Growing up I didn't have a lot of birthday parties or super-fancy gifts but I don't believe a single birthday went by without a cake, candles, a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday and generally a scoop of ice-cream and maybe a game of heavy, heavy hang-over. Consequently, regardless of whatever else transpires on the anniversary of my birth, a birthday never feels quite right until I blow out the candles.
This year my birthday fell on a Saturday but I was lucky enough to get an early start. On Monday night I received a text from my friend Brooke offering me a chance to go to the Sigur Ros concert with her at MoMA Tuesday night. If you aren't familiar, Sigur Ros is an Icelandic band Emily introduced me to just before my trip to Iceland last summer. I fell completely in love with them as my sister and I circled the Ring Road listening to their haunting melodies. I had tried to purchase tickets but they sold out within about two minutes of going on sale so I was elated when Brooke offered me her extra ticket.
We arrived at MoMA (a short walk across the street) about an hour before the show which gave us plenty of time to wander through the Olafur Eliasson exhibit. The exhibit is comprised primarily of light installations which gave the experience a semi-dream quality which is both difficult for me to describe and even more difficult to capture on camera, but I tried:
The orangey-flourescent lights in the below photo was hard on the eyes but somehow invoked the drudgery of long, dark winters without natural light even though I have never experienced them.
My favorite installationpiece in the exhibit is entitled Your strange certainly still kept. The piece is comprised of a completely black room with throbbing strobe lights with a thin strip of falling water in the middle of the darkened, flashing room. Turning the corner into this blackened room with only flashes of light and the sporadic dripping of water was reminiscent of last summer's drive through the fog to Dettifoss. It made me want to go back.
I also really liked Space Reversal which is a nook platform on which you can view your reflection in never-ending mirrors both above and below and in front and behind you. Which can be awkward in a dress. There was a line to step onto the platform and while Brooke and I were enjoying our unending selves, I noticed the view from below and advised Brooke not to look up my skirt to which a man waiting for his turn quickly replied "I wasn't." Or was he . . . .? I also liked this swinging fan called Ventilator.
We lucked out with a prime viewing position on the third floor, just below the helicopter, looking down at the stage set up for Sigur Ros. Despite some grumblings from hipsters and angsty artistic types behind us, we stood our ground leaning over the rail and soaking in the spectacular show that radiated from below. And I do not choose the word radiated lightly. This concert is definitely landing somewhere in my top 5 list of all time best concerts, were I to ever sit down and create such a list. I was riveted. The staging, the haunting sounds, the lighting. I couldn't get enough. It dragged me back to Iceland on a wave of nostalgia, to my sister and me making our way around the country in constant awe at the ever-changing beauty of the scene outside our window.
Here is the view Brooke and I had of the show:Okay, so that was a bit zoomed, but our regular view was pretty amazing as well:
And the the view the show had of our beaming faces:
Continuing the birthday festivities on Wednesday as I was returning to my office from a trip down the hall one of the secretaries asked why I was getting flowers. I had no idea, although I did suspect my mom was behind it. As I thought, my mom decided to send me flowers early for my birthday so I could enjoy them throughout the week. And I am still enjoying the last remnants of them on my desk today - bright orange gerber daisies, tulips and tiger lilies.
On Thursday I received a package in the mail - also from my mother - containing two small wrapped boxes. In a misunderstanding on the phone I thought she said I could open them while my mom thought she was only granting me permission to open the mailing envelope. Consequently, I was able to unwrap a pair of silver earrings a couple of days early but left the companion box from my sister unopened.
Friday night after work I attended a cocktail party for work on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum featuring the Jeff Koons on the Roof exhibit. Despite a threat of rain, the weather held out beautifully and I was able to wander around the exhibit with the backdrop of the sun setting over Central Park. It was pretty crowded most of the time but we stayed until the end and I managed to take a couple of quick pics of my two favorite sculptures - I especially love the Balloon Dog.
Friday night I had another package waiting for me and talked my mom and my sister into allowing me to open everything early . . . because it was more fun to open presents with both of them on the phone and when would I have a chance to talk to them tomorrow? As I suspected, my sister had given me a coordinating piece of jewelry to match the earrings from my mom - a fantastic silver bracelet. My sister and I then spent an hour or so laughing on the phone over this ridiculous website. It made us laugh so hard I felt like we were sitting on the couch next to each other, which made me miss having her around and want the next week or so until her visit to NYC to arrive sooner.
Uncharacteristically, I woke up early Saturday morning (meaning about 830, but I was up until 1 or so). Not uncharacteristically I simply moved myself from my bed to the couch and watched reruns of 90210, my favorite guilty pleasure, I will not lie. I had a brunch date at noon so I didn't spend too much time lazing around. I met JooYun at the Rocking Horse Cafe in Chelsea which reminded me of the oft-joked about short story by D.H. Lawrence - "The Rocking Horse Winner" - we had to read in sophomore English. It was my first introduction into sexual symbolism and I was shocked by the whole thing. Which is probably why I still remember it so well all these years later.
Post-brunch Joo and I did our usual shopping rounds. I used up the gift card from my parents to William-Sonoma and purchased some knives I have been eyeing for years. Sadly, they are still in their box. I need to buy some tomatoes or something equally fun to slice. Maybe avocado!
Despite being a moderate summer day with temps only reaching 85, my usual weekend fatigue set in and the heat dragged me down so I returned home for some relaxation time to gear up for my self-planned birthday night out. I spent the afternoon lying in the grass on my roof 40 floors above the City with a light breeze and a plentiful helping of sunshine. I snacked and read and closed my eyes and listened to my ipod and continually applied sunscreen until my sister called and I headed back to my apartment to get ready to go out.
I had dinner with three unconnected friends at Kum Gang San in Korea town. We enjoyed Korean barbeque and chatted over kimchee, tofu and the 20 little dishes of tidbits that come with your meal. After dinner it was on to karaoke where another 4 or 5 friends joined us. I had a great time singing and laughing and ignoring that I am another year older.
Here is a pic of the whole group post-singing our guts out:
And those of us with endurance, pressed on for dessert at Max Brennar which is essentially a real-life take on Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory complete with pipes of chocolate running across the ceiling and the pungent aroma of chocolate in the air. I ordered the Chocolate Mess which was described thusly:
All I will say is they weren't lying about the whipped cream. Oh, and honestly, it was far too sloppy for me.
"This warm chocolate cake can be eaten with spatulas straight from the pan. It is topped with ice cream (dark, milk, white chocolate or vanilla), toffee bananas and a mountain of whipped cream with candied hazelnut crunchy bits on top. Served with additional chocolate chunks, toffee cream and warm chocolate sauce on the side."
It was a fun night out and an enjoyable birthday. Of course, that being said, the next morning I couldn't help but reflect on my 33rd birthday and feel a bit empty. You see, I am one of those strange people who actually enjoys the obnoxious attention thrust upon people on their birthday - having a restaurant full of strangers sing, being asked to dance on the table with a tambourine (my 25th thank you very much), dancing with the waiter to a full mariachi band . . . bring it on! I remember going out to dinner for my brother's birthday once when he turned 9 or 10. The restaurant had a miniature train set running along a shelf up near the ceiling around the entire place. The server dragged my brother out of his seat and made him choo-choo (or something) around the room with the entire staff leading everyone in happy birthday. My brother was mortified. And I was jealous. I never got to do anything so exciting as have a whole restaurant sing to me! So I'm an attention seeker. . . big deal, obviously someone has to be, right? Well, since I planned the party myself I wasn't getting that kind of crazy birthday embarrassment thrust upon me. And while I had a great time and received some beautiful snapdragons from Wendy, a red velvet cupcake from Brooke and a beautiful Breakfast and Brunch cookbook from Alison . . . I didn't get to make my birthday wish and no one sang to me. Of course, I should confess that back on June 5th while I was entertaining some summer associates (what we call law student interns) at a sports bar watching Game 1 of the NBA finals (how happy am I that the Lakers lost!!), one of the summers told the waitress that it was my birthday which resulted in the bar erupting in happy birthday, a significant amount of banging of pots and pans, a lot of strangers telling me happy birthday, a free piece of cheesecake that tasted a bit too much like fridge and a random stranger snapping my photo (so if you happen to stumble upon it somewhere out there on the web, let me know!). But that wasn't my actual birthday and these boys were just trying to make fun of my age.
And perhaps 33 is too old for songs and candles and cake but to me, these simple traditions are at the heart of every birthday whether it is belted out in a bar full of drunk strangers, in a restaurant that tries to dump tequila down your mouth or in my parent's kitchen. So, Sunday afternoon, I took my cupcake out of the fridge, stuck a candle in it and made my tired and worn out birthday wish.
And while I thought that would make a tidy ending for my thirty-third birthday celebrations, that isn't the end of the story.
At 7:30 I set off to attend my semi-regular Sunday night Hearts game with a group of Mormon singles. When I arrived at the evening's location I went out to the roof deck to wait for others to arrive and chat with a couple of the other early card players. I was then asked what I knew about the surprise party. For a second I thought it might be for me but I brushed that thought aside knowing vaguely that another more socially connected card player also had a birthday in the near vicinity. But a short while later when one of these boys made a second inquiry with the party organizer about the surprise she smirked in my direction and explained the surprise was for both me and the fellow card playing boy. Trust me, I was still surprised. And I enjoyed the opportunity to have a deck full of people sing happy birthday to me and to blow out a real birthday candle I didn't light myself. Never mind that the surprise party was really planned in honor of the other guy, I was happy to be tacked on at the last minute to enjoy my dim spotlight before I settled into a game of Hearts.