New York, New York, be still my heart

There are three places on earth where I feel most myself: London. The south coast of England (specifically Mudeford and Kimmeridge bay). And New York City. This last one was and wasn’t a surprise to me. I’m English to the very roots of my being, yet when I walk through the streets of NYC it’s like I’m following echoes of a past lfe — or a future life yet to be. I’ve visited three times now and on each visit I sink deeper into the energy of the place. I never seem to need a map (though that’s not remarkable — the place is pretty easy to get around) and, hilariously, people always stop me to ask for directions. My head and heart feel wide open over there. I’m expanded. Even now my heart aches just thinking about the place.

Comparing London and NYC is like comparing apples and oranges. The’re both fruit and they both taste delicious, but they are unique unto themselves. London is big and majestic, with pockets of cool scattered all over the city. New York Manhattan is more intense, an explosion of life that pulses to it’s own distinct beat. I find both cities intoxicating, though, of course, London is now home, and with that daily familiarity comes a bit of ambivalence. It doesn’t help that I rarely get a chance to go into town, trips out limited to the supermarket and the gym.

Visiting NYC for 5 days was exactly the shot in the arm I needed after the last few months of getting back on my feet. I stayed in the East Village in a studio apartment I found through AirBnB. Have you tried the site yet? It was my first time and I found it really easy to make the booking, the flat was lovely, plus it was considerably cheaper than a hotel. I ate lunch out every day, ordered take away in the evening and cobbled together a picnic breakfast in the morning (the apartment didn’t have a kitchen, but it did have an excellent coffee maker!) I loved having a little home in the city for a few days — made my dream of living in NYC one day feel so much closer.

While there I got to spend some time with some treasured gal pals, fell madly in love with the Lower East Side and finally explored downtown, including the 9/11 memorial site. For some reason I had it in my head that the site would still be rubble, but they’re not only building four new buildings, they’ve also finished the memorial park. Just being in the area made me emotional, imagining how it must have been as the towers fell and the streets filled with dust and rubble. I was working for a national newspaper when the planes hit, and remember watching it all happen live on TV while the whole office exploded into action. It was utterly surreal. It’s always saddened me that I never made it to NYC before 2001, so it felt important to pay my respects.

I stood for half an hour beside the pool with tears streaming down my face, empathy levels off the charts. As I pulled myself together to leave I found it odd seeing other visitors taking photos of themselves beside the pool, grinning inanely into the camera. I know everyone deals with these sorts of places in their own way, but I honestly wanted to take them to one side and point out that this wasn’t a tourist attraction. It’s a memorial. And these weren’t just foreign tourists, either. But who knows what was going on for those people. I slowly made my way out and spotted the gift shop. For a millisecond I wondered if this wasn’t tasteless too, but I actually appreciated flicking through the books and reading the timeline written on the walls. And when I saw a set of model FDNY trucks I knew I had to buy them for Noah. It made me smile to have the thought of him with me in a place that had been witness to so much sadness. Suddenly the postcards and mugs made sense — we have to remember.

Last year I travelled a lot for work, so it was so nice to be able to just enjoy the city without any other pressing engagements. Walking around New York on my own with just my iPhone* and journal was my idea of heaven. I often talk about how taking photographs is like meditation for me and never was it more so than on those dirty fabulous streets. I wasn’t thinking about where else I needed to be; I wasn’t wondering if there was something better around the corner. I was absolutely 100% present, looking around me and drinking it all in. I take just as many photographs here at home, but there’s nothing like walking down unfamiliar streets to reinvigorate your creative mojo. My head was exploding the whole time. I loved it.

* On a sidenote, I’d decided not to take my SX-70 or DSLR with me, wanting instead to roam the streets without feeling like a mule carrying a ton of camera gear. THIS WAS SO THE RIGHT DECISION. I adore my cameras, don’t get me wrong, but oh how I loved carrying a small bag with just a lipstick, a journal, my iphone and my wallet. I took hundreds of photos, because that’s what I do, but I didn’t need millions of pixels, and I’d shot plenty of Polaroids in the city last year. This trip was purely for FUN, embracing lightness and simplicity and ease, three qualities I now want more of at home. It was the best birthday present I could have given myself.

And speaking of home, one of the nicest things about being away was realising that this place — this flat, this city — really does feel like home now. I needed to be far away, in a place I love just as much, to appreciate what it is I’m building here. A new life. A future. And maybe one day I’ll realise my dream of living in both cities, living the LON-NY life.


As a few people have asked, here are some of the shopping/food highlights from the trip:

Le Labo – gorgeous perfumes
Erica Tanov – accessories to die for
Blue Stockings – brill book store
Narnia – vintage goodness
Assembly – fashion chic
Maryam Nassir Zadeh – ditto
Beautiful Dreamers – great accessories
Malin + Goetz – perfume oils!
CO Bigelow – perfume!

Aurora – Brooklyn brunch
Stand – great burgers
Bare Burgers — even better burgers
Digg Inn — healthy fast food
Pastis – obviously
And there was this great pulled pork sandwich I had for lunch in the Chelsea Market but, alas, i can’t remember the name of the place. It was so good!

Memories from the sea

This was the moment, when I spoke my wishes to the wind and threw a pebble into the ocean.

This is the dead house that we loved to photograph.

These are the women who made my week 100x more wonderful.

These are the sweet souls who took my class on the Thursday.

This is the moment we paused to make coffee.

The was when nature showed her true majesty.

This is how my class participants connected with each other.

This is how the day began, every day, for four days. Bliss.

These are the sweet souls who took my class on the Friday. We all loved Bettie.

This is peek at gallery night.

This is when Elizabeth danced in the ocean.

This is likely the last time I’ll have sand on my toes for a while…

Next stop… LONDON!

Embracing what we ARE

I spent a few days in Italy last week attending Squamitalia. I wasn’t teaching a class so the plan was to just chill my boots and take a painting class with the very lovely Flora. I did some painting back in the day at art college, and have dabbled here and there over the years, but I had no expectations for the class other than it might be fun to mess around with paint on a hillside in Abruzzo.

Here’s what I discovered: I am not a painter.

Not that I ever thought I was, you understand, but there must have been some small assumption floating around in my sub-conscious that because I am so creative in most areas of my life the painting thing would probably come naturally to me.

Well, it didn’t.

In fact, it totally sucked.

Sure, I got some nice colour-combinations and had fun splodging paint on in a random way. But when we switched from random to doing something with a bit more intention, it suddenly became difficult. There was no ease. The paints were too dry, or not the right colours, or maybe I couldn’t figure out what the right colours were. The paper felt too big. I tried to let go and painted over bits I liked only to regret it. I felt like a monkey wearing boxing gloves. It was ungainly and awkward and not fun at all. It was frustrating and annoying and I didn’t like being a beginner.

Just as I was remembering what it was like to be a beginning blogger the other week, I was once again presented with an opportunity to start at the beginning of something I do not know how to do. And maybe I could improve if I painted twenty, thirty, forty more paintings. But here’s the coolest thing I got from the entire experience: I really don’t want to. When I finally realised this I wanted to whoop and shout and jump in the air:


I don’t have to be good at this because I’m good at other things… things that bring me a lot of joy and satisfaction and contentment. When I realised that I didn’t have to finish the painting, that I didn’t have to try to be better at it, I honestly just wanted to run to my laptop and cameras and hug them tightly. I have my own beloved tools and the love I felt for them in that moment was big and profound :)

So, once again, the teacher had to learn to be the beginner. There’s been a lot of that happening this year and it always sloughs off a few more layers. I certainly wasn’t expecting my painting to be perfect, but I hadn’t been prepared for the discomfort; it dovetailed perfectly with what’s been bubbling in my head lately, the fears around this next stage of my life and the general fatigue I’ve been dancing with these last months. There were a few tears, and friends to witness them, which was just what i needed.

Italy was sunshine-y and gorgeous and I was happy to discover I still remember a few Italian words and phrases (though considering I spent 10 years with an Italian boyfriend you would have thought I’d know more, but anyways…). The retreat was fabulous, as they always are when Elizabeth spins her magic, bringing together like-minded souls and inspiring teachers (Flora was truly amazing, holding the space for us all and sharing her process without being intimidating in the slightest — I bow down before her paint brushes!). If there’s a Squamitalia next year I highly recommend signing up if you can — you won’t regret it.

Below: my classmates — you guys rocked it! xx

Last photo by Elizabeth