An Empire State of Mind

It’s easy to find blogposts and listicles about how important it is to travel in your 20’s. The writers of these posts say inspiring things about how travel builds perspective, travel doesn’t have to be the provence of the rich, travel brings you face to face with people and situations you would never expect. I’ve seen so many of these, some of them with agendas more clearly discernible than others (for instance, there’s one about how girls should travel in their 20’s rather than get married. I have a problem with posts like these simply because they seem to judge those who do choose to get married in their 20’s, which I find a little discomfiting. People should be able to get married whenever the hell they want, and that includes in their 20’s), but rants aside, they all make this one point: travel broadens horizons, and really, you should do it.

I would describe myself as an indifferent traveler. I don’t really enjoy meeting new people all the time, neither do I need to throw myself into particularly ‘exciting’ and ‘new’ experiences in order to find my life enriching and fulfilling (I think I do well enough building and dispensing drama on my own—just ask any of my close friends). Certainly I enjoy seeing famous and touristy places, but my ambition does not include that oft cited by so many people: ‘I want to see the world’.

Having said all this, there are a few places I would like to visit, a short list of countries that includes, for various reasons, Peru, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Morocco, Canada and one particular city: New York.

top-of-the-rock-photo-ispI visited New York for a day in 2009. It was a there and back again trip, consisting of a hurried Chipotle lunch with cousins, a quick trip through the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), three hours standing in line waiting for tickets to a Broadway show at Times Square, hurried gobbling of cheesecake, strolling through a little bit of Central Park—I remember rocks—and then rushing to Majestic Theatre, where I lost my heart to a singing Phantom and his Gothic tunes. We then took a night train back to the domestic haven of New Jersey, and New York and its treats were left behind.

This quick visit was enough to give me what I thought of as a ‘sense’ of the city, and the only word I could use to describe it was ‘life’. The moment I stepped out of Penn Station’s underground caverns and onto the street, I felt an almost electric thrill shoot through me. Here, I thought, is where I want to be. Ever since then I’ve dreamt of walking down fifth, sixth or seventh avenue, clutching a rapidly cooling coffee as I make my way to my skyscraper-housed office. This vision may or may not have been unduly influenced by The Devil Wears Prada movie. Given how much importance that movie and various other NY-based books/TV shows (cough Gossip Girl cough) have in my imagination, I wouldn’t be surprised.

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Totes going to be me some day.

I finally had the opportunity to stay in the Big Apple. I crashed at a close friend’s place on 125th and Broadway (like a true New Yorker, I have learned to locate places based on street and avenue number/name), very close to Columbia University. I took the Subway on my own—woohoo!—and travelled about Manhattan. I met a range of interesting people, old friends and new as the cliche goes, and undertook the grand mission known as ‘finding oneself’. I walked past humongous skyscrapers multiple times, looking up at the windows and wondering when I would sit inside and look out upon the commuters and tourists scurrying below. I stood outside the NewsCorp office for a full five minutes and plotted takeover, even messaged a partner in crime about how we would one day rule the publishing and television world from there. 

I have very small dreams, you see.

New York was everything I dreamed it would be. Granted, I spent only ten days there and didn’t actually have to brave rush hour crowds, eke out a living and pay a humongous rent, so my picture of the city is rather rose-tinted. But it felt, more than anything, like a bigger, more international version of Delhi, perhaps shinier and the teensiest bit safer, in some ways. In other ways, more dangerous.

Perhaps this, its Delhi-like feel, made me even more desperate to be seen as ‘part’ of the city, a true ‘local’. It’s impossible, at a glance, to tell who is from New York. It houses people from every race, every country probably, ever sort of social, economic and religious background. Given the smorgasbord of humanity, it’s easy enough to blend in, be perceived as someone completely at home here. I figured out the easiest way to pass off as a local, i.e, not a clueless tourist (which, whatever I say, I was) was to plaster a confident, vaguely arrogant expression on my face and just stride off in the direction I thought I was supposed to take. Luckily for me, my face assumes this expression almost by default, and even when I took the wrong exit from a subway, quick glances at the street corners enabled me to reroute myself properly.

Why was I so desperate to blend in? Perhaps I just wanted to extend the illusion of being part of the city, convince myself that yes, I am here and I will be here. If people validate this notion, all the better.

Did traveling to New York give me the much vaunted ‘perspective’? Yes. It taught me how very much I want to be seen as successful, creative, a force to be reckoned with—all images one associates, thanks to pop culture, with NYC. More than that, it showed me that I want to be all those things there. I want the skyscraper-housed office, the overpriced coffee, the snootiness of an Upper East or West side address. Impossible to get? Well, like Jay-Z said, ‘If I can make it here/I can make it anywhere’.

Challenge accepted. 

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Bring. It. On.

Revenge Wears Prada

Do you remember the time when Andrea Sachs told her draconian boss (yes, the one played by Meryl Streep) to ‘Fuck off’ in the middle of a Parisian fashion show?

Yeah, I was sure you did. If nothing, you can recall Anne Hathaway throwing a cellphone into a fountain after a one-night-stand-gone-bad with the Mentalist guy.

Apparently Andy’s abrupt departure didn’t sit too well with Miranda, and ten years later, she’s about to serve her former junior assistant some cold revenge.

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‘Revenge Wears Prada’ is the saga of said comeback. Andy and her new BFF Emily (the same girl with the plush British accent in the movie) run a luxury wedding magazine called The Plunge, are married to rich and handsome men and live in style on the Upper East Side. Andy’s husband is Max Harrison, the CEO of a media company, and he’s everything she (or her female readers) have ever dreamed of. Everything looks perfect, except, of course, it doesn’t last.

Enter Miranda Priestly, now Editorial Director of Elias Clarke (and not just Runway). She makes Andy and Emily an offer for The Plunge and all hell breaks loose, with Emily and Max raring to go for it and Andy resisting with all the strength she can muster. Will Miranda win out, as she usually does, or will Andy manage to be the one who gets away for a second time running? You’ll have to RAFO.

I really enjoyed this book. I read the prequel a few months ago (refer to my post, Strapping on that Prada), and found it, while not the most elegantly written of texts, refreshing, entertaining and surprisingly thought-provoking. While the ‘revenge’ here seems a little too long-boiled (meaning, it takes forever for Miranda to enter the scene, and even when she does, she’s annoyingly brief), and hardly the most earth-shattering, the world that Weisberger recreates is arresting enough to compensate for the glacial pace of the storyline. Plus, we get to meet old favourites like Lily, Alex and the ever-flamboyant Nigel and see where the decade has taken them. There’s even a short encounter with, dare I say it, the oh so sexy Christian Collinsworth.

Andy’s journey in Revenge is obviously very different from her experience in the first book. Here she’s an established editor, one who has definitely arrived on the New York fashion scene, handling her own team of (and I snorted here in understanding) entitled young twenty-somethings. Despite her success however, she remains a relateable, girl-next-door type of character, one who cannot dress well enough to impress Emily, who is not ‘posh’ or ‘appropriate’ enough for her snooty mother-in-law, who prefers to snooze under the covers rather than head out to the gym. A jarring difference from the first book is the shifting of perspective–where Devil stuck in first-person, Revenge is told from a third person limited perspective, namely Andy’s.

To put it simply, Revenge does not accomplish much as a story, but what it does do is take your mind off things for a little while by presenting you the world of the rich and famous, replete with fairytale weddings, jilting actresses and closet-fuls of designer clothes (and designers). So if you want a fun and fabulous read, please do go ahead and get your hands on it. Let’s all pretend to be more glitzy than we really are. At least for a couple of days.