diner tours

Bendix closeup.jpg

One of the only things I liked about growing up in New Jersey, and one of my favorite things about living in New York, was the ubiquity of diners. I have been a regular at many of them over the years. Whether they are in the original rail car-style shape, of the stone-faced mid-century variety, or in the more expansive multi-room form of the 80s and 90s, there is something uniformly familiar and inviting about them. I feel comfort, security, and joy wherever and whenever I see them. 

Almost a decade ago, my high school friends, Jenny and Jennie, and I planned a drive around North Jersey to visit the oldest remaining diners in the area.

Bendix.jpg

It was a day filled with beauty: stainless steel, milk glass, neon, Formica, and pastel table-top jukeboxes.

Crossroads jukebox.jpg

Also, indigestion. I discovered you should really only eat a diner breakfast once per day at the absolute maximum. 

Tibbett food.jpg

Since I got back to town in January this year, we’ve relaunched the diner tour concept and expanded to luncheonettes, coffee shops, soda fountains, delicatessens, and other very old, fast, and cheap food joints. We’ve also become far less stringent about what we eat in these places – sometimes a coffee will suffice. The point is not the food but rather to absorb the ambience and energy of places that have been communal cozy gathering spots for decades. 

Diners are falling like flies these days, an allegory for the death of both affordable and soulful New York. It feels really important for me to get to as many of them as possible in the time that they have left. 

So far, we’ve done the Northern New Jersey diner tour, a Bronx / Manhattan diner tour, a Brooklyn / Queens diner tour, a Staten Island diner tour, and a lower Manhattan diner tour, and I’ve also visited a bunch in my solo wanderings. Here is a photographic compendium:

Continue reading

My Dakar places

20160719_150947

On Valentine’s Day two years ago, I flew to Dakar. So much has happened since then that it feels more like a decade.

It also feels like I left Dakar ages ago, but it’s actually only been eleven months, which is so unbelievable to me that I redid the math twice. Still, eleven months is long enough to lose touch with a place, and the list I’m about to post may be a little outdated. But I’ve been promising it to myself and others for too long to let it evaporate. And things change far more slowly in Dakar than in New York, so even though there are surely new places to discover, almost all of these old places could still be going strong. (I’ll edit the post accordingly if I learn differently.)

Without further ado, and in no particular order, my favorite places in Dakar… Continue reading

Thanksgiving in Paris

french turkey.JPG

Happy Thanksgiving, to those who celebrated last week! Thursday and Friday were work days here, so I hosted a belated potluck dinner on Saturday, after spending a small fortune at the Thanksgiving store (actual name), where they have a corner on the market for cranberries and pumpkin pie filling, and at my local rotisserie, where I ordered a 7kg bird that they cooked on a spit. Continue reading

a food and sweets-filled stroll through Saint-Germaine and the Latin Quarter

IMG_4592

I had two places to be today, in very different parts of the city that are both far from my apartment. The latter appointment was anxiety-provoking, and I decided that instead of heading back to my house for a few hours of work in between meetings, I would take the day off and enjoy some exploration and indulgence.

My ultimate destination was the Pantheon, but I ended up adding so many interstitial stops to my route that by the time I got there, I didn’t have enough time to go inside. That’s okay, though – I’ll head back another time, and I did lots of fun stuff instead.  Continue reading

dropping in

IMG_20170411_095437806.jpg

It’s been awhile. I’m writing this from Paris, after a whirlwind tour of southern New Jersey, New York, and Los Angeles, where I caught up with family and friends and generally ran around like a crazy person doing an average of twelve things each day compared to the one or two things that was my norm in Dakar. Hence, no time for blog posts.

I actually did write one on my phone, but I never found a moment to upload it and now it’s obsolete. Ah well.

So anyway, I got to Paris on Tuesday, which makes today my one week anniversary. Not that I’m counting the days or anything… Rather, I’m frittering them away like a retiree who doesn’t realize that she’s about to run out of money very, very soon. Or, like a retiree who does realize this and yet somehow feels very emotionally insulated from that knowledge. I don’t know what’s going on with me and my usual stress response, but I’m living the good life here in France while doing the bare minimum to find work, even though I estimate I have about three months left to bleed money before my good life will come to an end and I’ll be on the next flight to wherever someone will give me a job.

But for now, here are some random tidbits about my time in Paris thus far:

mon quartier.jpg

For a month, I have an AirBnB rental in a heavily West African neighborhood called Barbès. I did this by design, figuring it would help me pretend that I hadn’t completely left a place I didn’t really want to leave. What I didn’t realize when I booked the apartment was how close Barbès is to everywhere else. Paris is a much smaller city than I thought. A few days ago I walked from my house, which is fairly close to the ring road that encircles the central city, all the way to the Seine in the middle of the city, in about 40 minutes.

The tiny apartment has two windows, one towards the front of the house and one towards the back. The front one – my bedroom window – has a view of a blooming lilac tree and an apartment building painted dark magenta across the road. It’s quite picturesque. But the view out the back window – the one in the image at the top of this post – steals the show. The frame is filled by Sacré-Cœur in such a way that it looks like a backdrop for a set. At night they light up the church, and I turn off the lights in my kitchen and just stare out the window grinning.

IMG_20170411_210604695.jpg

My plan had been to spend every other day of my one-month Paris trial, as I’m thinking of it, strolling aimlessly around a different arrondissement to get to know the city better. (And I was supposed to spend every other day at home in front of my computer, working hard to find a job. I may or may not have stuck to that plan.) I found a box of 50 index-sized cards in the rental, each one with a different short tour of a Paris neighborhood, and I decided to use those to guide my walks instead. They are amazing because you don’t look like a tourist holding a map or a guide book when you walk around with one of the cards, and the landmarks include some fairly random yet intriguing places, like candy stores from the 1700s.

IMG_8001.jpg

As expected, I am continuously tempted by the million and one ways to dispense with my money here. When I visited the Galeries Lafayette as part of one of the walking tours, it felt dangerous to linger too long, because everything looked perfect and amazing and I feared getting sucked in to a buying frenzy. IMG_7997.jpg

(When I took a picture of the famous cupola I noticed that with only slight modification, the bunting echoed my nostalgic thoughts: Trop cher. Fly me to DKR forever.) And yet, I can’t even blame the French for their overconsumption of luxuries the way I do Americans. Haute couture and gastronomy are part of French cultural heritage (even UNESCO says so.); how can you begrudge them their Chanel and their artisanal cheese?

On that note… I did some grocery shopping so that I wouldn’t have to keep spending money eating out. I stopped in to a charcuterie shop and picked up a few slices of ham and a wedge of emmental, which I figured would last me a few breakfasts. When the cashier rang it up as 19 Euros, I gasped, “Jesus Christ,” which is appropriate given that my own god would have been like, “That’s what you get for eating pork.”

Also what I get for eating pork (and six kinds of cheese, and ice cream, and Sancerre, and steak with blue cheese sauce…): I became progressively more and more sick to my stomach for the first four or five days I was here. The theory I came up with in Senegal holds water: my stomach does a million times better in places where other people’s do much worse, because my stomach does not like the good life the way my heart and taste buds do. (I’m ignoring my stomach and trying to push through.)

To conclude: I will soon be both broke and physically broken, but in the meantime I’m quite happy. This is a really nice life to lead, however long it lasts.

P.S. The most random of the random tidbits: I find young trendy French people’s relationship to the English language hilarious. Today I passed a hipster-bearded guy wearing a cap that said MILF on it, and I really wanted to ask him if he knew what it meant. Instead I laughed out loud while checking him out and he caught me in the act. I don’t know, maybe he does know exactly what it means and is just taking the concept of wearing things ironically to a rather brilliant level.

Senegal, kay lekk! (If you don’t know what that means, read today’s earlier post.)

One summer when I was home from college, I trained to be a Philadelphia trolley tour guide. (I was too lazy to study for the exam so I never actually became one.) I don’t remember much of what I learned about my quasi-hometown’s history, but I do remember a piece of advice that a seasoned guide gave us during an instructional tour. He said that if we ever forgot the name of a landmark, we could take an educated guess that it was Franklin [Hospital / Square / Bridge / Museum / Parkway / Institute / Etc.], because, “9 times out of 10 it’s Ben.

In Senegal, a bastardization of this rule can be perfectly applied to food. If you’re not sure what you’re going to be eating on any given day, well:

“9 times out of 10 it’s thieboudienne.” Continue reading

The American Food Store

After eight months of living without many of my most familiar, beloved and/or regularly eaten foods, I finally visited the American Food Store in Almadies. I had been holding out as a point of pride, but also because I was never in the immediate vicinity and didn’t expect to find much there that I’d really want. There’s no way to not sound like a snob saying this, but most American food exports are not the kind of thing I ate in the United States anyway, whether because of dietary restrictions, nutritional preferences, or personal taste.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago on my way to drop off my absentee ballot at the American Embassy, I passed the American Food Store and felt it was time to stop in and see what they had to offer.

Surprisingly, the answer was: the entire range of human emotion. Browsing through the aisles of the American Food Store, I swung widely from one strong feeling to another. There was the joy of cultural recognition when I saw the jumbo-sized canisters of Heinz ketchup, yellow mustard and relish. There was amusement when I spotted the section devoted to beef jerky. There was deep (misplaced) nostalgia at the Jiffy-Pop stove-top popcorn. It was misplaced since when I was a kid we used to make popcorn with a machine, but something about the Americana of it got to me. There was deep (real this time) nostalgia in the candy aisle, with its Mounds and Mars and Three Musketeers and Baby Ruths.

There was delight when I spotted Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups among the chocolate offerings. (Ten minutes later, there was disappointment when I realized that my palate has changed after months abroad, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups now taste more like sucking on a packet of sugar than eating deliciously sweetened peanut butter.)

There was relief when I saw that they sell cans of cranberry sauce, which means that I can attempt to recreate Thanksgiving here in Dakar. There was detachment when I spied Starbucks coffee, a newly stocked item, next to the Café Bustelo and resigned myself to sharing this city with the empire I hate most. There was gratitude when I found gluten-free pasta, and anger when I noted the 300% markup of gluten-free pasta (and everything else).

But mostly there was revulsion. Not to make a mountain out of a molehill… but the United States has really lost its way when it comes to sustenance of both the body (and, I would add, the soul). I already knew that while I was living there, but “dropping in” from somewhere else makes it stand out in sharp relief.

img 7131

img 7132

img 7133