nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic

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Stoop stories

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.

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Hangin’ with the hipsters

Well, not exactly, just visiting Brooklyn, which is apparently full of them. R tried to explain to me what a ‘hipster’ is and occasionally points one out in the street, but I’m still not sure. They seem to be mostly blokes in bad dress, NHS inspired glasses (but with no prescription) and big boots. Too hot for all that yesterday in the DUMBO area of Brooklyn and where we made our latest discovery: the Smorgasburg. No, this is not a typo. It’s an open air food market, with the unfortunate name of Brooklyn Flea Food Market – flea means to me horrible old second hand stuff sold in a dank church hall, but here means a market with lots of lovely food. It was so good, with dozens of stalls selling mouth watering food and massive queues at the more popular salt beef sandwich stall. We see massive blocks of ice being shaved to get icy drinks; iced tea of new and exotic varieties and my favourite? Bon Chovie – Brooklyn’s only fried anchovy. Which for anyone with a passing knowledge of 80s soft rock groups sporting long hair and a lot of denim, is a great pun on the rock band Bon Jovi. Quite why anyone would deep fry an anchovy is beyond me, maybe it’s what hipsters eat?


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Some observations on summer

Here are my thoughts on how to survive the summer so far:

  1. Don’t wear very much
  2. Wear a colour that doesn’t show up sweat, because you will, a lot
  3. When crossing avenues or streets, lurk in the shadow of the nearest building and don’t boil in the sun waiting for the crossing
  4. Like iced drinks, tea or coffee, everyone is clutching one
  5. Don’t be in a hurry
  6. Carry a lot of water or a lot of dollars in order to top up at the many kiosks and carts selling water – most expensive so  far has been $3
  7. Visit museums, galleries and other tourist attractions for the air conditioning – but be prepared to elbow your way through the crowds of people doing exactly the same thing
  8. Be grateful you don’t live in the UK where a heat wave is greeted with mild panic and with little air conditioning, it will be awful
  9. Be thankful you live in a city that knows that every year for around 4 months it will be very, very hot, so it’s geared up for it
  10. And don’t breathe through your nose: NYC really smells in the heat

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A house tells the story of a changing area

I quite like reading about New York history, how areas have evolved over the decades and the personal stories that come with this. The Museum of the City of New York is a great place to indulge this and it, housed in its grand building on 5th Avenue way up on East 103rd Street, does this with great aplomb. I highly recommend a visit if you’re ever here. Reading the New York Times this weekend, I found a heart warming article in the Metropolitan section, which focused on one house in the little known area of Crown Heights, which is in Brooklyn. The article tracked the house move of the current owner (selling for $1.3 million) and recalled the past by digging through city records to see who had lived in this grand, turreted building. It was the best thing I read this weekend and well worth a look. It’s not all about Manhattan, it seems.

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Where did all the pregnant ladies come from?

Phew it’s hot today, around 30 degrees and the streets of New York are melting in the heat (almost). I don’t know if it’s because people are wearing less, or walking slower, but there seems to be an inordinate number of heavily pregnant women around the place. I feel for them in the heat, it must be awful. They looked pained and uncomfortable. One theory for all the pregnant ladies is the Hurricane Sandy impact: no electricity, nothing to do so why not get cosy with your loved one? Makes sense. Not a new phenomenon. The New York Times on Monday (a bank holiday here too and a slow news day, I think) focused on this and referred to various studies that failed to show a direct link between events like Sandy and increase in birth rates 9 months later. I’m no scientist, but I can tell you this, in my bit of New York, it’s baby belly central, so something went on around that time!


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It pays to tip well in New York

Every weekend I loyally go to Fairways for my weekly shop. It’s not quite as good as driving to Sainsbury’s, but I’ve got used to it. I started off by being really friendly to the staff, expecting them to comment on my accent and be nice back. But no, it doesn’t work like that, so I stopped bothering. The staff are helpful but not friendly, they all speak Spanish to each other and pretty much ignore you. On a more positive note they do pack your bags and offer a delivery service.

Today it was raining and cold. I did my thing, wandered around my usual circuit and expected no interaction. I was stunned when the guy who served me on the deli counter asked me if I was Australian or English. He must have served me dozens of times before and now he decides to be friendly and ask a question. The cheese guy corrects my pronunciation of Comte cheese and smiles. What is going on?

At the checkout I witness the woman at the checkout next to me having to justify the type of beans she has bought because the cashier won’t let her use her coupon. She says chick peas are not beans. Come on, give her a break, she wants to save 50 cents or something like that and they are giving her a hard time because it doesn’t say beans on the tin and she has six tins to get the discount. They are mean to her. Then my cashier starts giving me grief because my food is perishable they don’t want to risk delivering it. What? It’s cold outside and raining; they aren’t busy, they usually deliver pretty quick and I’m prepared to take the risk that my milk might go off. It won’t!  Urgh. My unusually pleasant experience is blighted by the perishable policy being invoked. I threaten to use Fresh Direct but they don’t seem to care. They take $85k a week in this store so my dollars are insignificant. I recognise the delivery guy and explain my plight. He says I tip the best in my building, so he’ll take my delivery straight away. It pays to tip well in New York.

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6 months in and 100 blog posts later

Hard to believe I have been writing this blog for six months now and that this is my 100th post. I thought I would reflect a little on how it’s gone so far.

Well, I now know that I am slightly obsessed by food.  I am in love with brunch and iced tea. There are many posts on various aspects of food and the category cloud shows that loud and clear. Food in New York has been a revelation and continues to be so. My food posts are my most popular and I think I have joined a community of bloggers who are even more obsessed by food than me.

I have made a lot of observations about people. I probably don’t get out and about enough to reflect the diversity of New York but I do like to share the little vignettes about what I do see. I keep getting annoyed about New Yorkers and their manners but I will continue to say ‘thank you’ and ‘cheers’ as often as necessary. The subway has been a rich source for people watching as have the dog owners – I could have done a post a day on the dog lovers of New York.

New York City politics has increasingly grabbed my attention and is likely to be a great source of blog material as the election nears. I suspect this won’t gain my many followers or pique too much interest, but I find it fascinating, so I won’t be able to resist the more bizarre stuff. National politics is less of interest so far but that could change.

And the weather: it’s all about the weather in New York. When you’re British it is comforting to know that New Yorkers are as obsessed by the weather as we are. I’m dreading the humid, hot summer and will no doubt write about it in graphic detail. I am already very well acquainted with the local park and the sandpit as J has his own obsessions too.

So do I like New York? Do I prefer NW3 to NYC after six months? I’d have to say that I still hanker after NW3, it is lovely: the buildings, the history and of course the beautiful Heath, location of the much missed British Military Fitness. If I could export the latter to Central Park, I’d be happy. I’ve enjoyed witnessing the changes to Central Park during my weekly run but it’s not quite the same.

Lots of people have said they would love to have done what we have done and live in New York, but the reality is that you do just end up staying in your own bit of the city, making that your home territory. We explore the city at the weekends, but not always as sometimes it’s nice just to stay put. There’s a list of things to do and places to go and we will do them all before we leave. Just have to remind ourselves quite how lucky we are to have this chance to be in NYC before we return to NW3.

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If you want to get ahead, get a hat

It is hot here in New York today. After two days of rain, it’s now officially summer. I am in downtown Brooklyn, which is a world apart from the Upper East Side. It is busy, there’s a lot of flesh on show and not in a good way. The pavements of Fulton Street are lined with all sorts of stalls selling hats, jewellery and clothing.  Music blares out, competing with noise from stalls nearby. There are crowds of people in Macy’s (Brooklyn branch). I listen to harassed mothers who yell at their small children to ‘shut the f*** up’. I buy a hat in Macy’s:  I am gratified that my head is not large in Brooklyn. I queue in the equally crowded Gap Outlet next door and am barked at by the cashier, ‘next guest!’. I know now that means next in the queue. I don’t feel much like a guest as I’ve queued for 20 minutes and put up with the horror of the outlet experience. I buy E a hat too and hope that head size isn’t hereditary. I walk back to the subway and find I am the only one wearing a hat. I will set a new trend. Alone.

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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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And everything changed

Yep, still on about the weather. I was walking home from my sweaty spin class (enough said about that) this evening and was amazed by the change in atmosphere here. All the cafes and restaurants that normally hide under awnings and behind double entrance doorways to keep the freezing drafts out have converged onto the pavements. The pavements are alive with chatter, clinking glasses and happy people sitting outside, eating in the warm air. What a lovely way to spend an evening, I felt quite envious. They are in sharp contrast to the cafes that don’t have outside space and the poor souls trapped by the 2nd Avenue subway works, which are almost empty save a few solitary diners who eat alone, reading newspapers and looking out the window. I walked home, buzzing from the exercise and no longer hiding from the weather: jacket open, my red face warming the evening air just a bit more. I could get used to this.