The most extraordinary theatrical experience of my life has to be, without a doubt, Sleep No More. Taking place in a fictional hotel, The McKittrick Hotel (from Hitchcock’s Vertigo) in the 1930s, it is an interactive version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth where you follow any character of your choosing around the different rooms of the hotel.
According to our tickets, the hotel was completed in 1939 and was intended to be New York City’s finest and most decadent luxury hotel. However, six weeks before opening, and two days after the outbreak of World War II, the legendary hotel was condemned and left locked, permanently sealed from the public. Until they re-opened in 2013.
Doormen with guests lists let you in and you have to leave your jackets, bags and phones in the coatroom before being handed your hotel key, stylishly in the form of a red card from a deck of cards. I got Jack of Clovers. Then you enter the bar where they serve champagne and absinth whilst smooth jazz is played in the background. Gorgeous men in dapper suits and side-combed hair welcome you, give you a white mask and make you feel oh-so comfortable. Sipping our absinth drinks I noticed something very peculiar: none of the faces around me where lit up by screens! There was no tweeting, no tagging and no photos. Couples were at a loss! Now all we have is each other. Good.
Madeleine, our hostess, took us to the next level where all masks had to be put on. The mask assures your anonymity and your role as an active bystander. You are never to interact with the actors, but simply follow them around expressionless, a bit like in Eyes Wide Shut.
The actors were phenomenal! They danced and grunted their way through fifty different rooms and you were free to venture off on your own and admire the incredible scenography. I’m not going to lie, it was at times rather creepy such as the room with the be-headed dolls hanging around a cradle, the grave yard with an abandoned stroller, the children’s mental hospital complete with straight-jackets, with crucifixes and crosses everywhere. The music was perfect for each environment and at one point I forgot all about the actors and simply adventured around, on my own most of the time, from room to room. One of the actors/ scenes (when I found my way back to the action) that touched me the most was a beautiful woman in a red dress that mimed to a distorted version of Tony Bennett’s Is That All There Is?
It truly was an extraordinary experience and what was even more fantastic was that everyone had a different idea of what had happened as everyone saw different parts of the play. One girl I chatted to saw the scene of the witch-burning whilst I saw the King’s death scene (twice actually, I got lost at one point). Afterwards we all met up at the bar, listened to a fantastic Ella Fitzgerald-esque singer performing heartwarming tunes whilst the champagne flowed amongst the guests. I would definitely go back and do it all again! I kept the mask and my plan to wake up my housemates wearing it is on a hungover Sunday.
Ordering coffee at Starbucks is a bit like playing an improvised game of scrabble. Letters appear for no apparent reason and do very little to communicate anything that might resemble a name. Today, however, there was a breakthrough. One my 125th coffee order in the US I got this:
Internally the angels sang and I felt that me and the barrista had finally broken the last barrier of miscommunicatipn. Gone were Tiffany, Murual, Mierum and Macca, and remaining is only Miriam. Finally.
It didn’t take more than a couple of minutes before I had fallen in love with this amazing city. Unlike Paris and London, New York and it’s skyscrapers reminds you how much space you have to breathe and be in. It is certainly crowded, but there was something about the height of the buildings that made me feel like I had plenty of space, for both body and mind. Before leaving DC I had been warned of the enormity and pulse of New York and how stressful it would be. Not to me, I felt alive and energised by the city. I was also warned that the Subway-system was near-impossible to understand and even though I assured them that I have worked in London, and if you can navigate around the tube you can pretty much navigate your way to Neptune and back. Alas, I was repeatedly told that it was ‘crazy complicated’. Now, my dear colleague is from rural Indiana, so I can understand that metropol maps can be a little bit overwhelming, but as I stood in front of the straightforward colour- and number-coded Subway map the following thought plopped up in my head repeatedly:
Oh, I’m being nasty now!
Anyways. I had a great time in this amazing city and the feeling that left the strongest mark (apart from the sheer size) was how human and organised it felt. Unlike London and Paris, which have both grown organically, New York has straight lines, is built on height and has a very planned feeling about it. This gives it a more tamed urban feeling than European cities usually have. Not that London, Paris or Stockholm hasn’t had any planning behind them, of course they have, but they are older and seem more.. entangled. New York really is the crowning achievement of the new world where human ambition, creativity, planning and lunacy thrives.
Luckily, I had a guide with me: Angelica, fellow intern and proud Canadian. We took a four hour bus ride from DC and arrived safely to my friend Erik’s apartment on 62 Street on the Upper East Side (life is tough etc, etc). This lovely tree lined street lies between Park and Lexington Avenues and is a New York postcard with exquisite townhouses and romantic stoops. We stayed at Erik’s for two nights and then it was three nights at the ‘International Hostel’ on the Upper West side. The last time I stayed in a hostel I think I was 19, naive and in Australia, which explains why I thought it was such an ‘amazing experience’. As a grumpy old lady in my mid-twenties I was boiling with anger when the German/South African/Wherever girls came in around midnight, sat on their beds chatting loudly and being completely oblivious to the fact that there were ten other girls asleep in the room. I secretly prayed that they would get horrible blisters the day after, because that’s how lovely I am. I wanted to roar out an american: DO YOU MIND?! But as no one else said anything I thought they didn’t mind. Bunk-pressure.. Thank the Lord for ear-plugs! Angelica was sure she got bitten by bed bugs during the night and the breakfast was terrible, but on the whole experience wasn’t too bad. It was a place to sleep that was easy to get to and cheap, there is a small victory in that.
First picture taken in New York! This was my first ‘wow’ moment as the taxi was taking us from the station to Erik’s.
We kicked off our busy schedule with a walk to Grand Central station and took far too many touristy pictures.
Here’s another one:
Queen of the station and assumed by bystanders to be insane with megalomaniac tendencies.
Angelica and the beautiful outside wall of Tiffany’s. THE Tiffany’s where Audrey had her Danish and coffee on a red day. I have never seen gem stones sparkle as they did there! It was almost blinding and so shiny that up to a point I almost thought that they were fake. On the second floor they have ‘engagement rings, pearls and celebratory jewelry- welcome to heaven’ (as the lady in the elevator said) and we stumbled upon this discreet darling for a mere $3.9m..
Angelica’s first comment? ‘How many african children had to die for this?’. So with both feet firmly planted on the ground we continued to Times Square. By now the rain was pouring down and there was a clear risk of being blinded by the drops when trying to look up at the buildings and bill boards. Note to self: Bring goggles when touristing on a rainy city.
It’s all about making the most out of a rainy day.
During the first two days it poured down and was windy enough to deter Mary Poppins. So, one can say that during this stay I have been both physically and mentally blown away (you get the title now? he he..).
At Mary’s Fish Camp on Charles street we had an amazing dinner! It’s a ‘whole in the wall’ place where you can, as the sign says, go oyster-crazy. I’m not too fond of oysters but I had an extraordinary soy-salmon with Israeli saffron couscous. Ah, my mouth waters just thinking about it!
Lovely Angelica with her magical smartphone that found us some amazing restaurants and bakeries.
Nom nom nom!
We strolled around the West Village, Soho and Greenwich (so lovely!) and had sushi from Blue Ribbon, cupcakes from the Magnolia Bakery and went vintage shopping at Patricia Fields‘ store. Entering the store was a litte bit how imagine what a circus-orgasm would be like; colours, art work, stylists of non-determined gender but whom all laughed and sparkled, a Siamese shop-cat who ignored you, leather stuff you had no idea on which body-part they would go on and stuffed parrots. It was an experience.
No, I don’t know what’s going on either. This one is even more confusing:
Is it telling us that it’s all about accessorizing? That we all lose our minds? Or is just ‘cool’.
Like a boss.
Shop dog/rat and fashionista named Barbie, gracing me with a photo
Posing with my vintage find from the 70s! I feel like I can just step into a Wes Andersen movie in this.
The best pizza this side of the Atlantic can without a doubt be found at Keste. Delicious! The owner, Alessandro, upon hearing that I work in DC gave me his business card and ordered me to go and try out the pizzas at ‘2 Amy’s’ and report back wether or not they are better. I guess I can do that!
Canada Fuck Yeah! After our pizza-dinner we went to a wonderful bar with a 1920s theme where you describe yourself a little bit and then the bartender mixes a drink after your personality. I asked for something that would match my dress and was given a spicy mojito- yes!
We made some new friends..
..and posed by Times Square, as one does. Such a wonderful calm place to gather one’s thoughts..
Bryant Park is one of my favourite spots in New York so far. A small green gem in front of the New York Public Library where yo can sit, relax, play chess, ping pong or just soak up the sun (provided the sun shines, which it finally did on day 2!!).
The big test to travel companions boils down to, according to me, two criteria: wether or not you’re comfortable with there being moments (long or short) of silence AND if you can part for a while and do your own thing. Angelica and I tick both boxes, so when she wanted to go to the Guggenheim Museum, I ventured to Brooklyn and Williamsburg. Wonderfully young and hipster Williamsburg! The entire area had an atmosphere of the morning after a really great night out; relaxed, a little bit smelly and bruised but in a great mood. I met up with my dear old colleague from Stockholm, Claudio and his fiancé Mikael for some Brooklyn Weiss (delicious summer beer), oysters and truffle-fried fries with parmesan and a chat about when New York will become it’s own country.
As always, Jesus is there to save you. This time in a rock-song. Kept me company before my train came.
Later, back on Manhattan: It’s a hard-knocked-life strutting down Fifth Av.
Another ‘wow’-moment: Chrysler Building!
I have about a million photos from this amazing Memorial Weekend away, where 90% are of skyscrapers and weird poses next to buildings/signs/random bystander, but I’m not going to bore ya’ll with those. Instead, it’s time for this lady to sign out, go and wash the city off her face and go to bed, but I would like to end with the words: New York, I love you.
By now I’ve settled in quite well in DC, so it’s time to broaden the vision, aim for the sky and ride towards the horizon: New York! This weekend away was originally suppose to be timed with Fleet Week. You know, when the US Navy decides to throw a gigantic party and half the city gets chlamydia over the weekend. This year however, Fleet Week got cancelled. CANCELLED! This was Angelica’s reaction:
Part of me is of course disappointed (just imagine the photos), but the more reasonable part of me understands that I would probably have very little in common with a twenty-year old, spotty lad from Alabama and any sort of interaction would be a waste of time. Still. I would have liked one of their hats as a souvenir.
So excited!! I want to walk until my feet bleed, eat bagels and brownies, strain my neck and have cosmopolitans until I’m pink!
One might notice a general pattern in my after work activities:
Thursday was no different with $2 Coronas and a bar full of DC Embassy Interns (mostly from Europe) it was more or less like an Erasmus party at University. Only now we are a bit older and don’t have the same stamina as in our youth. I hung out with some interns from the Finnish and Swiss Embassies, which I invited for my Eurovision Song Contest party (old habits die hard and it will take more than an ocean to separate me form Eurovision). Suddenly the room goes quiet and the Swiss intern says with a hint of disgust/jealousy in his voice: “Oh here comes the French”. And boy did they! Looking like a Parisian-dream team, the interns were all tall, slender, stylish and smoking. No facial expressions were wasted and one even came on a vespa. They were fantastic! International rules applied for the evening and everyone had to speak English, except for when it was time to split the bill. Magically, no one understood one and another and in the end a poor Frenchman had to cover part of the Finns’ bill. Two Finnish ladies had left and instead of their fellow interns paying for them and then get reimbursed today at the office, the Finns refused to pay and declared it loudly in Finnish, leaving the Frenchman (who claimed he worked in the ‘fancy department’ at the embassy, what does that even mean?! ) with their bill. And we wonder why the world can’t get along? All in all it was a very good evening that resulted in a pile of business cards and an invite to a roof top party tonight! I have decided to bring one of the bro’s, Mike, with me for a ‘other countries exist outside of the US’- crash course. Before that though, this lady needs a disco nap..