We stayed at The Chelsea Hotel our first night, legendary flophouse for the likes of Patti , Janis, Sid, Edie, and Leonard. Our room was the very definition of overpriced shabby-chic. Not to mention the native authenticity of drunk artists loudly schmoozing in the hallways at 1 a.m.
I wondered, as I usually do on a holiday, if I’d ever relax. Work was like a vapour constantly trailing me. What’s more, it was a few years since The Feminist Lawyer and I had traveled together. She recently experienced the loss of her best friend and travel companion, and I could feel how much she missed him. It seemed my company would never measure up. But she did seem to brighten when my niece The Redheaded Busker showed up to join us for dinner.
Next door, old-school Spanish restaurant El Quijote (it used to be attached to the hotel) charmed us with its original flocked wallpaper, red leather booths and its incredible retro homemade salad dressings (blue cheese, Italian and vinaigrette). The paella was weary and oversalted; Feminist Lawyer, a staunch vegetarian, had the best meal, really: olives, manchego cheese, stuffed mushrooms, and marinated white asparagus.
The days passed in a blur of museums, subways, shopping, and long conversations with Redheaded Busker. She’s recording an album, and new, fresh hope emanates from her.
One day, Redheaded Busker and I floated through the MOMA looking at a show of women photographers. We stood in front of Dorothy Lange’s infamous “Migrant Workers” and I told her the back story on the photo, how its publication helped to bring relief money to the migrants, and how the subject of the photo never got paid a cent and wished it had never been taken.
Redheaded Busker asked me about her childhood. I described how she used to zoom around her Halifax neighbourhood in her red tricycle, artists and drunks keeping an eye on her. How she’s always brought joy to people: how, when I brought her over to my co-op house on Bishop Street, the snobby architecture students melted when she was around. She’s wide-eyed when I tell her all this: Really Marus? The city’s beaten her down a little bit. Hanging with me and The Lawyer, eating some good food, seemed to cheer her up.
That evening, I had the best margarita of my life (red hibiscus ) at Casa Mezcal, a Mexican bar in the Lower East Side. I was alone, absorbing all the sounds and flavours of the day (Glenn Ligon retrospective at The Whitney, noodles at a tiny soba restaurant, shopping on Orchard Street). My back ached. It had been hard to relax, and my travel companion and I weren’t always getting along.
By the time Redheaded Busker showed up it was well past the time I needed to eat. I’m. This. Close. To. A. Meltdown. I told her. I ignored all her suggestions for healthy raw food restaurants and dragged her to a place I’d read about, Sorella, which features regional Piedmontese cuisine.
We sat at the sleek bar, cute laid-back retrosexual men serving us. I inhaled my “Tajarin” – skinny housemade pasta with lamb-pistachio-mint ragu. Busker had the pork ragu but preferred mine. She ordered a cheese plate for dessert, chatted with one of the retrosexuals, also a musician, about the busking life. That’s. The. Kind. Of. Guy. You. Should. Date. I said, faux-sternly. Oh. Marus. sighed The Busker. He’s. Just. Not. My. Type.
We talked some more, then headed out. We passed blinking ornage and pink neon signs and yellow-lit windows of walk-up apartments. Redheaded Busker called a friend living nearby and he waved at us from his window, a silhouette against a TV-blue background. I could feel my spine loosening up, and air entering my body, for the first time in days.