June 2009

This is the kind of story where I’ve away a plot element already – that I was at Magnolia, the cupcake place featured in Sex and the City. It would probably best be served as the punchline, but I must begin that its ironic that this story happened at Magnolia. One, is that I want to avoid cafes/restaurants that became famous for reasons unrelated to the quality of their food. Serendipity taught me that, as I mentioned in an earlier post. The second irony…well, you have to find out.

My suitemates and I were coming back from watching The Proposal at Lincoln Center. Meghan mentioned that the cupcake place was nearby, but probably closed since it was pushing ten. Indeed, the cashiers waved at us sadly to tell us we couldn’t come in. But I pressed my nose against the glass door, peering through two windows to see the delicious cupcakes. yes, I was like one of those boxcar children, oliver twist, Annie, pick your pathetic orphan, separated from the delectables. And then a man in a suit, with a box of cupcakes, motioned us to the side entrance. He came outside and opened up the box, which had six delicious ones.

“Other than these two,” he motioned to two chocolatey looking ones, but luckily there was one more with chocolate icing, “you can have any in the box. They gave too many to me.”

FREE CUPCAKES. IN NEW YORK. It was a magical moment that I kind of got my wish, even if I pretend that I didn’t want Magnolia cupcakes. Damn, it was good. Terribly sweet, so I picked up a pink plastic cup of water from Subway, but absolutely wonderful.

Amber was on the phone as we walked to the subway with our cupcakes, so she didn’t finish hers before we dipped underground.

“I feel like my cupcake just got dirtied in here,” she said, or something that effect that the air inside the cars just spoiled it. I generally feel dirtier when I ride the subway, so I indeed sympathized. I’m not sure if she ate it.


I’m a cliche – I spent a rainy Saturday morning in New York at a cafe nearby. Parth looked up nearby coffee shops so I could read a book I picked up from the new york public library. Via phone, he directed me to a cafe on Amsterdam between 109th and 110th called SIP. When I first looked it, it seemed so small and not closed off enough from the rain. I had my doubts, but I walked in and took a seat at these one or two person niche tables attached to the walls. I’m not quite sure what the overarching theme of the decor is, but the tables were made from, or decorated with, laminated pennies. The walls on the interior walls were black and red cushions, I believe, and some people chose outdoor seating under the canopy, despite the rain. Since I was sitting with my back towards the open door, I could hear the rain hitting the pavement with the satisfaction that I was out of its wet grip. I hate getting wet.

I was surprised that the owner and waitress were really friendly because I think of new york operating as a machine without a human touch. Or is it because of this tendency that the cafe goes out its way to be friendly? Or is an American quality to put on a hyper-enthusiastic voice? (On a side note, my doctor gave me a big smile as she told me that I had a virus in my body, that just wasn’t going away. It threw me off – was she giving me good news or bad? )

They were offering a prix fixed brunch that included unlimited tea/coffee and mimosas…she had me at mimosas, but only if I were with other people. I kept going over the normal menu, which had a soup du jour section, an egg section, toast, granola that seemed expensive at 7 dollars compared to a sandwich that was $8. Generally affordable at New York rates though the 18% gratuity made me wince a little.

Okay, I’ve become more conservative than I would have liked, because I ordered my usual aubergine, red pepper and mozzarella sandwich. But, it was a surprise because they cut up the aubergine and made into a filling, like hummus except less fluid, rather than a centerpiece, like a burger. Everything was falling out but it was a hot, oily mess of delicious familiarity and a little surprise.

A less delectable surprise was the overcooked side of stripped Brussels sprouts, possibly cabbage and other unrecognizable vegetables. Without much salt or seasoning, sighs. It was the classic dish that makes people hate vegetables – why did they think of it was a good idea?

The mush was a small setback because the aroma of a fruity scone wafted across to me…maddening, the temptation. I kept starting at it on the counter.

SIP is a such a tiny place that it breeds familiarity quickly. I didn’t expect that because a subway car is also a small place, but one that distributes apathy. I guess its just the attitude that people bring – you go to a cafe to be social but you’re forced onto a subway and adopt the attitude of difference.

Another trip to SIP? Maybe, but I wonder how many other such cafes there must be in the city

Stop. Read the post below, first, if you haven’t already. Its a bridge you must cross.

I’m a bit disappointed in the area around Rockefeller, because I’d hoped there would be lots of really good cafes, restaurants, character, in general. My only equivalent is Piccadilly Circus, except the commercial retail is right next to skyscraper office buildings (I work on the 17th floor). This is the center of Manhattan the way PC/Oxford Street is, except there aren’t office buildings situated in those areas, of course. I mean, an Au Bon Pain is nice, but 1.75 for a stale croissant at 6 pm, really? I know, everyone knows, New York is expensive but it’s always been a far away fact. Now that I am living it…

I’m not only peeved by the cost, but by the poor quality of the food in the few nearby restaurants. And Serendipity. And Magnolia, if I had visited. The secret to New York is to avoid the most pop-famous areas. My favorite place so far, a vegetarian dimsum restaurant in Chinatown, on a dodgy side street.

no, its a continuum – I might have left London (temporarily) but it won’t exactly leave me, so…

I started Zadie Smith’s second novel called On Beauty.

The novel initially seemed to lack the punch of White Teeth in using conventional narration to describe the characters, but her writing styles returns. I find it hard to even describe her writing style because Smith reforms cliched philosophies, but in new ways. My favorite passage so far is a physical description of experiencing Mozart – its so bizarre, like we’re on an acid trip and our senses are getting mixed up except it captures the strength of our emotional responses to music. Since the passage starts the chapter, it completely takes the reader by surprise, I love it.

My inner scholar warns me against reading the story’s details literally, since it can hinder my understanding of the important universal message. But I felt a warm inside because the novel includes a reference to Michigan and London.

The inclusion of Michigan, even as a passing reference, and Boston, a city to which I’ve aspired from Lahiri’s novels, and Queen’s Park in London, north of Finchley Road on the Jubilee line, coincidentally connects all of these places that I possess in some way. Stories of belonging have started to resonate with me as I now feel uprooted, and unsure where “home” is anymore. I always thought I’d want to end up in Philly after Swat, but can I somehow claim London as my home? Now that I’m approaching graduation, I’m seriously taking notice that we can’t choose our homes based on where we feel comfortable, but its determined on who wants to employ us. In this global recession where countries are drawing in their borders, (Obama’s buy American, “we don’t want to create Chinese jobs”) I probably can’t relocate to London. And even if I do, it won’t be the same London that I left. In fact, my London changed every month and its by virtue of my extended stay of 6 months, rather than the typical 3 months, that I came to love the city. Otherwise I’d have left in the end of March with bitter feelings.

I’m rambling, but who’s reading anymore? Except myself.

I don’t want to talk about my internship. I don’t want to talk about New York. I’m just confused. I don’t drink alcohol anymore, and probably won’t for the rest of the summer, and I haven’t experimented with cooking. (When Parth came on Saturday, though, I made my perfect dish. I failed in London because I was lazy and used chopped tomatoes from a can instead of fresh tomatoes.) I hardly walk anywhere because I’m so focused on my goals for the internship, and I haven’t visited any cafes, restaurants, plays or concerts. Where are my promises to keep full life I created in London? Why does it seem like “living” and “working” are incompatible?

I shouldn’t have even questioned whether London’s a dream slipping away from my fingers. The harder I try to hold on to it, the faster it goes until I only have a few dregs left. Its like Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy is left with ruby slippers. Only. I’m left with a box of Twining’s finest Earl Grey.


PS: There’s always a postscrip. I’ll say tomatoes with a long o, and then realise that it doesn’t sound correct, and correct myself, and then get confused which is the right pronunciation. I spend six months trying to perfect one word, and then have to undo it all here because it’s just pretentious. You can’t avoid the connection between America’s perception of Britain as posh and pretentious, no more than the connection between the word “rape” as a joking threat and its long history of sexual violence. If Urooj, you ever read this, yes, you would be shocked the way those Brits casually used the word “rape”. It really bothered me.

I know, it’s so late. I’m already three days into new york, but I needed time for everything to settle. And guess what? I miss London terribly.

The last few days was like, walking to the edge of a cliff without realising it. I didn’t really change my patterns but continuing as if I’d never leave although trying to convince myself that I’d be in New York. I couldn’t cram everything I wanted to do because I had exams until Tuesday and then packing and stuff. I made Frankie make us watch Moulin Rouge because we had talked about it for so bloody long.

Out of all the craziness that happened, there’s one moment that I will always remember. The breakfast at that diner near West Hampstead. I hate comparing real life to books, but it was exactly something out of a book, my first english breakfast. I “ordered” a veggie but somehow ended up with only with the unhealthy items, including the hashbrown, the veggie sausage and the toast. So I swapped some hashbrowns for fried mushrooms and baked beans. I never imagined that baked beans on toast could be worthwhile and it might just be in the imagination, but that day, it tasted good. I wish I could have just elongated that breakfast moment on a beautiful sunny day, but I had to rush off to meet Ailya. Poor thing, we were both exhausted.

Right, them lot told me that there’s an alleyway connecting West Hampstead tube stop to Finchley Road. See, I took alley way too seriously, and found myself a tiny, scary alley that didn’t end, had really tall fences and no exits so I couldnt get out, was dark because the fence blocked out all the sunlight and there were small sheds along the road with graffiti on them. Only I would get myself in that situation. The so called “alley” is actually a wide road with signs all over, but since I was looking for an alley….

Anyways, that was the last enjoyable moment of London. Everything else was just anticipating the end – moulin rouge was depressing. Why did I insist we watch it? Stupidly, I stayed up until 2 or 3 in the morning before my flight the next day.

I really hate missing London, its making the transition to New York a lot harder. Or maybe transitions are always hard and I just erase the frustrating moments in my study abroad from the enjoyment of my final weeks and the onset of nostalgia.

Since I’ve started work, well, no more playtime for me. Its true, as students, you have time but no money, and as an adult, you have money but no time. And I’m just minimum wage.

Well anyways, no more about London or even New York because I signed a confidentiality agreement.


PS Army hot chocolate isn’t bad at all. Rob gave me a packet ages ago, which I made in the last day. Luckily its best in powder form though I feel sorry for the soldiers that they make it with hot water (or powdered milk?). But the image it conjures up is really cute – the “manliness” of war against the kiddishness. The simple warmth of hot chocolate.