Hello from NYC! The kids and I are visiting friends and family here on our way home to Maine. I can’t believe I’m back in the USA. As for culture shock, Manhattan couldn’t be more different than Oxford. My son summed it up as we walked through Times Square, “Nothing’s older than 400 years.”
We stopped and stared up at the sky-scrapers. The sun was shining. Traffic was honking. Lights were flashing, and people were shouting. If I hadn’t grown up in NYC, it would have been an assault upon my senses. This is home, and yet it feels foreign.
Why are strangers saying “hi!” to me and smiling? When people bump into to me, they don’t apologize. Cars and buildings are super-sized. Food comes in portions too large to finish. I needed the ice cubes in the drinking water. The temperature is in the 90’s today.
Yesterday I met my old school friends for lunch at Cipriani Dolci in Grand Central Station. The food was good if not great. The train station setting was fun. The iced cappuccinos were perfect as was the company. I felt very welcomed home. The prices only made me smile when I converted the dollars into pounds.
Perhaps that was how I managed to overcome my sticker shock and buy a digital SLR camera. I have a backlog of paintings to add to my website, but my circa 1985 Nikon SLR isn’t working. I miss the manual control of an SLR. I like to pick my aperture and even prefer focusing myself. Scanning slides for my portfolio costs money too.
My son and I headed to the photography mecca. B&H Photo is near the Empire State Building. It’s enormous and quite the New York experience. Many of the salespeople are Hasidic Jews, and they all know from cameras. You can research and buy a camera on line, but at that price I wanted a test drive and expert advice.
I had originally planned to buy the Canon Rebel XSi as it gets top reviews, but the NikonD80 can take my old Nikon lenses (in manual,) and it’s more of a professional grade camera. You couldn’t go wrong with either camera, assuming you would really use the manual features of an SLR.
For most people, I’d recommend my point-and-shoot Canon Elph. It’s small, versatile and affordable. The image stabilizer allows for nice indoor shots without flash or a tripod. I’ve taken all my blog photos to date with it, and I’m sure I’ll continue to use it for every day blogging. I won’t have my new SLR camera until I get back to Maine Friday as I shipped it to avoid sales tax.
To reach B&H Photo, my son and I walked downtown through Central Park. It was our first day in NYC. There was a light breeze and low humidity with temperatures in the mid 80’s. Summer at long last!
Back in England, people still had the heat turned on, and the rain was relentless. Everyone said it was the worst summer ever. I reminded them of last summer with all the flooding, to which the reply was that was very unusual. Yeah, right. We did at least have a gorgeous last day in England. We took the dogs for a favorite walk “between the fields.”
The landscape was bucolic English, but the wheat against the bright blue sky made me think of the American Midwest and the novel I’m reading now.
Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres is set on a farm in Iowa. The story is Shakespeare’s King Lear. Many have called this Pulitzer Prize winner a “Great American Novel.” I loved Smiley’s Moo, which poked fun at academia.
A Thousand Acres is more serious and beautifully written. The characters are quintessentially American. They are ambitious, hard working and tied to their land and family. The farmers might be parochial, but they are far from simple.
I’m enjoying the novel so much, I bought another copy for my parents as a visiting gift (I’m staying with them in NYC .) I also bought them Ellis Avery’s The Teahouse Fire set in 19th century Japan which I reviewed in April.
On my mother’s recommendation, my son and I went to see the Louise Bourgeois exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum. Bourgeois’s installations worked so well in that space. I preferred her earlier work, especially the skinny sculptures. Giacometti worked in a similar way only he got the recognition that would never go to a woman. Understandably much of Bourgeois’s work challenged the notion that women were only housewives and sexual objects. She’s still working now in her 90’s. NYC has such amazing art.
It is wonderful to be back home, but I’m already missing England. Somehow we didn’t realize that we had grown roots until it was time to yank them out. My children had been counting the weeks but then felt sad to go, just when they’d finally been accepted into their new schools and made new friends.
Even our dog, Stella, was anxious about the move. She crawled into suitcases, terrified we’d leave her behind. Rest assured, we even remembered her lamby. Her crate had more legroom than we had on the plane.
Henry flew to Boston with Stella Tuesday and then drove to Maine. American Airlines only charges $90 to fly a dog to the USA, but you need to produce a vet certified well-pet certificate (NOT mentioned on the AA website.) It’s odd to think of them home without us.
Our last few days in Oxford were full of ups and downs. Literally, ups and downs. I let Stella out into the garden one night and left the door open while I ran my bath. Henry came home later that night to find the house hopping with baby frogs. He caught and released 20 of them. I wasn't much help because I was laughing too hard. Henry was very good natured about the whole debacle.
On our second to last night, we stayed with my in-laws in their wisteria covered home. The cousins raced around and had a brilliant time. We donned thick fleeces to have a barbecue outside until it rained. At least we got to see a double rainbow. Our parting was bitter sweet.
For our last night in England, we stayed with friends in Cambridge to be near Stansted Airport. My father called from NYC. He couldn’t find our flight number on line. When he called American Airlines, they told him that AA no longer flew out of Stansted. We had printed out our flight info the day before without problem. I called to reconfirm.
AA had cancelled our flight, and said they had called our home phone in the USA! Can you believe it? Our last flight change in May, they had e-mailed, so why not this time? We had to wake up before 4am to drive back to Heathrow. Still, it was worth it to say goodbye to our friends. Talk about a stressful departure.
I’ve needed the time in NYC to recover. Jet lag is much worse when you’ve lived abroad for a year, and the transition back to “normal” life isn’t easy. It’s a relief to be looked after by my parents in a familiar setting.
Plus I’ve had some comic relief. Here’s an oxymoron my son noticed on the West Side:
Only in NYC would you need to insult the customer to sell produce:
Actually the Turkish shop owners were very friendly and the fruit was excellent. Perhaps something was lost in translation.
This morning I relaxed, taking a walk along the East River. Do you recognize the bridges from my opening shot? Tomorrow we’ll cross back over the Triborough Bridge on our way to the airport.
Poor Henry is already back in Maine unpacking boxes and getting us connected to the internet so I can keep blogging. You may have noticed that I posted twice today. If not, check out Oxford Index for a trip down memory lane. Once I resume work on my novel NOT CRICKET, I’ll need to refer back to my Oxford sabbatical posts, and the archives are hard to navigate.
Another expat American blogger, Just A Plane Ride Away, came up with the best solution to my dilemma. She created a blog page to index her vacation to Germany and Austria. JAPRA, I hope you don’t mind that I borrowed your brilliant idea. Check out her blog and other expat bloggers on my sidebar. I guess I’m not an expat blogger anymore….
It’s only been 3 days since I left England, and already it feels like a dream. Henry just e-mailed to say our boxes arrived (in 6 days!) and the internet is reconnected. We’re meeting friends at the beach on Sunday. Home!