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The past several days here in NYC have been just glorious, with warm weather and sunshine finally showing up, giving me freedom from tights and the motivation to spend an exorbitant amount of money for spring-y blond highlights.  There’s no better way to jaunt off to work than tightless, trenched, coffee in hand and to traipse through Washington Square Park en route.

An iconic spot, the arch at Washington Square park is recognizable and has been featured in many movies (and blown-up in some, like that Zombie, world-ending one with Will Smith).  It also graces the jacket, and the title, of Joanne Rendell’s second novel, CROSSING WASHINGTON SQUARE.

“A charming, witty, and cerebral novel.”
-Nicola Kraus, co-author of The Nanny Diaries

Residing solidly in the chick-lit category, this title offers more than just the expected romantic encounters.  Maybe because Rendell has a PhD in English Literature, this book is peppered with references to classics that I felt guilty for not having yet read.  Following a likable, English teacher NYC implant from the South (fittingly, a professor of popular women’s literature), readers sympathize with her character while looking back at their own college days.

Frolicking in front of the arch last summerThe perfect light read for a gorgeous spring day!  As still a relative newcomer to the city myself, I still find cheap amusement in the awareness I have when reading about NYC.  Being able to nod my head and think “yes, yes I know where her apartment is.. that street corner.. that bar” has yet to get old.

Washington Square Park is an iconic, gorgeous attraction not to be missed on your next trip to the city.  There are often performers entertaining the crowds, along with sun bathers, young mothers, and readers on the bench.  It’s under construction now, so I eagerly await the renovations.

If you’re lucky, you may even see a sun-bather, like the picture I was lucky to have snapped last summer:

Cross your fingers for this view!

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The Radiance Tea House & Books -and- The Great Jones Spa

The title should actually be “oases,” since I have plural to share, but let’s just admit the correct form looks funny and doesn’t carry the same impact as the palm-tree, sunshine and calm that “oasis” does.

This was a much anticipated weekend for me, since not only was it extended (thank you, President’s Day), but one of my best friends and much-missed roommate from Chicago was visiting for the first time.

Radiance Tea Room NYC experiences

Beyond the hugs and laughter, booze and bars, shopping and strolling, was an overall fantastic NYC experience (I like to think phase one of her eventual move here).  One of the places we visited (in addition to the New York Public Library – which was gorgeous and inspiring) was the Radiance Tea House & Books.

You all know I fear disappointment, and having been here once before with my Mom and Sister for a tea tasting that was absolutely fabulous, I was nervous that my second experience wouldn’t live up to my very high expectations.

Luckily I was wrong (and I don’t say that often).

The ambiance is tranquil, with moving water, soft scents, colorful accents and tea sets for sale and a book collection – all with Asian overtones.  Charlotte and I shared a pot of tea for two and the best soup I’ve ever tasted. Not being one for extremely healthy bittles, I was skeptical of the all natural, gogi berry, fig, chicken, broth concoction, but my new age-y side came out and I tried it – to find it absolutely delightful and rival the dumplings for my favor.

Now, for the books that compare to this delightful experience are as follows:

  • SHANGHAI GIRLS by Lisa See: Though this book is far from tranquil as it follows the struggles between sisters as they escape China and have to carve out new lives in the different world and culture of LA in the 1930s, it’s an obvious choice due to its Asian focus and the detailed description of culture and color, which immediately bring my rich Tea House experience.
  • LOVE THE ONE YOU’RE WITH by Emily Giffin: The obvious is that much of this chic-lit novel takes place in NYC.  But there’s also the deeper, underlying questioning we women tend to do upon making any big decision, and there’s no better solution than to talk things over with your best friends – hence this choice.
  • I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE CAKE by Sloane Crosley: Another NYC setting, but this one depicts the city in all its reality, told in a fresh and real voice.  Crosley’s essays are relevant, hilarious, often too relatable and she has that enviable skill to be an incredibly talented writer that at the same times makes you feel as if your own stories are worth sharing.

After Charlotte leaves early Monday morning, I lie in bed, drained from our activity and other debauchery.  Luckily, I happened to be swept away on a wonderful date to the rejuvenating oasis of Great Jones Spa.

Armed with PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, a bikini and very pale skin (though luckily, Char and I had indulged in a nail session, so my fingers and toes were appropriately glowing) – we arrived at the “Water Lounge” around 3pm.

Needless to say, it was a decadent experience.  Traipsing between the “River Rock Sauna, Chakra Light Steam Room, Thermal Hot Tub, and Cold Plunge” then relaxing in a chaise reading while wrapped in a fluffy robe it was the perfect way to spend a snowy day off work.

I plan to make this a yearly President’s Day thing – I have no doubt the company may change, but I’m hoping the experience remains the same!

Corresponding reading material:

  • PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen: Though the Bennett sisters lacked the accommodations of the spa, there was plenty of innocent flirting taking place throughout the watery haven.  There’s no better place to read about Jane & her Mr. Darcy than drinking tea under the lights of a fake palm tree.
  • OLIVIA JOULES AND THE OVERACTIVE IMAGINATION by Helen Fielding: Why? Well because it’s fun, frothy and an escape from reality.  Though Fielding does a nice job integrating bigger issues (9/11) into this frolicking tale.  It’s an experience akin to reading The Economist (not kidding, my man friend did) at the spa.
  • ROUGH COUNTRY by John Sandford: Though Virgil Flowers may not be an obvious choice, this hilarious mystery does take part near a women’s spa/camp in Minn.  And Flowers is known for enjoying a relaxing time in his fishing boat, so I don’t doubt he would enjoy the sound of running water here.

Great Jones Spa

Since I’m trying to aggregate multiple loves into one blog (books, brunch, bites and booze), I have a new plan for posting reviews on my City Imbibing page.

  1. I’m first going to write my review on this main page
  2. If the experience lends itself to a book, I will make the connection
  3. I will then add a shortened review to my City Imbibing section
  4. I know this isn’t all that exciting, but it feels like a personal epiphany

My inaugural post now begins –

Shoolbred's

“Get drunk by the fire at Shoolbred’s.  We did that last winter and Fab Moretti showed up.”

— Chris Baio (Vampire Weekend Guitarist)

Shoolbreds: A neighborhood favorite (East Village – 2nd Ave btwn 12th & 13th), this bar is my go-to hangout on these cold winter evenings (afternoons, mornings…).  It boasts four coveted seats by a crackling fireplace (you have to lurk, ready to pounce as soon as the seats are available) as well as a “buy one get a token for another free one” beer and well-drink special from 4-8pm every single day.  Though not included in this special, they make a wonderful hot toddy (may beat my own personal recipe), delicious spinach and artichoke dip and lamb sliders.  Another advantage to the flocked-velvet decor is the lack of tacky illumination due to flickering TV screens – this is moving-picture-free-zone.

My beloved fireplace experiences with Shoolbred’s does lend itself well to Winter-based novels.  Two very different titles immediately come to mind:

  • SNOW ANGELS by James Thompson: I reviewed this in greater detail here, but this thrilling noir mystery set in the very cold, snow covered, 24-hours of darkness country of Finland will make you shiver and have a greater appreciation for the fireplace.
  • NERD GONE WILD: The antithesis of Thompson’s scary debut, this book is in Vicki Lewis’s humorous Nerd Series.  It’s a cozy, quirky romance set in the wildness of Alaska, with endearing character and laughable “enemies.”  This is a total guilty indulgence – get your hand out of that cookie jar and give this a try (hold the neon-colored jacket proudly).
  • THE GLASS CASTLE: Most of you have probably already read this memoir from Jeanette Walls, that became a bestseller after astounded readers all over told their friends about the author’s horrible childhood.  It’s a book that makes you appreciate what you have – and respect those who go without.  At the same time, I hated the book and found it hard not to shake it (as a way to reach the characters), since the parents were so capable and made life hell for their children, when it may not have been necessary to suffer…

I’ll leave you with these pictures our assistant took of Central Park yesterday afternoon, of the “SnOwMG” (she was brave to venture into the weather, while I was safely ensconced at, you know this, Shoolbred’s)-

Central Park 02/10/2010

I want this:

Rowing in Central Park

NOT THIS:

Time for this:

(replace cold looking drink with hot toddy)

Thank you, dear work, for closing your doors to the elements at 3pm.  Time to go trek home and warm up in front of the gasping radiator, with a hot toddy and a good book (title tbd).

For those others of you heading home early on this wintery Wednesday, I suggest you make my simple hot toddy too!  Make tea (anything black tea works – I personally like mango and lemon, through raspberry wasn’t horrible), add a splash (“splash” is at your whim) of whiskey, lemon juice and a dose of honey, and watch the flakes swirl down.

I know this is rather a cop-out, but since I like to think so many of you are worried about me in my blogging absence I didn’t want to be a total failure!

Week in recap

Reading:

  • SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT by Beth Hoffman – very sweet novel of a young girl growing up surrounded by strong women.  Reminiscent of THE HELP, though not as epic.  Worth picking up – Beth Hoffman is an author to watch!
  • IMPERFECT BIRDS by Anne Lamott – My first experience with Anne Lamott, but I now understand why she has such a huge, devoted fan base.   A tough story to read about family struggles, mainly with a mom and her daughter doing drugs.  Will be sending to my own mom so she can better appreciate just how well-behaved I really was in high school! Will be available April 6, from Riverhead
  • THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusak – I’ve read several WWII novels lately, and this title (told from the perspective of Death), may be my favorite.  I also highly suggest another recent read, CITY OF THIEVES (which my friend Max guest-blogged about last month).
  • Also worth noting, this coming Tuesday, 2/9, marks the release of the highly anticipated THE POSTMISTRESS by Sarah Blake – a novel based on three women with intersecting lives in the time of WWII.  This deserves a far better written review, but since I am incapable of doing such high-level things at the moment, I invite you to wander on over to Serendipitous Reading and KellyVision for their takes (if you’ve also written a review, I’d love for you to leave your link!)

Imbibed (to be filed, eventually, in my “city-imbibing” page):

  • My roommate Liz and I have a couch-sleeper for a bit, and we went out to celebrate her return to NYC with our favorite sushi restaurant, Typhoon, which happens to conveniently be located two store fronts from our apartment.  During the week all sushi is 50% off and it is delicious.  I can’t recommend highly enough the green tea fried ice cream to top off the meal!
  • Drank: a delicious Red Rhone Wine, courtesy of my classy and cultured OUB & OAD.  I’ve been informed the grapes are from Italy – the wine was so tasty I would really like to go pick some of my own grapes from the countryside.
  • Nothing like some Spanish dancing to kick off Friday early (and by early, I mean late on  Thursday night).  I have no rhythm, but after several mojitos at the Meat Packing’s Son Cubana, even I could merengue!  The food was fabulous (the goat cheese croquettes were to die for) and the live band made it feel quite exotic.

Also, in my total nerdy, authors-as-celebrities mind, I got to meet Chang-rae Lee!!!!!!!!!!  If you’ve never experienced his writing, I highly suggest you pre-order his upcoming novel THE SURRENDERED and prepare yourself to become totally immersed.

I took this picture myself - one lucky photographer!

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