nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic


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Apparently we speak the same language

Update: This competition closed on 20 December. I came 3rd in the US bloggers section, so thanks for all the comments!

I felt inspired to enter a competition to share my expat experience. I have written a top tips post which was published on the Expats Blog website yesterday. Take a look using the link below, you may see some common themes from things I’ve written about before and some new observations. If you have a moment, leave a comment and tell others what you think. Thanks!

http://www.expatsblog.com/contests/786/apparently-speak-same-language-9-ways-to-get-along-in-new-york-city

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What to do in minus 2 when you’re 2

Gawd it’s cold today. Clear sky and well below zero with a cutting wind when you least expect it. Here is my guide for what to do when it’s blooming cold and you have a fractious 2 year old:

  1. Take him to an indoor gym class but make sure you’ve been before and he doesn’t have a massive melt down because he can’t rampage where he wants; this lasts ten minutes and you have to leave.
  2. Trek down to the Central Park Zoo with your trusty annual pass; a dead cert for an hour’s entertainment in the children’s petting zoo.  Today it’s your own private zoo because no bugger else is mad enough to be there. Spend 50 cents on some animal pellets to feed the goats and bribe them out of their warm sheds. Leave after 15 minutes including bathroom break where you have to tear him away from playing with the taps in the toddler sized sinks.
  3. Move on to the main zoo and check out the ducks and attempt to see the penguins inside their dark room, but freak out your 2 year old with the too dark room and leave with him in tears. Console him with seeing the seals being fed but fail because all he wants to do is get back in the buggy and be grumpy.
  4. Wrest straps onto your 2 year old and bundle up short of suffocating him to ensure he doesn’t freeze on the trek home. Walk through Central Park in the glorious December sunshine, waiting for the warmth to appear in your frozen fingers. Think happy thoughts about hot tea and sitting reading the paper when he’s asleep.
  5. He’s fallen asleep. It’s just gone midday and you are near the Met so take a gamble and put thoughts of reading the paper to the back of your mind for an hour’s browsing without stressing out whether your 2 year old will knock over some priceless antiquity.
  6. Check out the Carlo Scarpa Venetian glass exhibition and marvel at the fact you actually found it in the Met because it is so buried in the bowels of the place. Gaze admiringly at the incredible work of this artist and curb your urge to touch everything because it’s so wonderfully tactile (it’s stuck behind glass, which helps with the restraint). Take photos and get told off. Try not to forget to wheel the buggy as you go so as to prevent having a 2 year old as a bomb risk (especially thinking of this as you are far into Donna Tartt’s new book ‘The Goldfinch’ which is partly based in the Met and is a great read).
  7. And finally, with your 2 year old still asleep and still breathing, wander home via Dean and Deluca to get that well deserved luxury lunch to munch at home.

 

I should write guide books.


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Why so popular?

I remember in Sex and the City when they visited a restaurant called Balthazar. I presume it had just opened back then and it is still going strong. It is hugely popular and rammed pretty much all the time. It’s downtown on Spring Street, which is prime SoHo and a great shopping area.

And yes, it was rammed when we went too. It was hard to even get in the door there were so many people packed into the tiny waiting area.  Once we’d worked out who was doing what and whether we were queue jumping (you don’t want a pissed off New Yorker yelling at you because you jumped the ‘line’) we were told we had to wait. We made our way carefully to the bar – in danger of running into a waiter bearing plates or stumbling into the lap of some poor sod who got the worst table in the place right next to the door.

It’s kind of a French brasserie in side and all Christmassy looking at the moment. I expect if you did a straw poll you’d actually find very few actual New Yorkers in there. I saw lots of shopping bags, ladies in groups looking very excited and a slightly out of place group of young lads in school ties, or something like that. So glad we went without E and J, there were no kids in there under 10.

I’m not sure it’s entirely necessary to have a lady in the toilets hand you a paper towel when the dispenser is right next to you and New Yorkers are clean freaks so this kind of goes against the grain of the ‘don’t touch anything’ mentality. But I did like the fact that in the spirit of its French vibe, they had a fancy ‘Toilettes’ sign high up on the wall but had to have an explanatory ‘restrooms’ in modern type below it, just in case.

The food is good, they specialise in steak and chips, which is always a winner. It’s not cheap, so probably more of a treat kind of place. Even if eating that in the middle of the afternoon seemed a bit decadent, it’s a bit like time isn’t relevant, you can’t see outside, it could be any time of day.

Just think about the operation behind this place with hundreds of diners there from pretty much 6am to midnight seven days a week. The New York Times did a great behind the scenes piece on them which is well worth reading. Makes you appreciate that steak just that bit more.

It reminds me of the Wolseley in London, which is on Piccadilly and based in an old car showroom. They don’t have such an obvious Parisian brasserie thing going on, but it’s always rammed in there too and for good comfort food at odd times of day, it’s well worth trying.

And no, I have no clue why it’s so popular.


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Nevermore

It’s been an interesting time of contrast for me in the last couple of weeks. I had been keenly anticipating visiting two particular exhibitions, one on the 100th anniversary of the famous Armory Show of 1913 and one of the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. Now that I write it like that, it does sound a bit dull, but they weren’t. Honest.

Please excuse poor quality of photos here, both taken surreptitiously as cameras were banned. The one below is of the original 1913 poster for the show.

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The New York Historical Society is on the Upper West Side, it’s next to the American Museum of Natural History in a grand building overlooking Central Park around 77th street. I’d not heard of it before I came here, but when I read about the exhibition I was excited to see it. I wanted to learn about how Americans viewed art from Europe when it was exhibited here for sale for the first time on the eve of the First World War. It was the first time mass audiences had seen artists like Van Gogh, Gauguin and Duchamps. Art that didn’t look like real things or real people was pretty radical back then. It’s a great exhibition and the catalogue is a monster at over 500 pages, weighing a tonne just for the paperback. Out of around 1300 works only 250sih were sold at a value of $1.6 million in today’s money. Incredible.

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Further downtown is the Morgan Library and Museum. Again, not really on your tourist trail, but hugely accessible from Grand Central Station or Penn Station and on a glorious block on prime Madison Avenue at 36th street. The one-time home of Pierpoint Morgan, financial whizz and owner of great wealth, he was a voracious collector and amassed an enormous and eclectic collection of art, literature and artefacts from all over the world. Subject to a recent refurbishment, the Morgan Library and the modern building that now surrounds it are well worth a visit.

I spent a good hour looking at the Poe exhibition and whilst small, it was filled with his original writings mostly drawn from the Morgan collection. Seeing how neat his writing was made me realise what a lost art penmanship really is today. Reading Poe’s most famous poem, The Raven, in the original newspaper that it was first published in is a real treat. Seeing a letter from Charles Dickens, his contemporary, writing to him about his work gave me a real thrill (the manuscript for A Christmas Carol is currently on display as well). You’ll need your glasses to read this lot as the room is darkly lit and the walls a rich burgundy colour adding to the gothic theme.

That’s my amateur review but actually, what I really want to share is how different these places are in terms of customer experience. The New York Historical Society is full of security guards who ignore you and look sullen and make you feel uncomfortable. Their policy about bags is laughable and the abuse the cloakroom staff were taking for not letting hand bags in was fairly unpleasant. For the Armory Show they don’t even let you take a buggy in – but you can take your marauding 2 year old with you… I didn’t, but let’s re-think that one, NYHS.

Let me contrast this to the Morgan Library. What a delight. The staff are lovely. They greet you with a good morning and they are incredibly helpful but understated in their presence. The ambience is welcoming, the building beautiful and light and filled with fabulous treasures from the Booker prize exhibition, showing how book design has changed since the 1960s, to the drawings of Da Vinci, to Venetian glass, to Poe.

Poe wrote about a Raven and its constant refrain of ‘nevermore’. For me, it’s more Morgan and nevermore NYHS.


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Wow. Barneys. Amazing.

Barneys is a high end department store on 5th Avenue. It’s pretty flash, bit clinical inside, but seems to be pretty popular. Like all its competitors, Barneys has revealed its Christmas window displays. Having perused them all this weekend, they take the award for the most amazing windows. Well, one window in particular. They have constructed a viewing room on the pavement so that you are in pitch black when you look at the window. The display is 3-d and shows a kind of utopia of the future, buildings kind of floating in a sea of black. Accompanying the changing display is the music of Shawn Carter, also known as Jay-Z, also known as Mr Beyonce. And he wasn’t swearing.

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So, imagine you are standing in a freezing cold black room with a bunch of strangers, having just stepped in off 61st and 5th Avenue and you are looking at the image changing over time. The pictures came out surprisingly well, but they don’t tell you anything about the movement, as this is entirely animated. But, hey, the images are amazing in themselves. So put on on some Jay-Z  and enjoy.

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“Cabbages as decoration?” Discuss

When we arrived in New York last year, I saw cabbages everywhere. They are planted in the small patches of soil that surround the trees lining the pavements. They get more elaborate with the fancier apartment buildings and seem to be able to withstand the bitter New York winter. Not something I’d ever thought of before, using a cabbage to make the street prettier rather than just eating it. This is one of the better examples. See what you think.

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