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Posts Tagged ‘Empire State Building’

Ohhhhhhhh, Canada

In behavior, cities, culture, immigration, life, travel on September 21, 2012 at 12:12 am
Cover of "Hejira"

Cover of Hejira

Our home and native land/Terre de nos aieux…

Is how my national anthem begins. One of them. The Star-Spangled Banner is the other.

I left Canada, where I was born (Vancouver) and raised (Toronto, Montreal) in 1988 to move to the U.S.

I’m back again for a few weeks, with no greater agenda than seeing old friends, attending a service at the island church where I was married last September, poking around antique stores.

Just being home.

I started my nine-hour drive by crossing the Hudson River, the Manhattan skyline ghostly in the distance, but the spires of the Empire State Building and new Freedom Tower clearly visible. The trip is easy, but wearying as I covered pretty much the entire length of New York State, a 5.5 hour journey just to reach the Canadian border.

I spent the drive listening to some of my favorite tunes from college — Hejira by Joni Mitchell and Talking Heads — but soon switched to Radio-Canada to listen to the news and weather en francais. I love speaking French and hearing it and miss that piece of my native culture terribly. Americans are furious when others refuse to speak English; we grow up in a country founded by two nations, French and English, and much of what we read and touch (cereal boxes, government signs, toothpaste) is labeled in both tongues.

Hejira is a great choice for a woman traveling alone by car — as Mitchell wrote it while on road trip from Maine to L.A., and she says it’s suffused with “the sweet loneliness of solitary travel.” Is it ever!

I loved “Refuge of the Road”, which I think might be my theme song.

Here’s the final verse:

In a highway service station
Over the month of June
Was a photograph of the earth
Taken coming back from the moon
And you couldn’t see a city
On that marbled bowling ball
Or a forest or a highway
Or me here least of all
You couldn’t see these cold water restrooms
Or this baggage overload
Westbound and rolling taking refuge in the roads

It’s a measure of the independence we both value in our marriage that two days after our anniversary, I left for a two-week trip by myself. I feel such a hunger to travel. Sometimes I really need to travel alone. And I always need to come back to Canada.

It’s such a different place from the U.S., even though both speak English and, to many eyes, look so alike.

Even basics like:

Metric measurements, a $2 coin and colored paper money. A wicked HST adding serious tax to everything — my $2 newspaper cost $2.26.

And the sort of rock-ribbed political liberalism that’s exceptionally rare in the U.S., certainly in the mass media, like this story in the Toronto Star, about an AWOL American female soldier living with her five kids (two born in Canada) in a one-bedroom apartment. Kimberly Rivera, the first female war resister here, was to be deported today.

I’m a little desperate right now to flee the ugliness and in(s)anity of the American Presidential election campaign, and the class warfare that is only getting worse and worse — the latest issue of Fortune magazine asking us not to hate the 1% but emulate them instead.

I miss my personal history, and re-visiting the places and light and landscape that shaped me; Jose deeply misses his New Mexico skies and mountains. He gets it.

And I always miss my oldest friends, people I’ve known since I was 16 or 22. I’ve found it very hard to make good friends in New York.

I like going to the drugstore and the grocery store and seeing brands and magazines only sold here, like Shreddies cereal and butter tarts.

This is a butter tart. Yum!

In the small town where I’m staying lives a man, Farley Mowat, whose adventure stories I read growing up. For me, that’s like knowing Shakespeare is around the corner.

I miss knowing people who know who he is. So I’m glad, for a while, to be back in my (second/first?) home.

People tend to be more relaxed when they know (as they do here) they will never be bankrupted by a medical emergency, a pretty standard nightmare in the States.

I also like being reminded of the stiff-upper-lip thing and the we-hate-Americans thing and the no-we-can’t-do that thing, which remind me why I do not weep with longing for Canada but see it with more distant critical eyes as a longtime ex-pat.

If you haven’t seen this amazing video, check out it. It makes me laugh and it makes me hum.

Canadian, Please

And here’s a BBC video explaining why Canada should simply run for U.S. President.

Do you ever feel homesick?

A mid-town Manhattan afternoon (includes tourist tips!)

In behavior, books, business, cities, journalism, life, urban life, US, work on August 24, 2012 at 12:01 am

My new book “Malled” in the bookstore window! Yay!

If you’ve never been to New York, you probably think “Times Square! Empire State Building! Statue of Liberty!”

Or, possibly, my favorite retail landmarks, Barney’s and Saks, where the 1 percent decide whether or not to drop $12,000 on a handbag. (Yes, that was one price I saw at Barney’s.)

What I enjoy most about Manhattan is how much pleasure, on a good day, you can derive from a mere few blocks. Here’s a terrific daily list — and it’s a long one — of all the free stuff you can do here. It’s run by my super-talented friend Elizabeth who, naturellement, also sings in a band called The Hot Sardines, who often play at the Standard Hotel.

Here’s how I spent my Wednesday this week, a blessed respite from my glued-to-the-computer-alone-in-the-boring-suburbs daily routine:

11:00 a.m. I arrive at Grand Central Station (which you must visit because it’s so gorgeous since the renovation finished in 1998. It also has great shops, with everything from shoes to books to olive oil to cupcakes and Junior’s legendary cheesecake.) My train pulls in on the lower level. I settle in at the little cafe beside the clock for a small panini and a cappuccino.

11:30 a.m. I find out why my cellphone isn’t handling email at the Verizon store at 44th and Madison. (Remember that address if you need phone help.)

11:40 Check out H & M, a blur of $12 polyester. I snag a way sexy red stretch dress and pray, if I stop eating for a week and wear a lot of Spanx, it will look good. I pick up two patent leather bags for $8 each, for my trip to the Decatur Literary Festival next week. I’m speaking at 2:30 Sept. 2. Come visit!

noon Check out Zara. Their accessories are always interesting; I buy a lovely cream wool scarf/shawl with pale gray paisley print.

(Note: I’ve only covered two blocks of midtown, from 44th and Madison to 42d and Madison. Manhattan’s density can save you a lot of time.)

1:00 Arrive at the New York Times building at 8th and 41st. It’s a local landmark, designed by Renzo Piano, covered in glossy white metal bars. I love walking into the lobby beneath the huge metal Gothic letters that mimic the paper’s name. The old Times’ building, 229 West 43d., was old-school, with a tiny lobby in dark granite. The new one is enormous, airy, bright, with a central atrium filled with trees and grass. The guard calls Jose, my husband who works in the business section, and I get my day pass.

Tip: There are two restaurants in the building, on the main floor, in an area not known for good food. Try Schnippers’ for mac and cheese, burgers and fries.

1:20 We eat lunch in the 14th floor cafeteria, with its tomato red carpet, large round tables, Eames chairs and a balcony with benches where you can sneak a snooze. I see, as I always do there, several editors and writers I know, one just arrived from London. Even though I’m “only” freelance, it’s nice to be welcomed and know so many people.

2:30 I head to the business section and have a chat with several female friends who work at the paper. Another editor’s wife, a friend, happens to be visiting as well. Gabfest!

2:45 I pitch another idea to my editor there and he wants it. Score!

3:15 I visit Muji with K, my friend who used to live in Tokyo. She admires their tatami mats and I buy a gray cotton dress, perfect for fall with my new gray and white scarf. If you don’t know this Japanese retailer, check it out for everything from colored pencils to cushion covers to stockings.

4:00 With watermelon coolers in hand, we settle into one of the hundreds of dark green tables in Bryant Park. The park, once closed for many years, has become the most wonderful urban oasis. There’s a carousel ($2), great food, a reading room (!) lending books and magazines, chess players, fountains and many happy people enjoying it all.

6:00 I have two hours to kill before I meet Jose back at Grand Central to take our train home. I walk to the southern edge of the park, deciding whether or not to ride the carousel, when I see three tables covered with…board games. And two people playing a fast and ferocious game of Bananagrams, which I’ve never seen or played. “Can I join you?” I ask. The game is a blast, a faster-moving version of Scrabble. My two partners are quick and literate so we’re racing the clock to yell “Bananas!” to signal that we’ve won. Turns out that Sarah, wearing a Bryant Park polo shirt, is paid to play games all day with whoever shows up. She’ll be there until September 30. I’m so psyched to go back!

Tip: The hardest challenge for everyone in Manhattan is finding a clean, safe, attractive — free — place to pee. Bryant Park has one of the city’s nicest toilets, in the northeast corner, with marble counters and fresh flowers. Grand Central Station, at 42d and Park (two blocks further east), has three restrooms, two women-only, two on the lower floor.

6:55 Crossing Fifth Avenue, I see a steady stream of gleaming black Escalades, ferrying the wealthy Wall Street crowd north to their homes on the Upper East Side. While the rest of us hoof, subway, bus or cab it, this daily migration is a reminder of how economically divided the city really is.

Tip: The only reason we really, really, really hate tourists? They stand still in the middle of the sidewalk, stopping in front of the rest of us who are always in a big hurry. Or they walk really slowly, sometimes three or four abreast, blocking our way. Once you exit a building, pretend the sidewalk is moving and will, like the ones in airports, will throw you off if you don’t pay attention. Pay attention!

7:00 A quick tour of Sephora, seeking a birthday present for a younger friend, I buy a bar of Fresh Hesperides soap, which smells divine and will last for a month.

7:50 Walk past Posman Books, one of my favorite indie bookstores, which — to my deeply grateful astonishment — is displaying my book in the window. I’m thrilled, as some of the country’s top book, magazine and publishing editors and agents shop there. Chat briefly with an elegant older woman shopper who lives in Zurich, buying Aristophanes.

7:57 Buy popcorn and chocolate milk for dinner to eat on the train. Jose finds me at the platform and we head north.

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