Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Jasmin Hernandez

When Jasmin Hernandez arrives at BRIC House, an arts space in Brooklyn, she is a vision in coral, her top, lips, and nails all a vibrant reddish orange, wrists and ears draped in elegant gold jewelry. The founder and editor-in-chief of the successful art blog Gallery Gurls, she is at BRIC today to see the exhibition “Bordering the Imaginary: Art from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and their Diasporas.” Jasmin is Dominican herself, and was born and raised in New York.

A self-identified art nerd, Jasmin created Gallery Gurls in 2012 in order to highlight the work of women, people of color, and queer people of color in the art world. While in her day-to-day life she is a Photo Researcher at the New York Post, she is also a freelance writer and blogger in her spare time. Thus far, her work has appeared in Elle, Lenny Letter, Remezcla, Cultured, and more, with blog features in Vogue, Visual AIDS, and the New York Post, among many others.

Growing up in New York, Jasmin saw all of her favorite aspects of culture converging at once, from being a student at Parsons, to the downtown arts scene (she was an intern at Patricia Field in the Sex and the City days), to the vogue/ballroom scene (affiliated with the House of Field), to the world of fashion and magazines in the time of 2000s excess (she was a fashion assistant at Vanity Fair). She transitioned later into photo editing, and spent time at New York Magazine and The New York Times.

Today Jasmin has curated a whole day for us, she says, and I’m excited to see what a day looks like from a real curator! After BRIC, we jump into a Lyft and head to the Brooklyn Museum for their exhibition “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985.” The show will feature the work of artists like Ana Mendieta, Marta Moreno Vega, Lygia Pape, and more. Jasmin has also been invited to contribute to the Brooklyn Museum’s social media campaign, for which museum team members will film her talking about what makes a radical woman. We head into a sunny stairwell where her insightful comments about women in the art world are recorded on an iPad. Afterward, she’s gifted a shirt that says ‘Mujer Radical’ with a big red heart that matches her lipstick.

We look around the exhibition after that, and Jasmin records things she loves on her phone, like photos by Paz Errázuriz and sculpture by Sylvia Palacios Whitman. She’s constantly running into people she knows, either from Instagram or the art world or both, and it’s wonderful to see her success manifested in such an interactive way. Soon Jasmin’s friend Marquita Harris, an editor at Essence, joins us and we head to Cafe Con Libros, a feminist bookstore and coffee shop in Crown Heights. The three of us talk about writing and publishing, the career hustle, and the new Cardi B while sipping coffee, surrounded by the work of women.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Fran Tirado

Fran Tirado is making his way through a dusty-rose colored cocktail when I meet him at Esme, a cafe in Greenpoint. Dressed in all black save for navy and hot pink sneakers and two small gold chains on his neck, he greets me with a warm hug.

When Fran moved to the city five years ago, he was intent on changing the face of gay media, hoping to make it more accessible, more multifaceted than he felt it was. Now, five years later, he is the Executive Editor at queer lifestyle magazine Hello Mr. and the co-creator of Communion, a queer dinner series and artist collective. His writing has also appeared in Vice, Teen Vogue, BuzzFeed, and Broadly, among countless others. He was honored for his accomplishments this year as one of Brooklyn Magazine’s 30 Under 30. And if that wasn’t enough, he is also working on two books, one a non-fiction book of essays, the other a novel. I’ve enjoyed Fran’s writing for a long time and I love how he’s essentially built a media landscape for himself and others to participate in that is exactly what he felt was missing.

Fran is also one of four co-hosts of Food 4 Thot, a podcast about sex, identity, race, politics, and “what we like to read and who we like to read (their Instagram handle, deliciously, is @GaySlutsWhoRead).” To give you an idea of this podcast, for their upcoming Season 2, they promise undoubtedly hilarious yet intellectual auditory experiences like “Blaming personal downfalls on astrology; Campaigning for a 5th host, Tracee Ellis Ross; Joan Didion-themed foreplay; Staunch defense of the oxford comma.” Of the four, Fran is defined as the “writer, editor, 3rd-tier Gay Mafia card-carrying member.”

Fran and I sip wine and eat mussels with French fries and we talk about the assignments we’re working on. Coming up, he’ll travel Los Angeles for a few weeks in a self-imposed residency, where he’ll be taking time to work on his books. He has already been approached by a few literary agents, so fingers crossed.

Soon we’re heading to Spaceman Sound, where Food 4 Thot records its podcasts. Fran walks his bike over--this is very him, he says, walking his bike while on his phone, wearing what he calls his “Cookie Monster sweater” and an ensemble we decide is called “Park Slope Mommy Drinks.”

We arrive at the studio, but before recording begins Fran has his photo taken by Gabriela Herman, a Brooklyn-based photographer working on a series of portraits of podcasters. She gets to work, in and out in just a few minutes. Soon, the other “thots,” as Fran says, begin to arrive. There’s gossip and how-was-your-day chatter, followed by several bottles of rose. The show sounds impromptu sometimes, but it’s not entirely off-the-cuff--in fact, the “thots” all put in several hours of work on the show structure before each session. They start recording, almost instantly shading each other the way only people who know and love each other can.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Charlie Galina

For a few days, my cousin Charlie Galina is visiting New York, a rare occurrence because he is finishing up his degree at Mexico City’s ITAM, El Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México. He is originally from Puebla, three hours from the university, where part of our family, the Pérez Safady clan, lives. A short story: my grandmother’s sister Irene (Safady) moved to Mexico, married a man named José (Perez), and they had three daughters: Triana, Julieta, and Vivianne, who is Charlie’s mother. So, fun fact, there is an enclave of Mexican Jews in Puebla, and overall Jews are about .0384% of Mexico’s population.

Charlie is in the States visiting universities in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., deciding which he will attend for his Master’s Degree in the fall. You see, Charlie won a Fulbright Scholarship, which in Mexico means either his Master’s or Ph.D. will be paid in full. He wants to study the American Conservative Party--while Charlie himself identifies as “U.S. Moderate/Mexican Liberal,” he hopes to study the right in order to inform the Mexican government and its citizens about the changes happening here in the States, how those changes affect them, and what they can do about it.

Charlie tells me in Mexico it’s often difficult to get some people motivated to understand what’s going on in American politics because there’s so much corruption in Mexican politics that people sometimes can’t be bothered. Young people like Charlie are starting to try to change this, however, especially since so much of U.S. politics is directly affecting Mexico. When back in Mexico after his Master’s, Charlie hopes to be a news analyst or expert who can unravel the American political system for Mexicans and get them to care so they can make change in their own government if need be.

Charlie gets to relax for a few days in the city before he goes home and defends his (250 page!) thesis on the American Tea Party. Today, though, he is hanging out with me and I am trying to earn all the Cousin Points so I can be his favorite. (Read: Cousin Points are not actually a thing). Except my Cousin Point-gathering activities are failing miserably because, apparently, of Easter tourists, who are clogging the iconic spots I wanted to take him. We do find some other cool ones, however--when Charlie got up that morning he messaged me that he wanted a hamburger, so I ultimately decided to take him to the legendary P.J. Clarke’s on 3rd Avenue. We then get Alice’s Tea Cup to go, but when we sit on a stoop to drink our tea and eat our scone it starts to rain, so we hang out in a Pier 1, of all things, waiting for it to let up. I worry this has affected my overall Cousin Points score, but we’re laughing a lot, especially about the use of plastic lemons and plates with drawings of sad cats on them.

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Sunday, April 1, 2018

Bits of Glamour

As I get older, I think about glamour in different terms than I used to. While I once thought it was something relegated to classic film starlets and women in fur coats, I’ve realized that--in Tower of Power terms anyway--that sometimes glamour is what it is; and sometimes [glamour] is what it ain’t. I felt glamorous the other day simply because I had an evening with no plans, so I went to the gym, came home, and did my laundry. Wow! You might say. This is truly the equivalent of attending the Academy Awards. Let me explain.
Normally, my evenings are packed with some sort of activity, be it for work or pleasure. But all of a sudden, I had an evening to myself, with nothing to do but take care of my own life. Instead of waiting to the last minute to do laundry, feeling rushed and being moments away from wearing a bathing suit under my clothes, I instead had the evening to go back and forth to the washers and dryers in my basement while eating dinner I made myself and watching a movie on Filmstruck. The apartment was quiet. I sat on the couch, leaning on the left-hand side like I normally do, strangely at peace with even doing laundry, an activity I have long called the bane of my existence.
As literally defined, “glamour” is a magic spell, an inexplicable attractiveness. How could this moment not be that? I started to consider other moments that might and might not traditionally fall into the category of “glamour,” and how this thing I always craved is perhaps in my life in ways I had not traditionally thought. Maybe I didn’t need to be a classic film starlet after all....or maybe I was one all along??

A group of us are in Ossining, New York for SD’s birthday, staying in a house built in the 1920s. The night we arrive, we’re all preparing dinner together--this one scores the avocados for guacamole, that one cooks meat on the stovetop, this one puts cheese and sour cream in bowls, etc. My heart missed this warmth and community, something you can’t just create amongst people who, say, haven’t known each other 12 years. My heart aches to think I have ever not been with them to celebrate whatever event might come our way, but I am glad I’m here now. The next morning, I wake up and light is streaming into the breakfast nook in the kitchen. I’m up early, possibly before anyone else. I make myself a cup of coffee and sit in silence looking out at the tree branches jagged and brown against the gray sky. I don’t remember the last time I did this, sat quietly anywhere, not doing or thinking about anything.
On a Thursday night, I get a text from SC--am I free tonight? He has an extra ticket to a play, Hello, From the Children of Planet Earth by Don Nguyen at The Duke theatre on 42nd Street. I say yes and I don’t look up the play. In Hello, From the Children of Planet Earth, the lead character, an aerospace engineer who works on Voyager 2, discovers what freedoms he has based on the life he chose for himself. He may not have a family and children right now, he says--that is, he may not have gone after those things right out of the gate, like Voyager 1 went out of the gate. But he is Voyager 2--he looks at all he’s accomplished with his career and knows that at some point, if he wants it, family is available to him to pursue--his life is no less important because it doesn’t follow a trajectory previously set forth. Some people are Voyager 1 and some people are Voyager 2. Both are valid ways to live. Outside, it’s raining. SC and I huddle under his umbrella because somehow I am yet again unprepared for the weather. We slosh, soaking, into Whole Foods and eat from the hot bar while talking about his upcoming wedding.
I have decided to walk from my apartment, across Central Park, to 72nd Street and Broadway, where the 3 train is, the train I need to take to SJT’s apartment. Today we are celebrating his birthday potluck style, so I’ve decided to do a bit of a meat and cheese experience. I stop off at Salumeria Rosi, a salumi shop on the Upper West Side, to see what’s what, tasting cured meats and creamy cheeses with dabs of honey. The girl behind the counter is maybe 17 with bleach blonde hair dyed in various pastels like a unicorn. She guides me through the best meat/cheese combinations, and at one point I try the Caciotta al Tartufo, a semi-soft black truffle cheese, that my guide recommends trying with honey. My brain explodes. What mystery is this? What magic? What glamour has this cheese brought into my life? It’s now almost a month later and I can still taste it.
HanOre has taken to hosting a floating mah jongg game at her house. A group of us gather around her table as sunlight streams in the room. We rip focaccia and dip it in sundried tomato pesto and toss tiles bam, dot, flower, soap, others, gossiping and sipping seltzer. Whose turn is it? We only sometimes remember and I’m terrible at this game, but I love feeling the community of these women around me, women who are writing books and developing plays and traveling. It’s nice to have a way to access this part of myself, the Jewish part, with interesting women who are doing the same.
A few weeks later, SJT has prepared portions of a traditional Irish dinner--corned beef and cabbage with rye bread, Shepherd’s Pie. I bring Irish Soda Bread, which I didn’t know was made with caraway seeds until I was in the bakery and I just said well, fuck it, maybe it’s not so terrible with the raisins that are also in it. It was delicious, fluffy and sweet, fabulous next to SJT’s juicy corned beef and Shepherd’s Pie I can’t get enough of. After dinner, he hides Hershey’s chocolate bars for us to find--I am dense and it takes me much longer than it should take a person with a bachelor’s degree--and decides we will all watch The Birdcage together, I’m sure much like his ancestors did.

On a Thursday afternoon, the consulate of Monaco has invited me to a lunch and champagne tasting with three other members of the press. That night, HanOre brings me with her to the premiere of Love, Simon, an adorable queer teen love story. Molly Ringwald is sitting on a couch nearby and I’m trying not to look at her because if I do I’ll just stare. “Look at you, at a movie premiere rubbing shoulders with Molly Ringwald!” I mean, it’s not like I’m talking to her, she’s really just sitting over there, I laugh. “No,” HanOre says. “She walked past you before and accidentally rubbed your shoulder. I saw it.” Oh. Okay. Like many things about my life in New York now, if you had told me this is what would be happening when I was 16, I would have fallen over and died of pure joy. A fabulous press luncheon and a movie premiere on the same day? What is this life that I’m living?
It’s Passover and normally I don’t have anywhere to go, but DL has invited me to his “Orphans Seder,” those who have no plans on the second night, at an events space in Tribeca called Town Stages. Everyone brings food, there’s wine and glasses and a seder plate and a haggadah DL cobbled together. We sing and laugh and talk. At first I feel like it’s an event that’s not really mine, lapsed Jew that I am, but I’m happy to be there experiencing something that is still at the core of my being no matter how much I do or don’t access it. DL tells us stories and facts about why we’re doing what we’re doing and we sing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and I understand it more--it feels less like a strange event I don’t understand and more like a ritual of reflection that doesn’t have to be as much about god as much as it does about discussion and community and reflection and goals for the future. These are all things I can latch onto and by the end I am laughing and making jokes like everyone else.
Later that night, RaGo is visiting from Los Angeles and a group of people are singing at the top of their lungs and dancing in this bar in Greenpoint. Britney, Cher, Cyndi Lauper, *NSYNC, Toni Braxton, Natalie Imbruglia, and the list goes on. I sing so loud I start to sweat, my totally untrained voice happily drowned out by everyone else’s totally untrained voices. RaGo gets her life when Britney plays, so invested in every “Oops I Did It Again,” or “Stronger” the song holds, the bar can hold. I love watching her be alive and I miss her. But tonight we get to be alive together. I moonwalk across the marble tile, I text a cute boy, I feel awake.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Leo Tolstoy Frank

Lev Nikolayevich “Leo” Tolstoy Frank is practically squirming when I arrive at his door. He lives in Harlem with his dads, Steven and Lane, and his Aunt Gillian. He previously lived in Los Angeles, where he was rescued by an organization called Social Tees, a no-kill New York-based animal rescue. Leo was adopted by Steven and Lane last October. His original name was Rodeo, so Steven and Lane named him something similar in sound that still related to them, and the naming themes became Russian literature (Steven) and theatre (Lane--Leo Frank is the name of the lead character in the musical Parade). Leo is a mix of breeds, including Pomeranian, Chihuahua, and perhaps many different terriers. His demeanor is not unlike that of a frazzled yet mild-mannered physics professor nervously shuffling about campus wide-eyed with a giant stack of papers.

Since living in New York, Leo has become acquainted with the intricacies of city life. For example, we often have to put our coats on over our other coats before we go outside, we ride in a loud hole in the ground to get to places we cannot walk to, and we have to cross big, loud streets or sidewalks with grates on them (Leo does not like grates) to get where we are going. Some of these are harder to learn than others, but this is the transition most transplants go through when they get here. It just takes time, I want to tell him. Soon you won’t care about the loudness of the hole in the ground at all.

Today Leo is going for a walk with Steven and I have been invited along. First, because it’s cold outside, Leo is zipped into his winter vest. Once dressed, he waits patiently by the door for Steven, then makes his way quickly, quicker than one might expect for a little dog, down the stairs. We’ll cross the courtyard where Leo will chase after squirrels (Leo is very interested in squirrels), leave the courtyard where he will refuse to cross a particular street and Steven will carry him, and head to the park. Leo sniffs the trees and treks across the fallen leaves, into which he also blends. Leo is still learning how to interact with other dogs on the street (he will soon begin taking a class called “Sidewalk Psychos” to learn how to do this better), so when a teeny Chihuahua approaches Steven distracts Leo by turning him away from the dog with bits of cooked chicken thigh. Leo does a good job of being distracted and is given more chicken.

Soon it is time to return home, and Leo sniffs all across the courtyard as we make our way back. Inside, Leo is unzipped from his vest and patted down with dog wipes. In praise of his patience, Leo is given a bacon treat from Barklyn Bagels. Relaxing post-walk, he sits on his favorite rug and nibbles on his favorite chew toy, a stick made of deer.

Leo regularly makes appearances on the Instagrams of his dads, Steven and Lane.

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