nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic

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A Hungarian what?

Puli. It’s a dog. A Hungarian Puli. It’s a dog that looks like it belongs to Bob Marley such are its dreadlocks so long and flowing. We have spotted them a few times near our apartment and I spoke to an owner once who said that they were all related and great pets. I saw what must have been the granddad of Hungarian Pulis today as he was chilling out on a bench in Central Park (bet he didn’t get sunburn). As he and his owner snoozed on the bench, tourists walked by and smiled, pointed and took photos. He really should have charged, would have made a fortune.

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When a line is not a queue

Here in the US no one says ‘queue’. Instead they say ‘on line’. Fair enough. I’m happy to be ‘on line’. British people queue well and naturally are very polite about it. When they see queue jumpers they mutter under their breath but wouldn’t dream of telling anyone how upset they are by this breach of the code of being British. Today I experienced my first major queue. It is snaking down the street and is full of families and buggies and because the day is beautiful and warm, everyone seems pretty happy. We are all here for a free event with our kids and we are all clueless as to what exactly we are queuing for.  The pavement is pretty wide and as we join the end of the queue we see others going past us and into the general scrum nearer the front. The people in front of me send an emissary to the front of the queue to see if we are missing out. No. It’s just a lot of people and the doors haven’t opened yet.  One glamorous looking lady waltzes past us and declares ‘I’m just gonna get X in and I’ll be back’. She seems completely oblivious to the fact that there is a queue of hundreds of people waiting to do exactly the same thing! People see how far they can get and then stop. No one seems in the least bit bothered about this, but I did find myself tutting. Quietly.

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The beauty wars

Previously I was shocked to find a man massaging my shoulders as I had a manicure in my local nail bar. It felt rude to ask him to stop, mostly because it was quite nice, but also because I thought maybe that was part of the deal. Apparently not. He stopped suddenly, said did I want a massage, 10, 20 or 30 minute? I said no, thanks, but it was everso nice. British politeness never fails me, even in massage incidents. I tried not to take offence when he went straight to the sink to wash his hands, clearly not enamoured of my slightly sweaty skin. Hey, I didn’t ask for it! Anyhow, having got over this by now, I actually asked for a massage today after my manicure and nearly started world war 3 between the heavy handed massage guy and the manicurist as they argued who would have the pleasure. Really? It’s not worth it, not for the tip, anyway. I am regretting it now. I was pummelled consistently in the same place on my shoulders and my arms felt like they were being rung out such that they were squeezed – maybe an antidote to bingo wings? I particularly liked the classy part where she plonked down a timer, like the one I have in my kitchen, to make sure she didn’t go over the 10 minutes. Once I’d baked, she then proceeded to knead my forehead and stretch it like some kind of amateur face lift. Who needs botox with that manoeuvre? I am a victim in the beauty wars.

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Dr Who uses the TARDIS to travel through time and space in an old fashioned police box, not seen in the UK since the last one was decommissioned in 1981. The boxes were originally constructed in the US in the late 19th Century and the idea took on in London in the 1930s when they cost 43 pounds each to install. Containing a telephone and a first aid box, they were intended for the public to use in an emergency at a time when there was no widespread use of telephones. Why am I writing about this? Well, I have been noticing little red boxes all over New York with Fire and Police on them. You can see from the picture below, one that is attached to a lampost; others are self standing, usually at the intersection of a street and an avenue. Lift up the flap under the word Fire or Police and there is a button to call the respective emergency service operator. Lots of these boxes went out of action after Hurricane Sandy because the electrics flooded and many have not yet been mended.  I understand that there is a city law that says they have to be available and according to a City Councillor I heard speak recently, they are more reliable at getting you to a fire or police operator than calling 911. They seem very out dated for a modern world, sitting solemnly at the corner of the street. I’ve never seen anyone use one, but it’s reassuring to know they are there, just in case.

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Smoke alarm

Today’s papers are focusing on an announcement made by the New York City Government about plans to increase the age at which you can buy cigarettes from 18 to 21. As a non-smoker, this sounds good to me. Any disincentive to smokers has to be a good thing. I have been surprised at how little smoking you see in New York. In London you would see gaggles of people outside buildings, puffing away during office hours. The smoking ban in pubs and restaurants back in 2007 made a huge difference to anyone who hated coming home stinking of cigarettes. It was a relief not to have to air my clothes on the radiators after a night in the pub. Here, you aren’t allowed to smoke in parks, beaches (not many of those in New York City!) plazas and other public places. The argument here against raising the age for buying cigarettes is all about liberty: the freedom to buy cigarettes when you are old enough to fight for your country, you’re old enough to decide whether it’s a good thing to smoke. On a more political front, the New York Times observed that the announcement made here on Monday about these proposals was fronted by Dr Thomas A Farley (they are big on using the middle initial here) who is the city’s health commissioner and Speaker Christine Quinn. Previously anything health related would have been announced by Mayor Bloomberg. The Times speculates that this is him passing the mantle to Quinn, in her bid to be Mayor. Whatever the truth, the New York Post has the best headlines as ever: “The Cig is Up. Quinn Bill to hike cigarette age to 21”.

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Give me an A

Yep, that’s what all the restaurants in New York want. Mayor Bloomberg introduced a new health inspection regime in July 2010 that means that each restaurant now displays a ‘Sanitary Inspection’ grade by the front door. An A is very good, means that the inspectors only turn up once a year; a B not so good, as the inspectors will turn up four times in a year to see what you’ve been up to. E and I have been tracking these letters and often comment on them, wondering if anyone would get an A+ and what would happen if you got a Z. I am yet to see a C grade, which is the lowest grade you can get. I had a look at the New York Department of Health guidelines on inspection and grading. It’s a thrilling one page read. If you don’t get an A first time round, you get another chance, with a random inspection a month later. This explains the ‘Grade Pending’ notice on a restaurant near us, which has been puzzling us. But given it’s way more than a month, I’m not sure the regime is working perfectly and with 24,000 restaurants to inspect, it’s no surprise.

Today, the New York Post got all in a lather about this, calling the Department of Health staff ‘killjoys’ who walk into restaurants and ruin everyone’s dinner as service pretty much stops as the inspection takes place.  The Post goes on to say “Bloomberg’s blue-coated buzzkills are increasingly invading city eateries during peak times, shutting down service for several hours and leaving diners hungry and businesses broke”. Fantastic alliteration and I suspect total overkill on what’s actually happening, but entertaining as usual from the Post. So watch out next time you fancy a meal out!


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The power of TV

I am a big fan of Project Runway – or Project Catwalk it was called for the short time the UK version ran with Liz Hurley hosting and mangling her vowels. It’s another reality type TV programme, with a dozen designers all coming together to design various outfits based on various themes and each week one is eliminated until one wins the big prize at the end. A familiar theme. I’m very excited to watch the finale this week with my 7 year old who has also become a big fan and takes it very seriously. It has become increasingly commercialised over the  years with more and more brands included in the show and one in particular in this season’s show is Lord & Taylor. I’d never heard of them before, but they have a big presence on the show, they inspired a challenge and I was intrigued. So off I went to 38th and 5th Avenue earlier today, in the beautiful New York sunshine.

Lord & Taylor was established in 1826 and was the first department store to move to 5th Avenue. It’s a fairly large store with the usual cosmetics and accessories on the ground floor and then floors of clothes above. It was pretty quiet for a Wednesday which made the rows and rows of clothes look a bit lonely. I was particularly taken with the shoe displays, with reflective round tables beautifully showing the sparkly shoes to their best advantage. It was quite mesmerising, but I didn’t need shoes, so I tore myself away. Summer, must find summer gear, otherwise New York will be unbearable. New York is hot, hot, hot in summer and like most Brits, I have a minimal summer wardrobe because we have no summer. Lord & Taylor did me proud and with 25 per cent off everything in some random sale, I was in heaven. I did try to find a funky summer hat, but I appear to have an enormous head as none of them fitted. No runway for me then.

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Giddy at the Guggenheim

I’d been meaning to visit the Guggenheim for ages and finally made it today. It was pretty busy even at 11am, I think because the Met is closed on a Monday, it pushes arty traffic up 5th Avenue. It’s an amazing building, so different to everything around it, and it proudly looks out at Central Park. It is the youngest building to be landmarked in the US and when it was built in the 1950s, with its modern design by Frank Lloyd Wright, its stuffy Upper East Side neighbours campaigned against it. Ironically, 40 odd years later when the Guggenheim authorities decided that they’d run out of space and need to expand it, its neighbours campaigned for the frontage to remain untouched and for the extension to be developed at the back, unseen by 5th Avenue. They were the ones that got the landmark status.

It is lovely, so curvy and simple, it’s a great place to display art. At the moment, it has a fabulous installation called ‘Water’ by the Japanese artist, Motonaga Sadamasa. There are many polyethylene tubes of varying widths filled with brightly-colored water, weighing down at different points in the tubes which are suspended across the rotunda.

The first photo below is taken from the top floor, looking down, which is quite a long way up and no good for anyone who doesn’t like heights. The second photo is taken about half way down and shows more clearly the tubes and their criss cross effect. It is beautiful.

blog pic 12blog pic 13Find out more at:



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The prawn cocktail revolution

Ah, Walkers, we miss you! We’ve tried all sorts of different US crisps, which naturally come in enormous bags, enough to feed a family for a month. They’re either too salty or have no salt; too strong tasting or just plain horrible. Fairways comes to the rescue because it sells Walkers crisps for 99c a bag. The only problem with this is that the well kept secret that they do this keeps coming out. I go every week and look at the British section and it’s either feast or famine depending on whether some boxes of Walkers have made their way across the Atlantic. Last week, I scanned the section for the pink bags of prawn cocktail crisps. As I’m scanning, an American lady asks the staff if they have any ‘prawn cocktail chips’ and she explains they are ‘from England’. The men look suitably bemused as prawn cocktail flavour isn’t sold here. They look for some time and whilst her back is turned, I spot two bags nestled in amongst the salt and vinegar hula hoops and carefully extract them and put them in my trolley. I cover up my bounty with my Bounty (just 2 rolls). And then I slowly walk away, feeling victorious. But this week, there must have been some over ordering as every aisle was garlanded with bags of prawn cocktail, like pink decorations. I don’t think I was hallucinating, but I did stock up. Just in case.