Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New York Surprise

Last weekend I did something crazy: I flew to NYC for one night. It was my brother’s surprise 40th birthday party. He had no time to plan anything because he was on charrette. That’s when an architect works around the clock to make a deadline. Was he ever surprised to see us all!

I had to come because I remembered how hard it can be turning forty. It’s the first birthday that you stop and take stock of your life to see where you’ve been and where you’re going. It’s midlife after all.

Forty is a good excuse to celebrate. I got together with my school friends on Nantucket Island, and we had the best time ever. I also had dinner with my family and snuck off for a romantic weekend with my husband in Kennebunkport.

If I thought I was turning forty quietly, I was mistaken. I blogged about it, and that post has become very popular in Google searches. I’m the poster child of “turning forty” in images. It’s not so bad. I’m now forty forever, never aging.

I have to say a year past forty, I’m having fun. It’s been time to explore my creativity in writing and in art, to enjoy my friends and family and to make new friends through blogging. I think my brother will love his 40’s too.

My brother and I grew up in a quiet neighborhood in Manhattan with more brownstones than apartment buildings. We used to hang out with the other kids on the block without supervision. Things are different now. I don’t think NYC has gotten less safe, only that parents worry more.

I loved the freedom I had to explore the city, especially as a teenager. Plus there was no danger of drunk driving since we walked or took public transportation. We went out dancing in clubs but couldn’t afford to get drunk. We knew enough not to let any guy buy us a drink. We also went to experimental theater, sampled ethnic restaurants and explored the Village shops.

There’s so much culture and good food on your doorstep in NYC. I managed a quick visit to MoMA to see Van Gogh (crowded!) and Miro (just opened). Both shows I’d recommend although keep in mind that viewing art in NYC is a contact sport, especially on a rainy Saturday. We were luckier with the weather on Sunday.

Everyone has heard of Central Park in NYC, but Carl Schurz Park is another gem. It was my neighborhood playground. There’s a sunny boardwalk by the East River, looking out on Hell’s Gate. I love to watch the boats go by.

Space is a premium in Manhattan. The boardwalk was constructed over the FDR drive.

You wouldn’t guess this leaning on the railing.

The flowers were still blooming, looking gorgeous against the ornamental grasses. The sky can turn pure blue in autumn. The park is close to empty Sunday mornings.

Dog walkers are out early.

What I love about this park is there’s a big dog run . . .

. . . and a little dog run! Dogs otherwise must be kept leashed.

You won’t see exotic birds, but there are plenty of fat pigeons and sparrows. Yes, I’m really standing that close. I’ve seen cormorants fishing in the river.

Another park denizen is the mayor of NYC. Gracie Mansion is like a southern plantation home dropped into the city. There aren’t many wood-frame buildings left in Manhattan. I remember how sad we were to see one of the last ones torn down on our block and replaced by an ugly apartment building.

Isn’t the mayor lucky to have this as his backyard?

That footbridge spans a hidden garden.

Our leaves have fallen to the ground in Maine, but they are still golden in New York.

There are rows of benches to sit and read a book.

I needed a good travel book as a big chunk of the weekend was spent waiting in airports. My writing partner, Jane Green, had written a novel that I was longing to read. I’m writing a novel, NOT CRICKET (A MATCH FOR EVE), about Americans in England, and Jane’s Swapping Lives is about a desperate housewife in Connecticut who trades places with a hip London magazine editor. I wasn’t even tempted to pick up my usual travel staple of People Magazine; I was having that much fun. I’m 3/4 through and totally enjoying it.

Jane moved from North London to a Connecticut suburb eight years ago so she knows her turf. She parodies the language and cultural differences, but she does it in good spirit. It’s like having a chatty girlfriend entertain you. My favorite anecdote, based on a real experience, was of a suburban mom buying a nice birthday gift and discovering the same gift being passed out as a party favor to all the children!

Jane’s novel reminds me David Lodge’s Changing Places where an American and an English academic do a sabbatical year swap. Both are laugh-out-loud funny. I’ve been that fish out of water in England myself and love these stories. Do you know of any other good US/UK novels?

After doing a major restructuring of my novel last week, I’m back to writing new chapters. I’m a writer that needs to get it on paper to see it. After about 100 pages I take an appraisal. By that point, I have a good sense of where the novel is going. I don’t plan it all out ahead of time or that would spoil the suspense. I need to surprise myself as well as the reader. Writing is an exploration into possibilities.

Jane and I are into the fourth week of our writing partnership, and it’s working really well for both of us. Working in solitude, it helps to have a buddy there for encouragement. Real life can too easily take precedence over fiction. Writing a novel with Jane is like going through a pregnancy with a friend. We share the stress and the joy. It helps to know I’m not alone.

Blogging helps in that way too. Thanks to all!

This post will be part of Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day.


Anonymous said...

Thank you writing partner - lovely words of encouragement... Finishing off my chapter today then off shopping - hooray! j x

tina said...

Turning 40 and working around the clock? I hope your brother had a great time at his surprise birthday party. P.S. I never would've guessed you were over 40-oops-40 and holding for sure!:)

Elizabeth said...

Lovely to see your take on New York.
What excellent photos.
You are right that parents seem to control their children more than in times past.
The weather in New York has been quite glorious lately.
I will be interested to know how "Not Cricket" is going.
Yes, the David Lodge was excellent.
Cross cultural disasters - my mother going in to the butcher in Huntington, Long Island, and asking for a nice joint for the weekend......

Sarah Laurence said...

Go, Jane, go! You well deserve your reward. I’m up for another chapter tomorrow.

Tina, it’s not easy being an architect. I’m getting a better sense of it because one of the central characters in NOT CRICKET is an architect. I called my brother last night, and he was still hard at work at 9:00pm to make a midnight deadline. You really have to love it, but he does. He wanted to be an architect since he was four.

Ha! Elizabeth, you really made me laugh with that one. What was the butcher's response? New York can be so lovely in the fall. I wish I'd had more time. It's a gorgeous day here and today is my day to get out and enjoy it so that I'm ready to write with Jane again Thursday and Friday.

TBM said...

As you already know, I loved your "40" post! Happy Birthday to your baby brother :-)

So glad you had a chance to enjoy the lovely weather when you were in the City.

PS Those two books are going on my to-read list right now!

Bee said...

Well, I've discovered another thing that we have in common: little brothers that just turned 40! (My brother's birthday was November 8th, but unlike you, I didn't get the opportunity to fly to Colorado and help him celebrate. Cute cake -- and brother -- btw.)

Gorgeous pictures of New York City looking its autumnal best. It's difficult to not feel a bit envious. sigh.

Since we all suffer from grass-is-green syndrome at times, I think that life swaps are always intriguing. I've read the David Lodge book, and from what I remember the English academic thought he had gotten the jammier deal. Sadly, the only American/UK life-swap that I can think of at the moment is the one in "Parent Trap."

Alyson | New England Living said...

What an awesome sister you are! So glad you got to do a little exploring while you were in the city. I'm in love with that photo of the boat and the bridge. Perfection!

I must read "Swapping Lives" since I live in suburban CT.

Sarah Laurence said...

JAPRA, I loved your birthday post for showing that turning 40 can be happy too. My dad just e-mailed that this morning I’m #3 for turning 40 in Google images. Can I stand the fame? I’m curious to hear your reaction to those books. Changing Places was mid 80’s and Swapping Lives was published three years ago so together they almost span the two time periods of my novel.

Bee, we are living parallel lives! Happy birthday to your brother too. It is hard having an ocean between you in and family. NY isn’t so far away, but I always feel a bit low when I say goodbye. Ha, now I’m remembering the kids movie “Parent Trap” too. It’s probably a good sign that this topic isn’t overdone and that the few pieces have been very popular. Jane's novel was a bestseller.

Alyson, Swapping Lives has your name all over it from your study abroad in England to your recent move to suburban CT. I’m eager to hear what you think. My father grew up in the same CT suburb where Jane is living now, but it has clearly changed a lot. I love reading Jane’s references to places we’ve both been like the beach playground in Westport and Marylebone High Street in London, where my kids went to school for six months.

All, will come visit your blogs later today I hope. I have a fun/busy day ahead of me. I’m still catching up from working long hours last week and going away for the weekend.

walk2write said...

Sarah, you are lucky to live fairly close to your brother. Mine are both on the East Coast but in opposite corners. I know they probably don't miss me as much as I miss them since I was the bratty baby sister. Your photos of New York really capture the city's charm. I especially like the one of the barred window and the one of the garden with flowers. Hope your writing proceeds without a hitch this week. Thanks for the reading recommendations. We have just moved, and I need to find the local library. Local, though, is a relative term here. We live about 15 miles from the nearest sizable town.

LINDA from Each Little World said...

I grew up in Buffalo and your photos and comments brought back all the joy and wonder of life in a big city. Same here with taking the bus as teens. I never learned to drive til sophomore year of college when we moved to the burbs.

And may I add that the decade from 40 to 50 was the best ever — at least for me. Hope you find it the same.

Anonymous said...

hi sarah great blog. I studied abroad at oxford and loved it. I really liked "changing places" and also the sequel "small world." Bill Bryson "notes from a small island" is pretty funny too, but it's not a novel, he's an american writer living in uk.

Anil P said...

Forever Forty. I like the way it sounds.

The NYC of your youth sounds interesting. It must have changed much from then.

After I read Joseph Mitchell a certain image of NYC has stuck fast in my mind, peculiarly Mitchellesque.

Cindy said...

How great you got to surprise your brother! Midnight seems like an odd time for a deadline ~ is the project in a different timezone? Of course, I am totally unfamiliar with the architecture profession but I admire them greatly because I do know they have to have great technical knowledge.
It's amazing another bloom day is almost upon us. I must go search for some for my post :)

Sarah Laurence said...

W2W, good luck settling into your new home. I expect you’ll grow a beautiful garden in the country.

Ms. Wis, I was one of only 2 students in my high school who passed the driving test in NYC my senior year. I still don’t love driving. Good to hear that the 40’s are the best.

Nick, thanks for the note on the sequels. Bill Bryson has several fans in our household. Diangelo? I’ll get it at some point.

Anil, part of what makes NYC fun is all the change, but I wish we could save the old neighborhoods. You are reminding me I have to renew my subscription to the New Yorker.

Cindy, the deadline was the end of that day which was 11:59pm. Crazy! Architecture is a world unto its own. It’s sort of cheating using NYC park photos for GBBD, but gardens are pretty bare in Maine.

Sarah Laurence said...

Oh, no! Nick Diangelo from Oxford Blues. Did you know that my husband was in that movie? But of course, since he patted you on the back. I can't complain because it is in context - yet another American going to Oxford in the 1980s.

Shauna said...

What lovely photos.

I fall in love with NYC each time I visit, which isn't as often as I'd like. It's wonderful that you were able tocelebrate your brother's birthday. 40 didn't bother me but 30 did. Perhaps because it was a reminder that I'm a "grown up".

Glad to hear your writing is flowing so well. I always find the process and how different writers' methodologies fascinating.

Les said...

Great photos of NYC. The green spaces of the city always suprise me, pleasantly so. On the occasion of my 40th, I decided to distract myself with a horticultural trip to England, including a stay in Oxford.

Cindy said...

Sarah ~ Not cheating at all! We enjoy seeing whatever part of the world you are in!

Tess Kincaid said...

Happy birthday to your brother! You looks so much alike! Does everyone say so? Like twins.

40 was a breeze. It's 50 that's the hard one, at least for me it was!

A Cuban In London said...

Beautiful post. And I also followed the link to your very own 40th birthday and was delighted with the tale of how your husband and you met.

I hope your brother had a nice celebration. Now I know where your passion for the outdoors comes from. You were an city person to begin with! Same here, but whereas you have traded the city for the countryside, I don't think I would be able to forsake London. You can take the boy out of the city, but you cannot take the city out of the boy! Just this Saturday we'll be off to Sadler's Wells to watch a performance by Rambert Dance Company; it's part of my birthday ceelebrations, the actual day is Sunday. I don't think I could have access to the same cultural life in rural GB.

Thanks for a lovely post.

Greetings from London.

troutbirder said...

Not quite the way I pictured NYC. Thanks for opening my eyes!

Anonymous said...

I'm approaching that stop-and-reflect point. I've decided not to procrastinate, though. Might as well get started putting myself through the wringer. ;)

Beautiful pictures!

Donna said...

I really love those pictures of New York. They're stunning! I enjoyed reading about your thoughts of the city as well. You're so fortunate to have grown up in such a great place as that. I miss it there a lot.

I read "Swapping Lives" not too long ago and I really enjoyed it. I'm glad that your writing partnership with Jane is working out so well!

Sarah Laurence said...

Shauna, interesting that 30 would be harder for you. I’ve never worried too much about age, but somehow 40 hit me at the time. The nice thing about writing is that age brings experience, more material for my novels.

Les, I think that’s an excellent way to turn 40 – an excuse to do something fun.

Cindy, that’s good because I’ve never been much of a rule follower when it comes to writing.

Willow, it’s funny to hear that now because we didn’t look alike as kids. He had curly blond hair and my hair was straight and brown. Somehow we’ve aged in similar ways, especially our hair. As I look at our photos I also see it in our faces too. I think we all need a time to contemplate where we are in life be it at 30, 40 or 50.

ACIL, my life is full of happy coincidences. I’m one of those odd creatures that adapts well to both city and country. Day-to-day, small town life is great for raising a family and writing without distraction. I get my culture fix on city visits. I do miss the theater in London. It’s killing me how much stronger the dollar is to the pound this year compared to the last 2 times I lived in England, sigh. Not such a happy coincidence there.

Troutbirder, NYC has a bit of almost everything.

Jason, welcome to my blog! As long as it gets you where you need to go, then wring away. Birthdays are rather arbitrary benchmarks.

Donna, I have been lucky in life, writing and friends. Jane’s as wonderful “in person” as she is in fiction.

Rose said...

50 is really the new 40!Trust me, Sarah, it's true. Once you hit 50, you really feel as if you've hit midlife. Looking back, I realize I was pretty energetic in my 40's and didn't look too bad:) Enjoy these years!

Thanks for taking us on this tour of New York--I didn't have to ride the subway, fight the crowds, or worry about my purse being snatched. Seriously, I have never been to NYC and would love to go. Your pictures are lovely, and it's interesting to see some sights worth visiting besides the usual ones promoted to tourists.

Glad your partnership with Jane is working out; I'm sure she provides some motivation as well as encouragement, something we all need in whatever endeavor we are pursuing.

Brenda Pruitt said...

Loved your photos. I was in Niagara Falls once. My husband is from there. Turning 30 was hard for me. I'm nearly 52 now, and have to say I'm liking this decade the very best. Seem to get more sure of yourself as a woman as you reach this point.

Sarah Laurence said...

Rose, thanks I am enjoying my 40’s. NYC is not quite what you’d expect, but that’s a good reason to go. I’ve always looked for quiet corners in a busy city. You are right that motivation and encouragement are both key to completing a novel. I’m lucky to have an experienced writing partner, a supportive spouse, a fabulous agent and a team of manuscript readers.

Brenda, how reassuring it is to hear that the 50’s are even better! It’s been interesting to hear all these personal reactions on turning decades. My “turning forty” post was one of my earlier ones before I’d connected with all of you bloggers. Having all these thoughtful comments adds so much to a blog.

Dots said...

Lovely post, lovely pictures.... made me fall in love with NYC all over again (not that I'm already not in love with the city). It is the first time I came to your blog... spinning in the story of siblings turning 40 with a reminiscence of growing up years in Manhattan was like a spicy taste of the current with a sweet flavor of nostalgia... beautiful!

joco said...

Hiya Sarah,

You all started early with the GBBD it seems.

NYC parks: I did a post on Paxton (him from the Chatsworth greenhouse. Did you visit Chatsworth when you spent your year here?)
and you may be interested to read about him and Central Park. (clownplants)

There is also a new post on j-s about the Thames stretch a little upstream from your Port Meadows area. I wonder if you walked up that far. Chilly walk in November, but still lovely.

Sarah Laurence said...

Dots, welcome to my blog! Thank you, I love your cooking metaphor. I’ll come visit as soon as I can. I fear I won’t have much time for blog visits today. That’s the price of a fun-filled weekend in NYC.

Joco, I did have an early start as today is a busy one. I didn’t visit Chatsworth, but I’m happy that I can in your blog. We only occasionally walked along other stretches of the Thames because we had such a pretty part of it close to our home. As happy as we are to be back in Maine, my daughter and I miss our Port Meadow walks.

marmee said...

loved reading all of this, your new york trip, your bro turning 40,
your partnership with jane. thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah, I really enjoyed this travelogue post. I see no one commented on how cool the cake was with the buildings on the side! Hope he liked it and the surprise when he had so much work to do. I have never been to New York but may go someday. You showed the non glamour side of it, the real life there. Like Rose said, I think turning 50 is more midlife, but each of these birthdays ending in zero are monumental at the time. You are a lovely 40, but 40 is stil quite young! I love your writing style and eagerly await the completion of your book.

Sarah Laurence said...

Marmee, it was a fun weekend and quite a contrast to this wet, dreary day back in Maine. Good weather to be catching up at least.

Frances, my mother will love you for this comment. She ordered a cake with a cityscape to commemorate my brother’s impact on the NYC skyline. It was delicious too. I’m more down to earth than glamorous for sure, despite my roots. Thanks for your encouragement; it makes the hard work of writing a novel worth it, knowing I have readers.

Naturegirl said...

Sarah Lawrence: I love that name there's a ring to it!
I love your tour of N.York a city I have NOT yet visited! I plan on doing so soon!
Now if you think 40 was something wait until you turn 50!!! A fifty something naturegirl and I thank you for visiting Nature-Trail and Monet's garden!

Katarina said...

Thanks for the tour around New York. I've never been there myself, so I enjoyed it a lot! Your photos are just great!

Unknown said...

What a great post... I feel like I was on a mini-tour with you. By the way, my housemate (who grew up in NJ, about an hour away from NYC) agrees somewhat with your assessment of NYC art viewing as a contact sport. He says that you just aren't "dark and scary enough"... lol. Apparently, he is.

Off to read your post about turning 40... I know that a lot of my friends freaked out at 25, so I can't imagine that they'll handle 40 as well as you probably did. :)

Sandra Evertson said...

Lovely photos, I like the two chubby pigeons!

Sandra Evertson

A Cuban In London said...

I'm celebrating my birthday today and you're more than welcome to pop by my blog for a relaxed and chill-out jam session on piano, guitar and vocals.

Greetings from London.

Dave King said...

What lovely photographs! Absolutely stunning!

Sarah Laurence said...

Thank you, naturegirl, and welcome to my blog!

Thanks, Katarina! I always enjoy your photos of Sweden.

Blackswamp girl, welcome to my blog! New Yorkers aren’t dark and scary once you get to know them . . . on a good day!

Thanks, Sandra, and welcome to my blog!

Happy Birthday, ACIL! I enjoyed jamming.

Thanks, Dave!

Corner Gardener Sue said...

Hi Sarah! Thank you for visiting my blog. I am trying to read the GBBD posts before replying to my comments. I am going to bookmark your blog, and look for pics of England. Your photos are awesome! Are you willing to tell what kind of camera and lens you use?

My husband and I purchased a DVD set of a television series from England we enjoyed that was showing locally, but not all of the episodes were being included. It's called, "As Time Goes By". We just watched the last of it the other day. It made us laugh! I read in someone's blog one time about how people in England drink lots of tea. In this show, they were always drinking something, whether it was tea, coffee, or something from the bar in their living room. Have you noticed this about people there? Also, I liked to hear them say they were going to "have something" for when they were about to do it, like, "having a lie down". ;o)

Your book sounds interesting!

Sarah Laurence said...

Sue, welcome to my blog! I'm glad to hear you find my book interesting. You can find a page of England photos on my website and also in the Oxford Sabbatical Index (see sidebar).

I have 2 digital cameras: a DSLR Nikon D80 with an 18-55 kit lens and a point-and-shoot Canon Elph SD800. The photos in this post were shot with the Elph because I needed to travel light. I just started using Lightroom 2 photo processing software (the images with watermarks.)

Nice observation on English expressions but even those vary by class. The English drink tea like Americans drink coffee as in “have a cuppa.” Tea can be a meal in itself.

Thanks for the DVD recommendation. My favorite UK series are “Foyle’s War,” “Inspector Morse,” “Brideshead Revisited” and “Upstairs, Downstairs.” "Doctor Who" is great for kids. My kids love "Catherine Tate" an English comedian but the humor might not translate.

Curmudgeon said...

One aspect of NYC that has not changed since I lived there in the 80s--the well-fed pigeons. What a fun b-day cake. Sounds like it was a wonderful trip.

Meems said...

Hi Sarah:
Thank you so much for visiting Hoe & Shovel and for your kind comment. Florida is a unique place to live and garden.

What great photos of NYC! All the colors and trees were very pretty.

I really liked the cake with the city on the side and I presume all those images on the top mean something to your brother. Happy Birthday to him and I know he had to be happy you celebrated with him.

Our daughter studied in Oxford for a semester during her senior in college ... she is a huge C. S. Lewis fan.

Hope your writing continues to go well and nice you are enjoying your new writing partner.

Dan said...

What a nice walk through the past you took us on. I bet it was fun growing up in NYC.

I really like your pigeon photo, they really are beautiful birds.

Anonymous said...

I've been oohing and aahing over all the beautiful photos of NYC. You've shown a completely different side of the city than what people who live far away see. Gracie Mansion and its "backyard" are truly gems. The steps going down into the secret garden (I think that's what you called it) were delightful also. and how fabulous you are coauthoring. I read my first Jane Green novel this summer (and blogged about it ~ the Beach House) I've also been eyeing the Swapping Lives book every time I go to Target but so far haven't given in to temptation ~ maybe I will over the holidays. Thanks for the post on my blog so I could find yours.

Annie in Austin said...

Everything I know about New York used to come from books, television and movies - then blogs came along and added new layers to the construct. I'm enjoying your words and photos, Sarah!

When I turned 40 our four kids ranged in age from college to preschool and we were getting our house ready to go on the market - barely time to blow out the candles and none for angst.

I can't think of another US/UK switching novel, but in The Holiday Cameron Diaz trades her CA house for Kate Winslet's English cottage. It has its moments.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Carol Michel said...

I've never been to New York City, but after reading your blog post, it occurred to me that one of the best ways to see it would be through the eyes of someone who grew up there, who knows it as "home". Thanks for sharing it with us for bloom day. It's a beautiful place!

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Sarah Laurence said...

Curmudgeon, I didn’t know you once lived in NYC too. If anything the pigeons are fatter than ever. It was a fun trip.

Meems, welcome to my blog! My mother added the silly figures to make my brother and his children laugh. His wife found the tool ornaments, a nod to the carpentry he does in his spare time. How interesting that we have an Oxford connection. My novel is about 2 generations of women on a year abroad like your daughter's. The literary history is so rich at that university. My writing partner is keeping me going.

Dan, NYC was a fun place to grow up. Without a blog, I’d probably not have noticed the pigeons as they are so ordinary. That’s the fun of photography and blogging.

Kathleen, welcome to my blog and my hometown! I loved Jane Green’s Beach House and reviewed it too (see sidebar under book reviews). I’m sorry for the confusion: Jane and I are not coauthoring a book. We are writing separate novels at the same time and have paired up to keep the pace. It’s like training for a marathon with a friend. I think books make the best holiday gifts, especially to yourself!

Annie, I had a similar experience at 30. I was pregnant with my second child on that birthday. My husband, my two-year-old and I were all sick with the flu. I was too miserable to contemplate anything. Self-reflection is a luxury. You probably haven’t had much spare time with 4 kids so I’m doubly impressed by your lovely garden. Thanks for reminding me of that movie – it looks fun.

Carol, thanks for hosting another GBBD. It was fun to visit all those colorful, sunny gardens on a rainy day in Maine.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for clarifying Sarah. That sounds like a great partnership. Best of luck!