Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Brooklyn Bridge at dawn. Pretty. Pretty damn early. Posted by Picasa

Fish market morning. Our feet got wet. Posted by Picasa

The ice cream was under here. Posted by Picasa

Doughnuts, anyone? How about pickles?

I was a bit embarrassed to go to dinner at a friend’s house last night (actually, make that dinner at two homes of four friends in one house), and drive myself there. Not only that, but Ian drove himself separately. This, after five days of the publickest of transport: the New York Subway (I would like to note that it is not generally our practice to take separate cars to places we are going together, but it is occasionally necessary when we are coming from different places, such as last night when Ian was at his accordion lesson). I like the New York subway. It’s convenient, dependable and cheap. For two dollars, you can go from Far Rockaway out past Brooklyn to, oh, let’s go with Van Cortland Park, in the Bronx. I can’t see why anyone would want to do that, as it would probably be a noisy, clattery, screechy ride of over two hours, but in a city of eight million there are probably whole tens who do it regularly, and spending such a long stretch of time on the train would, I imagine, allow for an almost complete experience of subway commerce (i.e. battery sellers) and entertainment (i.e. 15-second bongo-drum concerts). I also like how it’s a big social stew (sure, sure—the Trumps aren’t there on the subway, but lots of sub-Trumps are), and therefore allows for broadening experiences, at least for a sheltered Wallingfordite such as myself.

On Monday morning (our last day), we hopped on a train into Manhattan to experience an art installation that my friend, who works for a public art fund called The Public Art Fund, was going to let us do even though it closed Sunday. When we stepped on our transport, there were two seats left across from each other; one next to a dangerous-appearing gangsta-looking guy with giant clothes and headphones (ironically, he was dressed in shape-hiding attire much the way I was through much of my insecure high school years), the other between two less-obviously serial-killer types. Girding myself, I took the seat next to the gangsta. He didn’t immediately mug me, so I relaxed just a little. Maybe ten minutes later, he finished the paper he was reading and offered it to me with a friendly gesture. You know, like a normal person would. Duh.

Actually, I shouldn’t have been very surprised; New Yorkers, on a whole, seem to be quite friendly people. They seem happy to help you and they engage in small talk if you’re in their shops; they comment on your conversations on the street if they think they have something to add (okay, that one was a bit irritating); they tease you about wearing flip-flops to the Fulton Fish Market at 5:00am (I didn’t have any other shoes!). In all, they seem to be members of a community. I’m not sure if this is bred from proximity (which is intense) or shared heartache (we were in town at the fourth anniversary of 9-11), or maybe a combination of the two. The city is certainly much safer now than it was for years; perhaps people trust each other a little more.

Any trip to NYC is a gustatory journey as well as a physical one, and fortunately for us, my friend loves to eat. You wouldn’t know this to look at her; she’s teeny-tiny. On her recommendations, though (and those of her boyfriend), we ate excellent Mexican, South Indian and Chinese food, pizza, homemade (under the Brooklyn Bridge) ice cream (twice), fresh doughnuts in a shop that makes one set of batches a day and then closes when they’re gone, and fresh pickles from a pickle-seller (which was kitty-corner from the doughnuts). Ian, a fan of inconvenient souvenirs, even carried home a quart of spicy ones in a soft plastic container with a snap-on lid. On our own we also managed to do okay, adding Brazilian and Italian to the mix. We also went to some excellent bars, including the notable Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel (decorated by the author and illustrator of the Madeleine books himself), and the super fine Superfine, in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn, where I discovered the caramely, spicy joys of dark aged rum and Reed’s extra-strong ginger ale.

I do love New York, but I also loved the long hot shower with scrubby mitts when I got home.

And . . . I’m glad to not be flying anywhere for the next few weeks.

Friday, September 09, 2005

New York State of Mind

A dear friend from college, one of the first people I met at Lewis and Clark in fact, as she was my RA, has lived in New York since, oh, maybe 1996. I have visited her several times here, and also another friend of ours who lived with her for about a year. I’ve come in all seasons, and have, at a certain time in my life, been so familiar with my friend’s home that I brought my roller blades and would go out in the afternoons from West 18th and 9th, and glide down along the West Side Highway to Battery Park and back again. I still get email from a Chelsea wine shop, and can go right to H&M in Soho without having any idea what street it’s on.

It’s safe to say I’m fairly comfortable in the Big Apple. I know, for instance, that no one refers to it that way in any seriousness. I have come to accept that dirty streets—i.e. black gum polka-dotting the sidewalks, mangled trash tiredly flopping around in the wake of taxis and town cars, unidentified drying puddles of varying sour liquids—do not mean “bad neighborhood.” I even feel a certain comfort walking down Canal Street at 10:00pm on a Friday night, heading for the A Train.

I know that I’m far from having a resident mentality, though. I can’t, for instance, say “A Train” either out loud or silently to myself without breaking into song, sometimes out loud. This has gotten old already, as my friend now lives in Brooklyn with her boyfriend, and the A Train is the best one to take. (I have a similar struggle with 42nd Street). I am also, every night, finding it amazing that my computer not only recognizes 12 local WiFi networks; it also tells me that three are unsecured, and thus I’ve been able to access my life’s blood, the Internet, whenever I wish without even trying to hook up to my friend’s secured network. People who know more about computers may tell me several reasons why I should just take the 17 seconds to be secure, but they’re not here right now.

I do feel like a country bumpkin whenever I first arrive. The miles and miles of high rises, the crowds of busy people, the endless number of street corners all featuring the same convenience store with the same bizarrely fresh and plentiful cut flowers—I find myself staring with my TV face (slack jaw, dead eyes) if I’m not careful.

It’s an amazing place, this city. Vibrant, varied, smelly—and beautiful. It’s like a foreign country.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

One of the Hazards of Travel

Bozeman didn’t disappoint us in the morning, yielding a coffee shop fresh out of Seattle, complete with a cherry-almond scone (although Essential Baking Company, it couldn’t really hold a candle to yours. Never fear, you are still my favorite.). The weather had turned, and we listened to Mozart’s Requiem as we sped through dark, rolling clouds and dull gold and slate gray hills. At the Idaho border, we were pleased to set the clocks back an hour. I, particularly, was pleased because it meant one more hour of daylight for horseback riding at our next stop: Jerome Creek. I do realize that changing time zones, that arbitrary spatial division designed, I’m assuming, to make commerce easier, does not actually change how much light there is. Still.

Northern Idaho, where I-90 runs through, is narrow, maybe around 80 miles across, and peppered with teeny towns. We stopped in historic Wallace for lunch, and had grilled cheese and coffee at the local bar/restaurant, a beautiful high-ceilinged place with a huge dark-oak-and-mirrored bar, some stuffed animal heads (that would be stuffed animal-heads, not stuffed-animal heads), and a canoe suspended over the seats. In all, a place right out of silver-mining history.

We then took the more-direct-but-narrower-road-route to Jerome Creek, passing through St Maries (where I reprised my rootbeer shake of earlier in the summer) and enjoying the sights of the White Pine Scenic Highway as they slid by, and in the two places where the sights stopped completely, then crawled by as we followed the “PILOT CAR FOLLOW ME” leading us through major road construction.

K&A were surprised to see us. Granted, our plans had changed about every 3 ½ hours for awhile and so they were right to be a little confused, but my last email had pointed out that we would be at their place on a night that they would, too, and then we would leave together for our respective destinations the next day. A reply stating their pleasure at not missing us was sent to me, and so I, in my defense, also had a right to be a little confused that they weren’t expecting us. Each blamed the other for the reply that neither remembered, but regardless were—typically—pleased to have guests.

Excuse me for waxing, well, if not poetic, at least long, over this next section. I can’t help it. Of course, the main reason I wanted to stop in Jerome Creek (in addition to free lodging and food), was to go riding, and to take Anne Carolyn riding (for the first time in 15 years!), in one of my all-time favorite places in the world. A joined us, K having preacher business to attend to, and we three ladies had a perfect ride. AC, not immune to the pleasures of good-natured horses, canters up long gentle slopes, and an afternoon spent in wilderness, frequently laughed out loud. In fact, cantering up the Long Gallop ahead of her, I was able to gauge her progress up the hill and comfort in the saddle by the fact that she giggled the entire time (A, behind her, gauged her comfort by watching to make sure her seat stayed mainly in the vertical. It did; riding horses seems to be like riding bikes—you never forget how—except that I hate bikes and I love horses.) For dinner, we three collaborated on a delectable vegan stew, enjoyed G&Ts that AC provided and taste-tested European chocolates. The next morning at 7:00, I even got to help K move some paddock fencing around, before taking a solo ride on Shadow--the perfect farm vacation in miniature.

For some reason I’ve forgotten to mention KD, our third travel companion, as if traveling with her is such second nature that it’s like she’s a second purse. While she’s a great deal cuter than any of my purses, she caused about as much trouble as one, and she’s not much bigger (come to think of it, she's probably less trouble than a second purse, as I would undoubtedly forget that I was carrying two since my habit is to carry just one, and leave the second behind. No way would KD let that happen to her.). Her diminutive size and little legs led A to worry that perhaps KD shouldn’t go with us on the ride; Kit is used to jogging several miles in the sunny afternoons in a place where all the water has dried up, but KD isn’t. AC and I knew, however, that small as she is, KD is one tough doggie. And, as predicted, once she accepted the fact that the horses were too tall for her to sniff their butts and decided she liked them anyway, she was in her element (and, when the element was a sere, late-summer field, she almost blended in physically as well). Even KD was invited back.

It was yesterday that something happened at home, while I was away. It wasn’t a fatal something, but it was likely a life-changing something, and that’s one of the major possible hazards of travel—the world moves on whether you will or no.

As we approached Spokane (which we were passing through on our way to visit AC’s grandparents in Colville), my cell phone regained coverage for the first time in about 24 hours. 5 NEW MESSAGES it said. Five? Five in 24 hours? In my experience, I’m just not that popular when I’m on vacation, and even though I probably should have, I hadn’t called that many people yet for my current story. It turned out that my one remaining grandparent, the 90-year-old, indomitable B, had fallen in her yard while clearing wisteria from her fence and broken her hip. This made her very angry—she’s an extraordinarily young 90 in many ways, and was enjoying the freedom of living alone. Her children (my father’s brother and sister) are both in Asia for different reasons, so my cousins have had a time getting everything worked out. I spent the day today at the hospital, and am pleased to report that she’s healing well . . . but still. It seems likely that her days of freedom are over.

And after three days on the open road . . . loss of freedom is a sobering thought.