I held the elevator door

What I saw: two guys, Broseph and Chad. Broseph filled the opening of the elevator door like a tank-top-wearing storm cloud, blocking the light from the sun. Chad blew in behind him, dressed in an American flag-striped polo, almost as big but pinker, because of the acne he was too old for.

What I did beforehand: flew to Florida, had dinner alone, wandered the forlorn aisles of the next-door liquor store, ducked a clerk watching a telenovela set in ancient plastic Egypt who called out to me repeatedly asking if I needed help finding anything. It wasn’t until I was driving home that it occurred to me I might have asked her about finding an amateur-friendly horse, under ten years old, nice enough to show in the dressage ring. Or better, why are we here, any of us? I should have asked her that.

IMG_2162What I wore: black suede Pumas, capri-length jeans, black tee shirt, scowl

Where I sat: the exit row

Who went with me: pocket friends

How I got tickets: a couple of weeks ago I saw an ad for a horse and contacted the sales agent about it. Within hours of my booking a trip to try it, I got two messages from friends saying, “Ooh! Look at this one!” and suggesting I go try it. It seemed fortuitous.

What it is: dressage horse shopping these days has become like an obscure subculture of internet dating, and is facilitated by an open Facebook group. You read ads, look at videos, show them to your trainer and friends, saying, “Ooh! Look at this one!” You talk to people on the phone, and sometimes even fly to other cities on the chance that they’ve got the horse you’re looking for. You wonder if you’re crazy. You hope you’re going to be safe. I tried horses on one previous trip that I couldn’t really steer and on another trip, a horse that wouldn’t stop. The people I’ve met doing this have been extremely pleasant and nice and as open to the weirdness of some random, unknown person showing up to ride their horse as I have had to be to the weirdness of riding some random, unknown horse.

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Things that were not funny: a group of construction workers crossed my path as they passed from the pool deck to the interior of the hotel. I was dressed in riding clothes, and more than one of them felt it would be ok to make “appreciative” hissing noises about me.

Things that were sad: dinner alone next to the mating turtle salt-and-pepper shakers at a strip mall Thai restaurant.

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Things that were funny: trying to convince the owner of the Thai restaurant to make my food spicy enough.

Something I ate: massaman curry that was actually spicy enough

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What about the horse: that story is to come.

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What happened on the elevator: when Broseph and Chad stepped onto the elevator with me, they thought I was holding the door open for them. Really I was pressing the button for my floor. So they thanked me, and I said, “Sure.”

Then the door closed, revealing a big ad for the hotel chain we were in, with the word “selfie” and a dog wearing sunglasses. I said, “You know, a dog can’t really take a selfie. No thumbs.”

Chad agreed. “I know, right?” said he, adding, “It’s like anything can be anything these days.”

As I stepped off the elevator, I threw in, “I mean….Look who’s president.”

I left the cat in charge

What I did: like you know, last year, a barn friend, S., invited me to join her on this trip to Florida to watch the winter circuit horse show, shop, and do sunshine; I was like, “Pick me,” but then couldn’t get shit organized at home. I have pets and sourdough to feed, don’t you know. This year, I said yes, and left the cat in charge.


What I did beforehand: you don’t have to leave written instructions for the cat. I figured the dogs would  let him know when they were hungry or needed to crap someplace other than the kitchen floor.

What I packed: sunscreen, gray jeans, white J. Crew linen swimsuit coverup, bathing suit, yoga clothes, three polo shirts, underwear and socks.

Something I packed and didn’t wear: a sun hat.

Something I ran out of: shirts.


Who went with me: S. and K. from the barn. S.’s friend D. joined us from Germany. 

How I got tickets: online, from JetBlue, at the end of November.

Why I saw this show: I think S. wanted us to be able to see the FEI  Grand Prix CDI 5* at the 2017 Adequan® Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, FL, which we saw, in addition to the Grand Prix freestyle competition. 

Where I sat: in the bleachers and in the VIP tent, because S. is well-connected through volunteer leadership work she does for the Jewish World Games. 

Where I stayed: at the Casa Passivo-Aggressivo, a bed and breakfast  in West Palm Beach which you should not confuse with the nearby Passivo-Aggressivo Bed and Breakfast, just a couple of blocks away. And don’t mention the confusion to your hosts, because the rivalry is old and bitter.

We were told we couldn’t have breakfast, 
which was included with our rooms, 
because we didn’t tell them the night 
before what time we wanted it. 

Things that were not funny: hearing S. explain that the Jewish World Games have been around since the 1930s and how Jews might want their own international sports competition, and, of course, why. She’s quite upbeat and polite. Then there was like this famous trainer who I met at a barn visit on S.’s World Jewish Games business, who was sure we’d met.

Things that were interesting: S.’s friend D. whispered to me all about what to look for in a correctly ridden and trained Grand Prix horse and told me that she thinks this one famous U.S. Olympic Dressage rider SP is an artist; he took third in both classes we saw him compete in.

Things that were sort of funny: K.’s connections got us seats at a super cool fundraiser where we were assigned to sit at SP’s table. I could only imagine myself saying something I would regret, so I didn’t have the courage to talk to him, but S. did. He was very nice, and so was his staff who also sat at our table.

Things that were not actually funny: a second snowstorm rolled into New York while we were all in Florida and our flight back on Sunday was cancelled. JetBlue sent us emails saying they’d re-book us, but we didn’t trust them to get us home in time for our obligations so we all scrambled to get back on the same flight only on Monday. By the time we heard from JetBlue, they’d booked us to leave several days later.

That thing where you go for a goofy selfie
and your friend doesn’t 
Things that were cool:  S. wanted a ride to the show grounds on a golf cart because she wanted to experience everything, and we got it on the bonus day. The benefit show featured a group that works horses at liberty, up to eight at a time. It was beautiful and exciting and I could hear horse people at other tables comparing the performer’s control over her herd to their own horses. 

Something I ate: there were these short-rib empanadas being passed by a woman carrying a tray that we had to chase around the room.

Something I didn’t eat: breakfast at our B&B.

Casa Passivo-Aggressivo hospitality 
included notes that appeared on the doors. 


Who should see it: fans of dressage. 

What I saw on the way home: the Atlantic Ocean, which is acidifying as a result of global warming. The last half hour of the flight was super bumpy because of a windstorm, but the flight attendant said they knew what they were doing so I just tried to close my eyes and deal with it. A woman in the row ahead of me whooped and commented about the bigger bumps. I wanted her to shut up. At least the kitchen floor was clean when I got home.


I stayed at the Waldorf Astoria

Elevator Selfie Ceiling 
Where I stayed: the venerated art-deco icon Waldorf Astoria. On Park Avenue at 48th Street in Manhattan. 

What I did beforehand: baked and didn’t burn the bread, riding lesson,  shower, dog walk, drove to town, dragged a wheelie bag along the freshly salted sidewalks, made the train with seconds to spare. 


What I wore: James jeans, black shirt, gray cardigan, Danner hiking boots, big parka, antique earrings that I broke when I took them off.



Who went with me: the Bacon Provider (see photo, top)

How I got there: walked up the Northwest Passage from Grand Central, taking two elevators up, one down, and a huge flight of stairs.



Why I stayed here: the Bacon Provider had an action-packed schedule in the city this week, with meetings starting at 7:45 a.m. and lasting until after dinner. 

Where I slept: here.



Things that were sad: the carpets are tired and stained. The lobby is poorly lit. Once, this was my father’s favorite high-end hotel in New York. I stayed here with him on the college visiting trip he took me on in 1980. We ate dinner in the hotel and there was a woman in a gown playing the harp. It had never occurred to me that anyone other than cartoon angels and Harpo Marx actually played the instrument before. Also, people looked at my dad and I kind of funny, not like we were a dad and his college-bound kid, but like he was a creepy 40 year old, and I his jail-bait girlfriend. 



Things that were funny: paying $25 for a champagne cocktail, and even ordering a second one. 


Things that were not funny: the serious guy carrying his fancy poodle to breakfast in a suitcase; the lack of outlets; finding a charge for a $36 shoe-shine on our bill at checkout. The Bacon Provider is extraordinarily particular about caring for his shoes, takes great pride in doing it himself, had no such shoe shine (which I knew without asking him), and when I disputed the charge the receptionist did not believe me, said that a charge like that could only appear on the bill with a manager’s approval, and did not remove it, despite telling me that she would.


Something I ate: continental breakfast



What it is: a fine, old, fancy hotel that will close in a few weeks for remodeling; most rooms are expected to become condos. The hotel was purchased for almost $2B by a Chinese insurance company

Who should see it: anyone who wants to reminisce about what seemed like classy, old-money luxury in the 1980s. Hurry.

The painting has a hole in it

What I saw on the way home: the bright winter sunlight made me carsick on the train. Or maybe I was just hungover. When’s the next election?


I stayed at the NU Hotel in Brooklyn

Where I stayed: the NU Hotel, in Downtown Brooklyn at 85 Smith Street, amidst the bail bonds places serving the nearby Brooklyn House of Detention. 


What I did beforehand: tried and failed to sleep in, had bad feelings about things, put pajamas and a toothbrush in a bag, did some driving, arrived and shit.



What I wore: a feeling of dread.

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider. 

How I got reservations: online, a few days in advance. 



Why I stayed here: we had tickets to “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” at BAM.

Where I lounged: the room had a hammock. 



Things that were sad: I have had to learn to drink scotch.

Things that were funny: sleeping in a leather upholstered compartment.



Things that were not funny: how happy I was that there were two sinks.



Something I ate: brunch including Eggs Louie and duck fat potatoes at French Louie, around the corner.


What it is: a more stylish hotel than the nearby Hilton, at a deep discount compared to a similar place in Manhattan.


Who should see it: folks in need of a downtown Brooklyn hotel, easily accessible to many subway lines into Manhattan.


What I saw when I got home: my job as toilet paper replenisher is secure.


I ran an errand

What I did: flew to Florida to get a car and drove it home to Bedhead Hills, New York.

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What I did beforehand: JetBlue from LaGuardia–just one of New York City’s three perfectly terrible airports.

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Who went with me: the Bacon Provider.

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What I wore: James jeans and orange Pumas.

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Why I went: there are things you will do for some people that you might not be willing to do for anyone else.

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Where I sat: five hours driving, five hours navigating, repeat.

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Things that were delicious: we stopped for barbecue near Savannah, Georgia.
Things that were sad: when we were 100 miles from anywhere, deep in South Carolina, I looked at one of the three oil gauges to see the needle in the red. The car has separate gauges for oil level, oil temperature, and oil pressure. The gauge indicating badness, we determined, was the oil level gauge. A quick check using the dipstick contradicted the gauge. But it also revealed that a rather large hole had opened in a hose. 
Things that were funny: we tried two kinds of tape but neither stuck. 

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Things that were awesome: we stopped at the almost-halfway point, in North Carolina, at K. & B.’s. They hosted a little kid birthday party that day, and already had other houseguests, and did not hesitate to say we could stay the night. They even waited to start dinner until they knew we’d be in time. Good thing I brought homemade gifts.
What it is: 1200 miles in two days.

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Who should see it: people who love to drive and don’t mind going without cup-holders.

What I saw on the way home:

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Budapest #3: The Synagogue, The Elgin Marbles, and the China Syndrome

Let me tell you straight off, we did not make it into the synagogue in Budapest. Yes, it was on the short list of things we were told we had to do. Yes, we went and found it twice. But on the day we found it and had actually set aside the morning to see the inside of it, we arrived after several hundred other people had the idea to see the inside of it, and got there before us, and stood, in a great scrum, with their shit together a bit more ours.
Crowd outside the synagogue, Budapest

When I was in high school a friend and I went to London to visit another friend whose family had moved there. We dutifully tried to do every touristy thing imaginable, as if filling out a Bingo card, including two whole days at the Victoria and Albert Museum looking at spoons and armor, and getting on the wrong train to what ended up being my favorite museum in London (the Imperial War Museum) and being heckled by a crusty old guy who cackled about us being from Shepherd’s Bush. But try as we might we never made it to see the Elgin Marbles, and it became the thing we giggled about the most. Nothing’s more hilarious to teenaged girls than an inside joke.
I also never saw The China Syndrome. The China Syndrome came out in 1979, starring Jane Fonda, who I thought was generally ok in movies, and Jack Lemmon, who I thought was pretty awesome, and I think it was playing at the Esquire Theater, or maybe the Shady Oak, and though I made a big show of saying that I was going to see it, reasoning that it was a movie I might have actually wanted to see, checking the movie times and everything, I used the excuse to go get stoned with someone. I no longer remember who it was. Back then, I did not make up weird specific lies about what I was up to, usually, because I had very good grades and reasonably nice friends and my mother’s attitude was we could do what we wanted as long as we stayed out of trouble, which really meant, fundamentally, that we didn’t get caught. Probably, there was a family thing that I was avoiding going to by inventing the seeing of a movie I never intended to see.
The time I didn’t see The China Syndrome was not the only time I smoked pot in high school, but I have no memory of how I obtained it on any occasion. It seems unlikely I would have known who to get it from. Also, no way would I have spent money on it when there were sweaters to buy. Anyway, The China Syndrome came to stand for lying to your parents so you could go do dumb stuff.
To this day I have not seen The China Syndrome. I did not even know what it was about until I looked it up.
When we meant to go to the big synagogue in Budapest, but didn’t, it was not an Elgin Marbles thing (just not getting around to it), or a China Syndrome thing (saying we would when we never intended to). We had a morning plan and it was seeing the synagogue. We also had an afternoon plan, so the collapse of the morning plan meant immediate implementation of the afternoon plan.

On the tram


Our consolation for missing the synagogue was taking the tram up to the yellow bridge, known as Margit Híd. The people who put streetcars in cities back in the day knew what they were doing; the people of Budapest who have fought to keep their clunky old electric trams know what they are doing.  The afternoon plan, now the primary plan was to walk back over to the Buda side of Budapest to find the Tomb of Gül Baba, an Ottoman dervish and Islamic poet who died in 1541. It is said to be the northernmost Muslim holy place and the oldest historic landmark in all of Budapest. Hungary has been overrun many times in its history, and the Turks had their turn under Suleiman I back in the 1500s.
It is marked not by a fading sign in Hungarian but with one of those man-sized bronze statues they have of all the great men of Hungary, all over the city. There he is: Gül Baba standing at the entrance, on a smallish plinth, and there, just around the bend, the backdrop: a closed and padlocked gate, flanked with an old Budweiser sign and a smaller one for the now-closed café. 
I heard the crow before I saw him

This quiet hilltop was guarded by a single crow, solemnly serving in his uniform of a dark gray jacket and black, black wings, and he cawed and bobbed in genuinely surprise at our arrival.

The tomb is an octagonal little stone building with one door and one window and a domed roof. We were alone there, walking slowly over broken pavement and weeds. Two dogs were having at it, loudly, in a hidden yard, below, their barks piercing the quiet sunshine. A car struggling to get up the narrow, rutted street, bottomed out, scraping violently on the cobblestones. Having been alerted to its presence, we took this to be the right way back down the hill.

Budapest #1

We’ve been here in Budapest a couple of days and so far we’ve been delighted by things small and not small. The perfect spring weather helps. 

Today, we started with hotel breakfast, where they did not manage to burn the bacon to my liking but it was still delicious. After that, we went for a walk in search of maybe a hat or sunglasses but found ourselves walking one of those streets that shows up in the guidebook as “where you should go shopping” but we would only describe it as “where you should never go under any circumstances unless maybe you wanted to make video footage of terrible restaurant barkers.” Bleh. Tourist traps! But then, we wandered over to the Central Market Hall where they sell, you know, like, real traditional Hungarian cured meats, and the spices, and wines, and all the fruits and the vegetables, like Budapest’s version of the Pike Place Market. It was gorgeous and full of Hungarians. 

Központi Vásárcsarnok


After that, we crossed one of the many scenic and lovely bridges over the Danube to the Buda side of the city, and on an impulse headed up the hill to the citadel. This park is full of crumbling steps and dilapidated railings and increasingly stunning views and an uneven path up to the fortress at the top and I would recommend the climb to anyone just coming to the city and seeking a way to see it all, because you get to see it from above. After that we walked down the other side to Bartók street and chose a random café for lunch and it was great and then, after admiringly watching those yellow streetcar/tram things going by we took one back over to the Pest side where our hotel was and could not figure out how to actually pay for the trip.

BARTÓK BÉLA ÚT

After that, we needed a rest but then after that we went and had high tea and then we got dressed because we had bought opera tickets.

It was the Janáček opera Jenůfa and if you don’t want spoilers about the plot of this opera skip the next paragraph.
If you don’t mind spoilers, I will start off by telling you that I always Google the plot of operas before I see them so I know what I’m getting myself into. I am a good audience member in that I laugh at the funny parts and cry at the sad parts and mostly I need to know in advance when I need to be prepared to be sad or happy or whatever. So let me just say (here come the spoilers) that this is an opera about a dead baby. And it did make me cry, twice, but briefly. I am also a bad audience member in that I get bored easily at the opera, and I’m not what I would consider an actually educated opera fan but I have gone to a bunch of them over the years and I usually enjoy them if they are not too long. I don’t mind extremely sad operas or even the ones where people take a long time dying on stage and singing their guts out at each other (looking at you Tristan and Isolde). 

Anyway, the old opera house in Budapest is glorious and seems gently well-preserved in a not-kept-wrapped-in-plastic-to-preserve-the-freshness kind of way. It’s extravagantly gorgeous, with painted ceilings and a lot of marble and gold leaf, but not gargantuan like the Met in New York. And our tickets were the nicest seats in the house, in a little box on the dress circle, and were about $50 each, which doesn’t even buy cheap seats in New York.
Most of the guidebooks to Budapest will recommend seeing the opera house, because it is very beautiful and special, and, yes, it is those things, but it is also an opera house and you are supposed to see an opera there.

Operaház

So if you go to Budapest, you should not go to the opera house and take a freaking guided tour. You should put on your dress or a tie or both and go to the freaking opera. The tickets will be much less than New York, the opera will be good, you can read the supertitles in English, the sparking wine at intermission will be more than adequate, and then, at the very end, when you are clapping and watching the many singers and principals and the orchestra and the conductor and all the many members of the audience sharing this experience, you can reflect, as I did, upon the many, many hours of musical education and practice that went into this one night happening. And you, like me, might be really grateful that there were people ready to teach all those musicians to sing and/or play, way back like 30-40 years ago.