Here we are again, time for a seasonal travel post, this time for Autumn, 2018. I am re-posting this one I did for New York previously, largely because it is still my top choice for autumn travel, being my home town, but also because I have a new Autumn post in progress on North Carolina, another place I love for the Fall, and it is still developing, just posted on September 30. I will be adding some restaurant recommendations to it over the coming weeks.
By the way, my next post will be about my trip to New York and points east, as I mentioned back in my Bank Shots post. Stay tuned for that any moment. I will also be sharing dozens of new pictures of the city this fall and winter from what was really an indescribably spectacular trip.
A note on my four seasonal travel posts. Some people realize they are “sticky” and always appear on my main page, while my current posts appear on the right, in a column. I put up new posts every two weeks and some of you have found your way to them. Thank you! But others seem not to realize that these seasonal posts are permanent fixtures and miss my newer ones. I appreciate anyone stopping, reading and commenting, but if you want to know what I am thinking and doing lately, please look to the right and I hope I won’t disappoint or offend anyone.
OK, so for now, here is my beloved City, which comes to life and sparkles in autumn
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If there was ever a time to visit New York City, this is it.
Not only is Fall the prettiest time of the year in NY but there is a Mayoral race going on, so the city will be on its toes and putting all the bells and whistles out for the spotlight that this race will enjoy. If you can, visit NY right now. Bloomberg will get everything shipshape for this key election.
There are other reasons. Having lived there for 25 years, this is the best season, in my opinion. First of all, it is usually sunny, dry and cool, not yet cold. There is less precipitation in the Fall and the winds are not unusually brisk, though they can be just active enough to put a sparkle of energy in the air.
At some point, depending on the temperatures, the leaves will be turning. Many people do not realize how many parks and how much landscaping the city has. Everyone knows about Central Park, but there are so many others, like Battery Park, Union Square, Gramercy Park, just to name the most obvious ones. If you do a little Googling, you will get a full list of the hidden pocket parks. If you will be there for more than a few days, you may also want to head over to Brooklyn, which has gentrified considerably and rivals Manhattan in almost every significant way. It’s most famous green space is the second largest in the five boroughs: Prospect Park, as magnificent as Central Park in Manhattan. Another fabulous thing to do is take the Henry Hudson Parkway up along the river and go to Tarrytown and Hastings-on-Hudson, among many old Yankee villages and Washington Irving’s stomping grounds; all points north along the river are pure magic at this time of the year.
The most important decision you will make when coming to NYC is where to stay. My recommendation would be two hotels. The first is my favorite and a secret that almost no one knows about. This is the Hotel Wales at Madison and 92nd Street. One of the prettiest, most convenient and safest, quietest neighborhoods in Manhattan is Carnegie Hill – the 90’s from Central Park to Lexington Avenue. The Wales is right in the middle of it. Built at the turn of the last century, when I stayed there it had elegant lobbies and rooms, good restaurant and room service and not only was immaculate but enjoyed exceptional European-style service, including tea served on the roof terrace with a view of the park. Best of all, it is probably one of the most affordable hotels you will ever stay in (priced below some motels in the vicinity) and considering it is in Manhattan, in the best residential neighborhood, overlooking Central Park, the price is unbelievable.
My other recommendation, if you have a bit more in your budget would be the Waldorf Astoria. I have stayed in almost all the top, established luxury hotels in NY (the Plaza, Pierre, Carlyle). My favorite is the Plaza but I have to say, for visitors, the location and beauty as well as history of the Waldorf would be my top recommendation. All of these hotels are expensive, but you can get a deal at the Waldorf and stay in the hotel choice of kings and queens. It is gorgeous, elegant and the service cannot be topped anywhere on this planet. In the East 50’s you can walk in every direction to many of the best attractions in midtown.
If you are flying in to the NY area, use Newark International Airport instead of JFK or La Guardia. Newark is the newest of the three, it is actually closer to Manhattan than JFK, far safer, and much less hectic. You will get to the city in less time than if you choose JFK. In every way, Newark is a pleasure. In fact, I like it so much and consider it to be so much safer than most airports that even when I am heading to Boston or Philadelphia, I fly into Newark and then take the train or rent a car and drive to those two cities. (Boston’s Logan Airport is a pure nightmare – avoid it at all costs: unsafe, bird strikes, terrible facilities, short runways – it is notorious for its inferiority as far as airports go, just take my word for it).
I do not need to give you all kinds of tourist destinations as there are thousands of places you can find these things. Let me instead recommend a strategy for ‘tackling’ NYC.
When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who worked in South America. He would invite me down to visit and see the sights and so I made some friends amongst the very educated, sophisticated people I met there. When a few of them came to visit in the City, I was excited to take them around. They had been all over the world, in many European cities like London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Zurich, etc. These were wealthy world travelers. But! When they got to Manhattan they were totally overwhelmed. The longstanding joke thereafter was that I could not get them to go above 34th Street (Macys).
NY has a palpable energy that makes some people thrive and others collapse. I have always said it is far easier to live (if you can afford it these days with one bedroom apartments starting at $800K) and work there than to visit. So how you approach the visit can be critical.
Knowing what I know now, I would not start people off downtown as I had done with my Latin American friends. If you are staying at the Wales, start with the upper east side of the Central Park district and work your way down, day by day until you hit Rockefeller Center. If you are staying at the Waldorf in mid town on the east side, start there, go to Rockefeller Plaza and work your way up Fifth Avenue your first day or days. In this area are also Radio City Music Hall on 6th Avenue and a lot of UN-frequented exotic ethnic restaurants, many of them with excellent costumed performances and shows during dinner, at no extra cost (a way to be entertained without high priced theater tickets).
The upper and middle parts of Manhattan, on the East Side are the easiest to absorb and get acclimated. They are beautiful, loaded with attractions including museums and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the best shopping and restaurants, etc. And of course they are incredibly safe, as is all Manhattan now, thanks to the last two Mayors (Bloomberg and Giuliani).
Toward the second half of the trip or at least after you are used to being in Manhattan, head to the 42nd Street area, stopping in at the New York Public Library, the Empire State Building, the Upper West Side (don’t forget to go to the Museum of Natural History), Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle, down to Battery Park and the 9/11 Memorial, South Street Seaport and if you can, take the Brooklyn Bridge by car, cab or train to Brooklyn and eat at the River Cafe, especially at sunset, for the most spectacular view of Manhattan anyone could want and fabulous food.
After that hit the Village (west side, Greenwich Village. If you are adventuresome and like ethic food, go the the East Village or better yet, Queens, but the latter may be for the end of a trip, not the beginning!), Washington Square, Soho and Tribeca. All of these areas are safe, loaded with personality and fabulous food and shops. Usually though, they are not first on people’s lists. I would avoid Chinatown and Little Italy unless you like Chinese food and getting down and basic. You are likely to find better Italian food in other parts of the city, especially Brooklyn. Think Moonstruck. If you are looking for inexpensive theater tickets check to see what is playing at the Barrow Street Theater. (Unfortunately, the Sullivan Street Playhouse that was home to The Fantasticks for 42 years, closed in 2012.)
If you have time left over, go to Bloomingdales on Lexington, Chelsea Pier over on the West side at 23rd, Gramercy Park on the East side around 18th Street, and up to the Bronx Zoo, which is in my opinion, the best one on the East Coast and rivals the famed San Diego Zoo for its quality and scientifically designed attractions.
If it isn’t too cold, take the Circle Line, but be prepared for part of it to be a bit boring – I have taken it when showing guests around the city and I fall asleep as it heads up to West Point. It is a three-hour trip, so take snacks because the last time I was there, the food on the boat was expensive junk. If you do take the Circle Line, you will pass the big luxury liners, Chelsea Pier, Battery Park, a spectacular view of Wall Street, South Street Seaport and the Statue of Liberty, the UN, as well as the bridges on the East River abutting Queens. You will see a lot that will help you determine whether or not you need to go to those individual attractions separately.
Do this and you will get a real flavor for the city. If you can, give yourself a week. You can do much of what I listed in three full days (with travel days on either side). Take it from a native, even in two weeks, you won’t see it all but if you go now, I promise you, you will have a spectacular experience.
But not I! 😀
Since I put up my Winter travel recommendation sticky-post late, I am offsetting it with an early-ish Summer piece. This is Part One.
It is already summer here in Valencia this week, hovering around 100F, unhappily for me. The minute the weather turns sultry I begin dreaming of cooler climes. If you have been following this blog for awhile, you know I am a cold weather fan. If I were like most people, I would pick Palm Springs or Phoenix even in August. But I am the Vermont in February Un-y-Mooner, if you recall. So …
Now, I have already shared two places that I can heartily recommend for those of you who want to escape the heat. They are the Jersey Shore and La Jolla. See both posts for details. If I knew it better, I would recommend Vancouver/Vancouver Island. What all of these places have in common is beautiful beaches, old, lovely architecture, gorgeous vegetation, elegant upscale vintage towns with places to eat and shop in abundance and, wait for it: moderate, balmy temperatures even in August.
As you know, if you read about my Jersey Shore, there used to be elegant old hotels there. I am no longer familiar with the local accommodations, so I will just suggest using a VRBO or Air BnB (see my Oakland post for winter). As for La Jolla, I do have a recommendation: La Jolla Shores Hotel.
It’s right on the beach, within a few steps of all the attractions. A large, sprawling complex with comfortable rooms and verandas for dining or having an afternoon drink to watch the sun set. It reminds me of those old, gracious, rambling colonial hotels one finds in Montego Bay. It is reasonable by La Jolla standards and the staff are friendly. Q.E.D.!
While you are in La Jolla, make sure you try the ice cream at Bobboi Natural Gelato, 8008 Girard Street, #150 – expect the unexpected in flavors like Charcoal Vanilla or Blood Orange or Meyer Lemon and Mint,
and have one dinner at Osteria Romantica, 2151 Avenida De La Playa La Jolla, CA 92037.
The latter is literally two short blocks from La Jolla Shores Hotel and wonderful, from the menu selection’s authenticity, to the quality of the food, to the service and ambience. A bit of Italy in California.
If you are in the mood for Mexican, and don’t mind rustic, head right to The Taco Stand for hands down the best Mexican food in La Jolla.
Right across the street on Pearl is El Pescador, our favorite fish restaurant.
And yet another absolute must is Oscars, at its four locations for Mexican seafood!
But, if you want to sit and look out directly onto the Pacific, head to Carolines at the famous Birch Aquarium of Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
There is no end of things to do in La Jolla: take a snorkeling tour of the coast, go to any one of the dozens of coves and watch the sun set or jog along the beach at sunrise. The shops are too numerous to list, but one of our favorites is Gepetto’s toy store. You can visit the Museum of Contemporary Art. There are, of course, many other things to do in the San Diego area that are unique, including the famous kayak tours, the world renowned San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, both of which I have visited several times and highly recommend, Old Town — which from my experience is the best way to get a taste of Mexico, while staying in California — and shopping in Horton Plaza or La Jolla Village.
But, my main tip for a perfect place to spend a summer vacation has to be Woods Hole/Falmouth/Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, and that is coming up in Part Two: Summer Came Running:Languor Management.
Images: Chez Bebe Assets/La Jolla, California
Well, from one glorious city to another. Here we are in my hometown, New York City. I grew up in Manhattan on Sutton Place and my parents had a house at the Jersey Shore. So, this trip was a homecoming. I plan to cover this epic celebration in three parts. By the way, I didn’t take a camera (high security events) instead bringing two new cell phones, each with amazing cameras, and took the pictures you will see here and in the next two installments.
As you may recall, my niece invited us to her wedding to the son of a prominent billionaire. It was a hard decision to make at first, whether to go or skip it, but we decided to go after all. And all of us are so glad we did. Deanna, Anna, Al, and I went. Geoffrey stayed home with Kevin and the animals. It worked out well for all of us.
The four of us who went are all Northeasteners (well, Anna is a Tarheel, technically). It was old home week. We flew to Newark Airport (my fave), rented an enormous black 2018 Murano (fantastic SUV), piled a freakish amount of luggage into the back, and headed to the Plaza Hotel on 59th Street at Central Park in the city.
I have already mentioned (and it is in my Fall sticky post) that I love The Wales on Madison and 92nd Street, the Upper East Side of Manhattan, for its European boutique hotel qualities and the gorgeous, elegant Carnegie Hill neighborhood where it is located.
But, the many parties scheduled as part of this two-week extravaganza were being held all over the city and parts beyond, so we picked the Plaza for its central location.
One is never disappointed with the Plaza. We had a luxurious suite on a high floor and enjoyed the sybaritic pampering a great hotel provides. They weren’t nonplussed by the bags either. We all made sure to take the best ones we had, dressed for comfort and glam (well, Deanna and I, anyway), and felt right back at home.
Deanna grew up in Tribeca, so she did the hipster end of things; I made sure I looked very Upper East Side. It was fun. Al was Al, wearing the same sloppy clothes he wore in prep school and like all comfortable professionals who enjoyed the proverbial silver spoon, paid no attention to what he wore whatsoever. Now that’s self-confidence!
The week in Manhattan and environs was a crazy chaotic mix of rushing from one event to another, finding parking, battling traffic, sightseeing, nostalgia treks, and eating. How we did it I don’t know, but we were motivated.
If I were to tell you I had no idea what a billionaire’s wedding could be like, I wouldn’t be exaggerating. Nothing I could have dreamed up could possibly come close to the way they did this, which I will probably elaborate on a bit more in the next post.
Meanwhile, we ate our way through Manhattan.
We went to some old standbys but also to a few new ones like Breads, an Israeli bakery chain with three shops in Manhattan. In addition to having the most incredible breads, including all the usual specialties like Challah and Babka, there are sandwiches, spreads, pastries, cookies, soups and salads — all delicious and unique.
I was dying to try their Tunisian Sandwich and so we all went there and stuffed ourselves, bringing back bags of baked goods jammed into our suitcases.
As we rushed from the tip to the top of the city, we were all struck by how much new building was going on, particularly the stunning new neighborhood that has replaced the run down “meat market” of the Chelsea district of Manhattan on the West Side. It’s now filled with beautiful futuristic architecture and an elevated pedestrian play ground called the High Line that runs on for about a mile and a half.
The High Line is flanked by new co-op and rental luxury apartments, office buildings, and upscale shops and restaurants. All are one story above ground level and spreading. There are views of the Hudson River to the West and proximity to some of the newest urban richster watering holes with all the latest cafes, design-your-own juice bars, sky clubs, rocking music hideaways — the works — that any 21st century sensibility could want. We all agreed, if we were to move back to the City, we would live in Hudson Yards.
And to make matters even more fun, while we were idling waiting for our iced frappucinos to be ready, Michael Avenatti walked right past us! Deanna wanted me to talk to him, but I am not star struck and figured he wouldn’t necessarily like to be way-laid on his brisk walk to some chill destination. It would be just like Avenatti to live in Hudson yards. Dressed in dark slacks and a crisp white shirt, he looked exactly as he does on television but larger than life, somehow.
We sped down to Ground Zero to see the Freedom Tower, then to Battery Park Conservancy so Anna could ride on the SeaGlass Carousel there. Then we visited the Maiden Lane building on Wall Street that Geoff’s father had bought, with his 70th floor penthouse office, so Anna could see that too. Then we raced up Broadway to hit the Metropolitan Museum of Art so Deanna could take Anna to the Egyptian Room there.
And this was just the first few days! I will try not to wear you out all at once. More coming up in Parts Two and Three, so stay with me.
Images: Chez BeBe Assets: New York City
All summer long I have been thinking of all of you and meaning to add a new post. I hope you have all been well.
One of the things that has prompted this post is the fact that our best friends in the neighborhood, who arrived on our street when we did years back, are moving to a fancier, cooler part of Los Angeles. It was funny when I found out, as I saw them bustling around the front yard and trucks pulling up to haul away boxes, that I felt a strange sense of being abandoned.
Probably some of the reason is they are the only other openly progressive people on our block. Another reason is they did so many thoughtful things for us over the years, and we tried to reciprocate. They aren’t selling, but renting the house out for an obscene amount of money — which is a good thing, because where they are going, it will take an equally obscene amount of money.
We had been thinking about moving too. Not to somewhere else in LA (I do plan to move to the Channel Islands neighborhood of Oxnard some day, just to get closer to the water and more temperate climes) but completely out of the country. You probably know why.
One place high on our list has always been Canada, especially Vancouver Island. Another was Denmark, but I have decided being too close to Putinville is not smart. Deanna just got back from a trip to Ireland, screaming its praises. Since we are all Irish (well, half, anyway), that sounded good to me. Our problem is the business that sustains us, Geoffrey and me, is not portable. Deanna and Al can go anywhere. Sigh.
So, then I thought about the places I love in this country (except for the people who apparently think it is a good idea to take children away from their parents and then terrorize them. Why would I want to be around Americans like these?).
Everyone knows how I feel about New York, both Upstate and down. I really like San Diego — truly a hidden gem. North Carolina is gorgeous, but, well, we won’t discuss it right now. Vermont? Used to love it, but can’t stand guns and that is a big gun state. Massachusetts — meh, too expensive. Love Boston but can’t afford it. Washington State’s a possibility, but if I go that far, I might as well keep right on going to Vancouver.
Back to California, the lone state that has its head screwed on straight. Where else do I love in California? San Francisco. Yup, Oakland is where I would live, but there is something special about Rice-a-Roni town that nowhere else can match.
We took a trip this past winter because I had to attend a professional conference. Geoffrey, Deanna, Al, their kids and I piled into my new Volvo and drove up. That was grueling — six hours of flat land and fog.
We were wrung out by the time we arrived, but it is amazing how the sight of the Bay Bridge revived us and we stayed up all that night, eating!
If you are going to travel between Los Angeles and the Bay area, try to take the coastal, not the inland, route. Far more interesting. It adds hours and you will want to stop overnight. I would do that in Big Sur. Stay at the Ventana Inn — treat yourself to a hot tub under the stars and fabulous food.
Just a suggestion. If you are in a super hurry, take the 5 Freeway north all the way, stopping halfway at Harris Ranch for food and fuel.
Clean, lovely (when the wind is in the right direction — it’s a working cattle farm) and comfortable. When we were there, we saw eleven Teslas lined up, charging, as there is a free station there and a lounge just for Tesla owners. It was cool. None of us were smart enough to take a picture, so you will have to use your imagination.
A trip to San Francisco in the winter immerses one in a panoply of atmospheres. It was variably foggy, mizzly (misty drizzle), sunny, hot, cool, dry and soft. Luckily the temperature doesn’t drop or rise too much, so a light sweater and water-resistant shoes will do the trick. No one uses umbrellas in California. Remember that or you will scream turista.
Typically, we stay in the East Bay (Oakland-Berkeley). But, the conference was in Embarcadero, so I chose the Marriott Marquis on Mission Street. Such a fabulous hotel — really a mini-city on about three square blocks above and below ground. All the lectures and meetings were subterranean in a labyrinth of corridors and rooms that the hotel smartly planned so they could maximize their footprint.
There was a fire drill at one point (false alarm, actually) and we were rushed out of our lecture, down winding halls and up a short flight of stairs, emerging at a park blocks and blocks away from the front entrance to the hotel.
What I love about the Marriotts is how customer-oriented they are. You simply drive up and attendants rush out to take care of your every need. We had an embarrassing number of bags and other paraphernalia. It took three of those enormous rolling brass carts to take all our things up to the rooms. We actually got a suite. What luxury (but so reasonably priced, we were sure they made a mistake). If you can, go when your have some affiliation with a group.
The other behavioral specialists who organized the convention/conference, ordered a huge block of accommodations that made it all so affordable that the suite came out to be the price of a regular room. We didn’t have a great view, but we had a full kitchen, huge marble bathroom, and beds galore. Enormous closets, icemaker in the room. It was almost sybaritic, despite being ordinary.
The location in Embarcadero couldn’t have been more ideal. We were surrounded by museums and shops, restaurants, stores, interesting sights, the list was almost endless. There was the usual eclectic architecture, iconic cable cars, China Town, Little Italy, the wharf — all within walking distance.
The hotel itself had three or four places to eat, including a skybar and restaurant with a breathtaking panoramic view of the city that everyone crowds into at sunset.
If you travel to San Francisco, you won’t need guide books or my recommendations. Your phone has it all and no one can compete with the updates. Just ask for, let’s say, Indian food near you or great coffee (Peets is it!) and you will be within a few feet of all the best places, I assure you. Luckily, if you choose this part of town, there will be many excellent possibilities in every category.
What else do I love about this town? Friendly animal-loving people, open-minded, fun-loving, tolerant, helpful, unfazed by anything. No one judges you, just like NYC. What a cultural mecca loaded with libraries and the arts. I cannot think of a single thing it is missing — maybe snow. How’s that for a deal?
Building is in progress everywhere, the old and the new blending seamlessly. Yes, there are homeless people and everyone seems to accept them and not make them feel like freaks. Yes, there are people with blue hair and elbow rings, practically naked, or adorned in haute couture.
You will hear every language imaginable and smell exotic fragrances from perfumed maryjane to frangipani blossom desserts. I’ll stop raving and let the photographs do my talking.
Love you all! More in the fall.
Images: Chez BeBe assets/San Francisco
Here are the links to previous chapters in this series:
After a wonderful whirl-wind trip with the usual share of mishaps, some hilarious, others unnerving, we grabbed a taxi to the airport. We thought we were early and in fact, by Asian standards, we were.
So, imagine our dismay when we arrived at the Lufthansa seating area and saw at least several hundred people for what was supposed to be a 200-seater, through Frankfurt, to New York. Nevertheless, ever the optimists, we sat patiently until the the agent called for boarding. Or so we expected.
About an hour after our scheduled departure time (yes), a plane taxied past our window, way, way out on the tarmac somewhere. Could that be our transportation back to civilization, we wondered? It looked so tiny. No sooner had it come into clear view, than a rush of people stormed the door to the maintenance area and sped toward the aircraft, as if propelled by some subliminal message. Geoff and I exchanged puzzled glances and stayed obediently in our seats.
No, the agents didn’t announce boarding. No they didn’t restrain the crowd. No they didn’t rein them back in or broadcast a warning. Literally within five minutes, the plane was full. Wait, what? We have tickets! We have boarding passes! We have seat assignments! Geoffrey approached the agents’ station and got on a line of mostly Europeans who were buzzing among themselves in confusion that mirrored ours.
Then we saw our plane taxi toward what we assumed was the runway. And with that, it was gone.
We looked at each other in astonishment and then the panic set in. Ah! But, not to fear. This was Lufthansa, after all. Germans are nothing if not sticklers for law and order. We felt some relief when the agent announced — in German, which neither of us speak — what we gathered was the imminent arrival of another plane for the rest of us, who now numbered about 300. All around us people began sitting on the floor and opening cloth parcels containing — food, … ohhh … nooooooooooo. We noticed that they were largely Indians. OK, ok, ok. No worries, calm down, let’s just trust and await our new aircraft.
At long last we were ushered, wordlessly, in a line of weary and willing humanity down a long corridor to … wait for it … the Air India terminal! Our tickets, boarding passes and seat assignments, we were now made to understand somehow, were being transferred to another carrier. When the plane itself lumbered into view and shuddered to a stop out on the pavement about 100 yards from the window we were staring from, it was clear that this was part of AI’s backup fleet. There are no civil words to express the string of expletives that came out of my new husband’s mouth and that even the most parochial of Hindi speakers must have known were not encomiums to that machine.
After another hour of waiting, we were allowed to traipse across the asphalt, dodging potholes, and climb steep rickety open metal stairs to our seats, which bore no resemblance to the ones we had paid for. The plane did not stop in Germany, but made the entire 26 hour flight to New York — oh yes — in one long grueling marathon, with only a quick refueling touchdown. Guess whether the food and lavatories held up?
Our return to NYC was bittersweet. Geoffrey had been offered an amazing opportunity in San Francisco and I got a preliminary invitation to teach at Stanford. But, as luck would have it, at the last minute my mother-in-law lamented that she needed him nearby in Los Angeles because her younger boys were giving her problems and her executive husband was rarely around. So, dutifully, Geoffrey agreed to move back to LA, leaving me to fend for myself work-wise, to make his never satisfied family happy. He also had to look for a job and now both of us would be doing that with less then stellar track records.
We packed up my Mercedes, which though virtually a block long (or so it seems in hindsight today), was still too small for all the stuff I felt I couldn’t send in a moving van (which literally was a block long). As I looked at that truck, I realized that I was hauling around so much materialia, a virtual albatross, that I could never just pick up and move again. And that was decades ago! Among the occupants of my car, was my blind, elderly, female Cockatiel, Fulana. That is another long story, but suffice to say, driving across country with a large bird and cage would prove to be one of the great challenges of my life. How many nights we had to sneak her into the motel room or sleep in the car with her, I will leave you to imagine. The trip took almost two weeks and we got to stop along the way to admire parts of this country I had never seen like Missouri and New Mexico — both two of my favorite places now. The Ozarks and the night skies of Albuquerque are matchless anywhere else.
After what seemed like the longest ordeal of the century, we crawled down from Barstow into Los Angeles and arrived at my in-laws beach house, dusty and weary. I was nervous already, so intimidating were Emily (my MIL) and her retinue. One thing I learned living with wealthy, gregarious bi-coastal people like Geoff’s parents, was that they always had a crowd of people coming, going, staying, visiting or calling them out to events somewhere. There was never a quiet moment when they were in town. And, when they were at one of their other four homes, some of the hangers-on they accumulated would invite themselves to stay at the rambling multilevel beach-front home anyway. It was a circus. The night we arrived Heidi was there with her husband and children. As we came in the door, she brushed past me as if I were invisible, on her way out to a party. I was to discover that Heidi, territorial and insular, was feeling that I was what I now realize is her idea of an elite, Ivy League, snobbish, threatening East Coaster. Had I only understood that this was a cultural phenomenon of the fly-over Staters, I might not have taken it so personally.
That same night, barely had we caught our breaths, when Emily sent us out to the store as their favorite delivery service was unavailable, and she had invited people for dinner (not in our honor, mind you). Geoffrey thought he was more than clever by making a quick run to what was Stan’s Liquor, a place that carried the kinds of upscale provisions the coupon-clipping beach aristocracy in the South Bay liked to have on hand for the impromptu champagne-and-caviar fete. At Stan’s, as I was nervously tooling up and down the aisles, feeling like the frumpy slum cousin in an oversized boyfriend shirt and pinwale cords, I bumped into an exquisitely architected tower of giant imported plum tomato cans, the topmost of which promptly fell and hit my foot, smashing a sandal-nude toe.
Laid up for the remainder of the night with an eggplant throbbing at the end of my right foot, we were then treated to — oh yes, why not? — an earthquake. Geoffrey was on the other side of the room and he and his family observed my reaction to the enormous house swaying back and forth with considerable interest. Not rushing to reassure me where I was marooned, they simply went on with their conversation as if nothing was amiss. I was devastated. This was not the idyllic introduction to SoCal that I had envisioned. It was little comfort either that when I finally hobbled to the balcony, I was to be blinded by the sight of scantily clad Amazons, perched high atop roller blades, tanned like Fabio, zipping past rows of celebrating beach nobility, some of these goddesses with drinks in hand. I was crestfallen. Now I really was feeling like the buttoned up college professor, handicapped, exhausted to tears, cold-shouldered by my new “family”, and feeling 40, while only in my twenties.
My MIL, I thought at first to give her credit, planned a West Coast reception to announce to all their important friends that Geoffrey was married. As the heroine of DuMaurier’s Rebecca notes pitifully in one scene, “what a slap in the eye” I must have been. First off, I was not blonde and everyone in California is or tries to be. Secondly, I was not, err, how to put this delicately, top heavy. I could feel myself shrinking in stature with every day that passed that first month. We found a condo within walking distance of the family (ugh). Fulana was settled in. We had a balcony with a remote ocean view. We only fought over the placement of the furniture once. Geoffrey found a suitable job right away. Still, I cried every single night, after we returned from his parents’ house where we had to make a pilgrimage regularly so Geoff could “bond” again.
The day of the important party finally arrived. So did my things from NY and I pulled out a beautiful handmade dress I got at a trendy boutique on Madison Avenue. I wish I had kept it. It was of black polished cotton, with a shirred bodice, little delicate puffed sleeves, tiny buttons up the front, a flared out skirt with a tasteful ruffle at the hem. The material itself was stamped with tiny colored flowers. I loved it. I wore some strappy multicolored patent sandals I had bought in Florence, that picked up the colors in the dress and the black background. I added small diamond flower earrings and thought I looked perfect for a West Coast summer gathering.
My parents-in-law were well connected. My FIL was the genius behind an ultra successful investment firm with offices all over the world. He knew everyone that was anyone in Manhattan and Beverly Hills. So, they invited these people to our reception, held high atop Palos Verdes on a windy cliff overlooking the Pacific. Cocktails were timed to coincide with a glorious sunset. The food was all flawless, the tables glittered with gold and silver laid out elegantly on snow white linens. The flowers were flown in from Hawaii. It was all magical, except, of course, not a soul thought to ask me for any input at all or what I thought of the whole idea in the first place.
Over 250 people arrived in the usual gleaming black or white chariots of that day. I knew no one. Well, with the exception of two people: my mother-in-law’s maid’s niece and her maid’s daughter. The latter was hired to clean our modest starter apartment, a stone’s throw from the in-laws. Both of them eyed me warily with a fair amount of unvarnished jealousy.
Geoffrey knew everyone. There were heads of investment banks, politicians — including a former POTUS, who was on a Board with my father-in-law — lots of corporate CEOs, some chairmen of charities that Emily worked on, and a lot of Geoffrey’s family’s former neighbors and schoolmates. Including an ex-girlfriend of one brother. She and Geoff spent the night getting drunk and reminiscing. Since I don’t touch alcohol, I found little to console me.
An entire room was dedicated to the gifts people inevitably brought, even when told to refrain. A sleek van idled outside all night in anticipation of loading up the treasures and taking them somewhere (to the in-laws house, as it turned out, so Emily could make sure the proper thank yous were sent, I being a barbarian, apparently). I spent time glancing over the tables as they filled up and absently fingered the gift cards, with famous names that I recognized but who only knew me as “… and his bride”.
To make matters even worse, one of the two ladies that worked for my mother-in-law, a single mother about ten years older than I, wore a billowing white dress and tucked enormous roses in her very dark hair. All evening long, people congratulated her on her marriage to my new husband. Geoff’s family loved it and had quite a few laughs for years to come. It didn’t endear them to me, is all I have to say. And, Nuria, the white-clad Beth analogue, developed a haughty attitude toward me thereafter, turning her back dramatically or flouncing out of the room whenever we were in the same place. Did I hear you say “galling”?
As I write and think about this fitting final chapter to the Un-y-moon saga I have shared here by installment, it strikes me as an almost sad and angry tale. Somehow, we overcame all this and managed to eke out our own lives, especially by moving away from the force of this powerful galaxy in which we were supposed to orbit. My MIL slowly mellowed, never quite understanding or liking me, you understand, but coming to spend time with me without trying to dominate and criticize my very different approach to womanhood. Like many traditional wives, brought up in sheltered families where men provided everything except respect and emotional support, the women in my husband’s family knew no other type of role and were offended by what they saw as my superiority complex. Honestly, I never felt superior, just independent. I was an adult, an educated and I thought liberated East Coast professional. I didn’t see myself in the same light that Heidi, Geoffrey’s sister did. Heidi married a rich, strong man, whose money and stature in his own sphere enabled my SIL to glide carefreely from one jeweled abode to another. She took my candid opinions and frank comments to Geoffrey as an indicator that I thought I was better than she was and that has caused her to resent and reject me to this very day. I just no longer care.
Things went on like this for some years, no matter how I tried to change the atmosphere. Little slights that hurt and were meant to put me in my place were constant. Such as the time I asked for an apron to use while in the kitchen helping to prepare dinner and Emily turned to Heidi with a bemused smile and said, “I never needed an apron. Did you?” To which my SIL slowly shook her head in mock disgust. I wanted to tell them it was to keep the food prep area sanitary, not because I was such a clod. But, I was properly cowed. Or the time Emily gave everyone in a large group a dish to prepare, then looked at me quizzically and said, “Beth, I think you can handle the lettuce, can’t you?”, as if I had been raised by wolves. Or the many meals that were anchored by beef or lamb and only left me, the lone vegetarian at that juncture, with a roll and a potato, no apologies made.
You could argue that Geoff fell down on his responsibility to welcome me into his overwhelming family and lay down rules for them to treat me at least with some courtesy and politesse, but he was spoiled. He was used to his mother doting on him, her handsomest son, the one with the most promise in her mind. The one to take the place of her largely absentee spouse. It took years of arguments for my husband to see what was going on and reluctantly cut those apronless strings.
The rest of this blog has posts scattered throughout that shed light on the times and events that have followed. As we both turn 50 shortly (yikes!), we have come to a place of equilibrium. Heidi lost her husband and is now less of a presence in our lives. Emily is experiencing cognitive decline. My father-in-law died suddenly years ago. The other brothers are around but consumed with families of their own. And most importantly, we live nowhere near any of them and that has been a true lifesaver.
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I want to dedicate this “finale” post to the memory of my dear blogging friend, Susan Irene Fox, who passed away suddenly last August. She loved the Un-y-moon series, appreciated all my ironies and jokes and was one of my biggest supporters. As she did with so many people, she offered me her warm, kind, loving advice, and helped me to see a way to accept the adversities that come even into the most fortunate of lives, like mine. God Bless you, Susan. How I miss you and think of you often.
And to my loyal friend Bob, with whom I have had such lively discussions on all sorts of things, including places we share, as in New Jersey, New York and Southern California: You are the best, Bob.
Images: Chez BeBe assets and Creative Commons
My niece is marrying a billionaire.
Well, I should say, a billionaire’s son. Now, mind you, I have hobnobbed with my share of the international cognoscenti from time to time and Geoffrey’s family are well known and affluent, but this is warp-speed level in another universe.
Her mother, my sister-in-law Vanessa, groomed this kid for exactly this outcome by sending her to all the right places to meet kids whose backyard was the globe. And, she’s a beautiful girl. An actress. So, maybe none of this should be a surprise. Most importantly, her future husband (both of them are the same age, they met in college) seems to be a really great person. He’s an actor too. Of course.
Now, as riveting as I am sure all this is to everyone — this all turns into another mammoth undertaking. One cannot simply throw a few rags into a bag and go, right? After the shock and awe of the announcement at a family party last month, and recovering my eyesight after glancing at the ring, I suddenly realized that I not only have to get on a plane and fly to this destination wedding, but I have to have four days worth of outfits appropriate for that crowd, to boot. Yikes.
Luckily, Deanna and I decided we would both go. Geoffrey cannot tear himself away from work and doesn’t want to spend four days doing “silly” wedding things. Al doesn’t want to go, period. So, we are going to make it a girls event.
So, of course I went online, straight to Bergdorf’s and got three crazy overpriced outfits, luckily, on sale. I have hundreds of accessories of every kind, so I justified the cost of those outfits by thinking I could break out some of my low-tick shrugs and bags, etc.
Then Van dropped the other Choo: we are all to wear white to the wedding! Wait, what?? Noooooooooo… Yup, another trip online, this time though, I was so thoroughly chastened that I headed to Nordstroms and got my ecru evening-appropriate dress there. Now I am lousy with wedding guest duds, so I guess I will have to find other weddings to crash (and I usually avoid them like the plague).
For a very brief moment of insanity, Deanna and I considered saving ourselves a ton of hassle and skipping it.
Then we came to our senses. When would either of us ever-ever-ever get to go to four days of parties with that crowd? Would you be surprised if I told you Harry and Meghan might be attending? Am I sounding groupy-esque enough now?
It takes a lot for me to be star-struck. Growing up in NYC, and having celebrities in our neighborhood, passing them on the street without a second look, I didn’t think any of these people could possibly impress me. But my niece’s future family are just fascinating, pure and simple. I want to see what dollar-genius looks like up close and personal, LOL.
Now, of course, I am setting myself up for either being overwhelmed or disappointed. We shall see. Geoffrey just sneers at my excitement and (probably rightfully) concluded it’s merely an excuse to get dressed up, since he goes out of his way to do the opposite.
Uh, yeah! Deanna and I are going to pull out all the stops, and at the very least, have fun showing off our glam-girl sides. Something we never get to do in LA (suppose we are not hanging with the cool crowd here).
OK, enough about that. This is Banker’s Hill in San Diego. Right at the edge of Downtown, these are homes built by financiers in the early 20th century. The whole neighborhood is filled with vintage mansions, immaculately kept and updated. Most have views over the city to the water, just to the west of this enclave. The properties are astronomical but this is the place I am determined to find a hut when we make our permanent investment of a home in the area.
For now, we are still enjoying the houses we have.
Another nice aspect of the upcoming bash abroad is I will be able to share some awesome pictures of the surrounding area. I doubt we will be allowed to bring cameras to the wedding events, so my cell phone will have to do. More on that when the time comes. Meanwhile, I have to get all my other obligations out of the way so I can relax and look forward to whatever my brilliant SIL Vanessa came up with (although she assured me the groom’s parents’ staff is taking care of all the usual arrangements. Leave it to Van to have fallen into that piece of luck!).
Anyone familiar with this blog already knows what my wedding was like (hint: Un-y-mooners posts), hee hee.
Stay tuned and thank you for putting up with me as I pre-drool, copiously.
Images: Chez BeBe assets/Banker’s Hill, San Diego
Mexico has been in the news repeatedly for the past two years, and we all know why. A deranged toddler averred that Mexico has not been sending their best. Really? Has this clown ever been there? Has he been in the Southwestern United States much?
One thing I appreciate about being in Southern California, and having a second home close to the border now, is my proximity to all things Latin American, without any of the drawbacks of living there.
I have lived south of the border and while I enjoyed the cultural enrichment, it isn’t easy for a pampered American to live abroad anywhere, including in our own hemisphere, no matter how sophisticated the country.
Whenever we want to, we can drive a few minutes to Olvera Street in Downtown LA or, when in San Diego, hit Old Town.
Since I have been in Mexico half a dozen times, ranging from Puerto Vallarta, to Mexico City, to Tijuana, I can say with confidence, Old Town is the same thing — almost.
We get the benefit of the unique and delicious food, the cheerful, catchy music, the colorful art, and the fact that without Mexico and Puerto Rico, most Americans could only speak English, and that, just barely.
Don’t think for a minute you can learn another language with Rosetta or Babbel.
There is only one way, either you are raised in a multilingual household by native speakers from other countries, or you immerse yourself in another culture without the benefit of falling back on English.
Where else would our English heritage have learned to add hot peppers to our bland diet?
Who do you think taught us about chili and cheese fries?
How else would we have had the good fortune to travel close-by to resorts that cost a small fraction of those in Europe or Hawaii?
Even the Caribbean is prohibitive. Not Mexico.
Would we have the beautiful architecture of all the Mission towns in the sun belt without the early Church fathers like Padre Junipero Serra?
And, Snow Birds who can no longer afford Miami or San Diego, can live like royalty over the southern border.
As you know, if you have been in my community for the last five years, I am no fan of hot weather, so when I choose to travel, it is always north.
In fact, we just got back from a wonderful trip to San Francisco. But I would be unfair if I were not to acknowledge the priceless contribution of South America to our country.
It needs to be recalled, that the people who come here want to bring all these good things to us in return for a chance to prove how wonderful they can be.
These are not lazy, untalented, unskilled people, nor criminals. These are hardworking ambassadors that contribute to our society in manifold ways. Let’s not forget it, or the words on the Statue of Liberty.
Images: Chez BeBe assets/Old Town, San Diego. Click on each photo to view it large.