Thursday 7th December
This trip began with disaster. The day prior
to departure I lost my bag with passport, traveller’s cheques and just
about everything else I need to get by. Suffice to say the next few hours
were quite stressful with me rushing from the consulate to the Amex office
and beyond. The problems evaporated next day as I took off for Brussels
(late, I might add). I needn’t have worried about the connection to New
York, it too was delayed. Shades of Air India’s legendary 6 hour delays
came to mind as I waited in stifling central heating at what could qualify
as the most boring airport in Europe.
On the flight, seated next to a Newcastle woman who obviously disliked me on sight, I attempted to acquire a glass of water to ease my extremely dry throat and blocked sinuses. You’d think I was asking for a gold watch the way the flight attendants behaved, but a grudging cup of water was eventually provided. Sabena are not as friendly as KLM.
Across the left aisle, a pair of orthodox Jewish men lolled in an entire row, booked solely for themselves. First class would have been cheaper but who am I to argue? I asked the stewardess to see if the Rabbi would give me one of his 4 pillows. “I’m not allowed to ask that,” she replied. “You must ask him yourself.” Sabena went down another 20% in my estimation. When I timidly voiced my request, the guy looked at me with a misogynous glare that told me he was not friendly to goyim females. “I’ll need them to sleep,” he said flatly. “We’ve booked the whole row.” That much was obvious. Smiling weakly and suitably stung, I returned to reading the in-flight magazine. Shortly after take-off, the black suited traveller lay down to sleep, resting his grey head on all four pillows. Given their design, it was inevitable that he would tip three of them onto the floor, from where I quietly rescued one, shoving it down the side of my seat to cushion the hardness of the chair arm.
Behind the sleeping Jew was another, rather attractive Yank who began speaking to me in poor French. We soon had a conversation going, forming an instant alcoholic alliance with the aim of emptying the bar of sparkling white wine. When I spotted a half empty bottle of Tattinger at his feet, I knew we were going to be pals.
Miss Newcastle became even more unfriendly when I accidentally spilled water on us both as a result of my turning in my seat to chat with the French speaking guy one row back. Despite my having more wet ass than she did, she asked to be moved. Hooray! I now had two seats for myself and could try some sleep. However, no slumber was forthcoming so I watched the movie, which for some reason was screened at 0230 when everyone appeared to be sleeping. The film, ‘Toy Story 2’ might have appealed to younger passengers had there been any on board. It was 0430 by the time I dosed off, and true to form the flight attendants decided to wake us all up to eat at 0600 for breakfast. Oh please!
Arriving at Newark, the immigration formalities were quite fast, although my supposed lifetime entry visa was cancelled before my eyes. Nowadays indefinite means 10 years. Welcome to America.
Malcolm, my brother-in-law, was waiting as
I emerged into the coldness of New York’s winter. The journeyon the highway
to Saugerties, NY, took over 2 hours. I tried to stay awake in Malc’s
big old Lincoln limo, failing miserably. After visiting California a few
times, I’ve become used to America’s vast distances, I just fall asleep
at the first highway sign. Malc shook me awake at their door.
Their 200-year-old clapboard colonial property sported a web of fairy lights above the porch, and a well lighted Christmas tree in the front garden. My sister’s red Cadillac stood to one side of the front yard, covered in 10" of snow. Inside the house, a log fire warmed a brightly decorated room, where my sister sat in a comfy black leather armchair waiting for us. The hour had grown quite late, Poli retires early to rise around 6 every morning, so after a scant hour of chat, I was shown to my newly constructed, charming bedroom over the spacious kitchen, falling almost immediately to sleep in the huge double bed.
Friday 8th December
Waking around 7 am, I listened to the waking
sounds of the house. In the new bathroom next to my room I stared out of
the window, watching paper thin snowflakes float down to blanket the ground
in winter splendour. Visible through surrounding trees, neighbouring homes
lined a small street which culminates in a tree-clad cliff-top overlooking
the wide expanse of the Hudson river.
The silence is palatable. Birds twitter occasionally although the vast majority of local bird life has long since flown to warmer climes. Everything resembled a Christmas card.
I descended the brightly painted staircase which divides the lower floor into two, and shivered as my bare feet met the icy cold draught blowing up through the floorboards. The house is in a state of rebuilding as the ancient property is slowly modernised. When first arriving here 2 years ago, there was no water connected to the house at all, they had to walk up to their friend Ronnie’s house to shower and collect buckets of water. Now with two bathrooms, new doors and windows ready for fitting in the spring, the place is almost completed.
Malcolm has a huge barn out back where he intends
to build his workshop and recording space during the next summer.
The warmth of the kitchen welcomed me and tea and toast by the gas fire were just the ticket. Poli has already decorated the house for Christmas, and the tree hangs on the wall in glittering splendour. It must hang on the wall or ceiling to discourage the playful intentions of Mr Spock, their lively grey & white female, with a penchant for mischief. CNN reports the latest news of the election (or non-election) and Malcolm paces back and forward, watching. Outside, a silent, bleached world, inside a colourful, cosy warmth pervades everything. Poor Poli is suffering the effects of a cold, sneezing and coughing in misery. We spend the day snuggled around the fire, watching TV and catching up with each other.
Saturday 9th December
Poli takes me for a walk up to the minute post office where one must go to collect mail – no postman in this hamlet. Along the river shore, the palatial, pastel shaded homes, are a dream to behold and a fortune to buy. All built in similar New England style, they sit in their own grounds, basking in bright winter sunshine, waiting to be reoccupied when spring arrives, bringing the owners back from their Manhattan apartments. We should all live like this.
The dark water of the Hudson slides by quickly, carrying big slivers of ice on its surface from the Great Lakes to the sea. On the opposite bank, easily a kilometre distant, a train speeds by, hooting mournfully. The sound more than anything says “America’ to me, as I recall hearing it in a zillion movies and TV shows.
We drive into town to go shopping. Saugerties, the nearest town, is an old Dutch logging settlement dating back to the earliest times of the American nation. Saugerties was here before there was an American nation, it was settled in the 17th Century. Some of the houses reflect the style of their historical past, sporting huge verandas and Dutch gable roofs. At the supermarket I stock up on Fritos original corn chips, (a passion of mine) and a 5Lt box of California Chablis (that’ll see me OK till Christmas). Malcolm wants wonderful ice cream from the health food store, I’m wide-eyed at the choices. Haagen Daz never had flavours this good!
We are on our way to visit with their friends
Elizabeth, Gala and James, in their magnificent home on the other side
of Woodstock, some 25 miles away. Elizabeth’s huge tract of land
is being turned into a Buddhist retreat, to be opened when the Karmapa
Llama comes out of India to take up residence in what will be his own monastery,
up in the nearby Catskill mountains. On the way up to the property we pass
what will hopefully be Poli and Malcolm’s next home – a 5-floored dome
built within a wood with its own lake and surrounding land. It looked pretty
special to me as we drove by. In a large pinewood house nestling
on the side of a steep slope, Elizabeth’s home is totally secluded from
the back, as the ridge forms above the property. Four small wooden cabins
and a longer building, hug the hillside, connected by a stone path. One
of the cabins houses a sauna!
Elizabeth proved to be as delightfully friendly as her late husband whom I met whilst visiting California in 1991. Her Tibetan husband, Gala, is an extremely skilled weaver of carpets and cloth, a veritable artist at the loom; together they run a Tibetan crafts shop. While her son James, (a very well balanced 14 year old), helped Malcolm install electricity in the cabins, Poli and I sat next to a huge log fireplace, nursing the house’s 2 massive cats, listening to the comical comments of Ziggy, the parrot with a Bronx accent. What a bird! The small wood stove soon heated the sauna to roasting temperature; one by one we entered, looking like white dumplings, soon to emerge looking like fresh lobster! I’ll never forget standing on the deck in wintry fresh air, steam rising from my body, staring up at Orion, shining brightly against the black night sky, silence wrapped around me like a cloak. What a moment.
A superb dinner preceded a game of Mah-jong, something I haven’t played in almost 30 years. Aided by James, I racked my brains to remember the complicated rules, but couldn’t beat Gala. Much fun and laughter moved around the table with the tiles as they moved from player to player. We left late, driving for almost an hour to reach Malden where I quickly fell asleep in my bed full of cats.
Sunday 10th January
Bright sunlight greeted my enquiring face as
I looked out on the snowy world. For what felt like hours, I watched a
pair of squirrels scamper along snow dusted branches, before I descended
At around 1330 Malcolm and I drove onto the 87 interstate highway on our way to the city. It took 2 hours to reach the Lincoln Tunnel and thence the Washington Bridge, entering Manhattan from the north-west. We drove down Broadway, passing through Haarlem and the upper west side to his studio/office on west 30th street, or Midtown to which it’s locally referred, a block away from Madison Square Garden. I could see the Empire State Building towering above, a few blocks over. Dusk dimmed the sky and soft rain fell on the Avenue of the Americas as I walked up to Macey’s, stopping in Herald Square to admire the statues of Minerva and the heralds as they hammered out the hour – 5 pm. Across the street, the largest department store in the world (says the ad) glittered with white Christmas lights, its mechanical window display showing scenes from ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ the 1947 film set in the store. Crowds of children and adults alike shuffled before the world famous plate glass window tableaux, delighting at its scenes.
The Empire State Building, a block away on 5th Avenue and 33rd Street, shone against the night sky. As darkness loomed, it’s shoulders had been draped in pink/red light while the crowning antenna was lit with brilliant green. It drew me closer, a beckoning siren from the past. I’d watched King Kong climb this building, then the tallest on earth; I’d seen Superman leap into the air from its’ topmost balcony; countless other movie stars met on its observation platform. Now it would be my turn to sample probably the most famous attraction in the city. I walked into the art deco hallway, following a long line of tourists down to the basement where the ticket queue was at least an hour long. The guide told me it would be $9 to go up to the observation deck, a price I thought too steep to ride in an elevator for a night time view, so I left, heading for the brighter lights of Times Square, a few blocks away.
The sidewalks, perpetually packed with tourists, felt alive with a snake of humanity, moving up and downtown. Since childhood I’ve wanted to stand in this neon nightspot, and watch the New Year’s ball dropping on black and white TV; hopefully this year’s end I will get to see it personally. I must admit to a little disappointment now I am grown, the square doesn’t look half as enticing as it did at ten. I walked up one side and down the other, crossed to the central reservation where the TKTS theatre ticket office sells last minute seats to all the Broadway shows, and wandered down past the Army and Navy recruitment office, squat in the centre of the converging roads of Broadway and 7th Avenue. On the eastern side, the Times Square Information Centre houses free logging on to Yahoo! I'd have liked to collect my mail, but the queue was so too long, and my legs by now were aching royally. I sat down to gather myself and watch a film of last year’s New Year celebrations.
Walking down 42nd Street, crossing 6th
and 5th Avenues and passing the magnificent New York Library, I see the
arch of Grand Central Station spanning the Avenue ahead, picked out in
The recently cleaned sand-coloured stone gleams in art deco splendour over a flood of New Yorkers moving from place to place. Almost 1800 hrs, thousands flock around this temple of travel, scurrying home on Amtrak’s steel arteries. I remember the magnificent main hall from the movie The Fisher King, when Robin Williams moved in splendid choreography through a tremendous crowd of dancing commuters, just like a hot knife through butter. Through the movie screen I’ve watched countless film stars board trains, meet under the famous clock, or just walk up one of the fabulous staircases at each end of the grand hall. The blue ceiling shows celestial figures - Aquarius, Pegasus, Scorpio, frozen forever in their mystical journey through space, staring blankly at the moving sea of humanity making its own frenetic journey to somewhere else.
Next Stop- food! My stomach cried out for sustenance, sending me hurrying back to the studio where Malcolm was hard at work pressing CD’s, cleaning up tapes and answering a mountain of email. Walking along the block in search of a restaurant, we passed the 23rd Police Precinct, resembling a castle, secure behind big, blue, arched gates. Everywhere is the hum of 24/7 traffic, moving from one stoplight to the next, decreasing in volume as the night wanes. Back at the shop, I couldn’t resist the temptation for sleep on a convenient sofa, as jet-lag caught up with me at last.
Monday 11 December
Events in the house move towards the arrival of nephew Milton and his bride Rowan, due next week. Walls are being erected, plumbing completed and the last touches given to the upstairs bathroom by James, Malcolm’s hippie handyman with the nice smile. Ern, my long term internet pal from Maine, called, I plan to go up there for a week to visit.
Tuesday 12 December
Today, the weather has cleared as the wind blows in another weather front. The clear, bright, blue sky sparkles like a clean glass. We are off into Kingston, the nearest metropolis, to register Poli’s car and shop. At Wal-Mart I buy a tiffany style teapot lamp and labels for the ever growing pile of Christmas gifts under the tree. What an amazing store that is, all and sundry under one roof. Returning to our hamlet, I walk down to the river under a pink and gold sky, dimming with the fading day. The ice cold highway of the Hudson glides by, carrying flotsam downstream. A train moans across the water, arrowing its way through the bleak landscape. Perched by a shoreline barbecue pit, I listen to soft lapping waves as the arctic wind blew crested ripples to the water's edge. The temperature has dropped again today, I snuggle further into my warm scarf, grateful too, for the large headphones muffling my ears. The hamlet's houses are pretty; white, pale grey, yellow and eggshell blue wooden shingles, contrasting with white or other, darker tones. All have trees in their gardens, small boathouses, double garages, and all thecoveted trappings of success in America. I wandered around shivering beforegiving in and hurrying back to the warmth of Poli's comfy kitchen.
Wednesday 13th December
A splendidly sunny day greeted me as I rode
into the city on the 9.45 bus. The $32 return fare caused my eyebrows to
arch a little, bus travel is not as cheap as I'd thought. After 2¾
hours we pulled into the 42nd Street bus terminal.
I made my way up 5th Avenue heading for Central Park. Stopping at the Rockefeller Centre for a quick photo in front of the massive, brilliantly lit Christmas tree standing above the world famous ice rink, packed with skaters. I spied Radio City Music Hall across the Avenue, and Saks Fifth Avenue on the corner of the next street. Crossing the road, I slipped into the open door of St Patrick’s Cathedral, quite possibly the richest diocese in the city, buzzing with tourists, all ogling the cathedral's beautiful interior. The noise was tremendous – the roar of hushed tones that pervade all the world’s great churches where hoards of tourists mingle. I didn’t stay long.
Walking north along 6th Avenue I saw a strange looking place – the Jekyll and Hyde Club, sporting such an amazing frontage that I just had to get a photo.
Central Park South (59th Street) was up ahead.
I crossed this busy road to enter the park by the Army Gate, one of the
southerly entrances, passing a row of horse drawn carriages at the roadside.
The poor horses stand, heads down, breathing in traffic fumes all day.
Welcome to New York, how about a ride round the park?
Astounded to see cars speeding into the park's heart, I wander onwards, past the Woollman skating rink, another surprise. Taking a north-westerly path, I wander past a snow-covered baseball diamond, and the Dairy, an information centre and café, sadly closed for the winter. I saw too the building housing the Carousel, a relic from Coney Island 1908, featuring some of the largest jumping horses in the US, also sadly closed on this frosty afternoon.
Traversing north towards the western mid-section gate at 72nd Street, I pass the famous Tavern on the Green restaurant, on 66th Street and Central Park West. A plaque tells me this was once an animal bone boiling house, making fuel for the sugar refineries in the early 1800’s before the park was laid out. The restaurant's garden is full of topiary animals, lit with fairy lights and soft spotlights; I wander in, whirling around in amazemen, watched by diners sseated by the windows. Moving on, I find another road crossing the park, forcing the walker into another arched tunnel.
last I reach the 72nd Street gate and nearby Strawberry Fields, keen to
see the memorial to John Lennon placed there last year by Yoko Ono. Fortunate
to be alone there for a few moments, I ponder the circular monument to
the man who touched so many lives with his music and philosophy. Someone
had placed a candle and some flowers with a picture of John, a small, perfect
gesture. As more people arrived to break the spell, I walked east
to find another path back to my starting point.
In a deserted clearing, a flash of brilliant turquoise swooped past my eyes as a Jay came in to land on a frozen fence post. Other birds came too, but none as outstanding as this blue coated lovely. The local squirrels will eat right out of your hand they’re so tame, it’s so sweet.
I was amazed at the size of the park – it measures 843 Acres and is full of some great things. Impossible to see in one go, especially with aching feet! I retraced my steps to 57th Street and the basement diner I’d spied earlier, eager for a cup of decaf and a plate of pancakes with maple syrup! I was the Mexican hosts’ only customer and probably (they thought) the strangest with my furry hat and English accent. I scoffed those pancakes, though I found them a bit dry (very tight on the maple syrup round here).
Time was moving and darkness approaching –
it was already almost 1530 – I took the subway downtown then walked through
Madison Square Garden to the studio where Malcolm was busy with two rap
artists. I didn’t disturb him, and left for the 1800 bus back to Saugerties,
copping many a lungful of other people’s cigarette smoke on the way. One
guy was smoking a cigar – uuurgh! There’s no way to avoid passive smoke
from small groups of people gathering in the street to light up, no public
building here allows smoking in its environs.
On the bus I share a conversation with an English lady living here for many years. She is very out of touch about the affairs at home, hardly surprising, nobody here looks beyond America’s shores to what’s happening in other lands. This is a very inward looking society.
Thursday 14th December
Snow fell thick overnight. Malcolm is still in the city. Poli and I spend the day indoors until 1530 when we decided to shop for Christmas junk in Saugerties. I spent the evening in front of the TV eating corn chips, trying to keep the volume down to an acceptable level for our extremely light sleeping hostess. My online pal Ern is due to pick me up tomorrow to take me for a few days visit with his family up in Maine!
Friday 15th December
Poli went shopping before Ern arrived. After an hour chatting with Malcolm, we drove away at 1330 for a 5 hour journey north east into even colder regions. As we progressed north, the landscape changed; more fir and spruce trees lined the roadside. A few of the homes could be described as larger, but the wooden clapboard, columned verandas and sloping roofs still spoke of New England. At his nice home in Sandford, I met Anneke, his wife, and Andy, their youngest son, a fitness nutritionist at a gym. We ate pasta and roomboterkoek, then watched Pay Per View movies while Anneke went to work the night shift at a local children’s home. It was so nice to be there at long last, Ern and I have chatted on the web for years, but this was our first face to face meeting.
Saturday 16th December
The house begins its day at 0600, a little early for me! I slept on for another couple of hours. After his 1030 clock customer, Ern took me to the beach (in December?) to tramp through knee deep drifts and walk on the windy shoreline collecting clam shells. Buddy (Ern’s old dog) enjoyed herself, swaggering about on her arthritic legs.
Some of the beachfront properties were very beautiful, staring through blank windows at the grey Atlantic Ocean. Driving though his home town of York, Ern pointed out various spots from his childhood; it looked lovely in its Christmas clothes. Most homes here sport lights on their porches, bushes or trees and everyone has a wreath on their door. At the Weathervane, we ate delicious local lobster, fried clams and calamari. Back at the house, we decorated the Christmas tree, then watched ‘U571’.
Sunday 11 December
Given no choice, I was taken to the Episcopalian New Life Church for an uplifting service featuring the Reverend Jeff and his musical group. Despite his rousing sermon I was unmoved by the Holy Spirit but then I am an old agnostic. Ern’s son Evan and his wife collected us at the church, to go to lunch at a Chinese buffet restaurant, a new idea for Sunday lunch for me. After lunch, we arrive back in Springvale in pouring rain, and after sitting around for a couple of hours, Anneke and I decided to visit the mall for some late night shopping. I bought gifts for all my family and three sets of the dangling icicle lights I have seen adorning most houses in the district; wait until Amsterdam sees those! Ern made more of his grand clam chowder for dinner, it’s easily the best I’ve ever had, just the thing to coax me to relax in front of the TV all night. This is the normal way of things, to eat too much then stare at a TV until you fall asleep. More evidence of the nation’s unhealthy lifestyle. I can now barely fit into the clothes I brought with me!
Monday 18th December
The election fiasco carries on daily, now they
have the supreme court involved. Its bound to go to Bush, his dad put those
judges in place and they won’t forget their ‘duty’ to the Bush family.
Its sad to see the nation turning to the right for its government, some
people will do anything for a tax break!
Today the rain has washed away much of the snow and the wind has cleared the skies for a bright sunny outlook. We are off to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, setting off at 1000 in Ern’s spacious Ford van. We stop at a roadside Dunkin’ Donuts for some carbohydrate and caffeine.
At Chocorua Lake in Madison, New Hampshire, we took photo’s, overlooked by Mt Chocorua’s massive snow cap, feeling the bite of a razor sharp wind. I was glad to be back in the warmth and to move onward to North Conway where we sat for lunch in the van overlooking a fabulous view of the mountains. No visible roads crossed the expanse of mountains, the only way is on foot from here on – amazing! The road continues up towards Mount Washington, the highest peak in the range. We got as far as Crawford’s Notch, once the terminal for the mountain logging railway line whose station still remains.
Turning back to North Conway, we find the best rock shop I’ve ever seen, where I saw a nice crystal for my pal Teri’s collection and a lovely pair of earrings for myself, both excellent memories of a beautiful landscape.
Back at the homestead, Ern baked some tasty rolls to eat with a delicious home made vegetable soup. He really is an excellent chef, the old clock maker. Together we watched ‘Mission to Mars” which I thought had a very weak script and went on too long. Ern doesn’t like sci-fi but he sat through it with me, bless him.
Tuesday 19th December
Princess, the white Persian cat, came through the open door at around 6.30 this morning to settle on my bed. I’ve become friendly too, with Boogie, the house lap cat, a portly tabby with a seemingly permanent moult covering any clothing she contacts. Ern worked in his workshop all day, repairing and rebuilding clocks of all types. Customers pas by to collect their clocks, Anneke and I go to Rochester to collect Ern’s mother to go shopping at Wal-Mart. An elderly lady, she lives in a spacious (by our standards) trailer on a park of similar trailers. Even here the outside lighting bonanza shone as everyone decked their homes with seasonal colour. I bought Christmas presents and developed photos, that Wal-Mart is an amazing place, a true temple of the consumer religion.
Wednesday 20th December
Bad weather dampened our plans to leave early for a day of deliveries; a thick blanket of snow fell overnight. Anneke laboured long to clear both cars, hers and Andy’s – of snow. I am appalled at the chauvinism around here. Ern took us off to Portland, New Hampshire, to shop for booze in the sales tax free state, and eat a huge lunch at another American buffet with so much choice you’d never believe it. The clock call this afternoon is with Mrs King, a lovely old lady living in a condominium home full of charming antiques. She made a lovely cuppa and showed me round while Ern fixed her 18th century grandfather clock into its casing. I marvelled at the new hot tub standing on a small porch outside the back windows, screened from prying eyes by a line of thick, dark firs. Lucky lady!
drove us round the city of Portland where I sent a card to Portland England,
and had my picture taken with the only moose I was to see on this trip
to moose country – Lenny, the full sized chocolate moose standing tall
in the shop where he was created!
Thursday 21st December
Time to leave. Boogie seems to know I am going, she came into my room this morning for a last hug and purr. All goodbyes said, we drive away early to travel down to New York. After 5 hours we reach Saugerties and I hug my friend for the last time before he drives back up north; it was fun to meet him after all this time. Next time we hope to go camping together.
At the house in Malden, progress has been made with the bathroom, now almost complete as tile panels are put in place. I must move out of the bedroom tomorrow, when Milton and Rowan come up for the holiday. I rearranged my baggage to accommodate the new purchases, and wrapped more Christmas presents to stow under the tree. A fast internet connection has been installed on Malcolm’s PC. I checked my mail, sending out late Christmas cards across the web.
Friday 22nd December
At 9 am I get the good news – American Express
are repaying the cheques! In buoyant mood I prepare to travel into the
city to collect Milton and Rowan, leaving at 1230 for the local bank. After
a little waiting and form filling, I have cheques in my hand! It feels
so good at last to be in proper funds.
We drive the 87 Parkway south, past row upon row of naked apple trees, unpicked fruit standing out on some of the branches like big red carbuncles on twiggy limbs. The snow began after 30 minutes, soft white bullets skimming past the Lincoln’s windows, looking like the beginnings of a serious storm. As we parked, the snow thankfully stopped; it had barely made an impression on New York’s busy streets. Leaving Malcolm to work, I made my way up to 34th Street to a packed Macey’s where Amex have an office. The store was full of Christmas shoppers buying like tomorrow was doomsday. I went down to the ladies powder room to queue for some time, chatting with two friendly ladies next to me. We all agree there’s never so long a queue for the gents!
Along West 32nd Street I bought a couple of
calendars before returning to All Media to connect with Malcolm. Milton
and Rowan arrived soon afterwards, and I took them to a local bar for a
drink, almost having a heart attack when the barman asked for $16 for 3
drinks.(£11 for a pint, a glass of wine and a Bailey’s?) Malcolm
took us all to eat at Dimple’s, the kosher vegetarian Indian restaurant
3 blocks down the street – the food was great, and you ashould ahve sen
the faces on the Indian staff when we took the leftovers home with us!
Whilst collecting their bags, I got to see an upper west side apartment first hand. Very nice, parquet floor throughout and big wide windows overlooking West 73rd Street, directly across from the fabulously ornate Ansona Building. Full of varied electronic equipment, Malcolm quickly got a tune going from the shiny black piano standing in the living room, and we spent a pleasant hour smoking and laughing together.
The journey home was easy now the snow had stopped. Poli waited for us eagerly. As Milton lives in UK, she doesn’t see her son very often, and this was a rare treat. We all stayed up until 3 am drinking, talking, and looking at photographs. I am now relegated to the lounge sofa-bed.
Saturday 23rd December
Being last to fall asleep, I woke late, and in considerable pain from my hip muscles, now as taut as a drum skin after so much plodding around sightseeing. I try to ignore my discomfort as we set off for Woodstock, to browse some of the nicest, most expensive shops in the state. I blessed my decision to leave the credit cards at home! I bought Malc & Poli delicious coffee and hot chocolate in a lovely shop–cum-café selling an array of beautiful things. The prices scared me, but I’d already done the bulk of my shopping in Maine, and I needed to sit down more than wander trinket shops. Back at the car we got a ticket for parking in a fire lane, the parking police are so heavy duty!
Milton got a mixer set up in the lounge, with MD and TV connections, now I can listen to late night TV through headphones, and not disturb my sister (her bed is above the TV set). We spent the evening recording mini-discs and sampling all kinds of Christmas booze.
Sunday 24th December
Milton drove Rowan and I out early in the day
to get to the mall before the last minute rush. I got photos printed and
bought a pack of MD’s, then watched the couple spending more than they
can afford on stuff they don’t need. Had an nice hour in the local bar
chatting with the locals.
At home we spent the evening watching a great version of Alice in Wonderland and recording more music. The men put wheels on Poli’s newly erected Maple butcher block table, then erected a new cupboard for her in the kitchen. She came down at 2330 to look at the work, goading everyone to open at least one Christmas present almost as midnight struck. I found a lovely dark blue scarf, a CD, and some red socks before going to bed, exhausted, after 0200.
Monday 25th December
I woke early in a cold draught; the clock read
8 and I felt lousy. I lit the log fire; the day had begun with the aroma
of roasting goose spreading throughout the house, bringing on waves of
nausea. It smelled awful to me, I found it hard to eat breakfast accompanied
by the stench of roasting flesh. I had to keep leaving the room to breathe.
When it came time to open the presents, I was delighted to receive a small
grey jerkin, a brightly painted sun, some lovely soap and a backscratcher.
Rowan and I, both vegetarian, planned to eat a Tofurkey, a weird alternative to the vegetables which would have been enough for me. I didn’t eat much, never having been a big tofu fan. With little else to do, Milton, Rowan and I sat in front of the lounge TV watching crap. I grow bored with the constant ad interruptions on TV, it makes for extremely difficult viewing. Most people have a habit of wandering off to avoid the loud, puerile yapping of the advertisements. The day passed so quietly, it almost went unnoticed.
Tuesday 26th December
This morning I ran the vacuum cleaner around the floors and lit the log fire, preparing the house for Poli's traditional Boxing Day party, beginning in the late afternoon. Malcolm and I went out in the truck for gas bottles to heat up his workshop. I am amazed at how all the shops and businesses are open the day after Christmas, you’d not find that in Europe. When we returned the first guests were already in the house, Poli’s long time friends Bella & Fred, Ronnie and Camille. As more guests arrived, the house began to buzz with conversation and music. Gala and Elizabeth set up the mah-jongg table. I won 3 games, (the last one with no help from anyone) against Gala and Peter, son of the very attractive Michael. A live music session began in the lounge with most of the men sitting in on a variety of instruments and the petite Trinidadian, Camille, performed an energetic cabaret up front. Poli sang, Malcolm played bass, Michael strummed along, and a score of percussion instruments kept the beat for this impromptu performance. Around 1.30 people began to drift off. An early night was needed, as we are invited up to the monastery with Elizabeth tomorrow, I’m really looking forward to that.
Wednesday 27th December
Strange how Christmas, the ultimate consumer
festival, arrived and went so quickly. Yesterday was as a normal shopping
day and this is a full-on working day for those offices that closed for
2 days. We are (well I am) woken by dishes clattering in the sink.
The phone rings - it’s Ronnie, inviting us to breakfast down the street.
From Ronnie’s house the view of the Hudson is spectacular. Ronnie’s a friendly, kind person who makes a living as an entertainer, MC, Dj, whatever is needed. No gig too small. He very kindly invited me to stay at his apartment when Milton and Rowan return to the city tomorrow. I am delighted and excited at the prospect of a few free days in the city and the chance to be on the spot for New Year’s Eve in Times Square! Promising to call later, Ronnie & Camille wave us off from their door, to return and prepare for our monastery trip.
It took 45 minutes to reach the house in Willow. I joined Elizabeth in her big 4-wheeler to travel for almost another hour to the Tibetan monastery in the hills. It was simply lovely. As I entered, I felt a curtain of peace drop behind me and I was encapsulated in a quiet, still, magical atmosphere. Four massive statues of Tibetan Buddhas towered over the room, which itself was lined with other smaller figures. Small red velvet prayer stools were grouped together in the centre of the temple room, amongst which were low tables with prayer wheels, bells and singing bowls, all placed just so on their polished surfaces. To one side, a woman and a monk prepared food for the ceremonies, laying everything out on a table on the right side of the room. On the other wall, seated at a small lectern, an ancient Tibetan woman folded napkins, slowly and carefully. I toured the altar, seeing the smaller Llamas’ statues up close. All around the walls hung different ancestral deities on colourful flags. I sat down to enjoy a truly quiet peaceful moment, who knows how long it lasted, maybe half an hour, maybe longer. All I know is that it was a very special place, that monastery, it exuded peace.
Next port of call was to Phoenicia, about 15
miles away, to visit Gala’s wonderfully colourful Tibetan
shop. I could have bought lots of things, and was persuaded to take a beautiful malachite pendant with me for $75; it’s very lovely. Lunch in a superb little restaurant next to the shop, was quite a gay affair, with everyone seated around a big long table, sampling lots of different dishes. We took the scenic view back to Elizabeth’s place for another session in the sauna and a delicious meal. What lovely people and such a divine place! The inevitable game of Mah-Jong ensued with me winning a game again single handed. I improve with practise.
Thursday 28th December
Rowan, Milton and I left for the city at 9
am. Malcolm dropped off a trailer at some huge cash and carry mega store,
took us to the 73rd Street apartment, then left for his noon meeting. I
sat in the bay window staring at the white grey stone of the Ansona
Building, feeling great. At last I am free in NYC, the city is my oyster!
I got started right away, grabbing a week long metro card for $17 of unlimited travel on all forms of transport, and descending into the labyrinth of the New York subway system. Swiping my metro credit card at the gate, I entered a subway platform that appeared very familiar to an old Kojak fan. The ‘A’ train to Haarlem could be seen passing though on another track! I found myself humming the old jazz classic as I hopped onto the downtown local to ride the Staten Island Ferry. As the train shunted through famous place names, I consulted the Manhattan subway map, learning the island’s layout. Small, but populated with more famous sights and subway lines than you can shake a stick at, it’s a wonder half the buildings stay up given the number of tunnels built for the subway!
At the end of the line I emerge into Battery Park in a bitter cold wind, following a line of commuters heading for the Staten Island Ferry. On its north/south course, the boat passes the Statue of Liberty and is a superb photo opportunity for the right camera. I of course don’t have the right camera but I try, snapping a sunset of the lady with her torch held aloft against a blood red skyline.
On the icy cold aft deck I tried for a night shot of the south Manhattan skyline, but it didn’t come out, pity to miss the sight of all the skyscrapers silhouetted in a snowstorm against a dark grey-green sky. The Brooklyn Bridge spanned the Hudson to the right, another famous silhouette. By now lights burned all around as New York went home from the office. The ferry was large, with a café amidships. Even on the boat you can buy a hot dog!
Ronnie arrived with Camille to take me out to a bar where a friend of theirs played old 70's hits until the early hours to uninterested customers at an ear-splitting volume. I distinctly remember dancing after a couple of glasses of wine. I was returned to the flat after 3 am, quite drunk. I think this was when I lost my sparkly hat. Not a good ending to my first lovely day in New York.
Friday 29th December
I sbegan today's wandering at the 72nd street
subway, taking the downtown train. Taking advice from a fellow lady passenger,
I search around 14th Street for a comic store where I bought a couple of
annuals to take home for my pal Alec’s collection. Next stop: 42nd Street/Times
Square to visit EZ everything, where they give you 3 hours 20 minutes for
just $1.00, amazingly cheap. (I fell asleep while staring at the screen).
I learned that MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) reduces entrance fees to simple donations on Friday after 1630, so joined the long lines of simuilar minded folk waiting in the lobby. For a couple of hours I yawned my way through 4 floors of increasingly weird stuff, before leaving to stroll around Saks 5th Avenue, buying small gifts for girlfriends in the exclusive store.
Onto the subway; I swipe my card through the machine, making certain that I am on the correct side of the tracks. If I have to exit it will be 15 minutes before I am permitted to swipe it again to enter the system, a rule that prevents multiple riding on one ticket. Quite clever really, but frustrating if like me, you frequently find yourself on the uptown track when wanting to go downtown! On the concourse, a Japanese man sits, playing what looks like the inside of a piano, sounding like nothing else I’ve ever heard. Down on the platform, another oriental man plays haunting cello to a taped accompaniment, while on another platform, a black girl sings along to another karaoke machine, attracting quite a crowd. What a musical place is this subway! On the train a trio of black a cappella singers entertain the passengers with a wonderful rendition of The Christmas Song, moving along the train, smiling broadly.What a wonderfully musical place is this New York Subway!
At the apartment, Milton and Rowan are waiting for Ronnie to call to arrange taking them out into the chilly New York night. I am exhausted. I take a hot Jacuzzi bath to ease my very painful hip, and fall asleep with little delay.
Saturday 30th December
Alaska came to New York today. An incredible
scene greets me as I stare out of the window. Six inches of snow cover
the streets. Snow ploughs rumble along the avenues, opening the city’s
highways and byways. A good day to be indoors. I choose the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, across the park on 83rd Street, and set off through Central
Park like an Alaskan explorer, wading through knee deep white drifts. The
city is almost silent, all you can hear are the droning of snow ploughs,
the occasional hoot of children and faint birdsong. Pity the poor
birds in this weather. I follow what I hope is the right path as blizzard
conditions ensue, forcing me to stop in an ornately carved gazebo for a
photo and a chance to stamp the snow from my boots. It was almost impossible
to find your way without help, and I had to ask more than once for
the best path across the park. The scenery was just amazing, trees and
bushes draped in soft snowy lacework, frozen in winter symmetry. I found
my way to Belvedere Castle, a folly built next to the Turtle Pond, now
used as a wildlife observatory and information centre. I sat inside for
a while, watching thick snowflakes blanketing the park, almost totally
obscuring the view, before making my way to the east side past gangs of
tobogganing, snowboarding people and children building snowmen. After another
detour I find myself on 5th Avenue, a block down from the Metropolitan.
Snow is piled high at the roadside, the ploughs have been here early.
In the jam-packed museum, it takes 45 minutes to hang up my coat, and almost as long to get to the cash desk. I made my way to the cafeteria, standing in line another half hour for an overpriced sandwich, coffee and cheesecake. I was glad of the sit-down after tramping across such a distance, my back really hurts. At the cash desk I found I had taken Milton’s passport by mistake, but they still cashed the $100 check I gave them. I walked around all the exhibits, some excellent, some garbage, its all a matter of taste… Leaving proved to be almost as hard as arriving, the coat queue was easily as long.
At the flat, panic over as I hand Milton his passport which he thought lost, and I try to ease the steel band of pain across my lower back. I have got to stop walking! Rather than watch the couple lolling around scoffing junk food swilled down by soda pop, I leave to find something more healthy. The local restaurants are all populated by smiling happy people enjoying each others’ company. No place for a lone diner, I couldn’t face it, so went to the Fairway market to buy stuff to eat at home, making my way back at about 10 pm.
Sunday 31st December
Today I got my marching orders. Todd, the flat’s
tenant, returns tomorrow and I must hide my presence. I went out to the
World Trade Centre, finding an hour long queue of tourists. I bought a
ticket and left, intending to return tomorrow morning when the queue is
shorter. Calling in at the Marriott, I get advice on finding a cheap
hotel, midtown near Malc’s office. At the Red Roof Inn on 32nd and Broadway,
I book a comfortable en-suite room for 2 nights.
At EZ everything I learn from my New Year flat sitters that the plastic veranda erected to protect the plants from winter cold has blown down, but that the guests have erected it again for me, bless them. I hope everything’s all right over there. Emerging into the cold air, I see NYPD already busy erecting barriers around Times Square, where the city traditionally gathers for the annual dropping of the glittering ball at midnight followed by the parading of old father time and the new year’s baby around the square.
Obviously it was not going to be possible to get into the square itself unless one got into position right now, at 5 pm in the afternoon. I decided standing up was not something I could do any longer, and went home to eat and prepare for later, unsure if going out was a wise idea. Milton and Rowan arrived soon afterwards. We ate and watched the crowds gathering on TV, hoping the weather would deter too many people from coming into the city. At 11 we left the apartment to make our way to Columbus Circle (59th) to walk down 7th Avenue, along which the famous ball was visible for some 15 blocks. We got as close as 10 blocks from Times Square, herded into the road and fenced in by the ever efficient NYPD. You couldn’t even walk down the sidewalk, the cops just pushed you back into the heaving crowds of revellers. The cross streets were kept clear in case of emergencies, barriers being erected in front and behind each crowded block. I stood at the back, resting my bum on one of these wooden barriers, thankfully relieving the intense pain in my hip. Just before midnight a cop came up and advised me not to sit on the barrier as when the crowd surged I would be knocked over. He obviously was not on speaking terms with my hip! I ignored him, settling myself more comfortably on the hard beam. Watching the neon sign in Times Square rousing everyone to a crescendo, it counted down the seconds, the ball dropped and everyone whooped with joy for a few minutes. Perhaps it was the cold, but I though the crowd were very subdued, (probably more to do with New York’s prohibition laws preventing people from public drinking or smoking anything stronger than a Lucky Strike). Turning back to look towards Central Park, a firework display entertained the revellers for a seemingly short time before the throng began to disperse. I was back at the apartment by 00.25 shivering with cold!
Monday 1st January 2001
Having been up all night, Milton was cleaning
the apartment when I woke this morning. I packed my bags and together we
watched the New Year’s Pasadena parade on TV. I can’t officially take up
residence at the hotel until 1500 hrs but I get into my room at 1330, immediately
hanging my fresh food out of the window to keep cool in the freezing temperatures.
After stripping off and taking a long hot shower, I have another hotel
to check out, a cheaper $60 option on 27th street which I go to investigate.
It turned out to be a run-down place, smelling of cooking food and
cockroach spray. I didn’t like the drunken black man waiting in reception
much either, and decided to stay at the original location.
I hop the subway to the WTC, shuffling along for an hour in a queuebefore alighting from the elevator at the top level of the city. It was growing dark, restricting my photographing ability (none of the pics came out) as I wandered the four sides of the building’s cold and windy rooftop. A floor below, an indoor viewing platform with cafes, souvenirs and burger outlets thronged with people. I took the opportunity to go on the virtual helicopter ride which takes you for an aerial trip around the New York skyline. The real thing costs considerably more! Tired, I return to a hot bath, cheese and wine in front of my own choice of TV, trying to ignore the oh so professional interruptions of the adverts, paradise!
Tuesday 2nd January
Today I intend to ride buses everywhere while
the metro card still lasts. At breakfast I understand why the rate is so
low in this midtown hotel - there is no kitchen in the building. Bagels,
bread, doughnuts, and choice of one piece of fruit, is served on plastic
plates, washed down by orange squash, tea or coffee in polystyrene cups.
(I’ve got more healthy choices in my room!)
At 10.30, I await the R train to Times Square, off to check and send some email. I learn that the ticket from EZ Everything is valid anywhere for 28 days in any one of their shops. That’s an incredible deal… Not such a good deal leaving my lovely Christmas gloves on the damn subway seat - drat!
I jump on a bus taking me uptown to 59th and Lex (I’m getting the lingo now) to have a look around the art deco style palace of Bloomingdale’s. Passing Barnum’s Circus tent on 6th Avenue, I am amazed to see this permanent tent in the middle of all the skyscrapers and traffic, not at all what you’d expect to find in a city. Reaching Bloomingdale’s, what a con. Its another designer wares store, nothing cheaper than a fortune and lots of overpricing everywhere. It appears to be supporting Ralph Lauren and Donna Karen, those were the most noticeable names hanging on the awnings. I went into the ladies room, but have to say Macey’s is a much nicer shop.
Grabbing another bus, I goggle out of the window, noting the number of coffee places in this crazy town. No wonder New Yorkers are so hyper and aggressive, they live on caffeine fixes all day! Another overdone thing is the eating places – we pass (on one block) a Chinese fast food place, MacDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, another Chinese fast food joint, Wendy’s (burgers), Vietnamese restaurant, a sandwich shop, yet another oriental take-away and a coffee-cum-sandwich bar, all cheek by jowl. All they seem to do here is eat! Small wonder they have such massive weight problems. And the packaging! I watch them put already packaged goods into a brown paper bag (4 layers) then putting that bag into a plastic carrier, or even two. What future does the earth have with this amount of wastage? My mind boggles and I find myself praying for common sense to prevail. It is so upsetting to watch the biggest consumer nation on the planet blindly racing at their own destruction with no sign of slowing down!
With the aid of the subway, I travel down to 3rd Avenue and the Black Sheep pub where I went with Ronnie and Camille, to ask about my missing hat. No it has not been found, sorry. Oh well, worth a try I guess.
I board another bus, expecting to end at the East River ferry but instead it takes me to the bus terminal on 42nd Street. Across the street on 8th Avenue, is a great cheap shopping place for all kinds of stuff. I got another pair of gloves for my near frozen hands, and decided to take a ride down to Greenwich Village for a look at this famous area. Walking down Bleeker Street, I pass some well known club names, The Elbow Room most notable amongst them, all of course closed at this time of day. Calling in at a ‘smoke shop’ I buy an extortionate packet of long cigarette papers for $3 (Dfl.7.50 for something costing Dfl.2 at home). I wander the side streets, drinking it all in, admiring the architecture and feel of the area. Some delightful apartments showed themselves through wide windows and behind grime laden fire escapes. It was nice to see low-rise buildings of a mere four storeys rather than neck breaking dizzying heights of the skyscrapers, it felt a little like walking round the Jordaan in Amsterdam.
I’m just a few stations from Chinatown, which has to be my next stop. The subway drops me at the westerly end of Canal Street, a sight which is simply staggering to behold. The road dips gently upwards, lined with thousands of Chinese owned businesses, everything you see is written in Cantonese. There are more restaurants here than you can shake a stick at, and I am astounded at the number of cheap souvenir and clothes shops hugging the pavements; everywhere someone is busy selling something to somebody. I need to change a cheque; the nearest bank, HSBO, is entirely populated by Chinese speaking staff, and so is the customer line. I am the only Caucasian in the place!
After a long walk along Canal Street, I reach the Manhattan Bridge but am not allowed to walk up onto its span to look down at the freezing waters of the East River. The gateway is well worth a look, with its shining white stone built in Romanesque style. A plaque on the wall of a building proclaims this to be the site of a tavern from which George Washington began his push to unseat the British and proclaim independence.
Darkness looms, lights begin to burn and I sit on a bus taking me back uptown to 34th Street, two blocks from the hotel. I look forward to a long hot bath to ease the aching in my lower back (again!).
Wednesday 3rd January
My last day in the city, time to return to
upstate. I leave on the 1800 bus tonight. I started early, with the last
(and possibly most important to me) sight yet to seen – the Empire State
Building. For days I’ve been looking forward to this, partly why
I’ve left it to the last day. Visible from various locations, it’s even
more visible at night, thanks to the electric green and red lighting on
the topmost floors. Leaving my luggage packed in my room, I left the hotel
at 0830 to walk around the corner into the ESB, on 33rd Street. There
were already a lot of people standing in line at the ticket office in the
basement. They open at 0930 so it was almost 10 by the time we had ridden
upward on two elevators to the 86th floor, public pinnacle of what used
to be the world’s tallest building. Like the WTC, the observation deck
sported the standard fast food outlets and souvenir shop and another helicopter
ride around the spires of New York City. I passed on that. Instead, I walked
around, staring down at the mini cars and people moving like an army of
insects along the narrow streets far below. The brilliant sunshine lit
the spectacular Chrysler Building’s art deco splendour a few blocks north.
The entire island of Manhattan was laid out before me on all sides, yes,
this is definitely a better vantage point than the southerly (and much
taller) World Trade Centre, if you ask me.
Time was moving on, and I had a large bag of stale bread and bagels to get rid of, I subwayed uptown to the park, entering this time from the 5th Avenue side of Central Park South, Engineer’s Gate, walking alongside the zoo. I am not sure whether I approve of this, I am a bit anti-zoo, preferring to see creatures in their own natural habitat (if only man would stop moving in on it everywhere). It was hard to find a safe place where one could feed the birds away from a pampered 5th Avenue pooch taking its morning leg-cocking session. I eventually stopped on the Terrace, near the Bandshell, admiring the magnificent Bethesda Fountain, feeding squirrels that scampered down tree trunks, bounding through 6” deep snow, to take bread from my hand. They liked the bagels too. I managed to attract a few Jays, taking the chance to snap one or two as they nervously skittered across the snow. Strolling up to 51st Street I take a different train back to the hotel to store my bags in the luggage room for the afternoon, and leave again to enjoy my last few hours in the city. As it was lunchtime, I decided to end the trip where it began – Grand Central Station. One of those TV travel programmes had advised the visitor to eat in the dining concourse, hidden away under beige pink archways, deep in the station’s bowels. I found a collection of various food outlets with delicious choices, seating areas some great big red fixed armchairs placed in an outward facing circle in the centre of it all. Choosing the fare was difficult with so many choices. Plumping for clam chowder I settle down to eat and watch the world go by, listening to many different languages threading through the crowd as it moved around me. I took my last photographs of the wondrous place before catching a train south towards Brooklyn. At Wall Street I alighted to walk, dwarfed to ant size by the city’s tallest buildings, to gawp at the offices of the richest names in the world. I discover Donald Trump has two buildings, one on 5th Avenue with a waterfall, and one drab little place across the road from the stock exchange which never sees the sun on its doorstep. I got a quick glance at the Brooklyn Bridge, almost totally obscured behind the masts of sailing ships moored on the East River docks, snapped a photo or two and I’m on the move again as light snow began to fall.
The clock read almost 4.30, time to pick up the bags and make my way to the bus depot, grabbing a hot chocolate and a couple of muffins to ease the hunger pangs. Malcolm was at the stop to pick me up, and at home Poli had made supper. It was nice to relax and ease the back pains after so much walking.
Friday 5th January
Whilst repacking my suitcases, I glance at
my flight ticket and discover I am not flying on Saturday as I thought,
but late night tonight. I was looking forward to a last session in Elizabeth’s
sauna, too! A frantic shopping trip to get film developed and pick up items
requested by friends at home. Soon my baggage is packed and swiftly
whisked out of the spare bedroom as Poli begins to prepare it to be her
new work room. Suddenly the car’s packed, I’m outside hugging my sister
goodbye, on my way to the bus to New York City and the airport, happy to have tasted a little of the Big apple.