This is our final day in New York. E, J and I will travel back to London later today and leave R to do all the fun stuff like packing and handing back the flat. I love our flat so much that I want to pack it up and take it back with us. Luckily I don’t have to see the flat all empty, as it will make me very sad. It is the best place we’ve ever lived; R says it will be the best place we ever live. I think he’s right. The luxury of the expat life has some great perks.
Some nice men came round early this morning and took all our air freight, so that’s done. I will leave with just two suitcases, a sports bag and no buggy. J is all grown up now.
It is also a very cold day. In fact, I think it may be the coldest day since we’ve been here. It is minus 13 at the moment and over night it got down to minus 17! I was wrapped up to the extent that all you could see was my eyes shielded by glasses. My thighs were the least covered, just in jeans from mid thigh where my coat stopped to mid calf where my boots began, and they were tingling in the cold. They have only just defrosted.
I went to the phone shop to cancel my US mobile and went past Fairway’s. No more visits there. It reminded me that Whole Foods is due to open today so I went to have a nose, but I was two days early. Typical, we live here for over two years and then they open Whole Foods two days after we leave.
The streets around where we live are pretty grotty at the moment. There are huge chunks of ice everywhere, as it hasn’t warmed up enough to entirely melt everything. But where it has melted a bit, it reveals all the dog poo, the rubbish that people threw in the snow and it’s so dirty.
We’re going to the ever lovely Mansion Cafe for lunch and a final round of pancakes and bacon – why does that combination work so well? Then we’re off.
I’m referring to odd men. Back in the summer there was ‘creepy guy’ who got offended when I told him it wasn’t quite right for him to be hanging around a kid’s park with no kid. Today’s oddity was a bearded man wearing a sign around his neck proclaiming something about Jesus and sins who was hanging around our street. He decided that it would be absolutely fine to approach J and offer him what looked like a coloured stone. When I said ‘you shouldn’t give things to small children’, he just pushed it further at J’s hands, and J was of course fascinated by this and would have willingly taken it had I not pulled him away. The odd man then decides to follow us down the street, while I walk faster and hope the light’s in my favour so that I can cross the road and not stop. I look back and he’s gone.
After picking E up from school, he’s there again. This time dancing around on the street, sign flapping wildly. I hurry us all on and cross the road, trying to explain to a perplexed E why a man is dancing in the street with a sign around his neck. That’s a hard one.
But on the other hand, my good British friend G was telling me just the other day about a man outside Whole Foods on 14th Street, I think, who was dressed just in his underpants, dancing, with a sign saying something about making people smile. Which it did. What an odd world.
As long as we’ve lived in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been surrounded by hoardings, covering up the work being done to reconstruct the space in front of the museum , which runs along 5th Avenue from 79th Street to 84th Street. It was pretty ugly, made the pavement very narrow in places and it was filthy to navigate in the depths of winter.
This week it was finally over. The front of the Met has been revealed and it looks beautiful. The David H. Koch Plaza is clean, simply laid out and resplendent with circular fountains and rows of bright red umbrellas providing welcome respite from the fierce New York sun.
Unfortunately they didn’t get rid of the ugly looking fast food vendors that line up along the pavement and pollute the air with their smoky cooking. Have a look and see what you think.
Walking north along 5th Avenue outside the Met
Now this isn’t just a random insult, it’s more an observation brought on by an article in yesterday’s New York Times. “Don’t turn up your nose at the city in the summer” is written by an academic from the University of Sheffield in the UK. Victoria Henshawe, who talks about the history of New York through smell in this article, conducts ‘smell walks’ of cities around the world. This may be a rather odd occupation, but I was taken by her article and carried out my own experiment earlier today.
I walked 6 blocks south and one avenue across and back another 6 streets to our apartment. I only breathed through my nose the whole way. This is hard. It is warm today, about 29 degrees, sunny with a bit of cloud with a reasonable breeze heading north up the avenues. This is what I found:
- heat has a smell but I can’t put my finger on it
- the obsession that some people have for hosing down the pavement in front of their buildings leaves an odd, damp smell, a bit like a damp dog
- and that when that water forms in pools and goes a bit stagnant, it smells rank in the heat
- rubbish bins smell horrible in the heat
- the wafts of deodorant and perfume from what seem to be freshly washed pedestrians aren’t too bad when carried on the wind
- blasts of diesel and other fuels from the constant traffic are horrible and unavoidable
- and pizza parlours smell lovely.
Summer in the city. And it’s only June.
In what I hope will be one of the last winter-related posts of this winter at least, I am amazed at the ingenuity of some people who live in New York. They have everything and now they have heated pavements! Yes, some buildings are so fancy that they have paid the city for the rights to dig up the nearby pavement and install a heating system so that when it snows they don’t need anyone to shovel the snow. Now that’s what I call lazy. The New York Times will tell you all about it, but it will say sidewalk and not pavement, of course. Have a read. And laugh.
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.
And the third in a series of posts about our day out to the Lower East Side. This time it’s about the mysterious building on the corner of Bowery and Spring Street. We went by it on the way the Pickle Day and stopped short to gaze up at this graffiti clad vast old building that was once a bank. You can see from the pictures below that in its day it was very grand and imposing. The front steps retain their iron gates and the pillars are grand and imposing. The graffiti is awful.
I was intrigued. What on earth was this place. As usual, the Internet turns up the answer pretty quick. It was the home of the Germania Bank, built in the late 19th Century. The area was home to a large German population at the time and I’m sure it would have been as imposing then as it is now. Incredibly it is the home of one family, the Maisels. Jay Maisel is an artist who bought the bank for $100,000 in 1966 and has lived there ever since. He uses the space for his own art and has rented it out to other artists, including, impressively, Roy Lichtenstein. There’s a really good article from 2008 in New York Magazine, so I won’t go into any more detail here. Read it, it’s really good and the pictures are great.
As for Mr Maisel, he says he gets approached by real estate agents all the time and he has had to put a website up called 190thebowery.com to try and stop them as he has no interest in selling. New York Magazine asked agents to put a price on the 30,000+ square foot building. These topped out at $50 million and that was five years ago. New York is in the grip of a property boom right now, so heaven knows what those estimates would look like now.
So why doesn’t Maisel sell and realise his investment all those years ago? ‘Where am I going to live? A three bed apartment?’. Fair point. Not sure I’d fancy it, he and his wife have to clean up the sidewalk every day as they are responsible for it. Doubt that’s a pretty sight after a Saturday night.
Stoop isn’t a word I’d used before I lived in NYC. I knew of it because I’d watched Sex and the City and seen Carrie Bradshaw sitting the steps outside her building, smoking a cigarette and watching the world go by. The stoop is those steps. It’s the steps up to a ‘walk up’, which is mostly a four storey building with an apartment on each floor. Originally many of these would have been single family homes, but in more recent years they’ve been divided up into apartments. They line the streets of Manhattan and make you feel like you’re really in New York when you walk down one.
I write about this simply because I took a walk around the block with J, who is now nearly 21 months, and he likes to walk without his buggy. It took us an hour to walk not very far because when you’re that age, everything is interesting. Everything is a place to run your 1970’s-style matchbox car. And just after the rain storm of this morning, lots of people are sat on their stoop, escaping from the non air conditioned oppression of their own apartments and enjoying a dry moment in the open air. J enjoys this. He walks up the steps and sits with random men, mostly men, to say ‘hi’ and show them his car. We chat, they share. We remark on his hair colour and mine, his size, my accent and then move on and repeat it on the next stoop stop. I think this is the friendliest I’ve seen Manhattan so far. And this is reassuring, as according to a survey I read the other day, New Yorkers are the rudest people in the US. I’d agree mostly, but today, I just enjoy the friendliness and the joy of having a toddler.
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.