nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic

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A very busy Eric

That’s Eric Carle, author of many, many children’s books. I have lost count how many times I have read the Very Hungry Caterpillar or the Very Busy Spider. So I was very excited to be able to go to a book signing by the man himself earlier today. But I couldn’t, because the queue was so long, they weren’t permitting anyone else to join it. He was signing his new book at the New York Public Library, the famous one on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. There were hundreds of people there and a lot of very bored children.  I did catch a glimpse of Eric and took a snap, which you can see below, but it’s not very close, so imagine it’s an old man with a beard in a hat. Such a shame not to actually get our books signed and say hi, but we did get to go back into the “ABC of it: why children’s literature matters” exhibition, which is even better second time round.

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Ohh, I feel so homesick now

One of my New York friends has just pointed out to me the 36 hours in Hampstead article in yesterday’s New York Times. Hampstead is NW3. It’s filled with all the places I know and love – it majors on places to eat and it’s spot on. It even includes British Military Fitness, which I miss desperately, even after nearly a year away – and my abs miss them too. Do read this and go to Hampstead for 36 hours.

Two more years…

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Does recommended price mean free?

This is interesting. In NYC, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is an enormous world renowned museum filled to the rafters with art and artefacts from all around the world from a huge span of history. It is popular and always busy. It is in a great location on Central Park and it is a privilege to visit. So they recommend that you pay $25 for this privilege. You don’t have to, but I suspect many do and given how much it must cost to run the place, it’s probably a good deal for a day out.

I was browsing through my latest Groupon voucher email when I saw that the Met was offering discounted admission for $18. Seems like a good deal, but of course the admission is ‘recommended’, so what’s that telling you? According to the Met it’s about giving people the chance to pay in advance and skip the lines. For some it’s more sinister. Yesterday’s NY Daily News shows outrage at this and says “Looks like the Met continues to be the true masters in the art of deception” and goes on to talk about the Groupon deal, the 2000 people who signed up and a legal case about their approach currently in a New York court. 

Bit of a storm in a teacup, I think. It’s a great place and my advice would be to read the notices about admissions and make a decision based on your ability to pay and your attitude to supporting great institutions like the Met. Next time you visit a London museum and don’t have to pay for anything until you want to see a special exhibition, just remember that in NYC you rarely get anything for free. 

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Not quite Damien Hirst

There was a Damien Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern last year. It was full of predictable spot paintings, medicine cabinets, dead animals and some rather pretty butterfly pictures. But the real draw was the diamond encrusted skull. To see this you had to queue separately in the Turbine Hall and see it in a pitch black room, with access via a scary looking security guard, with spot lights strategically placed to allow the diamonds to dazzle. It was impressive. It was expensive. It was 50 million quid!

I was reminded of this when I went into Dean and Deluca earlier today. As New York gears up for Halloween (it’s everywhere and it’s nearly a month away) they have put on sale a solid chocolate skull. I took a snap to share my incredulity with you today. It’s price?  A mere $65. Gumph. How would you eat it?

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Remember that episode of Friends when Phoebe spends a day or so on the phone waiting to get through to a real human being and then discovers at the end that she’s been on a premium rate phone line and it cost a fortune? Well, I may not have been on a premium rate line, but the experience was similar. 36 minutes and 32 seconds later I managed to persuade AT&T to refund me $40 that they took by mistake. That’s nearly a dollar a minute for my time. I think there’s actually only one person at the other end as the automated lady tries to stop you from going anywhere near a human. I tried pretty much every permutation and eventually clicked that ‘technical support’ would get me through an actual person. And then she put me on hold for another 10 minutes until I’m sure I just ended up speaking to her again. They have AT&T stores here but if you want to get your money back they won’t speak to you. In fact, when I went in there a while ago to resolve the same issue, all they did was get me through to customer services who put me on hold. Customer service? I don’t think so.

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Panic in the bakery

I have discovered a new favourite food: the pumpkin cinnamon bun from Glaser’s Bake Shop on 1st Avenue. So light and fluffy and so big and so fattening and yet so lovely. It’s seasonal, so a temporary obsession. I had my eye on Glaser’s for some time, it’s a bit of a time warp shop, looks like it hasn’t been updated since it opened in 1902. When I went in for the first time just last week, I was accosted by the heat of the place, my god, they need something in there, I have no idea how the jolly ladies behind the counter could stand it. I felt like I had walked into a 1950s TV programme, maybe ‘Call the Midwife’ (recently watched on HBO) or Open All Hours.

I am entranced by the array of lardy cake stuffs which consist mostly of buns, incredible large fluffy meringue pies (lemon of course, none of your lime nonsense) and the biggest tray of brownies I have ever seen. E and I are standing there, our eyes open wide and our months gawping. I am shaken out of my trance by a fellow shopper, a woman with her 3-ish something child in a buggy. The conversation goes something like this:

“How old is she?”, says the lady, pointing at E.

“She is 7, 7 and a half” I reply in my best English accent.

“What school does she go to?”

“X school” I respond.

“What grade is she in? Did she start in Pre K?” further interrogates the unusually interested lady.

“Err, no she just started in second grade”, I respond, surprised by the directness and interest in the bakery queue.

At which point, she turns away from me, and starts on the next person in the queue, who has just the one child in a buggy. I am bemused. What was that about? Then it dawned on me as I overheard the rest of her interrogations. She was asking other mothers about schools because she was applying for her daughter and was relaying the trauma of trying to get application forms from local private schools where the competition is tough. She told tales of dialling over and over to get an answer from admissions departments on the day after Labor Day.

She wasn’t interested in me because I hadn’t gone through it. If she’d thought about it, she would have asked where did E go in pre K (equivalent kind of to reception in a UK primary school). But she didn’t, so I listened, amused at the panic in the bakery and wondered how many other stores she had had that same conversation that day. For me, I was just relieved to leave the oppressive heat of the place and munch my lovely pumpkin cinnamon bun with a nice cup of tea.

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Got that wrong, then

So, Christine Quinn didn’t win the Democratic primary yesterday. There’s a great map on the New York Times website showing the blast of blue for Bill de Blasio, who won the primary, just, with a smidgen over the required 40 per cent to take the nomination. I am slightly surprised how scattered Quinn’s support is. I am not in the least bit surprised that in the Yorkville area of the Upper East Side she got nowhere as locals vociferously campaigned against her support of the proposed local waste transfer station. And as for Anthony Weiner, he made no friends during his campaign, with just a tiny smattering of pink showing the precincts that didn’t mind his sexting history. Here’s hoping he takes the hint and gives up the idea of public office now.

It’s Bill de Blasio versus Joe Lhota in the elections for New York Mayor on November 5th. Given there are very few Republicans in New York, de Blasio is going to have a nice new job come January. But what will ex Mayor Bloomberg do? Maybe his $27bn fortune will keep him company.

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Levering for votes

You’d think that a sophisticated city like New York would have a sophisticated system for dealing with elections: no pieces of paper folded up and shoved into antiquated boxes in musty church halls here, you’d think. Err, well you’d be wrong.

“Dented, dinged and dated, New York’s battleship-gray lever voting machines have been hauled out of retirement because the city can’t seem to get the hang of electronic voting.”

This is what the New York Times had to say on in its front cover story in today’s newspaper. Machines from the 1960s have been dusted down, lubricated, given some TLC and shunted off to the 1200 voting locations for tomorrow’s primary elections. The primary elections are to decide who gets the Democratic and the Republican nominations for the race for Mayor and the other election in the city (that’s five Borough Presidents, the Public Advocate, the Comptroller and various City Council seats). You cannot escape the candidates and their supporters as you walk around the city, the number of trees that have died because of election literature must be huge!

The Executive Director of the Board of Elections, Michael Ryan – appointed a month ago –  goes on to say on a more cheery note in the same article:

“The machines have all been tested, and they’re functional. I think that there are naysayers in every walk of life, and some people just like to harp on the darker side of life. We’re a lot more optimistic here about this election coming off, and the election coming off successfully.”

Fingers crossed, eh?