In Which There was Westie and it was Wild

You know it’s been a good weekend when you spend all day Monday dragging your drooping eyelids through work, only to pass out the instant you get home. Yes, I was off at another dance weekend–and it was amazing–but before we get to that, we have 4th of July shenanigans to cover. This might be a bit of a long one.

After I polished off last week’s wander through the weeds of my daily adventures, I headed out to rehearsal. I’d been trying to come up with a way to add a little pre-July 4th fun into my life, but I figured that no one would be overly excited about coming down (or up for the Brooklyn folk) to the LES for a drink at 11pm on a Tuesday, even though the next day was a holiday. So after various musings and machinations, I’d given up and resolved that I’d just have to wait until the weekend, right up until we were leaving the studio and one of the other girls just happened to mention the margarita bar down at street level. The rest was history. I have so missed having a tribe of salsa dancing ladies with whom to work hard and play harder. It’s very hard to explain all the delights and vagaries of salsa to people who are not deeply embedded in it, and it’s even harder to be embedded in it and not have anyone to talk to. So you could say it was a good night.

Come Wednesday morning, I celebrated the holiday by sleeping indulgently in. You may recall that last year I channelled my inner idiot and walked an estimated 50km in 8 hours in the sweltering heat. You may also be delighted to hear that this year I toned that down to a casual hour long stroll around 1pm that delivered me into an air conditioned apartment full of friends and food. We ate, we danced, we lazed about, and around 6:30pm I slipped back out into the summery evening to snag a spot for fireworks.

Having walked past the Manhattan side of the East River last year, I was not enthusiastic about our chances of finding a good spot on this side, so my visiting German friend, Pia, and I headed over to Queens for a night market full of food, and a riverside hopefully a little less full of people. The night market was indeed full of food, so much so that it proved quite difficult to choose. Pia ended up with falafel and a pink lemonade while I tucked into a bowl of delicious (if rather tepid) momos and a cup of watermelon and basil iced tea. When we got down to the river, we found an already extensive crowd filling in the grassy patches with fairly impressive thoroughness. Fortunately we were able to claim a small spot at the top of a little rise which positioned us, if not perfectly, at least adequately to watch the shows to come.

The evening began with an overflight of what I think were NYPD helicopters in tight formation. Shortly after they passed, the fire boats steamed out into the middle of the river and put on a well and truly impressive water show with giant arcs of coloured water streaming from more nozzles than I would have ever imagined belonging to a boat. When darkness finally fell, the barges were in position, the helicopters were ringed around the exclusion zone, and the fireworks began. It was intense. Multistage fireworks that produced three to four different colours and movement patterns, were interspersed with more classic explosions and sprays of fire from the barges below. They had so many variations and combinations, and then they brought out the shimmering after-effects. I have no idea what kind of insane chemistry goes into the rockets, but it was beautiful. As a bonus of being on the Queens side, the fireworks not only lit up the sky above us, but also reflected in rippling currents of light off the skyscrapers behind them–at least until the smoke got too thick.

It was entirely worth the wait, the heat, and even the lady with no respect for personal space who ended up squatting, basically straddling me from behind, and flailing her phone around my head in her dedicated efforts to record only the very most exciting bits of every moment of the show. My goal for next year is to befriend someone with a nice apartment overlooking the river so I can pass on all the inconvenience and get straight to the brilliant colours and light.

Thursday morning, the real world came back at me hard, as I spent my morning waiting for radiology appointments. It’s nothing serious in the slightest, but my doctor had referred me to get an ultrasound and an x-ray (mostly for benchmarking purposes) and so there I was in Mount Sinai at 8:30am waiting. I had forgotten to bring a book so all I had was my quickly thickening stack of work emails, and all the impatience that came along with them. When they finally called me into the back I had the delightful experience of cold jelly being pressed and smeared rather forcefully all over my throat as they conducted the neck ultrasound. I have to say, it’s not a ten minutes I would ever choose to repeat. The x-ray was significantly more mundane, but once all the waiting was factored in, I’d been there nearly an hour and I was chomping at the bit to get down to the office.

After a busy day at work, I headed up to Ripley for a bit of extra salsa practice followed by an indulgent little stop at Daa Dumplings on my way home. It’s a little Russian dumpling shop in the Columbus Circle subway station and it’s delightful. The dumplings are delicious and the condiments are even better. I normally get their red pepper, tomato, something sauce, but this time I got spicy mustard, and holy horseradish it was hot. I credit the subsequent scouring of my sinuses for the fact that I have been at two busy dance weekends in a row and don’t seem to have fallen ill just yet.

And that brings us to Friday and my very early morning trip to LGA. I was up around 4am to get to the airport by 5:30am with the express purpose of having enough time to play posh and indulge in a little airport lounge time. Jessie just recently got access to the Amex airport lounges, and so, since we were taking the same flight to Dallas, we could not miss out on a free breakfast buffet and a mimosa or two. In all the travel I’ve done, I’ve never once been in an airport lounge, and I have been missing out. The food and drinks were delicious and free, there were outlets everywhere, and they even had cameras watching the various security check points so that you could keep track of TSA wait times and correctly plan your wander down to your gate. It was a pretty solid way to spend way-too-early-o’clock at the airport.

Some hours later, we were walking to the airport hotel at DFW for a weekend of dance which may very well become a mandatory annual schlep to Texas. Seriously, if you haven’t been to Wild Wild Westie, you’re missing out and not just on the hotel water flavoured with melon pieces carved into the shape of high heeled shoes.

In order to attempt to begin to do justice to this amazing event, I’m going to break from my usual diary format and tackle the weekend by topic, but first, let me say that the vibe was just so good. We had an East Coast table full of wonderful people (too many of whom I don’t normally have a chance to chat with), a room full of excellent roomies, and a weekend full of fantastic dancers from literally all over the country–god I’ve missed Californians. My performance in comps was neither here nor there, but there were so many good people, and so much learning, and I think, maybe, just maybe, I finally have a sense of what I need to do to level up my dancing and get at least a few steps closer to the true potential of this enigmatic dance.

So let’s start by talking about the classes. I often don’t take enough classes when I go to events, but since I was only doing one competition and the classes were both relatively few and levelled, I figured I ought to go do some learning. I was not to be disappointed. On Friday we started with a really great connection workshop with Meech and rolled through a musicality class with Gary and Susan. On Saturday it was more connection with Ben and Victoria and a turning class with Tara, before we finally hit the critique session with Jen and Michael on Sunday. The teaching calibre was so high and so much of the material was so wonderfully technique focussed. It was the antithesis of the dreaded pattern class and, because it was levelled and early, the classes were relatively small and very focussed which allowed us to really eat up the material and maybe even get a few things to stick.

In addition to the levelled classes, they also ran two midnight solo movement classes on Saturday night, which is how I ended up throwing myself at the floor more than a few times around 1am at a westie weekend. Yes, I took the contemporary class with Victoria and Tara and it was fire. As a small disclaimer, the piece they were teaching was to the song that I am currently learning performance choreo for with the salsa team, so my brain was crying a little bit in confusion, but it was just so good! From the creepy animalistic shapes to the slightly insane but also deeply awesome contorted turns and even down to the floor work, it just felt so damn good. The giant bruises smeared across my knees and elbows the next day felt less good, but it was 100% worth it.

And then as if I hadn’t taken enough classes already, I also decided to take a private with Tren. She’s so darn slick and confident and cool, and I keep thinking the if I could have just a fraction of that coolness, I’d be so much closer to where I want to be. One lesson is never enough, but it certainly was a good first step. I now have some tools to help me take my current set of movement skills out of salsa and into west coast swing without undermining its connection or the aesthetic. So I’ll be spending a lot of time with music and my mirror in the coming weeks. Wish me luck.

Alongside all of the classes, I was also fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take part in the AI Mentorship program. I almost didn’t apply, because I’m shy like that, but boy am I ever glad I did. It was such an excellent program! The planned activities were great–I never say no to more critique sessions–but more importantly, for me, it gave me the opportunity to actually get to know the higher level dancers outside of my local community who I would normally be far too shy to impose myself upon. It also created a sense of community amongst all of the participants, Intermediate and All Star, which I’ve yet to experience at any previous event, including ESS. Tracy and Taletha have created a really special thing in this program.

But above and beyond all the structural magic of the AI program, I really have to hand it to my mentor, Conor McClure. He was so generous with his time and knowledge, and my goodness does he ever have a lot of training and knowledge! I feel like I learned so much, and just cannot put into words how grateful I am and how much this has shifted how I’ve been feeling about my dancing and progression. It was just so damn good. Amusingly, unbeknownst to anyone involved in the pairing process, we also both have backgrounds in linguistics and ties to Ireland which made for only a few slightly nerdy diversions from the dance talk into the phonology of Gaeilge and the idiosyncrasies of Ireland.

When I wasn’t packing my brain full of all of the things, I was watching dancers do all of the amazing things in higher level comps and social dancing the night away–quite literally. The Champs final was insane. People were crawling on the floor and knocking it out of the park with humour and musicality. I can only dream of the day when I have enough training and technique to be able to bring that much personality to the table and still kill it on the technical side. Even the All Stars were great. The North East was repping hard with all of our local All Stars making finals and one of them (yes, the inimitable Kristen Shaw) even taking home first place. I would be lying if I said I didn’t do at least a little laryngeal damage screaming for them, but they deserved it and even more.

After all the amazing daytime (okay, not really day time, but before 2am?) activities, there was also just so much fantastic social dancing. The ambient level of dance was ridiculously high, and since I bombed my comps, there was no need to do any sleeping. In related news, I stayed up until about 5am on Friday night and maybe all the way until 8am on Saturday? I’m not quite sure what happened but I think my salsa congress brain kicked in and I had nothing but energy. Plus there were mugs.

One of the many fun perks of Wild Wild Westie is the Saturday night mug give away. Near the end of the night, once the floor has reduced to 250 people or so, they give out mugs sponsored by another convention. This year’s mugs were sponsored by Swingtacular: The Galactic Open and featured their quirky little alien Silve Yelserp. They were given out at 7:30am. Yup, you heard me right, there were still 250 people in the ballroom at 7:30am. There were probably more, but in efforts to manage the numbers, right before the mug giveaway they hit us with an escalating BPM curve from 105 to Scatman over the course of 5 songs. Now I don’t usually think of myself as someone who likes fast swing, but there’s something about Scatman on a crowded floor at 7:30am that nothing else can even touch. It probably helped that my progression of leaders over those 5 songs had also been pretty great but whatever it was, I was giddily tripling through Scatman like someone with way more energy than I had any right to have, especially since I didn’t even really nap. I grabbed a quick hour from 1:30-2:30am but other than that I was running on pure love of the dance.

Once the mugs were distributed, the ballroom cleared considerably and I mustered my courage to ask Meech for a dance. It still seems so strange to me that I used to dance with him once a week in Shanghai, and I cannot even begin to imagine how much he must have been compensating for my painfully beginner self in those dances, but I will always remember them as a key formative moment in my west coast swing, when I began to realize just how versatile and powerful this dance could be. And even though I’ve now put a lot more hours and dollars into training my westie, dancing with Meech still makes me feel like a minnow in the ocean of this dance’s potential. There’s just so much breadth and depth and variety in his connection, and that’s to say nothing of the musicality and vocabulary that he brings to the table. I’ve got a long way to go, but dancing with Meech makes me want to train so hard, because someday I want to be able to meet that kind of connection, vocabulary, and musicality on a level. #dancergoals

So it was kind of a good weekend, I don’t know if you could tell or anything. But as all dance weekends do, Wild Wild Westie swung into Sunday and only too soon it was time to bid everyone farewell and head off to the airport. I then proceeded to unnerve all of my fellow gate watchers be eschewing a chair to sit stretching on the floor for the entire hour I waited to board. I had hoped that stretched-Brittney would be sleepy Brittney, but it was not to be. So I listened to music, folded origami out of my napkin, and watched the sun dip below the horizon as we soared over Lake Erie.

We came into New York around 11pm which meant that, from Central Jersey all the way to JFK, the view out of my window was an endless rippling blanket of glittering light. It looked like someone had thrown a fist full of rhinestones down from the sky, and while we’re getting poetic, it looked just exactly like the place where I belong, a blend of obsessive grid work, and rambling suburbs all shining with just a little too much life.

And now, it’s 11:30pm and I really should get this wrapped up. By some strange magic I don’t seem to be falling victim to the back-to-back-dance-weekend-death-cold, but that may be a tenuous state of being and so I daren’t press my luck with any more late nights this week.

Exhausted and swungover, but oh so happy,
The Salsa Girl

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In Which the World is Entirely Composed of Dance and Heat

Another week, another late blog… and this time I haven’t even an excuse. I had all day yesterday to write it, but somehow the whole day slipped away and the blog hadn’t written itself yet. So here I am today, typing away, in hopes that this will come together quickly enough that I can go straight to bed after dance. But excuses (or the lack of them) notwithstanding, let’s take a trip back to Wednesday.

Directly after work, I headed down to Bareburger for a dinner with our summer students. I so love the veggie burgers at Bareburger! And chatting with the students wasn’t half bad either. Immediately after dinner, I raced home, changed, and headed off into Midtown to practice with Patrick C. An hour or so later, we were off to Westie Cafe to dance the rest of the night away, and yes I was exhausted when I eventually managed to wander my way back home.

Thursday was meant to be a day in which I finally sat down and sorted out some fairly critical life admin, but instead I involuntarily passed out for the better part of the evening. I did eventually wake up, but only with enough time to pack my few remaining clean clothes into a bag for the weekend, pretend to tidy my room, and then plop back into bed.

Thanks to my body’s clever decision to cease verticality and function on Thursday, Friday would end up a complete madhouse. By 7:45am I was in the office with all of my luggage and absolutely no capacity to be productive. I slogged through some four and a half hours of work before bolting out of the office Manhattan bound. My first stop was Essex Market where I picked up the hallowed chestnuts of Mandy fame. From there it was into Midtown to snag a few shirts for theme night and then at last a dash to Penn Station to meet Patrick T and catch the 1:36pm train to New Brunswick. If it’s not already become abundantly clear, we were on our way to a dance event: the inimitable Liberty Swing. It’s one of the best run and most welcoming events I know and it sits side by side with Swingcouver on my list of the best places to swing.

On Friday night, it was strictlies, pizza, and themed outfits. Patrick C and I managed to sneak our way into the intermediate strictly swing finals. Don’t ask what place we got when we got there, but we were still very pleased to have out danced over half the field to make our way into the finals at all. After comps, I changed into my theme night top. Yes, I am still an incorrigible lover of all things costume-y, but due to a shortage of time and resources, I hadn’t been able to go nearly as overboard as I might have liked. Instead, I like to think that I managed to pull off a fairly deft navigation of my increasingly schizoid sense of belonging with only a very modest amount of arts and crafts.

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And then it was pizza time! A big part of why Liberty is so great, is the sheer quantity of food that is available for free throughout the event. Friday night is Pizza Night, Saturday night is the Cake Party, breakfast is included in the pass, and you’d be hard pressed to find a moment in the ballroom when there weren’t at least two massive bowls of apples and bananas lording over a collection of small bowls of mints and candy. You could say that we’re well looked after.

Fuelled by a few slices of perfectly greasy cheese pizza, I then proceeded to dance the night away. I don’t really remember when I fell into bed, but I know that I was tired enough that I had no problems curling up on a love seat half my length and passing into the sweetest of oblivions right up until my Saturday morning alarm hauled me back into the waking world.

Yes, we had thought that the hotel had a fold out couch in the king bed room we’d booked, but when we got there the answer was “absolutely not, never did” and the only available alternative was a roll out twin. With four people in a room, one king bed and one twin still leaves one poor sod bedless. That poor sod would be me. You see, two of my roomies have back problems of the sort that would have done some serious damage to their weekend without a proper mattress so the king was spoken for. My back problems are more of the long term, familiar old friend variety so I wasn’t about to fight with the acute ailments for bed space, and the twin cot was terribly mushy, so I decided that my grumpy old spine would probably be best served by the short but at least firm extent of the couch. It worked quite well the first night, but by the second night of mandatory all night fetal position, my back remained unperturbed but my thighs were full of opinions, none of them nice.

Sleeping arrangements regardless, I got up the next morning, ate breakfast, and headed down to compete. I had decided to enter my first pro-am Jack n Jill. Though it was very fun, they only did one round which meant that the winners were picked from a field of about 40 dancing in less than ten minutes. To say it was efficient would be an understatement. It was however a very fun few minutes of dancing with three very generous pros.

After pro-ams it was straight into Jack n Jills. I had been doing fairly well in my last few events, but apparently having gone nearly two months without competing meant that I was in no shape to do anything of use. I made semis by the skin of my teeth, and received nothing but No’s for passing into finals. I would like to say that I accepted that result gracefully, but my videographers had yet to send me my dances and, as the dances had felt alright, I was really struggling to accept followers I normally beat, making it in ahead of me. The following day when I finally saw my videos, I was humbled to the dirt. Every bad habit I have and half of my practice group’s bad habits had manifested in my dancing, entirely unbeknownst to me, and unevidenced in the previous practice session’s videos. Without belabouring it any further, I will just say that was a very effective reality check.

In the wake of disappointing results, I combined cake with booze and as many good people as I could find, before schlepping my frustrated butt down to the ballroom. I am normally a fairly passive person at dance. I wait for people to ask me, I am shy about asking pros, I never want to bother anyone. But on Saturday, I had something to prove. Plus, we’d made goals for the event at the last practice and having completely failed the first (get to finals) I could not bear to fail the second (dance with two new pros). So I put on my assertive face and waded into the fray. I don’t think I’ve ever danced with that many pros and all stars in a single night. I’ve also never danced that many west coast swing songs in a row, and I’ve certainly never even been close to doing either by my own volition. I am frustratingly responsive to feelings of humiliation and injustice–justified or not.

Fortunately the people that I danced with seemed to be having fun (or were decent enough to allow me that impression) and so I left the ballroom around 6:45am feeling that even if I was backsliding in competition, I could at least put a smile on a few leaders’ faces.

I should also mention that somewhere in all the chaos and emotion of the day, I watched the classic and showcase divisions. It was my first time seeing some of the new routines and they were beautiful. Though I don’t feel any particular drive to take part in was choreography, I can’t help but be moved by some of the pieces, especially live. My personal favourite was Chantelle and Dillon’s showcase routine to Hozier’s Work Song. They danced it like a prayer and I was transfixed.

Sunday morning, everything started to catch up with me. I rolled out of bed to a pair of quads that had absolutely no intention of carrying me anywhere other than down to the hot tub. And so, since I had no further competitions to dance in, I skipped breakfast and piled myself into the elevator to the pool level. It’s been a while since I enjoyed a good soak in the perfect peace and quiet of a room empty but for me. When the water got too hot, I swam a few lazy laps of breast stroke in the pool, and then climbed back in. Had there not been a check out time nipping at my heels, I might have spent hours there. Instead I hauled myself out, showered, packed and headed back to the ballroom to watch the remaining competitions. Highlights included Lily Auclair’s pro-am routine with her dad (I cried), Patrick T kicking ass in the switch Jack n Jill, and lots of my friends absolutely killing it on the dance floor.

After a small interlude to introvert, I ended up out at the local hot dog joint eating devilled eggs and fries–their veggie dog featured tummy wrecking cheese in the sausage itself–in excellent company. After dinner, I spent some more time with the bartender extraordinaire, Edem, who was whipping up Gordon’s Cups with watermelon. I don’t know how I ever partied at events before I met Edem, but I certainly wasn’t drinking anything even close to the levels of delicious that I’m now privy to. After a few hours of fairly low key room partying, we all trickled down to the Sunday night dance to get our last bits of dancing in before the event truly ended. The last song played sometime before 4am, but by the time we’d rallied the troops and gathered all the last bits of luggage, we were catching the 5:23am train back to New York. We stumbled out into Midtown just before the morning rush hour began and I, drooping eyelids and all, made it back to my apartment just in time to collapse.

I might have slept all day, but sometime around 10am, the mariachi started in the Mexican bar across the street. I groggily noted that Mexico must be playing another World Cup match and slipped back into sleep. Not long after, I woke to sounds of sports fan distress of the acutest kind. Apparently the opponent had scored. I was nonetheless determined to get a few more moments of sleep so I tucked myself back under the covers and slid into a doze. When Brazil scored their second goal, and the bar erupted in sorrow, I gave up on sleep and set out to buy groceries, make breakfast, do laundry and some life admin, and tidy my mess of a room. I was more or less successful, but somehow did not quite get around to the blog before it was time to drag my sorry butt up to Harlem to try to practice some of the bad habits out of my body before next weekend’s event in Texas.

Have I mentioned that Patrick T is awesome? Because he really is, and fingers crossed, with his help, I might have a hope of not horribly embarrassing myself when I get to Wild Wild Westie. I still need to keep drilling and beating the bad habits out of my body, but at least I know have an idea of the good habits that I want to claw my way towards. Check in next week to see if I managed to make enough progress in time.

And with that, we’re up to the here and now. I should probably head to salsa fairly shortly, but until then I’ll be lounging around eating pasta and pinto bean salad listening to the thunder that is finally breaking the sticky sweltering mess of a day we’ve had.

Still striving,
The Salsa Girl

In Which the Cake is Not a Lie

It’s been a busy week. After three weeks of exhaustion and illness, I was finally functional, which obviously meant that it was time to overdo it again. It’s almost like I’m predictable or something…

My over-enthusiastic dive back into life began with the usual rehearsal with the salsa ladies. Thus far, my inflexibility has only emerged in high kicks, but alas that could not last forever. Last week we began learning a part of last year’s choreography for a performance that is coming up only too quickly. And of course, this piece includes a split. It’s only a jazz split, but for my pathetically inflexible hips and groin, even a jazz split is far from easily attainable. The greatest frustration is that I am very flexible in a forward bend, and my side bends are pretty damn solid, but if you ask me to stretch into any form of split, it’s gonna be a bad time. I am now stretching daily, but I almost feel like it’s getting worse. It might be an interest time at rehearsal tonight.

The following day featured an actual lunch, eaten at an actual restaurant, with people and conversation. It was a big step up from my usual bagged lunch eaten alone at desk. After work, it was off to contemporary. Yes, I am taking yet another dance class, but in my defence, I won’t be able to catch a weekend contemporary class until the latter part of July. It was a wonderful. The warmup was really nice and all the feet in the combo were flexed which is apparently what my body prefers. And then, all warmed up and full of contemporary, Patrick and I headed down to Westie Cafe. It was a strange night. I’m not sure why, but I felt monstrously off kilter most of the night and I wasn’t the only one. Perhaps it was the weather.

Thursday night, I had expected to be hideously over booked but instead, actually had a moment to breathe. I used that moment to buy and make pasta with fresh basil, garlic, tomato, and olive oil. It was heaven in a bowl. Once fed, I bounded into midtown for a private lesson with Patrick C. We’re competing together at Liberty this coming weekend and wanted to clean up a few things so we booked a lesson with the wonderful Kristen Shaw. She’s such an excellent teacher and the lesson was exactly what I needed to get my westie brain back into shape.

After dance and a bit more stretching, I dropped by Michaels to give in to my baking habit. I now own 10 frosting tips and two cake pans. I can only defend myself by saying that (1) I needed them for the weekend and (2) they were on sale!

Friday saw me leaving the office in a state of exhaustion so profound that I nearly called it a night, but I’m determined to acquire the coolness associated with hip hop so I dragged my butt out anyway. I was glad I did. The teacher is a bit of a mad woman but I like her and her classes are always great fun. I’m still miles from cool, but I managed to learn the choreo and even got a compliment from the instructor, so I’ll take it.

On Saturday I found myself at the very bottom of my laundry pile, with no choice but to schlep out to the laundromat and turn my giant pile of dirty clothes into a bag of fresh laundry. But I was not about to start my day with the painstaking laundry process so instead I headed down to Essex Market to fetch some ingredients for breakfast. I ended up coming home with fresh bread, eggs, greens, and mangos. They were perfectly ripe and very much on sale. Fried eggs on fresh bread rubbed with tomato, drizzled with olive oil, and garnished with fresh basil… it was heaven, especially when paired with fresh coffee and a pile of diced ripe mango. And only enabled a little (large) bit of procrastination on the laundry project.

By the time the laundry was done, the apartment was also a lot cleaner and I was ready to veg out again… at least until dance. We were dancing at a bar so there were drinks and dinner before I settled in to man the door for the evening. I rather like looking after the door. I get to chat with everyone, watch all the dancing, sneak in a few songs, and be utterly lazy all at the same time. It was a fun night. It was however, to be slightly marred by the infuriating antics of the MTA. I left the dance at the end of the night and headed to 42nd St. Herald Square. When I reached the platform, I was met by a sign informing me that there would be no F or D trains at this station. I had checked the “planned work” before going to dance, this was not “planned work”.

As I stood on the platform trying to work out exactly what sort of insanity was going down, a track worker on the other platform shouted over to tell me that there were no trains but that I could find a guy upstairs who could help me. I was rather more inclined to sort it out myself on the internet, but your man on the other platform seemed adamant that I should head upstairs so I gave in and up I went. When I reached the mezzanine I was met by an MTA employee with a stack of subway maps and no damn clue what he was doing. His only phrase was “take the 7 to Times Square. All of the trains are at Times Square.” Being me, I was not about to subject myself to Times Square until I knew whether or not I would actually even be able to get home, so I asked him “okay but where is the F train going from Times Square”. After shouting his one phrase at me several times and being met by my increasingly less patient rephrasing of my question, he finally decided that the F would be running as an F from Times Square. It’s a nice idea but I’m pretty sure such a route is impossible so I gave up, and walked away to rely on the internet. The answer was “no, the F train is not going over the F line. Not even a little.” In fact, there were no trains going to my neck of the woods. I could have caught something to a J train and then rode that across, but I was too tired and too aggravated by my MTA encounter, so I marched back out into the night and walked. It’s an hour, but honestly, with the MTA in emergency maintenance mode, there’s no guarantee that the trains wouldn’t have taken even longer.

The next morning, a very sleepy salsa girl rolled out of bed, made breakfast, and headed up to GCT to catch a train. I was joined by the birthday boy, Patrick and in about 40 odd minutes we were arriving in White Plains and I was ready to take over the kitchen. Being a bit baking obsessed, I hate to miss an opportunity for showy cake making, so obviously Patrick’s birthday had to be celebrated with cake.

With the carrot grating expertise of Jessie and Patrick to assist me, I baked first a single round of gingerbread followed by two rounds of carrot cake and then it was time to let them cool. While I was baking a few other friends had arrived, and while the cakes cooled, we headed down to the studio to practice. I still haven’t found time to watch the videos, but I will, just as soon as this blog is written and rehearsal is done, and to be honest, I don’t know when I’ll actually manage to watch them, but it will happen before liberty.

After the practice, I popped back into the kitchen to whip up some cream cheese frosting and assemble the cake. Alas the icing was both a bit too soft and a bit to scarce so my decorating plans were somewhat foiled, but no one complained about eating it, even after enthusiastic consumption of Thai food. I don’t want to candy my own ginger, but it was pretty damn delicious.

Following cake and some more socializing, it was time to catch a train. It was also apparently monsoon season. It was dry when we left Jessie’s apartment on the 11th floor, but by the time we reached the sidewalk, it was a very nearly tropical downpour and we only had three umbrellas between the four of us. To be honest, the umbrellas were of very little use even for those that had an entire umbrella for themselves. I managed to keep my laptop dry which was my only hope. The rest of me was soaked completely through. I was a spectacularly bedraggled beast, slightly glittered from the post pride train ride, when I finally reached my door and promptly collapsed.

And then it was Monday and work was staring me down once more, but it was a little less menacing because I was being given a chance to attend the first day of a week long module on the Future of Cities run by Imperial Business College. It was an interesting day, but alas the regular Monday work didn’t really let up so it was a very long day of lectures interspersed with work in every break they gave us. I crawled out of the office just after 5pm and headed north. Patrick and I were on an adventure to Washington Heights to hang out with a most excellent friend, Emily. It had been a while so it was wonderful to see her and catch up on all the best bits of life, the universe, and gossip.

And that brings us up to today where you find me typing away into the night after a 3 hour rehearsal during which I’m pretty sure I undid all of the good work that my chiropractor had done a few hours before. But it was a very stimulating rehearsal and I’m only a little bit entirely covered in bruises, so I’m calling it a great success. I might have to stop paying my chiropractor to fix me if I’m just going to undo it a few hours later. Priorities are funny things.

Tired by happy,
The Salsa Girl

In Which We Went to Washington

Y’all almost didn’t get a blog tonight. I had every intention of livin’ that New York life and spending my whole evening on the lawn at Bryant Park, first to claim a patch of grass and then to watch an open air movie surrounded by strangers. But then, after three hours of waiting, somewhere around the third screen in the title sequence, the clouds overhead decided that in a day of nearly 100 degree heat they really had picked up enough liquid and energy to put on a fairly spectacular show of force. I suppose I shouldn’t be all that surprised that the sudden arrival of a thunderstorm would trigger a complete halt to the whole adventure of covering an open field with people, all in the relatively near proximity of a giant screen. Safety first.

So now, I’m back in my sweltering apartment, marvelling in the wonder of biological engineering that is resulting in the rain drying off my body just in time to be replaced by sweat. I feel like I’m in a perpetual moisture machine. I know. I’m a delight. But instead of regaling you with more tales of New York City in the summer, let me get down to business and tell you what I’ve been up to this last 7 days or so.

Monday was a scintillating drama involving yours truly leaving work, buying groceries, and heading home to rest off the remainder of the death cold. It has been a persistent companion, but I think it’s finally properly on the run.

Tuesday was a similarly uninventive evening which featured a trip to the snap, crackle, pop shop followed by another two hours of challenging but deeply satisfying rehearsal. And then it was time for Wednesday’s shenanigans. As I was already scraping the bottom of both the laundry barrel and the prepared food pile, I elected to do laundry and throw together some meals before bounding off to Westie Cafe.

As if to make up for the mundanity of the first part of the week, Thursday was deliciously overbooked. After work, I hopped off to the local brewery for a very much loved coworker’s goodbye party. We’re going to miss her a great deal–especially during grant season–but it sounds like she’s off to bigger, better things, and the goodbye party was great fun! So fun in fact that I was late to my next adventure: Edem’s pre-birthday shenanigans. We began with a massive family style Jamaican dinner at The Islands in Brooklyn. It’s a very laid back, informal place and the food is phenomenal. I ditched my recent vegetarianism for a hot second to enjoy lamb, goat, oxtail, and shrimp in every delicious sauce imaginable. #soworthit

Once fed, we headed next door for a round of the inimitable nerdeoke at The Way Station. The Way Station is a charming little geek bar with a Tardis bathroom, a menu full of movie references, and a whole load of musical theatre geeks. The crew I was with was leaning hard Hamilton and it was glorious! The hit of the night was My Shot as a duet–it was pure fire. It also kept me out until after midnight which is maybe not so advisable when you’re in the office by 8am, but let’s not think too much, shall we?

Conveniently enough, Friday would be a very busy day featuring a totally unexpected training session on the Washington Square campus. It was a fun day, which is how I excuse the water bottle of booze that came along with me to dance later that night. It was another outing for my delicious Scottish rhubarb gin and it was very enjoyable. It also facilitated another late night out. It’s almost like I don’t actually want to get rid fo this cold or something. But even then, was I finished? Of course not! The next morning I was bounding out of bed to catch a train to Williamsburg for brunch with Remy. Yes, it was time for another round of Canadian shenanigans, this time in the form of sunny Saturday morning vegan crepes. The wait was extensive, but when the food finally got to us, it was worth every second. From the deceptively savoury, smokey coconut bacon to the perfect cashew queso, it was heaven. And that’s not even to speak of all the lovely teas. 10/10 would recommend Little Choc Apothecary.

After two hours of eating and chatting with Remy, it was time to head back across the bridge, clean the flat, pack my gear, and hop an F train up to Penn. Yup, I was in for another late night, but this time in DC. So I met Patrick at Penn and we grabbed an NJT to Secaucus where Jessie picked us up and the adventure to DC began in earnest. We arrived in Bethesda around 7, scarfed down some far-cheaper-than-NYC Chipotle, freshened up, and headed off to the dance night that had brought us some 250 miles down to DC. It was so worth the trip!

The music was banging all night, the dancers were wonderful–both skilled and friendly, the snacks were delicious, and the hosts, Marcus and Tren, were absolutely lovely. They were so welcoming and kind! I had some wonderful dances: one with Marcus, one with Oliver, and two with Steve. Dancing with Steve is always such a good time. He’s clever, funny, and very attentive which means that all sorts of crazy can go down, but it never feels too wild or out of control. He’s probably the most reliably inventive leader I know in the Northeast. And it wasn’t just him, there were so many great dancers out, there were great chats in the kitchen; it was just so much fun. We stayed out until almost 3am, which meant that Sunday was a ver lazy day. Jessie headed off for a Father’s Day lunch with her parents while Patrick and I spent the day bumming around the hotel stretching, practicing, and lounging about.

Sometime later, Jessie picked us up, and it was back to NYC floating on a wave of exhaustion tinged swing music. When we got back to the city, I caved and ended up passing on my cheap and cheerful beans and veg for a few not so cheap, but much cheerier, slices of Williamsburg Pizza. The indulgence was real.

And now you find me here, after a busy day at work, a relaxing evening in the park, and a very wet journey home after the movie was cancelled due to thunder. There are worse ways to spend a day.

Swimming through the swampy NYC summer,
The Salsa Girl

In Which the Cold Maybe Begins to Break

So it’s Sunday and I’m writing a blog! I know right, it’s weird, but here’s the thing: I’ve done absolutely nothing since I last wrote to you and I’m still homebound trying to discard the remainder of this interminable cold and so I thought I may as well do some scribbling so that you al actually get an on time blog this week, boring as it may prove to be.

Thursday and Friday, for example, were so stunningly exciting, I just came straight home from work and, wait for it, crawled into bed. I ate a few things and watched a few documentaries but decided that as week two of this awful illness dragged on, perhaps it was time to concede that I really did need to rest. And so rest I did.

It may have been good for my body, but to be honest, it’s still unclear because I’m still not fully recovered. And you may be thinking that perhaps I did something on Saturday to provoke that, but I assure you that my Saturday was exactly as boring as my Thursday and Friday. Yup, I spent the day “taking it easy” which it to say I watched obscene amounts of the Jack & Jill O’Rama livestream, did a bit of yoga, ran a few pieces of choreo (slowly), and cooked. By 6pm I was kind of starting to lose my mind, so I was delighted to have an excuse to go out into the world, in the form of a practice with my strictly partner, Patrick C. We spent about an hour practicing, and about another hour chatting. I’d say it was an evening well spent and I don’t think it can be blamed in the slightest for my continued respiratory distress.

And then, because I’m responsible, I went straight home to bed… to watch more Jack & Jill O’Rama. I would like to pretend that I went to sleep early, but can we just agree that being horizontal is good for getting over colds even if you are watching an event from California until well after midnight? In theory I was learning important dance things!

Today was another day of enthusiastic coughing, less enthusiastic dying, and ultimately deciding that I still needed more rest. I mean, I am getting better but progress is slow, and both my lungs and sinuses still have entirely too many opinions so I’m afraid that any silliness might be punished by another precipitous backslide. Fortunately, the excitement in California started earlier today so after a quick wander out into the world for food, I came back to spend nearly the entire afternoon and evening watching the event and wallowing in FOMO. I have concluded that I need to go west for dance more often, namely, I need to go to Cali events (especially this one), and I need to get back to Swingcouver. The fun factor is just so high, the dancing is so strong, and the music is much more to my taste. In fact, Jack & Jill O’Rama has been a whole weekend of amazing music, from blues, to contemporary, to the mountains of delicious soul music that’s poured out of the speakers. I may have changed coasts (a few times now actually), but my taste in swing will always lean hard west.

And with that I will leave you to what remains of your Sunday night and I will return to my bottomless pot of herbal tea and my now somewhat overly familiar bed.

On the road to recovery, we hope,
The Salsa Girl

In Which a Cold Proves Intractable

I had every intention of writing this up on Monday, I really did, but then after a weekend of fun, my cold came back with a vengeance and it was all I could do to get home after work before collapsing into 13 hours of fitful slumber. I am still a hot, snotty, coughing mess, but by the grace of a searing hot shower, I am feeling human for what I hope is just long enough to write this to you. And if you’re wondering if I’ve taken any sick days, you might not know me very well.

About a week ago, I was feeling shockingly similar to how I am now–the word in my notes is: dyiiiinnnggggg–but did that stop me? Of course not! I spent a busy day at work after which I was exhausted and burning up with what might have been a fever. I did concede a a few hours of napping when I got home from work, but I did not allow any amount of dying to stop me heading out to rehearsal. I’ve joined a new dance team and I am nothing if not stubborn, so I had to make it out to my first rehearsal with them. I think it is safe to blame adrenaline for this, but I felt fantastic when I left–exhausted but fantastic. I really enjoy the choreo, the technique, and the director’s style, not only of dancing, but also of teaching and leading the group. I think I shall have a very good time with these women.

By Wednesday, I was starting to feel a bit better so I trotted home from work, took a short rest, and then headed out to Westie. It is good to be back. I am very VERY fond of all my wonderful westie friends here and I’ve really missed dancing with them too!

Thursday featured exhaustion and cloying humid air, neither of which improved my pulmonary situation. As compensation for my generally icky demeanour, I grabbed a few pastries and a slice of pizza from my favourite bakery and pizzeria respectively. I really do love my neighbourhood and all the tasty things I can eat in it. Once fed, I headed up to what promised to be a very interesting panel. In perfect honesty, it ended up being far too monologue-y and lacked the necessary back and forth that makes panels so interesting, but I probably can’t make any real judgement because about 3/4 of the way through, I found myself hastily climbing over my fellow audience members, hand over face, tears streaming from my eyes, in a desperate effort to exit the room before my formerly occasional cough unleashed its full fury in a solid five minute long coughing fit. To say that it was embarrassing would be an understatement, even without the death glares that my fellow audience members favoured me with.

After another unceremonious collapse into bed, it was suddenly Friday and I convinced myself that I was better! Or at least better enough to enjoy my weekend. After a late evening at work, I headed into Midtown to grab drinks with a friend from Western Canada who has just moved to NYC for the summer, Remy. As always it was lovely to catch up with her, even more so over a few drinks at a rooftop bar staring up at the Empire State. Yes, I took Remy to my favourite little Midtown rooftop right under the Empire State and we even got a table! Two drinks later, feeling a little tipsy, we headed a few blocks north to catch some salsa. It was an excellent night featuring two of my salsero-westie friends, Edem and Marlon, as well as some fabulous shows: one by my new team, and one featuring a couple that were in total beast mode, especially the follower. She was on fire. And then in that way that salsa nights often go, I ended up staying out until after 2am which was definitely good for my recovering body, I swear!

I may have gotten a bit of a late start on Saturday, but nonetheless I managed to tackle my laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping, the last of which was becoming increasingly critical as my empty fridge and I faced down another week of nothing but condiments and rice. Once I had gotten my room into a vaguely presentable state, Jessie came by to help me install my AC in exchange for some rhubarb gin. You see, installing an AC is not that difficult but it does need another pair of hands, and since hot and humid was a key descriptor of the weather last week, I was getting rather desperate for climate control.

Once the AC was installed we settled in with rhubarb gin and tonics made with my fancy schmancy Edinburgh gin before heading down to street level to enjoy the bounty of the Lower East Side. Starting with some kottu at Kottu House, we got our fill of stir-fried, eggy, spicy, roti goodness. And then somehow, inexplicably, we ended up in Soft Swerve eating delicious bright purple use ice cream. It’s hard not to get carried away down here.

As if we hadn’t already eaten enough, we then headed into Midtown to meet up with Patrick for a taiyaki or two before dance. They are the tastiest little fishies, especially the nutella filled ones. In theory we danced it all off, but realistically, we probably burned more off sprinting through the monsoon rains that met us when we left dance at the end of the night. In order to save on transit time and tickets, Jessie was crashing at mine which meant that we definitely had to partake of late night pizza from my beloved Williamsburg Pizza. It was a very foodie day.

Sunday morning started with a few crepes as fuel for ballet with the inimitable Finis Jhung. Finis is incredibly intimidating and I feel terribly inadequate, but his classes are challenging in the best possible way. In some ways it resembles yoga for me: striving eternally for the fullest possible expression of a movement or pose, supported only by a clarity of focus and the strength of your own body. It’s intense but I love it. After ballet, we grabbed a quick lunch before hopping on to contemporary jazz. Following months of substitutes, the inimitable Chris Jackson was back and this time we were doing hip-hoperary. It was so good to get back into it, and the choreo was divine.

After dance, despite feeling a bit overwhelmed with things left to be done before Monday, I decided to lean irresponsible and head up to Harlem to share some Ethiopian food with Patrick and Jessie and do my work in the company of friends. I might have gotten more done at home, but I was much happier being anti-socially social as I tapped away on my laptop in the background of a Fullmetal Alchemist watch party.

Come Monday, however, I found myself wheezing and hacking in the delightful misery of an asthmatic resurgence of the previous week’s cold. Optimistically, I pumped myself full of enough medication that I could breathe again and collapsed into bed thinking I’d be better in the morning. What a nice idea that was.

Tuesday was another exhausting day of barely breathing topped with a dental appointment. I probably should have just gone straight home to bed, but Tuesday is rehearsal day so instead I dragged myself up to Columbus Circle for two hours of training. It was a great rehearsal with lots of fantastic new choreo, but held up by albuterol alone, I was probably not in the best shape to be learning it. Thank goodness for videos and home practice.

And now we are here on Wednesday. I really wanted to go to westie, but as I’m still on max doses of asthma medication and coughing like a dying thing, I decided that the answer was probably sleep. And so you get a blog. I know it’s brief and I know it’s not the most exciting, especially after a few weeks of travel blogs, but perhaps if I get a good sleep tonight, the next blog will be better? Wish me luck!

Breathlessly sweet talking a cantankerous pair of lungs,
The Salsa Girl

In Which Capitals are Covered and a Vacation Ended

So this is a late blog. One might even call it a shamefully late blog, but let’s not talk about that because I’ve been busy, and sick, and exhausted, and can come up with more excuses as needed. Now normally when I leave it this late, I just do a single two week blog on the coming Monday, but given that the tardy week was spent rambling all over the UK, I’ve decided that it deserves it’s own entry so you’re getting two blogs all within a space of days, aren’t you lucky!

So let’s head back to Edinburgh, shall we? After a rather mediocre dinner in the charming ambience of Under the Stairs, I crashed into my hostel bed and slept better than I’ve ever slept in an 8 person dorm. Perhaps my roomies were unusually respectful, but my best guess is New York. Somehow drunk stumbles just don’t hold a candle to garbage trucks rattling through the sirens’ wail over the shouts of raucously inebriated undergrads in the street below. It should be noted that for the duration of my UK trip, no matter the unusual arrangements in which I slept, nearly every night I slept like a baby from the moment I put my head on the pillow right up until the moment my alarm went off the next morning.

After my unusually good hostel sleep, I dumped myself out into the world around 9am. I wandered through a few churches as my lazy stroll carried me up the Royal Mile towards the castle and straight into a giant hoard of people. You see, the castle opens at 9:30am and apparently it’s a Big Deal (TM) so people were queuing to get in the door. A more persuasive case for saving twenty quid has seldom been made.

Turning away from the castle, I headed down to Dean Village via a macaron and a scone. The macaron was perfectly average, but the scone was perfect and kept me warm as I wandered through the surprisingly chilly Edinburgh air out to the village. When I got there I found a quaint cluster of historic houses clustering around a pretty little stream. The stream turned out to the Water of Leith and was flanked by a beautiful little walking path which carried me along on a charming little wander under bridges and through trees. As the path ended, I turned back towards the city centre and walked down to the National Gallery. Though currently under construction, the National Gallery is a beautiful building filled with a very nice collection of art. My personal favourite was a portrait of a woman painted with such love and affection that you could not help but love her too. Because I’ve very clever, I forgot to write down the name of either the artist or the painting and now can only advise you visit Edinburgh and look for her in the gallery there.

Having conquered the National Gallery, a very hungry hungry hippo bearing a backpack and an increasingly bad attitude, left the hallowed halls of paintings in search of food. Failing to find a scotch egg anywhere nearby, I headed down towards the university where I was promised I’d find the best coffee in Edinburgh at Brew Lab. The coffee was indeed divine and the bowl of soup I paired it with wasn’t half bad either. It was also a fabulous space at once plush and cozy and also rough hewn and halfway to falling apart. It was also, very evidently THE spot for students in Edinburgh to hang out as every seat was filled with a collegiate bum either philosophizing with friends or studying frantically. It was just about perfect.

After a bit more wandering around university and Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, I nipped back up to the hostel for a bit of R&R before the evening’s activities. I rested, contemplated napping, and eventually whiled away enough time that it was time to shower, change, and get ready to head out for dinner and dance. Dinner was to be another attempt to find the apparently illusive scotch egg and dance was to be bachata—with a little salsa thrown in. It was to be a very mixed experience. First I found myself in the first and only bar I could find that actually had Scotch eggs on the menu being told that, much as they’d love to serve me, since there was a party of twenty elsewhere in the bar, I’d be out of luck as far as the kitchen goes.

I roamed the streets of Edinburgh for the better part of half an hour before finally finding another pub that promised scotch eggs. I trotted on in, placed my order for an egg and then tacked on a rhubarb gin and tonic just for good measure. The menu did mention that the scotch egg was V for vegetarian which seemed questionable, but as I was starting to think I would never find one, I figured I’d best take what I could get. What I got was tiny. It was a hard, yes hard, boiled quail egg wrapped in very tasty mushroom puree and quite nicely fried. But let me remind you that it was a quail’s egg and the yolk was solid. It was a fairly tragic disappointment. Fortunately, the gin and tonic saved the day. It was so rhubarby and delicious I almost couldn’t believe it. So I ate some fries, drank my gin and headed onwards to dance.

Dance was in a low ceilinged little basement bar where I didn’t even have to try to hit the ceiling—never the best sign for a dance night. I took the last class of the evening with a very high energy instructor who was VERY excited to have foreign guests and then settled in for the night. Though the classes were all bachata, the advertisements had promised both salsa and bachata so I was still optimistic. I would soon however find that the music ran about 5 bachata to every two salsa, and the vast majority of folks either didn’t dance salsa or danced only Cuban salsa. I managed to meet some nice people and I did get a really good vertebral stretch from all the bachata dips, but I must say I was a small bit heartbroken by the state of the salsa there.

As compensation for all the bachata I forced my body through, on the way home I stopped at the only open chipper I could see to pick up the wonderful, magical concoction that is curry chips. It’s just french fries smothered in curry sauce, but it’s heaven after 1am.

Wednesday morning, I woke up to cold dreary weather and decided to head to the National Portrait Gallery. It was a beautiful building filled with lots of lovely portraits, but the sleepy and the hungry put a major obstacle in the way of my completionist tendencies and so I ended up suppressing my need to obsessively read every bit of text available for the last few galleries and wandered out in search of food and adventure.

On my way towards the crags, I stumbled across an out of the way little pub with a rainbow flag on the door. I’d like to say I looked at the menu or even thought for a moment, but I didn’t I saw the cute exterior, the brightly colored walls, and a pride flag and in I went. The inside was just as inviting as the outside; the staff were lovely and both my tea and soup were warm and flavorful. After a while sitting in a patch of sun, warmed by both my soup and my tea, I headed back out into the afternoon to conquer the crags. The dreary morning had turned into a beautiful, if somewhat brisk afternoon—perfect for hiking.

Scrambling up the ragged path, I found myself rather tireder that I would have expected to be. Whether it was my asthma, my age, or my desk job, we may never know, but I decided to deal with my exhaustion by pressing on more fiercely than ever and shoving my complaining body onwards up the slope just as quickly as it could go. As my legs and lungs expressed their displeasure, the rest of me marveled at the wonderfully brilliant yellow of the gorse. I wouldn’t have though I would miss gorse, but I definitely missed gorse. It’s such a bright, sunny thing, sprawling over cliffs and hillsides with equal irreverence. When I finally reached the top of the climb, I found that I was far from alone in my choice to climb up to Arthur’s Seat. The summit was clustered with everyone and their dog—quite literally. While sitting on the highest bit of rock I could reach, I watched the most charming little spaniel bounding around on the rocks while her owners chatted and everyone adored her.

On the way back down from the crag, I took the cliffside walk which offered more views of the city before eventually bringing me back down to ground level. Once back on level ground, I headed for Tesco. Yes, Tesco. It may sound ridiculous, but two of the things I miss most from Ireland are Aldi’s Super 6 and Tesco’s last chance shelf. Both provided absurdly affordable access to food. The former to a new selection of six fresh fruit and veg every two weeks or so and the latter to all manner of perishable foods, mere hours from perishing. In this case, I was in search of the latter, and the Tesco god were most obliging, providing filled cream scones, bread rolls, and lambs lettuce which when combined with a cheap jar of mayo and some of the hard boiled eggs I’d been hauling around since Birmingham, made for fabulous egg salad sandwiches.

Back at the hostel, I watched a bit of TV, did some meal prep and some meal eating, and then headed out to Patisserie Valerie for a bit of something sweet and an herbal tea. Two pots of peppermint tea and a slice of chocolate cake later, I was back at the hostel, packing, showering, and finally sleeping.

Early the next morning it was time to check out and head for the train station. I grabbed a mocha and a bakewell tart from Costa and was utterly heartbroken by the latter. I was expecting the almondy manna from heaven that I used to get from Centra. What I actually got was entirely too much fondant and maraschino. I live and learn, and soon was on a train heading south to London. I was so lucky as to be seated in a car with a man from Nevada whose opinions on gun control were utterly incompatible with his British seat mates and about which he would spend the bulk of five hours opining and a screaming child. It was a fantastic train journey if I ever had one. But in truth, the scenery really was stunning as we glided through the mist wreathed mountains of the Lake District and the pastoral fields that followed.

When I arrived in London, the weather was hot, humid, and impressively hazy despite the “very good” air quality rating on offer. Just beginning to feel a tickle in the back of my throat, I made my way down from Euston, across the Waterloo Bridge and into the campus of King’s College London. I had a very interesting discussion with a linguistics professor there that left me with a lot to think about. Though I walked into his office looking for answers, I can confidently say that I left with more questions than I came in with and certainly enough to keep my brain busy for the ride out to East London to meet Martina. We ate a lovely dinner of steak, salad, bread, and Italian cheese, and about chatted the night away before Martina had to get to sleep so as not to be a zombie in work on Friday.

Come Friday morning, I continued my indulgent lie in habits and eventually dumped myself out of bed at 10am. Having never spent time in East London on any of my previous trips, I decided to skip the tube and spent my morning walking in from Victoria Park all the way to the National Gallery. Yes, I do have an unhealthy fondness for art museums, no we are not going to discuss it. Perhaps I should take an art history class someday.

On my way into the gallery I passed through the ragged charm of Bethnal Green into a sea of coffee shops and hipsters that could only be Shoreditch before eventually stumbling on a quaint little courtyard cafe in Clerkenwell. As breakfast had been sparing at best, I was hoping for an early, pre-gallery lunch, but as lunch as not yet being served, I settled for a bottle of “posh pop” and a slice of cake. The pop was elderflower and pear and it had me at hello. Two of my favorite flavors together in one refreshing drink? Yes please! The cake was a lovely homebaked battenburg all wreathed in apricot jam and marzipan. It was far tastier than any lunch I’d been imagining.

 

When I eventually reached the National Gallery, I skimmed through the impressionists and headed straight to Turner and specifically The Fighting Temeraire. It is one of my absolute favourite paintings and we won’t go into how long I stood before it just absorbing the perfection of its beauty, but I must simply say, that if I ever settle down and have a place of my own, a full-sized print of the Temeraire will be the first real piece of art to hang upon my wall. I just love it.

About the time I began to drift from admiring art aficionado into awkward obsessive burning a single painting indelibly into my mind’s eye, I decided it might be time to venture back out into the world and wander back to the unexpected find I’d made on my way in: a Freemasons Museum. Yes, right in the middle of Soho, stands the United Grand Lodge of England in all of its art deco splendour and secret society mystery. The museum is free and open to the public so I made my way in and after fumbling through an interaction in cockney on the main floor, began my usual process of reading all of the things. About 20 minutes in, I heard a guide gathering people for a tour and decided that perhaps a tour would be a better way to conquer the history of freemasonry in the single hour I had left before I needed to head towards Clerkenwell to meet Martina. The guide was an eccentric soul who sounded very much like he’d memorized a script, but perhaps a script that he’d written himself. It was however and interesting tour in which he mostly tried to debunk freemason myths and then ended the hour long wander by revealing himself to be a very competent organist. It was an adventure indeed.

Back out in Clerkenwell, Martina and I ate dinner at a lovely Indian restaurant in Angel (that’s a neighbourhood name, I know, it’s unusual) before wandering the canal back to her place. Along the canal, we dodged speeding cyclists, ogled quirky boats, and even spotted an adorable little family of swans complete with eight cygnets. Once back at Martina’s place, we did what I’d been doing so very much of this trip, which is to say we sat around chatting and catching up until entirely too late at night. It was excellent.

The following morning started very late indeed, but when it did finally get started it did so we Italian coffee, and a massive spread of Italian and Spanish treats from Jamon Iberico, to Parmigiano Reggiano, Cantabrian anchovies, and Foie Gras. It was very VERY rich but very VERY tasty. Once our bellies were full of fatty goodness, it was time to hop on the train to Kew Gardens. We spent the entire afternoon and into the evening wandering around the fields and glasshouses, smelling roses, touching trees, and flopping unceremoniously onto the grass whenever it pleased us. We also visited the bamboo, the rhododendrons, and an interesting art installation meant to give viewers the sense of being in a bee hive. Somewhere along the line we even saw a peacock screeching its lungs out from a branch about 30ft up in a tree. I’d never seen a peacock from below before—their tails look very strange from the bottom up.

We finally left Kew around 7:30pm and headed out in search of sustenance. There was an Italian restaurant nearby and hunger necessitated we not go far so we dropped on in. It was tasty enough, but as the resident Italian informed us, though the wait staff all spoke Italian, the food was not authentically so. Apparently if ever you see spaghetti bolognese you can be assured that you are not in a real Italian joint. After a long day out in the sun, we made it back to Martina’s very tired and went almost immediately to bed. Not to sleep though, as that was impeded by a lighting storm of such ferocity and fecundity as I have seldom seen. For at least an hour it was a nearly constant stream of lightning strike and thunder crashes, all spaced so tightly as to make it impossible to tell which thunder belonged to which lightning, let alone figure the storm’s distance by the time between the two. I enjoyed it casually from the sofa bed, but I might have paid more attention had I known that this very same storm was composed of over 20,000 lightning strikes, one of which would strike the fueling station at Stanstead and result in a whole day of cancelled flights.

Sunday morning, I set out into Bethnal Green to grab breakfast at a very well reviewed cafe. It sounded lovely enough but I had no notion at the 4 quid bap would prove to be a giant roll stuffed to the hilt with arugula, tomato jam, roasted red pepper, halloumi, and avocado, all topped with a perfectly sunny side up egg. It may go down in history as the most perfect breakfast bap I have ever eaten. Once fed, I then made my way down to the Columbia Road Flower Market. It felt like a very authentic East London experience with heavily accented shopkeepers barking their wares which ranged from orchids and orange trees to daisies and lavender and everything in between. It was also completely packed, like wall to wall bodies, and god help you if you’re claustrophobic. I saw a few such people fleeing sideways in great haste, their only thought being how to escape the swarming mass of humanity that had pinned them next to a flower stall to wait for the next wave of forward motion. I now have a far greater appreciation for the dangers of panicked crowds. Had anything gone wrong that pack of plant hunters could have gone from stasis to meat-grinder all sort of quick.

Bending in a wide curve back towards Martina’s, I stopped at a canal-side cafe for a tart and a cup of juice to combat the beginnings of a cold that was creeping around the back of my pharynx. From there it was a stroll back along the canal, followed by a bit of a rest in Victoria Park before I eventually made it back to Martina’s to lounge in the sun on her back patio eating strawberries and listening to occasional peals of distant thunder.

Later that evening, I was all glammed up in salsa wear and heading back into the city centre. I started at the famous Salsa on Sunday (SOS) where I was treated to a mix of On 1 and On 2 seasoned with a very flattering dose of admiration, especially after they found out where I was “from”. I started by explaining that I was a Canadian living in New York, but swiftly realized that just saying New York was simpler, easier to hear over the music, and most importantly, was the answer they were looking for when they felt how I dance. Am I allowed to be smug that my salsa feels New York?

After a few hours at SOS, I was soaked in sweat but determined to keep dancing, so I dried off and headed to Scala to continue my night out. The venue was fantastic, multi-storied, multi-roomed, and very club like, but alas very insufficiently air conditioned. I was slick with sweat in no time at all and just could not keep myself dry. At one point, the leader I was dancing with attempted a shoulder catch and all he caught was sweat as my glistening shoulder slid right out of his grip. It was somewhere shortly after than experience that I decided that there was no shame in heading home around 1:30am and that perhaps, in my current state of perspiration, I was not really the sort of creature anyone would want to touch, let alone dance with, so I headed down to the cloakroom to gather my things. The cloakroom was off the kizomba room, which brought the temperature of the salsa room into stark perspective. Where the salsa room had been hot, but still fresh, the kizomba room was a swampy miasma of heat, sweat, and sexuality steaming off the bodies of the dancers. To say that it was cloying would be a massive understatement—I did not dawdle on the way out.

When I got back to Martina’s neighborhood, I had hoped to find a chipper or some form of late night food place, but alas all was shuttered and barred and I missed my beloved all night bodega something awful. I have begun to forget how spoiled we are in New York, but it only takes one trip to another world class city which doesn’t have all night bodegas or all night subways to remind me just how lucky I am to live in New York.

Come Monday, it was time to say goodbye to London and Martina and drag my increasingly unwell self to Gatwick. Yes, the little tickle in my throat had morphed into a full blown head cold complete with fever and cough, just in time for my flight. I tucked into a very nice veggie burger paired with an orange and cinnamon milkshake at one of the airport restaurants and settled in to wait for my increasingly delayed flight. An hour later than expected, I was nestled into my seat attempting to sleep. My body however, was apparently uninterested in sleep when it could keep me awake and miserable instead, so I turned on they inflight entertainment and started a movie marathon. I began with the fabulous Murder on the Orient Express (which I’d started watching on the way over) wherein I throughly enjoyed the Branagh’s fastidious Hercule Poirot, then moved on to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. It was a classic McDonagh film, which is to say if left you wryly in media res with an overwhelming sense of the smallness and ridiculousness of our little lives and all the great and grand principles that we pretend run through them. It was also amusing to watch as an airplane movie, as all the prolific cussing and graphic content were either cut or morphed into innocuous, non-taboo words. It was an intriguing cast of prudishness over all the other definitely not innocent content. Still having several hours left on my flight, I began a rematch of Eat, Pray, Love, but the cutting choices for “format and content” were so odd and disorienting as to leave me cold. I decided that I’d rather watch the flight map than attempt to watch a movie I’ve seen about a thousand times in this crippled, hackneyed airplane form. Censorship is such a peculiar beast.

And then seven hours after I’d left London, I was landing at JFK, flying through customs and bounding out into this being beautiful brute of a city that I love. From the dirty trains and their incomprehensible announcements, to the all night bodegas and pizza places, it was good to be home.

Back in The City,
The Salsa Girl