nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic


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I can’t feel my thighs

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.

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So it wasn’t the end of the world, then?

Indeed not. The promise of several feet of snow falling on New York City overnight on Monday and forcing its icy grip on its residents just didn’t happen. I woke up yesterday around 6am and peered outside expecting to see snow piled as high as the cars but could see less than a foot. Admittedly from the 35th floor, it’s hard to get perspective on this, but it clearly wasn’t two feet.

It was eerie though. Normally the streets and avenues of New York are bustling at all times of day of night. But at 6am yesterday there wasn’t a soul around; the streets were weirdly empty and quiet. It was the quiet that got me. It’s never quiet here.The Mayor had decried that no one should be on the streets after 11pm Monday night. No food deliveries, how would New Yorkers cope?

Around 7.30am yesterday the Governor of New York State, Andrew Cuomo, said it wasn’t so bad after all so the subway would start again around 9am, running a Sunday service. Bit by bit the traffic started appearing on the streets and the white roads became their usual mucky colour and it looked fairly normal for a winter’s day. The Mayor said he was right to be cautious and shut the schools, put the 11pm curfew in place, etc. But on this occasion it was an over reaction. He seemed pleased but apologetic for the inconvenience. He would have been criticised whatever he had done.

There was, however, enough snow to do some sledging in the local park. It was cold enough to freeze my feet after an hour despite two pairs of socks and some rather unattractive snow boots. J and E had a great time. I was glad to be back in doors, in the warm and feel my toes again.

And today, well of course the aftermath was dissected ad nauseum in the New York Times. We didn’t get ours yesterday, so it appeared snuggled inside today’s copy.  The kids went back to school as normal; the pavements are slushy and the crossings deep with melted, disgusting dirty snow. I went to Fairway’s and they had a fair bit on the shelves despite all the panic buying. No fish mind you, or my favourite bread, but that’s not so bad when the end of the world has been averted.


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Apparently we are hunkering down

I have never used this term before, but it seems to be used mostly for bad weather. We are then hunkering down for a massive snowstorm.  It even has a name, Winter Storm Juno. In fact, judging by the behaviour of the people near where we live in NYC, it appears to be the end of the world!

In true British panic fashion, people are emptying the shelves of the supermarkets and there’s an odd look in everyone’s eyes as they attempt to navigate the snowy pavements with enough food to last a long time. The local stores that usually remain open into the night all have hand written signs saying they are shutting early. I went into one with the slightly deranged idea that I could get something nice for tea, but when I saw the queue backed up through the entire shop, so I baled.

I collected E from school, just four blocks away, and kids everywhere were having fun in the snow. Perversely I decided that we would have ice cream from our local ice cream place, because it seemed like the right thing to do but even that was shutting down shortly after we bought ours, as the owner was fleeing to Queens. E did look a bit insane eating hers in the snowy streets, but no one batted an eyelid.

The schools are shut tomorrow, both state and private as the Mayor learnt from the last storm that keeping the schools open in fierce snow isn’t a smart move. Even Central Park is shutting at 6pm today. Let’s hope its open tomorrow for some snowy fun.


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And it all grinds to a halt

Oh dear, New York was not a happy place yesterday. The snow started falling from about 9am and didn’t stop for a long time. I watched it from our apartment, 35 floors up, and it was mesmerizing. I emerged late morning to pick J up from pre-school and it was 2 inches thick, a powdery loose snow that swirled up into the air. It was minus 7 degrees C. Our avenue was chock full of cars, taxis, buses and trucks warily edging their way up the road. People were angry: they clearly hadn’t read the forecast and were beeping and shouting, at what, I don’t know. All a bit pointless really.

I had to take J with me to the orthodontist to get my new aligners to finish off my Invisalign treatment and he was in heaven stomping in the fresh virgin snow. It took us 40 minutes to sort of walk 3 and a bit avenues. And then we got caught by the funeral of ex Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, which was taking place at a church on Park Avenue. TV cameras and crews everywhere, blocking the traffic even more. Had a nice chat with and bored looking NYPD officer nearby which made J’s day (and mine, I suppose), so something good can happen in sub zero temperatures in New York.


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Now here’s something pretty special

Continuing with the cold theme from yesterday, E and I went ice skating in Central Park last night. There’s a permanent rink at the south end of Central Park which is re-used in the summer as a small fairground. We went to the fairground in August on a roasting hot day where I sought out shelter at every opportunity and guzzled bottles of water; this time round I’m freezing and gripping a cup of Early Grey tea to try and restore some feeling in my fingers.

The setting is spectacular: the buildings of 59th Street towering over us and the trees of Central Park nearly bare of leaves. It’s kind of spooky walking into Central Park at night; E wasn’t keen and I sort of knew where I was going after an abortive attempt to cut through the Zoo, which was unsurprisingly shut at 630pm. But we survived and it’s well worth it as a proper New York experience, something everyone should try during the winter.

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Blimey, it’s a bit cold

What on earth is the matter with the weather? It was minus 6 celsius this morning. It is clear and bitterly cold, it’s the first proper cold day of the winter. I am feeling rather smug because I bought a new coat at the weekend in anticipation of snow in maybe February and am very pleased to have it today.  I have written before about my dislike of padded coats and today they were out in force. My new coat has a secret padded lining so that it feels like a duvet, but looks like a stylish black coat on the outside. Genius.

Everyone was moaning about the cold, reminding me that it’s not just the British who like to constantly talk and complain about the weather. We are similar in some ways, I suppose. I saw a man wearing shorts and a woman in flip flops – her excuse being she’d just had a pedicure (but why? it is winter) but what possible reason could he have had for his lack of layers? Crazy.


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Let’s fry an egg on the sidewalk

Today is the day after Labor Day. It is the unofficial end of summer. This means that the sprinklers are turned off in the parks; that the free open air swimming pools are shut; the open air swimming pool on the top of an apartment building that we can see from our apartment no longer has a bored lifeguard on duty because its 2 September (I bet the residents were mad about that).

The streets are busy again as everyone returns to the city after a summer break and with schools starting back this week, there are kids everywhere.

And today turns out to be the hottest day of the year! Well done New York. It is September and the temperature hit 33 degrees this afternoon. E suggested that we try frying an egg on the sidewalk. Yep, she said sidewalk and not pavement. Tut tut.

 

 


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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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New York smells

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.