what new york is . . . and isn’t . . . for me

We’ve been home for more than a week already, and finally I’m sitting down to reflect on our week in New York. We booked the trip originally to help our daughter with her obligation as home and cat owner while she was in Paris on a combination academic conference/vacation. Now don’t laugh. I turned down many potentially inspiring trips with Hubby the years that one of my three cats at the time required medication and attention I didn’t want to burden my friends and neighbors with. I had the luxury of staying home; our daughter doesn’t. What we got in return was a whole week in the city without expensive hotel bills, living like New Yorkers do, taking advantage of all the cultural offerings, the parks, the food . . . !

And yes, that included the subways. Usually when we’re visiting, I’m about five feet behind Hubby and daughter every time we go out, working hard just to keep up with them. I never know exactly where we are, or how we got there, until we’re there, much like being a child again. This trip, I was right there alongside him so I could see for myself how he knew which train to take–which platform we needed to be on–and the wisdom of waiting for the Express rather than taking the local. By the end of the week I was beginning–but not quite there yet–to feel a little like a native New Yorker. That means I stopped gawking at the artistic tile work on some of the walls, taking pictures, staring at people. I even managed to scan my Metro card with one swipe (most of the time). Walking outside on the street, I practiced the art of focusing on the sidewalk (instead of everywhere else), looking neither right nor left, with a slight scowl on my face and plowing straight ahead. I acted as if I knew exactly where I was going and in a big hurry to get there. Even though I wasn’t–except when we had to be someplace at a certain time–(like the play we went to)–more on that later. When you ride the subway, it’s good to close your eyes and let your head hang to one side, stirring only when the train stops. If you can understand the accent of the subway announcer you can keep your eyes closed all the way. It’s even more effective if you let your head touch other people and then open your eyes quickly as if you’re startled. Then close them again and let your head dangle on your chest some more.

But every now and then, I did look up and let a smile creep onto my face. In spite of myself I even made eye contact now and then, occasionally making a small remark to someone nearby. That taught me something too. That New Yorkers are very often from someplace else too! That makes them a lot like me, and with one exception we got along very well indeed (that story will come in a later story). We got on so well that by the time we left I was feeling as though, like Hubby has always felt since he grew up in a crowded big city while I grew up with cows and hogs, that it might be fun to live in a high rise (no yard work) in a big city. Especially one with great public transportation and every ethnic food you can think of plus some you’ve never heard of, and not all that expensive either. Our daughter lives in Forest Hills. You can shop for just about anything you’d want or need within a few blocks. It took me less than five minutes to walk to the ice cream shop for a gelato after lunch one day.

Thinking back on some of my favorite travel memories, I’m always reminded of that billboard I read more than 40 years ago riding the Staten Island Ferry during my first visit to New York (1968), “Remember that YOU may be one of our visitors best memories on New York.” These are a couple of people encounters I’ll always remember fondly: the greeter at Tiffany on Fifth Avenue who told us what to see (the Ziegfeld Collection and the stunning jewelry worn in the The Great Gatsby movie) and the female sales clerk who taught me a little about purchasing a diamond, knowing (I’m sure) I had no means of buying any at that store (!) and made my day by insisting I try on one of the terribly impressive emerald cut diamond (about 5 carats) that only cost $36,850. And whoever said that New Yorkers aren’t friendly? At the Empire State Building there was the information clerk who was so friendly we chatted comfortably for at least 15-20 minutes (always stepping aside when other visitors needed her attention of course). By the time I left I’d not only gotten a recommend for a new and far cheaper version of skin care product than the one I was currently using, but I knew her age and how many years she had to work before retirement. And even though my friend ML, who had joined us from Pittsburgh and I failed to find the high end store Barney’s we wanted directions for, we found Bergdorf-Goodman instead, and had a wonderful time checking out the (excessively) expensive shoes. Readers, I had no idea there are people in the world who don’t blink an eye at spending thousands of dollars on a single pair of shoes. And here I was feeling all guilty that I’ve had to spend more than $100 for my shoes since chemotherapy and RA have left quite an impact on my feet!

There were “action comic” shoes, “jeweled little bits of nothing strap-wrapped shoes,” even “I wanna tower so tall over men that the heels have to be bowed for balance” shoes.

action comic shoes bg double high shoes bgexotic shoe bg

Like women everywhere, we were soon attracted to the 50% off shoe display in the corner. (Not a single pair did I see for $100.)The ones I singled out varied in price between $650 and $1800 (remember  that’s at 50% off). We found some spiked heels we called secret service shoes because they had not just super high-heels, but literally had black plastic spikes (like track shoe cleats) all over the heel as well as the inset strap. If you worked at secret service and a bad guy (read: terrorist) grabs you from the back or the front you have lethal weapons on both feet for that crotch or buttock kick!  (Sort of like the one of the left below.) And I’ll bet Wonder Woman would have killed for shoes like the one on the right.

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The first pair of sandals look like the perfect shoe for the woman who really prefers going barefoot, but doesn’t because “what if there’s dog poo?” The others are very much like those I bought to wear with my saree for my wedding in Pittsburgh (1969).

i kinda feel like bare feet but don't want to step in dog poolike my wedding shoesI paid less than $10 for them at a shoe store near my apartment in Shadyside. Last, but not least, this pair sums up my dilemma every time I purchase shoes of any kind, the “I can’t decide which color I like best shoe.” Remember when the choices were limited to black, white, and sometimes red or black patent?

colorful shoes bgI have many more experiences and people to talk about from our trip, but I’ll hold those until next time. Meanwhile, my new feelings for New York (and big cities in general) are best summed up in these words I stole from a letter written by Anaïs Nin to her lover Henry Miller.

It is the suitable scene for my ever heightened life. I love the proportions, the amplitude, the brilliance, the polish, the solidity. I look up at Radio City insolently and love it. It is all great, and Babylonian. Broadway at night. Cellophane. The newness. The vitality. True, it is only physical. But it’s inspiring. Just bring your own contents, and you create a sparkle of the highest power. I’m not moved, not speechless. I stand straight, tough, and I meet the impact. I feel the glow and the dancing in everything. The radio music in the taxis, scientific magic, which can all be used lyrically.


is it my hearing or am i being geezerly?

I’m sure that if you’re over 50, you understand what I mean when I complain about the changing speech patterns in today’s pop culture. Where are all the teachers like Miss Lamb, my music teacher in elementary school, who still teach the importance of enunciating so that people don’t misunderstand what you’re trying to say?

Like, the song in the Citi Bank commercial where the young man and woman flit about town with their Citi Bank card buying up stuff for a weekend adventure? A little romance is thrown in to grab attention by mentioning buying diamonds or something, and then the song voice-over begins. By that time the young woman has begun climbing up this impossible looking crook-nose rock formation with the young man somewhere below. (It’s an arch in the famous Arches National park in Moab, UT by the way.) Was it something about somebody mashing potatoes? Around Thanksgiving, I thought maybe she was out climbing while the cook was stuck at home cooking and telling somebody to mash the potatoes. But what did mashing potatoes have to do with climbing?

Last week I solved the mystery by googling Citi Bank tv commercials. It’s a New York musician who goes by the name of L.P. (for Laura Pergolizzi) singing Into the Wild and it is a catchy tune. The beginning lyrics that sound like mashing potatoes is really “Somebody Left The Gate Open,” and according to this website Girl on the Rocks was designed to inspire women intrigued by the sport, but intimidated by its male dominance and stereotype as “extreme;” to instruct women on technique, strength, and mental agility from a woman’s perspective; to empower women to climb harder and with more courage. Okay, I forgive Citi Bank, but couldn’t there be subtitles? So people won’t think their ears are clogged with wax?

Just for the record, I began a draft of this post a couple of days back. This morning I noticed that other, more prominent people have taken notice of the Girl on the Rocks ad. You might enjoy Jeanne Moos amusing report (click here) from this morning on CNN. You may have to endure a short commercial from esurance before the report, but it’s worth the wait. It’s gratifying to know I’m not the only one with problems hearing.

While we’re on the subject of commercials, have you seen the Nelson Mandela public service announcement airing in various incarnations over the years? I have the utmost respect for Mr. Mandela and what he stands for, but after numerous times straining to understand the message I still didn’t know what he was saying other than something about color and tolerance. Yesterday, thanks again to Google, I learned that what he is saying is this: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” It’s a very important message but I doubt everybody who sees it understands it. Again, aren’t subtitles in order? Even in the Survivor series, subtitles are often used for speech patterns that may be difficult for some to decipher. I don’t take it personally that so often it’s that of southerners.

Last but not least, Hubby and I and our inquiring minds want to know this. Those video diaries Jamie Curtiss refer to in the Activia commercials! What are they? I shudder considering the possibilities. Some things are just better left unsung.