Friday, October 23, 2009

Part IV: What If...She Did It?
Three words, and Robin Huffman's life changed. A senior design executive who'd lived all over the world, she'd recently relocated to Manhattan. But not for long. Soon, Robin would leave everything behind, and relocate from New York City to the jungles of central Africa. Click here to read about Robin's journey from design exec to surrogate primate mom...

Robin's story is Part IV in my series, and it's featured on the front page of International Life's Business section! It's quite an honor to be featured on the front page of UK's top-ranked online luxury mag, so thanks to all you readers for supporting me.

The rest of the series is linked below:

(Image at top: Photo by Guy Evron of Robin Huffman and Yoda)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Part 3: The day I finally left my job

But let me back up. To the day I resigned from my banking job.

By the time I’d left, I’d spent nearly ten years doing it. Every morning, I was awake shortly after five o’clock. Before seven, I was at my desk, at least one cup of coffee already drunk, and several more on their way.

The day I finally quit was like any other, but the week preceding it wasn’t. Earlier that week, an arrogant and important client had sworn at me. Specifically, he’d told me I was stupid, “f-cking stupid”. But that wasn’t what bothered me. On trading floors, everyone gets sworn at. What incensed me, to the point of very taboo tears, was that he’d hung up on me. I don’t know about you, but there’s something so profoundly ill-mannered about putting the phone down on someone else’s voice. It’s just completely…dismissive.

Anyway, having spent the last several years frustrated and near my own boiling point, it was this act of dismissive arrogance that pushed me to the edge. And it was a third shot of tequila that evening that finally pushed me over it.

“If you stay in banking,” my best friend Meghan said to me that night at a Mexican bar in Manhattan’s West Village, “one thing can happen.” She paused for effect, and went on. “But if you go, anything can happen.” Stunned into silent contemplation, I looked out the window at the blizzard that was putting its finishing touches on blanketing the city in a soft white.

Read how I quit here...

This blog is part of a series about changing careers and following dreams. To read prior posts, click on the following links:

Introduction: Ever thought about throwing in the towel on your day job?

Part 2: Saying goodbye to the trappings, selling the Manhattan apartment

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Continued: What did it?

This blog is part of a series featured by International Life magazine. Click the link to read the introduction to the series.

Remember that apartment I told you about? My “dream home in my dream city”? “Room-with-a-view sort of place”? As I wrote in my last entry in this series, my Manhattan apartment had been my dream, but was quickly turning itself into my prison. Everything in it: the art, the designer furniture, even the air-conditioning; reminded me that I was existing on borrowed time. Better said, perhaps: a borrowed life. As much as I loved my home, surely I couldn’t love it as much as I hated a life un-lived.

So, I sold it.

It’s funny those decisions you make that you think are going to ruin you, going to irreparably change the idea of who you are. They don’t.

At the top of the housing market, I met with a real estate agent. ‘We can get a good price for this,’ he assured me, quoting numbers I knew I should accept. Instead, I didn’t. Not yet anyway. Too emotionally devoted to the life I’d spent all those years carving for myself, I hung on to the fleeting opportunity to make leaving it financially easy. Two years later, in the middle of the real estate bust, I finally sold.

Regrettable? Maybe. Or maybe not.

No longer on a banker’s salary, and without the comfort of a tidy profit on my housing investment, I was hungry. ‘Hungry’, as in, ‘devoted’. Suddenly, I had to make it, and I wasn’t going to arrive wherever I was going by coasting. This dream I believed I had, and I still wasn’t sure what it was – it would have to be real.

Monday, September 21, 2009

'What If...You Did It?'

Ever thought about throwing in the towel on your day job? Recklessly pursuing passion instead of duty? Extricating yourself from the confines of lifestyle for the possibilities of dreams?

I work as the New York Correspondent for London-based International Life magazine, and I've just begun a blog series that will tell a story that is probably familiar to many of you: the story of what happens if you take that leap of faith. You know, the one you've been thinking about taking for years: the painting course, the writing seminar, maybe even changing careers, or traveling to far-flung places. Maybe, like me, you've stood on the edge of that metaphorical cliff for a long time, inching ever closer to the edge, but never quite close enough to jump. And then one day, maybe you too, just did it. Or, maybe you're just about to do so...

Read more in my introductory blog post here on International Life's website, and do share your stories on their comment section or here on my personal blog. I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Using Food to Celebrate Words, and Words to Celebrate Food

Having just written the 100,000th word in my "Live from Mongolia!" book (nearly complete minus daunting task of editing), I decided to celebrate by taking a day 'off' to attend New York's annual summer Fancy Food Fest, held at the Javits Center. Not quite a day off at all, I was taking copious notes for an article I'd pen for International Life, where I'm NY Correspondent. If you are someone who regularly eats, and if you tend to enjoy the process even a little bit, I'd be honored if you took a look at my latest work:

Also, I've had a few questions about this blog. If you're looking for highlights from the 2006 or 2009 Mongolia trip, scroll down until you see a list of dates on the right-hand side of your screen. Click on the 2006 dates for blogs about leaving banking to work in journalism; click on the Feb/Mar 2009 dates for blogs about Mongolian New Year and video of sled-riding with the nomad. -Patricia

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New York Correspondent
Great news! I've just been named New York Correspondent for International Life, a quarterly magazine publication and online luxury channel. I'll be writing for the mag, and possibly doing some TV presenting work for the online channel. You can see my first posting at

I'd love your support, so if you like what you've read, click the icon at the bottom of the page saying so. If you don't, well, let's keep that a secret. Comments are welcome on the site or here on my blog.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Dear Not-Quite-Harry, from Not-Quite-Sally

Have you ever seen the movie 'When Harry Met Sally'?

Well, Harry wasn't supposed to die, but he has.

A decade ago, at a noisy bar in Manhattan, I met George. I don't remember meeting him, and he always took me to task for this, every time he recalled that first encounter and I couldn't. What I do remember was meeting him again the next day. Invited into the city from their home in New Jersey, he and his brother Mike were attending a ceremony honoring their father's recent appointment as archon to the Greek Orthodox Church. After the weekend festivities had finished, George and Mike asked me and my roommate to join them for brunch. There, I saw a face that was all grin. Even his eyes looked like they were laughing.

"It's urgent," he said to me one night a few weeks later. "I need to see you one last time before you leave." Already in  relationship with someone in Singapore, I had packed my bags and my life to move overseas.

"Here," he said, depositing a hand-written letter into the pocket of my coat. "Don't read it now."

After he dropped me off, I went inside and read the letter. If this story were a movie script, maybe I'd have stayed. But it isn't, and I didn't. A ticket had been purchased, an apartment lease had been terminated; plans had been made.

Two years later, I called him. "George," I said, shaking from the anxiety of how he might respond, as well as how he might not respond, "I've made a huge mistake. You were right. We are meant to be together."

But it was too late. George had fallen in love with someone he'd met while working in Japan. "I want to have five baby girls with her," he'd said to me one afternoon, as if I were the friend who wanted to hear something like that.

Eventually, we both made that promise that every good platonic couple makes: the back-up plan. If neither of us had found anyone by the time I turned thirty-something, we'd marry. Over the years, we joked about that timing. Then, still years into the future, we both took turns bemoaning the fact that the date we'd set was far too close for comfort. With plenty of certainty that we had longevity on our side, neither of us considered anything more than pushing the date forward.

About five years later, in 2006, I spent a summer in Mongolia. On a whim, I asked George to join me for a week. We both were single, although 'that' wasn't on my mind; I'd just wanted him along for the ride that was my Mongolian experience. Weeks passed, and still I hadn't heard back from George. Much later, I would find out that Fate lent a hand in that moment, which gave George one last chance to say goodbye to his father. His responses to my emails were never delivered to my inbox, and he never received a return receipt alerting him that the mails had not been sent. Assuming he'd simply ignored me, I fumed.

The next time I heard from George, it was through my best friend, who was still living in Manhattan and had received an urgent telephone call from him. "Trish," she'd written, "George has been calling everywhere for you. His father has died suddenly." In an airport on my way home from Mongolia, I knew what this meant. For George, family was everything. Especially his father.

At the wake, I held onto George while he cried that terrible lonesome cry of despair that you never, ever, want to hear anyone unleash. I prayed as hard as I could that God would let me carry some of his and his family's burden. At a total loss for words, I simply reminded George that he and I never would have become friends in the first place if it hadn't been for his father and that ceremony years ago at the Greek Church in Manhattan.

"Once upon a time, there was this little frog," he began, and I finally drifted off. Months after my Mongolia trip, I'd broken up with a boyfriend and George had spent the night on my sofa to keep me company. In tears and restless, I'd asked George to tell me a bedtime story. Indulging in childlike details about the frog's life and personality, he'd made me laugh my way into sleep that had been all but impossible to come by.

That summer, a group of us traveled to Greece, to George's family's ancestral home on the island of Xios. After spending the morning alone on a tiny beach cut into the face of a rock cliff, we spent the afternoon exploring some of the island's inland ruins. It was the kind of setting that provides the backdrop to serious conversations about love. Climbing in the oven-like heat of what appeared to be an old, crumbling mansion, we talked about our past relationships, and then about our past together.

"Do you remember that letter that you wrote to me when we were in our twenties?" I asked him. "The one about 'When Harry Met Sally'?" I pressed. In the letter he'd put into my coat years earlier, he'd predicted that "our story is not finished here; you and I are Harry and Sally, just like in the movie."

"Yes, I sort of remember that," George said ambivalently, without looking at me. "But life is not the movies, you know." I stopped trying to make the point I'd been about to make.

Weeks later, at a restaurant back in Manhattan, I decided to confess. Every platonic friendship has that inflection point, and I was sure we'd arrived at ours. "George," I began, nervously clutching at my shirt and leaving my food untouched, "I don't know how to say this so I'll just come right out and say it." I gulped my entire glass of wine, poured another for both of us, and continued. "I think I love you." He paused for the length of time that lets you know you're not going to like what you're about to hear.

"I've thought about this, too," he said. "But..." After the 'but', I stopped listening. Sometimes it's hard to believe that you won't get what you've hoped for, when what you've hoped for seems just so, well, obvious.

Months later, about a year ago, and a decade after I'd met George, I went to a costume party in Hong Kong. On a whim, I dressed up as Snow White. There, I met a man dressed as Hugh Hefner. Aside from the fact he was dressed as an immediately recognizable celebrity, I felt like his face was immediately recognizable, to me. Overcome with that feeling I'd searched for in love, I got the sense I was meeting this dressed-up Hugh again for the first time. In other words, the arrogance from my youth didn't reappear to require a second meeting to remember his face. Falling in love, I moved on from George. And George moved on, too. We never talked about it much, but one day we did say goodbye, laughing over the situation in that good-natured way that lets you hope you can evolve into something located in the present tense, rather than something focused on the past or the future.

And then a few weeks ago, I received a late-night phone call that I'd never expected to receive. The words 'George' and 'dead' traveled through the receiver and hung in the air for a period of time so devoid of possibility that I could not, and still cannot, bring myself to believe them. The silence of that moment was, and still is, complete. On Saturday, March 14th, while surfing in El Salvador, George Chatzopoulos drowned and died. He was 36 years old.

George, it's me, your old friend Trish, and I'm here to tell you that you were right, life doesn't turn out the way the movies tell you it's supposed to turn out. But one thing I know, George, one thing I'm certain of: this was not how your story was supposed to end.


Tiny epilogue: 

In the long and quiet days after the accident, I sat alone, staring at a computer screen, aimlessly searching online newspapers for word of George's death. Something from the NY Times archive caught my eye. Entitled ‘Fishing Party’s Close Call’, an article from September 1899 described how a boat had nearly sunk off the coast of New Jersey after getting caught in high seas and a strong undertow. Because only the captain could swim, he heroically and single-handedly saved all of his crew from drowning. The captain’s name was George. Two of the three crew members’ names were George, and George. Smiling at the incredible irony of the story, I imagined my friend George, his face all-grin and those laughing eyes, saying one last goodbye, from wherever he was.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

In Search of the Elusive Bad Meal

What if I told you that I've just visited a country where I can remember every single meal I ate during the two-week period that I was there? Not only can I simply recall the meals, but I've indulged myself in obsessing over them ever since I departed this culinary paradise.

I've just returned from a trip to New Zealand and Tahiti. I can tell you, very, very firmly, that Tahiti is not the culinary mecca to which I refer. Quite the opposite in fact.

Sidebar comment: If you ever decide to go to Tahiti, change your mind immediately and do not change it back.

Jesse and I flew into Wellington from Manhattan via Tahiti (don't forget my advice to never, ever, go to Tahiti). After snacking at the airport (yes, the airport) on delicacies usually found in gourmet sandwich shops, we drove into the kiwi capital. First up: dinner. Jesse's stepmom Susan Harper and Dad Jock Phillips quickly whipped up a side of salmon that was smoked and slow-roasted. That is to say, they smoked it themselves. In a smoker. With tea leaves. Real ones. The resulting tender succulence was so good that we did it all over again just a week later.

A few days later (and a lot of meals in between involving wickedly robust coffee from Caffe L'Affare), Jesse and I drove up to Napier for Dave Arnott and Jane Caldecutt's wedding (snaps to come). On the way, we stopped roadside in Shannon for a snack. Hailing from America, I expected a roadside snack to consist of something awful involving wilted lettuce, gray processed meat, and a slice or two of that ubiquitous white bread. No, not in New Zealand. In New Zealand, roadside food apparently means fresh. It means green. And tasty. Healthy to boot! I devoured a sandwich of fresh-baked bread with seeds (real seeds!), sprouts (from the garden out back, presumably), honey (probably had bees on staff), and a delicately sliced brie. I nearly wept, but saved my tears for the roadside blueberries and plums, both about the same size as each other. Okay, okay. That last bit about the berries and plums being the same size is an exaggeration, but it's the only exaggeration in this blog post.

Anyway, in case I wasn't clear, Jesse and I were in the middle of a drive. Not necessarily in the middle of nowhere on this drive, but on a road passing through a small town. Never have I ever, in any country, visited a small town with food as fresh and scrumptious as this little town offered. Never mind the whole of the country! You know how it is: you stop for food on a drive and you have low expectations. And they're always matched. Not so in New Zealand.

But back to the drive and its destination.

Once we'd arrived in Napier, which is a paradise all its own with mouth-gaping-open scenery, fine wines, and black sand beaches, the groom's parents invited the ladies to dinner. The gents were busy on an all-nighter stag party, dressing the groom as a clown and "forcing" him to drink copious amounts of (probably delicious) beer. At the groom's parents' house, I was immediately offered a crisp, dry, watermelon-and-honey colored glass of rose. While the rest of us sipped, Barbara Arnott, the groom's mother, threw a lot of indescernible things in a pot and, an hour or so later, produced a stew made of chicken cooked so gently that its little muscles fell off its little bones, and I barely had to chew. I'd like to mention here that the groom's mother, the chef of this particular meal, is also the mayor of the town of Napier. Which is to say, she's probably a very busy woman. Not only did she have her son's wedding to plan that week, but she had a city to run, too. I was surprised she could spare the time to prepare any sort of meal for guests she'd only met once (like me), much less prepare one that exceeded my already rapidly ascending expectations of food in her country.

As I finished my second and then third helping, I noticed with a heavy heart that I was leaving behind a lot of sauce on my plate. Could licking your plate be considered a compliment? I wondered. Probably not, I worried, looking lasciviously at my leftover gravy. Barbara must have read my mind, because she offered me a slice of bread and nodded at my plate.

Now about this bread. I could write an entire book solely on this slice of bread. It had been so recently yanked from the bosom of somebody's convection oven, that it felt like silk in my mouth. As I sit here recalling that meal and that bread, my only regret is not having a fourth helping of the spicy tomato-y chicken stew.

After the wedding, which offered the finest fare of any wedding I've ever attended (I know, I know, 'good' wedding food?!), and after taking quite some time to laboriously peel my now too-tight dress off my bottom half, Jesse and I drove to Otaki on the western coast of the North Island to spend some time getting to know the surf and the hills. And the fish and chips. We spent a day hiking up a couple of inclines that I hadn't expected to be so steep (and where I fell no less than three times), and hiking down into a stream as cold as melted ice. Just when I thought the day was done, Jock and Susan led the way to the beach, where we were supposed to be body-boarding. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the waves and rip were so strong that we nearly had to turn back. But we didn't. Bracing against the rip, we caught the shortest and strongest waves I've ever encountered. They were like body-building midgets, and they didn't just roll us back to shore; they catapulted us. Time to cue in the fish and chips (or, "fush and chups" as the locals say). I think Ramona Quimby said it best as protagonist in Beverly Cleary's "Ramona & Beezus", when she describes her french fries as "crispy on the outside, mealy on the inside." Come to think of it, mealy sounds better for fries than it does for 'fush', but suffice to say, neither the fish nor the chips disappointed.

A few days later, Jesse and I took the ferry down to the South Island to meet his sister, Hester. Hester's boyfriend just happened to be (just happened to be) the wine buyer for a supermarket. Why hadn't I ever thought of that career? Guy and Hester proceeded to introduce us to Johanneshof Cellars in the Marlborough region not far from their homes in Nelson. If you know even a little bit about wine, you know that European winemakers can get pretty territorial about their vintages, as well as the heritage of their vintage. So it was not without some outrage that this non-European winery took the gold medal for their 2004 Gewurtztraminer at the Decanter World Wine Awards in London. After tasting some of their other award-winning wines, a grappa, and a gorgeous Pinot that could have shouted a curry for spice, we headed to lunch.

A tome, honestly a tome, could be written on the souffle that I ate that afternoon. I wasn't even hungry, which is saying something. Nothing tastes all that great when you're not hungry. Unless you're eating this souffle. Baked so gently as to leave just a suggestion of carmelization, yet firm enough to protest my hacking at it, it was buttery, light, moist... I didn't share.

After lunch, I immediately passed out. When I woke up from a sugar-induced coma (and could have used an angioplasty at that point), we had driven to a lake. Jumping in, I woke up right away. The water is cold in New Zealand.

Wow! I just realized that I've written more in this blog than I've written in my book today, so let me finish, too briefly, with Auckland.

Ever ordered food at a bar? Ever been impressed? No? You and me both, then. In Auckland, Jesse bought tickets for me, his friend Truman MacCarthy, and himself to ride a reverse bungy. No matter how I'd prepared myself with the words "reverse" and "bungy", nothing could have prepared me for how it feels to be a bullet shot straight out of a human gun. Anyway, after all that reverse-bungying, we needed some liquid. And after all that liquid, we needed some food. I ordered bar food, the usual, I thought: some cheese, some tiny quiches, some meat. I got the decidedly un-usual: cheese drizzled in honey complete with the honeycomb intact. I kid you not, I ate the entire triangle of cheese, which was a heady bleu. The tiny quiches were not of the boxed variety, but seemingly freshly baked, and topped with a sliver of quince. Yes, quince. At a bar.

To be honest, I was almost disappointed -- that my expectations could be outdone, again. I guess I'll just have to go back to New Zealand. But next time it will be in search of the elusive bad meal.