15 April 2007
ah, so i have just returned from one of those wild excursions called business trips. for me, these normally involve locations that i would normally find frightening and several days of seclusion in a second rate hotel room, eating food that somehow manages to be both fattening and unsatisfying. and part of this trip was spent in such a location. fortunately, it also involved two other stops that were considerably less suck.
first up was a stop in washington. now, i'll just say this straight up: i like washington. i like the sheer intimidation factor created by the national mall. (albert speer used its design concepts in his plans for berlin, which is completely obvious if once you know it. don't believe me? there are giant fasces flanking the lincoln memorial. go look.) in addition, i like a city where men wear suits like they mean it, where people will meet and hold even eye contact and respond with a confident nod and where it is considered perfectly normal to eat alone.
for me, that last one is an important one. there is little that irritates me more than a pity-laden "it's just you?" when i tell the host/ess that i'm eating alone. but in washington, so many people seem to go out for dinner on the way home from work that it seems to be expected. couples and small groups still coagulate at tables, but the diffidently single sit their solitary butts by the bar and enjoy the best of all worlds: speedy service (you're sitting right in front of them, so you're not likely to be forgotten) and a full menu. my eatery of choice (i remembered it from a previous trip), was an asian-influenced place called ten penh, shockingly located on the corner of tenth and pennsylvania. i ended up eating there both nights, a complete departure from my usual "try everything" procedure because i love creative asian food, i have a soft spot for a bar that can mix a good cocktail and especially because the staff are awesome. sure, i could ahve gone to another restaurant, but it isn't really as special as walking in to a place and having them call you by name on the basis of having met you the night before. for the business traveler, bounced from place to faceless place, forced to act in an unnaturally cheery way during the days, nothing, not even the allure of new and interesting food, is going to compete with the sensation that you can belong somewhere. (one note: for those of you who were put off by the fact that washington was not only the national capital, but the murder capital as well for many years, there have been remarkable improvements. the head bartender at ten penh, politically informed and city-proud as washingtonians tend to be, explained to me how things changed. i just know that i felt safe taking their astoundingly efficient metro system back to my shithole hotel (days inn, 4400 conneticut ave. nw) even late at night.)
following that, i was off to new york. now, saying you love new york is like saying that you love thoroughbred race horses. it would be harder to explain if you didn't. although one of my days there was a work day, new york's compact geography did allow me to squeeze in a tremendous amount of exploration in just a couple of days. there's no point to me making recommendations on what to do, because there are already enough new york travel guides. i'll limit myself to a few fleeting "only in new york" impressions: shimmying down the ladder-like stairs at the hospital productions record store in a fitted skirt that was really not designed for the task; scoring a window table for breakfast in soho at an all-organic eatery; record shopping in the hipster haven of williamsburg while an album of lounge versions of velvet underground covers done by the former lead singer of bettie serveert blared in the background; scarfing a black sesame/ honey lavender ice cream from the laboratorio de gelato in the lower east side just after finding a dress marked down to $62 from $495 in one of the myriad little shops there; the sobering view from my hotel window (see image).