I am eating steak, alone, in a restaurant called the Fort Defiance in Red Hook, Brooklyn. It is seven thirty at night and I am being served by a waitress who looks exactly like a girl I went to school with back home, except she's taller. It is bitingly cold here; my hands are still freezing from the short walk from the apartment. I think, not for the first time since I have been here, that I did not bring the right clothes. Today was my third day as an intern at Saipua. It is hard to put into words quite how much I have already learned by being here; I arrived, a little disorientated, very jet-lagged - it took me a good three days just to shrug that off, for some reason.
The first night I was in New York, Wednesday, I stayed at the Ace Hotel in midtown, which was perplexing enough because it is such a dark hotel - you step into the lobby from a sunlit street, into dim gloom - but the elegant, expensive, choreographed kind. Then the corridors are painted black, and the elevator signs gleam red and I guess it's like being in a nightclub and nightclubs always have the same effect on me - it's time for bed! (except that, that first day, although it was time for bed at home, it definitely wasn't here, and I had to have a meeting, and try to keep sharp).
I am staying in Sarah Ryhanen's apartment in Red Hook, which I feel kind of guilty about - I just hope I am being of enough use to warrant her putting me up. One thing I've noticed already, though - I apologise, all the time. Is that an English thing? I tiptoe around, even though Sarah is at the farm upstate, so I'm not exactly under her feet. At the studio I'm kept busy, working with Ashley and Deanna, who are gently instructive, and I've done a bit of schlepping and had a few lessons - arrangements, creating a tablescape, making a bouquet - all the Saipua way, which is what I wanted, what I came here for, because they are the best, and I wanted to learn from the best. The process is different from how I have been taught at home - looser, the effect being natural and artless, though I assure you it's probably harder to achieve that glorious 'just plucked' garden-y look. You are contriving to make something look uncontrived - no mean feat with a natural material. Ashley shows me how to put together a boutonnière - the knot of ribbon to one side, flat and perfect, the stems trimmed so that they appear recently gathered together, rather than the lumpy straight-cut finish I was taught at flower school.
We put together, and shoot, a mock-up tablescape with a centrepiece flanked by smaller arrangements on a silky linen runner with rust coloured candles in pewter candlesticks and shadow-grey votives, using roses in antique cream and nude and ranunculus - orange gold and speckled flesh, mountain laurel, tulips, spirea, sweetpeas, poppy seed heads, hellebores, carnations. We make slow, deliberate bouquets. Deanna tells me it took her nigh on two years to get to grips with making handtieds well; I think she is being kind, letting me off the hook, but I walk back to the apartment and put the finished article in water and feel pretty damn pleased with the result. I sit and look at it, watch the shadows moving on the wall as the light falters, try to work out what I would do differently next time. I woke early this morning, and according to my now routine, bought a coffee at Baked and wandered around the surrounding streets looking at the industrial warehouses and abandoned factories and the beautiful wasteland feeling of this part of Brooklyn, that I am already falling slightly in love with.
Then I found the pier, at the end of my street. Valentino Pier, at first light - glittering light, the brackish smell in the air of dried salt and seaweed. I stood directly opposite the Statue of Liberty across the water and looked up towards Governors Island and then closed my eyes, listened to the tinkling mast ropes of the dockyards and the slap of water on the slipway, the pounding of a runner's feet on the pier.