In Which The Sister Arrives

This blog comes to you from my desk at work, where I am currently scarfing down lunch and attempting to blog. Monday night blogging had been working fairly well for me, but this week I’ve a visitor and I doubt she’d be terribly stimulated by watching me tap away at a keyboard while we could be out exploring the city and eating amazing food. Yes, my sister is in town, which means among other things that both this blog and the next are likely to be full of far more interesting tourist adventures than usual. Don’t get too used to it.

Prior to the sister’s arrival on Saturday, my week was fairly standard fare. On Tuesday I was at the office late(-ish) for a meeting after which I hopped off to the Critical Data Studies group that I’ve started attending. It really is a terribly stimulating discussion even when you are utterly intimidated by being not only the only non-PhD but in fact the only non-Professor in the room. We were talking found data versus collected for purpose data but managed to wander down all manner of interesting tracks including tenure, productivity, funding structures, and how on earth we bring data science training into education. There were many questions left unanswered but we certainly gave them a good working over.

The following day I left work en route to a panel discussion about environmental activism under the current US administration. The MTA had another opinion.

I really hate to be late, but in this city of fickle trains that really like to get snuggly in tunnels and not move for 5 minutes at a time, well, sometimes you miss a good third of the talk you were hoping to attend. What I did manage to see was entirely alright but I think it would have been much better if I’d caught the beginning. I tell myself that I am learning and growing as a person. I also curse the MTA vociferously.

Come Thursday, which truth be told felt a heck of a lot more like Friday, I trucked home from work to file my Canadian taxes and finally bully myself into planning and buying tickets for my trip home this summer. There is just nothing like domestic flights in Canada to empty your bank account, so I think I shall employ the bus systems to cart me around the province from wedding to family to wedding. I shall bring many books and nearly as many motion sickness tablets. I pretend I will watch the scenery and reacquaint myself with my province. I expect I will actually just sleep.

And then, finally, it was actually Friday and I bounded out of work and off to Penn. Where I had forgotten that there would be delightful, delicious, delays a plenty. I was very grateful I’d grabbed a doughnut on the way as my train wended its way down into Jersey, making regular stops on sidings to let the clatter of an Amtrak train thunder by. You see, Penn station is well on its way to falling apart completely. Already in 2017 we have had two derailments (that mucked the whole system for days) and one delightful power outage which left a train wedged in a tunnel for multiple hours. So they’ve conceded they might need to do some track maintenance in a fairly serious way. Sadly for all us poor fools who like to ride trains, that means 15-30 min delays on EVERYTHING that touches Penn Station at any point on its route. Can you hear the thrill in my voice?

So we dawdled along until we hit New Brunswick where Chuck and I packed up the last of his things before joining his roommate at their local watering hole. It was late and I was tired, but they gave me a tasty drink in a panda bear shaped cup so I sipped as we chatted and eventually, around 2am, we wandered on home. Which is how waking up early the next morning went from ew to impossible in a very real way. That said we were still up by 9am and had soon bundled all of the roommate’s stuff into a U-Haul before I had to head into the city to meet my sister. Fortunately the trains decided that they would be all sorts of cooperative and give me time to get a coffee before they arrived. They also gave me time to pace and fret about how on earth I was going to make our rendezvous with a train that was 15 minutes late before it even got to me.

Fortunately, my sister is resourceful and we had set up international texting before she arrived so we were able to rearrange the meeting from Jackson Heights to Midtown where I waited on the platform until her train pulled in and then hopped in with her and headed down to the LES.

Once we’d dropped her luggage, we set off to walk into Washington Square so that I could pick up our Broadway tickets for Wednesday. While there I’d had great ambitions of eating at the delightful budget falafel joint, Mamoun’s, but it was not to be. We arrived to two whole tour groups trying to cram into what can best be described as a closet with a kitchen. We went to a nearby ramen joint instead and actually probably had a much more refreshing meal (of not ramen) far better suited to the sticky heat of the day.

Once fed, we headed to the Upper East Side to thrift shop. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t but your odds of getting something nice for a good price are greatly increased by going where the rich people live. Now we almost had a complete bust that day but, after over a month of searching, I would finally have some luck in my coat hunt.

My last light coat had been worn well and truly to death so, last fall, I made myself get rid of it, which has left me in nothing but sweaters ever since the weather turned to spring, so I’ve been hunting. I mean I’d had an eye out all winter but I hadn’t gotten into the real serious search until about a month ago and I was having absolutely no luck. I appeared to be continuing in that vein on Saturday until we found a gorgeous teal jacket, almost exactly the style that suits me. But it was a small. I was disappointed but ready to move on, but my sister said those magic words “well I mean, why don’t you try it anyway?” So I did. Fully expecting a deep wound to my ego and no success with the coat, I slipped one arm in, and then the other, and then my shoulders and, by god, it fit! It was then that I realized it had no tag. I braced myself for any price tag up to $50 only to get to the counter and find that, not only was it only $30, it was also on half-price so that 30 dropped precipitously down to $14.99. If that isn’t good luck, I don’t know what is.

Around about the time we found the coat, my jetlagged sister was beginning to wilt a bit so we stopped in for a coffee where I learned that a cortado made with soy is a recipe for curdling, and Taya got enough caffeination to stay in motion for at least a little longer. So we headed to the park.

Walking across Central Park we saw the whole gamut of humanity out sunning themselves and playing on the lawns. It’s a sort of magical thing about New York that, when the sun’s out, so are all the people, unashamedly doing what they do mere feet away from strangers in a public park. China has a similar dynamic, but Canada? Never. We’re entirely too shy for that sort of crowded leisure.

From the west side of the Park we caught a train back down to the LES so that Taya could transfer her things to her Air BnB and we could acquire some of the famous North Dumplings. Taya’s moderately eccentric host thought we were insane to take our lives into our hands with such dirty, disreputable, little Chinese restaurants, but I prefer to think of it as budget-savvy and exercise for the immune system. They were, as always, delicious and perfectly situated next to the local sports ground/park/social space. Following the dumplings, we grabbed doughnuts from my beloved Doughnut Plant–I got red velvet, Taya pistachio–and then headed back to mine for tea and gossip. It is a magical thing when, after a tumultuous sibling childhood, you eventually become sufficiently adult to put all that behind you and actually have a good relationship with the one person who probably understands you better than anyone else in the world and certainly shares more genetic material.

Some time after Taya had gone back to her Air BnB, a certain very tired physicist made his way to mine having packed away most of his things into storage and the rest into his car for the transition into Upper Manhattan. In no time at all, we were out like a light, but not before I, in my infinite wisdom got up to turn out the not-so-metaphorical light and apparently decided that I could just start on the journey to sleep before I even reached the bed. I have a modest goose egg for my troubles, but at least the wall I crashed into is alright.

Sunday dawned bright-ish and chilly but that did not stop us having brunch on the sidewalk at my neighbourhood everything restaurant. It serves from breakfast through late night drinks and everything in between and if the breakfast is anything to go by, it’s fantastic! We had two types of eggs benedict and a shakshuka, all three of which were absolutely eggy and delicious. Fuelled by our savoury breakfast, we then headed up Orchard to get some sweets, namely, the inimitable rugelach from Russ and Daughters and a black and white cookie.

You can scoff all you like at trying the famous dishes in a new place, but I’m here to tell you that, in New York, there’s a reason they’re famous. Yes, the delicate sweet softness of the black and white cookie with it’s crisp upper crust of perfectly tempered chocolate and frosting and the gooey spirals of a good rugelach, really, it’s worth it. We ate ours sitting in Thomson Square Park in the East Village listening to buskers and watching some very middle aged roadies slowly setting up a stage.

When we started to get cold from sitting, we headed back to the LES to pick up coats and to send off Chuck who had more moving chores to do before Taya and I set off to see the Met. I would try to explain to you how much I love the Met, but I suspect I’d just come off sounding even crazier than you all already think I am so suffice to say, we stayed until closing time buoyed on a wave of rugelach and fascination.

After they kicked us out we toddled along down the side of the park towards Midtown with a brief pause at the art installation before the south entrance to sit on the deliciously ridiculous antique styled chairs cast (very recently) in concrete. Having rested our feet for a moment, we then turned down 7th and scooted down past Carnegie Hall to Times Square where New York was at its weirdest. First a random tourist asked Taya if he could take a picture with her. I mean, that used to happen when I was in China, but in New York? People are strange. And to compound that even more firmly, moments later we were graced with a flesh and blood F train trundling around the Square. Yes, when I say flesh and blood, I mean made out of people. They seemed to have been inspired by dragon or lion dances, but rather than a glittering colourful animal, the cloth contraption covering their heads was dumpy grey F train proudly brandishing its big orange circle in the front window. And then after a quick loping circle around the area, they vanished as quickly as they’d come. I only wish I knew why.

When the noise and the lights got to be too much, we carried on further south to a small Italian coffee shop where we found caffeine and cannoli and watch a crowd of fans frantically photographing what I can only assume was a cast member from Hamilton. They were terribly excited.

And then once we had caffeine on board we headed down to a barbeque joint just south of Penn where a group of the local dancers had decided to “westie bomb”. It’s like photo bombing but we don’t go away after the photo is taken. No, instead we take over a venue for an evening of dancing and drinking and occasionally even eating. When it works out, it’s a lot of fun and this time it definitely worked out.

After a few dances and lots of socializing we headed back to my apartment for some more tea and conversation before Taya made her way back to her Air BnB and I passed out face first in bed. Turns out exhaustion is real, folks!


Ever onwards!

The Salsa Girl

In Which The Weather is a Very Naughty Tease

New York just can’t seem to decide whether it’s the dog days of summer or the middle of an Irish winter. We’re alternating by the hour between hot sun and cold insipid rain. I am not a fan, but I comfort myself with the thought that it’s good for the plants and I’ll almost certainly get sufficient scalding and sunshine this summer. So, as the mercurial weather wandered in and out of decency, I wandered in and out of work and talks and a bit more yoga.

On Tuesday, I found my way to another free yoga class. This one was beginner level however, so it took a great deal more effort before I could get anywhere near injuring myself. It wasn’t quite as satisfying as the classes which allow me to cripple myself, but I spent the rest of the week far less stiff and sore so perhaps it was a decent choice. After my gentle stretch and breathe session, I headed uptown to catch an ethical tech session. It has established itself as one of my favourite meetups here in the city and this week’s topic was a particularly interesting one: the ethics of automation, and more specifically the social economics of automating things that have traditionally been gainful employment.

In truth, it ended up being more of a book launch than our usual discussion space, but it remained interesting even if a little less interactive. There is also always free beer and snacks so at the very least it cuts down my grocery bill and I really can’t complain about that.

The following day, I got all sorts of whimsical and decided to walk to work. I’m not saying it will happen often because an extra 30 minutes of sleep is an extra 30 minutes of sleep, BUUUUUUTTTT the walk across the Manhattan Bridge at 7am is pretty darn excellent.

Wednesday afternoon saw me popping out of work and into another educational opportunity, this one a hardware start up event called Hardwired NYC where various entrepreneurs talk about the experience of developing hardware and then using that hardware to found a successful new venture. There were lots of cool products including smart wine bottles and highly designer-y styli, but I must own that I did not enjoy it as much as I might have, A) because I was terribly hungry, and B) because the man who decided to sit RIGHT beside me even though there were tons of seats left when he arrived had some very interesting ideas of how one ought to be in public. His personal bubble was nonexistent and he seemed to think that the middle of a presentation was the perfect time to network. Somedays I am nice. Somedays I draw boundaries. When you attempt to disrupt a presentation that I want to hear in order to ask my name and my occupation while leaning far too far into my personal bubble, you’re probably going to learn about boundaries.

I enforced my boundaries very stubbornly, even after the talks were over and avoided the entire situation. I felt a tiny bit bad for the poor girl that he did end up cornering and monopolizing, but I was still very glad it wasn’t me.

And then I headed off to dance, via an hour of editing and a pistachio cream doughnut from Doughnut Plant. I am also working on boundaries at dance and doing more or less well depending entirely upon the day. I have accepted that this will be a lengthy learning process.

After another busy day at work, Thursday featured a talk at the library where I learned about psychological resilience in post-disaster environments. In my current job, I’ve mostly been thinking about disaster management from an inanimate angle but I certainly felt more in my element lurching back towards social and psychological concerns. I really am a social scientist in my heart of hearts. Following the talk, I did mean to go to dance but the weather was inclement and I was tired and developing a cough so laziness won that one.

Friday was rather dull and domestic to be honest. I got home from work, visited my aesthetician, did laundry, attempted to find a spring coat, and then bought groceries and went home to make a simple (and very late) dinner.

Friday night we were full of all the best intentions, but then sleep did this thing where it totally won, and we spent much of Saturday morning in bed before finally dragging ourselves up and out to the Science March. Scientists aren’t really the protesting sort I suppose, but they do make pithy signs. So we walked in the rain past Trump Tower and into Times Square, meeting a few very interesting folks along the way.

From Times Square we headed back to the LES for the best dumplings in the city—yes, the inimitable North Dumpling! Full of dumplings and happiness, we headed back into Midtown to meet up with one of Chuck’s cousins and her friend for dessert. I had a twenty layer crepe cake which can best be described as whipped cream soaked heaven and an ever so vital cup of coffee which carried me safely back away from the migraine that had been sneaking towards me all morning.

And then we were off to Jersey for wine, cheese, and Bon Chon chicken with some real adults. We ate far too much and talked far too late but by god was it ever a nice way to spend an evening. Good company and good conversation really cannot be beat—especially when paired with the deliciousness that is Korean crispy chicken wings.

On Sunday we did some more sleeping in before heading out into West Jersey to see the rolling green meadows and blue skies of the Garden part of the State. We drove down winding country roads and wandered along canals fuelled by the nostalgia of a $1.10 Wendy’s crispy chicken. As we drifted into Hopewell, we found our tummies rumbling and so stopped on the sunny patio at Nomad Pizza to share a tartufo. What a piece of heaven. It’s all cheese and mushrooms and egg and basically perfection.

Post-pizza it was onwards to the Delaware River flanked on one side by Lambertville and the other by New Hope. While traipsing through New Hope, we came across a beautiful little Free Library in a heritage building of some sort, which just happened to have a perfect place right outside for parking the car and having a little nap.

Slightly refreshed some 45 minutes later, we stopped into Nina’s Waffles for ice-cream on a waffle before taking a wander around the town, across, the bridge, and then back. And then it was back to the city via New Brunswick and the charmingly putsy late night NJ Transit.

Today, I peeled my sleepy self out of bed crawled into the office, found a lost visiting scholar who had been waiting goodness knows how long outside of our empty office, and then settled in for a day of work. Around 3:30 the whole office piled into the conference room for a celebration of the center’s anniversary and our executive director’s receipt of the Distinguished Administrator Award. There was wine and cake and all manner of good things, not to mention good conversation and a goodly number of laughs. When I finally decided it was time to leave, it was nearly time for yoga where I spent just over an hour doing my best to destroy myself in the name of peace, serenity, flexibility, and strength. I suspect that my relationship with yoga would fall into the “complicated” category, but I’m alright with that. And on that note I might just step out and grab a slice.

With exhaustion and affection,
The Salsa Girl

In Which The Salsa Girl Reacquaints Herself with Adrenaline

Another week, another blog. But this is not just any blog, this is the 25th New York blog. Yes. I have been resident in the US of Awe for a whole 25 weeks. Say it with me: Holy Sh*t. The six month mark was actually last week on the 10th, but for whatever reason I didn’t feel like marking that one, so I am marking this. My 25th blog in the city—and it should actually be an exciting one! But before I let the cat out of the bag, let’s mosey on back to where I left you last Monday.

The blessed yoga from heaven that I was so pleased with when I last wrote you, did that thing that yoga is so fond of doing and promptly crippled me. There will come a day when I don’t overdo it in every yoga class I ever take, but the days when we work on binds? Never. The triumph of turning myself into a pretzel entirely outweighs the stiffness and soreness that results from it.

So I peg-legged my way through Tuesday wondering why I am so stubborn right up until I got to my free meditation session whereupon I realized that I’m not nearly stubborn enough. For the first about 5 minutes I felt like a rockstar. I was so calm, just me and my breath, and then slowly my evil little monkey mind decided that discipline was for the dogs and started to stray. The remaining 20 minutes were a battle royale as I began to breathe, began to drift, caught myself somewhere wandering out in left field, dragged my silly skull back to respiration, and then repeated. I think it was a maximum 2 min long cycle. It was a delight. I clearly need to practice more.

Very VERY slightly enlightened, I would spend the following evening first at start up school, then at a talk that was meant to be about cancer research in the developing world but which ended up being about how America’s likely to have a rather different foreign aid structure, but how they really really ought not to. It had been scheduled for much earlier this year but was foiled by a snow day and so found itself rather further into the Trump-dom than planned. Yes, the shadow of the Trump clouded in over us once again—you know it’s bad when an academic lauds Bush by comparison.

After getting all politically “woke” I made my way to dance where my brain is allowed freedom from both mental discipline and the thickening political miasma.

Thursday was meant to be another exciting night of yoga, but a meeting out in the depths of the Bronx ran late and by the time I made it back to the city, I only had time to do laundry and pretend to clean my room before both yoga and the laundromat closed up shop for the night. At least we were riding the 4 train against the rush hour tide.

And then it was Friday and I was hustling home from work for a quick trip to the optometrist’s before throwing clothes in my bag and heading to Jersey. I grabbed an F into Midtown, climbed the stairs to the street and headed down 32nd towards Penn. As I walked, I noticed a rather larger than normal number of people moving away from Penn and some of them seemed unusually distressed even for Friday rush hour in New York. I wondered, but kept schlepping until the crowd parted and a woman emerged looking half deranged waving her hands half screaming, half whispering “Don’t go to Penn, turn back, don’t go to Penn, terror attack, don’t go to Penn”.

I stopped dead in my tracks. I mean, there were still lots of people walking towards Penn but I would hate be in the way if there really were an emergency, so I stepped to the edge of the sidewalk and hit Twitter. Twitter had no news but soon I heard sirens so I kept scrolling until I heard pounding feet and screams coming the other direction, heading towards Penn. They were screaming “active shooter!”

It’s probably the third time in my life that I have stopped completely and thought “well I really wasn’t planning for it to end like this…” I did the math and realized that if there was a shooter at Macy’s and a terror attack at Penn, I on 32nd between 7th and 8th, was completely f**ked. And then the adrenaline came.

I ran with the crowd and, seeing a concrete warehouse-like structure, ducked in with a few others. We soon realized that there was no clear way out and started trying the elevator which is when the guard came out and asked what the hell was going on. We explained what little we knew and he calmed us by with the fact that he had closed and locked the doors while we waited for news. It was probably about 15 minutes of refreshing Twitter to the sounds of strangers crying into their cell phones before we discovered that it was a false alarm. Someone had been tased at Penn and the sound of the taser popping out had spooked the crowd. Someone had yelled “active shooter” and then the stampede began. I can only guess that what I was caught in was the effect of one of the delirious Penn station stampede shouting their fear too loudly in a crowded shopping centre.

While waiting for news about potential violence, I also discovered that a NJ transit train was stuck in the tunnel under the Hudson and the trains were absolutely hopeless, which was about the same time that Chuck connected me to his roommmate’s girlfriend who had actually been caught in the stampede and we were convinced to just take an Uber out to Secaucus to meet the guys. A stunningly beautiful sunset backdropped our journey all crimson and gold and we were both unexpectedly glad to be out of the city.

When we finally got to New Brunswick, we all went out for gourmet hot dogs and I was delighted to find that the restaurant also made Scotch Eggs! One drink, half a scotch egg, and a hot dog later however, and the exhaustion of what had already been a stressful day at work paired with entirely too much after-work excitement hit me like a freight train.

The following day we slept much of the day away before getting pretty serious about packing. By the time we called it quits, we had a car-ful of boxes and a much cleaner flat before us. We then headed out to a Cantonese restaurant of the most authentically China variety. The food was SO good and SO cheap and they served hot tea rather than America’s beloved ice water. If there is one thing I miss about China more than any other single thing, it is 茶水. If that means nothing to you, but piques your curiosity, ask me later. It is late and I fear too many digression may preclude the completion of this blog.

After dinner, we headed down to South Jersey for a dance with the friendliest batch of Philadephians, and Jersey folk. After the dance, we followed a friend down to his place just outside of Philly to drop off a bunch of boxes for storage and then drove back up to New Brunswick to, once again, collapse into bed.

Sunday was full of little bits before we finally packed a few things in the car and drove into the city. I was adopting an air conditioner and small bit of furniture so that had to be driven in and hauled up my beloved five flights before being installed in my fantastically Manhattan sized accommodation. I am however very grateful both for the cool air and the table and chairs from which I am writing this blog rather than mangling my back by doing it seated on the edge of my bed with my laptop on my knees.

Once we’d installed the furniture and tended to a few other work/social obligations, we headed up to the Upper West Side for a roof top barbecue. There was a bit of rain, a lot of food, and even more good people. Suffice to say it was a good time, so good, in fact, that we stayed out rather later than planned which made this morning more of a challenge than hoped. You see, despite the fact that I had done some work on the weekend and could have justified a little bit more sleep as a result, we had struck parking gold the day before and with such luck comes responsibility. Yes, we had found street parking right across from my flat and since it was Sunday it was free—but only until 7am on Monday.

Apparently the commute to Jersey is really quick at 7am.

And now I am home after work followed by start-up school and topped with a fantastic evening of China. I attended a tech meetup that featured two old China hands giving their impressions of China’s 2025 innovation plan after which we watched Ten Years. It is a phenomenal Hong Kong art film which, predictably enough, is banned in the beloved PRC. I don’t know if I can explain it without spoiling it but I will warn you that it is slow and beautiful and strange and if you’re not into that you should just pass it by, but if you like art films and China and have a tenderness for the oppressed, you should probably take a look. I loved it.

So it’s been one heck of a 25th week in this big brave city and I’m not nearly done yet.

Undaunted and undeterred,
The Salsa Girl

In Which the Exhaustion Continues

Back pain is a beast and honestly, this business of lower back pain is far worse than upper back pain I’ve ever been plagued by previously. Sitting down hurts, standing up hurts, there is no comfortable way to sleep, and somehow I still spent the weekend dancing. Don’t ask. But, lumbar lameness notwithstanding, let’s wind our way back to the start of last week and then stumble forward through the exhaustion until we finally make our way back to the present.

Tuesday followed the usual trajectory from work to start-up school but then it took a wee detour to the unCOMMON salon. It’s a library event in digital humanities and for me it unearthed a frightful conflict of intellectual orientations. You see, there was a time when I was rather into writing essays on literature. I was never a massive fan of peeling back their skins to try to divine the authors’ intentions, but I did used to enjoy the mental sleight of hand that goes into a good literary argument. Of course that was some six years of university and two and a half years of work ago. I did do a bit in some Chinese literature courses in the first five years of those six, but for the most part, upon leaving high school my essay writing leaned strongly towards the empirical and the ferociously well cited rather than the rhetorical and largely opinion based breed of before. I expect you can begin to imagine how an English professor tagging locations from novels onto a map made me feel. I resisted sharing my scepticism, you’ll be delighted to note.

The following day I was back into more recently familiar terrain at the entrepreneurship focused AI Summit put on my NYU’s Future Lab accelerators. I had rather hoped for more about developments in AI and less about how to convince venture capitalists to pay for them, but with the deal I got on the ticket, I really ought not to complain.

After the summit, we wandered back to my apartment and I set out to fetch bing. I hadn’t been to my delightful little bing place in a couple of weeks but I had no notion of what I would find when I made the little half block journey down to their little hole in the wall. There was no bing to be had! In fact, their little hole in the wall was reduced just an empty hole in a battered wall with nothing but a real estate agent and two prospective buyers poking in the door. Devastation does not even begin to describe.

With a nauseating feeling of emptiness I stumbled back up the stairs to my apartment to boil and fry frozen dumplings in a lasting haze of sadness and loss. If the bing wasn’t good enough already, they were also such lovely people. I hope they’ve moved on to bigger and better things.

The following morning, after another night of mediocre sleep on account the discomfort in my iliac, I went to work under grey but dry skies. Some hours later I emerged into the pouring rain and very nearly cancelled my acupuncture appointment. There is no train to bridge the gap between my apartment and the place where they poke me full of pins, which is normally fine, but even a 12 minute walk seems horrendous in a monsoon. I dragged myself our regardless and soon was a porcupine once more with ambitions of improved outcomes for my muscular situation. The result was moderate amelioration.

Friday saw the start of a local dance weekend with a rather quiet if still very enjoyable evening. The following day I was up and into Midtown for four hours of workshops with Ben Morris and Victoria Henk punctuated by a break for grilled cheese sometime mid afternoon. By the end of the classes, my hip was whining and my brain was full but that would not stop me from stuffing food into my face and returning to dance to spend the evening dodging catastrophe on a very crowded floor. If only some fraction of the Saturday attendees had chosen to show up on Friday instead both evenings could have had a more comfortable degree of fullness. But such things cannot be controlled. I escaped with only one new mystery bruise so I am still winning.

Sunday, after a late night on Saturday we peeled ourselves out of bed at entirely too early an hour to go meet Chuck’s visiting aunt, uncle, and cousins in Midtown. When we reached the hotel (having grabbed coffee for the local caffeine addict—yup, yours truly) we chatted briefly before rallying the kids to go get bagels. Note to all ye who may someday wander here: 10am on a Sunday is not the time to go to the bagel shop. The queue was out the door and halfway down the block. While Chuck held our spot in line, I took one of the cousins along to a nearby bakery to pick up hot chocolate and a croissant. Three streets and two avenues there, a small queue in the bakery, and back and we still met Chuck and the other cousin waiting on the sidewalk. Fortunately, the bagels were delicious and so richly smothered in cream cheese, even if it did take well over an hour to acquire them.

Once fed, we caught a subway to the Hudson River Parkway where we walked down through the sun to the One World Trade Center, and from there, Chuck and family headed back up to midtown to catch a show while I wandered home via Vosges (home of the unspeakably fantastic turmeric chocolate bar) to do some house cleaning. Every now and then the combined business of myself and my roommate results in an apartment very much in need of a good sweep and scrub.

I also treated myself to some time eating dumplings in the park with another dance friend before heading back to Midtown to meet my morning companions for dinner. Following dinner we collected gourmet cookies, delivered the visiting family members back to their hotel and headed back to the LES.

We finished our evening watching Arrival, which I am still processing. I was SO on board until the very ending at which point I was slammed with the same sense of betrayal and revulsion that visited itself upon me some 15 years ago as I saw the final scenes of A Beautiful Mind. I may eventually come to terms with it but I found is fantastically upsetting at the time.

Today I worked, wandered home in the sun, and then, finally, made my way to my very first free yoga class at NYU. Sometimes I forget how much yoga affects me. It’s a deeply spiritual experience for me despite my rather conspicuous lack of religious leanings. No, rather than feeling in any way religious, what I feel when doing yoga is embodied and empowered. My body feels so tremendously powerful and competent even when I’m shaking like a leaf or breathing through a moment of pain. In a way it is similar to ballet for me. I need focus only upon my own body and its potential for perfection of motion and expression, and oh lord, the control!

And now I’m lounging in bed contemplating the degree to which my muscles are likely to complain tomorrow. I expect it to be loud but satisfying.

Refreshed if not entirely awake,
The Salsa Girl

In Which the Weather Turns

At long last, the confusion of the weather seems to be turning into a reasonably steadfast spring. But lest I jinx it by saying so, let it be known that I don’t trust it in the least and fully expect snowstorms at any minute. At present however, I am in search of a spring coat and already dreaming sweet dreams of sun cream.

But what about the actual activities? you say. Surely you did more than check the forecast all week! And the answer is: of course! You all know me well enough to know that my options are busy or panicked, so let’s roll back to Tuesday and take a look at how I kept busy.

Tuesday was the usual rigamarole of work topped off with a trip to start up school and garnished with a deliciously stimulating hour and a half with a critical data studies thinking group. We were discussing on-body sensors and other aspects of the quantified self from an ethical and social perspective and it was divine. I haven’t done so much comfortable and productive opining in a very long time. It almost distracted me from my miserable hips, which brings me to another thing entirely. Yes, somehow, over the course of the weekend, I managed to mangle myself. I don’t know when and I don’t know how but I was in searing agony any time I tried to stand up from a chair or walk a few steps. It was delightful and also deeply distracting.

So as I wandered my wounded way through the world, it was only natural that I should have the clever idea to visit the acupuncturist, which is how I found myself with a left buttock full of pins come Wednesday after work. It was a very muscular experience with all the best twitches, tweaks, and startled gasps as my gluteus considered the maximus available to it for complaint. And somehow, after that, I thought it would be a fabulous idea to return to the dog that bit me. Yup, I went to westie. It may not have been my wisest decision but it was fun and I’ve not the highest standards of self-care.

On Thursday my still squalling iliac and I spent our lunch listening to inspiring women deliver mini TED-talk style speeches as the NYU TorchTalks. There were some excellent nuggets, most focal for me being the notion that you make your way in the world not necessarily by being particularly skilled or expert but by being interesting and interested. I sure hope she was right because sometimes I think that “interesting” is all I’ve got going for me. After my dose of inspiration, I settled into a busy little cafe with a latte, a damn fine pistachio macaron, and an afternoon of work. I conquered the most of my to do list and then popped off to another talk, this time about natural language processing. It was an interesting talk, but I was in a combination of too much pain and too little sleep and so I hardly processed a thing. Well you can’t win them all.

The following morning, I found myself with rather less time than expected. I suppose that’s what happens when you host a visiting speaker. By the time I hit the end of the day I was staring down a giant to do list that I’d hardly made a dent in and wondering if I should bring my laptop home for the weekend. You’ll be pleased to know that I chose work-life balance and left the laptop when I set off for Penn to catch a train out to New Brunswick.

Once well out of the city, I soon found myself scarfing down a delicious dinner of saag paneer, lamb korma, samosas, and all manner of other tasty Indian things. After dinner we curled up to watch Arrival. Someday I will successfully watch a movie cuddled under a duvet without falling asleep, but in this case, alas, we only made it halfway through before we decided that perhaps the z’s were calling more seductively than the storyline and so sleep won.

We spent Saturday morning in Jersey doing some spring cleaning and downsizing and then made our way into the city for an evening of dance. Clever creature that I am, I had not brought all of my dance things with me to Jersey so I had to head back to my flat to pick up shoes before returning to Midtown to take some very highly anticipated workshops with Melissa Rutz. The trains had other ideas.

As I sat in tunnel after tunnel waiting for the train to haul its lumbering length down to the LES, I was reminded as to why there is no certainty on scheduling here: you might always have to take a train. Sometime later, I finally got back to Midtown only fifteen minutes after the class was set to begin. Luckily, I was not the only one late so I only missed about five minutes of three hours of class. Following our meander into education, a hoard of dancers stumbled out into the world in search of food. Fortunately, K-Town was only a few blocks away so we tucked into some tasty Korean eats and scarfed them down just as quick as we could so that we could get back to the ballroom to dance.

It was a very well attended event full of great people, but I have to admit that the venue leaves a lot to be desired. Down in the end of the room with the DJ booth, the music is a muddy acoustic mess and if the door is opened, even for a second, the already sub-par sonic situation is worsened by the bassy thrum of the bachata next door. I may not be the biggest audiophile, but I do like my music to reach my tympanic membrane making some semblance of sense. I suppose you can’t win them all.

After the music ended, another little posse of people returned to K-Town seeking sweets. We found tofu and dumplings instead. The dumplings were mediocre but the company was good so we sat and chatted until rather later than I’m used to remaining awake these days.

In a related phenomena we slept until noon the next day.

When we finally rolled out of bed on Sunday, it was time for crepes and coffee before catching the A train up to the Upper West Side. One of our dance friends is off to Shanghai for a few months leaving her apartment open at exactly the right moment for Chuck to transition into the city. Looking at the spacious expanse of that apartment, a one bedroom for only $400 a month more than mine, made me seriously consider moving farther out in order to have a bit more space, but then I thought about my commute and suddenly there was no debate. No amount of floor space could compete with a ten minute commute every morning.

By the time we made it back to the LES, it was nearly time for dinner. We started with dumplings and chive pancakes at my beloved North Dumplings to pad our stomachs before finally testing the quality of the $1 oyster happy hours that ring my apartment. I’ve never really eaten oysters so I started gently with only a few of the tasty little morsels, focussing my energy on a $5 glass of wine and a delicious honey, fig, and strawberry wreathed burrata on bread. Just as happy hour slipped away, another dance friend joined us and we spent the following hour finishing our drinks and talking computer science, linguistics, and philosophy. It felt very intellectual indeed (even if I didn’t entirely understand the bulk of the computer science topics). As we swallowed the last sips of wine, it was time to take off and somehow we took flight in the approximate direction of North Dumplings. Yup, more dumplings with a side of sesame pancake stuffed with carrot and bok choy. The prices, the speed, and the flavour just cannot be beat.

And then it was home to bed. We woke up this morning to a beautiful sunny day which, alas, I spent almost entirely indoors. When I left the office, I set off directly to do laundry, finally got an NYPL library card, scarfed down some Williamsburg pizza (it’s the best) and now I’m here, tapping away on my keyboard and hoping the weather holds until the weekend when I can actually get outside.

With tummy and to-do list equally full,
The Salsa Girl

In Which There is a Great Deal of Dancing

Shortly after I wrapped up last week’s blog, I bundled myself back onto the subway and set off for a salsa class with the inimitable Karel Flores. She is such a ball of energy and her classes reliably leave me sore and exhausted—I love it. I’m not super jazzed about the fact that I somehow managed to tweak my knee to the point of mild hobbling, but the class was deliciously high energy and pleasantly challenging. My dancing is still missing something (it might be a certain sort of conviction) but I’ve certainly got the business of learning choreography down pat.

So despite sore muscles and a slightly tetchy knee, I woke up the next morning fairly pleased with myself and set off to work. Some hours later, I left work and caught a showing of The Sixth Extinction with the student environmentalist club before ambling home to tidy the apartment and wrap up a few loose ends before the revolution. Yes, Tuesday was the last day before I was swept up entirely in the whirlwind of the Boston Tea Party.

To be fair, Wednesday involved no actual tea partying, but it did involve hopping home from work to toss in three loads of laundry, scarfing down a few $3/12 dumplings, and then hustling my freshly cleaned clothes home to pack for the following day. With laundry hanging off every surface in my room, I then slipped out to westie a while before returning home around 1am to sleep.

Thursday morning, I stuffed a few more (finally dry) articles of clothing into my backpack and made my way to work. Around 12:30, I fled the office leaving a trail of emails and queries and headed for Penn. At the station I met the first of three road trip companions and we caught a train together to Secaucus. From there we connected with the two remaining members of our quartet (and the car) and hit the road for Boston. Some four hours of good music and great shenanigans later, we found ourselves at a Marriott somewhere near Boston, ready to dance.

Two of our party had booked an intensive training session so they barely touched the hotel carpet before flinging themselves into a deep and broad ocean of knowledge. Those of us that remained, moseyed our way to a grocery store to gather provisions and then moseyed on back to drink amaretto and eat a whole rotisserie chicken listening to salsa and bachata in the hotel room. I’ll grant you it was a novel way to start a westie weekend, but it was great fun, and the deliciousness of grocery store rotisserie chicken simple cannot be overestimated. Eventually there was some social dancing, friends were met, and only too soon, it was Friday.

Once again on Friday morning, two of the car/roommates were off to intensify their knowledge while I laid abed for a good while wondering if it was possible to fall back asleep with the ruckus renovation hammering away on the floor above, before eventually giving up and heading for the pool. Not being a serious swimmer, my bathymetric concerns live firmly in the category of temperature and comfort. It wasn’t a hot tub to be sure, but it was a warm pool and it had stairs amenable to lounging so I decided that it would do. When I grew tired of the water, I wandered into the hotel cafe where I hung around chatting with other dancers until the workshops started.

The latter bit of the afternoon was spent learning (and learning and learning). I took three workshops (including a hip hop workshop), then a break for food and organization, before doing another workshop followed by a private lesson. It’s been too long since I last had a professional diagnose my westie problems and hoo boy was it needed. After 45 minutes with Susan Kirklin I had a whole raft of drills and an entirely new understanding of just how much work my dancing needs. This is why we must not learn by social dancing alone (at least not if we are hopelessly not natural-dancers). So I have some work to do, and the tools to do it. Here’s hoping the motivation comes along too.

Having been thoroughly educated, I watched some competitions, filmed by friends and then attempted to social dance. It is very hard to social dance when your head is full of all the parts of your dancing that most need work. Suffice to say, I tried.

Saturday would prove a challenging day, leaving both my ego and my face bruised. The terrible temptation of sleep meant that I only managed to attend one workshop before it was time to get ready for competitions. Now, as a novice, competitions are usually a fairly low risk activity, but this was not to be usual. I wasn’t dancing my best to begin with (see above discussion of overthinking all the areas of improvement) but the day was not content to just humble me. No, humility was insufficient, instead, with my third partner of the prelims I would find myself being lead into a neck roll turn which swiftly turned into a degree of downward pressure that left me only to face plant or crouch. So I crouched and I noted a leg flying over my head. Foolishly, I thought that meant we were done and began to unfold back up to standing only to be clocked in the cheekbone by an enthusiastically swung foot. There is something to be said for the noise the crowd made right about then. But I can’t blame my partner, it was a moment of dubious judgement in a moment of over-excitement and besides, I’ve only the smallest of bruises at the point where the offending cheekbone appends itself to the rest of my skull. Perhaps not surprisingly, I did not make the next round which hurt my pride far more than the shoe my face.

Once all the comps were done, we set off with some Boston friends for dinner. It was all so very adult I hardly knew what to do with myself. Someday I will master the art of ordering food without my inner student beginning the calculation of calories to cents.

After dinner, it was showtime! Boston Tea Party is a swing crossover event featuring both West Coast Swing and Lindy Hop so one of their main USPs is the presence of a crossover jack ’n’ jill competition where the pros have to dance with counterparts from the other style, to both styles of music. It’s a good bit of crazy. And after that crazy, we began the real crazy of the Saturday night room parties.

I started the night catching up with some of my beloved Bostonites from the New Year’s Eve event before riding the elevator up to a New York party on the top floor where all the NYC westies and friends were drinking mudslides and caipirinhas and getting the best kind of silly. Right on the knife edge of getting silly myself, I turned my nose towards the ballroom and committed to social dance. I’ve never seen a ballroom stay so full so late at a swing event, it was fantastic! And thus did I dance the night away until somewhere around 6am when my brain suggested sleep and I acquiesced, knowing that in only an hour the chorus of drills and hammers would be bursting into song somewhere above our ceiling.

Sunday is normally my favourite day at events but, perhaps because there were no competitions left, this Sunday had a strange sort of lost vibe. It was odd, I was tired, and my car companions felt similarly so we left shortly after check out to wind back down the highway to the city. Well, I say the city, but I mean Jersey because having left early there was time for me to spend some time in good company lazily resting and napping off a bit of the edge of the sleeplessness that was plaguing me. And then it was back to the train to the city to collapse into my own bed for a few hours of recovery before my return to work.

This morning was an ocean of emails that had made their way into my life via a day and a half out of the office. It was delightful. When I finally found my way to shore, I paddled through the rest of my work day before catching a panel discussion on media, truth, and the political divide. The panel was interesting but even more so were the others at my table.

There were many ideas of note, but the one that I will relay to you now is one that I have encountered fairly frequently here and which has given me a great deal of pause. You see, in Canada we are all quite pleased to be Canadian but I think for the most part have few pretensions about the actual greatness of our country. I mean, it’s nice, right? Like it could be better, but we sure wouldn’t want to be Americans. I feel like even our immigrant population has this sort of relationship with patriotism. The sort of negative patriotism of “like” not “love”, a kind of fondness and perhaps a bit of affectionate pride but no bright, brilliant patriotism marching into battle to save the world.

Here in the US, however, it’s quite a different thing. Here there is real patriotism, gleaming golden patriotism of the most virulent variety. I think I’ve encountered it most in immigrants from India, but there really is still a sense of “America the Promise Land”, America the home of the free and the brave and the good. And honestly, they do believe that America is the best, no matter the current political hiccup. As a Canadian raised with a healthy disdain for American glory, I find this magnificently hard to swallow. It is surely not the belief of the people I have met while travelling in Europe, but I have spoken to people here who honestly believe that everyone loves America, because, well, it is the greatest! I guess perhaps countries that aren’t Canada are actually proud of their imposition upon the world? I am probably not articulating this as well as I would like to, but by god is it ever strange to encounter real, passionate patriotism.

And now I am sitting in my room, feeling very Canadian and wondering if somehow we’ve gone wrong in creating a whole culture of people who pride themselves on a quiet fondness for a country that’s pretty alright but could be a bit more Scandinavian in its social supports and a bit more American in its economic power. We’re nearly as strange as the folks down here.

The Salsa Girl

In Which Cell Service is Traded for Serenity

I’m slowly creeping back towards punctual publication but alas I still haven’t managed to claw my way back to Sunday night. I’ll get there eventually, though probably not next week as a dance weekend looms… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ve still not told you about this past week’s adventures.

After the snow day, I plowed head first into the rest of my week, starting with Wednesday. Following a rather tiring day at work I went home, did a few chores, and then, less intentionally than I might have desired, feel asleep until it was time for westie. The next day, I made my way through another eight hours of work before bounding home to turn sourdough into bread dough and deposit it in the fridge to proof. Once the bread was wrangled (and folded and fermented and shaped) I stuffed some clothes in a backpack, plucked a fresh new book from my shelf and promptly passed out.

About six hours later I was back up again baking bread before the sun came up and putting the final touches on my packing for a weekend of blessed serenity. Yes, after a long and rather frantic day at work, I and my freshly baked bread were on our way to Penn. From Penn I caught a crowded train to Secaucus where I changed to the Main Branch and about twenty minutes later hopped off in Clifton to scavenge for a grocery store and wait for my partner in crime. Thirty minutes later, we had hot chocolate powder, marshmallows, meat, cheese, and a miscellanea of other things stuffed into the trunk and back seat of a car flying down the turnpike towards the mountains.

As we wound through the night we eventually made our way to the quiet hamlet of West Kill, nestled in a little valley out of cell service with the darkest night skies, where we found the most beautiful little Air BnB complete with claw foot tub and canopied bed. We were spending the weekend in the Catskills at the home of a wonderfully welcoming couple—a blues musician and a nurse—and their charming trio of animals: a macaw, a paint, and a big, lovey puppy.

Interestingly, though in Ireland Kill/Cil means “church”, in Upstate New York it’s Dutch and it means “creek”. No one seems to know why it’s “cat’s” creek, but there were certainly rivers and rivulets a plenty.

Saturday morning we woke to a veritable menagerie of birds outside our windows. Blue jays, juncos, cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers, even red winged blackbirds, the entire avian cast of my youth was right outside the glass with the delightful bonus of an occasional speckled starling, nuthatch, or jaunty titmouse. We spent the better part of the morning seated in the windowsill watching the birds before eventually making our way over to our host’s side of the house to share stories and meet the dog. Yes, the dog was a delight. He was a big, happy, two year old English Mastiff with no concept of his own size and no compunction as to his big slobbery jaws. I loved him.

About the time I was finally convinced to stop playing with the puppy, the snow began its soft descent and we set out to find a view. About a mile up a switchback mountain road, we found one softly peering through the snow and a bit beyond that we found a beautiful clean expanse of fresh snow between us and a creek. Other wiser individuals stayed on the well cleared road. I waded up to my thighs in the snow bank, grinning like an idiot the entire way.

When we made it back into the warm indoors it was time to rest and, in my case, read while the snowfall grew heavier and the flakes grew bigger until the whole world was a blanket of white. There is nothing quite like the stillness of falling snow in the countryside.

We hardly moved until around 7pm when we got it into our silly heads to go for another walk in the snow. I suppose it was about an hour and a half altogether as we ambled along a quiet country road, quite alone in the dark under the softly falling veil of snow. By the time we turned back for home, it was only an occasional porch light and the sparkle of the stars that kept us from pitch blackness. We left a little snowman on the railing of the final bridge we crossed before we took our snow dusted selves back into the warmth and the light of our Air BnB.

The following morning, I actually managed to sleep in, only making my way into the morning around 10am rather than my normal 7am or so. We then tidied up our things, spent an hour or so chatting with our hosts and then set off to explore the area before our magical mountain weekend ended.

Our first adventure was back down the road we’d walked the night before. We knew it was a dead end but we’d run out of light to reach that end so we drove down and found it. We then turned for Phoenicia, the home of our host’s favourite Diner. It was the very image of an “American Diner”, all chrome and modish shapes. I had a glorious, big strawberry milkshake. Following Phoenicia, we headed up the 214 towards the Kaaterskill Falls. The view from the road was pretty, but nothing much, but the view from the lookout point? Stunning. The entire falls were frozen with only a tiny spout of water splashing off the top and into the snow below.

After spending no small amount of time staring at the falls in the near sunset, we headed back to the car andreturned to the road in the direction of Woodstock. When we got there we found a terrifically kitschy little town of only the wealthiest of hippies. If you’re ever looking for left wing literature or vegan fusion food, Woodstock is the place to find it. For our parts, we settled on some mediocre Asian fusion and a very short wander past the village green before we headed back to the highway to get me back to Secaucus and a train.

I was home before midnight and asleep soon after.

Today was a fairly average sort of a day and now here I am trying to get all caught up on things before the rest of this week rolls down on me like a sisyphean boulder and bashes me straight into the Boston Tea Party and all sorts of swing! If only the laundry would somehow magically do itself!

Still swimming,
The Salsa Girl