On the last of our days in Greece, it is raining. Such a contrast to the rest of our time here, where often I would look up at the blue sky and smile, thinking how it mirrored my feelings. Especially in Crete.
Athens, however, does not inspire or invite me to stay. Some sections are beautiful and work perfectly against the blue sky, as happened yesterday. Today in the rain, I hold my head down and see the dirt and poverty. I am glad that we are leaving tomorrow.
Part of this is the ‘disengagement’ from a place that comes naturally at the end of one’s time there. But another part is that I wanted Greece to be something it’s not. Every day a blue sky day.
Just as well that we are flying home to the beginning of an Australian summer!
PS. Have been in Greece for 2 and a half weeks now, and have been very slack with blog posts. May yet catch up on the long hours of plane travel ahead.
I have met many wonderful people on the streets of this big and busy city: people who seem to make a worrying situation lighter, a frustrating one incredibly easy, a good one even better, a whole day perfect or a single moment bliss. Here are just a few.
1. Sam and Molly. They had a home made lemonade stand in Brooklyn. We were hot from walking and losing our way, and came upon this lovely couple who had set up their stand beside their stoop. We do love a good stoop on a brownstone. We drank our lemonade….with fresh mint garnish …and had such a lovely chat with them that the temperature seemed to drop instantly.
2. Ivan. He is a biped operator in Central Park. He kept us company while we waited for our photo shoot tour guide, who did not show up. I was very annoyed, as I had been looking forward to this greatly . Ivan had a fantastic and easy philosophy on life, and took the time to discuss all manner of things with us and make us laugh.
3. Checkout operator at a supermarket in Noho. She saw that we had bought some Twinings Tea ( hard to find in our immediate area of Chinatown and Little Italy) and told us where to go to a tea salon, which served and sold all sorts of delicious teas. She was kind and lovely. A small gesture, I know, but one that meant she was very observant and took delight in helping people.
4. Our usher at STOMP. We had a chat as we sat down, and then she saw the look on our faces as she showed three loud huge men to their seats. She moved them down a few seats so that they weren’t right in front of us. She whispered to me “I knew what you were thinking so I moved them. By the time they realise they’re in the wrong seats, I can move them somewhere further back.” When I thanked her, she smiled and said “You and me. We had a connection.”
5. Devan, graphic artist and poster seller outside MoMA. He patiently explained all the posters while we pored over hem, deconstructing them along the way. Vicki bought one but we just stayed chatting and discussing his work as well as what we were up to in New York. He obviously thought we were pretty cool for 60 year olds. And we are!
6. Two Canadian women who helped me when I was lost in Central Park. I was hot and had to walk my bike along the oath. Everyone I tried to ask for help seemed to be speaking another language. By the time they came along and were so kind, I burst into tears. They could not have been more gentle or understanding if we’d been friends for years. They finally got me out of the Rambles and on my way freewheeling back to safety.
We are now seeing such a different side to this city in our haven on Mulberry Street. So different from Midtown where we first stayed. ( understatement) We’re at the crossroads of Chinatown and Little Italy. We can buy any type of food we want, except butter; everything is cheaper; we have a warm, inviting and spacious loft with an elevator that opens into it directly and we can still get uptown quickly on the subway which is, mostly, easy to use.
When I leave the loft and walk onto the streets it’s as if I am in a whole new world, and when I exit the subway midtown or uptown , I walk up and out into a completely different one as well.
BIG bonus for our first few days here was that the 88th annual feast of San Gennaro was held right in our street. Basically there were crowds eating and drinking non stop, and having photos near the shrine outside the back of the church. They had to pay of course. There was a cannoli eating competition which I am glad I missed. But also a procession and a Blessing of the Stalls.
The church next door is The Church of The Most Precious Blood. San Gennaro has two phials of blood in a church in Naples. They are in solid form. Twice a year they liquify, so we celebrate the liquification! Ah-mazing.
Oh, next big bonus of living here is that, now, the feast is over. Streets are back to normal noisy as opposed to crazy noisy, but it was certainly colourful and buzzing when we arrived in the middle of it. It was fun.
My favourite small park in New York, so far and by far, is Bryant Park. When we were staying in Midtown, I tended to gravitate to it when I needed to rest my feet, or just rest. I loved how it was used by New Yorkers and tourists alike.
A cafe up one end drew us there for lunch. The buildings of New York surrounded us, but we felt unaffected by their dominance. We sat in the almost shadow of the Public Library, gazing out into the park below. A carousel on one side was surrounded by parents and kids, and a traffic jam of strollers. Further down another smaller cafe had swinging ‘porch chairs’ to sit on. On another side people played table tennis and others gave juggling lessons. An outdoor reading room was set up, with books, magazines and newspapers to borrow. It was a quiet zone. Hard to achieve in a living, well used park, but once inside the designated reading area, it just seemed so much more restful.
Of course, there was a fountain, a small one by some standards, but big and deep enough to cool the air, provide a meeting place, or give kids a chance to sneakily dip their hands in then accidentally splash their parents. Time after time. Nearby, a crowd of kids proudly received their trophies from their football coach at a presentation in the morning sunshine.
On each of my return visits, grass in the middle was always full of people basking in the sun, meeting friends for lunch, playing with the family or just taking time out from the day like me.
Green metal chairs that reminded me of the gardens in Paris were scattered around, and there always seemed to be one available. Actually, the whole park reminded me of Paris. Maybe that’s why I liked it.
New York is a city influenced by so many other cultures, so that everyone here can find what she or he wants. And I guess the parks are no different.
It’s one of those places that I feel I know before I see. A cavernous hall, cool stone, warm marble, arched windows – Beaux Arts Beauty. Chandeliers that glow and twinkle greet me as I enter Grand Central Terminal. A movie set? A cathedral? A gallery? It could be all of these – oh and a train station too of course. One that also contains a ‘hidden’ tennis court.
I look up and see the sky, a painted turquoise night time sky complete with stars and a backwards zodiac. The stars are supposedly shown from the perspective of God, not man. Now there’s a metaphor to explore another day! A single ball of light travels across the sky, and on some days, there are laser shows.
Friends saw a wedding take place in the main concourse last week. On my visit, I am entranced by two different couples’ photo shoots. At first it seems odd, but the more I watch, and watch everyone else watching, the more natural it seems. Why not? I can see the romance in this place.
Even when ‘normal’ people rush past and disappear under archways to board trains (the travellers always seem to be late) there’s an expectation that they’re off on an adventure, heading somewhere full of mystery and promise.
I love how for tourists, for me, the terminal has become the destination itself. A one hundred year old reminder of a glorious past, and a functional, magical reality of the present.
So far in this fascinating city, we have caught several taxis. I love holding up my arm, waiting and watching for one to swoop in and scoop us up. Magic.
The other night I was heading out to meet friends Ian and Deahne for drinks, and I walked past an empty stationary taxi. I waited for a driver to appear and sure enough, a few minutes later there he was, with a breezy smile and an ‘Are you looking for a taxi?’
Sometimes the drivers talk, sometimes they don’t. They usually wait and take their cue from us. OR as I discovered, it’s possible to find one who begins with comments about the weather and just when you think he’s a normal if somewhat boring guy, he progresses to space travel in the next million years and then builds up and up to the longest wildest diatribe, punctuated with ‘Know what I’m sayin?!’ Every sentence. And there were a lot of sentences. All coming from that front left hand seat.
You see, it was evening, raining, and I was late. I kept thinking he would stop educating me but he persisted. I debated whether to cut short my ride and hail another cab, but wasn’t sure of his reaction. I decided to just be a very reflective listener. When he said that it was a jungle here, I breathed more easily, thinking that I might be on familiar ground with the whole metaphor thing, but no. He explained that we were living in a jungle that we didn’t know about, that the trees and branches cover us from above. They are so high we can’t see them. We people don’t know we’re animals. We look sophisticated and we think we’re smart, but we’re not. Know what I’m sayin?!
And then came the cruncher. He asked if I was over 21. Hhmmmmm. People who are under 21 don’t see themselves with their skeletons. Often he forgets he even has a skeleton. Sometimes, he can’t remember anything. ‘Like where 5th Avenue is? I almost replied. After all, he had missed the turn earlier.
When he stopped at lights close to the bar, I paid him quickly, jumped out and sprinted into the lobby. By the time I got upstairs and started breathing again, Ian and Deahne let me hug them long time and spurt the whole story out before I was settled enough for my Bellini.
Ian suggested that maybe New York is a huge set like The Truman Show. Someone missed his cue to drive past and let me hail him. Perhaps a disgruntled ex cast member snuck back onto the set, saw the empty taxi cab, and jumped in. I figure that in the meantime, Ed Harris is in the lunar control module above the jungle yelling out ‘Someone get in there, anyone. Even that crazy guy. Jan’s crossing 10th and we have to get her to 230 Fifth by 6. Stat!’
If that’s the case, fine. But if it’s true that I have just had my first real crazy cab experience, I have learned a few valuable lessons.
1. When someone goes off script, no amount of prompting will bring him back.
2. If you think that you should leave a bad performance, do it. Another one will come along.
3. One bad experience is quite often followed by several wonderful ones.
4. Beware the taxi that’s there when you need one.
This pic shows what waited at the other end.
Next post, several wonderful experiences about the shows we’ve seen so far….where everyone knows their lines!
If you’d asked me 4 or 5 days ago what I thought of New York, I may well have answered ‘meh!’. If you’d given me a ticket somewhere else, I would have been tempted.
But now, if you offered to spirit me away, I’d reply ‘Are you kidding?!’
Why the swing? Well, like everything else, my impressions of this city are directly related to the state of my health. And let me tell you, coming from the end of a Cooma winter to the end of a New York summer, from 8 degrees to 38, was definitely not good for a body recovering from a bad head cold and a plane ride. Imagine my horror to discover that even though business class was heaven, with a capital H and a glorious choir, the same germs spread throughout the plane no matter where I sat. How can this be?!
Throw in some jet lag, serious bouts of heat exhaustion and then a recurrence of the head cold with a strange viral thing, and you have one Not Happy Jan. New York became average. Definitely underwhelming.
Fast forward a few days to cooler temps, an absence of aches and pains, and watch me out on those streets. See me walk and shop and take long lunches and even longer cool delicious cocktails. Applaud as I manage the subway and hail a cab. Join in my standing ovation for a Broadway show, queue with me as I shop and follow me around MoMa, wondering why I can’t stop smiling. Listen as I say how much I love New York!
Yep. It’s won me, despite my subconscious sabotage. This magnificent city reflects how I am feeling, which I think is a good thing. It means it’s a living breathing city that doesn’t stay the same. Just like me. It’s not perfect every day, but I have to say, neither am I. (True story)
It becomes whatever I decide to project onto it. That’s why I love it.
You just call out my name And you know wherever I am I’ll come running to see you again Carole King 1971
Q: Who will I trust with my holiday dreams?
A: Easy. Several beautiful longtime friends who know how to travel and know even more about friendship.
I have holidayed with them all. In various combinations we have: ridden bicycles from Melbourne to almost Adelaide, camping along the way; skied in New Zealand; skied in Victoria; adventured in Thailand, stayed with each other in London; explored Italy; stepped out of our lives into a tropical paradise in Queensland; and for my very first trip overseas while I was at uni, hitchhiked around New Zealand. ( AND walked and climbed a 3 day trail. Strange but true.)
We’ve been on endless road trips, and had ritual weekends away – to the mountains, the ocean, a rural town in the Hunter Valley for a film festival, houses on the mighty Hawkesbury with water access only, and of course a houseboat on that same river 40 years previously. We’ve stayed in architecturally famous houses as well as each other’s homes. We’ve shared meals, wine, plays, movies, concerts, games, sport, art exhibitions, weddings, christenings, birthdays. We’ve cried with each other and been to hospitals and funerals. We’ve cooked together, invented recipes and made delicious cocktails. But mostly, we’ve sung and danced and laughed. A lot.
Many of us have lived overseas – the U.K., the Pacific, Africa. We’ve all travelled separately, together or with our families to every continent, including Antarctica. ( Thanks for representing us there, Colleen!) This is not by way of bragging, it’s more an observation and a definite celebration.
We’ve had several decades of practice. So I think we’ll be just fine.
And then there’s my wonderful husband. ( Hello Jon!) After 5 weeks of my being extravagant in New York while he buys me Turkish Delight in Guess Where, we’re meeting up in Athens. We’ll escape for a few days to one of our favourite, most special places, Cape Sounion, before joining the others in ‘our’ villa on Crete. Jon and I travel well together, and have perfected the art of living life as a holiday. Or living the holiday as life?
As you can imagine, I am excited about this next adventure, and who better to enjoy it with than people I love.
Winter, spring, summer or fall All you have to do is call And I’ll be there, yes I will. You’ve got a friend. Carole King 1971
P.S. Several of us first heard the song ‘You’ve got a Friend’ by Carole King when we were in Year 12, 43 long years ago! And in a delightful twist, five of us have tickets for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway.
If you’re one of those people who don’t know Carole King, stick around for a post in late September. Or check out this link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfjMrBH4oXk
Actually, check out the link anyway. It carries our shared past and it still chokes me up. x
And what you thought you came for Is only a shell, a husk of meaning From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled If at all.
T.S. Eliot ‘Little Gidding’
I have never had a holiday experience where everything turned out as I expected. Fortunately.
Sometimes I don’t actually know what I expect, or even why I am going on a particular trip. Maybe I genuinely want to know what a place and its people are like, or maybe it’s a fragment of a dream I’m following, but mostly I suspect it’s because it just seems like a good idea at the time.
Plus, I like who I am when I am on holiday. I become at once more reflective and far more energetic and curious. I like who I am at home too, but holidays sharpen my good qualities and dull my flaws.
So let’s get started. I’m ready.
First stop New York, then Greece.
And if you want to come with me, ‘Like’ each post or follow my blog. Leave a comment if you feel like it. I love comments.
We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.
T.S. Eliot ‘Little Gidding’