Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New York on my mind



Good morning from Hokkaido, which is the northernmost part of Japan and completely covered in snow. So I'm in this part of the world but this morning, for some strange reason, I found myself thinking about New York. I haven't been in two years, but there was a time I used to visit at least thrice a year.

My friends in New York know only too well my routine for my visits as they hardly ever varied. I would take a two-bedroom suite in the New York Palace Hotel Towers for about ten days to two weeks -- which is more private than the hotel itself and this where long-staying residents get rooms and they treat these as their own apartments -- and basically live like a New Yorker. I usually went alone but I was never wanting for company because my days in New York were completely filled with seeing friends from breakfast to dinner.


And I often invited friends from within the States or even from Tokyo or Manila to join me for a few days and use the spare bedroom. When they came to stay -- and quite a few people did so -- I would lock the spare bedroom from my side so they could come and go as they pleased, and then they would join me in my dining room for breakfast and we would probably meet up again for dinner (and when there were no guests, I would keep my luggages here!). We all had stuff to do in New York so it was important for me that they had their own time and didn't feel they needed to come along with me to everything just because they were staying with me. In exchange for digs in a pretty fabulous location, most of them usually took me out to dinners at wonderful restaurants -- and so this arrangement worked out pretty well for everyone.

Mind you, I was doing this way before this popular TV show "Gossip Girl" came into existence and the New York Palace became a by-word for lots of people who watched the show because one of the characters here actually lived out of a suite at the New York Palace -- just like I used to do! And of course I had no idea about Gossip Girl. But one day one of my friends said to me: "Guess what? You're Gossip Girl."

ADVENTURES WITH ANGELIQUE

My best friend Angelique lives in Manhattan and through all my New York adventures she was my "partner in crime," and one of the main reasons I visited so often as well. So she knew only too well the drill regarding my visits. I usually arrived from Tokyo, which meant the plane landed at JFK just before noon, and I'd take the car straight to the hotel and literally crash into bed till evening. She'd then come over to the New York Palace after work and we'd usually do a show and dinner. One of our favorite haunts is nothing fancy but I do enjoy the steaks here. It's Gallagher's, which is old and famous for bad service, but it has very good dry aged steaks. I always order the T-Bone and eat only half, because I bring home the other half for breakfast in my hotel the next morning with garlic rice I make myself. Each and every time.

WIRELESS IN THE SKY

Another interesting thing is that JAL once had wireless service in their planes! At least for business and first class. I don't know why they took this service out as it was the best thing that ever happened to a frequent flier. Those 14 hours between Tokyo and New York were simply a breeze with WiFi. I used to save all my online shopping on Amazon and elsewhere for the plane, so that I could surf and shop at leisure -- 14 hours is a long time after all -- and have everything delivered to my hotel. Once, I even ordered a pizza mid-air for delivery at 2 pm to my suite at the New York Palace about two hours before landing; and it arrived just after I had checked in and settled in.

My cousin-in-law R in Hong Kong may remember another incident as well, when I suddenly had an anxiety attack on the plane somewhere over the Pacific. Thank goodness he was online in HK and I was online up in the air. I told him about my panic and he advised deep breathing. How I miss those days of complete and seamless connectivity. Now, when I think of those 14 hours between New York and Asia, all I think of is pain and too many movies.

A NEW YORK RITUAL

My other ritual in New York is to host a big party in my suite for all my New York friends as it makes catching up with everyone easy in one go. I always get the same suite at the hotel and it has a fairly large dining room and living room, and a compact kitchen with complete facilities and beautiful views. I order all the groceries online from FreshDirect.com and get it delivered, and I actually cook most of the stuff myself, with lots of help from my friend Angelique and her husband of course.

I invite everyone I know in New York and encourage them to bring their friends, plus anyone else who happens to be visiting from Manila, Tokyo or elsewhere. I host at least one party per visit and thank goodness I've never been wanting for a theme. I've had a Halloween party (I still remember how my friend Yvette, who's since relocated to Manila, arrived in a very fetching cat outfit), a pre-Christmas party, a thank-goodness-it's spring party and so many others.

Pre-party, taken with my Mac

The hotel helped a lot with decor, which Angelique and I would supplement with anything we saw at stores which inspired us -- and the results were quite impressive, actually. As for food, I usually made a roast, a pasta, a baked dish and some appetizers while Angelique would bring over a great cheese platter. The parties would last all night and I always dreaded getting housekeeping in the following day to clean up after us. Fortunately, everyone at the New York Palace was very nice about my stays.

I also loved cooking and entertaining friends at home -- or rather, in my suite. Especially in New York where service is stressful and many restaurants are so cramped, it was nice to just hang out over a nice home-cooked meal in my suite with a good bottle of wine and lots of champagne. I'd often do weekend lunches this way and some dinners on weekdays when I wasn't booked out to eat or to go to the theater. Besides, my kitchen at the New York Palace was such a joy to cook in. Especially since I didn't have to bother with the cleaning up after!

HOME SUITE HOME

One time I arrived in New York after my long flight from Tokyo and walked into my suite; I was completely shocked to find a framed photo of myself on the bureau of the dining room. I knew I always stayed in the same suite and treated it like home, but it was nevertheless a surprise to see myself on the mantle.

Of course one of the first things I do when I walk into anywhere with connectivity is to open my Mac and check emails. There was a Welcome to New York email from L, brother of my cousin-in-law, who is very sweet and who I just love meeting up with in New York. He and his sister always take me to some of the best restaurants in New York and they're so full of fun.

"Trust you had a good trip over and that the hotel's made it up to you from last time?" He asked. There'd been a small incident on my last visit and I'd complained to the management big time.

I just had to email him back about my framed phot: "Guess what? I checked into my room just now and there's actually a framed photo of myself on the dining room bureau. I don't know where they got it, but it's right here..."

I think he laughed so hard when he read this. "That is just hilarious!" He emailed back in an instant.

Just a couple of recollections about New York today. I don't know why it's on my mind.


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Angel Aquino in Bora
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