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Tex and the City: Living a Neiman Marcus Fortnight Life

Today on Tex and the City: Jon Paul realizes the influence luxury retailer Neiman Marcus has had on his world view, and Big Apple life.  Tips on Dosa Garden restaurant, NYC Christmas lights, and Batali’s Eataly.

Poster for the first Neiman Marcus Fortnight, 1957

Growing up in the shopping Mecca of Dallas, I looked forward to early November with the same nervous anticipation that most kids reserve for Christmas morning.  The reason was simple—Neiman Marcus’ Fortnight.  For two splendid weeks, the luxury retailer transformed their downtown flagship store into a celebration of an exotic country with special displays, food, costumes, wares.  Forget Santa’s lap, Sophia Loren was supposedly making an appearance for the 1975 Italian Fortnight.  What little gay kid could resist that?

It’s hard to understate the importance of the annual event to Dallas.  The concept of Fortnight was created in 1957 by the retailer’s mastermind founder Stanley Marcus as a way to combat the lagging pre-Christmas sales.  That first year’s celebration of France landed in the pages of Time magazine detailing visits by Coco Chanel, and the landing of Dallas’ first international flight at Love Field—an Air France jet filled with Gallic dignitaries and press.

Over the years, I begged my mothers and sisters to take me multiple times to the downtown palace of wonders as I ate and shopped and gawked my way through countries like Japan, Brazil, Greece, Germany, Spain.  It’s no wonder as a travel writer I often pre-judge destinations based upon a Fortnight reference point.  In my mind, Ireland always seemed uninteresting to me based upon a flat 1976 Fortnight, but a quick trip as an adult to bustling Dublin corrected that notion.  In 1986, the retailer hosted the final extravaganza—Australia, probably the beginnings of my Down Under love affair that has ended up indelibly inked on my arm.

Perhaps moving to New York City helped ease the sadness over the passing of Fortnight.  After all, living in the Big Apple means there’s a different ethnic fortnight around each corner.  This weekend, Chef popped my Staten Island Ferry cherry by escorting me to a neighborhood in the one borough I hadn’t visited in 14 years.  Our destination?  Little Sri Lanka.  The Dosa Garden restaurant had recently been written up in the New York Times, and its Southern Indian food delivered on a large scale.  Literally.  The tasty rice-lentil crepe like dosa spilled over the cafeteria-style tray.  Besides the delicious dal doughnuts dipped in spicy sauces, the standout for me was ennai katherikai, a baby eggplant pan-fried cooked in a tamarind and chili infused sauce that cleared my sinuses.

potato filling in the enormous dosa helped balance the spicy dipping sauce

the addictive doughnuts

On our walk back to the ferry terminal, within a block we had left Southern India and passed quickly into Little Mexico.  Chef’s eyes brightened at the number of South of the Border markets selling some of his favorite delicacies.  I watched and smiled as he picked out some Mexican sweet bread known as conchas, and an addictive white Oaxacan cheese.  I realized my life is turning out to be one big authentic international fortnight.

Yes, you can take the boy out of Texas, but you can’t take Neimans out of the girl.

Tex and the City Top of the Week Tips:

New York City may not have the organized glamour of Neiman Marcus’ fortnight, but for building that holiday shopping spirit and centralized international experience here are my Top of the Week Tips:

  • Lord & Taylor unveils their Christmas windows Monday evening at 5:30pm with a performance by Kristin Chenoweth (Frida’s voice if she were an animated character).  I’ve always had a soft spot for Lord & Taylor, mostly because in Dallas they were located in Northpark Mall right across from the Magic Pan restaurant.  Oh how I miss watching the crepe pans travel around a conveyor belt.
  • Eataly, Mario Batali’s shopping homage to all-things Italian, feels like a Fortnight done by a more mid-range retailer like Dillard’s.  While it’s not my favorite because of the crowds, vegetarians are raving about its no-reservation restaurant Le Verdure, which as the name might suggest, serves only vegetables.

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Going Rogue

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul wonders about his readers’ preferences.

First, the good news: Barnesandnoble.com now has Alphabet City available for $13.48—10% off the cover price.  Sweet.  But now, the odd news: evidently, customers who purchased Alphabet City on BN.com also bought Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue.  I’m sorry—really?

Now, I’m the first to admit that when the Alaska “governor” burst onto the national scene unexpectedly I had a little gay guy crush on her.  Or well, maybe I had the hots for Tina Fey’s version of her.  And let’s be honest, she was decked out in all those suits from my hometown retailer Neiman Marcus—clearly she was after my Dallas heart.  But now, enough is enough.

Curiously, I then flipped to Amazon.com to see a similar listing of readers’ preferences.  What a little relief—customers who purchased Alphabet City on Amazon.com also bought Game Change.  Now there’s a book I can get into—and have.  It’s an incredibly fascinating and fast-paced inside look at all the personalities in the last election.  If I were still teaching government at my alma mater Greenhill (shout out to Bryan, my former student-now good friend hosting a NYC Book Club Party for me), I’d put this book on the required reading list.

At the end of the day, I love that Alphabet City fans are such a diverse bunch.  My first Book Club Party stop is in Southlake, TX, a suburb of Dallas where I will be speaking to the TCU Chi Omega Sorority Alumni Group Book Club (shout out to Mandy for organizing that—I’m super excited!).  And now I have a new cheeky topic to add to that appearance—what do the sorority sisters think about ‘going rogue’ in Alphabet City?  Don’t worry Mandy, I promise to behave.

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Speed(o) Demon

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul confesses that his love for bikinis has lead to some painful experiences.

Somewhere along the way I developed a deep appreciation for Speedos.  And I don’t just mean tingling excitement from seeing a hunky guy parade down Fire Island letting it (almost) all show.  No, I mean that I, myself, much prefer to don a bikini than baggy board shorts.

It’s not like I can chalk it up to a European upbringing.  In Texas, I was raised to wear much more modest pool attire.  And it’s not like I have a toned torso that I love to show off.  I have battled weight my entire life.

Maybe it started when I was 14, and just coming to terms with my body and sexuality.  I used flip through GQ magazine pulling out pictures of models in revealing swimwear, creating a collage on poster board of my ideal man that I hung in my room.  Remind me again how my Mom was surprised when I came out officially several years later?

In my "couture" bikini going snorkeling in Tahiti...so butch

At the time, the only place in town I knew sold actual men’s bikinis was Neiman Marcus—they catered to men with more of a “special” fashion sense.  I saved up my pennies and steeled my courage to purchase one for myself.  When my father and stepmother were away, I’d put it on and lay poolside.  I also doused my hair with special Sun-In to bring out the highlights.  Oh I was a vision.  And felt so sexy and like such a rebel.

My fetish flourished when I took up residence on Alphabet City.  There was no shortage of places catering to men wanting to display their package.  Over the years, I’ve acquired quite the menagerie of swim attire.  Flashy red floral for Puerto Vallarta’s gay beach.  Cheeky green plaid for Provincetown.  Understated deep purple for more family oriented resorts in the Caribbean.

Last year for my 40th birthday, I even had a “couture” suit designed by swimwear designer Keiko—something to show off my Green Lantern tattoo placed high on my thigh.  I needed something with just the right colors, and cut so as not to ride up my butt—I was going to be entertaining friends on a boat in Sydney, after all.  A little modesty was required, after all.

As I’ve aged, it’s taken more work to look “presentable” in a bikini.  I’ve lost weight, pumped up my legs and trimmed the unruly hair on my thighs.  When I started noticing some odd patches of hair growing on my back, I immediately booked my first waxing treatment at men’s spa Nickel.

After disrobing and laying prostate on what looked like a sacrificial alter, Latin American aesthetician Monica gave me a once over.

“Ay papi, it’s not just your back.  That hair on your butt needs to go, too.”

“Why?  It’s mostly covered up.”

“No, no baby.  From looking at your tan line, some of that hair is poking out.  Monica gonna take good care of you.  Just relax.  You want inside as well?”

“Um, I don’t know what that means.”

“Sweetie, you watch porn?  How you think those boys have no hair there?”

Holy Christmas!  Just the thought of it made me writhe in pain.  Turns out, there’s a male equivalent of the female Brazilan wax.  I’ve named it after Monica’s home country—Ecuadorian Torture.

“Well, okay, I’ll try anything once.”

Famous last words.

Yesterday, as I dropped my towel in front of my gym locker, I noticed my tan line fading, along with memories of the warmth of Mexico.  But the cute guy next to me winked, and told me he liked my tattoo—and my tan line.  Nice.  Just the reaction, and boost of self-esteem, I’d been looking for.

Time to book my next trip to a sunny locale.  But what Speedo will I take?

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