Due to an astounding lack of self-discipline, this blog is coming to you from the far side of New Year’s Day. Yes, it’s been more than two weeks since you last heard from me and I’ve no excuse but exhaustion and indulgence, which I am now paying for with the daunting task of writing two weeks worth of blog all in a Tuesday afternoon. As a bonus, so much has happened that I hardly recall where I last left you all on a Monday night mid-December. Let’s wander back and see, shall we?
Way back before Christmas, it was a perfectly average Tuesday until I got home from work and found my mail. Yes, the annual parcel from Finland had arrived and I was the proud owner of a beautiful new pair of hand knitted royal blue socks. I’ve heard some very mixed opinions on socks for Christmas, but I for one will never complain about them, especially when they are warm, wonderful, and handmade by the inimitable Henna-Leena. They also fit perfectly which remains a mysterious wonder to me. I’ve received socks, gloves, shorts, and even a top from this woman and each and every time she gets the size perfectly despite having never taken my measurements and not seen me since 2015. I can only dream of someday being so competent at a craft.
The following day saw me wandering out into the world after work in search of snacks, but not just any snacks, snacks from the Christmas market at Union Square where I’d been promised I would find magical fried balls of rice filled with everything from mac ’n’ cheese to nutella. Accompanied by an obliging dance friend, I made my way on over to the Arancini Bros booth and faced down not only a substantial queue but also a terribly challenging decision. There were far too many flavours and all sounded so delicious but my stomach has a finite extent so a choice had to be made. I ended up settling on a traditional ragu filling, a not so traditional mac ’n’ cheese filling (because there is nothing so comforting as ooey-gooey mac on a cold evening, and of course the “famous” nutella. To gratuitously quote myself from my report back to the Pennsylvanian friend who had instigated this entire adventure (he saw the balls on reddit but couldn’t make it to the city to get them) “the Nutella was strange and disorienting but delicious and the others were just straight up tasty times.” Honestly, that about sums it up.
After eating our arancini out in the icy night, Patrick grabbed some empanadas and I caved to Spanish hot chocolate before beginning our trek uptown to dance. It was not the warmest night, but the company was good and the food was fun so I endured the wind and scurried into the warm dance studio just as soon as I could. Westie Cafe was the usual shenanigans complete with staying out way too late and suffering from all the best sorts of train shenanigans. I had a train buddy again but her presence did not stop the trains from indulging in a purely insane diversion from the norm. We caught an E train on the F line at 34th but had to change at W4 where the E stopped being an F. From there we hopped on a F train, only to be informed that it was running over the D line while if we wanted we could head upstairs to the A platform to catch a D running over the F line. While we waited indefinitely in the station, I did consider trying to run upstairs for the D that was an F but I trust the MTA very very little and so decided to at least stay on the train that I knew I was actually on. Transit in this city is such a wild adventure.
Thursday was the second last day in the office before Christmas which meant that for many people it was the last day in the office before Christmas. This is the only possible explanation for our polishing off about 5 bottles of wine between 7 of us in the upstairs open meeting room before heading out to happy hour at a nearby brewery. We will not talk about the time at which this began, but it will probably suffice to say that we were all wandering towards trains in alcoholic hazes, fearing hangovers before 8pm.
And then in a flash it was Friday. I spent the workday alternating between maniacally powering through all the last bits of work and staring blankly at my screen in that utter apathy that so often co-occurs with the last day before a break. I like to think that I left everything in a sensible state, but I expect I’ll find out otherwise when I finally make it back into the office tomorrow. Let’s not think about that now, though. I’ve still a good few hours before I have to return to that part of my life.
After work, I met up with a few of the folks still in the city for Christmas for a very German birthday celebration. We met at the Ginger Man where there were beers and pretzels a plenty. I obviously ate far too much especially after convincing half of those wishing to buy me drinks that sharing a pretzel was a far nicer birthday gift for this particular glutton. Once we were quite full up, we paid our tabs and headed down to a dance party. Perhaps I was too tired, or perhaps it was because of the holiday driven variation in just who attends west coast swing events, but I must admit I just wasn’t feeling it, so after a few hours of sitting on the floor with a few of my beloved friends, I decided to take my gloomy butt home and get a nice birthday beauty sleep.
The next morning was impressively rainy but it suited my mood so I wasn’t the slightest bit offended to head out into the watery morning to conquer groceries and a few errands. Once back inside and relatively dry, I mixed up another batch of coquito and fought off an impending headache. I do so love my intermittent tension headaches, especially when I’m trying to write a paper. Yes, I had not found the time while actually in the office so it was to be my Christmas project. I’d like to say I made more progress, but between the headache and the laziness, I soon found myself prissing up for a Christmas raclette party with very little paper writing to show for myself.
Riding the train with a very full jug of coquito, I soon found myself somewhere in the Upper West, eating raclette, drinking mulled wine, cider, and coquito and playing with the most adorable cats. Yes, I am allergic to cats. No, I am not a responsible individual. Despite the runny nose, asthma, and hives that often follow feline interactions, I simply love them and cannot be convinced to let them alone when they are already begging for my attention. My personal favourites of the four are the little grey male who is a bit challenged but very lovey and always chasing after things only he can see, and the big cream coloured Cashew who might be half canine. Cashew is a shocking fetch enthusiast. You can throw a toy for him all day and in very un-cat-like fashion, he will continue to fetch it and return it to you for another throw. I convinced myself that fetch was less likely to stir my allergies than snuggles and thus justified entirely too much time spent playing with the delightful furry menace. Predictably enough, before the night was out, I was one hot allergy ridden mess, and somewhere between the spectacular grilled peaches and dessert raclette prepared by Masterchef Edem, and the races game of Cards Against Humanity, my tension headache decided to return in force. It is a testament to how much fun I was having that I still stayed until sometime after 2am.
Sunday morning, I woke slowly and tiredly. After a certain period of failing to work in my room, I wandered over to my favourite patisserie, Ceci Cela and bribed myself to work with une petite bouche noel, a mocha, and a crocque monsieur. Several hours later, a wave of exhaustion hit me and I headed home to nap before really settling in to my nearly all night writing session.
I wrapped up the first draft of the paper on Christmas morning and then, after sending if off to my boss, headed out into the icy afternoon en route to Friendsmas. On the way, I picked up a few more pastries from Ceci Cela and arrived only somewhat late to another dance friend’s very pretty Upper East Side apartment. By the time we all arrived, we numbered five and we five were soon curled up on various pieces of floor and furniture watching The Nightmare Before Christmas. We took a brief break to eat Bon Chon chicken and snacks before digging into some classic Bob Ross followed by Balto. It was a very relaxing Christmas afternoon indeed.
When we finally all dispersed, my back and I schlepped up to Harlem to borrow an obliging friend’s bathtub for a bit. As my own apartment has only a shower, I hadn’t actually had a bath in over a year and I’d nearly forgotten how much I love them. It’s so nice to just soak in peace a bit. It’s especially nice when followed up by a solid gossip mesh with a good friend and episodes of the Great British Bake-Off. Mary Berry is pure perfection.
On Tuesday, I started my morning by schlepping back down from Harlem to Skype with the family from the comfort of my own apartment. After a nice catch up with my mom and sister, I headed back up town for my quadri-annual blood donation in the eerily abandoned American Red Cross building. It’s very large and grand with plenty of floor space and terrifically high ceilings, but only a small set of three classroom like spaces are lit and you must walk down a very grand but ominously dim hallway to reach them. The phlebotomists are absolutely lovely but I must admit I’ve not quite yet gotten used to the generally abandoned feeling of the place of the place. Once bled rather drier than before, I returned to Washington Square area to fill up on French onion soup and macarons at a beautiful little cafe, staffed by the most friendly barista and famous for its millefeuille.
Once fed, I set off to collect my charges for a night of dog sitting. It was to be a bit of an adventure. When the doggie daycare delivered the dogs unto my care, I found myself holding onto one very shy little dear in the midst of a nervous pee, and another older, bolder, and rather bigger fellow absolutely chomping at the bit to go. I only wish I’d had skis so that I could have made better use of their enthusiasm to get home. After over an hour of gentle acclimatization for the shyer of the two, I spent the evening curled up on the couch with them both. It was very nice to be around dogs again despite the hives that rose when I’d petted them too enthusiastically. I know a wise woman would just avoid her allergens, but I’m not that wise woman, and I love animals entirely too much to let them out of my life entirely.
On Wednesday morning, I dropped the dogs off at doggie daycare and headed home to rest a bit. Two nights of sleep in beds that were not my own had left me rather tireder than I might have hoped. After a relatively lazy afternoon, I set off for my usual night of Wednesday westie. It was a most wonderful night. There were some very fun out-of-towners in and we had all manner of delightful steal dances and dance jams. And as if that wasn’t fun enough, since not all of us had to work the next day, I found company for an adventure to a piano bar to see my competition partner, Patrick, play. He’s a professional pianist but, I’d yet to see him play so I recruited my dance friend Edem to join me for a few drinks and a lot of excellent music. To say it was fun, would be the grossest understatement. We danced, Edem and Patrick sang, and some how we stayed out until the bar closed and then some. This is not the first time that partying with Edem has ended in a diner at 5am, and somehow I don’t think it will be the last. You could say we’re irresponsible, but I prefer to think that we’re just fun.
Perhaps predictably, Thursday was a very slow start. I did however manage to do laundry and contemplate packing before I headed up to the East Village to meet up with an old friend from my China days. While I waited for her to get off work, I sat in my favourite Argentinian-Australian coffee shop. I always seem to see the same barista there. He’s a friendly vivacious skater boi type and this time he was there with a coworker who quickly seemed to forget I was present in the corner near the window. While I sat drinking my tea, they rehashed a recent work event wherein a female patron had left a rather scathing review of the shop, complaining exclusively and extensively about the “saddest barista” and wondering why he couldn’t even manage a smile. Yes, the entire review was whining about how, the male barista had seemed sad and hadn’t been smiley enough. The winds of change are indeed blowing, but I don’t think the cure to sexism is to spread the abuse more evenly across both genders.
Once Erin and I met up, we left the coffee shop and wandered a few blocks north for dinner. I’d read about B&H Dairy sometime ago when researching vegetarian spots but had not yet had a chance to visit. Thus, with a lover of all things culinary at my side, it was time to venture into the land of kosher vegetarian. The Dairy is a narrow and unassuming joint in the East Village with a counter on one side and a row of tiny tables on the other. The passage between the two is only wide enough to sidle in sideways but it’s worth the sidle. B&H has been serving up kosher food since 1938 and with the first spoon of borscht their longevity makes perfect sense. It’s the most beautifully nuanced broth filled with cabbage, carrots, beets, and flavour. Paired with thick fluffy slices of challah, it might be the best winter food in the city. I followed my soup with blinzes—one cheese, one apple—while Erin ate pierogi and we both left satisfied. We could have sat there chatting all night, but were soon removed to make way for the next batch of customers and so found our way to a little matcha tea shop to continue our catch up. I often forget how very many lovely little places can be found in the East Village but I’m always delighted by what I find when I happen to be there.
When Erin and I finally parted ways, I dropped by Whole Foods to pick up some last minute groceries for the weekend. I then headed home to pack before collapsing into bed in hopes of getting a little sleep before a very full weekend.
And then it was Friday and time to head to Boston for a weekend of westie, party, and the company of all the most excellent people. The carpool crew met in White Plains and headed north! Some hours later, we stopped for a late lunch at an Italian place with spectacular pasta before eventually checking into our rooms for the weekend. I’d just received revisions from my boss, so I was nestled in bed papering away but only until it was time to compete in the Strictly Swing competitions. There weren’t enough competitors for a prelim so Patrick and I went straight to a very competitive finals round. That we had lots of fun and managed to avoid last place will have to do for now.
After competing, I papered a bit more until the next draft was sent off to my boss and I was finally free to social dance the night away. I normally keep fairly good track of when I go to sleep at westie weekends, but in this case, all I know is that it was sometime after 4am and I was absolutely exhausted.
My Saturday started with a workshop followed by a certain degree of primping before it was time to brave the intermediate Jack n Jill division for a third time. The first time I danced in intermediate I managed to snag second alternate for finals in a mid-sized division. The second time, in a rather larger division, I made semifinals with flying colours but utterly bombed in the semis and didn’t come near a slot in the finals. This time, I found myself in a quite small and sickeningly skilled division where I could hardly fathom managing any sort of distinction at all. Somehow, despite the excellence of the contenders, I actually managed to make finals! I was quite close to the cut off point, but let’s not think about that, shall we? Finals were to be danced on the Sunday and they were in spotlight format which means that unlike most Jack ’n’ Jills where everyone is on the floor at once, this final would see each couple taking the stage solo for a song. It’s nerve wracking at best so I decided tavern responsibly dance and party the night away, aiming to distract myself from Sunday’s impending competition. We danced, we drank, we listened to Patrick on the piano in the hotel hallway with all manner of talented accompanists, and sometime after 5am we finally tumbled into bed to snatch a few hours of sleep before it was time for both my friend Jessie and I to debut in our first intermediate finals.
Sunday morning saw me climbing out of bed to practice and take a private lesson with Patrick before readying myself for competition. The private lesson was absolutely excellent. Bonnie and Jerome gave us lots to work on and hopefully next time we see them we’ll be kicking rather more butt in comps as a result of their assistance.
After the lesson, I prepared myself to face the spotlights. Back stage, I found that I was part of one of the most warm and loving crews of finalists. Everyone was so glad to be there and was so encouraging. I could hardly believe how welcomed I felt amongst all these terribly talented followers. When we hit the floor, the talent of my co-competitors became very clear but somehow I didn’t feel all that nervous. My only goal was to get a point and that only required I get tenth place or above. I was fortunate enough to draw a leader who I’d practiced with while waiting for the competition, but I was not fortunate enough to keep my head or my technique. Just as it was in my salsa performance days, the moment I had an audience, the whole world narrowed to their pleasure and the music. Unfortunately, unlike back in my salsa days when I had choreography to keep me on track, in an improvisational style, I apparently need to maintain slightly more self-regulation lest my technique be entirely sacrificed for the applause that comes from dramatic movements and exciting shapes. I shall quietly tell myself that, despite my dismal placement, I was a crowd favourite and besides that, I so enjoyed the clarity of oblivion that always meets me onstage.
Once intermediate had concluded, it was time for advanced where one of our friends (another Patrick) was competing as a follower. He was spectacular! So musical and clever and sassy and the crowd loved him. It was my favourite kind of dancing. And then once we’d all wrapped up our comps, it was time to change into our finery for New Year’s Eve. All glammed up in suits and gowns, we ate a delicious dinner, watched fantastic shows, and rang in the new year in the best of company. We were even able to Skype Mandy to join us in welcoming 2018 amongst the warmest and loveliest group of friends. I could not be more grateful for the friends that I am fortunate enough to enter 2018 with and I cannot thank Bill and Yuna enough for putting on such a great event so full of opportunity and love. A year after my first time in Boston, my first time attending an event on the East Coast, and my first brush with the ineffable warmth and welcome of the Boston dance crew, I was there again, feeling all the same love and more. And then we stayed out social dancing and hallway jamming until sometime around 7 in the morning.
Come Monday, we indulged in a blessedly late check out time and I wrapped up the final revisions on the paper before we hit the road back to the city. I’ve a lot to process from this weekend. I learned so much and felt so much and did so much and feel so blessed to have done it amongst my beloved westie friends. My body is fantastically crunchy in the aftermath, but I fed my soul with companionship and my tummy with a few slices of Williamsburg Pizza before bed.
And now it’s Tuesday, and I could not be more glad of a day off if I tried. I slept in until 10:30am and then with the astounding competence of a true adult, nearly set my coffee pot on fire. Now the entire apartment smells of uncomfortably melty plastic—you’re welcome roomie, I know, I’m just the best—but the fridge is full and I’m a little less tired and a little less sore than I was when I crawled out of bed this morning. I had intended to do more today, but all things considered, I think I’ll be satisfied with a blog, a bag of groceries, and a slightly less broken body.
Swung over and fresh off the Boston Love Fest,
The Salsa Girl