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.