Rain-tossed days like yesterday are when I best love working at home–not only because I’m not drenched by the commute, but because it’s like being high up in a jungle canopy, with the branches whirling and leaves clattering on the tree outside our window.
But around noon, I realized that I was due on the Upper East Side for lunch with a friend, so I pulled out my rain boots and ran for the station.
The only time I go north of 59th Street (outside Central Park) is when J. and I meet at the Czech Center for concerts or exhibits, so it seems fairly otherworldly to me. It’s the New York of movies, with manicured sidewalks and elegant brownstone facades. And everyone seems to be French. J. dreams of moving there, but my myopic view of the UES prevents me from understanding how slouchy, gaucho-panted, coupon-clipping ol’ me would survive.
My friend and her husband are renovating their apartment, and she invited me up for a look. It’s a beautiful space, with a balcony and great views, and it reminded me of renovating our apartment in Prague. We ripped out the kitchen in our place (a 1972 time capsule worthy of the Museum of Culinary Torture), and never did a wall look so lovely as did that blank spot. (Well, it looked lovely until we realized we’d have to drill through a foot of concrete to install wiring for the range, and eventually the wiring for the lighting was routed through the bathroom, which is the sort of renovation horror-story you think will never happen to you. Then it began to look wholly unlovely.)
We headed back out in the rain, and to lunch at Petaluma, where Sandra had spinach gnocchi so feathery, they put to shame any other gnocchi I’ve ever had, and I ordered ravioli stuffed with veal, crushed amaretti, and raisins, scattered with fried sage leaves. We talked about past lives in other parts of the world (Sandra grew up in Panama and did a Cordon Bleu degree in London) and how, coming back to the U.S. after a while away, you still live, obliviously, with all the adaptations and ad hoc expat tricks you invented abroad. (Case in point: when I came face-to-face with ready-made pie crust a few weeks ago and stood with the freezer-case door open in awe as clouds of icy air rolled out into the aisle and into the manager’s peeved gaze.)
“Dessert?” asked the waitress, but we were too busy talking about how to put to work Sandra’s vast culinary knowledge, and my ability to make halfway-decent biscotti and write about it. When she came by again, I asked the waitress if we could just look at the dessert menu. (Vicarious desserting is a hobby of mine.)
Across the street, the chef of a Japanese restaurant stood in the doorway with his arms crossed over a long white apron, watching rain-slickered delivery men dart down the street on their bikes, through the rain. One waiter circled around our table, and then another, but we didn’t do anything about the dessert menu, and sat, talking and inhaling the smell of roast pork coming from the kitchen.
Lunch–especially lunch with friends–is good for the soul.