Here I am, at home in Connecticut, and it’s just as we all dreamed as we were struggling through the last insane weeks of London life. Gary the Groundhog is eating all our overripe fruit (mangoes are this summer’s surprise favorite), John’s birds are scattering sunflower seeds over the ground for the chipmunks to carry away in their manic way, the horses are snorting in the back meadow, Avery has jumped on the trampoline, little Kate across the road has charmed us with her Victorian fluttery eyes and appetite for lemon muffins.
My perfect nieces Jane and Molly have come to jump over the horse jumps and conquer the teeter-totter (once I dragged it out of the barn and scraped a dessicated bat off it, yuck). We’ve gathered around the supper table wearing a variety of moustaches, just to mix things up.
All is normal, in fact.
We’ve eaten our way through an enormous platter of baby-back ribs, endless ears of bi-color corn dripping with butter, steamed lobsters, bison burgers and slabs of juicy Connecticut tomatoes.
Tennis in New England heat and humidity is a whole ‘nother ballgame from the temperate games we play in London! But a quick dip in the pool afterward cools our faces and makes it possible to jump in the car and go for a new adventure. We got a message on the phone yesterday, delivered in Jane’s typical breathless prose, “Do you guys… want to go… pick blueberries… with us? Call us back! OK! Thank you! bye!” So we did.
My God. How anyone on earth makes a living picking blueberries in 90-degree heat, I do not know, and I have enormous respect for anyone who can. It was so HOT! But an adventure, especially as our satnav took us to Belltown Orchards in Glastonbury, Connecticut by way of a most unexpected route.
“Why is there a little boat icon on the satnav?” John asked in perplexity, as we drove along merrily.
“What water could there possibly be?” And then we saw. A ferry crossing, over the lovely Connecticut River, in fact, the oldest running ferry in all of the United States of America. Who knew!
It’s a four-minute ride. It costs $3, just so you know (I felt the satnav should warn us of this impending expenditure before we actually landed on the ferry dock with no way to back up, but that’s just me carping). A completely beautiful ride, with all of us clean and fresh on the way there, and then sweaty and exhausted on the way back.
We had barely recovered from our berry-picking when it was time for Avery and me to pack up a little bag or two, hop in the car, and drive into New York for a reunion with two sets of old and wonderful friends. We slipped into Tribeca as if we’d never left, left the car at a blisteringly hot parking lot where, if there were no eggs actually cooking on the pavement, it was only because the attendants were between meals. Unbelievable! The heat in New York is a unique experience. It’s something to do with the height of the buildings crouching over you, holding in the humidity, the peerless energy of everyone around you, the excitement of being “home,” and the combination wonderful and awful smells: exhaust, pee, hot dogs, asphalt and sun. You have to love it, to endure it. And we do.
Both Avery and I are unrepentant New Yorkers, no matter our love for our adopted home of London. New York seethes. Strangers who do things for you, like park your car, or sell you a bottle of water, or drive you in their taxis to the theatre, are amiable enough, and always good at their jobs, but with an underlying potential for… dealing with anything, a sort of “whatever you might throw at me, it’s happened before and WORSE” kind of shrewdness, and a promise of being able to dish it out as well as take it. New Yorkers are indomitable, incomparably friendly, ready to chat about a newspaper headline or the weather or a certain basketball player abandoning the city for Miami of all places. But there is a hardness, too, and an energy level ratchets above that of any other people I have ever known. “We can take what the world dishes out, and we’ll even enjoy it, and we’ll find a way to reinvent it and make money from it,” is the cheerfully grim attitude of New Yorkers, and Avery and I both simply love it. We forget what it’s all about until we’re there, and then we can’t stop smiling foolishly, in our happiness at being back.
We checked into the slightly dire but charming Cosmopolitan Hotel just a stone’s throw from my old art gallery, from Avery’s beloved primary school, from the World Trade Center site, from so many memory-laden places and people. Avery and I stood in the heat on the sidewalk talking about what restaurants had gone out of business. or moved into someone else’s restaurant space, a favorite occupation of New York institutions, when suddenly someone said, “I recognize that voice!” and it was Avery’s old dance teacher, the fearless Loretta who shepherded our tiny girls, aged 3, in pink tutus for their first forays into “listening to their bodies.” It was such a joy to see her, and to see the disbelief on her face at the grownup young lady with me, hardly recognizable from the plump, uncooperative but adorable little thing from 10 years ago.
From there it was up Greenwich Street to meet with Avery’s first friend, Cici, and her mother Kathleen, for a glass of iced tea and a delightful catchup, talking all over each other about everything that had happened since we last saw each other at New Year. Schools, boys, music, vacations, jobs, Kathleen’s painting, my writing, London, New York gossip. It makes me so happy to see bits of Avery’s childhood reappear and be just as beloved as before.
We walked in a leisurely way, wading through our own sweat I hate to say, up to their new loft, in the building where we all spent the terrible morning of September 11, 2001, watching buildings fall and other tragedies. It was their office at the time, and they’ve since decided to turn it into a home, which I think it a marvellous way of exorcising the ghosts of that unforgettable day, when we walked uptown from the girls’ first day at kindergarten, trying to shield them from the sights and sounds. A happy home will be the best thing that could happen to that space.
From a quick tour of the loft, then to a fabulous dinner at Giorgone on Spring Street: tuna tartare with avocado and arugula (arugula! sorry, rocket, that’s your name here), then a softshell crab on a bed of slivered green beans and smashed new potatoes. Avery had tortellini with ricotta and Cici and Kathleen a glorious-looking crispy pizza.
And uptown in our first yellow cab of the visit, in air-conditioned splendor! “I can’t believe this, it’s FREEZING!” I burbled to the Tunisian driver, who smiled benevolently and said, “Sweetheart, if an undercover cop gets in your taxi and it’s not running cold air, you get a ticket.” I think I must have known this, but it seemed a miracle of modern American life anyway.
The play… the play! We none of us had any idea what it was about, but it was David Mamet’s “Race” and a MOST challenging piece of theatre. Be warned! Massive cursing, sexual content, over-the-top in both really, but thought-provoking and well-acted, with Eddie Izzard doing a passable if uneven American accent, and Richard Thomas from “The Waltons” lending an air of creepy self-importance to his role as perpetrator/victim. It was a wonderful theatrical experience, but as I’ve been the victim before of people telling me how wonderful a play/movie/exhibition is and then watching my child’s mouth open in utter shock and horror, I thought I’d give you a heads-up. Teenagers at the youngest, I’d say. And maybe not your mother. At least, not MY mother.
And my first-ever nighttime visit to Times Square, if you can believe it! New Yorkers are like that about tourist sites, refusing often to go to the Statue of Liberty in a lifetime of living in the city, and proudly announcing this fact to anyone who will listen. But it’s SUPERB. Pedestrian only now, for several blocks of traffic nightmare shifts, I imagine, and EVERY SQUARE INCH in sight covered with moving, gloriously complex, HD neon images. Just absolutely stunning. And most mesmerising: a video display, an ad for the trendy clothing store Forever 21, of a live feed of the crowd, with another video of a beautiful girl superimposed over the live feed, and then she takes a Polaroid of a portion of the live feed, blows in it and waves it about, holds it up so the crowd can see it and try to pick themselves out of the image! Am I explaining it at ALL?
Here it is. So bizarre!
Finally it was time to head back downtown to the hotel, to collapse with a nightcap and a good book, and try to absorb all our adventures. I’ve said it before: it’s good to get OUT once in awhile, do something new, something independent, and really enjoy life in all its variety.
Up in the morning to meet my darling best friend Alyssa at Avery’s old haunt Gee Whiz, across from her school! All the same waiters! The same menu! (But a new, cool black coffee mug, so they aren’t entirely stuck in a rut). A cheesy egg sandwich, Avery plowing her way through chocolate chip pancakes, Alyssa and me trying desperately to fill up the last six months with frantic gossip and information exchange of the sort that cannot be accomplished by phone, email or Facebook. Must Be In Person. It’s almost too painful to be with her, because I immediately begin thinking how much more I will miss her when we part.
We met up again with Cici to head for an orgy of shopping in SoHo. Sephora for the girls, JCrew for me, a pass through Dean and Deluca where I performed the necessary task of any longtime New Yorker of bemoaning how Joel Deluca’s famous handwriting on spice jars has been turned into… a FONT. Unbelievable. “I remember when ALL the price signs for the meat were in his REAL handwriting!” I say tiresomely, and Alyssa nods sagely. finally into Forever 21, where the girls shopped in abandon, picking up t-shirts of incredible cheapness and unknown fiber content. Alyssa looked around and said, “If someone lit a match in here, the merchandise would go up in an instant. It wouldn’t so much burn as melt, and what would be left would be this big” — she made a gesture the size of a baseball — “and it would outlast the universe.”
And that was our New York adventure. Surely not the last of the summer, but the first, which makes it… the best.Print This Post