on free documentaries—my sleep is the first to suffer, which is how I reached my current state: already exhausted on Monday and wondering how on earth I’m going to make it through the rest of the week. So much so that this is the second draft (from scratch) of this particular blog. A little too much tired and grumpy was showing in the previous iteration. But let’s go back and explore just exactly how I managed this particular little somnic coup.

As I rolled out of work on Wednesday, it was chiropractor time followed by dinner and a gossip sesh. I met one of my inimitable lady friends at a Midtown burger joint where, two pints each and a burger later, we decided it might be time to actually get our butts to dance. As I tipsily traversed the dance floor, I wondered how I ever survived Ireland of the eight rounds in two hours phenomenon. My liver declined to comment.

Having stayed out until the end of Westie night and then maybe made a quick trip to the office to run off a few more flyers on my way home (it’s surprisingly peaceful at 1am), I was already a bit behind the eight ball for Thursday and behind was nowhere I wanted to be. I started my morning with a valiant charge at my to-do list before having to run off to pick up equipment on my way to a demo day where we were showing some technology.

When I got to the venue, I found that the table map they had given us had been binned for some insane ad hoc adventure. After eventually being assigned a space, I set up and set to conducting a few last minute tests on one of our devices that I had only received the day of. It did not go well. Hence the awkward conundrum I found myself in on Skype to Ireland trying desperately to troubleshoot our technology while one of the charming organizers presented herself at my table and informed me that, despite there being a table behind me which was empty but for a label, I was going to have to pack up all of my gear and consolidate myself into half my previous space. Apparently the ad hoc system had left them with one more exhibitor than they had tables, quelle suprise. I could pretend that I was not judging, but let’s be honest, I was full of irritation and at least a little scorn as I pointed out the empty table assigned to one (absent) group and was informed that “they’re on their way”. I would like to have known how importance was assigned and who had decided that the original table assignment could not be salvaged as at least a starting point for some semblance of organization, but I digress.

Despite my delightful go ‘round with the organizational crew, the event itself was very productive and we ended our day with half our original number of flyers and a lot of interested and interesting visitors. I did not, however, rest long on my laurels. No, I packed up our booth, dropped all the gear in my apartment and headed down to Brooklyn for my literacy endeavours. After an insane day of noise and people, it was so good to just zone in and focus on one thing at a time for a while.

Just over an hour later, having wrapped up another chapter of Frindle with my student, I then headed to a nearby brewery to catch up with my workmates. It was the office happy hour and I was very grateful for some relaxed conversation and a drink. And then, it was finally time to take the train home to rest.

Somehow despite going to bed at a reasonable hour, the following day had a spectacularly farcical beginning. I forgot I was supposed to be at an off-site meeting, hustled out of the office, got there 10 minutes early, and realized I’d forgotten the thing I was meant to be showing. So I ran back, grabbed the gear, got back on the train, finally made it to the meeting, and discovered that one of the two other meeting participants had gone to the right address in the wrong borough. My partner in crime wanted to reschedule, but the fellow in the room didn’t see why we shouldn’t proceed so I showed our tech and sold our idea and suddenly was presenting it all a second time to two more, more important, stakeholders. Sometimes Fridays are just as hard as Mondays.

When I finally got out of the office, I headed home with all the best ambitions of salsa. I got as far as changing my clothes, but makeup and contacts just never happened and somehow I found myself curled up in bed watching movies instead. There are worse ways to spend a Friday.

Following my theme of chaos and muddleheadedness, I started Saturday by failing to attend two yoga classes. Yes, two. The first got cancelled just as I was heading out to grab my coffee and hop on the train so I decided to try a different one. I got all my gear, took the train to Washington Square, slurped down a smoothie, and realized that I had gotten the wrong time and the class was already half over. As compensation I decided to stroll down Broadway and indulge in a few sales. As it was nearly the end of the month, my budget kept me well and truly in check and soon enough I was back at home lazing around and gathering strength for the evening ahead. Somewhere around the time I realized that I’d only had a coffee and a smoothie, I drifted out to Williamsburg Pizza where I found myself with a slice of Sophia Loren the size of my head. It’s my favourite of their pizzas and the slices are always big but I swear this was a fifth of a pie! I sat outside to eat and was nearly blown away by the autumn wind before I gave up and scuttled back inside to while away the rest of my afternoon.

Come evening, I found myself somewhere in Greenwich Village at an Irish pub celebrating a birthday. We started with food and drinks but soon enough migrated back to a private room where the proliferation of westies resulted in no little bit of dancing. One of the leaders was even a Pacific Northwestie, one of those delightful creatures of stretch, ooze, and constant connection. Can you tell I miss my West Coast westies?

Sometime before 11 a subset of the party split off to head to Brooklyn. Another westie had planned a westie bombing adventure of the warehouse hiphop variety. When we arrived, I found myself, for the first time in years, queuing outside of a club. I don’t even remember the last time I queued outside of a club. It could have been in China.

When we got in, we met the rest of our crew and got down to dancing. The music was good, but the DJ? Well, I have fondly dubbed him ADDJ and it is unclear to me whether he was trying to show us every song in his collection or just incapable of playing a single song from more than 15 seconds at a time. We rode the emotional rollercoaster of “omg, I love this song!… oh. never mind, I mean, I didn’t really want to hear it, I guess…” and the rough transitions for a while before we wandered over to the other, couchier room where we got a sliver of good music but soon the DJ changed and the music too.

Despite the questionable situation on the decks, the crew I was with was so incredibly solid, we had a blast. And then all of a sudden it was 3:30am and the end of the night sharks were circling so we decided to bail out into the darkness. Just as we were leaving the venue a fight kicked up behind us. The bouncers seemed to have it under control but then one of the assailants broke free of the crowd, ran across the street to a stoop, and grabbed something tucked away, hidden in a corner. Right about then we got the heck out of there. When someone goes for a hidden weapon, it’s never worth staying around to watch. We didn’t hear anything that sounded particularly violent or weaponized, but the sounds of angry male voices and shouting bouncers followed us more than a few blocks.

15 minutes later, we were sidled up to the bar in an all night diner ordering an insane mix of breakfast food and milkshakes. I ended up with  chicken fingers and a chocolate milkshake in three glasses: one large milkshake glass covered in a small mountain of whipped cream, and two tiny glasses of overflow each capped with it’s own little swirl of white. The chicken tenders were a bit questionable, but the milkshake was delicious and the waitresses were tops! They were exactly the kind of chatty, sassy ladies that you want in an all night diner, serving jokes and food in equal measure.

Sometime between 5:30 and 6:00 I slipped through my front door and met my roommate taking off his shoes. When you’re a dance person with a nocturnal streak, a musician with a party lifestyle is the safest sort of roommate—I know he’ll never complain about how late I come in, he’s usually even later. Because my brain is perverse and my internal clock is powerful, however, I found myself awake at 9am on Sunday. I did manage to crash back into bed for another 2 hours or so but by 11:30 I was awake and looking for food. I stopped in at Essex St Market where I indulged in fresh sliced bacon, lox, avocado, vine ripened tomatoes, and a loaf of gorgeous rye. The stall where I bought the lox also had a bit of peppered bluefish and, because Essex Market is marvellous, the shopkeeper added it to my bag of marine treasure at no additional cost.

When I got home with my bags of goodies, I put on the coffee pot and started crisping bacon. Very shortly thereafter I settled down to a slice of rye with avocado and lox, another slice with avocado, tomato, and beautiful bacon, and a big ol’ cup of caffeination. It was a lazy indulgent day of doing absolutely nothing right up until it was time for another westie bombing adventure at Brother Jimmy’s. I got a bit crazy with the menu and ended up with half of a grilled mac n cheese sandwich and a delicious glass of malbec. Honestly, the sandwich had potential but the american cheese between the bread and the mac had not really melted so I was left dreaming of the cheesy carby heaven that could have been.

It was another evening of good company and relaxed dancing but we weren’t done yet. Edem and I decided to drop by a nearby salsa night for what promised to be some excellent shows. The shows were in fact delightful and the dancing was even better, but by midnight, I was exhausted and my new shoes were asserting themselves quite powerfully, so I headed for the train. I got home just before 1am and collapsed into bed—very responsible, right? Perhaps not.

Today has been a struggle. I climbed over my daily mountain of work and slid down the other side into my evening. My roommate’s Argentine friend is staying with us briefly in the middle of a backpacking adventure and today was sorting and repacking in our kitchen. There is nothing like a pile of clothes and a well used backpack to make me hungry for plane tickets and adventure. Plus, having lived on the Lower East Side for almost a year now, sleeping in a hostel is liable to seem down right peaceful!

And now I am here, after an hour and fifteen of yoga (which took me from first draft grumpy to second draft fun), working my way through the end of an avocado and tapping away to you. I’d love to stay and enhance all the stories, or maybe even proofread, but I think that perhaps the only way to survive this week will be assiduous application of sleep so I’m off to explore that possibility.

Delightfully exhausted,
the Salsa Girl

In Which There is Yoga Once More

I really had wanted to write you all yesterday. I had everything outlined and ready to go and then I got sick. So sick that my day went something like this: work, errand for work, bed. And then I slept for about 13 hours. You’ll be pleased to note that I feel much better today, my stomach has ceased its screaming distended pain and has even decided to accept food again. It’s really the small things in life that make a person happy.

Now you may ask why I spent my Monday suffering so richly, but that is a story for Sunday and now it is time to take you back to Tuesday.

Tuesday really would have been an unremarkable day of work and reading but it also contained my lunch hour. A lunch hour which was spent at the Department of Education getting all the paperwork put together for a background check. Yes, I’ve decided to get more involved in my community and that necessitated a background check, a background check that took over an hour to initiate. I arrived, queued, received initial direction, queued, was checked into the system, queued, and then finally got to the business bit. They took three picture of me. Far away, close up, and without glasses before subjecting me to an unexpectedly dehumanizing round of fingerprinting.

I’ve been fingerprinted before but nothing like this. This was a grumpy old Slavic man who spoke in minimalist monosyllables and felt it was easier to man-handle my hands than explain to me what was needed. First fingers together, pinched tightly and smushed onto the digital fingerprinting pad. Then thumbs. Then each finger individually followed by another round of each finger rolled side to side and front to back. Each finger was restrained forcibly and smushed slowly over the pad. I have never liked the feeling of having my fingers handled, but this was absolutely the worst! I think my fingerprinting technician must have trained with the FBI. Either that or he enjoyed making people feel powerless and mildly violated. Of course, there is also the possibility that I’m just overly sensitive to having my hands handled.

The following day my lunch was spent much more pleasantly at a data science talk exploring the economics and other dynamics of crowdsourced labour platforms like Mechanical Turk. It was far more interesting than fingerprinting and ostensibly work related which always helps alleviate the guilt associated with taking an actual hour long lunch. Let’s not talk about what that says about me as a person.

Directly after work, I scooted off to my chiropractor before returning home for a tidy read and feed pre-dance. Yup, it was Wednesday, and Wednesday means dance! First Karel, then westie. Karel’s class is like crack for me. It wears me out completely and I love it! Every. Time. This time, however, was extra special as the proceeds from the class (and from donations via the class live stream) were being sent to Mexico to help with earthquake recovery efforts. So we danced our hearts and our lungs out and the feisty little Mexican who lead us inspired us all the more with her generous decision to donate what would normally have been her profit to help her home country face the devastation.

Between hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico and earthquake shattered Mexico, it’s been a rough time for the salsa community. Everyone has a friend or a family member or a childhood home in at least one of the two and, especially with poor devastated Puerto Rico, one feels so helpless. So we dance and we donate and we hope that the places and people we love will make it out the other side, not unscathed but having recovered stronger and wiser.

Soaked in sweat from the salsa, I then walked a few blocks down to the westie social. As per usual, I slipped quickly into the washroom to dry off, change clothes, and apply a bit of makeup, but unlike usual, I apparently did not succeed in hiding my prior entertainment. Several people mentioned that I looked a bit exhausted. Perhaps I hadn’t eaten enough? Either way it was a bit of a divergence from the post-Salsa westie feedback I normally receive, so perhaps I need a better dry shampoo and some bronzer for my increasingly pallid skin. Or perhaps I’ll just get used to looking tired.

Thursday saw me slipping out of work and off to another talk at the Center for Data Science. They have a wonderful NLP series called “Text as Data” which I try to catch whenever I can. This one was an exploration of skeptical tone in audio recordings of Justices of the Supreme Courts and how that does or does not correlate with their votes. It’s always a sign of an interesting topic when the local academic royalty get all frothed up in the Q&A period. That their froth had so much to do with skepticism about methods did not reduce the fascinating nature of the conversation.

Leaving the talk as humbled and thoughtful as such talks always leave me, I decided that I would make the most of a sunny September day and walk home. It was a wonderful half hour long stroll across Washington Square and on down through Soho to my humble home on the Lower East Side. I sometimes forget how immediate and substantial the mental health benefits of a walk in the sun are. I really shouldn’t.

As the week rolled through Friday and into the weekend, it was time to get started on errands. I headed to Duane Reed to pick up some hand soap and conditioner and ended up being sucked into that dangerous vortex that is the hair and cosmetics section of a pharmacy. There were even sales! And shampoos that promised to ameliorate my horrible hair fall-out situation! And so I left sometime later with $30 worth of goop and promises. This is why I can’t let myself anywhere near the makeup aisle.

With freshly painted toe nails and keratin treated hair, I then headed into Chelsea for dance. I stopped for a dollar slice on the way in and soon found myself at salsa, about an hour too early. While reading my novel and waiting for the music, I ran into a westie friend who was at the studio for a blues event. I always feel a certain wry amusement when people who know me from places other than salsa see me at salsa. They almost never recognize me without at least a second take or two. When the beginner lesson finally wrapped up, the music started and I began with about four really excellent salsas. And then that was about it.

The salsa room was quiet all night with less than a dozen people in the room at any given time but I’d paid my $10 so I wasn’t about to just bail out and go home. I did the unthinkable. I went to the bachata room and I actually stayed there for almost an hour. Even stranger, I enjoyed it! It’s been a long time since I have danced more than an incidental bachata and often such incidental bachatas have ended only in the awkwardness of disentangling from too amorous an embrace. This was quite something else! It was bachata as a dance and only a dance with no expectations of extramural activities as a result of even the snuggliest of dances. As a bonus, one of my partners even ended a dance by telling me how much he enjoyed my height. A rarity indeed.

Sometime later I left, sticky and exhausted to find a train home. I may have taken a small detour to pick up a slice (or two) of Williamsburg Pizza. It’s just so darn good!

The following morning saw me slowly seeping into the day. I started with coffee at home followed by a smoothie on my way to a friend’s flat for a day of dance. There was a video west coast swing intensive available for one weekend only so we decided to try to make the most of it. 5.5 exhausting hours later, I was peeling myself off the floor before I became a part of it and heading back home to change and attempt to find some energy before the rest of my evening kicked off. With a new suit of clothes and a fresh coat of paint, I headed down to Little Italy to meet a few more westies at the crowded San Gennaro festival. We threaded our way through the crowds and eventually found a restaurant where the rotund host assured us he would have space for us in just five minutes. We then watched as he shamelessly signalled on of his servers to kick a chatting couple out of their seats to make room for us. One does not sit around chatting after the cheque during San Gennaro.

The food was passable but the company was wonderful. We had fantastic chats over mediocre sangria before trotting off into Midtown to dance.

When we arrived, the dance was quiet, but since we arrived at the same time as another dinner group, we took the room almost immediately from empty to party. As an added bonus, one of my favourite ballroom dancers who dabbles in westie was back after a bit of a lengthy absence. We may have snuck over into the latin room for a bit of salsa and bachata. And he’d brought along a Californian friend! It ended up being an excellent night and I even got up the courage to ask Arjay Centeno for a dance. I’m not sure how it felt from his end, but I think I survived alright. You see I’m going through another bit of a dance challenge. Having finally crawled out of Novice with my diligently vanilla dancing, I’m now in a new division and I’ve got to attempt to reinsert a little bit of my musicality and personality (read: craziness) without completely mutilating my technique. It’s going to be a bit of an adventure.

After the last song played, I headed to the F train with a friend who needed a D. Neither train elected to show itself for what felt like at least half an hour (I didn’t check the time, I do not know for sure) but I didn’t mind all that much as I was deep in conversation with aforementioned friend. I don’t often have actual conversations with my dancer friends, or at least not conversations about things outside of dance, and it’s always pleasant to actually get to know the lives and thoughts of people that I know by rhythm and feel alone.

When I did finally make it home, I read until I passed out into dreamless sleep sometime around 2:30am, which rather explains why I was so startled to find myself awake and feeling surprising alive at 9am on Sunday. Internal clocks are such fickle things but mine seems very committed to 9am wake up calls—a torture on both weekends and weekdays. I will someday train it to behave better, but if anyone has any tips I’ll be very happy to take them.

As is typical of my Sundays, I did laundry and cleaned. This time, my cleaning project was a very thorough go at my room. It’s so easy to just let the dust bunnies flourish under the bed, but I doubt it helps my asthma so I evacuated them all into the dustbin before moving on to tidying all the surfaces which inevitably become repositories for anything in my hands which I’d rather not be there. And then I sat down to read and had a sleep instead. I do enjoy these accidental naps of adulthood. They are scary if you’re on a schedule, but on an average Sunday, an accidental nap is pure delight.

Post-nap, I headed out into the world to find some food. It was tamale time! I grabbed three to-go and bounced off to my favourite little local park to eat, read, and soak in the sun. For a girl who’d never had a tamale until just under a year ago, I’ve developed an impressive craving for them, especially now that I’ve found the amazing tamale shop in my neighbourhood. A chapter and a meal later, I wandered out of the park and found myself at another gustatory guilty pleasure: Doughnut Plant. They really do make spectacular doughnuts and besides, I was starting to get a caffeine headache. So I stocked up on doughnuts and coffee before returning to my apartment to continue my lazy day trajectory of reading and sleeping.

Sometime later, I made my way to a J and headed out to Bedstuy for some much needed yoga, at sunset no less. The one and only Jes Ann was teaching a sunset yoga flow on the roof of her building to be followed my champagne. Even if I didn’t love yoga, she’d’ve had me at sunset and champagne. It was spectacular. The sunset was gorgeous, the flow was powerful and serene, I got my wheel pose back into shape, and the company was excellent.

After the champagne and a slight dissipation of the group, three of us ladies remained enjoying a bit of a natter and a whole lot of Indian take-out. At the time, both were fantastic, though later that night I would find that the Indian food was a bit of a snake in the grass. I am endlessly impressed by the people in my life right now. The courage and the realness of them, all hustling their asses off in this big bad old city. I am inspired by them and yet still comfortable with them, I fit. When I was first moving here, a friend who’d lived in the city for years told me that it would suit me to the ground, and it really, really does. I could not be more grateful.

But let us return to the exciting Indian saga. Yes, after a restorative evening of yoga and conversation, I would wake up at 2am in absolutely searing agony with a distended and painful stomach. I wanted to be sick but could not. I wanted to be asleep but could not. When I dragged my drum tight body out of bed in the morning, I finally found that I could evacuate some of the evil, but I would spend the rest of the day possessed of a painful and gurgling stomach and the very least cooperative of digestive passages. When all you can stomach is toast and apples, you might have a problem.

When I finally got home from work and its associated errands, I opened my laptop only to pass out beside it. And thus, I am blogging today. I spent my day in work feeling a bit delicate but ever so much better than the day before, and the evening at my first session of literacy tutoring. It has been a long time since I was last involved in a reading program and I had nearly forgotten how completely engrossing it can be. An hour and fifteen evaporated in no time at all and then I was off home to put some food in my stomach and start tapping away on this little missive for you all. And now I’m here at the end of the blog, eyeing my pillow enviously, and trying to sort out a way to wrap this all up. Perhaps with a tantalizing hint that I have new dance shoes and they are delicious!

Headed for bed,
The Salsa Girl

In Which The Westie Takes a Rest…Kind of

Today has been a day. In theory I got some sleep last night, but I swear I woke up more exhausted than I went to sleep. And then I dragged my carcass into work where I was met by a mammoth to do list and all the frustrations of the world. We will not discuss the extent of frustration inherent in working with government agencies, but suffice to say that they now plague me both in my personal and professional life. Much like the sleep situation, I left work with a longer to do list and more acute sense of frustrated exhaustion than I arrived with. Sometimes Mondays just skunk ya.

I guess I ought to be glad that I had a weekend off for once, so I faced this particular Monday with a bit more grace than the previous few. After three weeks of dance weekends, illness, and general exhausted malaise, I tried to take it easy. The degree to which I managed to succeed remains up for debate. Perhaps it will be sufficient to say that I’ve a fairly full blog for you in spite of myself.

Last Tuesday, day one of my attempt to rest, I limited myself to one extracurricular activity. I mean it was a very full and enlightening west coast swing lesson and I did go to Brooklyn for it, but I ate food at home and was home and in bed (not sleeping, but seriously who sleeps) by 11pm. So I called it a success. Wednesday, not so much.

I started my morning at an event hosted by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. The Borough President was speaking to us on the importance of diet driven health and wellness. He was diagnosed with diabetes and managed to reverse it with some serious business lifestyle changes. Thus, health and plant based nutrition formed the core of his talk. I, however, was there on a mission from work so I carefully curated the crowd, made a few key connections, and then slipped out, quite unintentionally inspired to attempt some lifestyle changes of my own. I also discovered that two of my intrepid Vancouver friends are responsible for the nutrition videos that the Borough President recommended I find for my asthma. It’s a small world out there.

After wrapping up a busy afternoon at work, I then counterbalanced by networking success with a gorgeous demonstration of my own ineptitude. You see, some time ago an admin from the engineering school sent me an invitation to a Semester Kick-off Party and New Faculty Reception. Obviously, I presumed that meant I was invited so I RSVP’d and added it to my calendar. Hindsight 20/20 that email may have been sent to me on my boss’s behalf. Yes, I arrived at the designated place to find I had marched right into a faculty party. Yes, me and my lack of PhD were turning down fancy finger foods in terror and trying to find a graceful way to escape. Thank god for faked phone calls, especially after a delightfully awkward encounter with the dean who, bless his heart, spent the entire interaction trying to figure out how on earth he’d hired this young blonde faculty member without having ever seen her before. If there was an Ignoble Award for social escapades, I’d have a whole shelf full.

After slipping out in humiliation, I hurried into the city to catch Hardwired NYC. The talks are always interesting, but I will freely admit that I mostly go for the complimentary pizza and the interesting chats with obligation free random strangers. This time we also got to try some rather peculiar plant goods. One of the speakers was a vertical farmer so he shared three fancy schmancy Michelin Star restaurant kind of garnishes with us. The first was a spicy wasabi arugula, the second some very sweet yellow flowers, and the third a bastard cousin of Sichuan pepper. It looked a bit like a cute little clover flower but when you bit into it? Well it was tingly numbness in every direction just like those sneaky little Sichuan pepper corns, I felt mildly betrayed. Following the talks, I did my normal rounds of chatting to strangers while filling my face with pizza. I’m not very good at mingling but I always have a handful of interesting (and probably too lengthy) conversations. This was no exception. I left as they were piling up the chairs and headed off to dance the rest of the night away.

Following a night of far less sleep than I ought to have had, Thursday saw me working my way through another day at the office before piling myself into the chiropractor for my weekly dose. I had intended to go to one or two talks after the chiro, but laziness and sleepiness won and I stayed home watching documentaries and being exactly as lazy as I wish I wasn’t.

And then suddenly it was Friday and I had no idea where the week had gone. I was meeting Mandy for pay-as-you-wish night at the Whitney so I headed towards Greenwich Village via the second most dangerous place in the city: The Library. Obviously the most dangerous is The Strand, but NYU’s Bobst Library is a very close second. I was there on the pretence of needing to return books, but of course things were running a bit late, and I was running a bit early, so I found myself with a dangerous duration inside the library doors. I left with six. Because I can’t be trusted. I also apparently cannot use my common sense. Need I state the obvious? Carrying a purse packed to the gills with six hardcovers as we toured an entire museum was not the smartest thing I’d ever done.

When I finally winkled myself out of the library, I headed off to Chelsea Market for dinner. I’ve never actually been to Chelsea Market before, but I had heard of the inimitable Los Tacos No. 1. They make famously tasty tacos and a particularly brilliant monstrosity wherein the taco shell is made entirely out of cheese. Do you even need to ask what I got? Of course I got the ridiculous insane one and sat with fingers coated in grease filling my face with cheese, pork, and all the fixings interspersed with sips of horchata. Mandy got noodles from the oh so creatively named Very Fresh Noodles. Despite their shortage of marketing ingenuity, they make incredibly fresh noodles in delicious soup, paired with the most heavenly melt (literally melt) in your mouth beef. It was beautiful, and exactly as advertised.

Fed and slightly decompressed from work, we headed to the Whitney to take in the modern art. I have such mixed feelings about modern art. Half of it thrills me to bits and half of it leaves me completely cold. The Whitney was no exception. I can always be relied upon to love large abstract pieces with striking colour palettes and very little obvious narrative or meaning. Several hours later, we left the museum satisfied in our cultural consumption and headed back to the Lower East Side. We parted at the subway station and I headed to one of my favourite late night snack spots. No, not pizza, not empanadas, not even my favourite bodega, no, the ice-cream shop. They make this wonderful ube ice-cream and you can get it swirled with either almond or coconut. It’s heavenly, and pretty—all purple and white swirled. It made a most excellent late night accompaniment to all my fresh new novels.

—A brief interlude in which I attend a yoga class and become slightly less of a monster—

Saturday I bounced out of bed bright and early to find breakfast and head to Brooklyn. Yes, Brooklyn on a weekend! I’ve decided to join a literacy tutoring program and last Saturday was the introductory training session. It was a nice update to my existing hodgepodge of pedagogy and my fellow volunteers were varied souls from all manner of professions and histories. I’m not sure how much social interaction we will have during the program, but they all seemed so very interesting, I certainly hope we do.

I continued my day of adulting with a trip to the market to pick up as much roughage as I could carry. You see I was determined that I should at least try to be a little more vegetable centred and health focussed and realistically, the only way that’s going to happen in my busy life is if I do really carefully thought out, veggie focussed meal prep. So I carried home my loot and set to making soup, or maybe stew. It was unclear. Being on a health kick my primary aim was to maximize the nutritional content and create something savoury enough to keep me engaged all week without overloading myself with salt. So everything went in the pot and a yummy vat of something very vegetably and full of spice emerged out the other side.

As the soup boiled, I cleaned the apartment and chewed my way through an entire novel before it was time to slip out for my evening’s adventures. I would spend the first part of my evening in a scummy but lovable little dive bar in the East Village catching up with a friend I met while backpacking in Scandinavia and rubbing shoulders with artists, law professors, and all manner of diverse New Yorkers. After a few (okay three) pints, I scooted off into Midtown for some westie. Two of my favourite New York DJs were on the decks and they did not disappoint. They played my request (a song rather out of character for the New York scene) and then quickly followed it up with the wonderful, growly, sexy, delicious strains of Heartattack and Vine. It’s dirty and sultry and contains one of the best lines in the history of music: There ain’t no devil, only God when he’s drunk. It was downright heavenly. And if the music wasn’t enough, nearly all of my favourite NYC leaders were there and the dancing was most excellent.

Because I’m very clever, I then went home and stayed up lying in bed reading until entirely too late reading the literary candy that is Murakami. I never claimed to be responsible.

Sunday started slow with coffee and oatmeal before laundry and reading. Around 3pm I wandered into Chelsea to catch some sounds from the talented Exenia. She’s a westie and a wonderful singer, a combination which lends itself quite naturally to enjoyable afternoons of dancing to live music somewhere in the snugglier parts of coffee shops. It was also a wonderful reminder of how lucky I am to live here amongst all of these driven, talented people. People from across the globe come to New York to make it, or die trying, and I’m so incredibly blessed to know a few of them.

A few songs later, I headed back out into the world and off to Queens with Mandy for another dose of the deliciousness that is Flushing Chinese food. We loaded up on 麻辣香锅 and 生煎包 and settled in to fill our bellies with savoury heaven. We tried to balance it with some ice Gong Cha tea, but even then we still found ourselves slumped in our seats trying desperately to digest before we tried to walk back to the train. Some time later, having conversed and digested sufficiently, we then climbed back on the 7 train with styrofoam containers of spicy heaven and settled in for the long ride home.

When I finally got back to my apartment, I made a pot of herbal tea, popped in a pair of toe spacers and settled in to read the rest of the night away. I was even relatively sensible. I put my computer away around 10pm, put my book away around 11pm, and woke up this morning exhausted. I cannot even begin to understand, let alone explain.

Now I’m lounging in bed after a fabulous class with my favourite local yoga teacher. He’s glamorous, he’s gay, he’s a dancer, and he does accents. He’s basically perfect, oh and also a very skilled yogi with fantastic flow. So for now I’m marching ever onwards and hopefully heading soon to bed.

Strangely sleepy,
The Salsa Girl

In Which the Forever Novice Finally Makes Intermediate

So after eight years of inconsistent participation and scattered competition, I finally got my act together and got out of Novice. Yes, this wandering westie has finally wandered into a scene that is large enough to at least have weekly dances and a few all stars around. It makes a huge difference when you can see what you could be working towards rather than being the one that other people are working towards. It also helps when you’re in the US and all the events are a little less far a field.

And that, folks, is yours truly’s way of indicating that she finally exceeded fifteen Novice points and got 1st place. So I’m out. Whether I want it or not (I want it), I’m an intermediate with all that entails. Prepare for more angst incoming as I get myself rightfully humbled in the next few events. But for the time being, just be glad you’ll never again hear me woefully describe myself as the “forever novice”. And with that, let’s get back to the daily happenings.

I’m still suffering a little bit from an ailment of the lungs, but when I think back to the pathetic lump I was on Wednesday, I feel like a whole new woman. Yes, Wednesday was bad. I skipped Karel’s class to sleep but thought I ought to drag myself out to westie to recalibrate between salsa and swing weekends. Initially I was only averaging about a coughing fit and a half after every dance, but then I took a bit of a break and had a really good and very necessary chat that was punctuated by rather a lot more coughing fits. Quite unintentionally, I found myself barnacled onto the stairs with diaphragm, intercostals, and even my lower abdominals absolutely screaming with each spasm.

Eventually I did drag myself back to the dance floor for one more dance, but somehow in the course of that (otherwise lovely) dance I managed to transition from agony when I coughed to just agony in general. The song ended and I started to hack which somehow  transitioned into me sitting on the floor gasping for breath, with each inhale accompanied by pure pain from hips to collarbones. I only managed to decline a few dances before people started to notice that maybe I wasn’t entirely okay down in my little hidey-hole between the benches. Right about the point where trying to explain my plight was tipping me dangerously close to helpless tears, I peeled myself off the floor, sucked another puff of albuterol into my lungs and excused myself to find a train.

When I got back to the Lower East Side, I headed to my faithful bodega for anything that might soothe my miserable self. I settled on some EmergenC (cold neocitran) and a tiny tub of ice cream and headed for the till. I plopped my purchases on my counter and stuffed my credit card into the machine. Declined. I tried again. Same result. I did have my debit card so my purchases were made but only moments later my phone went off like a mad thing. There were about 20 suspicious transactions on my card. All but two or three had been declined, but it was clear that someone had my details.

If you know me well enough to be reading this, you already know how well I deal with scary, adverse events in which I am comparatively powerless. I wracked my brains: could anyone have skimmed my card? It seemed unlikely. Far more likely, thought I, was spyware. And I’d just finished typing all of my personal details ever into a series of documents I’d had to submit to the Canadian Revenue Agency. So, I mean, panic is real.

I cancelled the card, reported the fraudulent charges, virus scanned the living daylights out of every piece of technology I own, and finally collapsed miserably into bed around 2am.

The following day, there was no evidence on my app that I had reported the fraud so I began to wonder if I’d somehow failed to report it successfully. The psychosis kicked back in and I had visions of mountains of charges being racked up by this nefarious criminal all without my knowing. I had already planned to call the credit bureaus at lunch, so I decided I would start by calling my bank and ensuring that they had gotten my report.

After a hop, skip, and a flop down the phone tree, I found myself talking to an employee who was nearly as confused as me. She had fraudulent charges marked on a wholly different credit card number. Apparently no fraudulent charges had been made on my current (now cancelled) card. I was baffled. She was baffled. And then I remembered back in March when my faithful financial institution had sent me a new card and an explanation that some “undisclosed merchant” had had a breach so they were replacing my card and cancelling the old one just to be safe. Yes, this is going where you think it is. The old one that they had supposedly cancelled for me, had not been cancelled. It had in fact been stolen, probably sold online, and now someone was using to try to sign up to Match.com and Netflix. Top notch security right there. At least I didn’t have to worry about identity theft…

…until the next day when Equifax revealed that they’d maybe gotten a little bit hacked and maybe half of the US population had had their identity compromised. Apparently I was not affected but if you ever want to lose faith in the system, trying reading about how Equifax has been dealing with this breach. It’s a little devastating.

When finally I crawled my tired but slightly less neurotic self home from work, I quickly packed for the weekend, tidied the apartment a bit, and then headed back out to a friend’s house for dinner. It may sound like a continuation of my bad habit of just pushing through the pain, but I assure you that it was quite the opposite. My most excellent swing friend, Mandy, had listened to my litany of miseries around 1am on Wednesday and had decided that maybe what I needed was some good, wholesome, homey, Chinese food. She could not have been more right. As we sat at her kitchen table eating egg and tomato, beef and potato, and dumpling soup, my stressed little brain relaxed into the carbs and my lungs relinquished their death grip on my bronchioles in exchange for warm soothing soup. It was just exactly what the doctor ordered and I went home a whole lot happier and healthier than I’d been all week.

Come Friday night, we all bailed out of work, finished last minute packing and food preparation, and headed to Albany. Mandy and I met at Delancey and set out to meet two more dance friends, Yuhua and Akane, in Newark. From there we climbed into a rental car (parked in a bus yard—oops!) and set off up the highway to Upstate Dance Challenge. Some two and a half hours later, we arrived at the hotel ready for a weekend of dance.

I have to say that it’s not often we find ourselves tripping over lumpy carpet in an event hotel, but there’s always a first for everything and, in addition to the mountainous carpet, this particular hotel had a hot tub so I was willing to negotiate. I was also delighted to see a bed. Yes, despite napping most of the drive up, I was still totally beat so I passed out for about an hour before heading to the ballroom to dance. I was apparently still destined to cough between every song so I only danced for a few hours before returning to my nest amongst the pillows and blankets to sleep the sickness away.

Saturday morning I woke up relatively early (for a dance event) and caught two workshops before heading back to the room to rest, eat, and get ready to compete. I moseyed my way back to the ballroom just in time to line up for my comp and lodge a small prayer with my lungs begging them to behave for just those three little songs of competition before I’d be released to cough my little heart out. They mostly obliged.

Once I’d coughed a bit, filmed some friends, and discovered a gnawing hunger in my belly (okay fine, a granola bar is not actually lunch) I set out with a couple other dancers to the nearest source of food: Moe’s. It’s basically bargain bin chipotle but it did the trick as I sat satisfied at the edge of the dance floor filling my face with a confused combination of taco, burrito, and quesadilla. It was tasty. I will not try to comprehend.

When the last of the comps wrapped up, there was a magical half hour before the next workshop so I took another divine little cat nap before fitting in one more workshop before the dinner break. Since I was still absolutely stuffed full of tex mex, I took the dinner break as a hot tub break and crawled into the warm froth of the jacuzzi. I know that 104 probably isn’t a safe temperature for a public jacuzzi, but whatever they had it at was entirely too bathtubby for this lover of scalding showers. It was still, however, relaxing and pleasant enough to hold my attention for about 20 minutes before I bounded back to the room to shower and get ready for another workshop.

I had intended to take two more, but after the first it was clear that the most urgent item in my agenda was a return to my pillow where I passed out for another few hours before dragging myself out to social dance for few hours. On my way to the ballroom I found the results from prelims posted and was pleased to find I’d made finals. I then stopped briefly in the vicinity of the results for chats with several groups of other dance acquaintances and friends before finally getting back on the path to the dance floor. Just as I headed on into the ballroom however, I was paused by a text beckoning me to a room party. Predictably, I did an about face, traversed the carpet cascades once more and soon found myself lounging about drinking wine, eating chips, and chatting with excellent people. It was lovely.

I did eventually make it down to dance but my lungs were still in a foul mood so I kept it short and made my way to bed relatively early in hopes of having even a little energy for finals the next day.

The final day of the event I got up, packed all of my things, and headed down to the ballroom. I watched a few workshops, saving my strength for competing, and then in no time at all, it was my turn to hit the floor. Honestly, I would have been happy to draw a lot of the leads in my division, but I was especially delighted to draw a friendly, tall fellow whose first response upon seeing we’d been paired was to say “oh goody! I get to be tall this time.” It’s nice to feel one’s abnormalities appreciated, especially when one is a dancer and one’s abnormality is height.

We had three excellent dances with only a few little hiccups and then it was over and it was time to watch the rest. I always enjoy watching the higher divisions, especially the All Stars. They have fantastic senses of humour and such wonderful musicality. It might take me a while, but I’d like to dance with them someday and be just as clever and coordinated as they are. We shall consider it a stretch goal.

After the comps wrapped up, it was awards time and boy oh boy did New York City ever clean up! We took:

  • Novice: 1st & 3rd
  • Intermediate: 1st & 2nd
  • Advanced: 2nd & 3rd
  • And at least a few other top three placements that I don’t want to perjure myself by misremembering.

Moments after the final award was handed out we bid our out of town friends goodbye and piled two firsts and a third into the car to drive back to the city. It wasn’t even that late when we got home, but after traversing the mess of the MTA on a Sunday, Mandy and I were exhausted and ready for food. We stopped at Williamsburg Pizza (it is the best, there is no point arguing this) for a couple slices of heaven before we each climbed the stairs back to our respective tenement flats and called it a night. I can’t speak for Mandy but I was in bed almost as soon as I walked in the door and I could have slept even longer. Apparently being sick makes you tired or something.

Which brings us up to the present. I worked all day, brought multiple forms of Vitamin C to the poor soul who took pity on me last week and now has fallen victim to the plague herself, and now am back at home typing this up and plotting another absurdly early night. I am so looking forward to recovering my natural nocturnal tendencies and maybe even having a bit of energy. Revolutionary, I know, but I can hope, can’t I?

Sleepily yours,
The Salsa Girl

In Which a Diaphragm has a Complaint

Remember last week when the blog was late and I was very sick? Well welcome to this week! The head cold is mostly gone but the hacking asthmatic cough remains and let me tell you it’s all kinds of fun. My intercostal muscles are crying and my diaphragm is ready to disown me but I survived one hell of salsa weekend so it’s all good, right? Check in next week. If I’m still upright we’ll know it wasn’t a terrible idea.

But let’s wander on back to where I left you on Wednesday. I was mopey and sick but clever enough to realize that working from home might be just what the doctor ordered. Save your advice about sick days—the guilt from taking a sick day only makes me sicker. I work from home and that’s gotta be good enough.

So Thursday I spent the day in bed on my laptop puttering away at my work and snuffling unceremoniously. When 4pm rolled around I closed the computer and collapsed back into restless dozing, but only for an hour or two before it was time for salsa. Yes, this crazy person had paid several hundred dollars for a congress pass and she wasn’t about to waste it! I put on my favourite jumpsuit, disguised my illness with makeup and set off to Times Square for the New York International Salsa Congress. The Thursday night shows were…well…Thursday night shows, but the dancing was enjoyable and, even better, my former salsa team was there! I had sort of pushed away all thoughts of how nice it is to have a posse at dance, but my goodness is it ever nice to have a posse at dance. I might have to stop being such a loner.

The following day I woke up, shoved myself onto a train and dragged myself up to the office for work. My boss had just returned from a month overseas so there was simply no chance I could take the day off for dance. I finished up in the office around four and bounded off into the city for the first day of the Karel Flores Performance Bootcamp. It started at five so there wasn’t even time to grab dinner, instead I ran to the hotel, strapped on my shoes, and got ready to work!

And work we did. It was one of Karel’s easier choreos but the Mother of Dragons still offered me more than enough to work on. We did a contemporary section which involved dropping to the floor via half splits, rolling across the floor, and bounding back up again to start another sequence. Let’s just say that the floor and I have never gotten along. We’ve come to an agreement involving soles of shoes only and the occasional accident, so intentionally leaping to the floor went about as well as you’d imagine. Add a few high kicks to that and I’ll freely admit that I was very happy to find that not all dancers were to dance all sections. Someday I’ll get my splits and right about then I might also learn to love the floor but for now I’m a lot more comfortable with more traditional mambo.

After three hours of rug burn, bruises, and delicious challenge, I slipped into the ballroom to catch the shows before racing home to shower and change before the social dancing. Friday was the first night of live bands and oh boy was it good! It was a well loved local band that really knows how to play for dancers and so we danced all night long. As an additional bonus, one of my favourite dancers from my days of touring with Salsa Caliente was there. He had to leave on Saturday but we managed to sneak in a dance and he’s absolutely as lovely to dance with as ever. It’s a bit of a funny thing, dancing with people, I hardly know them, I hardly speak with them other than to exchange pleasantries and ask for a dance, but I have such deep and evolved opinions and feelings about them all. Sometimes I think I avoid getting to know them too well lest my favourite dancers prove to be prone to some of the less savoury salsero behaviours.

Come Saturday morning, my cough continued unabated but I was undeterred (and had already paid a pretty penny for it) so I headed back into Midtown to tackle day two of the bootcamp. I’m sure it would have been tiring no matter how you sliced it but I can’t help but think that having a coughing fit in every break was not improving the situation. Three hours later, I stumbled out into the world seeking costume components. I’d looked earlier in the week but it seemed that no where in New York had flown white skirts for sale. White crop tops were everywhere, but white skirts? Hopeless. Somewhere around store number six my temper and the train delays got the better of me and I snatched a strapless white dress of the rack and marched to the till. I do not like dancing without straps but I had neither time nor energy to deal with that fact so it was to be visible bra straps. If anyone had any complaints, I figured I’d just cough at them and hobble away.

Having finally found a costume, I had barely enough time for a tiny nap before changing and heading back into the city for shows. Saturday shows are always a good time and one of my favourite female dancers was over from Turkey so I was simply delighted. She clearly has extensive studio dance training underpinning her salsa and I just think she’s brilliant! Great tricks, great stage presence, and a whole lot of that magical somethin’ somethin’ that all the best dancers just seem to exude.

Following the shows, I popped out for drinks with a pair of visiting Canadians (westies not salseras). Apparently the end of August is when everyone comes to New York and I’m not complaining a bit. We met in a posh little rum bar with a live band and excellent drinks. At some point an aging granny hopped on the piano at her daughter’s urging and actually turned out to be brilliant. Between the excellence of the venue and the fantastic company, it was a very pleasant little interlude.

I returned to the ballroom for the band and a few dances, though I was starting to feel the pain of the bootcamp and the rage of my lungs. I called it half an hour early (at 2:30) and sought a train to carry my broken body home.

Now we had been supposed to practice the choreo on our own on Saturday but after my ignominious foraging for a costume, I’d simply not had the time. So, driven by the sick sense of dedication that I seem unfailingly to possess, I headed in two hours early so that I could work the choreo in a studio before we started to rehearse again. There is not enough coffee in the world to make that feel like anything other than the worst idea but, fortunately, I’m terribly stubborn so I stuck with it and, by 11, I could do the whole salsa section up to speed if not very well.

After another 3.5 hours of training we were released to prepare for the show that evening. We were to rest, do our makeup, and create my most feared hairstyle of all: curls. Anyone who has ever tried to curl my hair knows what I mean, it just doesn’t work. I’ve tried every brand of curling iron and all the different products but my hair just refuses to stay. Even crunchy with hairspray the manage unfailingly to fall. So I decided to try tight braids. Unfortunately, even that requires two days to get a slight ridiculous but durable 80s crimp so when I took out the braids I found myself with slightly frizzy, very hairsprayed, straight hair. I consider it dedication that I went out and bought a curling iron. I consider it vindication that even that didn’t work and I and my increasingly ratty mass of hair headed back to the hotel.

We had a very quick tech rehearsal and then headed to the green room to change and put the finishing touches on our looks. We were meant to be 4th in the show order but when the stage managers are New Yorkers, those who are not ready, do not perform and suddenly we were second. Until the MC made a booboo and suddenly we were back to third. Of course there is a story but for the sake of propriety I will not be sharing it here. Suffice to say, I have opinions.

When it was finally time to perform the adrenaline booted in and despite my breathless exhaustion I survived. It wasn’t pretty, but I survived. And that is how I was reminded that I still have a LOT to learn, the first of which being how to maintain good posture while nervous and gasping. I’ll keep you posted on how well that does or doesn’t work out.

After we performed, I changed and caught the rest of the shows before catching up with the Salsa Caliente ladies for a chat before the band got started. We’ve been through some things, but when it all comes down to it, there is still such a bond and they are really lovely ladies. Finishing up our wine, we headed down to catch the one and only Bobby Valentin. In the last few dj songs before the band, I was asked to dance several times and by the third song I found myself unable to inhale. Apparently the combination of coughing and powering through choreography before artistically collapsing to the floor, had done me in entirely. My entire chest was tight and rigid and so I decided that it would be a night for enjoying the music and watching the band. I felt bad turning people down but when it comes to dancing or breathing, I have to admit that the latter is required for the former and the latter must overcome the former no matter how little I like it.

As soon as the band wrapped up, I gathered my things, had a brief break, chat, and jujube session with Salsa Caliente, and then headed off home to sleep. My restless, noisy sleep carried me through until noon the next day when I decided it was probably time to get up and manage some life admin. I hadn’t done laundry in two weeks, I hadn’t had food in the house for a week, and I certainly hadn’t cleaned anything. So I started with a coffee and a croissant sandwich at the inimitable Ceci Cela bakery and then set to work.

By the time it was time to head to Taj, I had clean clothes, fresh food, and two days of prepared lunches. After my indulgent rest, I was also surprising fresh myself for a final night of dance. For those who have not been to the New York Congress, very nearly the best night is the night after the congress ends, Monday at Taj. The crowd is fun, the music is great, and the vibe is much cozier and clubby rather than showy and ballroomy. And of course, if I didn’t already love Taj, New Swing Sextet was playing and they are a band that can’t be missed. In fact, they were the very first salsa band that I came to love.

You see, salsa can be hard to untrained ears unfamiliar with the rhythms and the particular vocal timbre used, but the instant I heard New Swing Sextet, I loved them. They use a lot of piano, a healthy dose of vibes and comparatively little vocals which made them much more approachable for me. I’ve since come to love all manner of salsa, but like the puppy love of youth, there will forever be a cosy corner of my heart set aside just for them. They really are great.

I arrived a bit early in order to get in a bit cheaper and found the Salsa Caliente crew snugged into a booth waiting for food. We sat and chatted and got picked off by dancers looking for a partner often in the form of whoever was nearest the edge. Having arrive last, I danced lots. Somehow, despite my illness and the subsequent low caloric consumption (when feeling asthmatic, I cannot bear the thought of anything extraneous entering my thoracic region) I managed to enjoy both a glass of sangria and a mojito without undue impact upon my dancing—or at least so I thought. No one seemed bothered by my dancing though and one even told me I had “swing” so I think I was alright.

We will not discuss how late I stayed out on a Monday night, but I will say that the subway was full of adventures. I’m not sure what happened but there was a very distressed man roaming about the platform shouting about how the city was being taken over by white racists and we were all white racists, and he hoped all white people would die. Studied deafness is incredibly useful at such times.

Then, quite suddenly, it was morning and I was climbing back on the commuter train to the office for another day of work. I pity my poor colleagues, at least one of whom is convinced I have pneumonia. I think I’ve just got cantankerous lungs. She’s given me a week to recover before I have to call the doctor. I don’t want to contribute to the antibiotic resistance problem unless absolutely necessary and I suspect that the doctors will give me only one of two options: rest and/or antibiotics. I have chosen rest until functioning ceases entirely.

And now I’m lying in bed, eating the remains of a starfruit between diaphragmatic spasms while an unusual quantity of police helicopters hovers overhead. Apparently Trump doesn’t like the DACA protestors. I can’t imagine they like him much either.

Spasmodically yours,
The Salsa Girl