Taste Test

Still dreaming of those verdant hills and robust cabernets in Napa, and inspired by the story of the Valley’s triumph in the 1976 Judgement of Paris, I’ve decided to conduct my own taste test. I won’t be judging wines, but countries. No prizes for guessing which two. My test won’t be blind and the criteria will be a little more random than those used to judge wine – things like flavour, bouquet, tannin levels, acidity, and my personal favourite, legs. But I will be awarding scores out of twenty, just as the judges in Paris did.

I fully accept that judging entire countries on the basis of some randomly chosen factors, using a sample of one (me), and incorporating data from just two cities (London and New York) is in no way fair or scientific. I ought, at least, to try to get some data from some places like Virginia Beach and Birmingham.   But I haven’t got time for a scientific methodology, and neither have you. So I’m counting on you good people to indulge me in a harmless game of compare and contrast.

So. In no particular order, we begin. Continue reading “Taste Test”

Golden Days

My apologies, loyal blog followers. This post is (a) late, and (b) not about life in New York. L1 was called upon to fly to Northern California for meetings, so I tagged along, as indeed I’m tagging along, L2 like, on this entire year’s adventure. So this post is about California. But perhaps you’ll be pleased to take a break from the intense cold, manic pace and expense of New York to spend a little time in the Golden State.

It so happened that in the week before we left I met several people who knew the San Francisco area well. The consensus seemed to be that the city itself was not what it used to be.

“San Francisco is the new New York,” said A, a management consultant who travels there often. “It used to be kind of an alternative, creative place, but now it’s full of hyperactive, money hungry techies. They’re the only people who can really afford to live there.”

“The traffic is diabolical,” said another friend. “Really, you don’t want to drive anywhere near the city.” (This rather put the fear of God into L1, who had booked us into a hotel in Half Moon Bay, thirty miles south of San Francisco, and was planning to drive in for meetings every day.)

Another woman, who moved from San Francisco to New York six months ago, said “It’s all over for San Fran. The weather isn’t great – it’s almost always foggy and a little chilly. And the only people who live there are the fabulously wealthy tech players, or the desperately poor and homeless. There’s not a lot in between. Plus any day now there’s going to be a huge earthquake and the entire place will fall into the sea.”

On this cheerful note, L1 and I boarded our American Airlines flight to SFO. We then hired a car (which L1 described as a giant sitting room on wheels) and made the half hour drive to Half Moon Bay, a little gem of a place (and the pumpkin capital of the USA, no less) perched on the west side of the San Francisco Peninsula directly across from Palo Alto. Continue reading “Golden Days”

Nice day for a protest

One bitterly cold afternoon this week I received a visit from K, a Lithuanian woman in her early sixties who’s lived in New York for some twenty years. K had made the long bus journey from North Queens to uptown Manhattan to collect a package I’d brought over from the Lithuanian angel, R, who is the linchpin of our transatlantic life, looking after house, dogs and twenty somethings back in Wimbledon.

K refused my first two offers to come up to the apartment for a cup of tea, but finally relented. During the forty minutes we spend together, I learned that K and R are old friends who both left Lithuania in 1996, crossing great expanses of water in search of better lives. K ended up in New York, where she met her American husband in a dance hall in Brooklyn. (When she told me this I couldn’t help picturing the dance hall scenes in Colm Toibin’s beautiful novel, Brooklyn). The husband died eighteen months ago, and K said she was still trying to work out how to live without him.

“Trouble is,” she said, “ New York is not very friendly place. People do not want to know.” Continue reading “Nice day for a protest”

To be resolved

 

Ahhh, Christmas. I know it stirs up mixed feelings in some –  all that festive fun, yes, but also, all the fuss, all the expense, and the weight of all those unrealistic expectations. But I must confess to being a super-fan. L1 doesn’t call me the Christmas Monster for nothing. And Christmas in London this year did not disappoint.

The sensation of Christmas joy hit me before I went ice-skating beneath the stars at Somerset House, supped champagne with friends in a sparkling Sloane Square, or plonked my turkey into its heavenly scented brine bath of cinnamon, cloves and oranges. The minute I walked into my house I felt an overwhelming surge of warmth. I like to think that it wasn’t just the heat from the radiators (our house is always a tad on the warm side) but the settling of my very soul. For London, and our house in Wimbledon, is still home. One day, when New York has worked its way deep into my system, I might be able to say that I have two homes, like all those celebrities you read about who claim to divide their time between Paris and New York, or LA and Sydney. But for now, New York represents novelty, excitement and adventure, while London is home.

Now we’re back in that place of novelty, excitement and adventure, having expertly timed our arrival so as to miss all the snow and sub-zero temperatures. We came back raring to go and ready to re-embrace our new urban life. We also came back with a slew of New Years Resolutions. Continue reading “To be resolved”

Notes From Underground

2017-12-06-PHOTO-00000040
Reading Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground

 

A few weekends back, L1 and I were headed to the Coffee Shop at Union Square, where they do a stupendous breakfast in classic diner surroundings. It was L1’s first foray underground. He couldn’t get over the industrial feel of everything, how it was all – both trains and track – just big hunks of metal held together by bolts and rivets. It has character, sure, but also a whiff of dinosaur.

A few days later, reading the New York Times, I understood why. The New York City subway, loved, hated and relied upon by some six million people a day, has been neglected. “The Making of a Meltdown” screamed the headline. “How Politics and Bad Decisions Plunged New York’s Subways into Misery.” Apparently we’ve arrived here in a year that has seen one subway disaster after another – the derailment of a Q train, a track fire on the A line, a stalled F train that had overheated passengers clawing at the windows – all of them attributed to century old tunnels, and track routes that are crumbling as a result of decades of underinvestment. The accusations were endless: Signal failures are twice as frequent as a decade ago; New York is the only major city that has fewer miles of track than in World War 11; and New York’s subway now has the worst on-time performance record of any major rapid transit in the world. (Though, suspiciously, London’s Underground wasn’t even on the list.) Continue reading “Notes From Underground”

Is that a trombone I hear?

 “They’re not shy about using their horns in this city, are they?” L1 said on our first morning in the new apartment, as we craned our necks in the direction of the TV so as to hear Morning Joe over the vehicular argument that was gathering both pace and volume outside, five floors below.

“This, of course, is why a balcony is a complete waste of time in New York,” he added, clearly congratulating himself on having had the good sense not to pay whatever extra sum might have been required to secure an apartment with six square feet of precariously suspended outside space.

It occurred to us then, as it has almost every day since, that Manhattan actually has two great symphony orchestras. There’s the one that plays in the David Geffen Hall at the Lincoln Centre, the NYPO (New York Philharmonic),maxresdefault and then there’s the one that plays on the streets.  The street symphony’s illustrious composer is not Mozart or Brahms,  but the combined comings, goings and inclinations of the millions who live, work and drive in the city.

Ordinarily it’s the string section that reigns supreme, with the leading first violinist being the undisputed concertmaster. But in the street orchestra, it’s the brass section that takes centre stage. The constant honking of horns by taxis, cars and giant SUVs forms the very core of the score in this city – mostly trumpets, French horns and trombones, with the occasional stupendously loud report from a tuba. (That would be a super-sized truck making its impatience known.) Continue reading “Is that a trombone I hear?”