Doing something nice for others can really make you feel good. What seemed to me like only a mild inconvenience was a great help to my guests, and I received word yesterday from each of them that they had finally arrived or were en route to their intended destinations. I also received many emails and texts thanking me for my hospitality, but really I just felt like I was paying forward a debt I already owed. During the time I was traveling around the world, I was welcomed in by so many people and shown a level of hospitality that I found amazing. Time after time people opened up their homes and their lives to me. And it made me wonder why in the US we seemed so guarded and untrusting and less likely to do the same for strangers. I resolved upon my return to do my best to correct that, and to be a better host myself. If I had the space and could accommodate, I would. I am very fortunate to have a nice apartment in the city and a spare (blow up, anyway) bed. And I really love the concept of paying a debt forward, because it spreads these ideas to new people all the time. My hosts in all those countries never expected anything back from me, and maybe they never expected anything at all, but they instilled in me a great desire to follow their example. Between friends and family and various strangers referred to me by someone, I have had about 11 visits by some 15 guests in the past 9 months since I moved in. And each one of these visits increases our connectedness to each other, whether by friend, family or stranger. As the old year draws to a close, I can be happy that at least one of my resolutions has been kept, and will continue to be. Like the saying goes, “Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.”
After several days of camping out in my apartment, I finally bid farewell to my guests late last night and early this morning as they took off to JFK and LaGuardia, respectively. Cinzia and Carla are on their way to Miami and Victoria to San Francisco. We all shared a great meal last night at my favorite local Italian restaurant, Mercato, where Josh and Jonathan joined us for dinner. I loved the animated switching back and forth between three languages so that everyone could understand each other. And inevitably, as the wine kicked in, we descended into matching slang in various languages for their respective body parts, trying to get an idea of whose language had the most varied terms for various pubic regions, always a fun game. We then headed back to my apartment to pack things up and get ready to go. Although I was happy to help out and it was lovely to get to know them, I was ready to have my apartment and life back. There is a kind of funny, almost untouchable presence that one’s home has that can disappear when things are not in order. And there is a smell that belongs to us in this order that we find familiar and comforting. I was noticing the other day that my place smelled unfamiliar, with the combination of three other people, their open suitcases, shower soaps and wet towels, and just the way that people smell differently from each other. This slight whiff of combination was unsettling after a few days, more so than the general chaos of three strangers camping out in my living room. Today I will clean and do laundry and reconnect with my own aura. Still it was nice to make new friends, and I have a feeling that our paths will cross again, perhaps in Italy (where I will be next summer) or Spain (where I will probably return one day) or New York, or someplace entirely unexpected.
Victoria, my latest guest, related horror stories emanating from Terminal 4 at JFK, where she spent the last two days waiting in vain on a flight out. Apparently there are thousands of people at JFK, all waiting waiting waiting. And the other night, even the McDonald’s ran out of food with a huge line and there was almost a riot, with people screaming and angry. She said she was lucky to find a small dirty corner of carpet to sleep on the first night, but it was still very cold on the floor. So she is staying at Pension Stephen currently until she can get a flight out, which may not be until the 1st of January. (Virgin, her airline, told her that was the soonest possible.) But I figure it is all an adventure and a chance to make new friends (and practice my Spanish of course). And I really feel bad for my guests, their holidays plans to see their friends and families got all screwed up. They must be really bummed.
I spent a good time with Cinzia and Carla, walking around in the blustery white and slush that was Manhattan today. While we were getting them fitted for boots at the sporting goods store, I got a text from my friend Pete in San Francisco asking me if I was in New York at the moment. I answered yes, excited that he might be coming here for work soon, but it turned out that a friend of a friend of his was coming to SF from Spain, and…you guessed it…she was stranded trying to get out of JFK since her flight was canceled. I told him she was welcome to give me a call. When I didn’t hear from her all day, I assumed she had worked out a flight or something, but then the phone rang about 30 minutes ago and it was her. The conversation was quite a blur in Spanish, but I worked out that she couldn’t get a flight out and needed a place to stay, so I gave her directions and told her to come by. It will be quite a full casa tonight, but I figure it is good karma.
The blizzard hit New York pretty hard last night, causing a bit of chaos everywhere. All New york airports closed down and over a thousand flights were canceled. I got a call yesterday evening from my friend Jonathan (who is enjoying xmas with his family in Virginia at the moment) telling me that acquaintances of his, an Italian couple, were stranded at JFK en route to Miami from Milano. He said they had nowhere to go, and asked if they could stay with me. I of course agreed, and now have two lovely house-guests, Cinzia and Carla staying with me for a couple of days. As they really expected to be in Miami, they don’t have a lot of winter clothing with them, so we will go out looking for boots and breakfast in a bit. It is fortunate that I don’t have a lot of work at the moment so I can show them a bit of snowy New York before they take off.
Gabe invited Josh and I over to he and Jason’s place for Christmas eve dinner last night, and it was a whole lotta fun. And because we were with several foodies who were cooking, very tasty as well. We had goose with lovely prune sauce and beef roast and potatoes and a super yummy spicy minced pork and cabbage salad prepared by Gabe’s friend Regina. The desserts were pretty spectacular as well, with a homemade pecan walnut cake and a store bought but delicious almond cake. Add to that the copious amounts of wine and mixed drinks, and we were all pretty happy and done in by the end of the evening. About half the assembled table was Jewish, and at one point Gabe mentioned that we had hit all the New York Jews’ favorite topics. Those topics were wide ranging, from apartment costs in NYC to the environment, Wikileaks and of course, food and health issues. And politics. There was one odd fellow at the table who was quite the tea partier (at least fiscally it seemed), and he went off on how he paid far too much in taxes, how the government “took everything”, etc. Almost the entire table pounced on this silly notion, and I pointed out to him that the tax burdens were at historical lows and in fact we are bankrupting government’s ability to do anything for us at all. He then went off on one of those tirades against being forced to pay for things he wouldn’t ever need like health care, and we all gave horrified glances as his girlfriend (who was very nice) tried to apologize for his views. I’m sure the alcohol made everyone a little more forceful than perhaps we would have been, but it is a little shocking when you come face to face with people like this in a city like this. A little like running into a unicorn, albeit one that is charging. He was like one of those crazy libertarians that truly think everything they ever got they made themselves, completely alone and outside the context of societal or governmental support. We told him he should go live in a cabin far away from the leeches and grow his own food, make his own clothes, raise his own cattle and pave the roads to get there. The conversation settled down a bit after that as we changed the subject to embarrassing things we or members of our families had done. We then took turns reading aloud from a fantastic David Sedaris story (listen here), and soon after that said our goodbyes and went home. All in all, one of the nicest Xmas eve’s I can remember.
I was cleaning out a few things today, and came across the always delightful “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” by Edward Gorey. It is a little book of line drawings with the names of children, one for each letter of the alphabet, and a description of how they perished. My favorite was (and always will be) Neville:
Anyone out there know how much electricity they use per month and how much it costs them? My sense is that New York is quite high compared to other parts of the country. Below is a chart from my latest bill which came a few days ago. Fifty-eight bucks are my charges for the past month. About half of the cost is for “delivery charges” and half for “usage charges”, but since delivery is variable and also charged by kWh, this seems a totally academic separation.
Last night was a lunar eclipse, one that happened to fall on the solstice. The last time such an event occurred was 1638 and the next time will be 2094. That pretty much put it into the once in a lifetime category. And never having seen a lunar eclipse, I decided to stay up late to watch it. Although several friends expressed interest during the day in watching it with me, as the hour became late, they began dropping like flies. Only one of my friends was geeky and sweet enough to join me in this endeavor, my friend Ric. He came over at about 2am, and we watched and took photos through the deepest part and out to a sliver as the eclipse was ending near 4am. I am kinda beat today but it was definitely worth it. And though our pictures are no great shakes, such an event really does make you marvel a bit about the physics of our universe.
On my way down to meet someone for dinner last night, I decided to take The Highline since it was the shortest distance between two points, and because I never really need an excuse to walk on it. It was about 6:45 pm, and the park is open until 8. It wasn’t particularly cold out, but there was an eerie silence through most of the park, with almost no one around. It was cool and spooky.