It has been a delightful vacation — gardening (planted more cucumbers, weeded like a fiend, restrung a trellis for the beans, harvested herbs, tomatoes, carrots, lettuces and onions), rollerblading (I’ve covered about 50 miles inline this week), giving myself pedicures, tearing apart and putting together the kitchen including a two-bag purge of unused “stuff,” reading new books and old favorites, buying four pairs (4!) of gorgeous new shoes, listening to the Yankees whip (after losing to) the Red Sox, sitting by campfires, learning to crochet socks, catching up with friends I haven’t seen or talked to in far too long, joining Our Chart and meeting new people in my new City, gloriously enjoying the Independence Day picnic, spending the perfect amount of time with my niece and nephew, taking the last trip to downtown Saratoga until September, and exploring a ton of new music. The highlight, of course, was the time — two lovely, exhausting days — spent in New York right in the middle of the ten day break.

I will say that I have been spoiled by Amtrak. Not that the combination of driving and the commuter rail weren’t pleasant in their own way, but they took more thought and foresight and planning than I’m used to. We drove to the Poughkeepsie station (about 2 hours south) then snagged the MetroNorth train in to Grand Central Station. Dad snapped a few photos of GCT in a very non-touristy way, while Mom and I snagged metrocards for the day. A quick cab ride crosstown dropped our luggage off at the hotel in “Clinton” — a clean, quiet, easy little place on 10th Avenue on the north side of a now-gentrified Hell’s Kitchen (site of West Side Story 50 years ago – I spent both days humming the score for Something’s Coming). I’d spent a couple of weeks psyching myself up to use the subway, studying the maps and reading up on rider tips so I wouldn’t get lost — I didn’t waste any time in dragging Mom and Dad to Greenwich Village by way of the station at 14th & 8th.

I probably don’t need to point out that what I love most about New York — not just the city but the state, and the people, and everything that is NY — is the history, that there is a story behind everything. I wandered the streets of the Village (well, less “wandered” than “actively paced each one”) looking for the stories — glimpses of greenery trailing from rooftop gardens, architectural details on buildings hinting at their original purposes, “National Historic Register” placards edged in blue and bronze — and the evidence of neighbors, people living together in community, sharing bits of the day with each other. Oh my word, did we find it! Jane Street, and the Temporary Home for Seamen in Distress just at the corner of the River. Perry Street, and the neighborhood association. An unnamed shop on Charles Street with a sign of wood and iron proclaiming, simply, “Coffee,” and a note on the door prohibiting cell phones. Abington Square, filled with people – diverse, beautiful, glorious people – eating lunch and relaxing, speaking four languages that I was able to identify (English, Italian, French, and Korean) and one from the Middle East that I couldn’t. Biography Bookshop and the Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker Street, A Salt & Battery and Tea & Sympathy on Greenwich Ave, the Union Square Green Parket and the Strand within walking (and thus biking!) distance. Cobblestoned Streets and landscaped tree parks. People who didn’t seem at all taken aback by my upstater test-of-friendliness — a nod with a smile, followed by a cheerful “hello” or “how are you today?” — many of whom responded in kind with smiles, greetings, laughter, or quips. An Englishwoman who knows her tea — and sells it.

Mom and Dad were exhausted and ready to call it quits long before I was, but well after I’d determined that this, this gorgeous, charming, s-l-o-w oasis within Manhattan would be my new home. I said that to Becca — the “slow” thing — and realized how improbably illogical this move is. I am moving from upstate New York, where my life is hectic and rushed and imbalanced and overfull of things that don’t really matter all that much crowding out the things I love and those I am desperate to find. I am moving *to* New York City, where my life will slow down considerably, where I’ll be able to stop and admire the community gardens, take classes in Brasilian Capoeira, join a Shakespearean reading group, reclaim my saxophone skills and find musicians to scat with — without sacrificing any of the effort I want to put into my job. It sounds ludicrous to everyone who isn’t me, I know, but that’s what will actually happen.

Anyway, after trotting through the Village all afternoon, my straight-shooting, military-officer, never-breaks-the-rules Dad headed up to Yankee Stadium and bought a scalped field level seat for the game against Texas; Mom headed back to the hotel to rest and stave off a heat-induced migraine, and I hoofed it crosstown to meet up with Clay for Starbucks and a chat. (C, someday I’ll be good enough with midtown geography to meet at someplace more original!) We wandered down to Bryant Park, where he acquainted me with various and sundry ideas and opportunities (including Monday night outdoor movies and the NYC Public Library system, which is far elss of a lending institution than a research one, apparently), and I pondered why a strange majority of New York women seem to carry two handbags. Not a handbag and a briefcase, not a handbag and a practical utility bag for shoes or a laptop, but two actual handbags, one over each shoulder, while juggling cell phones or PDAs and beverages. Most strange. Anyway, while he missed his train home, I stopped off at Ellyssa for mediterranean take-out — well-seasoned with taste complexity rather than just “hot spice,” generous portions, friendly staff (even the non-English speaking Chef who did his best to flirt with me anyway, poor guy), and a tiny pricetag — with which Mom and I were very happy.

On Wednesday morning, I headed off to Chelsea alone, and made my only mistake of the trip: not trusting myself to navigate the subways alone during the morning rush. I walked from 50th and 10th south to 23rd and 8th. Within the neighborhood, I took the same approach to Chelsea that I had taken the previous day in the Village, and started off happily enough, finding tree lined streets, beautifully restored architecture, and avenues hopping with foot traffic. The neighborhood failed utterly on the “people” front, however. I’ll be up front and honest — part of what drew me to Chelsea were all of the reviews I’ve read of the neighborhood as a gay mecca, and diverse, fun, trendy, fresh neighborhood filled with a twenties-and-thirties crowd. Gay Mecca it may well be — I walked the blocks between 23rd and 15th Streets from 8th Avenue to the River, and didn’t see a single female resident. Of the residents whom I did see and attempted to engage in conversation, all of the faces were white. I do say attempt — I have rarely before felt snubbed or ignored or otherwise invisible because of my gender, but holy crap was I invisible on the Streets of Chelsea. Tellingly, the shock-and-then-friendliness of the (overwhelmingly Latino) gardeners and trash collectors whom I greeted told me more about the snobbish “gentility” of the neighborhood than my own invisibility. While I’m not willing to believe that one morning can give me the full flavor of any neighborhood, and that there certainly must exist more diversity than I saw on Wednesday, I’ve seen enough to know that I would not feel happy or comfortable or content living in Chelsea.

After wandering, taking few notes, and drawing my conclusions, I walked up to my office on 32nd Street (off of 7th Ave) and met a colleague for lunch. We did a lovely job of not discussing work during our twenty minutes at Starbucks (I will *have* to find some independent food & drink places around the office once it’s my permanent work-base), after which I continued my walk, meeting up with Mom and Dad at Mickey Mantle’s (on Central Park South) for lunch. We spent a glorious afternoon at the Museum of Natural History — my second visit this year, with most of my time divided between the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial hall (yeah, history again), the Hall of Biodiversity, and the Centers for Earth and Space, including the Climate Change exhibit. Mom visited the mineral and gem exhibits (of course) while Dad hung out on the 4th floor with the dinosaurs (which I spent a day with back in February), then they both wandered the Peoples of the Pacific Rim exhibits, looking for inspiration for The FamiLee Jewels. By the time we hit mid-afternoon, exhaustion struck. We hailed a cab back to the hotel to grab our bags, then to Grand Central to catch the rail back to Poughkeepsie, then the ride home.

Mom and Dad, thanks for a lovely pair of days. It’s been a delightful vacation, I’m rested and happy, and actually looking forward to going to work tomorrow.

Oh! As for that early morning error in judgment on Wednesday, with being a bit terrified of the Subway once again? By the time I got home, my ankles were visibly swollen from twenty paces, as noted by my congregated-on-the-front-lawn neighbors. It turns out that I walked 19 miles on city streets in two days — in the aforementioned new shoes that I couldn’t bring myself not to wear, because they were so cute, and which ended up pinching something awful. The blisters have healed over, and a few more days of salve under “sensible shoes” will have me back to normal by next weekend, I suppose. Eventually, I’ll learn. Or, I’ll become a woman of New York City who carries a purse on one arm and a canvas bag with my heels on the other, while my feet are unfashionably shod in *gasp* sneakers.

Seriously, what is up with the two handbags thing?

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