Travelogue: A Boat to Cross the Moat In My Head

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“THE PESSIMIST complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” – William Arthur Ward

It came at precisely the right time, this trip—an invitation extended after a celebratory shot of tequila in a dark New York club and a swing around the dance floor. “You,” he said. “You’re comin’ on the boat.” I asked him what boat and he said it didn’t matter. The next morning he sent me an emailed invitation and a sample itinerary for a flight taking off in barely four weeks. Within an hour, I had purchased an insanely expensive ticket to Turkey, having not even bothered to ask who else was coming. Thinking too much has never served me very well, anyway. In fact, thinking too much has always served me worst.

 

Continue reading on Lady Clever.

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The Lobbyist: The NoMad

Nomad-Hotel-Facade-510x432 The Lobbyist is a division of JBLY that specifically handles reviews of hotel lobbies and hotel bars.  If you’ve got a good suggestion (or, preferably, a bad one) for a place I should visit, please send me an email at jennyblovesyoudaily@gmail.com.

Sink into the velvety luxury of an art deco sofa while you soak up the chilled out vibes purring from the stereo. Is that Radiohead? Evan Voytas? Foals? I have no idea, but it’s chill. Yes, in the black and gold womb of the NoMad’s boudoir-inspired lobby, you’ll feel your cares slip away, instantly forgetting that guy who didn’t call you back last week, that $2,500 dental bill, or the fact you’ve made the journey to pseudo-gentrifying buttfuck Flatiron, where, just hours ago, men were slanging jugs of body oil and fake gold chains the size of nautical ropes. “Shhhh,” the NoMad whispers. “None of that matters anymore.”

It’s true; it doesn’t. Let this sexy beast pillow talk the shit out of you. It has all the slinky vibes of Paris’ Hotel Costes, minus all that fashion week BS and the whole oui oui oui Grey Poupon French-y thing. Unless of course, that’s your jam, which is completely acceptable. I like inhaling secondhand smoke and not eating 30 euro salads just as much as the next supermodel.

WHEN:

Because I’m incapable of reading text messages intelligently, I found myself sitting in the lobby waiting for a friend who I had – quite incorrectly – assumed to be staying there. Nevertheless, it was the perfect opportunity for a Lobbyist, given that this joint is too expensive and dignified for the Brooklyn skeeze I run with.

WEAR:

Despite the clienteles’’ collective tax bracket, the fashion left a little to be desired. There was the lady with the $2,200 Goyard tote and the New Balances (rich people casual). Then came the Tory Burch outfit (for the WASP in your life who’s just, ugh, bored of Lilly Pulitzer). The shining beacon of hope, however, was the group of men in black and white, sporting bowties and good manners.

Negative points go to the 65-year-old man who checked me out like he had a chance, though, in truth, I myself was wearing the leather mini-dress I sported three years ago with ripped tights, smeared lipstick, and leaves smashed into my hair when I dressed like a [insert something completely offensive here] for Halloween. So, that said, considering the circumstances, he likely thought I was 1) a prostitute, 2) a sexy foreign exchange student from Holland, 3) all of the above. Lurking is to be expected.

SEEN:

Older men with age-appropriate wives, French people, a good-looking employee with shaggy hair (likely a resident of Brooklyn).

HEARD:

“Dad, what’s your color acuity?”

“Well, Sally, what do you mean? Hue? Saturation? Brightness?”

This is the type of learned downtown conversation I never had growing up. My parents could give two shits about color acuity; it was all, “Hey, get good grades and play sports so you can go to college. I don’t care if you’re color blind.”

EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY OR WHATEVER

The NoMad – the restaurant adjacent the lobby, in particular — attracts that rich and successful 40+ crowd who doesn’t mind journeying towards middle-Manhattan for $8 radish snacks. If you’re feeling flush, there’s also the $78 whole roasted chicken for two, which comes with fancy things like foie gras, black truffle, and brioche. For those of you who have had the $7 chicken from Costco and call bullshit, there are hundreds of five-star reviews on this dish on Yelp.. So there. Being rich really does taste better.

THE LOBBYIST RATING: 5/5 KATE MOSSES

True, the Flatiron District is this weird, ambiguous No Man’s Land, but you know what? So was Soho… and Tribeca… and Williamsburg. And you know what happened to those places? They got real expensive and filled up with douche bags. The Flatiron isn’t like that yet, and neither is the NoMad. So get there while the getting’s good. Just don’t forget to buy me a drink.

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Kate Moss: The gold standard in everything. 

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That time I got to the airport with the help of three Europeans and a delivery van.

 

Casualties_of_a_mass_panic_-_Chungking,_China

 

Mass panic is serious business. Okay, mine wasn’t this serious in that I’m obviously still alive.

The train is shittier than I remember it being. Five years ago, I took the RER to and from Paris without incident. I was a cheap and ambitious 23-year-old who couldn’t fathom forking out 80 euros for a cab both ways. In the years since, I’ve been spoiled with client paid-for trips and $200 cab reimbursements. Not this trip. This trip I’m on my own. This is money in real time. Train it is.

There’s graffiti all over the vinyl seats and trash on the floor. Two pale blonde boys sit in the corner, where I am certain homeless people take dumps or shoot heroin. They move quickly to another spot on the train, having likely discovered something akin to my suspicions. Behind us, a lunatic bellows in French. “VOILA! VOILA! VOILA!” he roars. It is the only time the language has made me think of something other than bedrooms and croissants, rococo molding and sculpted foliage. For all I know he could be screaming “Voila! I’m going to shoot all of you in the head right now!” but my French-speaking traingoers seem largely unperturbed. I stare forward without compassion. Ah, feels like home.

The Paris periphery passes on my right, a swell of lesser buildings than those at its center, neighborhoods that reek of relative poverty and gray depression. A tent camp runs adjacent to the train for some stretch of time and then disappears seamlessly into a trash heap. It’s a far cry from my brunches at Le Maurice, the late lunches at Hotel Costes, the designer stores on Rue Saint Honore.

An announcement is made overhead in French. An English translation never comes, but I can tell from the ensuing collective groans that there is something wrong with the train. The gray-haired man next to me, suspecting I’m the clueless American I am, manufactures a ham-fisted sentence in English: “The train, it stops here and goes no further. Accident.” He points up at a map at a little circle indicating a station five stops away from CDG.

“Do they say how long it will take?”

He shrugs his shoulders and puffs his lips. I take this to mean a time frame that exists somewhere between two hours and never. Either way, I’ll miss my flight if I wait for service to resume.

The train makes it final stop and the passengers spill out, many rolling pieces of luggage and sporting looks of general panic. The pale blonde boys from earlier saddle up next to me, as does a young bearded guy with a hiker’s backpack and glasses. By hazard of all being screwed, we adopt each other.

One of blondes speaks English. I tell him what’s going on.

“What should we do?

Fucked if I know. My cell phone doesn’t work in Europe and we are in the middle of nowhere, stuck in an unfamiliar suburb where taxis are as common as shooting stars and unicorns. I nervously chew on my lip and look around the station, as though some answer will magically come to me by way of paralyzed stagnation.

“Ummm…”

“Okay,” he says. “I guess I will go talk to someone. You guys stay here.”

The other boy, who I suspect is his boyfriend, lights a cigarette and says “Fuck!” which is apparently the only word he knows in English, or will at least admit to knowing. The bearded guy, who also does not speak English, dumbly surveys the inhospitable scene.

“The taxis pick up on the other side,” Pale Blonde Number 1 says upon return. And we silently hustle around the corner and down a street, up around to the entrance of the station, where a swarm of increasingly frantic people stand in the middle of the street and on the sidewalks, positioning themselves to steal cabs whenever one might arrive. There are about forty people here who need to get to the airport. One cab arrives every six minutes, if it’s even available. I’m not very good at math, so let me pull out my calculator…

MANY PEOPLE + ZERO CABS = HAHAHAHAHAHA

Everyone else has apparently done the same calculation, dividing supply by demand and factoring in their flight time. Getting from this train station to the airport will be a modern, first-world-problems example of the survival of the fittest. Those who do not act, perish. When a large taxi pulls to the side of the curb, the stranded descend like hungry vultures pecking at the last carcass in the field. Shouting ensues, a lot of hands being thrown into the air. It fills up with randoms and quickly disappears. The four of us stand in the street becoming increasingly helpless.

It’s 3:30 My flight boards in 45 minutes. This is almost as bad as my whole “Hey, I booked my flight a whole month off” trip to the Maldives last March.

There, stopped at a red light, is one of those white vans you imagine delivers European flowers on birthdays and funerals. His window is down. I run across the street, my carry-on bag swerving wildly behind me.

“Parlez-vous anglais?” I breathlessly shout into the window.

“A little,” he says.

The light changes green.

“The train is broken,” I start, my English hampered by fear. “Can we pay you, uhhh, 80 euros to take us to CDG? The four of us?”

I point to my three new brothers standing across the street.

“Yes, yes,” he says. “Okay.”

I wave at the boys and scream for them to get into the car. There is that awkward moment when we forget that this is not a real cab, but a good Samaratin with a car, and we stand at the back, waiting to put our luggage in the trunk. The driver stays put and the boys grab onto their bags and launch themselves into the backseat. I jam myself into the front, my luggage on the floor and my knees up to my throat, shoes crammed against the dashboard.

“I don’t speak very good English,” he says. “Airport? CDG?”

The quiet bearded dude confirms in French.

I turn towards the backseat, taking this moment to get to know the people I have just hitchhiked with. The Frenchman with the beard who doesn’t speak English manages to tell us that he is going to Rome. The two pale blondes are from Moscow. The one who speaks English has blue eyes and cute dimples. A Russian Gerber baby. They’re going back home.

“Where are you going?”

“New York.”

“I love New York.”

“I haven’t been to Moscow,” I say. “I’m dying to go.”

“Come visit!”

And we laugh because wouldn’t it be ridiculous if this whole ordeal started a bizarre international friendship, the kind that doesn’t happen anymore because of Facebook and telephones and instant connections through a tighter, known periphery because the world is a scary, massive, terrifying place of which you have unparalleled access to.

The car goes silent, save for French rap playing on the radio and air pushing through the open windows. I imagine this is what being in war is like. You’re fighting with strangers for a very similar cause, which gives you an instant camaraderie without the usual requisite history to establish it. We resume a nervous silence in the car.

It takes six very long minutes just to snake through the narrow, unfamiliar side streets and onto the freeway, at which point I let go of any possibility of something untowardly horrible happening to us. Thankfully our driver isn’t a psychopath or a horrible driver. His car smells of nice cologne. We take a corner and the contents of his trunk tumble over. Everyone laughs. And then, again, silence.

The sign for CDG comes into view. Ohthankfuckinggod.

I’m the first to be released. Terminal 2B. I hand one of the Russians my 20 euro contribution and extract myself from the car, limb by limb, wallet falling onto the sidewalk along with hat and scarf, while I say, “Merci! Merci! Merci!” to our unnamed driver. “You’re an angel!”

I wave to my new friends, who will remain forever strangers, say goodbye and wish them luck.

“Have a nice life!” says the Russian.

And I run towards my gate, where I make my flight with minutes to spare, sweating under my jacket, graying at my temples, ready for a travel experience nearly as horrible as the RER: American Airlines.

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Quiche. Quiche. Everywhere It Smells of Quiche.

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It’s Sunday morning and the whole city steeps in butter – the smell of croissants and burnt quiche seeping from under door jams and through cracked windows. The sun’s out for the first time in days, warming the lumpy unpaved pathways in front of the Louvre, sitting on the shoulders of our black coats.

“Thank fucking God!” I yell. Paris can often be so drab, so irrepressibly gray. That, and my warm wool coat is back in Brooklyn, sitting on a wire hanger at my local drycleaners doing me no amount of good. I’ve been freezing for three whole days.

Michelle and I are late again for brunch, routinely waking up about two hours too late for a proper morning. By the time we arrive, Café de Flore is out of their breadstuff and nearly all of the breakfast options. No pan au chocolate for us today, just “baguette and…uhhhh…jam…if you want” says our server. Michelle exhales loudly and considers the laminate menu. Americans are the most spoiled citizens of the world. In New York, I can get bananas at 4 a.m. and foie gras from Blue Ribbon at 3 (you know, in theory). But here, there are constraints for every purchase, short windows of opportunity for every desire. Paris is the land of “Is Not Possible.”

They’ve seated us in between a group of four men who apparently got served the last of the croissants and the most silent lesbian couple in all of Europe, likely pioneers of the movement (judging from their heartiness of build, also likely German).

I look around the room for perhaps hints of the café’s storied history. I try to imagine Ernest Hemingway or Truman Capote sitting at these sticky wooden tables, around the red vinyl banquets, their reflections bouncing off of the mirrors placed between cheap-looking marble columns. I take a note on my iPhone: Typing on this feels like literary blasphemy.

“Hey, is that Waris?”

In the foreground of two fashionable women is the back of a white turban hovering above a nicely tailored suit. Given the week, and the context, you hardly need to even bother asking.

“Yeaaahhhhh… I think so.”

Why I know the names of designers and niche fashion celebrities but I probably can’t list all of the states in my own country is beyond me. I hate myself.

Michelle orders quiche with salmon and chives. “And for you?” the server asks. He squeezes my shoulder when I tell him “just coffee” and smiles that “I would try to have sex with you in a back alley” smile before he walks away. If Michelle were closer, he’d likely squeeze her, too — a ménage trois of gross discomfort and European sexual harassment. Unfortunately, I’m the one most convenient for groping. The rest of the meal will be spent fielding various untoward advances, my least favorite being the needless proximity of his crotch to my body whenever he places something on the table. Each time, I look behind him to see if there is anything forcing him towards me, perhaps a crushing mass of hungry tourists, only to find a vast and empty nothingness.

Pardon me, while I place this plate… right… here…

I immediately regret having unbuttoned my blouse on account of the stifling heat inside the café and Michelle’s comment about me dressing like Annie Hall, giving our server carte blache access to my non-existent cleavage, a pale expanse of taut skin pulled over sternum bones like a drum.

“You good?” he asks, squeezing my shoulder again. I’m waiting for him to pat my head or stick his tongue in my ear.

“Bathroom?” I ask. “I mean, water closet? Restroom?” Asking where to pee in Europe always leaves me fraught with lingering anxiety.

“Upstairs,” he says, squeezing me one more time and then letting me pass as I head towards a narrow set of stairs, just behind a woman with a Fendi bag and a white Labradoodle. How very Hemingway.

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Berlin: Night 3.1

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“Are you going to wear your matching jumper?” I ask, standing next to Jonas in my black and white leopard onesie, a patent leather belt wrenched between my ribs and my hipbones.  He laughs and comes back in the room wearing black jeans and a snakeskin tee shirt, a pair of sneakers.

“It’s the best I can do.”

Brannon is waiting outside on the corner while his gas-conscious car idles efficiently.  I sit in the backseat next to Battina in her black pants and her black shirt and her curly blonde hair, a beautiful pair of stingray sandals on her feet.

“Who makes those?”

“Balenciaga. 

***

Our animal print collective walks through the lobby of the SoHo House, passing a spray-painted image of a gnashy-toothed shark with a large signature in the right-hand corner.  Damien Hirst, it reads.  And at first I think they’re just taking a piss and it’s meant to be funny and of course it’s not Damien Hirst, but – upon a little accidental research – it’s apparently real, which is kind of like Damien Hirst taking a piss on everyone else.

Like most everything in Berlin, the building has a storied past.  Originally a Jewish-owned department store, it then became headquarters for the Hitler Youth (of course!).  Later, the Communist Party moved their offices here, where they typed up memos and did communist-y stuff like recite Marxist principles and come up with slogans for the Cold War.

I suppose this whole historical city thing will never fail to impress me because the most iconic buildings in Los Angeles, where I grew up, are places were celebrities have overdosed since the turn of the last century.

And here we have the bungalow where Marilyn Monroe decided life wasn’t worth living anymore…

Oooooo!

To the right you’ll see the sidewalk where River Phoenix collapsed from drug-induced heart failure.  Yes, that’s the Viper Room.

We sit on big green sofas, too deep and wide to be comfortable.  I perch on the edge, elbows on knees, trying to talk to the people five feet away from me on the other side of the table.  Vanilla Ice takes my order.  “I’ll have the mint and pea salad,” I say, admiring the way Vanilla Ice has not aged one bit since I was in elementary school and understanding that the music industry is a pretty tough racket and that I’d probably have to return to the restaurant industry while the young kids pirate my music.  Oh wait, that’s not Vanilla Ice, that’s my German server who is sporting a hi-top fade like it’s 1991.

2 Legit 2 Quit!

All of Berlin drowns in the Midas touch as the sun creeps south.  My food arrives, as does the iced coffee I ordered.  This attempt is technically more successful, being as the SoHo House has both ice and soymilk, but I think Vanilla Ice has spiked my beverage with 100 packets of refined sugar.  My tongue recoils with the unfamiliar tang of excessive calories.

“How is it?” Vanilla Ice asks.  He is attentive and dutiful in a way that likely means he would like to have sex with me given the opportunity.

“Really good!”

It’s one of those A-For-Effort situations.  Were I in the US, I’d likely complain, but you can’t complain in a country you don’t speak the language of.  Rules are rules.  You can only be an entitled bitch in the land of your origin.

The plates are cleared and the bill is paid and we walk upstairs to the roof where all of Berlin pools around us, each building illuminated from below like a vaudeville stage act.  Bilious clouds cling to the purple and pink of sunset while everything else succumbs to the bluishness of night.  In the middle of it all, the TV tower senselessly rising out of nowhere.

Jonas’ friends from last night are here.  There’s a newbie here, sitting quiet and stone-faced until I stick out my hand.

“Hi, I’m Jenny.”

“I’m Sugar.”

Sugar’s got a shawl around her broad shoulders, her hair shiny and auburn and wholly immovable.  She just moved here from New York this morning, literally.  She probably just dropped her bags off at her new apartment and came right to the SoHo House.

“How long did you live in New York?” I ask.

“Forever,” she says with that bored, plastic look reserved for socialites and drag queens – a comical, exaggerated flatness.

Both camps pile into the elevators and we take them down the mezzanine where there are ping-pong tables and a foosball something-or-other and a bunch of giant glaring lights that make you feel like you’re playing on an airport tarmac.  Ten of us run around the same table, some using paddles and some just their open palms.  Smack and run and smack and run and then someone fucks up.  Everyone laughs and groans and starts again.  Smack and run.  More laughter under the garish lighting and some of us are clearly better than others, myself not included.

Smack.

Laughter.

Ohhhhhhh!!!!!!

And then someone comes upstairs and tells us we have to be quiet and behaved, which frankly very fun at all.

The only man capable of a Berlin Buzzkill.

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Berlin: Night 1.2

Half of the friends I met at the hummus/ chicken place earlier today are standing outside a big building that looks like it should be abandoned.  Instead, there’s a door guy and a line.  Said door guy only let fifty percent of the group in, who gamely took the opportunity to go inside and have a drink while the rest of waited on the sidewalk for them to finish.

After ten minutes sitting at a bus stop under fluorescent lights, we are rejoined by the deserters and I am next to Battina, a German girl from Berlin who just moved back from four years in London as of thirty days ago.  She – just like Brannon – has the inflections of someone who has lived aboard, using British sayings like “That’s such shit” and wrapping words with a pseudo Cambridge flair.  Battina sounds like she went to finishing school with The Little Princess.

You can barely tell she’s German.  She could be my sister.

The group splits into two different cars for the short drive to Odessa Bar.  We listen to A$AP Rocky rap about egos and mirrors, gritty mutha fuckas and what it’s like reppin’ Harlem.  Everyone but me knows the lyrics.  We’ll listen to this song about 900 times before I leave on Wednesday.

Alan parks the car and we walk through a bulky mass of Germans congregating outside of Odessa, beverages in hand.  Once inside, the bar is the first thing you see, which is probably how all bars should be anyway, given that the point of a bar is to, well, get a goddamn drink I guess.  There’s a handwritten sign with a list of cocktails accompanied by absurdly reasonable Euro price tags.

Jonas orders a vodka soda that I take five-cent nips off of for thirty minutes.

“I’ll be right back,” I say, and I go off exploring.

The bathroom is the highlight.  It’s dark and moody and looks like an excellent place to destroy your life until the wee hours of the morning.  There are mirrors reflecting black walls and golden light, a table with an impressive bouquet of flowers and a stack of thick, fancy hand towels.  There is no garbage bin; used towels are strewn all over the floor like celebratory confetti, centralized around the table area and then trailing out the door and into the bar.

I meet the boys back outside.  And when I say “the boys” I don’t just mean my boys, but THE boys.  There are boys everywhere in Berlin – tall, strapping lads that all look like grown-up versions of the kids on Kinder chocolate bars, ripe for booking Ralph Lauren watch campaigns.

“Look at this,” I say, nudging Jonas while I wave my arm in a half-circle.  “Dudes.  One-hundred-and-eighty-degrees of dudes.”  It’s true; as far as I can see, there are just boys drinking beer.  I haven’t seen this many men banded together since an opening party at Saturdays Surf.

The ratio of men to women here eschews highly in favor of women, which is pretty much the exact opposite of New York City, where men can have their pick of you or me…or her or her or her or her.  A girl’s singleness reflects back at her like a mocking, horrible image in a hall of mirrors: you, alone, over and over and over again in perpetuity.  Because how are you ever going to meet a person in a place where supply outstrips demand?  Beyonce needs to sing a little song about “All the Single Ladies” moving to Berlin.

“Let’s go to Picknick,” someone says, and then someone says that Picknick sucks now.

“May as well go,” someone else says, “and if it’s bad we can leave.”

Such is life.

Picknick is located in the government district, supposedly near a police station or something, which is pretty hilarious considering what goes on here.  It’s one of those places that opens on a Thursday and doesn’t close until Monday.  Basically you leave when you get tired or the drugs wear off, whatever comes first.

I follow Jonas through a corridor, past kids holding drinks in an open space between buildings.  We move onward through another corridor towards another enclosed space where music thumps and people dance.  Images are projected on the adjacent walls.  People bump together, dancing en masse.  The music plays and it is good and for five minutes I think this might be the most fun I will ever have.

And then the DJ changes the song.

And puts on a bad one.

And another bad one.

And another.

And another.

The rest of the night kind of goes on like this – chasing the dreams of those first bassy five minutes, only to get slammed in the face with bad Rihanna remixes and sweaty tweakers.

We take the party inside, hoping that a different DJ might alleviate some of boredom the last just infected us with.  Unfortunately, about 102 people have thought of the same thing at the same time and now I’m in a hallway two shoulders wide, jammed with pushing humanity sucking in air and forcing out carbon dioxide and body odor, leaving the climate as hot and steamy as any Russian bathhouse.  This is how people die in panic stampedes.  Yeah, I’m pretty sure of that.  I’m just praying to god the broken beer bottles I’m crushing underfoot don’t kick up and slide in between my skin and my sandals.

I don’t feel like going to the ER tonight.

Once inside, bloodless and physically unscathed, I am dismayed to discover very soon that these new DJs are hell bent on playing arguably worse music.  Adding insult to injury are the offensive teeny tiny hot pants the one girl is wearing, a large zipper running the length of her crotch.  Bad DJs are the horrible.  Bad girl DJs are the worst.

Battina and I refuse to dance in protest.

It’s 4 in the morning and the sun is coming up somewhere not too far away.  The blue sky becomes less dense, the moon on the descent, moving towards the rooftops and scaffolding.  I look at Jonas and pretend to nod off, a silent plea to call it a day before daybreak.

We leave the others to party until six, dancing to good music, bad music, talking to friends.  Jonas and I walk out the doors and through empty streets to wait for a cab for the better part of 45 minutes, standing in the middle of Berlin on my first night/ first morning, ineffectively racing home before the sun comes up.

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The Social Vampire Diaries: Berlin, Night 1.1

Mogg & Melzer is one of a few restaurants currently housed in what used to be Berlin’s first Jewish school for girls.  It flourished for nearly one hundred years until Hitler came and decided, well, he wasn’t that into Jews, really, and it goes without saying that he wasn’t that into their education either.  By 1942, the school was closed, most of the children and their families shipped away, and the facility used as a military hospital until the end of the war.

Now people come here to eat pastrami sandwiches and drink white wine.  In the hallway there are black and white photographs of what once was: girls playing games in a dirt courtyard, sitting at wooden desks wearing skirts and sweaters, dark hair done up in a 30s fashion.  The bathroom still looks like a little girl’s room with pink walls and swinging doors, a long mirror that people half my size likely passed in front of to wash their hands.

The restaurant is creamy blue and precious, with purple benches and communal tables, windows opened up to the street below.  Food is prepared on the other side of the room, between a tiled wall and bit of glass.  I feel like I’m in Brooklyn, though almost a better version of Brooklyn in a way, because there is so much space, so much room between tables.  Berlin seems to have found a way to inherit the benefits of a cosmopolitan city without absorbing the costs (filth, a crushing populous, incivility).

“I could sit right there and read all day,” I say, pointing to the corner where a man in glasses eats alone, save for the little dog sitting next to him.

Jonas’ friends arrive and I have a horrible time remembering any of their names until about two hours later.  I meet too many people, shake too many hands, hear too many names and rarely, if ever, do I expect to see most people after first introductions.  Mine is a transient, friendly universe, built on intrinsic impermanence and a faulty-wired brain.

“I’m Jenny,” I say.  That’s usually as far as I get.

But halfway through dinner, I make the point to remember, because everyone at the table is lovely and vibrant and from all over the world.

Lina, the birthday girl, is in town from Milan for meetings and a shoot.  She’s a photographer.  Lina has thick wavy hair and bangs that nearly cover her eyes, a big smile and dimples that crease the places below her cheekbones.  She and Jonas met in Munich a few years ago.  Karen, another friend who has just arrived, met them all there, too.

Karen – blonde haired, blue eyed Karen – now lives in Berlin full-time.  She just got back from a buying trip to Paris for a store she runs out here.  Yesterday, she tells us, she woke up, walked into the bathroom and fainted, only to wake up on her tiled floor six hours later.  The last twenty-four hours were spent stuck in a German emergency room until she couldn’t stand lying down in a foldout bed any longer while Friday passed outside her window.

“I just pushed it too far,” Karen says.  She went a week straight in Paris, working all day and doing dinners until well past midnight, sleeping for four hours and then doing it all over again.  Her body shut off in retaliation.

Lina’s friends trickle in as the night continues, eating or not eating when they arrive, drinking from bottles of wine left on the table.  It feels like I’m in school, eating in the cafeteria while my friends get out of class at different times, socializing around the table, at the table, smoking over by the window.  “It’s casual,” Lina says, waving her hands.

One of fashion’s famous gender-benders walks through the door wearing a white shirt tied up up up above her belly button, clinging to a pair of perky breasts.  She’s had a more successful career as a model than myself, despite having technically been born a boy.

With her is an energetic Italian named Eduardo, wearing a silkscreened shirt of his own design – orange snakes writhing and wrapped around neck like a snood or something royal and opulent but completely accessible.  Like costume jewelry meets tee shirts.  That would be my pitch if I were in PR.  My brain works like this now.  Sell sell sellBuy buy buy.  Fabrication and bottom lines.

I like Eduardo.  He’s got a big smile and a nice beard.

I end up sitting next to a guy named Brannon.  He lives in Milan but he’s obviously American.  Ohio, he tells me.  He moved fifteen years ago, plucked straight out of design school to work for a famous designer based in Italy.

Brannon has the inflections and intonations of an expat, a flourish reserved for people accustomed to talking to Europeans.  It’s like the way I say “yeah” after hanging out with my Australian friend for too long.  Now, my “yeah” has a question mark at the end of it, pulling itself upward with some invisible string.  “Yeah?” where there should be a good ol’ American “Oh, really?” instead.

It happens.

“Where are you from?” he asks.

“California.”

“Oh, yeah, you are,” he says.  “I can hear it in your voice.  California girl.”  He sits back, crossing his arms, nodding his head as though he’s just figured out the last word in a Sunday crossword puzzle.

For reasons owing simply to an obligation to defensiveness, I argue lightly with him, saying there is no such thing as a Californian accent.  “People say I sound like I’m from the South,” I say, as though that’s better.

Los Angeles has never sounded exotic enough for me.  The same goes for the San Fernando Valley, known mostly for ungodly summers and Ron Jeremy.

“Porn Valley?” Jonas asked when I told him where I grew up.

I argue this point, too, only to concede soon after, admitting that for a time in the late 90s, I lived across the street from a modern, boxy white house where they did indeed shoot porn films.  Skanky girls with fake tans and huge breasts used to get dropped off in white limos and then disappear through a solid fence.  All night, lights would shift blue and white and purple through palm trees.  My mom didn’t much care for that house.

Brannon tells me about his own fashion line, how he doesn’t need to go to New York so much anymore, how his mother has since moved to Atlanta.  He goes there, he says, for holidays.

Brannon from Ohio who moved to Italy and now travels to Berlin often.

Fashion makes these things possible.  You can have a weird life.  You can have a big life.  You can travel the world and have dinner in Paris and dinner in Berlin and, if you need to, you can go to the ER and get an IV drip because it’s all more than a body can take.  You can wash your hands in sinks that soldiers used and walk down hallways that used to echo with the sound of bombs and shrapnel.  If anything at all, modeling has afforded me this realization, this openness to the Possibilities of Weird.

And this, I think, more than makes up for the unholy rejection, days spent bored and bleary-eyed, nights spent falling asleep with cramped calves and an existential crisis.

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Berlin: Day 1.3

It’s been pouring rain for the last thirty minutes, a rain so thorough you can barely see to the other side of the street.  Everything is gray and wet, trees saturated and emerald.  People stand in doorways waiting for it to stop while the brave and the impatient run through it, immediately soaked as though they’ve just been pushed into a pool.

We exist somewhere in between.

A group of us sits and waits in the Bio Market on the corner, planning an exit strategy.  Jonas and I scan the fresh bread brochure we received with our purchase of various fruits and vegetables, a carton of soymilk and organic crackers.

“This one looks good,” I say, having no idea what the hell dinkel is but instinctively knowing it likely tastes like cardboard and that I will probably like it.

In my time in Berlin (roughly two hours and three minutes), I’ve discovered that I really like German supermarkets.  French supermarkets smell like tepid eggs, vegetables on the precipice of rot, and many stinky cheeses.  Rarely, if ever, is my appetite stoked by walking into a Fran Prix or a Monop.  There are only so many prepackaged lentils, weird moppy bits of shredded carrot, or undercooked salmon over pasta shells a person can take.

Germany is a revelation; I thought the only place in the world that pandered to the health-conscious neuroses of models and celebrities was the Whole Foods on Fairfax and Santa Monica.

After Jonas and I settle on a sprouted loaf of bread as dense and heavy as a brick, he runs to the car to come back and pick up four of us.  The remaining four of our group will be left to fashion makeshift umbrellas out of their own bread brochures and biodegradable plastic bags.

Nine million gallons of rainwater, two overworked windshield wipers, and one blurry Berlin landscape later, we’re running across a large street, luggage in tow.  There is another group of people waiting outside of the apartment building; apparently the friend of a friend of a friend is shooting something here today, a line of clothing the designer describes as “hipster and thrift.”

Errr…

I follow Jonas through glass doors and the mouth of a corridor, passing a row of mailboxes, fifty percent of which have been wrenched open and left bent and useless.  His landlord tried to give him a key last week.

“Which one do you want?” he asked, standing in front of twelve unusable boxes, and Jonas just looked at him.

“Seriously?” he asked, because what good is a key to mailbox if you can just stick your hand through the middle and grab everything inside.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” the landlord said.  “A new box will take a couple weeks.”

Ah, Berlin.  I love you too much already.

The hallways are ratty and smudged, the ceilings high and everything made brighter – for better or worse – by a large window above each landing.  It’s dour and ancient but not disgusting.  No, New York apartment buildings are disgusting; the “foyers” always reek of unfamiliar spices and old trash, the stairways narrow and the steps worn and crooked.

Jonas puts a key into a door with a painted-over slot for mail (a recurring theme here apparently being the difficulty in getting letters) and three or four different peepholes.

He pushes the door and light spills out from inside, reflecting off of stark white, bare walls.  It still smells of fresh paint and floor varnish.  It is unfathomably pretty and not at all what one would expect when viewed from the street below, starring up at windows hovering above an orange sign and an unimpressive bakery.

“Stop it,” I say, tempering a healthy dose of apartment envy while I poke my head into two massive rooms to the right, a room to the left and the kitchen beyond, through to another hallway.  This apartment exists only in dreams and the Upper East Side.

Now I don’t just want to date Berlin; I want to marry it.

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Lobbying for Personal Assistants

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Four stops away from Heathrow, I decide to pull out my responsibly stapled-together itinerary for the next ten days: American Airlines flights between New York and London, my Qatar flight from London to the Maldives via Male and back, as well as a two-night hotel stay in Piccadilly Circus as proof I won’t just be sleeping on the night bus for 48 hours when I come back to London in another week.

American Airlines.  JFK to LHR.  March 15th departure.  March 25th return.  Great.

Cocoa Island Resort, Maldives.  Arriving March 18th at 2:30 pm.  Boat 5Leaving the morning of March 23rdCheck.

Le Meridian Hotel, London.  Check in March 23rd.  Check out March 25th.  Courtesy of Mom.  Happy Birthday to me…Happy Birthday to me…

I’m flipping through these sheets, casually checking and double-checking, challenging my negation of the theory that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.  I’m listening to my music, jovially, high on life, tickled pink.  Cloud 9, baby!  Cloud mother fucking 9!

Qatar Airlines.  London to Male.  Thursday, February 17th.  Returning February 23rd.

Thursday, I think.  It’s not Thursday.  It’s Saturday.

Qatar Airlines.  London to Male.  Departing Thursday, February 17th.  Returning February 23rd

Thursday.

February.

FEBRUARY.

My fucking flight was booked for FEBRUARY.

I do my best to hold back the massive wave of panic and the accompanying urge to vomit, trading a more visceral reaction to crisis for heart-thumping adrenaline and limp extremities.  Still, I read my flight information again, my entire body filled with that drowning sensation that hits you when you’ve done something disastrously wrong.

February.

I can’t possibly have been so stupid.

I had just been going over the itinerary because that’s what adults did, just to make sure, just to go through the motions of responsibility to ensure yourself that everything is certainly in order, because, well, you’re a goddamn adult and adults don’t misbook their flights to the middle of the Indian Ocean but an entire MONTH.

Aren’t I supposed to be the responsible one?  I’m the person who pays my bills in full and on time, who always has a sizeable chunk of cash in my bank account for modeling’s infinite number of proverbial rainy days, who – in a permanent effort to appease my mother’s illness-related paranoia – always has health insurance.  I’m not the idiot!  I am not the idiot!

I check my phone, briefly convincing myself that it is actually February – an obvious solution to my little Qatar problem.  March, I read.  It is most definitely March.  And I, Jennifer Lee Bahn, am most definitely fucked, and am, by definition, a wonderfully capable idiot.

The fifteen minutes it takes to get to LHR are spent mentally choreographing the moment when I finally reach Terminal 4.  “I’ve done something horribly wrong,” I imagine myself saying to some uniformed man (I will find a man, I think, as he will innately want to have sex with me at some animalistic level and will therefore be kinder with the airline-mandated lashings I should likely receive for such a booking atrocity).  I am also planning for obstacles, and have orchestrated a possible scenario in which there is a massive crowd that I must push through.  “EMERGENCY!  EMERGENCY!” I yell, and then, breathless, make my way to the ticket counter.  I debate the importance of genuine tear shed in instances such as these.

The doors open onto Terminal 4 and I haul ass through them, running through the corridors, tearing up escalators hauling my 30-pound carry-on bag in my arms.  Heaving.  Everything about me is heaving.  Too often I find myself demonstrating extreme emotions in airports.  I suspect there is likely a TSA alert attached to my passport: Girl often looks to be in extreme duress (sobbing, red-faced, panicked, horribly and painfully depressed in spirit).  Pay close attention to.  Either way, someone’s probably got me on suicide watch or a terrorist list.

“Uh, hi, um, hi,” I force out.  The words do not come from my mouth intelligible and clearly formed, but from my throat, strangled by my wrenching horror and my tightening esophagus.  “I, uh.  My flight…is…uh…”

I pass the sheet of paper I’ve been staring at for the last twenty minutes to a woman with fogged over eyes that remind me of Labradors with cataracts.  “I booked my flight for a month ago.  My flight was in February.  It’s my best friend’s wedding.  Oh, my god.  I can’t believe what I’ve done.”

I hear the clack clack clack of her fingers on keyboard while she smiles kindly, the way one smiles at a gun-wielding lunatic who is on the verge of a massacre or who, if placated correctly, might simply give up and collapse on the floor in a fit of their own tears.  She tells me that she’s just checked in my two friends, ones that I mentioned were supposed to be on this flight with me – except, you know, on the RIGHT DAY.

“Okay,” she says, looking up from her keyboard.  “Just walk over to the ticket counter and see if you’re on the flight.”

“Over there?”  My newfound insecurity and failure to trust myself has now officially destroyed my ability to walk even four feet without being held by the hand.  I point in the direction of men in plum suits under a sign that clearly states “TICKETING COUNTER” just to confirm.

“Yes,” she says, patient as ever.  “Right over there.”

Here we go again.  A man this time.  Just as planned.  Dear Male Qatar Employee, please have mercy on me per the dictates of male-female relations.  Please treat me like a dude who wants to go on a date with me and not a female cop giving a female driver a ticket, punishing her for being an idiot, an embarrassing blight on the species. 

I hand him the piece of paper, scrunching my face up in an effort to cry.  Surprisingly, I am unable to burst into a proper fit of tears.  Something akin to dignity holds me back.

Cry, damn it!  Cry!  Don’t you know what’s at stake here?!  Paradise!  Maldives!  Your best friend’s wedding!  Idiot!

Instead, my face wrenches into a form I have not experienced in quite some time – that I’m-in-trouble-and-I-feel-sorry-for-myself face that is generally accompanied by a heated flush and an awaiting of punishment.  I’m pretty sure the last time I wore a look such as this was when I got in trouble at ballet class for dancing to “Under the Sea” while holding a rhinestone in a closed fist.  My teacher pulled me aside after my incapable spinning and gravity-hampered leaping and told me it was dangerous to dance with closed fists because I could break my hand, which I of course interpreted as “You’re a horrible dancer and a tragic rule breaker.  You will never go anywhere in life.”  I was six.

“This is,” I start.  “This is just, completely…I can’t believe I did this, but my flight was for, uh, last month, and, oh my God.”

I can’t quite coordinate sentences that will appropriately describe the situation at hand.  The point likely being, that, if I do, I will have to admit to reality and personal accountability.  He stares down at the piece of paper, just as confused as I had been over half an hour ago.  And he, like me, doesn’t have much to say.  He’s used to people being 3 hours late for flights, surely, not 30 days.

“It’s my best friend’s wedding,” I plead.  “Just tell me how to get on that plane.”

He’s typing and staring concernedly at a screen I cannot see.  “That was a special rate,” he muses, my possible paradise death sentence.

“I booked it back in November,” I eek out, in hopes that the failings of a more distant past might have less of an impact on my future.  This is not generally an effective plea bargain when it comes to airlines, their motto, more often than not, being “Tough shit.”

He keeps typing and staring and I’m looking at a sea of people coming and going, all of them presumably with gloriously correct itineraries.  They walk around with calm enough faces, rolling their luggage without frantically plowing through crowds.  Showoffs.

My entire body aches from the stress.

“This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done,” I say, and then correct myself.  “This is actually the second stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”  The other date-related mishap had been an acceptance response to NYU for last year.  In my haste, I selectively read from the letter something like “congratulations” and “July 1st.”  I spent April through June in a moral quandary as to whether I should return.  When finally I came to a decision (not to go back), I called in to consult with a student advisor, who told me that my response didn’t much matter at this point, being as my decision was required back in May.  Apparently I had conveniently skipped over the part of the letter that said “Please respond to this acceptance within three weeks of the date of this letter.”

I watch him write a series of numbers down on a piece of paper, though I can’t tell if he’s adding or subtracting.  He consults another plum-suited man behind him, turning the screen his direction.  I’m sweating through my hoodie.

238.

171.

50.

35.

He’s writing all this down in pencil when he arrives at some number in British pounds and turns it towards me.

170 £.

“One seventy?” I ask, incredulous.  For the last hour I have been prepared to shell out $2,200 or merely be forced into defeat, getting back on the first a flight to New York with my tail between my legs less than 32 hours after leaving my apartment.

“Pounds,” he says, as though that had been my main concern.

I whip out my credit card before he can change his mind, revoke the good fortune he has bestowed upon me, a kindness most people will later attribute to the fact that I am girl and an argument I will not refute.

Yes, me.  An idiot girl.  The luckiest idiot girl in the whole goddamm world who is still getting on that plane to paradise.

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