Closing down

After three weeks back home I somehow found my way back into my life and feel quite comfortable with it. I am happy to see that I still feel pretty relaxed and still haven’t lost all of that creative energy I soaked up in New York.

Some things have changed others have not. I successfully started to reserve a part of every day for myself, for dealing with things I want to deal with. Like reading and writing. I try to get better in keeping in touch with people I met. I am still messy and probably will be for the rest of my life. But who cares. People who like me will have to accept that and I don’t have room for people who don’t like me.

I survived Christmas more or less on my own without getting depressed. I just tried to keep myself busy. Although I admit I was dreaming of a real Christmas – with a tree and presents and that smell and that peaceful feeling. But my mind was still so packed with other things, so I was not able to really develop that Christmas sense anyway.

Now the year is over and I have big plans for the new one. This is the moment to close this blog and say goodbye to all my readers. Thank you for following my adventure and for encouraging me by all those likes, comments and personal emails. I know that not every post was a great one, I know I could have done better, I admit that towards the end writing every day has become a duty, a chore sometimes. I will keep writing, but not online. I intend to write a memoir about my six months in New York. If it will become a bestseller and I will become a millionaire I can return to New York and stay there. And you can say “I know her. I used to read her blog…” 🙂

Happy New Year!

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First Day at Work

Today was my first day back in the office. I was welcomed very warmly by co-workers and bosses. Everybody asked questions. But somehow it felt weird.
There was no routine I just could pick up. I had forgotten my passwords as well as the procedures that I myself had designed in my former life. It’s a bit like having to learn everything from the scratch again.
When I tried to go home at 6 pm my computer started installing 92 updates.

During the week I unpacked my stuff, did five loads of laundry, ironed what needed ironing.
I rearranged my book shelve to make room for the newcomers.
I saved 3690 photos. 
I made mistakes on the subway and wondered why I had to wait ten minutes for a train and twenty for a bus.
I bought fir sprigs for a minimum of holiday atmosphere but did not manage to do anything with it yet. Christmas is 8 day ahead but so far away.
I tried to cook Chicken and Waffles and Mac and Cheese.
I did not manage to keep my forced New York habit to wash my dishes and clean the kitchen right after dinner.
I did not get an appointment with my hairdresser.
Some things are easy, others are difficult.

I thought about my book a lot and didn’t find a proper equivalent to “memoir” in German. What I did find was an article that called memoirs an American trend of talking about yourself.

After a week now I still don’t feel really at home in my old life.
I enjoyed meeting good friends.
I enjoyed the comfort of my bathtub.
I happily watched Lindenstrasse and Tatort. 
I miss my new friends.
I miss New York’s chaos.
I miss the creative energy in New York’s air.
I miss having the world outside my doorstep.
I miss the variety of food options.
I miss bagels.

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Back home

I am back home. Tired from the jetlag. Not able to perceive anything yet. Will need some time to arrive.

I arrived in Duesseldorf at 7:15 this morning on a flight delayed by snow in New York. The flight was quite comfortable. I had an aisle seat on the middle block with just one woman on the other aisle and two empty seats between us. Food had been horrible. American food at its worst. My two pieces of luggage came on the belt soon and a good friend was waiting outside to help me carry what’s left of my life in New York.
We took the train to Cologne and I bought a wrong ticket from the complicated ticket machine at Duesseldorf Airport. Of course a conductor came – this does not necessarily happen on these regional trains – and gave me a 40€ fine which they call “increased fair”. The ticket I had was more expensive than the one I would have needed. It was just the wrong kind of ticket and thus not valid on my train. I now have two weeks time to give a statement of my mistake to avoid having to pay the 40€. Welcome back in Germany.
My friend had brought a bottle of Hugo and two glasses. So we had Hugo on the train. It was awfully sweet and had not much in common with the nice and refreshing summer drink. But it was fun.
In Cologne we took a taxi because of the luggage.
At home everything was quite ok. The mail was spread on the kitchen table. My oleander’s pot was broken but the plant is alive as are all the others. Some had suffered a bit. Some minor damages, some displacements. Nothing serious.
I sorted the laundry and put a first load into the machine. Then I went to bed and fell asleep. Late afternoon I woke up, still tired, hung up the laundry on the rack, missed a dryer and wondered why my washing machine washes better than all those laundromat machines. My laundry was definitely cleaner. Is it my detergent, the fact that German washing machines have more options than just cold, warm or hot or that they wash 90 minutes instead of 20?
I went for shopping groceries. My neighbourhood felt strange. Everything looked so tidy. Had somebody washed and ironed it while I was gone?
The supermarket on Sülzburgstrasse has been renovated and redesigned. It took me a while to find what I needed. But I didn’t know what I needed anyway. I finally bought basics like milk, eggs, margarine and bread, some cheese and liverwurst, my standard basic muesli, bananas and kiwis to prepare my all time favourite muesli and tons of vitamins like oranges and mandarins. The tote bag I had brought was too small. I should have one of these carts they have in New York.
I had a bowl of pancake soup and a hot and long bath.

Soh Ang had made my departure very convenient. She picked me up on the Upper West Side in her car and took me to her house where the rest of my luggage was waiting for me. While she was cooking lunch I rearranged my bags. More books into the big suitcase, more clothes into the light bag. We had home made spring rolls with a vegetable called jicama and a Jamie Oliver fish soup. Cake and tea afterwards.
Then she drove me to the airport and we had to say goodbye. Soh Ang has been a great friend to me and she has added a lot of value to my stay. Not only has she been very helpful with all those practical issues but we as well spent a lot of good time together doing interesting things and she gave me an insight into her culture. I will miss her.

My luggage was less heavy than I had expected. I could have bought about five more kilos of books, shoes and clothes. Check in was quick and easy but the security line seemed endless.
When I finally boarded my plane snow was falling on New York.

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The Christmas Tree

I said I can go home when I have seen the lighted Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. It was lighted on Wednesday and I hadn’t seen it yet due to inconvenient weather conditions. So today I had to see it – otherwise I could not go home.

My last day was blessed with blue sky and sunshine. It was cold but there was no icy breeze. I wanted to see the tree and the Christmas decorations along 5th Avenue. As the weather was so splendid I started my tour in Central Park and walked to Wollman Rink. A lot of people were skating, others were strolling around. The only signs of winter were the missing leaves and the busy rink.
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At the corner of 5th Avenue and 59th Street the world’s largest Chanukah Menorah has been set up.
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I started walking south on 5th Avenue. The big stores with the big names there indeed have impressive decorations.
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A huge star is hanging high above 5th Avenue.
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The closer I came to Rockefeller Center, the denser the crowd became. At Rockefeller Center moving was not possible any more.
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Everybody wanted to see the tree today. And of course everybody needed to be photographed with the tree. The tree itself was disappointing. It is not spectacular at all. Just little lights in different colors and a star on top.
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At the edge of the chaos the Salvation Army was rocking like everywhere in the city these days.
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In the morning I had still thought it would be a great day for Top of the Rock. Maybe it would have been but I didn’t see a chance to get there at all.
I walked further south, to the library. The lions are carrying wreaths now.
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In Astor Hall a tree has been set up as well. In the library shop I easily found some still needed gifts and got a red library tote bag. In the Deli on 40th Street I had my last sandwich, grilled Reuben on rye.
At the windows of Lord and Taylor lines had been formed to walk by and take pictures.
I left 5th Avenue at 34th Street and walked over to Macy’s to see Santa. But traffic at Macy’s was very similar to traffic at Rockefeller Center. I decided not to see Santa. It would have cost me the rest of the afternoon.
Instead I took the train to Union Square to buy the bag I had seen on 14th Street yesterday. When I arrived at Union Square I decided to check the other direction first. There might be more bag shops between 5th and 6th Avenue. I was right and easily found a cheap carry-on size trolley backpack there and avoided the detour to the east side. As it started to get dark I decided to stop at Rockefeller Center again on my way home to see the tree illuminated. But first I had my last Pumpkin Spice Latte – not from Starbucks.
To get to Rockefeller Center I needed the F train which of course was not coming. I guess it is the most unreliable train in New York’s subway system. When I finally got there the chaos was the same as earlier in the afternoon. But the tree was lit now.
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On my way home I found an arrangement of Christmas baubles at Chase on 6th Avenue.
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At home I started packing before I went for my last dinner. I took the bus down Columbus to eat at Isabella’s, an Italian restaurant on Columbus and 77th Street. It was packed however. I walked up Columbus and down Amsterdam in search of an alternative. There are lots of restaurants on both streets but I was in the mood for Italian food tonight. Finally I found La Vela on Amsterdam. A little place with red and white checkered tablecloths. I went in and got a table although it was very busy. I had salsicchia on grilled polenta and Ravioli filled with wild mushrooms. It was good but not extraordinary. But the place is very sweet.

What I learned today:
A sunny Saturday is not the best day to see the Christmas tree.

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Shabbat Shalom

Many weeks ago when I had visited the Eldridge Street Synagogue I had been invited by the tour guide to join a Shabbat service at the Central Synagogue. Everybody is welcome there, Jewish or not, it is a very liberal congregation. All the time I wanted to go there one Friday evening but every Friday there was something else. Today was my last chance and I used it.

The Central Synagogue was built on Lexington Avenue at 55th Street in 1872. It is one of the oldest synagogues in the United States. Soh Ang and I arrived ten minutes before the service would start, in pouring rain. I was surprised that there are no separate entrances. Men and women use the same door. Our bags were inspected when we arrived and they handed us an umbrella bag for our very wet umbrellas. When we entered the sanctuary we were greeted with a friendly “Shabbat Shalom”. I looked around to see where the women were sitting. Women were sitting next to men, no separation. We took a seat in one of the rear benches and waited excitedly.
The service started with music, very lively music. There was a lot of that music during the whole thing. I liked it. Then the candles were lighted, the congregation was welcomed and asked to walk around and wish others “Shabbat Shalom”. We didn’t walk around but exchanged a “Shabbat Shalom” with the people in the bench in front of us. Then we were asked to open the prayer book on page 12. I found two books in the back of the bench in front of us. People took the thinner one, so I did the same. But I didn’t find page 12. The book started with a much higher page number. Until I understood that it has to be used the other way round. The last page is the first one and pages are turned from left to right. Texts are written in Hebrew and English in both writings. All singing and praying was in Hebrew. For the reading two Torah rolls were taken out of the Torah cabinet. They were carried around and people touched them with their prayer book. The sermon was about Joseph and the rabbi set him in relation to Nelson Mandela. The rabbi – next surprises – was a woman and Asian-American.
The service in general was very similar to church services at home. There was music, prayer, reading and a sermon. More music and a different kind of music. The sermon was shorter. Everything was very joyful. And indeed the congregation seems to be very liberal and open minded.

Back out in the pouring rain again Soh Ang suggested dinner. I took her to my neighborhood and we went to Land, a creative Thai restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue at 82nd Street. I had a lemongrass chicken with sticky rice served in a banana leaf and papaya salad. Very unusual but very tasty. The chicken, served on the bone was crispy and tender. The papaya salad was crisp and slightly sour as well as sweet. Soh Ang had drunken noodles. As a starter we shared a plate of shrimp parcels served with a lemony cream sauce.

Earlier in the day I had stopped at Lincoln Center to see if my ring was ready. It was and it fits my finger perfectly now. I was hungry and decided to give the German bratwurst a chance.  I had been unfair. The couple are Germans, the bratwurst was better than any I ever had in Cologne. They said they serve the hotdog toppings because the Americans want it that way. I had it just with mustard. So on one of my last days I smudged my light coat with yellow mustard. Great!

What I learned today:
The experience of a Jewish Shabbat service.

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A Great Final

It was my last chance to get a rush ticket for the Met Opera. And although it was tricky I really got one. Seeing Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin there was a great final experience.

Rush tickets are 20$ and they are sold two hours before curtain. As I hadn’t got one on Monday arriving there right then, today I went there an hour earlier.
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I sat down in the lobby to get in line as soon as it would be forming. But nothing happened. Some other people were sitting there or walking around and I thought they would be waiting as well. 15 minutes before sale would start they changed the labels at the box office Windows and I finally asked. I learned that the line is forming downstairs. I ran downstairs and found a long line of people almost in the garage. I lost my hope but joined the line. At 5:30 they directed us upstairs. When I finally was right at the windows and a clerk sent me to window C I couldn’t believe it. I received an orchestra ticket and paid 20$. Later I checked the regular price. I would have to pay 160$ for my seat.
I rushed home to get dressed and styled and Maureen told me about Nelson Mandela’s death. So sad. But I was in opera mood. I would grieve for this great man later.

Eugene Onegin is not what I would call a classic opera. It is very lyrical. I love Tchaikovsky’s music and I loved the more sentimental than dramatic arias. I missed Anna Netrebko, who had sung Tatiana in the first performances. Now it is Marina Poplavskaya, whom I had never heard of. She was not spectacular but pretty good. Spectacular to me was Rolando Villazon singing Lenski. What a voice!
The venue is not really impressive. It is a modern building, not as rich as the Semper Opera in Dresden. Stage scenery was excellent, very rich and imaginative. They apparently still can spend money on their productions. Every seat has a little monitor on the back of the front seat where texts can be shown in several languages. The opera was sung in Russian mainly, partly French.
It was interesting to see what people wear for an opera visit. Very diverse. I saw woman really dressed up in long dresses like for a formal dance, others very casual in pants, sweaters and boots and everything between it. Men alike. There were those in formal suits and others in jeans and checkered shirts. Unlike on Broadway the run for an expensive drink in the intermissions is huge. Maybe because intermissions are longer. My cava was not much cheaper than my ticket.
After three and a half hours Tatiana left Onegin behind in the falling Saint Petersburg snow and the curtain fell. Some people rushed out immediately, what I think is very unfair towards the singers. The remaining audience gave standing ovations.

When I woke up in the morning it was white outside. Not snow but New York was wrapped in a dense fog. I could not see the building on the other side of the parking lot outside my window. It cleared up a bit later but it was sure that it would not be a day for Top of the Rock.
So I did the downtown shopping I had planned for Tuesday and had a late lunch at The Meatball Shop on Stanton Street finally, imagining it would be Edek’s place (Lily Brett, You gotta have balls). I had beef balls in mushroom sauce on polenta. That’s how it works. You choose a type of balls, a sauce and a side dish. Or you can have your balls on a salad or on a sandwich. The balls were really tasty and the place is cute.
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Between the meatballs and the ticket line I stopped at Columbus Circle again to look for Terry Ross, the artist who had made my big ring. I found her this time and she even remembered me. She tried to fix the problem on the spot but then said she would need more wire and didn’t have that particular one here. I left the ring with her and can pick it up on Saturday.

What I learned today:
How to get tickets for the Met Opera

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New York History and Another Goodbye

I spent the afternoon in the museum of the New York Historical Society and I spent the evening in a wine bar with Karen, whom I had met in my writing class. Another catching up and saying goodbye.

The New York Historical Society is interesting but it is not a must. Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass greeted me outside.
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They do have a very well done video presentation of New York History, using several layers of screen. For me that was the highlight. Another highlight I may have missed: the Armory Show. I was mistaken by the name, thought it is an exhibition about armory. It was an arts exhibition however, referring to a 1913 show of paintings and sculptures named after a group of artists. Showing works of famous artists like van Gogh and Degas it is included in the ticket price but I would have had to fix a time to see it. I didn’t do that when I bought my ticket – which seemed a bit overpriced to me – because I am not interested in armory. So I missed it, stupidly.

The wine bar that Karen had suggested to meet in, Ardesia, is in Hell’s Kitchen but way off the beaten track between 10th and 11th Avenue. I was skeptical about it because it is so far off and because it looks a bit sterile during the day, but I agreed to go there. They have a good selection of wine by the glass and a nice selection of snacks and the reviews are good. It was not a mistake. The Italian Sauvignon Blanc I had was excellent as were my shrimps skewers and my beet salad with goat cheese and arugula. Karen surprised me with a birthday present. She handed me a heavy thing wrapped in purple gift wrap. It looked like a book. After we had ordered our wine I opened it – and was delighted. It was that book about New York recipes and ingredients that I had seen in a bookstore in Chelsea Market all those months ago and then decided not to buy it because it was just too big and too heavy. Karen had connected me to food what of course is a hit. She even offered to ship it for me if I cannot carry it. But I will manage somehow and I was really excited about it. It is a very thoughtful present.
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It was so nice to meet Karen again. Like yesterday with Priya we reviewed my time in New York, we talked about my book plan and about other things. Although we have pretty different backgrounds we have a lot in common.
When we left the wine bar we started walking towards the subway together. Karen insisted on buying lottery tickets. She said it makes her feel good for a while and is much cheaper than therapy. I think that’s a great point of view. I then suggested to make a little detour to check out Schmackary’s. We had talked about the cookies earlier. Karen took home three cookies. I took just one, a chocolate cookie with chili. It is for tomorrow – but I did have a tiny little bite with my wine while writing this.

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