Tag Archives: food

Happy Newish Year! Happy Annishversary!

Oh, dear. I’ve done it again. I know, my absence has been inexcusable. I mean, we’ve been over this—you’re now all well aware of my shortcomings, my tendencies towards listlessness and USA Network original programming marathons. Let’s not dwell, okay? My therapist has that covered, which is annoying enough. When I hit upon the deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing from which my laziness doubtless stems, I promise to keep you all in the loop. How about I make a newish year’s resolution to write more often? Like once a month, at minimum. Hold me to it, because I really need the push. So, you understand that now it’s on you and nothing is my fault if you don’t remind me sotoolatenobacksies.

Anyhoo, next Wednesday marks the one monthiversary of our FIRST ANNIVERSARY, which is when I should have written this in the first place. Pretty big deal! We’ve been married for a whole year + a month, which is nothing to sneeze at. Side note: I cannot stand it when people use “anniversary” to describe monthly and weekly landmarks. It’s not an anniversary, because it isn’t annual. It’s probably something else deriving from Latin, don’t ask me. I don’t know everything. You’re the one who insists on celebrating monthly achievements, you look it up. Okay I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be mean. Let’s make up. I drank too much wine this week, cut me some slack. The Steelers lost on Sunday, did you hear? This affects me in the sense that it affects Matt profoundly, so I kept myself preemptively sauced to deal with the storm cloud of black feelings and the sadness to end all days which settled into the apartment last Sunday night.

He was one sad monkey.

Anyhoooo, our actual anniversary date fell on the Sunday night of a three-day weekend, so being the nauseatingly romantic couple we are, we made it a regular Mardi Gras.

Friday night: we took ourselves out to Daniel using a gift certificate we’d been saving since the wedding. Highlights included too much wine followed by a mild coma, and a free dessert presented aside a life-sized, solid chocolate bust of a woman. Sorry, no photo, because I am the classy type of person who doesn’t take pictures of her food in super fancy restaurants. It’s also possible I brought my camera and was scolded by a mortified Matt when I took it out of my bag.

Saturday night: We went to a lovely wine and cheese class which was given to me as a birthday gift and conveniently fell on our anniversary weekend! Oh wait, no, we canceled last minute and stayed home and watched football.

Sunday morning: We prepared a lovely breakfast for two of mimosas, coffee, and the top layer of our wedding cake. It was delightful.

See? No joke here. Sometimes we're actually nice.

Sunday night: We stayed in and had a cozy, romantic evening. No, wait, we went out to our favorite restaurant and had a cozy, romantic evening. Oh no, I totally remember now. Matt went out for an annual guys’ dinner and I went out for the counterpart girls’ dinner, then we all met up and stayed out until 2AM. Highlights included a bouquet of anniversary flowers from one of the girls, and the revolutionary offer of simultaneous half-portions of TWO pastas when I simply couldn’t make a decision. Best waiter ever.

Honestly, my world will never be the same.

I know what you’re going to say: “Aaaw, you guys are sickeningly sweet. Gross me out.” Right? I know, we’re totally THAT couple.

Really, though, while I was happy and excited to be celebrating our first whole year of marriage, I’m a lot more annoyed that our actual nine year tally has been erased. Sure we’ve had our ups and downs this year, and in many ways we felt them more strongly given the underlying knowledge that we’re legally stuck together forever. But we’ve weathered many more difficult times by far, and that was before we had the security of a contract that can ideally only be broken by invoking the death clause. I feel a little silly putting so much importance on year one of a lifetime. And that’s another thing. Part of me feels like if we make too big a deal out of one year of marriage, what do we do with the next 50 some-odd? I’d like to imagine that the accomplishment of staying married year after year gets more impressive as time goes on. This one was kind of a gimme.

I think celebrating in our strangely disjointed and haphazard way, a portion of which was spent apart, was sort of perfect for us. Marriage isn’t hard yet, nor should it be. We’re still young and relatively unfettered by weighty responsibilities like property and child ownership. Our worries and arguments are rarely earth-shattering, and neither of us has secretly begun to wonder if the other would ever consider some minor cosmetic surgery, you know, just around the eyes. Why shouldn’t we honor that by feeling relaxed enough to have separate dinners and meet up later in a drunken group? This year already felt special just by virtue of being the first! Let’s not shoot our wad so early that we can’t make the future decades feel exceptional, too. Hooray for us! Hurrah for the Schwajaks! We are a modern couple with new ideals! We are confident and capable of a self-awareness and perspective on our lives which suggests a maturity far beyond our years! We are sometimes only okay at planning! And that’s okay!

Oh, also, we’re going to Paris in March when the weather is a little warmer. Perhaps I ought to have mentioned that.

Huzzah!

I’m not a girl, not yet a hopelessly lame woman

Last weekend, we and some friends wound up at a pub on the Upper West Side. Those of you who are NYC locals, you know the type. You know that place that always smells like vomit from the curb after 11pm? Well, it’s a notch more respectable than that, so let’s just say we were probably the only people in the place who weren’t affected by some form of the dread Bieber f(i)ever.

Children, look away. This is one of the first documented cases of full-blown BiebFev. Photo reprinted with permission from the CDC.

Two of my girlfriends, let’s call them J. and N., decided they wanted to partake in the beer pong tournament that was going on in the back of the pub (I told you it was a young crowd). So, in order to convincingly relate to the youth, they gave themselves aliases. J. and N. were now Rutgers coeds Sally and Tish (this name choice should signal to all exactly how in touch they are with Generation TXT), in the Big Apple for the summer with internships in publishing (a glamorous selection indeed). At first, this was hilarious. But it didn’t take long for a few key facts to reveal themselves:

1. Their opposing team was 19 years old (bouncer, for shame).

2. Said 19-year-olds were very, very drunk. Do you remember how you acted when you were drunk and 19? It’s self-preservation that you do not.

3. Sally and Tish are a little rusty at beer pong, which placed them pretty evenly against the sloppy teenagers at the other end of the table.

Not surprisingly, the game stalled out after each team managed to hit about half their cups. One of the kids on the other team was much more concerned with a girl in a nearby group of friends, and when his teammate reminded him that they were still playing a game, he whipped around and publicly berated him for cock-blocking (except he used a cool Millennial term which I’ve never even heard, let alone remembered. Anyone?)

Maybe to amuse herself, maybe to make the game end, Sally decided to go for the big reveal and drop the “gotcha.”

“We’re really 28!” she crowed, beaming mischievously.

Long pause. Sneers of confusion and, ultimately, mild disgust.

“You’re old.”

No one is amused.

Tish, a little injured, a tad horrified, but hopeful to salvage their collective pride, piped in, “Well, we’re accomplished!”

The boys, unimpressed, point out that they have no knowledge of any alleged accomplishments, nor do they care to learn. They’re pissed they wasted twenty minutes on a couple of old women who, now that they look a little closer, are both wearing engagement rings. Newfangled-term-for-cock-blocked indeed.

Now that's an old-fashioned cock-block. Get it? Cause he's a rooster? Get--forget it. Kids today. Tsk tsk, I say I say.

So, I’m not pretending that 28 is elderly, and no, I’m not about to say that getting married = aging out, but let’s call a spade a spade. Marital status aside, we old. I’m not sure when and how this happened, but there it is. We don’t even know how to pretend to be 19 anymore, not that I really want to be 19 again.

Much.

I’m not down for the count yet, though. No, I didn’t want to play beer pong with college sophomores. And yes, I find the occasional gray hair (oh, god) and have to work a little harder at the gym to keep it all together. But I can still throw down and remain among the last old ladies standing. And I totally still resort to peer pressure to get my friends to keep drinking with me. That makes me young and cool, right? Are peer pressure and drinking still cool?

Unfortunately, all of this pales in comparison to the joy I felt the following day, when Matt and I went to Bed, Bath & Beyond and got storage containers for our extra linens. We came home and were able to clear away the piles that had been gathering with no home, and I danced around the apartment, ecstatically placing sachets in closets and boxes. I happily unpackaged my new digital food scale, obsessively weighing every food item in our kitchen.

“Matt! Matt! This cup of melon weighs 4.2 ounces!”

“That’s…good?”

“Yep,” I said, moving on to the smoked turkey, dizzy with glee.

Matt looked at me for a little while. “Does this, uh, will this serve some other purpose for you?”

I gave him a withering look while I considered the question. Ultimately, I’m not sure why I need to know that I put 2 ounces of deli meat in my salad, or that my cookie weighs 1.6 ounces. But I do. I know that much. “Yes,” I said cheerfully, and began to position a tomato on the scale. I forget now what it weighed, but I’ll tell you that I was thrilled to find out then. Thrilled.

I honestly can’t imagine a Twilight doll or a lava lamp or whatever the tweens are into these days being a better toy.

Oh! And we have new towels. They are soft and fuzzy, but not too fuzzy, and I didn’t even realize it at the time we bought them, but they match our shower curtain perfectly! Isn’t life good? I may be old, but people who can’t appreciate a new towel and a food scale and well-stored linens and a seafresh-something-or-other sachet are just plain missing out.

And yet, as I write this, it is 12:30 AM on a Tuesday and my husband is still out drinking. I am up for absolutely no reason at all, but I am taking this time to update my blog, a decidedly trendipoo hobby. Plus, I have yet to use wrinkle cream with any regularity or conviction (though I’ve been gravely warned against this cavalier attitude). So, I guess we’re not quite at our height of fogue*, either.                                                                                                                                           *That’s the noun for fogey. I made it up because I am forward-thinking and FTD.**                                                                                                                                          **That means “Fresh to Death.” Did you know that? I did, and I used it in a sentence.

Where does that leave us? And for how long? Do we have to pick a side? Because as much as I still love binge-drinking, eating pizza at 4:00 AM and frittering my money away on shortsighted crap (NOT referring to my food scale), I’m ultimately going to have to pick the team with fresh laundry, a clean bathroom, and an apartment where it’s safe to take off one’s shoes.

I hope — and I’m pretty convinced — that I can straddle these two worlds for at least a few years longer, or until my organs begin systematic shutdown. At 30, perhaps I’ll need to reassess. But for now, I’m comfortably in limbo, and I plan to chill here for a while. So I think I’ll just grab one of my very lovely new Riedel glasses, pour myself some $8 wine, and settle in for a few episodes of South Park before bed.

Welcome to my darling and well-stocked kitchen! Pour yourself a stemless glass from the jug and kick off your loafers so that you may enjoy my pristine floors. Dinner will be ready in just a jiff. I hope you like cheeseproduct!

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On falling off the wagon (no, not that one, I was never on that one)

Let’s play a game. It’s called: List the diets you have tried at some point in your life. I’ll go first:

  • Calorie counting (Endless possibilities, never goes out of style.)
  • Atkins (Lasted 4 days before I caved and ate a salad. I have never craved roughage so badly in my life.)
  • Grapefruit diet (Eat 2 grapefruits a day? A grapefruit for breakfast? I have no memory of what this was, only that it was as awful as it sounds.)
  • Special K diet (As it turns out, a “serving” of Special K cereal could pretty much fit in the palm of my hand. No shit you lose weight. See above: calorie counting.)
  • Slim Fast (A shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, eat your own foot out of boredom and desperation, and a sensible dinner!)
  • Peanut butter diet (No joke, you eat a tablespoon of peanut butter in between meals. As it turns out, food is an amazing appetite-suppressant!  Side note here: has anyone heard of “fullbar”? Where you eat a bar before you eat a meal and it makes you eat less at that meal because you have already eaten something? I mean, by that logic, everything is a “fullbar,” from a banana to an ice cream cone to any other snack bar by any other company. Someone, somewhere, is making actual money off of this. )
  • Cabbage soup diet (Had to be quarantined and colon very nearly exploded.)
  • Ephedrine diet pills (Starring me, in my very own version of the Jessie Spano caffeine pill freakout scene. Classic.)
  • Weight Watchers Core (I wound up eating an absurd amount of fat free cheese products and probably shaved a few years off my life in the process.)
  • Weight Watchers Points (It works, except for when I cheat all the time.)
  • Drunkorexia (This worked in college. Since then, attempting it has pretty much consistently led me to get uncontrollably hammered, inevitably ending in a 3AM pizza-binge followed by deep, deep regret.)
  • The Master Cleanse (Within 3 days, I was on the edge of madness. A bunch of really TMI stuff happened vis-a-vis the bathroom, from which I will spare you. After 10 days, I nearly cried when I took my first bite of dressing-free lettuce. A week after that, I’d gained back every ounce. Damn you, Oprah! I ought make you drink all that laxative tea I bought. That shit was expensive. Literally! Ha ha.)
  • And untold others far more fleeting even to remember, not to mention the smattering of mostly harmless and crashingly unsuccessful flirtations with your more run-of-the-mill eating disorders, as is the rite of passage of any good Westchester Jewish girl.

Actually, now that I’m rereading what I wrote, this list is way more hilariously tragic than I’d realized. There is a terrifying number of bullets up there. It’s like, a gory drive-by barrage of bullets. Especially when you consider the fact that the amount of time I’ve been truly, objectively, get-that-girl-a-pizza skinny probably accumulates to roughly six months out of my entire life.

 

Oh, goddamn it, now I want pizza.

Luckily, or rather, totally deliberately, several of those months occurred leading up to my wedding. It was always my plan and my hope that I would get in great shape and wear a smoking hot, form fitting gown. And for all the times I’d tried and failed to lose weight, or lost and then gained it back in 5 minutes, I knew I HAD to try harder for this singular event in my life. I mean, this is my WEDDING. These are photos I’ll look back on forever, and a dress I’ll only wear once! This is a day I’d fantasized about for years, and that fantasy always involved looking just fucking amazing. Call it superficial, call it shortsighted, but there is an army of angry, hungry, determined bride-orexics who can back me up on this one. The pizza could wait (Shhh, my darling, patience. You know I’d never leave you for good). There was work to be done and there was no time to slack. And you know what? I did it! I did the work and I ate mountains of tofu shirataki noodles and I didn’t starve myself but I did make it back to college-thin and I looked pretty darn good, if I may say. What I really wanted was this:

 

Person 1: Hey gang, didn't Nina look great at her wedding? People 2-4: Hm, I don't know. I thought she looked too skinny. People 5-7: I disagree, she looked terrific. {general murmuring, rutabega rutabega}

So there was that. And then it was done, and I was so sure I was going to keep the weight off for the first time in my life. I wasn’t going to let that hard work go to waste. Plus, I had just bought a whole bunch of new clothes for the honeymoon and to celebrate my awesome bridal body! I was going to stick to my hard won good habits for as long as I could. As it turns out, that number is approximately 15 hours. Upon arriving at the terminal for our flight to Argentina, I beelined it to an airport bar and ordered a cheeseburger, fries and a beer. I mean, I was on my honeymoon! I was a newlywed! I DESERVED it. And all married people let themselves go a little, right? Well, as they say, there’s no time like the present. And as they also say, a cheeseburger in the hand is worth two…in the…not…

The point is, I blew it, and I did it quick. Almost pathologically so. So quick, unfortunately, that I didn’t make the most delicious choice I could have. On the other hand, it was phenomenally greasy and fatty. And revelatory. Before the guilt had time to settle into my arteries, I realized that to attempt to maintain my wedding diet on my honeymoon—in the land of beef and wine, no less—would be both foolhardy and regrettable. So I lived it up. Ate enough chorizo and steak to last me a lifetime, and built my alcohol tolerance back up to its rightful place.

Besides, I had just worked my ass off for months. Two weeks in Argentina could hardly set me back for long. And it’s true, it didn’t. What set me back was the month post-honeymoon during which I pretended I’d never ever belonged to a gym. Also, the countless dinners out to welcome us home, during which I made excellent use of my newly redeveloped hollow leg. Not to mention the “meh, I’m married” response to most extremely momentary moments of pause at the eatey end of a forkful of pasta/cake/pizza/pizza/pizza.

Should I feel badly for Matt? It’s only been six months, and his slender bride is now…well…she’s a lot more fun, for starters. She can also beat him in an eating contest any day of the week. And really, the girl with whom he fell in love at the heady age of 19 was already a veteran yo yo dieter. I’m not letting myself go. I’m picking myself back up where I left off.

Sorry, there’s no uplifting life lesson or moment of clarity here. I’m not really going to learn anything or evolve or gain any deeper insights into my relationship with food. Now pass me that cheesecake, it’s time for my fullbar.

q.e.d.

 

 

 

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What’s in a name? Oy veys mir, don’t get me started.

*Disclaimer: No offense, Dad.

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve given up my given name. I dove right into the name-change process, and I am now legally, officially, irrevocably (kinda) Nina Anne Pajak.

I like it. I’m getting used to it. It’s got a much more powerful punch than my old name. It’s got a P, which is snappy, and it ends in a K, which is strong. And in South America, the J is pronounced as an H, which is both adorable and fun to say. Paaaah-hak. In other countries, it’s pronounced as a Y, so you know, we’ve got a lot of options.

I’ve always envied those with consonant-driven names. Nina Schwartz always sounded sort of shapeless in my mouth — I used to have to take a drink of water and do facial muscle-warming exercises before enunciating it over the phone, and even then I often found myself slurring through it, mainly induced by the stress of worrying that I was about to slur through my own name.

Perhaps I’ve just opened your window into my neuroses a smidgen too wide…

And not to join the legion of self-hating Jews out there, but let’s be real. As much as so many of my sisters have eagerly paid (through the nose? Ha ha.) to lop off their well-endowed nasal birthrights, we Jewish girls also seldom shed tears at the thought of losing our old lady, easily ethnically identifiable last names. I don’t mean to sound overly critical, but just think about it in this context for a moment: before I was born, someone who shall remain anonymous suggested that I be named Frieda. Now picture Frieda Schwartz. It’s a pretty straightforward image, isn’t it?

This isn't actually Frieda Schwartz. To be honest, when I google image searched the name, all I got were photos of headstones and groups gathered in the Yahrzeit. Too dark for this blog.

But fine, I’ll admit it — my name was never so bad. It’s not like I was ever teased about it or anything (of course, there was much more obvious material to be mined by my peers, as evidenced in my previous post).

I never had any unflattering nicknames, and it didn’t rhyme with anything anatomical, sexual, or scatological. The worst anyone ever came up with was “FAO Schwartz” (different spelling, and, um, that would be awesome) or “Bermuda Schwartz,” which was really more stupid than annoying. And as a matter of fact, I voluntarily used it in my byline once, as I was writing about actual Bermuda shorts. I mean, how often does that happen? Now that I think about it, I kind of love the idea of Bermuda Schwartz as an alter ego. I’m a laid-back, tough-talking, jaded island cop who busts drug dealers and kidnappers each week and has been known to put ice cubes in her white wine. I’m totally unapologetic and I just won’t play by the rules, but my sidekick, Seersucker Jones, keeps me in line. Plus, I totally love smoked fish on a bagel (which is pretty impossible to find in the Caribbean) and he totally doesn’t get it, but it’s okay because it’s a cultural thing and you kind of have to grow up with it to appreciate it. Don’t even get him started on gefilte fish.

 

I keep telling him with a name like his, he can lose the getup. Then again, he looks pretty spiff. That's his chicken, Parmigiana.

Really though, this whole name change thing is very trippy, and I’m having a little trouble getting used to it. It’s like a bureaucratic out-of-body experience.  And since I’d always just assumed I’d ditch Schwartz one day, I didn’t really give it quite as much thought as it merits. That was my name for 27 years, and now it just isn’t. I meet people every week who will never even know that Nina Schwartz existed.

And who is this Nina Pajak, anyway? Who is this Semitic-looking girl with a Polish last name (which, evidently, also sounds Indian)? My background is not exactly a closely-guarded secret, regardless of my name, but I find it a little weird that other Jewish people can’t necessarily immediately identify me as one of the tribe. There’s something extremely nerdy in me that misses that obvious association, that understood (if ultimately tenuous) alliance. So, faced with a sort of cultural whitewashing, I think I’m finding myself playing up my Jewishness to strangers. Not in any religious sense, god no. But the New York Jew in me is cutting a pretty high profile lately. My Westchester accent comes out in full force (how tall is the wall in the mall? Is it very, very tall?), I make an excessive number of Jewish jokes, I’m way more anxious, paranoid and pessimistic than ever, I try and break out the few Yiddish words I know as often as possible, and I’ve been known to wax endlessly nostalgic about things like brisket and chopped liver. A dish I would never have dreamed of going near until very recently, because, I agree, ick. But also, omigod delish (that’s pronounced: duh-LISH).

If we’re going to get deep about it (and we are, because obviously I’ve found myself a standard-issue Jewish shrink with an office on the Upper West Side and a closet full of peasant skirts), it’s as though I’m completely exaggerating the identity which I so heedlessly abandoned in some sort of last-ditch effort to rescue her from deletion. So basically, this whole thing completely backfired. Instead of being cooler-than-before Nina Pajak, I am now the dorkiest version of Nina Schwartz who has ever existed. I’ve created a monster, and she genuinely worries that you could put your eye out playing baseball. Because you COULD.

I guess it’s no surprise, in retrospect, that I’d adapt by subconsciously exerting my heritage onto the Pajak name and my new wifey self. Especially knowing that one day we’ll have little Pajak children, and they’ll never know what it’s like to be automatically teamed up with every Jewish kid from the Northeast whether they like it or not. Plus, they’ve got a 50/50 shot at turning out to be athletic, in which case they may never truly understand the adversity from whence they came. Then again, I’m probably getting ahead of myself. We haven’t even gotten to the point where Matt will agree to get a dawg. Ahem, I’m sorry, I mean dog. Must run, I left the kishkes in the oven!

 

Evidently, this is a kishke. Now I'm not entirely sure they even go in the oven, but there you have it. I guess I'm not as far gone as I feared.

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El finale: Home is where you hang your head and sigh

Okay. I have been told — and I fully realize — that I may be lingering far too long in the land of steak, wine, and dulce de leche. It’s a little self-indulgent, perhaps, and I get it! I totally do. While this armchair travel experience has been both hilariously entertaining and culturally educational for my readers, you are eager to get back to our dear homeland, where the grass is asphalt and the steak is hot dogs. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. Still amn’t. But I need to face facts and admit that we’ve actually been back in New York for the past month and a half, and no matter how hard I shut my eyes and hope against hope, the Fine Living Network isn’t calling to ask me to do an extended, intensive investigation of Argentina’s Ten Most Flamboyant and Revoltingly Luxurious Hotels.

As my grandmother used to say, here we are, so that’s where we’ll be. But before we got here, we were there: among the only hotel guests of a sprawling vineyard and resort in San Rafael, in the Mendoza (read: wine) region of Argentina. Our last three days of honeymoon bliss read like one of those ridiculous Celebrity Cruise lines commercials: we indulged in an outdoor cooking class with the hotel’s chef, I received an olive oil massage out on a patio overlooking the pool, we were given a complementary, 3-hour private wine-tasting class, and oh yeah, we had our own golf cart with which to freely explore the sprawling farm and untamed brush.

Pretty darn pretty

It was pretty perfect, in all, though the experience wasn’t without some valuable life lessons. For instance, while it may seem like too good an opportunity to pass up, one oughtn’t eat two consecutive meals featuring provoleta, chorizo, and half a bottle of wine (among other things). For if one does, one will wind up with a wretched case of “food poisoning” the day one is forced to wait 3 hours in a tiny airport and then make the 12-hour journey back to New York. And by food poisoning, I mean self-inflicted overdose, much like what would happen to a dog if you left the entire bag of kibble within reach. On the bright side, sun poisoning + food poisoning = honeymoon bingo! I win!

These plates represent the number of chorizo-topped grilled cheese blobs I consumed in a 12-hour period.

I also learned that after a 3-hour wine tasting, if one chooses to then consume half a bottle of rose poolside, one probably ought to wait a little while before jumping in and “swimming.” Didn’t my mother and camp counselors warn me about this when I was little? As it turns out, wine + pool = something of a mess, and I think I wound up consuming an equal amount of chlorinated water as I did alcohol. It was super fun, mostly because I didn’t actually drown to death!

You can't tell, but in all likelihood this book is actually upside-down.

Those sterling nuggets (ew) of wisdom aside, there was one exercise we just couldn’t master. We’d heard about how late people eat dinner in Argentina. And we tried to assimilate, tried to adjust our internal clocks and do as they did. But no matter how much effort we put into making late reservations, no matter how many times we were sure we’d gotten it right, we just kept winding up alone in restaurants. Fancy restaurants, trendy restaurants, wildly popular restaurants. We were always, always completely alone. We just could not figure it out. We’d show up at 10pm and leave at 11:30, never seeing another diner. We’d show up at 10:45pm and leave after midnight, and maybe catch a glimpse of an honest-to-god Argentinean couple sauntering in with a bright-eyed toddler in tow. At first, it was kind of nice. Two newlyweds, oblivious to others around us, absorbed in each other and our food and wine. No obnoxious table-neighbors drowning out our conversation, no competition for the water guy. But after the first couple of evenings like that, we both realized how awkward and uncomfortable it felt to be sitting in a big, empty establishment, with one guy waiting on us and the rest of the waiters milling around. Or worse, all of them serving us at once — sometimes we’d have a bread guy, a wine pourer, a water-glass-filler AND a crumber, all in addition to our server. Occasionally, there would be another family or couple seated, and we would perk up. Perhaps we’d cracked the code and been tacitly welcomed into the Forbidden City! But inevitably, within minutes their loud, American voices would reverberate across the room, serving as a sharp and shameful reminder of our lame tourist status, broadcasting our loserdom in our own heads. We are those travelers who really like to think we’re cooler and smarter and more sophisticated than your average Ugly American. I mean, we’re worldly, we’re from New York, we dig the restaurant scene, we’ve even been known to hang out at a hip bar or two. But throughout the entire country of Argentina, we may as well have been clipping coupons out of The Pennysaver for the early bird special. As silly as it sounds, it was humbling, but more than that it was just sort of frustrating. It was like all the Argentinians had conspired together to stay hidden until we were safely on the way back to our hotel. If only I’d looked in that urn by the bathroom.

Here’s the thing of it: Matt and I loved being on vacation together. We hardly fought, we typically wanted to do all the same things, got hungry around the same time, even our sleep cycles managed to sync up. But even traveling as a team, as closely knit as they come, being in a foreign country can feel very lonely. And when it seems like everyone is somewhere you will never find, it only heightens your sense of being an outsider. I’m aware that many people would pay for the privilege of emptying out a beautiful restaurant. But if I’m out in the world, I want the other residents to show their faces and be there with me.

So that brings us, inexorably, to the island of Manhattan. I’m back to spending my days elbow to elbow with far too many people. They cram onto the subway platforms, angling for a straight shot at the doors with no intention of letting people out of the car first; they dodge and weave aggressively around one another on the sidewalks; they groan and sigh loudly when a tourist takes too long making a decision at Cosi; they’re rude to customer service professionals and fiercely territorial at restaurants and bars. They’re loud, mean, impatient, entitled, and competitive, and they’re everywhere, all the time.

I guess it’s sort of nice to be home, jerks.

Fine Living Network, I work cheap.

Luna de Miel interstitial: Champagne bus rides and caviar dreams

I have this theory about bus stations. Actually, it’s not so much theory as it is an astute and practiced observation. Pick a city or town anywhere in the world. Regardless of this locale’s sophistication, technological advances, cleanliness, environmental efforts, architecture or age, it will will no doubt be home to some troubled people. You’ve got your scallywags, layabouts, hobos, rapscallions, rogues, scoundrels, knaves, cretins—even the occasional blackguard. And if you pay a visit to the local bus station, I can almost promise that you will find each and every one of them, assembled in short order, for all your leering, pickpocketing, mumbling, grain-liquor-in-a-brown-bag needs. For it is the bus station that is the universal meeting spot for the dregs of any given society, no matter how sparkling that society may be. Loogies will dot the soda-slicked floors, empties can be found strewn under benches and in corners. Toilets will be clogged and paperless, with unlock-able doors but for one stall which seems to be permanently occupied by someone making far too little noise.

It’s not that I’m unsympathetic. It’s just that, get away from me. Especially when I’m dying of thirst, dragging a heavy suitcase, duffel bag and purse, it’s 97 degrees outside, and the system for figuring out when and from which of the 45 docks your bus leaves is incomprehensible even to those who speak the native language. This is exactly where we found ourselves trying to exit the city of Mendoza, where we had a one-night stop (and day-long wine tour) before heading to our final destination: The Algodon Wine Estates in San Rafael, 250 kilometers due South.

I'm pretty sure I saw him at the Port Authority

I’m the first to admit that patience is not necessarily my virtue. So by the time we battled the throngs of sticky, aggressive people (I think I may actually have growled at someone), located the right bus, and boarded the double-decker, I was in truly rare form. We collapsed into our assigned seats directly up front on the top level, took a deep, cleansing breath, and that is when I realized that there was no air conditioning and we were sitting behind a giant, untinted windshield, and heat rises. And that, dear readers, is when I threw a full-on, unabashed, pride-be-damned temper tantrum. I kicked our belongings around on the floor, cried, raged and seethed, banged on the vents to see if I could coax some air out of them, frantically fanned myself with our wilted bus tickets. Matt, ever the adult, calmly collected our things and moved us a few rows back, where we could crack open a window, get out of the sun, and even feel a teeny bit of air trickling out above our heads. Immediately, the bus steward came up and scolded us for switching seats and promptly closed our window. He gave us what sounded like a very disdainful lecture in Spanish, shaking his head and woefully moving blankets around. I looked at him desperately, weakly reached out my arm and in a cracked, hoarse whisper said simply: “agua…por favor…” He sighed, nodded, and thirty minutes later I was presented with a Dixie cup of warm Sprite. Things were looking up. A few minutes after that, he came back upstairs and turned on a little TV hanging from the ceiling in the center aisle, and for the next hour and a half we were treated to a veritable smorgasbord of 30-second clips from every music video made in America between 1978 and 1999. Baffling? Yes. Totally rad? You betcha. Meanwhile, our steward came back and asked if we wanted dinner. Dinner? On a bus? Well, no. “Mas agua!” I croaked. “Solemente agua!” He began to speak at length in Spanish, most likely on the virtues of eating three square meals a day, the quality of their dining selections, and the foolhardy, dinner-less path we were about to choose. So we acquiesced and were soon presented with a tray of what was essentially the food equivalent of our in-bus entertainment: a tiny green salad, a slice of vegetable quiche, a sort of yellow-cake-ham-and-cheese roulade, a roll, saltines, soft cheese, and a steaming hot package containing a quarter chicken and plain white rice. We received it with what I’m sure was visible shock, which only increased when he then offered us red or white wine and champagne. Well, yes! But also, mas agua?

As we drove through vineyard-striped countryside in the pitch black of night, I took a slow sip from my Styrofoam cup of battery aci…champagne. I looked over at Matt for a moment, watching him wrestle with a chicken wing, then closed my eyes and let the rhythm of the bumpy road beneath us blend with thumping beats of Snap!’s “I Got the Power.”

Robin Leach, eat your heart out.

Next came another golden oldie, "Rhythm Is a Dancer"

Backblogging: Soy en el luna de miel

I’ve been attempting to spend the last two weeks reliving our honeymoon in Argentina, though between the frigid cold, having to do that work thing every day, Manhattan apartment hunting (more on that later), and my charming fellow New Yorkers, it hasn’t been easy. But I shall persevere, no matter how tenuous my relationship with reality becomes.

The title of this post should give you all a sense of how well I was able to communicate in Spanish. It’s not that I didn’t try — I really did. In fact, I get outraged when I hear Americans hollering in English in foreign countries. (A favorite cringe-worthy moment was in a Buenos Aires restaurant when I overheard a very audibly Midwestern woman at a table nearby shout at her waiter of her leftovers, “Will you bring this home to your PERRO?”). So I really did want to try and speak the native language. It’s just that it’s hard enough to remember the French I spent 12 years studying, and somehow every time I made an attempt at Spanish, it wound up coming out as some unintelligible Franco-Spanglish hybrid. Occasionally, I’d be able to ask a one-word question of a taxi driver or bartender and then realize that I’d cornered myself into a lengthy response during which I’d nod enthusiastically and smile big until they noticed that I was a complete doofus. Then they’d do their best to repeat it in English, or they’d just give up on me entirely. And somehow this never deterred me from attempting with the next person I’d encounter. Matt, on the other hand, took an entirely different approach which involved saying nothing at all for fear of saying the wrong thing, or asking a question, then pretending to understand the answer and refusing to admit to the speaker that no, in fact, we have absolutely no idea what you just offered to do and are clueless as to how to properly receive whatever it is we just paid you for. Needless to say, it took us a few days to hit our stride.

Luckily, you don't need to speak Spanish to find yourself a glass of wine in BA.

Traveling abroad together revealed another significant difference in our personalities (not that we really need much help there). I guess this isn’t particularly surprising, but as it turns out Matt and I have extremely disparate reactions to luxury. It became immediately apparent when we checked into our first stop, the Four Seasons in Buenos Aires.

You know that scene in Annie when Little Orphan Annie arrives at Daddy Warbucks’s mansion? She’s disheveled, filthy and disoriented, but the instant she steps out of that limousine, she’s swept off her little orphan feet by an army of butlers, window washers, gardeners, chefs, waiters, handmaidens, court jesters, swamis and sommeliers. They dance and sing and scrub her all pretty, feed her and tuck her into 1,000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. One soft-shoe through the cool marble foyer and all memories of Miss Hannigan and the orphanage are gone in the cloud of dust that shakes out of her threadbare smock.

That’s pretty much exactly what it’s like to arrive at the Four Seasons Hotel, except that we, the weary travelers, were the orphans, and Miss Hannigan is that nasty flight attendant who was definitely whacking my elbow on purpose. From the moment we entered, I became acutely aware that every single need I’d ever had would be fulfilled as long as I never left. For god sakes, they organized my toiletries and lined my shoes up in the closet! The walk-in closet! I was awash in feelings of peace, relaxation, and thorough entitlement. It just felt right. Like I was finally home. Bring on the champagne and strawberries! Yes, I DO deserve a massage and some complementary alfajores. Now, where’s my next present? Of course I’d like to take advantage of the personal concierge services. Keep it coming, those rose petals aren’t going to scatter themselves! Matt, naturally, was immediately and immensely uncomfortable. For the first 36 hours, he refused every offer to carry our luggage or open a door. He took guilty bites of our complementary petits fours as I giddily tucked in with abandon. He efficiently ate a restrained bowl of cereal each morning, as I was up and down at the buffet attempting to find every conceivable application for dulce de leche. He would have turned down the guest services manager’s offer of a drink and some restaurant advice had I not bullied…er, talked…him into it. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a brat. But it took me about six seconds to embrace the idea that this is how these people do their jobs, and to refuse them is pointless at best and insulting at worst. Don’t worry, they wore him down with my help, and before long he was as ready to move in as I.

Bring it on, baby.

Excessive pampering aside, we really enjoyed our time in Buenos Aires. We ate wonderfully, for starters. La Brigada, a classic steakhouse that’s actually equally popular with locals as with tourists, served us a 16-inch thick steak that was practically still bleating. The waiter literally cut it with a spoon. We were introduced to provoleta, which is an ingenious dish that consists of a big chunk of grilled provolone cheese and is best served hot and bubbling with a fat, juicy piece of chorizo. I tried authentic empanadas and seven different kinds of alfajores, the popular dulce de leche-filled cookie. We discovered that the trendy restaurants there all seem to subscribe to the theory that diners both love and deserve multiple surprise amuse-bouche. They are correct.

Alfajores numbers four and five. Note I was tackling this challenge alone. I feel all the more accomplished and empowered having succeeded.

I've got a secret, and it involves a forkful of chorizo and melted cheese.

We spent most of our days hoofing it around the city, checking out the neighborhoods and taking in the scenery. I was obliged to purchase TWO pairs of emergency relief shoes. It was really, really, effing hot. The people make Manhattanites look like a bunch of fat losers. We took an overnight trip to the beach at La Barra in Uruguay, where the Brazillionaires roam free and I found myself glaring enviously and mumbling “slut” at the kids who, at twelve or thirteen, are tanner, thinner, and hotter than I can ever hope to look in my life.

An interesting phenomenon in La Barra: EVERYTHING is sponsored. Try and guess what this establishment actually is. I'll give you a hint. It is neither a bar nor a Honda dealership, nor a tanning salon.

Another funny La Barra fact: the shoreline is littered with giant, dead beetles. We took to calling it the Omaha Beach for bugs.

On our return to BA from Uruguay, we arrived at our hotel to find the driveway gated shut. The first bellhop we asked told us that a rock group was staying there, and he couldn’t reveal their name but said with a wink that “they are very METALLIC.” We stared at him blankly. “It’s Metallica,” he said, grinning. I felt my jaw clench. I have held a grudge against Lars Ulrich ever since he led the charge against Napster and cut off my college supply of endlessly streaming free songs. Not to mention I’ve never been a particular fan of his personal brand of music. But now he was tangentially in my life again, and I knew that nothing good could come of it. Sure enough, for the rest of our stay there was an ever-present group of metalheads loitering around the entrance, and the gates created a backlog at the taxi line each night. Our last evening, I was forced to walk — WALK! — to dinner in my high heels up hilly, cracked sidewalks in some seriously frizzy weather. “Lars!” I shouted ruefully, my fist swiping the air. I fantasized about running into him at breakfast so I could air my grievances. Lucky for him, we never met (though we did encounter several of his extremely intimidating-looking roadies), but I know our paths shall cross again. And when they do, I’ll be ready.

Moo.

On that creepy note, I’ll wrap up here. Clearly I can’t fit our entire two-week honeymoon into one post, especially when I find it important to recount stories like the one above. In our next installment, we’ll visit Bariloche, where you’ll hear of our close encounters with death-by-stick-shift and our new stray dog, Kevin. Until then, I wish you a lovely jamon y queso.