After a beautiful three days in rural America, only an hour from Manhattan, I caught the train back this morning to “get my New York on” in the lead-up to my departure in six short days. If this is what three weeks in America does to my language, we should all hope that I don’t spend too much more time here!
American hospitality as I’ve experienced this month and particularly over Christmas deserves a mention. Not only have I lived in Karen’s “city loft” for a month, but she had me at her sprawling family home over Christmas. The evening of Christmas Eve was spent at her in-laws’ beautiful home with the log fire ablaze and Christmas tunes crooning, surrounded by Cuban, Spanish, Puerto Rican, Scottish, Brooklyn, Manhattan and New Jersey accents. Photographs of the hostess’ recent work/philanthropy-related trip to Cambodia framed dining room walls, making me feel even more welcome than I already was. We sipped wine as baked salmon, lobster, roast beef and many trimmings were placed in the centre of the 16-seat dinner table. Visitors came and went, Karen in her sobriety almost walked through a glass door, conversation and laughs flowed and gifts were exchanged.
For the next few nights I slept in Karen’s basement. Set into the hill atop which her home sits, this could be a self contained home in it’s own right, with a floor space bigger than my whole home. The following morning we sat around her log fire in our pyjamas, opening presents with decorative Santas watching down on us from the mantlepiece. This was followed by a cooked brunch of duck bacon (how is that a thing?!), sausages, scrambled eggs and a Swedish pastry called an Ebelskiver, cooked in Karen’s specialty pan (per the pic).
An American Christmas tradition I had never heard of, is the 24 hour “marathon” replay on TBS channel of a film released in 1983 called A Christmas Story. An adult narrator reminisces about the Christmas he spent as a 9yo, with his parents, younger brother and school mates during a snowy few weeks in smalltown America. A similar genre to The Wonder Years, a TV series I loved as a child, this film is a must-see if you enjoy children and their perspectives on life. We played it in the “middle lounge” most of the day, for anyone who wanted to stop in and catch up on “Ralphie” and his crazy family and friends. Around this, Karen cooked almost all day; visitors came and went; gifts continued to be exchanged at regular intervals; we finally got out of our pyjamas; Moët & Chandon was served; “salad on a stick” was served; dinner guests arrived; roast lamb and vegetables were served; card games were played; many laughs were had.
Yesterday Karen drove me to the Pennsylvania border, where we strolled around a beautiful river town with a variety of charming colonial homes and boutique shops, then wandered across a bridge over the Delaware into Pennsylvania for more charming village scenes. Karen is pleased to have “broken” me of my Manhattan fixation and it’s certainly true that there’s more appeal in America than just the allure of New York. On our way to the train station this morning four young deer wandered up the sidewalk and crossed the road in front of us – you don’t get to see that in the city!
The train journey back to Penn Station New York this morning was quick and easy until we arrived at Penn Station New Jersey where crowds converge from any number of inward-bound trains to board the New York-bound engine. Sitting at the front of a carriage looking at the wall with my earphones in situ, it took me a few moments to wonder why the train wasn’t continuing. Only when I looked outside at an empty platform, then behind me at an empty carriage, did I realise I was at the end of the line and was about to return whence I’d just come! Jumping up in a panic as the conductor appeared beside the nearest door, I apologised that I hadn’t heard the announcement. Rolling his eyes, he opened the door for me just before the train reversed back for it’s outward-bound passenger pick up. Phew!
A few platforms away, crowds of us crammed into the New York-bound train and spent six minutes squashed in the aisles and doorways, chatting casually to wile the time away as we rolled slowly through New Jersey, descending down under the Hudson River and back up into Penn New York. Penn Station (at 34th St) and the blocks of Manhattan around it to the North into Times Square (around 42nd Street), are just as crowded as the trains hauling their human cargo into the area. It’s not a part of New York that I like to be without a specific purpose so I quickly hit the subway and made my way south to SoHo, where unlike Midtown there’s a bit of space between the bodies winding their way around each other.
One of the neighbours in our building is a reasonably well-known actor who I have not yet had the excitement of sharing the lift with, despite my chances being fair (Karen had a brief chat with him last week, typically in my absence!). Our front door at the street this morning had a courier ticket taped to it, addressed to him with his full first name (as opposed to the abbreviation that he is generally known by) and the first initial of his surname. I have no idea why, but seeing this ticket on “my” door and knowing who it was intended for, gave me a sense of “Hollywood insider”. I may never get to meet him in the lift or lobby, but I’ve seen his mail!
This afternoon while writing this blog, the next door neighbour’s au pair rang our buzzer. I picked up the door phone to view her in a CCTV-like image as she explained that she had gone out and left her lift key behind and would I please call the lift up to our floor so she could get back into the unlocked apartment. Unsure of myself, I called Karen in New Jersey for advice and she assured me that I was talking to the au pair and she wasn’t a burglar conning her way into the building!
Everyday occurrences for those around me, are novel, getting-it-on experiences for this hillbilly bumpkin. With only five days left, I love getting my America on!