Thursday, July 17, 2008

NYC Limbo

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!


Les said...

Welcome back to the states. I love going to NYC for only about 3 days at a time. It is great fun, but may as well be another country for some of us.

Alyson | New England Living said...

Welcome home! I can only imagine the trasition you're having to go through right now. Quite the culture shock - especially going straight to NYC.

You bought your camera at the same place I did! Very cool! I wasn't as fortunate as you, I didn't get to do it in person. Too much of a drive with four kids and they wouldn't have been very excited to know that we were going to the city just to get a camera. Have fun getting to know your new camera!

Anonymous said...

Your poor husband, having to do all the unpacking, while you chill out in New York. Still, I suppose someone has to do it.

Cindy said...

Welcome home to the USA! I'm sure you'll be adjusting back to your life in no time. Especially since your husband is home unpacking for you - lucky girl :)

I can't wait to hear how you like your D80. I will be getting the D60 soon. I too, have many Nikon lenses from me SLR that will work manually with the DSLR.

I love your photo of the wheat. It reminds me of my childhood home.

Jean Merriman said...

Glad to see you made it safely back to the states Sarah. Hope your trip back to Maine goes better than what all happened when you left England. Tina has been here and just left today to go back to TN. Too bad she could not have stayed another couple of days to meet you at Fat Boy's but Uncle Sam gave her hubby only so many days leave.

Jean Merriman said...

Oh darn, I meant to say that I sure wish you could have brought some of that rain with you to Maine!!

Katarina said...

Sarah, how nice to hear from you again! As always, I enjoy reding your posts, and this one about the contrasts between NYC and Oxford is so amusing. Not to mention the story about the frogs... Wishing you a happy flight back to Maine.

Anonymous said...

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.

Thanks for visiting. We hope you enjoy your new camera.

Henry Posner

B&H Photo-Video

walk2write said...

I've enjoyed your posts about England, and I'm looking forward to your thoughts and pics from Maine. Thanks for the tip on some good books. I'll have to look for them at the library or bookstore. My sister, by the way, is anticipating the publication and distribution of your novel. I am too.

Anonymous said...

Not only is the fruit quality exceptional at that corner market on 84th and York Ave. -- but the prices are really reasonable and a good deal less than at the local supermarkets!

Audrey said...

I really enjoyed this post. I'm glad that your trip back was safe even though AA screwed up. All the airlines do this and I should know. Two years ago we were due to fly on the day of the security alert shut down all the UK airports for days. Trust me when I say you got off lightly.
I loved the New York pictures! Hilarious! I always find my antennae is way up for American craziness the first few days I'm back, even for a visit. I always enjoy that aspect of my trips back home to NYC.
Keep in touch. Glad the dog had a good trip. We've had the same weird explosion of frogs. It's like a ground and mini version of the end scene in "Magnolia." Did you see it?

TBM said...

Sarah, to read your post... I could feel your longing for England and your cautious happiness at being home. I was particularly interested in reading your first post back home and you didn't disappoint. And the photo of Stella! Too funny.

I can't wait to hear about your first day home. Will your house feel huge compared to your place in Oxford?

And of course it is fine for you use the index idea! One of the
best things about blogging is the sharing of ideas. :-)

tina said...

I just got back from Maine and was hoping we could meet up, perhaps another time. Fat boy's was pretty good though. I worked there 30 years ago. How time flies. So sorry about your last minute changes on the flight. Urgh! Not helpful and what a joy to come home to low humidity and the sunshine! Maine finally got some rain in Harpswell today! Maybe you did bring the rain? I will posting on my visit soon. Not sure when. The 22 hour drive took a lot out of us. So long! But I can honestly say it beats flying anyday. Sorry I am jumping around, gotta go now. Have a safe trip home to Maine.

Sarah Laurence said...

Wow! What a warm welcome home. Thanks everyone!

Les, that’s a good point. NYC isn’t that representative of the USA overall, but that’s one of the cool things about our country, its amazing diversity.

Alyson, it looks like you ended up with just the right camera for you. I was very tempted by the user-friendly Canon Rebel XSi with live view on the large back screen. I just wanted to use my old lenses, and I’ve always been happy with Nikon’s.

yrneh, hmm, Henry spelled backwards? Seems like my husband has a loyal fan, which isn’t Henry himself – I already checked. This new prank commenter clearly inherited Henry’s dry humor.

Cindy, many more boxes to go before I can justify taking my new camera out of its box. My brother got the Nikon D60 and is very happy with it except it’s a bit hard to navigate through the manual settings. Where is your childhood home?

Jean, welcome to my blog! I brought back the rain you requested. I’m sorry to miss Tina, but I’m sure they’ll be another opportunity.

Katarina, I just saw yet another frog in the woods today. Otherwise, Maine is very different from England.

Henry, the camera arrived home before I did. I’m looking forward to using it.

W2W, I’ll post about Maine on Wednesday after I dig out my office. Thanks for the positive vibes from both you and your sister!

Mom, thanks so much for looking after us in NYC. We came home feeling surprisingly rested and ready to tackle the unpacking marathon. We enjoyed the fresh fruit in NYC. It's so nice to be closer to you. Looking forward to seeing you again in a few weeks.

Audrey, I hear AA is having serious financial problems. Terrorism does make flying more of a hassle, but the precautions are necessary. The first time I spent a year in England, my plane on its way to pick me up in NYC blew up over Lockerbie!

It’s interesting looking at home with some perspective after the time abroad. I haven’t seen Magnolia, but I’ve certainly seen enough frogs, and I like frogs.

JAPRA, it is so good to be home but already I’m missing England. It was such a special experience. I will blog more about the transition next post. I agree that sharing is one of the best things about blogging. Thanks for the index idea.

Tina, I’m sorry to have missed you, but there will be another time, I’m sure. Now I'll need another excuse to go to Fat Boys. The blog? I did indeed bring the rain. It was a huge downpour, and it looks like my yard really needed it. I’m so tempted to tend to the garden and plant some flowers, but the house needs me even more. What a long journey home you had too. Did you see that your mom commented?

tina said...

Hi Sarah, Yes I sure saw that my mother commented. She reads you each week even is she doesn't always comment. She enjoys your blog and it will be interesting to see how you talk of Maine now that you are back. I loved my visit, but glad to be home. Get your house straight so you can go garden! That is what I want to do-plant my new plants from Maine, but I have to do my house too. boo hoo.

Elizabeth said...

Good to see you are back safe after all your adventures with American airlines`-oh dear. Sounds pretty typical to me.
Yes, America is a strange and wonderful culture shock when one has been away for a while.
Your dog looks a delight.
When things settle down a little`(do they ever really?) perhaps we can have lunch in NY?

Rose said...

Welcome back to the States, Sarah! I can only imagine how difficult it must be to transition into American life once again. I liked your son's comment about everything being so "new" here--it's so true!
Enjoyed your post; thanks for the recommendation for Jane Smiley's book--I'm going to put this on my reading list.

Sarah Laurence said...

Tina, I'm glad you had a nice visit to Maine. Good luck getting the house stuff done so you can garden. I found myself dead-heading the clematis today before unpacking, but it was begging at the door for attention.

Elizabeth, another visit? I’ve already left NYC for Maine. Things are far from settled, but I’m determined to get my office sorted before I resume writing. The lack of clutter in England was bliss.

Thanks, Rose. It’s been almost a week, and I still feel odd. I’ll be curious to hear your take on Smiley’s novel, given your farming background.

Anil P said...

Whoever came up with 'home is where the heart is,' said it well.

The picture of the english field is so very inviting, indeed.

Nikon D80 should serve you well. I use the same model, and have outfitted it with a 28-300 mm Tamron lense.

What's Maine like this time of the year?

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Welcome back to the states. Although, I have to admit that a cold, rainy days sound perfectly wonderful to me right now. Maine will be perfect though, no doubt!
Edward is most relieved that Stella made it home okay and we both wish you all best in transistioning!

Sarah Laurence said...

Anil, that encourages me since I love the photos on your blog. I have the 18-55 mm Nikor digital lens and will be using my 3 old but excellent Nikor lenses (50, 35-70 and 80-200 which will all become 1.5 times unfortunately.)

Pamela, we aren’t having the best weather in Maine, but at least it’s summery. Stella is very happy to be back in her wooded yard. It is wonderful to be home despite all the unpacking still left to do.

Bee said...

It amuses me that we flew back to the U.S. on the same day . . . but of course I won't be staying!

I drove through Vermont on my way to Saratoga, and every time I saw a "Moose Crossing" sign it made me think of you! I didn't realize, native Texan that I am, that the moose crossing thing was "for real," as they say.

A Thousand Acres: perfect reentry book. I love and admire that book so much.

I hope that your Maine homecoming eases any homesickness for England.

Cindy said...

Sarah - I grew up in eastern PA on a dairy farm. My Dad always grew wheat though (and still does). This is just around the time of year he harvests.

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, that is so funny that we flew to the USA on the same day. So much lines up between our lives that I’m not surprised that you admire A Thousand Acres as well. I love that you think of me passing both Oxford and moose crossing signs. I’ve lived so many different lives, but Maine really does feel like home. I’ll miss England like I miss New York and Cambridge, MA too, all special chapters in my life.

Cindy, it’s so nice to hear that your father is still farming wheat. Have you read The Omnivore’s Dilemma? It’s all about how mass commercial farming of corn is destroying America’s traditional farms and healthy diets. In my town in Maine we protect areas for farming and wildlife. I love local farms and shop every week I can at our farmers' market.