Saturday, January 31, 2009

Revolutionary Road

It’s ironic that sometimes the harder we try the more likely we are to become the epiphany of the things we despise the most. Such was the case for the Wheelers in Revolutionary Road. Great movie, not what you would call a heartwarming one, but nevertheless makes you want to go out and feel all there is to life like what Thoreau said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.”

Monday, January 26, 2009

Post Breakup Trauma

Breakups are inevitable. Having been through the worst relationship and indubitably one of the top two breakups ever the after shock is a bit unbearable. We fought, fought and fought for what seemed like eternity. I’m a fighter but I was exhausted and at times I gave up. But things had to end sooner or later. Now the end is finally starting to seem real I feel like I had just woken up from a terrible nightmare. I’m relieved that it’s over but I can’t help to feel my heart still pounding like a drum with the ever so unpleasant after taste. All happenings shape who we are and at some point jadedness grows like unwanted calices. Life lessons are usual learned at such colossal price that when looking back it is rarely worthy of learning at all. But we are resilient. Everything takes time.

It’s Chinese New Year. I phoned all of my relatives in China to wish them well. Everyone said it’s time to take care of my personal affairs (i.e. settle down and get married). My mom’s wrote me: “Today is the first day of Chinese New Year. When I wake up at morning I close my eyes and made my New Year wishes. There are a lot of things coming up in my mind. But only one thing is strong in my mind that is I hope you start to prepare to get in to Law school this year.” Go figure.
I never thought much about New Year resolutions but it’s not too late. My resolution is simple, not to be involved in any serious relationships for a year. It’s something I should have done years ago but as we all say, it’s better later than never. I’ve been in and out of relationships since 18 and like Charlotte in SATC, I’m exhausted.

On a side note, my high school friend Liz is getting married on July 3rd. She asked if I could play at her wedding. I don’t play anymore but this would be a good reason to pick it up again. I miss playing terribly.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Suddenly New York

Today I accompanied the President of a Chinese company to an important meeting at WTC Building 7. For confidentiality reasons let’s just refer to the subjects as Mr. C and company N. I was first introduced to Mr. C and three of his engineers at Crosman’s in Rochester two days ago for an on-site interpretation assignment. Things went well and I was flattered when they asked me to go to New York with them instead of another interpreter was previous arranged. I had to cancel few appointments to jump on the next flight to New Heaven, CT but I had no hesitations.
After a tour of Smith & Wesson yesterday we boarded the train to Central Station. I sat in the train and watched sceneries going backwards in a flash and gradually faded into the dusk. An hour later we emerged in the City sounded by mobs of people, traffic, taxis, skyscrapers and colorful blinking advertisements. I smiled as if I finally came home after a long trip. This is New York. Although I’ve never lived here it feels like home. Perhaps that is the draw of the city. People of all backgrounds and walks of life migrate and settle here and call it home.

We checked into the Millennium Hilton on Church St. across from Ground Zero. Within minutes after putting down my daypack we met up with Mr. M the international purchaser for Company N from London for an informal per-meeting discussion. Having worked with Mr. M for many years, Mr. C was comfortable enough to handle everything himself without prepping me with necessary background information. I listened to the conversations quietly trying to pick out the gist of things and joined in only occasionally to help Mr. C with his English. The meeting lasted over dinner and late into the night. I can sense some anxiety rose in Mr. C over the imminent cost reduction meeting. Although at the time I had no idea about the scope of things, I knew the meeting was going to be a stressful one. In order to be adequately prepared for the 8am meeting I suggested meeting Mr. C at 6 to talk about things over breakfast.

Sitting across from each other at the small breakfast table, we only exchanged few pleasantries. I can see Mr. C had been working over night communicating with management in China in order to prepare for the meeting. Mr. M was also at breakfast but he had to leave early to submit my name on the guess list for the meeting at building 7 for security reasons. Somehow things started to become into focus for me between the scrabbled eggs and the skinniest country sausages. Then Mr. C said, “Speak up at the meeting, don’t be afraid.” His voice was soft but with the same convection as the way a commander would have said to his soldiers just before an ill-omened battle.

I felt important walking amongst the crowds of people on a cold winter morning. I was excited to be part of something that could ultimate effect the livelihood of thousands of workers. The panoramic view from the 35th floor was breathtaking. I could clearly see the details on top of the surrounding buildings and ferries coming and leaving the island. We were led to a rather simple conference room with a view I could stare at all day. Mr. C and I were out numbered by the top management team from Company N including the Global Commodity Director/Global Operations, Senior VP & Chief Operations Officer, Supply Line Management, VP and Chief Procurement Officer/Global Procurement and couple others.

The meeting started up rather harmless but the ultimatum soon brought the meeting to a standstill. The rapidly deteriorating economy has placed countless businesses around the world under tremendous pressure. In time of an economic crisis it is common to see major corporations engaging in irrational price war to gain market share and force competitors out of business. This is visible even in local grocery chains and convenient stores. I always thought a manageable recession is not only part of the economic cycle it is mandatory for a healthy economy. In an economic downtown businesses are being put under true tests. The ill-managed parasitic corporations with weak balance sheets ultimately fail to clear way for stronger businesses, thus the survival of the fittest. Everything comes with a price and with failed businesses comes unemployment.

Today I witnessed the commend center and the battle front of the price war and it was an experience I would never forget. At one point the Company N team left the room to allow us to discuss the situation. Mr. C stayed calm and calculated throughout the meeting. It’s good that we both perform well under pressure, only he was under a hundred times more pressure than I was (50 million would be a closer estimate). In Chinese culture, calmness under pressure and patience are two vital traits for success (just after governmental connections). Having foreseen the turnout of the meeting Mr. C presented his counter conditions and agreed to side with Company N on price reduction to facilitate a stronger backbone to weather the harsh economic climate. The meeting concluded shortly after and for a brief moment I saw the weight lifting off everyone’s shoulders.

Mr. C left the meeting not with a sense of defeat but a look of optimism. On the walk back to the hotel Mr. C said to me in an even voice, “I’ve been the president of my company since I was 27. I have seen many things both good and bad. At the end nothing is unmanageable. Today might have seemed catastrophic for my company but in a different perspective it could have been a good turning point. Everything has two sides; it all depends on how you choose to look at it.” I looked to him with admiration and respect and nodded slightly. I understood.

After the meeting we walked over to Steamer’s Landing on 375 S. End St., a restaurant on the water front recommended by the concierge for its seafood. We ordered every seafood dish on the menu: two dozen oysters, two orders of steamed mussels, steamed clams, lobster, fish, shrimp… The waiter shook his head in disbelief. I could have talked business or asked for a job or a referral, but out of respect I didn’t. I had a feeling neither one of us were much of a small talker so very few words were exchanged at all. He was someone older, wiser, wealthier, weathered upper echelon yet he made me feel completely at ease. When someone is truly wealthy they have no intention for show other than truly taking the time to enjoy the little things. I think it made him happy to share the meal with someone who is as crazy about seafood as he is.

With couple hours free before an informal dinner gathering at the Marriot Marquis I took a brisk walk down Wall St. and took the Staten Island ferry. I’ve always enjoyed the view while imagining what the immigrants would have seen at the turn of last century. The cold wind pierced through my long wool coat but the sight of the Lady Liberty and the Big Apple in the sunset is not to be missed. I was happy.

Later the night I wore a new shirt I bought from Century 21 to dinner with Mr. M and two representatives from a different supplier from Holland. The food was mediocre at best and the view was rather disappointing for a revolving restaurant named The View. Still it was an experience. On the way out I pointed out the Kodak screen and told the story of how a photo of me was displayed on it for a day years ago. It all seemed like yesterday. Underneath it all, I haven’t changed. Although many things have had happened, in some ways I don’t ever want to change: ideal and free spirited.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

One Thing Led to Another...

I've toured two big gun manufacturers in two days: Crosman in Rochester and Smith & Wesson in Springfield MA. Some very exciting things are happening and one thing let to another I'm staying in NYC tonight next to where WTC used to be. It's strange to think that two gigantic buildings used to be situated in this small plot of space.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Letter to Myland

After volunteering for Myland for the last 5 months I have finally decided to draft them a letter to express my point of view:

Dear Heidi and Rich,

I would like to take this opportunity to let you know that I have really enjoyed working at Myland. Over the last few months I have learned many things from both of you. When I first signed on with the company I was very much excited to contribute my best. My enthusiasm has not waned however my pocketbook has.

I understood that there would be a training period and many projects take long turnaround time. This position was presented to me as a commission only structure but many times I find myself spending time and energy over long term projects that do not offer any immediate financial reward. Personally I do not feel that is fair.

If it is your belief that working few days a week at the office would increase productivity I would be happy to come with an hourly wage. The same thing should also apply to time spent at our weekly meetings.

We emphasize with our clients that in order for projects to succeed it requires co-investments from both parties. The same thing should apply to the company and the employees. I have been working for Myland since last August. I have invested my share and I’m more than willing to work even harder with the right incentives.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Distress and Unwind

Good news, my hair is finally looking normal again. After not washing it for few days it had the chance to regain some moisture and natural oil to repair itself. I washed it last night and applied some leave-in conditioner. With minimal blow drying my hair felt soft and smooth just like it did before but with a bit more volume and subtle curls. It’s not exactly what I wanted or what I paid for but compare to the state it was in I’m happy.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Retro but not Chic

While I was visiting Rose in Düsseldorf she showed me some pictures from her first trip to Europe back in ’84. She looked young, vibrant and a bit edgy with sultry eyes. She was the kind girl that didn’t give a fuck and she was dangerous. One of the photos was taken with her in front of her favorite building, the Paris Opera House, where we also visited on the recent trip. Her shoulder length hair was slightly perm-ed with soft body waves and instantly I got perm envy. So we decided that everyone should get a perm at least once in their life and it is time for me to get mine! And that I did!
Having dealt with straight and somewhat uninspiring hair all my life I was ready for a change. Two days after I came back I called Metro Salon on Gibb St. for an appointment. They admitted me right away and by Thursday evening my hair was perm-ed! I knew I wasn’t going to be like Beyonce but I had expected loose curls and bigger volume. What I got was a disaster! I will not post any self deprecating photos with this blog so just imagine me with extremely dry and frizzy hair.
I didn’t freak out at the salon since the hair dresser, Kevin, had labored over my long hair for what seemed like eternity. I was polite and left him a very generous tip but as time went on I started to feel more and more annoyed by how my hair turned out. Being a very easy going person, I’ve never been extremely particular about my hair. I rarely even comb or blow-dry my hair not to mention using hair products. But this perm was so terrible that I had to go back to the salon this morning to ask for some improvements. The owner Stephanie wasn’t thrilled to see me there and she blamed me for getting a perm in the first place since it changes the physical structure of the hair and is very damaging. She said repeatedly, “I don’t like perms and I don’t do perms!” At one point I got so irritated and said “well if heart surgery is not your forte than you shouldn’t be selling it.” Trying to smooth things over and not disturb other client she agreed to give me a conditioning treatment and trim some of the dead ends off. I didn’t want to argue but I was very frustrated with how things had turned out. Eventually I calmed down realizing there isn’t a whole lot that can be done now. Take this as a lesson learned. Everyone should get a perm at least once. I can now check that box off.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Goodbye Rose!

I watched Rose disappear on the platform as the train ushered me away towards the airport. I wasn’t sad, maybe just a little, like the end of a good book. We are people of actions. I wanted to go back to Buenos Aires. I did. We wanted to go to Rio. We did. I said to Rose “see you in Germany” when she flew out of BA last March, and we did. The truth is that the more things we accomplish the more confidence we have in each other. Having known Rose for two years, traveled to five countries and spent two New Years together, I can certainly count her as my BFF (not to jinx anything)! I don’t know where or when but it is comforting to know that someday soon in somewhere exotic I will see her again.

And lastly, I hate flying!
I swear the airplane god is against me having seated extremely large passengers next to me for all my flights on this trip! It should be mandatory for people exceeding a certain size to purchase a larger seat so they are not taking up half of mine while forcing their tights again one side of my leg the whole flight?!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Düssel and Cologne

It is time to capitalize on the last day of my European adventure but the cold and slushy streets looked somewhat uninviting. Rose and I finally motivated ourselves out of the apartment by 1 in the afternoon. She went to catch upon work at the computer center and I started to wonder around Düsseldorf trying to decide whether or not I should take the train to Cologne. With about three inches of snow fall over night and no wind, the trees that lined the Dussel were decorated by white powdered snow which made it very scenic even without the leaves. Düssel is a small tributary of the Rhine River and Düsseldorf or Düssel village is where it joins the Rhine.

Having been so good on the whole trip I rewarded myself with a trip to Zara. Luckily no damage was done. By now it was already approaching 4pm and the light is starting to dim. I still couldn’t make up my mind about going to Cologne. On one hand I was content with wandering around here and meeting up with Rose early but then when will I have another chance to go to Cologne? After all, I’ve wanted to see the cathedral ever since high school. And with that thought I hopped onto a RE train with a Durum wrap I bought outside of the station.
Within half hour I was face to face with the cathedral that was once the largest structure in the world when it was finally completed in 1880 after over 600 years of construction! In fact, the locals know it as the never ending construction site. Although I’ve seen numerous aerial photos of it in the past, its massiveness can only be appreciated in person. To be enveloped in the dark cathedral with 150-foot ceiling and enough stain-glass to cover three football fields is truly an amazing experience. I walked slowly around the isles and noticed that the church choir was starting to set up for a rehearsal across from the “swallows’ nest” organ. Some people say that it is impossible to listens to Bach and not believe in god. As music filled up the hollow cathedral I felt tears swelling up from deep down. Maybe there is a divine spirit. Or maybe this is the pinnacle of the human spirit. Whatever it was I’m happy to have experienced it.

People who know me also know that I love food. No trip is complete without at least one great meal and some food porn to show it off. Having dinner with Rose, Roland and Sonya at a traditional German restaurant was a great way to conclude my short European adventure. Afterwards we stopped by Sonya’s place to look through some of her photos from a recent trip to Egypt only to stir up more wanderlust in Rose and I, two travel addicts.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Driving to Dussel

Rose and I caught a ride with her friends Roland and Sonya back to Dusseldorf this afternoon. Before crossing the French border we stopped by to get some souvenirs: French mustard! After all you don’t have to be a millionaire to have Dijon mustard. For only 1.5Euros a bottle, I loaded up on four. I foresee lots of marinated chicken Dijon in the future!
With a little over 200km to go, we are back into the Rhineland. The difference between Belgium and Germany is night and day, literally. While all of the highways in Belgium are fully lit, the German autobahn covered in darkness with no speed limit. Talks of changing the rules are always on going but the traditional Germans claim that a speed limit would violate their civil liberty. Sounds like my kind of place.
The whole drive took a little over 6 hours and we got back to Dusseldorf around 9pm, in the snow. With another trip to the Turkish diner we called it a night and fell fast asleep: me on the fold out couch and Rose on the little futon mat.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Paris Paris One More Time

The plan to drive back to Dusseldorf has been delayed so I have one more day to rummage through Paris. The sun is once again high in the blue sky, a perfect day, warmer than it has been all week. I left the house early on my own so Rose can catch up on her sleep from staying up until 6:30am. I walked briskly to the Telegraph metro station in the Milliemont neighborhood and dialed up some upbeat tango fusion music from Otra Aires. The music is very appropriate since Buenos Aires is known as the Paris of the South and Paris is known as the Tango Capital of the North. In many ways Buenos Aires has prepared me for Paris. It is a concoction of Spanish language, French architecture and Italian culture, somewhat bizarre and all the more alluring at the same time.
But in reality, living in Buenos Aires has given me the confidence to maneuver through the rest of the world, however far and foreign it might be.

A trip to Paris is not completed until one has seen the Eiffel Tower. Although many people have recommended the view from the top, unwilling to brave the enormous crowds, I opted to take few photos from the short distance.

Public transportation always makes me feel closer to the locals. Besides, who needs a bus tour when you can pay 5.8euros for an all-day bus/subway pass to ride until your legs fall asleep? I always get my pass worthwhile (unlike that stupid museum pass). With that thought I hopped onto the 42 back to the center of the city.

The bus breezed through the fashionable Ave. Montaigne line with all your household names like Prada, Dior, Fendi, Chanel and of course Louis Vuitton (Household names if you’re the rich and famous). The rest of lower income suburb Parisians find their way through the huge Puce St. Ouen outdoor flea market. Everything is sold here leather goods, African wood carvings, clothing, shoes, tools, DVDs, electronics, old furniture (some call them antique) and even your lost luggage! However, there was no sight of my stolen ipod with “Liren Rocks” engraved on the back. I snatched few quick photos and clenched onto my bag afraid someone would take my stuff and sell it two blocks down the road and I won’t have any cash to buy it back. Didn’t quite find anything that perked my interested I decided to take the subway to Sacre Coeur to catch the sunset.

Sacre-Coeur Basilica (or Sacred Heart) is situated on the highest point of Paris about 420 feet. From here you can get an expansive view of the city from the historical monuments to modern skyscrapers that define the city’s southern limit. “The five-domed, Roman-Byzantine basilica took 44 years to build (1875-1919). It stands on a foundation of 83 pillars stuck 130 feet deep, necessary because the ground beneath was honeycombed with gypsum mines. The exterior is laced with gypsum, which whitens with age” (Rick Steves). So much more information to travel with a guidebook! Although it would be better if they come in audio versions that can be loaded onto my ipod!

As I started to walk up the stairs to the basilica I noticed few men selling some sort of indiscernible tourist gimmick with colorful strings wrapped around their fingers. One of the men approached me and I ignored him by picking up my pace. When he finally gave up another one came in front of me trying to get my attention. I showed no interest and said no but that didn’t stop him from grabbing my arm and following me. I wasn’t threatened by it with so many tourists around but I was completely annoyed. I shook him off my arm and screamed on the top of my lungs “STOP!” He seemed surprised by my reaction for just fraction of a second and then he got angry and pushed me a little. I thought sure, let everyone see how a big tall black guy is pushing on a poor little Asian tourist!

By the time I reached the top of the hill I was in a good mood again. It was just pass 4pm, less than an hour from sunset. I followed the Montmartre walk to Erik Satie and Hector Berlioz’s old residences. Other well-known artists that lived in this neighborhood include Renoir, Picasso, Van Gogh and Lautrec, who frequented the nearby Cabarets such as the Moulin Rouge. What a time in history and what a place in time! Imagine Rousseau and Voltaire fueling the Age of Enlightenment, planning the seeds for the French Revolution and ultimately the one in the New World with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Hear Chopin playing at private parties for the Paris’s elites and Satie making a living at local nightclubs. Picture Monet on the Seine, Renoir painting his cheerful windmill scenes and Seurat with all his little dots.

The sun had begun to set next to the Eiffel Tower by the time I made back to the viewing point just under the basilica. I watched the sun getting gradually closer to the horizon with lots of tourists behind me snapping pictures. As dusk set in I turned on Satie’s Gymopedies and Gnossiennes, the jazz version by Jacques Loussier Trio and thought, this is Paris!

The summer before I turned 6 my father was preparing to go to West Berlin. He said to me that someday he’ll show me the world. The promise, although never fulfilled, was never forgotten. Thinking back, 10th grade AP European History was the most important class I have taken and music has inspired me to travel the world. It was music that first led me to the Argentine tango. I traced the roots of Spanish guitar music in the beautiful cities of Andalusia. I saw for myself the Alhambra that inspired one of the most beautiful guitar pieces ever written. And here in Paris, once the culture center of the world, has cultivated and inspired countless composers and musicians. Tomorrow we will go back to Dusseldorf, home of German romantic poet Heinrich Heine, whose poems have been set to music by composers such as Schubert, Mendelssohn and Brahms. Although I don’t study anymore, it is inevitable that music will remain an essential part of my life and my travels. I saw my father for the first time in 14 years two years ago. He said “I once told you I would show you the world, now you are traveling on your own.”

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Left Side and Pere Lachaise Cemetery

The party is set to start at 8pm for me to serve all the dishes I have been preparing. With the whole day free, Rose and I once again sat out to conquer the city. First we took bus 96 to Saint Chapelle, a 13th century Gothic chapel best known for its stained glass windows. It was unexpectedly closed due to icy conditions, whatever that means. This is Rose’s third attempt to see the interior! I guess it’s just not meant to be.
We then walked along the river towards Pont Alexander III, Rose’s favorite bridge. I snapped few good pictures along the way.

Per Carla’s recommendation, we toured the Petit Palais (Musee des Beaux-Arts). Carla is the 13-year-old daughter of the host family who is better versed in art than most adults I know, not to mention other kids her age. The Petit Palais was indeed very beautiful and the fact that it’s free made it even more enjoyable.

There were few master pieces like Monet’s Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt and lesser known works of Rembrandt, Rubens and Delacroix.

Of course, one can’t walk through the place without stopping by Courbet’s Le Sommeil done in 1866. If you don’t know the piece (I didn’t either), I have a feeling you’re going to remember it now. It’s not porn if it’s art (maybe except certain graphic Roman murals which were intended to be pornographic in nature). There were lots of photo graphs of naked models and celebrities so definitely worth a free visit if you’re into that sort of thing.

After three days of cloud, icy rain and even few snow flurries the sun finally made its debut just before we left the museum. The light reflected off the wet pavement, so bright I could barely keep my eyes open.
We embarked on the Left Bank walk tour from Rick Steves’ Paris book. Now I finally look and feel like a typical American tourist!

The left bank of Paris offers much contrast to the palace-filled royal ambiance of the right bank and the imposing cathedrals on the Cite. It is better known as a more bohemian area with “artistic, intellectual, and countercultural spirit” (Rick Steves). We started the sunny walk at Place St. Michel and made our way to the oldest café in Europe: Le Procope at 13 Rue de l’Ancienne Comedie, found in 1686. We intended to have a sip of coffee there like all the famous individuals before us: Voltaire, Rousseau, Emile Zola, Victor Hugo, Napoleon, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson but the place only caters to dinners now and we were unwilling to spare lots of euros for a mediocre meal. So we pressed on with our tour to St. Germain-des-Pres, the oldest church in Paris “where a Christian church has stood since the fall of Rome” (RS). The interior is still painted in medieval style, dark blue ceilings with gold starts and various themes from the bible on the walls. I prefer my churches old and dark instead of the more luminous ones of the Renaissance period for a more intimate and mysterious feel.

By the end of the Left Bank tour we had seen George Sand’s house, Delacroix Museum, Hotel where Oscar Wilde died of an ear infection on Nov. 30, 1900 and finally had coffee at La Palette café where artists’ palettes decorated the walls behind the bar. The sun is starting to fad and with couple more hours of daylight left we decided to pay tribune to some famous died Parisians (or transplants) at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery not far from where we were staying. Here you can find the final resting place for Oscar Wilde (with lots of lipstick marks), Gertrude Stein, Edith Piaf, Moliere, Delacroix, Marcel Proust, Geroges Seurat, Rossini and Chopin. One of the most visited tombs is without a question the one for Jim Morrison. The 100-acre cemetery is very confusing and difficult to maneuver through. It didn’t help that the director of the cemetery had original refused to accept Jim Morrison to be buried here and when it finally happened they tucked him away in a tiny plot hidden behind a bunch of other tombs. Forget about heaven, JM could barely get into a cemetery! Still, nothing deterred from the Morrison fans to find his tomb and write on the side “You still Light My Fire.”

I was happier to see Chopin and Rossini. The guidebook described the relationship between Chopin and his cross-dressing novelist lover, George Sand, as an “increasingly bitter love-hate relationship.” Hum, sounds like the one I’m used to. Chopin developed tuberculosis and Sand nursed him for years. Chopin complained that she was killing him so Sand left and Chopin died two years later at 39. I think Rossini had a more normal life and gave us the Lone Ranger theme and Barber of Seville. But as I later found out, his sepulcher here is empty since his remains were moved to Florence! We concluded our day with a ride on the bus 60 back to Rose’s friends’ house where I put finish touches on my dishes.

The party tonight was a success and food was a hit. Have to admit that it was quite daunting task to be cooking here. I didn’t quite realize it until I started to serve my food. I’m making stuffed cabbage for the Romanians and pasta and Osso Bucco for Italians. Just imagine being French and making Chinese dishes for the Chinese. Luckily people were very kind and they complemented on everything. Although it’s a lot of work I do enjoy share my cooking with people.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

It’s now 10pm but feels much later. Last night I went with Rose’s friends to a New Years Eve party composed of most Romanians that graduated from the same architect academy and of course their families. This party tradition started almost 40 years ago amongst the same group of friends in the remote mountains of Romania where 4 days of supplies and sound equipments had to be carried to the location via donkeys. Since then people have moved away to New York, Paris, Italy etc. and so did the parties. Over the summer a big birthday celebration took place in Normandy where an enormous castle was rented for the occasion. Similar get-togethers also happened in Greece and southern France. This year, perhaps because of the lagging economy, the Paris gang stayed in town for the New Years, but there is no shortage of merrymaking.

The New Years Eve party started promptly at 10pm last night. Within 10 minutes there was blaring music and all out dancing. I have never seen people dancing like this. I didn’t participate but cheerfulness is contagious. I grew more and more tired from all the walking and sightseeing earlier during the day so when someone left the party early at 2:30am I caught a ride back. Rose didn’t come home until almost 6am and the professionals came back in the afternoon.

Before coming on this trip I have agreed to cook a meal here for the host family as a gesture of appreciation. Rose and I picked up lots of groceries the day before at the supermarket for three of my better dishes: Glubsy (stuffed cabbage), Lamb Osso Bucco (braised lamb shanks) and Russian potato salad.
I got up at two in the afternoon and started to boil the large cabbage. Usually I put the whole thing in the microwave for 5 minutes as a short cut but most Europeans don’t believe in microwaves so I won’t find them here. I then discovered that one lamb leg was in the fridge and the other one some how went into the freezer. I rubbed one with salt and pepper for a quick marinate while the other one defrosts. I diced 5 onions on the stone cutting board and sautéed them in olive oil as base for the osso bucco and the glubsy sauce. Just as I started to chop the carrots and celery word came that we are going to postpone the dinner and continue the party from the previous night. But alas, the wheel has already set in motion! I can’t just put away what I started. Luckily, the two dishes require quite some time to cook and are probably best to set overnight for the flavor to fully penetrate. So with that thought I continued to brown the lamb on high heat and cooked some white rice for the cabbage stuffing along with grounded beef and pork which I combined together. The onions are mixed with carrots and then celery before 2/3 bottle of white wine is added to be reduced to half of the volume. By now the aroma filled the small kitchen forcing me to open the window to let in some cool air so I don’t get sick from all the evaporated wine. I react badly to any kind of alcohol. At the same time I cooled the boiled cabbage and started to peel off the leaves very carefully so they will be perfect for the wraps. When the wine is cooked down to the right amount I added two cans of diced tomatoes and let the mixture cook some more before adding the browned lamb and some water to cover the whole thing. Cooked white rice is stirred into the ground meats with some salt and pepper. I placed couple spoons of the mixture onto each cabbage leaf, folded them into squares and neatly stacked them in a large deep pasta pot. When all the mixture is used up I filled the pot with boiling sauce composed of sautéed onions, tomato paste and water. Three hours later, both dishes are ready to be simmered for few more hours!

I cleaned up a little and joined the rest of the group back to continue the same party. We left just past 5:30, already dark outside, things looked exactly the same as when I came home the night before. I was tired and I could feel a headache coming up. Same place, same people, same food but I didn’t feel like feigning any excitement. Soon enough my headache forced me to seek refuge among the gigantic pile of coats in the adjacent bedroom. Loud music, kids, laughter and only aggravated my headache. Perhaps in a different time I would have appreciated the overlapping of so many languages Romanian, French, German, English and Italiano but today is not the day. Finally I got the key from Rose and took the metro home at 9. I guess I’m a bit anti-social. Group work is just not my cup of tea. I’m one of those people that are most content when alone or maybe that’s just what I’m used to. Besides, New Years is a time to reflect, all that has happened and all that is anticipated. This is the second New Years I’ve spent with Rose, with the last one in Buenos Aires. There is a lot to be thankful for but after all, Paris, London, New York, San Francisco, Barcelona, Argentina, Rio and Lisbon, I still prefer the good old Rochester, however cold and gray it gets. It is where I’m comfortable at. There are no replacement for Eastman and Wegmans.