How Models Taught Me it is OK to Miss Home

One of my assignments on fourth grade was to read a book about a girl who traveled abroad on an exchange student program. This was a thoroughly engaging tale of chasing independence, dealing with language barrier, new cultures and experiencing feeling homesick for the first time. After the class had read the book and turned in the essays, the school arranged for the author to come in to give a lecture. The girl was probably no more than ten years our senior and had attended our school. I had a transcendental experience, it was the first time I had met someone who had actually left home and gone some place else. Everything started to make sense to me. Everything, but the idea of feeling homesick.

“Why would she be crying just because she wasn’t home?” I didn’t get it. To me, getting out should feel more like a blessing than a curse. There was nothing wrong with my family or my upbringing, but I felt a longing for life abroad ever since I can remember. It made no sense and I could not explain it, I only knew how I felt.

A few years later, when I was eighteen, I finally got my first opportunity to go somewhere. I didn’t exactly make it out of Brazil but I was moving from Porto Alegre to São Paulo, which was significant. I was the first in my family to take such a big step and one of my first friends to go anywhere, for good. Think of it as moving from Charleston to New York. It was huge!

I remember dealing with models who were very young (but not much younger than I was), most of them between 14 and 16 years old. Many girls adjusted well to the life in the biggest metropolis of Brazil, pounding the pavement trying to make it in the world of modeling. A few others however, had terrible bouts of depression and loneliness and broke down quickly. Every now and then a girl would come into the office crying and desperate to get on the phone with her mother, just because she missed her parents or felt overwhelmed by the size of the city. I couldn’t relate with that feeling. I never cried, I never felt separated, I never felt distant. I was happy. What could be better than pursuing a career in one of the best modeling agencies in the world?

The first few months in my new city went by smoothly. I had to travel down south a couple of times to gather more of my belongings, so I still maintained a fairly close connection with my family. I didn’t have a place of my own, I was couch surfing with a friend of a friend until I figured things out. The distance from where I was staying to work was enormous. I had to take two buses and the journey could last anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, and that’s not counting the late nights. The neighborhood was not only dangerous but the buses took longer than usual, as they ran more infrequently. As the challenges grew I began to understand, to a small degree, what some of those girls might have felt too.

Many years have passed since those first months in Sao Paulo. I now live in New York and find myself experiencing unique layers of emotional pain. It’s been three years since the last time I’ve been home. A series of events kept me from making the trip back from New York, including a break up, a green card and a new apartment. Life happened and before I knew it I found myself feeling anxious and irritable. I became an emotional wreck. I watch cartoons and I cry, the Lipitor commercials come on TV and I cry, I listen to music and I cry, heck, even Homeland has been making me cry. I have become a running joke among the people who know me.

I send Christmas cards with corny pictures of me and my cat, I write letters, I FaceTime. I used to denounce the holidays; now I love them. These days I celebrate tradition, and all I long for is a home of my own. For this person, who always believed in being independent and in belonging to the world, it’s quite a change. Could I be homesick?

Through a very painful process of shedding layers of pride and old resentments I believe I finally got to a point where I am able to accept my roots for what they are. I can finally admit that indeed I do miss home and all the drama that can be attached to it. My life may not be in the south of Brazil, but that doesn’t mean I have to abandon it all behind.

I’ve grown to admire and enjoy some of the traditions from my home country and state. I am proud of our beautiful sunsets, the tree-lined streets, the quality of life, the cultural vain that beats stronger than in most parts of that country. I celebrate the gaucho culture, our funny musical accent and even our orange (or is it red?) taxi cabs.

Being home is an opportunity to remember, recharge and reconnect. Going back gives me the chance to look at how far I’ve come and how capable I am of chasing dreams and goals that sometimes feel unsurmountable. When I’m homesick I realize that all those things were possible because of where I came from. The fact that I came from a reality so distant from the goals I was looking to achieve made me even more resilient. Home may be difficult, but it’s unlike any other place I’ve been to. Home is provincial, but it’s where some of my most special memories and connections are. As I age and experience life on life’s terms, I also realize that home is always going to be the place I turn to for reference and support, no matter where I end up.

Originally published in THE HUFFINGTON POST on Novemeber, 2015

From Grit to Glam

Not that long ago the Meatpacking District, a web of cobble stoned streets, was the sole source of meat products for New York businesses – whole skinned cows and other animals literally hung from hooks on the streets.  Fueled by crack, in the evening the area became a lurid labyrinth of pathways and hiding places for transsexual prostitutes seeking an extra buck or two.  The merchandise of the morning wasn’t that different from what was available in the evening; meat in large quantities for a low rate.   Around that same time West Chelsea, a sea of empty warehouses and abandoned industrial businesses, had little but the Roxy, a drug-fueled gay disco, and dirty streets.  Then came the art galleries and real estate developers.  Then came Films, fashion shoots and TV shows, like Sex and the City, which made a walk through hookers and junkies to get to a lofty apartment seem rather glamorous.  Once again, fashion and film forge the founding of the latest hot neighborhoods.  

Since the early development of the High Line, the now famous park that occupies abandoned railroad tracks and that cuts through these two now visually striking neighborhoods, these   Summoning the expertise of the word-famous designers and architects; fancy hotels, galleries, residences and restaurants sprouted deep roots in the area. One after the other, block-by-block, cleaning up what was once a secluded and blighted area – a true real estate metamorphosis has occurred.    

The focal point of the area is the The Standard.  From the top of this sleek and sexy hotel, New York City looks like a playground.  You can sip drinks among Marc Jacobs, Alessandra Ambrosio, Lorenzo Martone and Anna Wintour, while gazing down at Diane Von Furstenberg’s glass-encased loft apartment – one that has become a New York landmark, much like the designer has become a fashion legend.  Rumor has it that in the morning you can spot Ms. Furstenberg having breakfast while still in her nightgown, sitting in her dining room, which stands underneath an impressive diamond shaped glass dome.   The Standard however, is not only famous for it’s penthouse bar, but also for its pool parties, which are now a second club, known as Le Bain.  There, you can simply undress and enjoy the evening while sipping drinks in the pool in the company of local luminaires like Terry Richardson and Paz de la Huerta.  

The seductive nightlife of the big apple is not complete however without two of the most popular nightclubs in town: Avenue and 1 Oak.  It was at Avenue that Lindsay Lohan allegedly got in a fight with the blonde Tiffanny Mitchell over The Wanted’s Max George. The brawl resulted in yet another arrest for Lindsay, who once again denied everything.  Lohan somehow managed to get herself back in that club even after being banned after some indiscreet tweets about Justin Timberlake.  At 1 Oak, the scene is less dramatic, but never less flashy.  Rihanna has been known to celebrate a couple of her album launches at the spot alongside fellow musicians like Jay-Z. It was also at 1 Oak that Donald Trump held a bash to celebrate his modeling agency’s fashion week success.  

With the rich and famous, fashion comes hand in hand, and the area does not disappoint.  From the Meatpacking District all the way up among the galleries, a cadre of some of the most exclusive designers in the world have set up shop in the vicinity. 

Balenciaga, Comme des Garcons, Alexander McQueen, Yigal Azrouel, Moschino, Helmuth Lang, Tory Burch, Christian Louboutin, Maison Martin Margiela and Carlos Miele are only a few of the shops worth visiting. For a unique experience, why not try the department store Jeffrey’s, which has one of the most renowned shoe departments in town.  Stop by a Scoop sale for fancy jeans and hip t-shirts.  After all, a good designer bargain is never a bad idea!  

Since most of the shopping is done by foot, a stop to refuel the energies seems more than called for.  Whether it’s for a lunch, a mid-day snack or a celebratory dinner, some of New York’s most celebrated restaurants are in the area; the menus here no doubt indulge any palate.  From a good steak at the biergarten of The Standard Grill to the innovative Thai Cuisine of Sea you can find it all.  At Pastis you can have French and at Buddakan you can have Chinese.  But if the mood is for some American contemporary all you got to do is take a walk up 10th Avenue to try the tasteful delights of The Cookshop. If a simple slice of pizza is what’s called for, don’t you worry, because Artichoke Pizza is right around the corner with its award winning pies.    

The most important part of this area remain – sometimes secreted – within the giant warehouse spaces, which once used to host heavy machinery, grains and pieces of meat and now have given room for multi-million dollar pieces of art.   The art galleries of the area remain the heart of the cultural trading life in this city. The Gagosian Gallery, David Zwirner and Pace Gallery are among some of the most important outposts for art in the world.  Representing artists like Jeff
Koons, Cindy Sherman, Cy Twombly, Francis Bacon, Julian Schnabel, Roe Ethridge, Dan Flavin, Chuck Close, Willem De Kooning, Pablo Picasso and Ed Ruscha, these galleries are an international force.  Put on your walking boots and allow yourself to go from door to door in every block between 9th and 11th avenues from 19th street all the way up to 27th and experience contemporary art, free of charge, like nowhere else.    

Even though this may not be the most celebrated neighborhood for its residences, some of the most famous people you know now reside here.  Whether it’s in the classic London Terrace or in the ultra modern glass buildings by Richard Meier, Jean Nouvel or Shigeru Ban; a fascinating residential occupation took place over the last decade. This neighborhood currently hosts names like Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Hugh Jackman, Olivia Wilde and Katie Holmes, all of which can be seen calmly strolling around at any given time during the day or the night.  

The most remarkable and breathtaking feature this area still holds true – the Hudson River, which bathes the west side of Manhattan in full splendor.  To sit at a bench on the Highline and watch the sunset from above is one of the most rewarding and relaxing activities one can choose to do at the end of a day.  And believe me, many New Yorkers do, why don’t you give it a try too?

A Bite off the Big Apple

New York is a glamorous and gritty maze of dichotomy: from the Chanel-suit-wearing ladies of Park Avenue to the leather-wearing divas of downtown, there is huge gap.  The cultural (and financial) divide between the creative caldron that resides in Brooklyn and the refined and established richness of the West Village is increasingly apparent.  From Harlem to the Upper West Side, the distance is not long, but the differences are vast.  

This complex labyrinth of opposites actually propels the machinery of the city and is in fact, what makes New York City great.  New Yorkers remain creative, independent and powerful as always, continuously imbibed with the alchemy generated from its diverse population. This population, unlike any other I’ve seen, exudes camaraderie, compassion and colossal creativity.   Most New Yorkers have their favorite neighborhood and mine is SoHo. From my abode I can observe all the greatness of this cosmic collection of counter culture.

Thousands of tourists walk these streets daily, searching for bargains on products not found in their native land.  Locals, who vie for sidewalk space, have learned to live in the midst of chaos.  Adding to the mix, are street vendors, paparazzi and hundreds of celebrities who aim to remain incognito.   Before moving here, I always thought SoHo was an unbearably messy and pretentious neighborhood.  Over time, I began to realize the charm hidden in its cobblestone streets and the historic cast iron buildings, which once were the homes and studios of virtuosos like Keith Haring, Maripol, Andy Warhol, Donald Judd and Basquiat. These same buildings have evolved into something a little more mainstream and now house every major fashion brand. Prada, Chanel, Alexander Wang and Catherine Malandrino are only some of fashion giants that make of this neighborhood an economic gem of the fashion world.

Over time I have learned to navigate the side streets, away from the crowds, and to discover hidden treasures of the locals.  From restaurants to spas, from local brands to obscure cafes, everything here has a special feel and a unique story to tell.  Once again, opposites sit side by side, smiling – the tiny, family-owned Italian café is around the corner from the home of $1800 shoes and $6000 handbags.  I prefer the café – espresso anyone?  

Sadly, but no less exciting, my neighbors are no longer famous modern artists (most of whom are no longer with us), but young models, actors and singers.  Claire Danes, Justin Timberlake, Tyra Banks and Adam Sandler are just some of the people with whom I share my favorite spots.  At Café Café I make my daily stops in the morning to grab some iced tea.  At Ground Support I can’t pass on a grilled ham & cheese and a soy latte made to perfection.  At night, a stop by Butter or Indochine for a meal remains a sure bet.  There, an encounter with Anna Wintour, Madonna or Fran Leibovitz is a strong possibility.  

A recent addition to the neighborhood is the beauty clinic Erno Laszlo, named after the legendary dermatologist who is known for his miraculous lotions and potions. Dr. Laszlo had royal treatment during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s – for it was in that time that he looked after the beauty of the queens of Hollywood’s silver screen.  Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner and Katherine Hepburn were part of a very select group to receive his attention.  For each of them he developed individual and secret formulas.  After nearly twenty years away from the public eye, the same team responsible for the celebrated Molton Brown has acquired the Erno Laszlo brand.  Inspired by Laszlo’s principles, this team hopes to restore the brand to what it used to be, a place in which its clients can expect the most exclusive treatment available anywhere, just like Marilyn did.  

Perhaps one of the most talked about and sought after shops in the area is Treasure & Bond, part of the portfolio of Nordstrom. The appeal is its luxury items available for affordable prices in two gigantic floors.  Selling furniture, housewares, books and clothes for all ages, this store reserves all its profit for charity.  To make sure the wealth is distributed equally to those who in need, the charities change every six months  

A stop for lunch is a must.  Along with 100 Acres and others, The Dutch is another new arrival and its American Cuisine doesn’t disappoint.  Starting with its freshly baked corn bread and onto fried chicken, every bite here feels like a little piece of heaven.   SoHo is also home to one of the cities most renowned and successful Japanese restaurants.  After more than twenty years, Blue Ribbon Sushi remains a favorite.  The absolute freshest fish make this highbrow restaurant one of the best.  Don’t be fooled by its discreet setting however, its permanence in this city is proof that the food is impeccable.  

From dusk till dawn, breakfast to dinner, SoHo is imbued with so many magical qualities.  I have grown to adore this neighborhood.  Everything I need is only a few steps away and the word “subway” has vanished from my vocabulary.  SoHo proves to be one of the most perfectly evolved areas in town, maintaining its original character and charm, even as masses of tourists and wealthy developers make their way through the historic cobblestone streets.    

This article was originally published in Portuguese in Parochi Magazine, in Brazil.