Monday, January 26, 2009

Another weekend

I am on the train. Sitting by myself. I am next to a noisy group of 4 co-workers, who are telling rude jokes and laughing. One of them has a wheezy laugh.

Which inner BB should I channel? The stoic or the feisty?

They are now checking their Blackberries. Hmm… Blackberry=BB (though I myself don’t have one…)

I’m going to let them off tonight… (though they don’t know it….)

* * *

I've just made it back to my apartment in NYC! (10 second pause)

That was the sigh heard across the world.

* * *

Just had dinner at my usual neighborhood spot. I was sitting next to a very severe woman who looked liked she didn't want to talk. But this is NY... Eventually we were chatting away.

I had the same experience in Boston recently, sitting next to a severe woman. But after I tried to speak with her, she took out a crossword! I know you Europeans don't talk to strangers while eating your dinner at bars, because you don't eat your dinner at a bar and you don't talk to strangers! But it's one of the pleasures of New York. I have my "bar buddies" -- who I know by first name and nothing else: Mark, the gay food stylist for Gourmet magazine; Yvette, the Texan woman who loves to have weekends in New York (but she emphasizes, and I quote her, "New York is just fun and nothing else. There's no choca-laca going on while I'm here"); Sam my Hawaiian bartender; Amy, the aspiring actress who has sadly moved on to other gigs.

Bar buddies aren't a substitute for well-loved friends, of whom I have a number in New York, but they are their own wonderful thing. And in a place like Boston where I don't know too many people, it could have been a nice way to get to know some locals. Could have been...

But I've got a weekend in NYC ahead of me!

* * *

I saw a film, Revolutionary Road, and went to a concert (the now venerable Italian maestro Ricardo Muti), which we followed by two glasses of champagne and slightly dizzy conversation. It was wonderful.

* * *

I'm back in Boston now, Sunday evening, watching Renoir's The River. An imperfect but wonderful film. As Renoir says in his introduction to the film, "[India] is one of the least mysterious countries there are. For a Frenchman, India is very easy to understand. People there have just about the same reactions as people here do." So profoundly true, and so profoundly wrong. Exoticism is what most filmmakers want to find when the look abroad for their stories. But exoticism is exactly the failure to see oneself in others. At the same time, there are real differences in how different countries look at the world. The irony and beauty of the film is that Renoir both succeeds in rendering India utterly exotic and utterly quotidian at the same time. It is beautifully observed (in the background -- the village scenes) and above all the colours, so intense! characters, both English and Indian, are more than a little cliched, but it didn't matter..

I am also enjoying a risotto I just made with a vulgarization of a procedure the Mia passed on to me a while ago. I added oven-roasted curried acorn squash and tomatoes, and adapted it to a red-wine risotto recipe. Truth be told, I over cooked it by just two ladles of stock, but nonetheless it turned out very nicely.

Hope you've all had a wonderful weekend.



Anonymous said...

Oh there is something so Balzac meets Fitzgerald meets Auster in your writing/musings (can I say that???) I am always so happy to take a stroll...

Bombay Beauty said...

Thanks so much! It's the nicest thing anyone has said to me today -- actually this week -- actually this fortnight... ok had better stop there ;-) BB

Anonymous said...

Interesting topics here, but one in particular needs your assistance! It is true that, as a general rule, Europeans don't talk to strangers much, so I would like to inquire about the American code of behaviour: how to convey the messages "I am available for a talk" or "Please leave me alone" without sounding rude?
Please help.

Bombay Beauty said...

Ah, excellent question Mia. (Actually, I remember learning from you that not only do Europeans not really talk to strangers, they tend not to smile at strangers either...)

On to our fair land... Here it is basically eye contact or lack of it that conveys the meaning. A woman at a bar with a book, reading it intently (or just not looking around) conveys: not interested in talking. A woman at a bar a book but in any case looking around says the book is an accessory, but I wouldn't mind a chat. And the woman who is at a bar alone without any accessory will get spoken to whether she likes it or not. Of course, if you are waiting for a friend, then it helps to glance toward the entrance, thereby cuing others that you're waiting.

But as I suggested above, sometimes it is difficult to avoid a conversation, even if you don't want one. But then the key I find is to make it short, pleasant, not overly friendly, and avoid all hooks that could extend it. So if someone asks you - oh is that your favorite cocktail? You might say, yes or no, or I just happened to try, but then simply not ask the obvious bookend question - so what are you drinking? If you ask a question back, then it is (as the Americans say) game on.

The dynamic also differs depending on whether it's a neighborhood restaurant where people may occasionally come alone (*), or a destination place where coming alone is more likely to suggest you are more open socially.

If you have done your job right, then you will not be asked for a phone number when you didn't want to be asked, and of course you will be asked when you wanted it.

Of course the final line of defense here, especially in New York, is the people give out their phone numbers pretty easily. They return calls with much less frequency -- the bar is certainly higher!

Well, next time you're visiting we must give it a try, just for reasons of sociological observation and experimentation of course!


* An aside, then I must really stop. In a neighborhood restaurant, it is not unusually to see men or women dining alone at the bar or even at a table, just as in Italy or France, it is not uncommon to see a man having lunch alone, reading the paper clearly an office worker. Here office workers, if alone would most often just take out lunch and eat it at their desks...

Lola Is Beauty said...

"Amy, the aspiring actress who has sadly moved on to other gigs." What kind of gigs - I'm so intrigued!

And I gasped because just yesterday I begrudgingly shared a table with a couple - the woman kept saying "Nice day isn't it" etc to me (imagine in flat monotone) and I started doing the Guardian crossword! And the other day - oh I'll tell you when I see you, it's too tragic.

I saw Revolutionary Road tonight. Here is a verbatim transcription of a text I sent after: I went home and had a strong Martini - and I'm going 2b a spinster 4ever. Multiple cats, not lamps. (They have so many lamps in suburbia)


Bombay Beauty said...

Lola - I definitely agree with you, there are moments when one does not want to talk - I think my observation was that there are some cities and situations where it seems natural, otherwise where it is less so, and yet others where one hopes it doesn't happen! (Will certainly ask you for the rest of that story!) BB

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