(Me in the now-closed Life Cafe in Manhattan’s East Village in October 2006)
One of the wonderful things about writing a blog is that you have an all-singing, all-dancing record of your life. No lines of indecipherable script in a dog-eared, hard-backed diary, but instead megabytes of easily searchable posts, complete with photographs to make you remember, well, everything.
Once in a while I’ll be searching for something in the blog archives, and the LinkWithin widget will throw up an old story that I want to read. Immediately I am transported back to another time: my road trip in California in 2009 perhaps, or eating fondue in Switzerland with Meriel in 2012. There’s the time I was living in Colts Neck, New Jersey with boys and Basset hounds five years ago, or the apartment fire I was rescued from in New York’s SoHo in spring 2010.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the blog and all that writing and all those memories this week. It was the eight year anniversary of its founding on 08 September, a fact that equally terrifies and elates me.
The thinking has also been due to the interviews that I have been giving to the press, in the run up to the publication of my first book. In particular the very in depth major feature that ran in Sunday’s Mail on Sunday YOU magazine (of which, more later.)
It talked about my move to Manhattan in 2007 and, just now, I came across a post I wrote back in 2012 about that decision. I’m going to extract it here (with a little re-writing), to fill in the gaps for those who haven’t been reading long, and because I want to say thank you again to Jackie, without whom I certainly wouldn’t have moved to America, and therefore would not be writing this blog today.
When Jackie Dixon & I decided to take a week-long trip to New York over Halloween in 2006, we borrowed a studio apartment in the East Village belonging to our friend, the photographer Todd Selby – he was shooting in LA, and left us the keys. Jackie knew the city well from her many trips over with British Vogue, and inducted me into her New York, a city far removed from the one that existed in my head, cobbled together from the movies.
Until then, Manhattan to me was an island of easily recognisable landmarks and architecture: the canyon-like avenues of Midtown, the townhouses of the Upper East Side, the skyscrapers of the Financial District and, of course, open space of Central Park. The East Village was an eye opener: I had no idea that Manhattan could be so…low-rise, so industrial. So simultaneously grey and so green. So grubby. So mesmerisingly, endearingly wonderful.
When I started to discover New York and construct my own map of the city, as opposed to the fantasy one, it was under Jackie’s auspices. She showed me the tenement buildings of the LES and East Village, the box-like industrial buildings of SoHo, the brownstones of the West Village and the neighbourhood parks from Washington Square to Tompkins Square, with their dog runs, and benches for dreaming, which had completely passed me by.
Of course, on that first trip, it was all about the East Village. Walking, shopping and, above all, eating. Seeing the size of Todd’s kitchenette, I immediately caught on to the New Yorker dining philosophy: dine out. Always.
Back then, Dixon & I weren’t blogger and photographer: I was a freelance fashion stylist and editor; she was a contributing fashion editor on British InStyle. We loved our trip in October so much that we decided to move over eight weeks later at the beginning of 2007.
I found us a sunny fourth floor walk-up to rent on Craigslist on East 6th, between 1st & 2nd, and so the East Village became Jackie’s home for a few months until she returned to London, and my home for the next two years on and off.
If Jackie hadn’t suggested that first trip to New York in October 2006 one slightly tipsy evening around our lovely fashion editor friend Anna Rimmer’s flat, I would never have moved to Manhattan, would never had this blog, would not now be running my own business, would not be now publishing a cookbook, whose roots were in the lunches I cooked in that East 6th walk-up, and blogged about on here.
That photo up top, at the now-closed Life Cafe, seems all bound up in that: the place where we sat eating lunch on our very first trip to Manhattan together, all over excited about meetings and opportunities in the city. Jackie took the photograph of me, above, there, and it remains one of my all time favourite portraits, reminding me of all the anticipation and excitement we had for the next stage in our lives.
So, although I’m now based in London, part of my heart will always be in the East Village, from where I started to discover New York, a city I came to fall in love with. Those first years in Manhattan will always represent one of the happiest periods of my life, and remind me of the big thank you I owe to Jackie for suggesting we go to New York in the first place.