Making lemonade in New York City

This spring,

I planned to be far from the madding crowds, drinking in the ocean-wide skies and rippling red canyons of the Southwest.

But then, a summons to Philadelphia for an immigration interview instantly scuppered those meticulously Google Mapped plans — and I found myself flying eastwards instead.

We spent a few days in Philly and several more in New York City; what these grand old cities lacked in natural splendour, they certainly made up for in vivacity, resilience and buzz.

Full disclosure: I’m a country boy, at my most content outdoors, away from humans and concrete. But even so, my fix of the urban East Coast was intoxicating, invigorating. Experiencing New York City as it’s opening up — undefeated, teeming with energy, people, ideas — was also an exhilarating reminder that the “death” of cities is greatly exaggerated. I’m confident that in spite of the travails of the past year, they’ll continue to exert a powerful pull — whether you’re a tourist, jobseeker, or simply a romantic….

A few highlights:

  • Outdoor catch-ups with friends — including strolls in Central Park and Prospect Park

  • Peeping at architecture in Philly’s Society Hill; people-watching in NYC’s DUMBO and Soho (FASHun! 💅)

  • A ferry ride up the East River (if you remain unconvinced as to the wonders of New York’s ferry system, let my friend Sarah’s glorious Lonely Planet essay persuade you)

  • The perfect coffee from Saturdays NYC; the perfect cheesesteak from Woodrow’s; biltong and droewors from NY Biltong; a dim sum feast at Wu’s Wonton King in Chinatown; my first [three] negronis in MONTHS (at The Dutch)

  • Splurging at at Omoi Zakka and MUJI (after all: money can’t buy you happiness — but it can buy you stationery and isn’t that almost the same thing?)

(Well, technically it’s longer than that, but this is a belatedly dispatched dispatch and no one can keep track of time these days anyway so please let’s not be pedantic. ANYway. One year/13?/14? months later:)

  • I’ve watched more MasterClass trailers than I have Netflix ones, but I still haven’t signed up… yet

  • My dream of mastering basic conversational Portuguese remains that — a dream

  • I’ve staved off the worst of homesickness through a combination of South African electro, rooibos tea and homemade biltong — but I still miss baobabs and fever trees like an ache, and listening to a recording of black collared barbets duetting is a guaranteed way of getting me to choke up

  • I’m as obsessed with our cat as a father is with his baby girl (even though — until August 2020, that is) I’ve always been an avowed dog person

  • The only plant in my care that’s thriving is a spekboom (yes, tragically, even my aloe adoptees seem not long for this world)

    • Actually, I lie. The Kitty Grass™ I bought from Whole Foods for our little munchkin to nibble on seems to be doing just fine

  • (🙈)

  • I fell in and out of love with the New Yorker1; my favourite weekly magazine right now is the New Scientist2

  • The mozzarella I’ve been making at home isn’t nearly as good as the Belfiore stuff (I’ve resumed getting from the store)

  • NEVERTHELESS: my skillet sourdough pizzas are the bomb

  • And my made-from-scratch pasta ain’t too shabby either

  • THAT SAID: I’m still not *entirely* sure how to cook rice proficiently. Or fry up dumplings3.

  • And: Despite using so many of its recipes repeatedly, I STILL haven’t read Samin Nosrat’s Salt.Fat.Acid.Heat from cover to cover (promise to — one day)

  • I want to be the Barefoot Contessa when I grow up

  • I remain convinced Bake-Off (The Great British Baking Show Stateside) is the best ambient TV for pre-dinnertime/dinner prep; nothing else (and, yes, we’ve tried) comes close. Except for House Hunters International. Some episodes. Maybe. Once in a extremely blue moon

  • Samira Wiley’s Night on Earth narration is the only thing better to fall asleep to than the Calm app’s “babbling brook”

All ears (and eyes)

As a nervy 21-year-old, I found listening to Beethoven’s overwhelmingly frenetic “Moonlight Sonata III: Presto” a somehow sublimely soothing soundtrack whilst commuting on the Hammersmith & City line to work. 11 years later, I’ve been listening to it compulsively again, and it’s been similarly calming. Other gems I’ve been returning to lately:

Beethoven notwithstanding, I’ve realised that when it comes to “classical” (orchestral?!) I seem to have a particular affinity with early 20th Century composers: Satie! Ravel! Turina! Gershwin!! I wonder why… any theories?

OK, OK, it hasn’t been all piano concertos. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with SG Lewis’s disco-infused debut album, times, too. It’s a shimmeringly evocative reminder of what we’ve missed, and what we can look forward to. I’ve also adored Prinze George’s latest album, Happy Garden, a beguiling electro-synth blend of melancholy and exuberance (how appropriate).

After an embarrassingly long time since reading a recently published novel, I’ve just begun Bryan Washington’s debut, Memorial, and am already over halfway. LOVING it.

In my Old Book Club, we’ve just read Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter. Each of us were repulsed: the dull histrionics! The paper-thin characters! The turgid Catholicism! How on earth, we wondered, could this piece of shit be hailed as a masterpiece? I far more enjoyed Emily Wilson’s vivacious, rosy-fingered translation of The Odyssey. Joyce’s Ulysses is next. Fancy joining us? Let me know!

Have you played Survive the Century yet?

You’ve made it to the end of my [supposedly — but apparently not always] monthly dispatch; thank you for humouring me! Replies are always welcome — and appreciated! — especially if they contain electro-synth pop playlists, a bowl of pasta with Samin Nosrat’s autograph on it, a multi-variant booster shot, or a MUJI storage container (for all that stationery, y’know?).


Still love New York, though.


Which is pretty much the perfect periodical for an incorrigible nerd like me.


In both instances, these are culinary activities my better half does with aplomb. But that’s no excuse, is it?