Schumacher Blooming Branch in Blue

Ten Years in NYC- #s 3

3. Uptown at christmas

Given it’s Christmas Eve, I’d be remiss not to note my abiding and borderline obsessive love up Christmas and one of my top 10 favorite things about New York- our annual pilgrimage to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.

New York, like Chicago, really does Christmas exquisitely. The streets are decked with lights and the sidewalks filled with Christmas trees being sold by the Christmas tree vendors, and everywhere there is a feeling of excitement and joy. But my absolute favorite journey in New York is the one to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Yes, it is crowded and filled with tourists, but that is also what is so incredibly magical about it. We live in a place everyone else dreams about one day seeing, and we make it worth their while with the most fantastic tree any city has ever seen.

For years I went either alone or with friends or colleagues; it was always an incredible time. Now that I’m married, my husband- if not, happily, then with all the enthusiasm he can muster- makes it a special day to remember. Last year, we started with dinner at the Peninsula, followed by a stroll down to the tree,  where we we knocked dead in our tracks by the musical lightshow Saks put on across the way. Afterward, we took a brisk walk up the Palace to see their tree, which is smaller but no less gorgeous. This year’s was a daytime affair and considerably more crowded, but it was absolutely breathtaking and a reminder of just how incredible New York is at this time of year.

The Rockefeller tree is a longstanding tradition in New York, dating to 1931. I found this picture of the first tree erected there with the accompanying text by Time, which is absolutely fascinating.

“Today it’s a multimillion-dollar extravaganza that attracts thousands of tourists every year, but the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree hasn’t always been so glamorous. On Christmas Eve 1931, with the nation mired in the Great Depression, a group of construction workers erected a 20-ft. tree on the muddy site of what would become one of the city’s greatest architectural and commercial monuments. Despite their grim faces, the men had cause to celebrate. Unlike most of their colleagues, they were about to get paid. (Notice the wooden crate at the foot of the tree and the clerk behind it dispensing checks.) Two years later, a Rockefeller Center publicist organized the first official tree-lighting ceremony.”

Humbler beginnings indeed. Other notable mentions of the tree’s history:

 

  • In 1942, Rockefeller Center unveiled 3 small trees versus one large one, in patriotic red, white ad blue. These trees were the first to be replanted after the holiday season.

  • In 1944, keeping with wartime blackout regulations, the trees at Rock center, like every other tree in the city, were mandated to remain unlit. After the war’s end in 1945, organizers  made up for previous years of darkness by using six ultraviolet light projectors to make all 700 fluorescent globes on that year’s tree appear to glow in the dark.

  • Finally, Rockefeller Center recycled its first Christmas Tree in 1971, turning it into 30 three bushel bags of mulch for the nature trails of upper Manhattan.

  • In 2005, the wood from the Rockefeller Center tree was used to make door frames for Habitat for Humanity homes in New York, Louisiana, India and Brazil!

I love this beautiful time of the year and no other emblem of this season is so clearly marked in my memory or in the city’s than this beautiful tree. It’s such a lovely experience to go and see it and a great excuse to get uptown and feel the vitality of the city at Christmas.

And with that, the merriest of Christmases to all of you! I will be back after the holiday to finish this trip down memory lane, and share some more immediate memories of our time in Boston (where we are currently) and LA, where we are thrilled to be headed on Monday!

Love to all of you (and Joy to the world),

Ms. Maison

 

Schumacher Blooming Branch in Blue

Ten Years in NYC – #2

pink elephant

If I had to think of one place that was a constant in our first few years in New York, it was this place. This is apparently what it looked like when well lit, which is news to me. But when I found this photo it all came back: the long hallway that was just long enough for you to shed your layers before your GRAND APPEARANCE, the entre into the thumping club, clearing the bystanders off your table and feeling subsequently important for no reason, and then getting down to the business of fun. I all of a sudden remembered our regular tables, and the tables we got when celebrating birthdays (pictured at bottom). Through some sort of muscle memory I recall it’s hallways, grooves and curves.

Before the 27th street location there was another location further south in Chelsea and not to worry, we frequented that place every weekend too. This was our Central Perk, our Studio 54, our gym and our church all rolled up into one. We absolutely lived there, which is questionable given we made no money whatsoever (many thanks due to our guy friends for that one. You know who you are).

It was a circus in the best way, and there were always stories being made. By the time the smoke machine blared it’s cold steam onto the dancefloor (timed exactly with some insane techno crescendo), at least 3 members of your party would be making out with total strangers, one would be slumped on against a speaker trying to talk himself into hitting on a girl, another would be chucking ice at the waitress to get her attention. And always, about 4 or 5 of us in teetering heels, dancing to our hearts content on the table. We celebrated multiple birthdays there, and multiple breakups too. When you brought a +1 into the pink crew, everyone knew it was surrious. Conversely, upon being invited into the crew, they never dated us for long. But that’s neither here nor there, is it?

Bottom line, there was nothing better than dancing the night away with your best friends to great music in a great place. We had that at Pink every night and I will never forget that crazy phase of our lives where having fun was the only achievement worth having.

Last night, one of our ranks came back into town from Paris and I put on a dinner for her. We reminisced about our nights at Pink; she was an assistant at Vogue at the time and often had a black car waiting out front for her. We thought it was all so glamorous! We were also so full of ourselves, but looking back, it was.

Now we are spread all over the world, our little crew. London, Paris, New York, Jordan, Dubai, and Peru. But back then we had the distinct joy of spending every night together, and we knew exactly how good we had it. We know now it didn’t matter where we were; it could have been anywhere. But for those years in the aughts, it was Pink, and it was ours.

To Pink. I never clubbed another club as much or since. And it’s probably best that way.

Schumacher Blooming Branch in Blue

Ten Years in NYC – A Lookback

new-york-west-village-historical-walking-tour

This week I celebrate 10 years in New York City. TEN YEARS.

I’ve never spent 10 years anywhere in my entire life, including my childhood home. We moved twice during my childhood, and then it was onto boarding school, then college, a brief stint in Chicago, and finally, a move here. I arrived here on December 18, 2006 with two suitcases and went straight for my sister’s apartment in Cobble Hill. I gave myself 2 weeks to find an apartment and get on my own two feet before the year began.

Ten years is an awfully long time, but here, it’s felt like a fleeting moment. It’s a testament to this exciting and incredible city and the rapid pace that it takes on every day. It’s also a testament to my peter pan syndrome and having convinced myself that life hasn’t changed at all since my early days. I suppose everyone in New York has a bit of Peter Pan syndrome, it’s what keeps us young mind, body and soul. Mine is perhaps more severe than most.

To commemorate these 10 years, I wanted to spend this week recapping 10 of my favorite memories here. First up, my first apartment on Bank Street.

1. Bank Street

Anyone who knows how completely motherfucking anal I am will think the following is insane, but I found my first apartment on Craig’s List, and lived with two complete strangers and a DOG. Above a restaurant. I wanted to be in the room where it happens and to me that room was a glorified casket above a transvestite bar in the west village, with no closet, no reliable heat, and a rodent problem that would gross out even the least squeamish of people.

I can’t properly convey how out of control our mouse problem was. They were insatiable. We would put out a box of poison a week, and they would tear through it with glee. Once, we put peanut butter in one of those traps where a door closes behind the mouses when it enters for what should be it’s final meal. These super mice ate the peanut butter, than ATE THEIR WAY UP THROUGH THE PLASTIC. They were relentless.

And I was terrified. I was a consultant at the time, so I opted to take a project in Houston so I could spend 4 nights a week in a Westin. The 3 nights I repatriated, however, were always full of terror. I put towels under the door of the bathroom when I took a shower, and under my bedroom door when I slept. More often than not, I would call my friend Hani crying; and Hani would come pack me a bag and walk this fragile snowflake back to his place to crash on his couch around the corner. Hani saved me so many times that year. I don’t think I would have survived without it.

But I also had great times in that disgusting apartment. It was right next to the Waverly Inn, and when I’d get back from Houston Thursdays at midnight, I would meet my friends by the fireplace there to kick off our Thursday night (THAT’s how young we were, a midnight pregame). It was near Taim, my favorite falafel place, and right next to the Gym so i could go for a steam whenever I pleased.

One day, my father came to New York and I wanted to show him my place. There, on the stoop, was a man wearing a corset, fishnets and 6 inch heels. “HAY HONEY,” he called out to my father as we ascended the stairs. When we got up to the apartment and he saw my bedroom, I saw a tear form in his eye. “Neva, please pack your things and come to the hotel with me tonight,” he said sternly. And I did.

Needless to say my days in that place were numbered. The transvestite bar is now an upscale tapas joint, and St. Vincent’s Hospital around the corner has been converted to luxury apartments starting at 3.6 MM for a “fully serviced studio.” But that place is where I kicked off this grand adventure, and it is a testament to the fact that I wanted to be here so badly that I gleefully withstood that dump. For as long as I could at least.

Which wasn’t very long, really. Just long enough to justify tell my children about the hardships I withstood on the mean streets of the west village.

Which is just long enough  for me.

Schumacher Blooming Branch in Blue

Friday!

quentin

This week has been 100%, certifiably, unapologetically insane. Apologies for my extended absence. Work has been popping off at unprecedented levels and nights have been filled with holiday outings (they’re all mandatory, even when you have a choice). It’s funny how everyone wants to get together before the holidays as if we are all boarding wagons for the Oregon trail and may not survive the journey. Like, I’m going to LA for New Years, let’s all just chill for a minute. I’ll be back on the 2nd like everyone else.

At any rate, I’m excited for the weekend. My OCD really loves this time of year because there is never any shortage of addresses to shake people down for (am I too late for this?), christmas cards to send (almost done), gifts to wrap, and loose ends to tie up. We have a midday birthday at a Brewery, complete with a bevy of 1 year olds (welcome to New York), a formal cocktail party in Tribeca, and a very proper Christmas feast uptown on Sunday. I’m crossing my fingers for a snowy Saturday that doesn’t turn to rain, and maybe dinner with my husband who I haven’t seen in about a week? That last one might be the hardest to nail down…

A few things I have bookmarked to read this weekend as well as a few thoughts that I thought you might enjoy:

Reasons to Love New York: 2016 Edition. 

Hacked Yahoo data is for sale on dark web. Reassuring.

Longread’s Best Longreads of 2016. Cozy up.

Yeezy is pretty much dead to me this week, which has been the death of another thing I used to hold dear (remember democracy?) Mourning this because My Beautiful, Dark Twisted Fantasy is truly best album of all time after Beethoven’s Symphony number 9.

Finally, only 5 hospitals remain for the 300,000 citizens of Aleppo who are under siege. What has happened in Syria these last 5 years, and particularly in Aleppo this week, is difficult for the human mind to comprehend. But we cannot forget them. The Syrian American Medical Society has treated 2.6 MM Syrians this year and has been critical to relief in Aleppo.

Please donate what you can here.

Yours,

N

 

Schumacher Blooming Branch in Blue

Are We Visitors Too?

summer-i

I’ve been thinking a lot about an exchange from The Good Shepherd these last few weeks. It is between Matt Damon’s Edward Wilson (a man of White Anglo Saxon privilege if there ever was one, son of a Diplomat, member of Yale’s Skull and Bones, rising star of the CIA) and Joe Pesci’s Mafioso, Joe Palmi. The film itself inhabits an old-school world that is freakishly appealing in the “Greatest Generation” type of way, only to be exposed, over time, for the nightmare it really was.

Palmi:

“Let me ask you something, The Italians, we got our families and we got the church. The Irish, they have their homeland.

The Jews, their tradition.

Even the N—ers they have their music.

What about your people Mr. Wilson, what do you have?”

 

Wilson replies, stone faced:

“The United States of America. The rest of you are just visiting.”

———————————————————————————————————–

The rest of you are just visiting.

How frighteningly prescient these words are. Just visiting.

I think about my childhood. About riding our bikes to the club to swim all day, racing back through the golf course to beat the sunset home. Or riding to theater camp on a big yellow bus. Or running across the street to play with the Irish family across the street. It felt like a great American childhood to me. Were we visitors then?

We had barbecues in the backyard and rode our bikes for hours, we played prince of Persia on our Apple II GS and wore matching track suits when we travelled like a mini Olympic team. Were we visitors?

I think about telling the class my family was from Syria and them berating me: “Cereal?! Where is that?!” They were just small-minded, small-town kids, I told myself. Teach them there is a world out there, then invite them to play double-dutch at recess. They’ll come around. We were a symbol of evolution and change. Were we just visitors?

I think about my parents driving us to the train station on mornings so dark and cold it was impossible to get out of bed. But they did it so that we could attend the best school in the region, and make something terrific of our intellects and this wonderful life. Were we visitors then?

I think of the gifts my father gets from his patients every year, and which my mother displays proudly at the holidays. Macaroons from the Rabbi, paintings from the Artist, poems from one patient that are so beautiful they make me cry. It is a remarkable thing to realize how widely admired your parents are, as individuals apart from parenting you. Are they visitors too?

I think of the 5 children they raised- two doctors, a partner at a global law firm, a junior at Stanford, and myself. Can we stay? If a visitor leaves a place better than they found it, can they?

I think of my time at St. Paul’s. “You’re more one of us than anyone else is,” my friends would say, and they meant it. But I became so one with my surroundings, that I learned firsthand this notion of visitors to be real. And I confess to finding it ridiculous; these were our nation’s elite, people who drove beat up Volvos and whose houses were covered in dog hair? (I’ve since understood that this modesty in itself is social capital) And perhaps because this thought- my general demeanor- was so perfectly unimpressed, I was accepted into the fold. Can I lay claim to being a true American then? Under those limited circumstances, do I even want to be?

I think of my life at this moment. Married to an American with feather soft hair and blue eyes who grew up in an original 1810 house and accepts me for precisely the person I am. Am I a visitor still? How many roots must we set down for this to be home? How many taxes are left on our balance, how much in tuition to institutions of higher learning, how many donations to domestic causes will deem us acceptable? Should my mother remove her veil, or do her blue eyes cancel out the offense? My employer avowedly supports people of all genders, races and creeds; will they protect me if it should come to pass? We pass all the markers; can we use any of this as ammunition against registering? Will it get to this?

My father called me the other day, and said, “I wanted you to know you shouldn’t feel badly if you want to take your husband’s name. I don’t want any of my kids to suffer for being Muslim.”

“I’m prouder of my name than I’ve ever been,” I replied.

We are not visiting.

Schumacher Blooming Branch in Blue

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, 2016. Pictures left to right by row: 1- My parent’s dining room 2- The view on our backyard 3- Michigan Avenue lit up for the holidays 4- The Drake Hotel, where we were married in August, 5- Another shot of the dining room 6-Our table setting, in progress

The past month has been an enjoyable flurry of activity: work has barreled forward (as it does), I celebrated my birthday and the wedding of a dear friend in Palm Beach and the holiday season has kicked off! But today I wanted to write about Thanksgiving before another day passes, because what better exercise is there on a Monday (apart from the gym variety) than to reflect on gratitude?

This Thanksgiving was the best I’ve ever had. It was the first time that the entire family was together since our wedding and it was so wonderful to see everyone. All five of us kids were present, as well as 4 of our spouses,  8 grandkids, and my brother’s in laws and extended in-laws to boot. We didn’t only have an adults and a kids table; we had grandparents in the dining room, my siblings and me in the kitchen, and the children on the lower level with their very own banquet table. The fire was roaring and the house was decorated beautifully, and my mother laid out a traditional American and Syrian feast that would have put the greatest chefs to shame.

A few highlights from Thanksgiving weekend:

  1. Yesterday, my husband and I were watching Colin Quinn’s New York Story – which by the way- is completely phenomenal- and one of my favorite jokes was one he made about Puerto Rican families, noting “The babies are the star of the show. By 8 years old you are totally washed up in a Puerto Rican family”- it had me howling because that is basically our family. The baby is the star of the show, forever and ever, and every time we are home there is a new crop of babies (huge thanks to my siblings for taking on that particular burden) and we are completely besotted with them. We couldn’t put the youngest one down this time, he is a perfectly rotund little dumpling0 but made sure to read plenty of books to their “elders” (the 2-4 year old set) as well.

  2. We had prints of our wedding family portraits made and framed and gifted them to every member of the family, and seeing their reactions as they opened these beautiful photos  was so incredibly special. I printed a sister picture for the sisters, and one of just our parents and the 5 of us for all of us, in addition to a handful of other special moments. We gave my parents an 8×10 of the entire family, all 5 children and spouses with the 8 grandchildren, and I noted to my Dad “with the exception of the spouses- everyone in this photo came from you and Mom.” And he looked at me and replied “No my dear, they all came from God.” It was so sweet.

  3. The food. Oh my God, the food. Turkey, Potato Gratin, Kibbeh, Shishbarak, Sfeehah, Brussel sprouts, Salad, Stuffed grape leaves, Chicken sumac rolls, Hereeseh, Kunafah, Pecan pie, Pumpkin pie, French silk pie, pie, pie, pie…..nom nom nom. We are complete and utter gluttons and I have zero shame.

  4. Sitting around the fire pit in my brother’s back yard making smores the day after Thanksgiving. Especially once he made the kids leave so we could chill, haha. I am especially thankful that my brother’s associate stepped up to the plate thanksgiving weekend so that we could spend quality time with him; it was unbelievable to spend so much time with him and he is hands down the funniest person in the world.

  5. Walking around downtown Chicago Saturday afternoon with my Dad and Husband. We drank espresso, took in the lights, checked out Christmas gifts and took photos in front of the Bloomingdales Christmas tree at 900 North Michigan. It was so lovely and we always cherish afternoons with my Dad.

  6. Finally, a wonderful dinner at my sister’s new home, which is so beautiful. I have no words- our entire apartment fits into her kitchen, and here we thought we were living large in NYC.

It was a weekend full of family, terrific food, relaxation, big laughs, and minimal political discussions- in a word, perfection. Felt very thankful and headed back to NYC with a full heart, plus a pound or two, and with so many memories. Still working on that pound or two…