Thursday, 27 May 2010

I got to thinking...

I can pinpoint the moment that falling out of love turned to total hated.

It was a few months ago while walking The Highline. Flowers stretching their newborn heads into the glare of the sun, springtime smiles from New Yorkers, views across the Hudson to New Jersey on my left, Manhattan's straight lines to my right. A buddhist monk strolls past in bright orange robes, while in a photo studio overlooking the park, a man is modeling swimwear at a fashion shoot.

Straight ahead of me on the wall of a building is a 50 foot high poster. A huge silver sparkly number '2' and in smaller writing underneath Sex and the City 2- sponsored by Moet and Chandon. I stop. I shudder. I can't decide which offends me most- the drag queen diamante or the movie being bankrolled by the world's most ghetto chavulous champagne. SATC lost it's cool when the first film came out, now it's conceding to becoming a full on franchise? Aimed at who? Teenage girls and rappers?

SATC- the HBO series was great at getting the zeitgeist before it even happened. SATC- the movies have become a designer Disneyland for not very grown-ups, a reliable studio moneyspinner that trades in fake fantasies and forced fabulosity.

The world has changed a lot since 2004 when the series ended. Hell, I even smoked back then. Inside too! In restaurants and everything! Imagine? I liked to curl up on my sofa in Cardiff and work my way through a packet of Malboro Lights while watching Carrie smoke hers.
There was always excess back then, but while the movies want to choke on it, the series kept it more palatable and made sure the characters kept one Choo in reality. I loved the TV version, I  really did. Go ahead and be snarky. I was a loud and proud a fan. It was witty, relevant, pitch perfect and of it's time. Everything the movies are not. 
If watching SATC the movie 1 was like pouring sugar in your mouth until you vomited, then I fancy  SATC 2 will be akin to catching a once hip older sister buying incontinence pads at Duane Reade. I won't be finding out. I am not paying $15 to give this gravy train any more credence.

If the HBO series Carrie actually existed she would not watch movie Carrie. She probably wouldn't be living in New York anymore. She would spend her nights posting comments on Gawker about how Manhattan is over and too sanitised and it was better when you could walk down the streets and be mugged for your Manolos, except Carrie wouldn't even be wearing Manolos anymore, she'd be wearing Toms.

And she would type: "I got to thinking...could it be the show that was so much about fashion, simply fell out of it?"



Regular readers of this blog will know that this is the first time I have even written the words 'Sex and the City' on Welsh Alien. If it ever needed referring to it was named as The show that we never dare speak it's name since it sold out and made that appallingly saccharin big screen version. Just so that it's clear I'm not jumping on the SATC bashing bandwagon and that I can always be relied on to stay ahead of the hater trends.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010


New York, like myself and The American has one volume setting...loud.

However, I think I can safely say the city and the husband trump me on both. When The American gets animated the walls actually shake a little. While on the phone I ask why he bothers actually using one-he could just as easily employ two tins cans and some string. His shout could not only wake the dead, it could catapult them from their graves and have them dancing a Mambo on 5th Avenue. Despite all this, he hears only my roar, as if the tiny hairs in his ear canal are tuned solely into my resonance:

"Honneeee. You're soooo loud." he often says to me.
"What? ME? How can YOU say that to ME?"
"Why are you getting angry? he laughs, as if he himself whispers his way through life.
"'Cos that is a fucking joke. You telling ME  I'm too loud!"
"Well, you're being loud right now!"
"Yes. 'Cos you're making me angry telling me I am too loud!"

With a loud husband and the loud city and the sound of my own (moderately loud) voice, I frequently crave quiet. I fantasise about leaving my family and living on a mountain- as long as the mountain had wifi- I want quiet, not boredom.

Our apartment would be an obvious choice as my haven of peace. It's at the back of the building of a fairly serene street, the peace is peppered only by the hum of air-con units, an occasional plane overhead or a distant siren on 7th Avenue.  But it has a major flaw-my family live in it. The bellowing American and The Teenager. While the latter is not loud, she does have a portable phone permanently glued to her ear in order to maintain constant connection to love of her life back in Cardiff. Her hair covers the handset, so I often think the constant chatter is aimed at me. This creates a lot of confusion, especially when I think she is calling me 'babes' and saying goodnight at 7 pm. Yes, havens of peace are hard to find in big cities. When there's three of you jammed in a pricey shoebox in the West Village, havens are hard to find in your own apartment too.

Today though, after 8 months and 19 days I found my peace. My quiet in the middle of NYC.

Today I found the New York public library and I now sit in this room:

What can I hear right now? Pretty much...Nothing. Not even the sound of breathing. There is just the occasional scraping of the elegant oak chairs against the tiled floor. Unlike this pic above (stolen from the internet) there must be 500 people here right now. It's like a giant exam room. Or a gathering of the civilised in a post apocalyptic movie, if they all decided to read and write with the end of humanity looming.

My surroundings are fantastically grand-from the long tables decked with reading lamps and leather bound reference books on the walls to the art deco chandeliers and neo classical ceiling. It's like a 1930's Gentleman's club, except it's a public space and there's free wifi. It's so unathomable for a girl that grew up going to a village library housed in a pre-fab.

For such public elegance though, you have to pay with compliance. There is no eating, drinking, mobile phones, photography or talking here. It's a room of zero tolerance and I will take it, as the pay off is jaw dropping.

Still, after a while the temptation to do something naughty is growing. I have already eaten half a Lara bar and have been getting a bit brazen with my water sipping. I have also tried taking pictures of the grand ceiling with the photo booth on my macbook-the results of which are not very good. Teach me for being so rebellious.

But such environmental perfection cannot last indefinitely. I wait for the catch...

Then the catch is wheeled in, in a stroller. Pushed by some liberal Yummy Mummy who thinks it's perfectly fine to risk everyone's calm by bringing a two year old into a quiet room. The toddler says:

"Gwaaa raa raa reee!"
"Shhhh" the Mother says.
"Gwaa raa raa reee" he repeats
"Shhhh" she says again, but then she laughs, which annoys me quite a lot.
"Din ba boo beee dem" he replies-which I understand is toddler speak for "Why I am in here? I can't even read yet."

Haven of quiet destroyed for now. I am packing up my laptop and leaving.

I will be back, though. This is still the best quiet that NYC has to offer. This is what I needed to find and the city gave it to me. It doesn't always kick sand in your face when you're down. Sometimes it gives you something back, a reward, a little gift.

Today it gave me this beautiful, breathtaking public place that only has one fault... it's open to the public. 


Friday, 14 May 2010

Big walk home

(part 3 of 3)

I am at 80th Street and 5th. I do the calculations in my head- 2 Avenues and 67 blocks. 

I can walk it.

I've spent the afternoon lazing around in Central Park on the Great Lawn after the fight with The American. I've read my book, listened to my ipod and gazed skyward at the sun through scrunched up eyes. A hot breezy day that brought all forms of life out- school kids, Upper East Side Mummies, buskers, the unemployed, runners, cyclists, even a man playing the bagpipes. Unlike 95% of New Yorkers, I bet he'd know where Wales was. I didn't get a chance to ask him though, as he was surrounded by tourists asking him to play some Rod Stewart.

For a while it was a kind of nirvarna, my spot in the middle of the park. I wondered how long I could stay there, being left alone to just stare at the sky? Until 5.30 p.m. was the answer, when all these baseball teams arrived and I realised I was smack bang in the middle of everyone's outfield. Two guys came up to me and politely told me if I stayed I risked being hit by the ball.

"Shouldn't you all still be in work feeding the corporate beast?" I yell at no one in particular.

So with my peaceful escape cut short I decide I'm going to walk it, all the way home. I need to get my head straight, decide if I should apologise. I want to listen to my thoughts, soak in the changing landscape as I head downtown, so I leave the ipod off.

The Upper East Side never feels quite like New York to me. It's so...serene. Where I am on 5th, the park is on my right, walled off by 4 foot high stone. There are benches on my side of the wall, with wet paint signs on, which people are sat on anyway. I wonder who was the first to put their hands on and declare "S'ok people-it's dry now!"

Over the road are generic apartment buildings with grand awnings and doormen. Thin, tanned women  pass me, wearing preppy clothes and walking tiny, rat-like dogs. It's so quiet as if people are scared to interrupt the monied hush. There are hardly any black people. There are hardly any brown people. There are no visible homeless.

When I hit 60th, the restraint of the U.E.S. gives way to an explosion of people and traffic and noise. The Mac shop, it's glass cube, like an alien ship that landed in the middle of the city.

Opposite it, the gilded and newly renovated Plaza, with it's $20 million condos and tourists waiting outside for the movie bus tours. As I pause to cross the street on one side I am flanked by some French businessmen, on the other- a man in a rickshaw.

I take a right at 58th to cross over to 7th Avenue and grab an iced coffee from a food truck to fuel me up. I head South again, hitting luggage and camera shops and remembering what is coming up ahead: Times Square, the frenetic beast. The centre of the world, yet the middle of nothing. Neon winks at me seductively in the distance.

Then I am in it: total sensory overload, lights, noise, the smell of pollution mixed with caramalised nuts and hot dogs, people everywhere, their necks crained at the man-made beautiful ugly in the sky. Everyone's selling something: "Do you like Comedy?" "Hey Miss, you wanna bus tour?" "Sunglasses 5 bucks!" Teenage girls in too tight dresses and too high heels, out of towners lining up to go into an open fronted bar and drink watered down well drinks. The TKTS see-thru stair case that's in the Jay Z and Alicia video, around that the highest signs, clamouring up the side of skyscrapers.

It flirts with me, entices me, begs to be photographed. No. I am not a tourist anymore. I can't get my camera out in bloody Times Square....

I take out my camera and snap. Just one. Naughty neon clad whore.

I seek solace, escape into Sephora, but in this branch they are playing Abba's greatest hits. I go around and rub $160 face cream on my hands and play with all the sparkly make up. I put some bronzer over my newly freckled face and then I leave. The make-up makes me want to make-up. I'm going to say sorry to The American.

Another 10 blocks and I am at 34th st, dominated by Macy's- busy people everywhere, criss crossing my pathway, racing like worker ants to their destination. I go the wrong way at the spot where Broadway crosses diagonally. Then a whole block filled with people dressed in Mexican costumes for Cinco de Mayo.

The sun is setting and cars are turning their lights on. What time is out? I don't have a phone. How long have I been walking for? I see a sign opposite Penn station asking me to ''Feel the Love' for crocs. I scoff loudly to myself. No more than I will feel the love for a child molesting Tory, thanks.

Midtown makes way for Chelsea. The outfits are more interesting, people are younger, hardly any suits and plenty of gays. I pass the road where The Teenager's first school was. The Jamba juice where I would met her after school and she would tell me how much she hated it here and wanted to go home. And I would say "We are home. This is where we live now."

Then I'm into familiar territory, lower Chelsea, past all the shops and cafes I frequent and and I am nearly there. I  pop into the rip-off Gourmet market where your groceries still get thrown at you despite the high prices. I buy a chicken to make me and The American some dinner. I cross over 7th and take the right onto W13th Street and I am in Greenwich village, the trees, now lush and leafy with Spring, sweep aside to welcome me back.

I climb the three flights of steep stairs to my apartment that always leave me breathless, no matter how much I go to the gym. My apartment is called a 4th floor walk-up, but it's on the 3rd floor. There is no ground floor here you see. Ground is first. Another thing lost in translation.

The American is lying on the bed watching TV.

"I'm sorry!" he says pleadingly as soon as I walk into the bedroom.
"No. I'm sorry!" I say.

And that is how it goes, we both say sorry at the same time, like we are in a cheesy Rom Com. Now I am pissed off I apologised at all, but then I remember what Dr Phil says above love not being about 'winning' and 'scoring points'. Hurumph.

For two people who rarely admit they are wrong, this is quite a moment. I lie down on the bed next to him and I can feel the muscles in my legs starting to ache.

Walking is easy in Manhattan. It's all straight lines. If only relationships were the same.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Big Drama

(part 2 of 3)

The afternoon was going well, too well really.

After the powder blue skies and 360 degree Manhattan views from Big Bambu atop The Met roof, the rest of the day was always going to be a climbdown-both literally and metaphorically.

However, it starts positively, I am really enjoying the Medieval furniture hall and The American and I are pretending we're in The Tudors-the one with Jonathan Rhys Myers on Showtime.

"Ye privy council informs me you are a lady of ill repute!" The American bellows
"'Tis true, to my regret fine Sir!" I reply, head bowed in mock shame.

But it all starts to go tits-up when I get caught stroking a 15th Century tomb. A guard tells me off and The American joins in:

"Stop trying to touch stuff Emma."
"I can't!"
"Just stop!"
"It's too tempting, these things are like, 500 years old!" and I run my fingers along the side of a Belgian tapestry while his back is turned. 

Next, we're in a hall that resembles a Stately home, with grand room reconstructions from the last 400 years. It's so... opulent...decadent.

Oh god. I need to stroke things. Sit on the chair, sweep though the room in a Crinoline gown. Be ravished atop the Chippendale table. Instead I just get my camera out of my suddenly horribly modern looking bag. It's dark, I turn on the flash, take the picture.

"MISS! NO FLASH ALLOWED!" yells a scary Museum guard of indeterminable sex.

For the love of Henry VIII! There is no sign about not using a flash. PUT A FUCKING SIGN UP. And what's with the rules anyway? I'm snapping a chamber pot, not the Turin Shroud.

I take the flash off my camera anyway. Or rather, that's what I think I'm doing. Technology is not my friend. Technology just laughs in my face. I take another picture and the flash goes off and it's so bright against the dim lighting, it's like an atom bomb exploded and I'm getting yelled out... again.

As my finale, a mere 5 minutes later, I accidentally lean on a 17th century marble fireplace. It was absentmindedly-I didn't even realise I was doing it. I am told off once more.

This is my tipping point. I am mad and out comes my inner Verruca Salt. The last 3 misdemeanors weren't my fault and really, if it's that delicate,  I say put a cover on it? Or rope it off? These are the unspoken museum conventions we all adhere too. If it is touchable, I want to touch it. I will to touch it. I go stropping off and it would have ended there, had The American not have defended the Museum Nazis.

"Honnneeeeee. You just can't touch stuff."
"They're like, totally right, why are you getting mad? You just can't touch shit in here!"
"I know that. I am not a frig-ging child."
"Well, you're acting like one."
''re treating me like one."
"'Uh, cos you're acting like one!"
"Oh for fuck's sake!" I shout.

Then it kicks off. He tells me not to shout, I say I'm not shouting, just raising my voice, which was always the differentiating factor in my house as a kid. He storms off, muttering about just wanting to see the Roman statues. I go after him, we fight again in the grand Gothic lobby. He walks off, going outside to chain smoke. I go after him, we argue once more on the steps and he walks off for a third time and leaves me with all bags for our planned Central Park trip. Before I know it I am hurling a picnic blanket at him down the street. It misses, but by this point, several people have stopped to watch the free entertainment.

I march off in the other direction. I pass the crowd that had gathered, who now look really disappointed the fight is over. I want to ask them if us arguing is the best show they can get in this city?  I want to tell them they should come to my place, opposite the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community centre-then then they'd see some real entertainment.

I walk up Fifth Avenue. Two blocks ahead, an entrance to Central Park. The great, grand green goddess I viewed from above while on the roof. The calm amongst the insanity of New York.

I head straight for it. I imagine grass under my feet. I haven't felt grass for months. Grass feels like home. Grass and space. I need space.

Space to breath.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Big Bambu, Big Drama and a Big walk home

(Part 1 of 3)

I am not a woman of few words as anyone who knows me will testify. I am a woman of too many words, both in the written and oral form.

However, sometimes, something happens so strikingly visual that words alone will not do enough justice. Big Bambu -the new rooftop exhibition at The Met museum-is just that, a creation lending itself more to telling the tale in pictures.

So as means of introduction to the visuals, here's as minimal a written introduction as I can muster:
Big Bambu is the brainchild of identical twins Doug and Mike Stern, who, with the help of a team of rock climbers have built a free standing structure made of fresh grown bamboo and tied together with just climbing rope.

It stands on top of rooftop garden on The Met Museum in uptown Manhattan. Work started in March and continues daily,  to take it from the current 25 foot high to more than 50 ft by the end of the summer. The best thing about it is you can take a guided walk through it on a pathway for no more than the suggested cost of admission. The worst thing about it is that you can't take a camera on the tour and you have to sign forms promising not to sue should you fall off and lose your limbs. Waivers aside, in this litigious world we live in, I am amazed and heartened that such a thing exists at all. Apparently we should be thanking Mayor Bloomberg  for 'making it possible' -it even says so on the tickets.

On a sunny May day last week our small group of ten gasped our way through the 30 minute tour, throwing out superlatives in awe: the baby blue skies tipping into the sea of trees, framing a 360 view of the Manhattan skyline. At one point a Saxophonist began to play down below in Central Park and I had to catch my breath through sheer pleasure. Even the guide getting slightly wanky about juxtaposition and dichotomy couldn't spoil it for me. The American said she was young and enthusiastic, so we shouldn't really judge. 

Too many words already. When I got down from the jungle in the urban sky, I took pictures. Here they are:

If you're still with me after all those pics, then you should know that from such a high, only a low can follow. Tomorrow, read what happened next in part 2- Big Drama...

Monday, 3 May 2010

A taste of American medicine

On the list of things I thought I'd never say when I moved to America: I miss the NHS.

I yearn for it's simplicity. At home, one GP does it all and you get a swifty hospital referral if your problem is looking serious, or you're near to death. If not, the wait is so long that the problem will likely clear up before your appointment date. It's a simple system and it works. Compared to what I've experienced in New York, it's medical utopia.

Here, you've got to find a 'Primary Healthcare provider' which I think is like a G.P. except this PHP farms you out to various sub contracters, who then cost you more money and time to see. We've been to ten different medical practitioners since we arrived. Each one comes with reams of paperwork and a $25 co-pay, which is what they call an insurance excess.

What I imagined in America, land of the free but no free healthcare- was gleaming surgeries, with glossy surfaces adorned with fresh flowers. I thought of immaculate doctors with luminous skin, who speak of preventative medical care. I dreamed a dream of receptionists who don't resent my very existence.

Let me paint the reality: Shoving 15 page forms in your face as soon as you walk in, receptionists who are not just rude, they teach the class in rude. Grotty worn out surgeries with grey plastic fixtures and fittings and more than a few dirty floors. Doctors who have just as little time to see you as the ones in the UK. Getting refferals then discovering the referrals don't take your health insurance, so calling around endless places to ask if they will accept you.

Then there is the taking of blood. They do it every time and they call it 'bloodwork'. Like blood is something that needs work. Every time. Blood, blood, blood. It's a secret society of vampirical doctors obsessed with Medieval blood letting.

And the Teenager is terrified of needles, it also means doctor's visits are fraught. I reassure her that this needle won't be as bad as the last, but they always fail to find a vein and she starts to cry and give me pleading eyes and I can see the actual sweat appearing on the brow of the nurse.

So this is what you get for your (insurance companies') money. What you get when you don't pay is much worse. Like the Chelsea Public Health Clinic where we went to get The Teenager one of the multiple inoculations required by school pupils in New York. She needed them fast before she got suspended from school for being a 'public health risk'. I had found her a doctor only to be told that she had to have a pediatrician, because she's under 18. I didn't have time to find one, so I took her to the free clinic. I figured- How bad can this place be? Turns out it was on one of the biggest housing projects in lower Manhattan. There was security guards.  The teenager was too scared to go to the toilet.

The American had no sympathy.

"Honneee, why did you go to a *screws face up*...public health clinic? We have great health insurance, you don't have to suffer with the... *deep breath*...uninsured."

"Uh, 'cos she only needed a shot and she needed it fast and I didn't think it would be that bad."

"You didn't think a public health clinic in the projects would be that bad?"

"Well, I didn't know it was in the projects did I?"

"Well now you do. We have health insurance, you don't need to do this to yourself!"

"Ugggh. Aneurin Bevan would be turning in his grave!"

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"ANEURIN BEVAN. He was a man, a great man!"

"Yeah. You just sound like you're speaking in that Lord of Rings language again."

"He was Welsh yes! He was the architect of the NHS!"

"Yeah, well just look where your socialised healthcare bullshit has got you!"

"It's got me doctors that don't make me fill in loads of paperwork and check I can afford them before I'm through the door."

"Exactly!" and he walks off satisfied.

For all of the doctors, my dentist is the only one worthy of any praise. He's on 5th Avenue and the building has an tasteful green awning with gold writing. There is a doorman. My dentist patched up my cavity with a white filing. That's a white filing as standard. This I love. They haven't done amalgam in the U.S. since the early nineties apparently. This is civilised.

My dentist also shared his wisdom about relationships while drilling my tooth. 

"You see Barbara, my wife, she's a lawyer. Well Barbara always wants me to change, to improve and I say Barbara, I'm a man, but really I'm a boy ya know? Now she's a woman, so she's better than me and she can continue to grow. Men, we don't do any maturing past 21. That's it! You're stuck with me, I say to Barbara. So ya married Emma?

To which I say "Ewwchhhafunafewmons." and a lot of dribble comes out.

To which he translates and says "You've been married for a couple of months huh? Early days! But your husband won't change you know? Just don't expect him to."

At which point I feel a bit depressed and wish he'd give me some more Novocaine.


So, I have come to summise that even though things are so different here in that the insurance companies fund medical care, rather than the taxpayer, things are not really that different at all. There is clearly not enough money or time to go around in either system.

Maybe the medical grass is greener. By which pun- I should move to California where pharmaceutical pot is legal and apparently fairly easy to get.

Maybe after smoking a few prescriptions I might have a different view on the American system.



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