Another one bites the dust

I was inconsolable in 2010 when I discovered that Takashimaya had closed its Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan. I must have stood for a good 10 minutes checking that I was at the correct spot – 693 Fifth Avenue. This had been a beautifully curated collection of men’s, children’s and women’s fashions, and homewares spread over a number of floors with a great restaurant in its basement. I had spent untold hours (and dollars) here and it was always my first stop on any trip to New York. I immediately contacted my American friend who had introduced me to this wondrous emporium. She too was shocked and saddened. Trips to New York haven’t been the same since and I always go back to the shop’s location  in the hope that it will have miraculously re-opened.

I was similarly distressed on my first visit to Japan in 2007 when I visited Takashimaya’s main store in Tokyo. It was nothing like its Manhattan outpost. Stuffed full of European designer goods, redeemed only by its wondrous displays and fascinating basement food hall. I was shocked to find departments with clothes for cleaning the house, particularly as the Japanese live in small houses, and don’t get me started on the nightwear department. There in a nutshell was the reason for Japan’s low birthrate. Forget about importing French patisseries, import French underwear!

News reached me this week, that another concept store I hold dear, Colette’s in Paris, is to close in December. This is another store I’ve enjoyed browsing around and it was often the high point of any window-shopping stroll along the pricey rue Saint-Honore. The owner Colette has decided to retire although her daughter will continue to run the company’s webshop. The place is a mecca for all things fashionable and on trend. The three-storey emporium always has an eclectic collection of goodies, the latest designer clothing and a brilliant bookshop which carries all the major fashion and design magazines, and let’s not forget the basement water bar with over 100 brands of bottled water. Now, I’m a big fan of internet shopping but sometimes you just need to see and feel the goods.

It’s not just major shops in meccas such as New York and Paris that are closing, one of my favourite bread shops has closed. The shop had opened in the mid-forties and black and white pictures of the current owner’s grand-parents decorated the walls. I assume the owner wanted to retire and her kids no longer wish to pursue the family tradition. So the supplier of some of the best croissants and brioches in the area has closed. Unlike many bread shops, it also sold coffee and cakes and, aside from being a breakfast favourite, we also liked to pop in for afternoon coffee and cakes. It’s always sad when shops such as these close. No one has yet taken over the shop which occupies a large corner plot on a major shopping street.

Of course, since we’ve been living here, any number of shops have closed though many more have changed hands, often for the better. A rather run-of-the-mill bread shop in the centre of town, after three changes of ownership, now sells the most fabulous cakes, pastries and bread. My beloved needs no excuse to visit. Meanwhile, over the road the purveyor of the very best donuts we’d ever eaten, full of crème patissiere, changed hands and stopped selling donuts. It was probably a blessing for my waistline and now such wonders fall under the category of strictly forbidden. Luckily, in the same period, the shops closest to us have all prospered and expanded their range of produce. The only disappointment was the fish shop which opened and closed within a month. It had a brilliant selection of fresh fish but we’re already well-served by other fish shops (and the port) and clearly demand was insufficient. It’s hard to argue against market forces though I shall continue to support my local shops.

Postcard from New York

One year on and we’re back in Manhattan though my trip was almost cut short by my beloved. On leaving the plane he swung his pull-along briefcase and swept my feet from under me. I fell on my right side, banging my head and shoulder. I saw stars, was momentarily winded and had to be helped up by the airline staff. Did I fall or did I have a fall? I like to think it was the former and not the latter.

We passed relatively quickly through US Customs, never the most pleasant of experiences, grabbed our luggage and headed for the train to Penn station. We got on the wrong train. We’d bought a ticket for the New Jersey Line but had gotten on the quicker (and vastly more expensive) Amtrak service. The guard kindly let us off the extra fare. Those UK accents occasionally come in handy. We took a cab to our serviced apartment on E39th which I had booked, as usual, through http://www.booking.com.

My beloved allegedly had only organised a few meetings and a couple of dinners beforehand and said we would spend all of Tuesday and Wednesday together. In the end, we had breakfast together on Sunday morning and dinner on Tuesday evening. The rest of the time he was busy, busy, busy. Don’t feel sorry for me. I’m used to fending for myself and it did mean I could do and see pretty much what I wanted.

new-york-5new-york-4new-york-3new-york-2

I’ve already toured all of New York’s many tourist attractions and now I take pleasure in exploring different areas of Manhattan. As we were staying on the Eastside, most of my walks took place between E10th and E60th streets and I only occasionally strayed west. I’m not sure how far I walked but with my eczema dying down, I had a definite spring back in my step.

My two sisters, who regard trips to New York as an opportunity to shop until they drop, exhorted me to have a spend up. They’d have been sorely disappointed with my efforts. As usual, I spent most of Sunday and Monday, when the weather was fine, happily exploring on foot. I particularly love walking around early on Sundays, before the shops open, as there are so few people around and I have the streets to myself.

Of course, no trip to New York would be complete without a trip to Barnes & Noble to check out the latest cookery books. Luckily there was plenty of room in my luggage for my book haul. I also popped into Lululemon to feed my beloved’s growing habit.

My younger sister had tasked me with checking whether I could find her recent Ugg purchases cheaper in NY. No, I couldn’t, which has increased her pleasure in her latest acquisitions. Sadly, I couldn’t find her the Gant poncho she wanted. I don’t normally agree to buy things for my sisters otherwise I’d be spending all my trip shopping.

I confess in years past I have spent considerable time shopping particularly at Takashimya and, even though it’s long gone, I always go and pay homage at its former site on 5th. Of course, globalisation has taken the fun out of shopping. There’s little in NY that I can’t buy at home which is why I prefer the one-off shops on the fringes and down side streets.

MoMa
MoMa

It poured on Tuesday so I retired to MoMa, always a pleasure. I had planned on a trip to the Witney on Wednesday but, with the rain again coming down in sheets; instead I opted for an organic Thai spa pedicure which involved lots of lovely smelling unguents, hot towels and acres of cling film! Just what my weary feet needed before heading home.

All photographs courtesy of Getty Images

Postcards from Paris and New York

It was chilly, damp even, in Paris but finally the sun broke through to shine on Black Friday, though arguably that event was two weeks before. At Les Invalides, the French President led a memorial service for the 130 victims. Accordingly, Paris was a sombre place with many buildings flying the tricolour at half-mast or on posters plastered in their shop or apartment windows.

GLFrance

When friends learned I was going to Paris they were aghast but I said that if I cancelled my trip it would be a victory for IS. I’ve lived through the IRA’s campaign of terror, admittedly much less sinister than that of IS, I wasn’t about to cave now.

It was originally meant to be a long romantic week-end with my beloved with plans (as always) made well in advance. We typically go to Paris at this time every year, ostensibly to attend the major French dental exhibition at the Palais des Congres. Our plans changed a couple of weeks ago when my beloved decided he needed to attend the Greater New York Dental Meeting which follows swiftly on its heels.

Paris

Meanwhile, I had a day and a half pounding the Parisian pavements. My beloved always says I’ve gone shopping. But, I haven’t, I’ve gone walking. Most people enjoy walking in the countryside but I love exploring the architecture of urban spaces and they don’t get much finer than those in central Paris.

I think the city has a timeless and elegant feel unified by its stylish buildings which sprang up only around 150 years ago under the aegis of Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann, Prefect of the Seine district. Unbelievable now, but his sweeping changes did not make him a popular man and his opponents accused him of imposing a coldly regimented style.

Today he’s (rightly) viewed as a visionary who sketched Paris’s great vistas  and imposed the characteristic style of the five-floor, honey-coloured, stone apartment block. Personally I adore these buildings with their symmetrical carved reliefs, beautiful wrought iron balconies, porticoes, front doors and lights – my idea of property porn heaven.

Understandably there was a heavy and visible armed presence at major transport hubs, all around French government buildings, and increased security in every doorway. None of which spoilt the enjoyment of my perambulations. Having made an early start, well before any shops were open, I enjoyed frequent pit-stops to warm up at some of my favourite Parisian watering holes.

In no time at all, I was flying back to Nice for a following day turn-around for our flight to New York. I amused myself on the way over by watching the new Minions movie. I’m now a firm fan. I dined Saturday evening with my beloved, and one of his work colleagues, and that was pretty much all I saw of him. Again, I was left to enjoy myself in New York on foot.

New York is full of buildings with interesting features and I’m not talking about The Empire State Building. No, if you zigzag up and down the cross-streets, gazing upwards, you spot some interesting details. The state of New York side-walks demands that you take care and wear comfortable shoes.

2015-11-29 New York

I had two bright, sunny but very cold days where I walked all over Manhattan followed by two wet days where I meandered around MOMA and The Witney Museum. On my return my two shopaholic sisters were aghast to learn I had only bought two cookery books. What can I say? I’m not a shopper, I’m only a window shopper at best but mostly I’m a walker. New York, Paris, London, indeed any of the world’s great cities, need to be experienced on foot.

Postcard from Long Island

My beloved is on a roll. He successfully navigated our way from Manhattan to Sag Harbor without GPS and has twice selected restaurants for lunch that have been truly magnificent. I can only conclude that after almost 40 years of intensive training he’s now close to perfect. If only he didn’t keep leaving stuff behind in restaurants and hotel rooms.

Now that's what I call a beach - acres of soft, silky sand.
Now that’s what I call a beach – acres of soft, silky sand.

We’re currently chillin’ in The Hamptons. We’ve gone from life in the fast to the slow lane. A few days in New York was enough to catch up with some of our favourite museums and galleries and spend hours pounding the pavements just soaking up our surroundings.

Having watched the film “Woman in Gold” on the flight over my beloved wanted to visit the Neue Gallerie to see Adele Bloch-Bauer’s portrait by Gustav Klimt. I’d already seen the picture in the Belvedere in Vienna before it was returned to its rightful owner and acquired by Ronald Lauder for the gallery. It was well worth seeing again and a trip to the gallery’s typical Viennese coffee shop reminded me that another visit to Vienna might be in order. It’s been over 40 years since my last one – way too long.

No visit to the Big Apple would be complete without a trip to the Guggenheim which sadly was between major shows and the work of a Columbian artist who had mutilated furniture with concrete left us unimpressed. Our sensibilities were soothed by a quick trip to the Frick.

I’ve wanted to visit Long Island for a while largely as a result of watching Ina Garten’s cookery programmes. She lives in a wonderful house in The Hamptons with a truly magnificent garden. She’s a cook not a chef but her recipes deliver real crowd pleasers every time. I’ve not bumped into Ina but her cookery books are in all the book shops, surely the next best thing.

A little bit of France in The Hamptons
A little bit of France in The Hamptons

 

Renovated windmill in East Hampton
Renovated windmill in East Hampton

 

Impossibly cute fire station
Impossibly cute fire station

 

Old Colonial style Hotel in Sag Harbor
Old Colonial style Hotel in Sag Harbor

The Hamptons has lived up to the hype. It’s bigger than I imagined – but that’s the States for you. The property porn is spectacular with wonderful wood clad, historic and modern homes. I particularly love the older properties with a gingerbread trim. For a cool pad, without a sea view, don’t expect much change from US$ 2 million. Add at least another 10 million for a shore side location.

Acres of dunes and forest
Acres of dunes and forest

As we drove around we saw a veritable army of Latino gardeners maintaining the manicured perfection of many gardens. Landscape gardening is clearly big business, along with Pilates studios, organic food stores, art galleries and……bike shops.

Goin' fishin'
Goin’ fishin’

There’s been no problem sticking to my enforced regime. Organic juices, lobster, oysters, shrimp, striped sea bass, salmon and salads (no sauces or dressings) have been easy to source. I’ve even found some vegan, soy and gluten-free baked goodies to enjoy with my afternoon camomile tea. I’m writing this on the balcony overlooking Sag Harbor which is full of yachts – a bit of home from home. The weather’s been a balmy 27C and the season is surely winding down, meaning it’s easier to get tables in the restaurants.

And chill
And chill

If I lived and worked in New York, I too would escape to Long Island at the week-ends to indulge in a less frenetic way of life. Rested and relaxed, our next stop is the road race World Championships in Richmond Virginia.

Postcard from the Big Apple

Another day, another town – the same procedure as before. Yes, I’m now pounding the pavements of Manhattan. We had a great flight over on one of the new Air France 380 super jumbos. Arriving at JFK we queued for over 45 minutes to get into the immigration queue only to be greeted by the message that US Customs welcomed us to New York. Well boys, that’s not my idea of a welcome. It took almost 3 hours for us to emerge from the airport. I felt hugely sorry for anyone travelling with small children or anyone of advanced years.

While my beloved has been busy working from dawn until late, I have been enjoying myself. Even if you don’t know New York like I do, it’d be difficult to get lost within its grid system. My most pressing problem, with only two days at my disposal, what was I going to see?

It’ll be no surprise to my reader(s) that I spent almost all of yesterday morning in Barnes & Noble perusing first the Cookery and then the Sports sections. As usual, I found far too many must have volumes and had to ration myself to just a few tomes to slip in my luggage.

The weather’s incredibly mild and conducive to just wandering around, as is my want. Yesterday, I quickly exited the busy Midtown section and headed south to SoHo, the Meatpacking District and Union Sq to avoid the holiday shoppers in search of bargains.

I have had no luck in my search for some trousers. It’s oh so skinny legs over here too. I know US sizes are seriously out of whack but I derived huge enjoyment from discarding a pair of size 10 trousers for being too large. Despite the amazing bargains on offer, I have not been persuaded to part with any money. It looks as if running amok in the book shops is going to be my only extravagance.

Despite my short stay, there’s still time to fit in some of my favourite things: a quick trip to The Frick, breakfast at The Four Seasons, meals at two of my long time preferred New York eateries for some typical Mexican and South Western US fare, catching up with my French friend who now works in NY and with whom I ate lunch at a recently opened, hot location. My choice, not hers.

It’s been a fun trip but I’m now ready to head back to where my heart is: home. This evening, I shall follow my usual red-eye flight procedure: glass of champagne, eye mask, cashmere shawl and sleep. I am lucky that I can slip into the land of nod pretty much anywhere. We’re flying back via Paris and should be home late afternoon.

Postscript: I skipped the glass of bubbly and was asleep before the plane left the gate.

Hotch potch

Yesterday, I had a very special, overnight visitor, my neighbour’s daughter. She is a truly delightful child, a credit to her parents and teachers. She came for dinner which we prepared and ate together, before settling down to watch the football match.

We’d already had a lively discussion over dinner about rugby. She’d seen her first match this summer, Toulouse v Brive. So she was more than happy to

Ireland v France
I rest my case

watch the Ireland v France match with me. After Anelka scored in the 72nd minute from a Gourcuff assist, she  promptly fell asleep on the sofa, secure in the knowledge that France were now much more likely to be South Africa bound.

It was a tight match which, frankly, could have gone either way. Tellingly, the man of the match was the French goalkeeper, and ex-OGCN player, Hugo Lloris. Though I should add that the  French scored more heavily in a couple of departments by comparison with the Irish: cooler kit (Adidas) and better looks (IMHO).

Earlier, I had watched an understrength England be dazzled by the Brazilians in Doha, Qatar. Ex-Villan, Gareth Barry was easily England’s best player in their 1-0 defeat.

My overnight guest was collected early this morning to allow me to leave for the pointage in Cannes. As I cycled past the hippodrome, I joined up with a group of cyclists, including a guy I rode with last week. To my surprise I managed to stay with them all the way to the pointage. I had anticipated that at some point I would be joined, and overtaken, by riders from my club. But they hadn’t arrived by the time I departed the pointage, returning home via Mouans Sartoux and Mougins.

I then had a quick turn around as I was meeting a friend for lunch. We were celebrating her new job in New York where, among  other things, she’s going to be looking after shipments of Chanel into the East Coast. I’m truly pleased for her. She’s worked really hard to build the up the company’s operation in Nice and needed another challenge. I will miss her, but have already signaled my intention to visit her next year in the Big Apple.

I’m now in my nightwear contemplating either an evening curled up on the sofa watching the TV or an early night with Jens Voigt’s biography. Reading in bed is another of my guilty pleasures and one which I can indulge only when my beloved is away, and he’s away until Thursday.