nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic


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Busts in the Bronx

The weather’s calmed down a bit so J and I have been off on our New York adventures. Today that involved a trip north on the 4 train way up into the Bronx to Burnside Avenue. Not quite like the Upper East Side, that’s for sure, but home to a little known treasure hidden in the vast grounds of the Bronx Community College, the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.

I couldn’t quite believe how this could be in an obscure bit of the Bronx, but over 100 years ago the Chancellor of New York University decided to build a monument to mark the great men of America. This involved building a kind of 630 foot open air collonade. Basically an arc of columns under a patterned roof and between each column sits the bust of a famous American.

 

I loved the phrase written into the iron gates as you enter the collonade:

“Enter with joy that those within have lived.”

For me, many of the names were obscure but maybe for Americans they would know them instantly.

The statesmen section included many Presidents: Washington, Madison, Adams, Jefferson and Lincoln. Benjamin Franklin stands proud too – we like him because he invented the lightning rod, which I thought was pretty cool. There’s Alexander Graham Bell and Edgar Allan Poe, a new favourite since my visit to the Morgan Library last year. And of the 100-ish busts there are ten women and I’m sorry to say I hadn’t heard of any of them. They seemed to be mostly in education and in the anti slavery movement. And I think Franklin D Roosevelt, President until 1945 is the newest one of the lot and his bust is distinctive because it’s literally just his head, unlike all the others which included their shoulders.

I liked it. I thought it was a really peaceful, thoughtful place. I think in winter you can see right across to the Cloisters and possibly the Hudson River, but there were too many trees full of leaves to tell either way. I don’t know that it gets many visitors, we were the only ones in the hour I spent there. J enjoyed checking out the beards, he has a thing about them for some reason.

It might be worth the trip for anyone interested in US history, but I would recommend dressing down and not looking too much like a tourist, it’s just not that kind of place. Check out the photos below, apologies they are a bit dark, but the light was not in my favour, but you get the idea.

Entrance to the collonade

Entrance to the collonade

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The $10 breakfast

In the UK I don’t think I ever went out for breakfast. There were the times after school drop off when I was on maternity leave with J that I would stop for a cup of tea and a croissant at a local cafe in NW3. That was usually in addition to what I’d had at home and I was just being a bit of a pig, so it doesn’t count as breakfast. But here in New York it’s all about breakfast. Every diner is chocka with people filling up for the day.

My experience so far has been focused mainly on pancakes. I love pancakes. And we are talking about thick, large as dinner plates pancakes often filled with fruit and smothered in maple syrup. I have tried them in many diners now and they are good all of the time. I love them with apples and cinnamon and I love them with mushed up blueberries oozing out of the middle. Makes me hungry to think of it and it’s late afternoon here.

Most breakfasts I have tried have, with pancakes excepted, been a bit cheap. There’s a reason why the breakfast offering is cheap and that’s because the ingredients are cheap. Cardboard toast, Lipton tea (not proper tea, just a cup of hot water with a poor excuse for a teabag on the side in a little paper jacket), watered down orange juice and just as watery eggs. I avoid the places that do this and wonder why anyone still goes in to them, but they seem to do OK.

Friday just gone J and I tried a new place for breakfast and it was great. We had two massive pancakes, a side of scrambled egg, a glass of fresh orange juice that wasn’t watered down and a cup of tea (Liptons, but I’ll excuse it because the rest was so nice). Fabulous service, clean surroundings and a warm welcome for J. And we left stuffed for ten bucks including tax and tip. Amazing. I will miss this slither of New York life when we return to NW3. Maybe I will set up a diner and see if I can export this approach.


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Miss you, Guardian

Have I confessed before to being a Guardian reader? Well I am. Or was. For a very, very long time. Reading it online is a poor substitute and I have lapsed since living in New York and only occasionally look at the website. I tried reading the Guardian weekly digest, an A4 size version available for 5 bucks in a newsagent up the road, but that seemed to be just the boring bits strung together and none of the features and writers I loved.

So what brings me to consider this today? R has just returned from a few days in the UK and has returned with a pristine weekend edition (now 2.50, I’m sure it was 2 quid when we left) and Monday’s edition, almost pristine, if R hadn’t looked through it on the way back to New York.

What a pleasure to see it again. How funny the Berliner format seems compared with the large and old fashioned style of the New York Times. How nice to read a story on consecutive pages and not be sent to three different sections of the paper to finish an article (yes, New York Times, that’s you and it’s still annoying).

I read the Saturday magazine in the library this afternoon, with J sat next to me happily ‘reading’ his toddler books. It felt almost sacrilegious to put it in their recycling bin when I’d finished it. I was sure another Brit would be along shortly to love it like I did. But they didn’t, so I did (throw it).

And this evening R and I raced each other to finish the Monday quick crossword, just like old times. So close, he beat me by 2 and a bit clues. Good to see Lenin in the answers, good old leftie Guardian.

So if you’re visiting us, make sure to bring a copy of the Guardian and some Sainsbury’s Highland Shortbread Fingers (family size pack of course, but they are only for me) and you’ll make me a very happy nyc-newbie.


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Where have all the kids gone?

I probably mentioned this last summer, but I’m still surprised at how incredibly long US school summer holidays are, with private schools coming in at around 12 weeks. So from mid June to early September parents are expected to deal with their kids. Frankly I find this a bit terrifying coming from a country where summer holidays are 6 weeks long and in fact most state schools in the UK started their break today.

Here there is camp. I had seen various incarnations of camp in US films throughout the 80s and 90s with the infamous Band Camp from American Pie being the one that mostly comes to mind. Pretty much every kid here goes to camp. There are so many to choose from, with most large institutions like the Met, Guggenheim and Natural History Museum doing them and they are so popular they sell out months in advance. Most private schools have some kind of offering too. There are masses of sports camps run by leisure centres and other organisations. In Central Park you can’t help but trip over a camper or two, there are so many around.

As a mother of a 2.8 year old who likes to hang out in the playground, I don’t like camp. I don’t like the way that large groups of unruly camp kids descend on the playground like a plague of locusts with no regard for the resident toddler population. They scream, they run and they dominate. Time it right and you’ll miss them: they arrive in the mid morning and by midday are gone, some reappear later in the afternoon, but you can get some respite.

As a mother of an 8.5 year old I like camp. I like that she can do some new stuff with new kids in a new environment. E has been to camp out of the city, where they swam and did sport and art and had fun. She’s been to art camp at a major gallery working with staff who loved art and learning so much E came home bursting with enthusiasm and ended up showing me around the gallery. By the end of the summer she’ll have been one of the kids I trip over in Central Park and have spent time with professional cartoonists learning to hone her craft.

The downside about camp is the cost. My god it is expensive and ranges from $350 to $1000 a week. Many campers will spend 8 weeks at camp, which is prohibitively expensive, especially if you have more than one kid. But if you compare it with the cost of a nanny, who don’t usually look after older kids much anyway, it’s cheaper, but not much.

You have to accept that your kid will come home filthy, ruin their clothes and pick up new and mostly unpleasant habits from their new friends. They will be looked after by people not that much older than them – some look as young as 16 and this seems to be OK here. I am still not keen on this side of it.

But, as part of the overall NY experience, I wouldn’t have wanted E to miss any of it. Next summer we will be home and it will be 6 weeks in the UK and it will probably rain. A lot.


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Ever wondered where that taxi has been?

The iconic yellow taxi in New York is everywhere, apart from when it’s raining, when they disappear! R found this very cool website that shows a day in a life of a New York taxi. You can watch its route through the boroughs and see how much cash it made in a single shift. I was surprised that the level of tips wasn’t higher – with the automated system in the cabs calculating the tip level for you, I would have expected an average of 20 per cent but it is much lower. And I wouldn’t want the night shift, must be very lonely wandering about the streets in search of a fare at 4am, earning nothing.

And if you are as mesmerised as I am by this, you can get it to it all over again by picking another random taxi to follow during its day of work. Amazing.

http://nyctaxi.herokuapp.com/


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$8,000 bench

If you have have been to New York and walked in Central Park, you are very likely to have sat on a bench for a bit of a rest. It’s 800 acres of loveliness, same size as Hampstead Heath in NW3: yet another wonderful coincidence. I was using a bench earlier today to do tricep dips in a vain attempt to combat bingo wings. I am a lady of a certain age and anything I can do to stop my upper arms wobbling is worth a try.

Anyhow, I’m huffing and puffing and trying to recover from running in ridiculously humid New York when a man in a van stops by. He’s from the Parks department according to the words on the side of the van he is the man who sorts out the benches . Adopting a bench is a programme of the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy. He looks pretty well kitted out for the job with brown leatherish apron and a drill in the his hand. I watch him examine each bench in turn and then he focuses on mine. What’s wrong, I wonder? Have I ruined the bench’s aesthetic with my sweaty bum? No, apparently not. He is there to switch the silver plate that dedicates to the bench to someone who loved the park. Seems like a nice thing to do and not uncommon in other parks, other cities and other countries.

A man stops by and talks to the parks fella and asks how much it costs to get a plaque on the bench. “$8,000, sir”. The man, clearly not expecting this, looks amazed, slightly crestfallen, and wanders off. The parks man explains to me, because I am still nearby, cluttering up the place, that you get the bench for life and it’s a small price to pay to help with the upkeep of the park. I’m fairly sympathetic to this and agree with a sweaty nod; I bet there are lots of fancy New Yorkers to give them the cash for more benches in the future. Don’t think I’ll get one dedicated to me and my triceps, not quite how I want New York to remember me.


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Zombie moms

It is super hot in New York at the moment. Tuesday was the worst at 32 degrees. And it’s humid. And I’m wilting. I hang around in the playground in shorts, which is quite frankly a miracle for me. But it is unbearable to wear trousers, so I have accepted my legs and embraced them in their coolness.

At around 4pm on this hot, humid, clammy day the moms (that’s only because I’m talking about the US, not because I have gone native; far from it) started to appear out of nowhere. Now when I got to the park it was pretty empty, all the camp kids were elsewhere, the toddlers napping and everyone else more sensible in air conditioning somewhere. So this sudden slow emergence of women pushing buggies and forming a strange semi circle seemed a bit to Stepford Wives for me. They even started putting down picnic blankets on the hard concrete floor, which seemed odd to me.

Luckily my good British friend G was on hand to advise. Apparently the parks had advertised a bit of a sing song at 4pm and it was for all the moms and their babes. After a shaky start the singer started doing her thing and it was not good. I couldn’t hear her well, the amp wasn’t very powerful and quite frankly her stage presence, along with her dress sense, was distinctly lacking. Sorry parks, nice try, but I swiftly left the zombie moms and scarpered back to the air conditioning, stroppy sweaty toddler in tow – he seemed to quite like it. Must work on that one.


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Patriotic all over

We’ve experienced two patriotic holidays in the last week. 1 July was Canada Day, not an event I can ever remember noticing before but as we were in Toronto then it was hard to escape. It’s a national holiday and the Canadian Flag was everywhere! We were on one of Toronto’s islands, making the most of the beautiful sunny day and felt positively dull compared with our fellow holiday makers, clad in red and white with ‘Canada’ emblazoned wherever they could. We now have a small Canadian flag, courtesy of the tour guide who took us to Niagara Falls; he used it to pacify J as he bawled his eyes out on the bus – it didn’t work, he clearly knew he wasn’t Canadian.

And of course 4 July is Independence Day and a day of great celebration in the US. We were stuck in Toronto, having failed to get back to La Guardia airport on 3 July due to thunderstorms in NY, so we only got back at lunchtime on 4 July. I like this holiday as there’s no one about! Bizarrely everyone decamps from New York and leaves the non-US residents to enjoy the queue free Fairway, quiet streets and empty playgrounds. Great to see the fireworks in the evening. This was mostly on the TV but slightly through the mass of buildings to the south of our apartment as the Macy’s firework display was off the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges this year. There were patriotic songs to accompany the display which was a riot of red, white and blue. Happy birthday America!