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Archive for the ‘urban life’ Category

The true meaning of friendship

In aging, behavior, domestic life, life, love, urban life, women on May 22, 2016 at 2:38 pm

By Caitlin  Kelly

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Two chairs, two friends…

The word “friend”  only became a verb thanks to social media.

One once befriended someone or made a friend; note the verb to make.

 

It takes time, and effort and consistent interest.

 

It also requires a shared sense of values and expectations if it’s to last more than a few days or weeks.

Today it’s become a word with multiple meanings, some of which...don’t mean a thing.

Having just weathered intense cyber-bullying by an online group fellow women writers, (none of whom have ever met or spoken with me), I spent some time culling my “friend” list on Facebook.

More than 200 people are now gone from my list of “friends”, as I realized I’d allowed myself to accept requests from people I didn’t know well, assuming — innocently, hopefully and very stupidly — that everyone who wanted to be my friend also knew, and shared, my values, ethics and/or professional expertise.

Nope.

Several of these women proved to be Trojan horses. Lesson, painfully, learned.

So, back to true friendship.

This week also reminded me what it looks and feels like:

Face to face conversation.

Revelation.

Mutual trust.

Sharing stories.

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One of the best weeks of my life, working in rural Nicaragua in March 2014 — now still friends with these three

On Monday I went for lunch with a woman who lives across the street from us, and who I hadn’t spent time with for at least six months. We’d had a disagreement last fall, and stopped our weekly walks.

I wasn’t sure we would continue our friendship. We seemed, suddenly, just too different.

Then she was felled, (luckily, getting better now), with a challenging acute illness.

I took her flowers, shocked at the trials she was facing and sorry for her difficulties.

This week, I returned to the relationship with a deeper gratitude for her good humor, her sense of perspective and delight in her recovering health.

Like a handful of people, she knows me very well.

There is something so comforting talking to someone who just knows you, loves you and accepts your quirks.

On Wednesday, I met another friend, a newer one, and we went to the Met Museum after having lunch at Cafe Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie, both on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

We’re still getting to know one another, and she is a working artist and art teacher — we geek out over things like Vikings and monstrances.

On Thursday, I caught up with a woman who was originally a story source, a brilliant (Harvard MBA, ho hum) finance expert.

I feel so lucky when I meet and get to know a woman who’s both wicked smart — and deeply kind. What a pleasure to see her, even once a year when she visits New York.

On Saturday — (this is not a typical week!) — I had breakfast with a fellow writer, a specialist in medical topics, visiting from Toronto, then we both spoke on panels at a writers’ conference.

A woman I’d never met before stayed behind after my panel to talk to me….and we kept talking until midnight when we had to run for our respective trains to get home.

She’s an author from Alabama; here’s her book about a terrifying day when dozens of tornadoes traumatized the U.S.

Whew! What an energizing, delicious gift this week has been.

The gift of friendship.

And how helpful, for all of us, to see the world through others’ eyes and their perspectives. It’s so easy to get caught in your own little worldview, trapped by your own firmly-held opinions.

A key difference I’ve seen here in the U.S. is a discomfort with, (understatement, more like terror of), major differences of opinion, certainly on issues like politics, religion, feminism, the usual flashpoints. If you don’t agree 100 percent on everything, discussion (certainly online) flares into nasty, name-calling argument and boom!

There goes your “friendship.”

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

I’m slow to make new friends.

Having been betrayed by a few, I’m now much warier about letting a new person in close.

 

True friendship takes time to grow, to deepen, to broaden.

 

You may have to forgive them, (and they you!)

Intimacy can be challenging.

Some flee at the first sign of friction.

 

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Coming from a family of origin whose typical stance is estrangement or anger, my friends are my family.

Few things are as precious to me as the intimacy of friendship, old and new.

How about you?

Do you make friends quickly and easily?

Have you weathered the sting of deception and betrayal?

 

Some insider views of my New York…

In beauty, cities, culture, design, life, photography, travel, U.S., urban design, urban life, US on April 16, 2016 at 3:32 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

You can always see the famous icons of New York City, on postcards and T-shirts and in movies and television.

It can make you feel like you know the city even if you’ve never been here.

But, like every major city, it’s a place of many facets, most of which tourists will never see.

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One of the coolest aspects of New York — and one so easy for pedestrians, drivers and tourists to forget — is that it’s a busy, working harbor.

The East and Hudson Rivers are as crowded with marine traffic as there is vehicular madness on the FDR (highway on the East Side), the BQE (heading out to Brooklyn and Queens) and the West Side Highway.

 

Every day dozens of tug boats are pushing barges somewhere — or guiding enormous cruise ships through a harbor filled with treacherously narrow and shallow channels.

 

I spent one of the happiest days of my work life here aboard a tug boat and came away in awe of these workhorses, each worth a ton of money and able to keep the city moving in ways no other craft can.

What many people don’t know is how crucial tugboats were to us all on 9/11, a day of utter terror and chaos. Here’s a story about their amazing, unsung role.

One of my favorite sights is seeing a tugboat at night, its lights stacked high like a mini wedding cake as it chugs along the river.

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Broadway is still a real treat.

Despite crazy-high prices and the impossibility of getting tickets for some shows like Hamilton, seeing a performance in one of these classic, small, intimate theaters is well worth doing and can create a lifetime memory.

My favorite? Attending, of all things, Mamma Mia, with my husband’s Buddhist lama (yes, really)…Namaste on Broadway!

 

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And Lincoln Center; this is the David Koch Theater. What a pleasure to wait for the house lights and the jewel-shaped lamps fronting each balcony to dim, the hush as the curtain rises on another ballet.

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The railings have lacy, gilded dividers and the diamond-like lights repeat in the exterior and hall interior

The entire building is delicate and lovely and ethereal — very early 1960s with all that white marble and gold — and makes an event there feel, as it is, like a special occasion.

 

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Now this is how to sell clothes!

 

This is a classic! One of my favorite shopping streets, East Ninth.

 

There are, still, a very few streets left in Manhattan, (more in Brooklyn now), that are funky and filled with quirky independent shops.

Rents skyrocket daily, forcing many long-time renters and businesses to shut and leave, sometimes to close for good.

The latest?

A gas station at Houston and Broadway, one of a very small handful of gas stations in Manhattan, is soon to be torn down and replaced with….what else?…more million-dollar condominiums.

Hey, who needs gas anyway? Just thousands of working cabbies, to start with.

One of my favorite cafes, Cafe Angelique, (now on Bleecker’s eastern end) had to vacate its spot in the West Village when the landlord jacked the rent to…$45,000 a month.

Find — and support — the indies while you can!

 

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The NYC food bank — which I saw while working on a story about it

 

Never forget — this is a city of incredible, rising income inequality.

 

The photo above, of a space that dwarfs airplane hangars, is filled with food, all of it destined for the city’s poorest inhabitants, many of them elderly.

You can enjoy the High Line and Times Square, dear tourists, but it’s only one tiny sliver of New York City.

This group of young men, the topic of a recent documentary, The Wolfpack. The film-maker had to win their trust to move ahead with the project

The film-maker of The Wolfpack literally found her documentary subject on the sidewalk — passing this group of handsome young men — and wondering who on earth they were.

Their story is almost unimaginable, raised inside their Manhattan apartment by a fiercely controlling father.

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Rockefeller Center, as seen from Saks Fifth Avenue

 

If you like shopping, you might enjoy a visit to Saks Fifth Avenue. I like eating lunch there, and enjoying this view.

 

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One of the most fun things you can possibly do — dance at 7am! Daybreaker, in NYC

 

Or, getting up to dance with 800 strangers at 7 in the morning.

 

Yes, I’ve done it, several times.

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If you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll see all sorts of elegance and beauty in the least likely places. This is a lamp on a private college campus in Brooklyn.

 

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Porto Rico Coffee and Tea, Bleecker Street, NYC

 

And this tea and coffee shop, here since 1907, makes me happy. I stagger out every time laden with pounds of beans and tea.

 

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The pattern of a metal plate on a Soho street…This is a city that still truly rewards a close look and sustained attention.

 

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The back of a store on Spring Street in Soho. Speaking of quirky…

 

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My birthday month…a facade in midtown Manhattan. Note the twins of Gemini.

 

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A firehouse. How gorgeous is this?!

 

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Nope, not Rome or Florence or Paris…Soho, Manhattan. The cast-iron facades downtown are a terrific reminder of the city’s past, not just the gleaming multi-million dollar condo towers.

 

And for those who still dream of becoming journalists…Columbia Journalism School.

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Columbia Journalism School — there’s a lot they still don’t teach you in the classroom!

 

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I studied here in the 1990s — now I teach writing there!

 

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How can you resist? The city is filled with delicious bakeries and temptations…

If you come, make time to walk sloooooowly and savor all these sights.

 

Four spring days in New York City…

In beauty, cities, culture, life, travel, U.S., urban design, urban life on March 30, 2016 at 1:08 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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The view north from her apartment, East 81st. Street.

Thanks to my friend D, who lent me her apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan while she was out of town, I just enjoyed four days wandering the city, staying overnight.

What a luxury!

I’ve been living near New York City since 1989 but have never lived in it; paying a ton of money for a very small amount of room doesn’t appeal to me.

But, having grown up in Toronto, Montreal, Paris and London, I’m used to — and really miss — the energy of living in the middle of a major city with ready access to culture, museums, shopping and restaurants.

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These are glass circles inlaid into the sidewalk, to allow for illumination below. At night, they were lit up. You’ll find these in Soho, downtown, and they’re often purple as the magnesium in the glass has changed color over the years.

Not to mention the pleasure of not driving everywhere, which I consider the worst curse of suburban life. It’s polluting, isolating and expensive. And makes you fat.

You can’t help but stay in city-shape, thanks to climbing all those subway stairs and walking long cross-town blocks.

(There’s also been a recent, terrifying and unresolved series of slashings and stabbings in and near the subway here, making cabs and walking and buses even more attractive.)

Walk even a few blocks in New York City, and notice all the  details as every building, old or new, has some sort of decoration — glazed bricks, carved gargoyle faces on either side of the entrance, lacy wrought-iron over the glass doors, windowboxes filled with daffodils and ivy.

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You also see the city as it’s lived, not jammed into a throng of fellow tourists.

As I stopped into Cafe Anneliese for my morning coffee, several uniformed police officers emerged, arms piled high with pizza boxes.

At 9:00 a.m.? Turns out the 19th precinct was having a bake sale.

Those are the sort of intimate details you’ll never see wandering midtown or Times Square.

Some of my observations:

So many people!

 

Turns out New York is now the biggest and fastest growing it’s been since the 1920s. Some eight million people now live here.

I never quite grasped the density that entails, but walk just a few long blocks filled with 10, 20 and 40-storey apartment buildings and you start to get the picture.

So many kids!

 

In these four days I realized, because we don’t have children, how little daily exposure to them we have; suburban kids are either in school, being driven somewhere, at some organized activity or at home.

They’re not, at least in my town, playing on the street or swarming a playground.

In the city, I saw them sitting on the bus, (like the four-year-old girl wearing silver leather boots!) and subway and sidewalk, running through the park, chattering to their mom or, as one little girl was, fast asleep on her nanny’s lap.

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So many dogs!

 

If you’re a tourist in New York City, you might not even notice all the dogs. But if you live here, even for a few days in  a residential neighborhood like the Upper East Side, it’s dog city! I had a great time watching all the dog-walkers with their furry charges.

Met two gorgeous fox terrier puppies, one wire-haired named Tulip, one smooth-haired named Panda.

I was also impressed at how spotless the sidewalks were; people definitely seem to be picking up after their pets.

So many tourists!

 

I barely heard a word of English in four days, and in a variety of neighborhoods. Instead, I overheard Chinese, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and an Eastern European language I didn’t recognize spoken by four young women, all wearing black, sitting beside me at the bar of an Indian restaurant on Bleecker Street.

One of our games is “guess the tourist”. They don’t need to be holding a map or guidebook for us to know who you are:

1) You’re wearing nice clothes. On weekends, certainly, everyone who lives here is wearing what I wore: leggings, athletic shoes and a jacket or T-shirt. i.e. not an outfit or shred of elegance. It’s all about comfort.

2) You move realllllllly slowly. Jesus, people, move it!

3) You stand still, blocking the exits and entrances to subway stairs, stores and restaurants — or spread your entourage across the entire sidewalk. Please don’t! We move fast and hate it when we can’t.

4) You’re wearing an I Love NY or FDNY T-shirt or sweatshirt. Or, like the young German couple on the uptown 6 train, scrubbing their hands with sanitizer.

So many flowers!

 

This year — hello, global warming?! — the trees are already blossoming: cherry, magnolia and others bursting into white and pink glory about two months too soon. The parks are filled with daffodils and tulips soon to join them.

Not to mention all the flower shops and corner delis filled with plants and flowers to take home.

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Al Dente, a pretty, quiet Italian restaurant at 80th and Amsterdam

 Some of the many activities I enjoyed (all of which you can too, as a visitor here):

Ate well:

Surya, (Indian on Bleecker Street); Virgil’s (barbecue, on 44th St.), Al Dente, (Italian, corner of 80th and Amsterdam, UWS), Patisserie Claude (West 4th, West village.)

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Got a haircut:

At Hairhoppers, my go-to salon for the past 16 years, on Grove Street in the West Village. With only three chairs, it’s tiny and fun, always an unlikely mix of age, gender and kinds of people. On various occasions, I’ve sat beside a Grammy-nominated musician, a Brooklyn museum curator and an I-banker off to the Bahamas.

Alex is the owner, Benny his assistant. My cut was $100, (I can hear you gasping), but I know what rent he pays — and it’s a fair price for terrific work.

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Enjoyed a park

You might not think of parks, beyond Central Park, when you think of New York. But the city has far more green space than Paris, and many lovely pockets of greenery and silence around the city, like Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side, topped at its northern end by Gracie Mansion, the elegant official home of the city’s mayor.

In an overwhelmingly residential neighborhood, it offers the city at its best — clean, manicured, right on the East River so you can watch the barges and police boats and DEP crews zipping past.

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Downtown, before my haircut, I sat for a while in Sheridan Square’s park, marked with several life-size white statues that commemorate a piece of history for the city’s gay population, the Stonewall Inn, which sits just outside the park.

Be sure to just sit still for a while and savor the incredible variety of people who work, live and play here.

Chatted with a stranger

One morning at the corner coffee shop, we got into a conversation with an older woman sitting beside us. Turns out — of course! — she and my husband knew someone in common.

Even in such an enormous city, it happens.

Walked

This is the single best way to enjoy New York City.

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There’s such great architecture almost everywhere; (walk 42d Street from the East River to Fifth Avenue to see Tudor City, the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal and the Public Library. Be sure to go inside GCT and the library.) If you love the Bourne films as much as I do, you’ll recognize Tudor City– an elegant series of apartment buildings and a park — as a key scene in one of them.

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Took the bus

The subway? Fuhgeddaboutit!

Buses are by far the best way to see the city without getting crushed, trampled or having your I-phone grabbed out of your hand. If you have mobility issues, buses easily accommodate travelers using wheelchairs and walkers, by “kneeling”, lowering almost to pavement level and with a special lift for access.

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Saw a few shows:

I had never been to Le Poisson Rouge, a concert venue on Bleecker St. near NYU. For an admission fee of $10 and sipping a $10 glass of Malbec, I listened to two of the three bands on that evening. Really enjoyed it.

I discovered that show by reading The Skint, a daily listing of affordable fun events and a must-read for everyone hoping to enjoy New York on a budget.

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Attended Easter service at one of the city’s greatest churches:

Nope, not St. Patrick’s Cathedral but St. Bart’s.

My parents, a New Yorker (my mother) and a Canadian from Vancouver (my father) married at the spectacular church of St. Bartholomew on Park Avenue, so I’ve long felt an attachment to it. The entrance has five mosaic-filled domes overhead and deeply sculpted entrance doors.

Its location — a block north of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and a few blocks from all the major banks and (once) investment houses — locates it in the center of New York power and money. It was founded in 1835 but the current building went up in 1918.

I hope this offers you some inspiration for your next visit here!

 

 

A life-changing week — without easy access to water

In culture, domestic life, education, journalism, life, travel, urban life, world on March 23, 2016 at 1:33 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

In a good way!

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On assignment in rural Nicaragua…

Two years ago this month, I was returning home to our apartment in suburban New York from a week that radically altered my views on work, on luxury, on life.

With a multi-media team — a photographer from Cuernavaca, Mexico (where I lived as a 14-year-0ld), a blogger from Brunswick, Maine and a communications officer from New York — I spent a week working with WaterAid in Nicaragua, a country I had never been to before.

On paper, the whole thing sounded a bit crazy, putting together a team of people ranging in age from 20s to 50s, who had never met or worked together, and jamming us into a rickety van we needed to push occasionally to work 12-hour days in 95-degree heat.

 

Best week of my life.

I had gotten to know the comm’s person, Alanna, and knew she was fun, smart and warm. That was enough for me, so whoever else she had chosen would be fine. And they were. We had many hours together, traveling in a very small plane (so small they weighed each of us, not just our baggage!) and by van.

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Our WaterAid team

We met up in Managua, a three-hour flight from Atlanta. We flew from there to Bilwi, a town on the eastern coast, of 40,000 people.

We quickly learned that our hotel’s showers and toilets and sinks with running water were a rare luxury there — that almost half the population had none of these things. They had a pipe in their front yard with water supplied by the city, if they had it at all. Or they walked a mile or more to the nearest well.

It was really hot, about 90 degrees every day all day. When you sweat that much, you need to drink a lot of water and you really want to bathe and clean off at day’s end. Now, I realized, these were luxuries I had taken for granted for decades. My whole life.

We drove into the countryside, a two-hour journey each way, to watch local villagers building their own toilets and sanitation projects so I could write about them for WaterAid and Rodrigo could make photos and videos. Jen and I did a Twitterchat later in the week to explain what we were seeing; it gathered a staggering response.

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Reporting in Bilwi, Nicaragua for WaterAid; Jen beside me, Dixie in the background

To conduct interviews, we worked in Spanish and in Miskitu, for which we had a translator, a local academic with the delightful name of Dixie. Tall, gentle, Dixie was our right hand.

One night we all stayed in the home of one of the women we were writing about, Linda. The house was all made of wood, with a corrugated tin roof and wide open windows, without glass but with curtains. The floors were soft and smooth beneath our bare feet, meticulously clean and free of insects.

 

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Linda’s home

We brought our own food, which Linda and her family cooked for us on their clay stove. Their home has no electricity or running water, so they cooked by the light of flashlights and headlamps.

We slept together in one large room on narrow cots with sleeping bags and mosquito nets, lulled to sleep by the sound of someone speaking in Spanish from the transistor radio hanging from a very large nail on the balcony.

In the morning, Jen and I traveled with Linda and her mother in law and her daughter across a river to collect vegetables from their plot there. We walked through the forest to reach the river, followed the whole way by a very large, very friendly and very determined turkey, one of the many animals living beneath their home.

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Our host, Linda Felix, paddling her canoe

As we reached the river’s edge, Linda’s mother in law, wielding a very sharp long machete casually reached behind herself, lopped off two lengths of bamboo, cut their ends at an angle and dropped them into the wooden dugout canoe for us — seats!

We were accepted without demands or interrogation. Welcomed into their home and treated as guests with kindness and respect. For most of us, there are few moments in life when you connect across culture, language, nationality, age, education. They are deeply moving. Unforgettable.

 

On both side of the river, we climbed steep sandy banks to reach the vegetable crops. By the time we returned to the house, the sun was so hot that I feared heatstroke, heading to the well to throw buckets of water over me.

The time we spent in Nicaragua — working as a team, meeting and interviewing and getting to know some of the local people — also could not have been a greater contrast to my work at home in New York.

It was a week of easy cooperation (not relentless competition.) Open-heartedness and kindness (not resentful close-fistedness.) Bottles of ice-cold water and comfortable beds to keep us going, comfortably (not the standard annoyance of being ignored or rejected by busy editors.)

And what joy to be part of a team of smart, passionate, funny and warm professionals. I work alone at home, and have done so for a decade. This was a great break from isolation and total self-reliance.

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When we parted ways in Managua, we were teary. Two years later, Jen and and Alanna and I remain friends, in close contact still. Their country director, a fellow Canadian named Josh, came all the way out to our home to visit when he came up to New York.

I cried several times over this experience, which shocked me — I never cry.

But what I saw and felt there deeply touched me, both the ridiculous contrast between our easy life here and the penury we saw in Nicaragua. And also for the kindness and camaraderie I felt that week.

Journalism is very often a brutish business and its people too often gruff and dismissive, no matter what level of experience or skill you offer. They rarely praise or thank. They fight you over every penny you need to earn or to do the job well, and more than 24,000 of us have been fired or laid off in recent years.

To be treated as…valuable? Enjoyable? That was a blessedly unfamiliar feeling.

I now look for different kinds of work and deeper relationships with people whose values I admire.

I also turn off the water when I brush my teeth.

650 million people worldwide lack access to safe water.

Imagine being one of them.

 

 

Ohhhhh, Canada! For Americans hoping to head north

In behavior, cities, domestic life, immigration, journalism, life, politics, U.S., urban life, US on March 13, 2016 at 4:00 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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Lake Massawippi, Quebec

It’s become something of a new anthem in itself…”I’m moving to Canada!” if Trump (or whichever Presidential candidate most terrifies/disgusts/depresses you) wins the nomination, or Presidency.

 

Not so fast!

 

I left Canada, where I was born (in Vancouver) and raised (in Toronto and Montreal) in 1988 to take a temporary editing job in Lebanon, New Hampshire.

Why there? I was madly in love with an American, a physician doing his medical residency at Dartmouth College after studying at McGill; we met when he was in Montreal. We later married — and divorced.

I came to the U.S. on an H1-B, a visa that’s difficult to get — the employer must advertise the position and be demonstrably unable to fill it with a qualified American. I initially came for three months, but had long wanted to come permanently, able to do so thanks to my mother’s American citizenship, which allowed me to obtain a “green card”, and become (o’ infelicitous phrase!) a “resident alien.”

I’ve lived in New York, in a suburban town near Manhattan, since 1989. It stuns me sometimes to realize it’s been so long, but I’m still here.

Like many Canadians, blessed with a terrific university education, (and zero debt upon graduation, thanks to low tuition costs), I felt, and was, able to compete with sharp-elbowed Americans all grasping for the various brass rings of publishing and journalism.

Here’s my recent story for Money.com about the savings one can realize by choosing to attend college in Canada.

I craved a larger place to test out my skills. (It’s not easy!)

My maternal grandmother and her antecedents were all American, as are many cousins, some of them highly accomplished, one an ambassador, another an archaeologist. I was curious to know more about the culture that had shaped them.

Canadians are deluged by American media so it’s not as though we don’t hear about the place, all the time.

I was also tired of constantly being mistaken for an American, a very odd experience from fellow Canadians, where being openly ambitious is a no-no.

Not in New York!

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New York — where I’ve lived since 1989

Canada is usually routinely invisible to American news outlets. We’re used to it.

But now that the 2016 Presidential election campaign has become a bizarre and frightening circus, many Americans are wondering if that nation to the North — the one they typically ignore in quieter times — is a better option.

 

Here’s my story for Salon and an excerpt:

While Canada recently welcomed 25,000 Syrian refugees, don’t be too quick to assume there’s an equal welcome for thousands of panicked Americans eager to flee a political scene they find abhorrent.

Read the Canadian government website for potential immigrants and you’ll find a list of exclusions, from health and financial problems to a DUI conviction. Yes, some of you will be able to obtain work visas, but many Canadian jobs pay less than you’re used to – and taxes are higher. You’ll also wait longer for access to some medical care.

Before assuming Canada is a default lifetsyle option, read its newspapers and listen to the CBC. Read our history and some of our authors, not just the ones you know, like Margaret Atwood or Alice Munro. Talk to people who live there. In other words, before you reassure yourself that if it comes to a Trump inauguration, you can pack your bags and head to Vancouver (maybe not Vancouver – CRAZY expensive to live there), you might want to take a minute to acquaint yourself with some specific attributes of that country to the north

 

I wrote the piece from a place of mixed emotions.

In some ways I miss Canada terribly — my oldest and dearest friends, my personal history, a political climate that doesn’t demonize women for wanting reproductive freedom or gays for wanting to marry.

I miss a shared culture and its references.

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Not to mention Justin Trudeau, our new 44-year-old Prime Minister.

But I also left for reasons.

This is the challenge of every ex-patriate and immigrant; we leave a place we know well and possibly love, throwing our fresh hopes onto a new land and its values, political and economic.

For the first time since moving here, I’ve wondered about moving back, even for a year. My American husband loves Canada and has portable skills. We’ll see.

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How about you?

 

Is moving to Canada an option you would ever consider?

 

Why?

 

The immigrant’s dilemma — where’s “home”?

In behavior, domestic life, immigration, life, travel, U.S., urban life, US on January 10, 2016 at 1:10 am

By Caitlin Kelly

New York -- where I've lived since 1989

New York — where I’ve lived since 1989

Have you seen the new film “Brooklyn”? From the excellent novel by U.S.-based Irish writer Colm Toibin.

I saw it this week and was once more struck by the question of what’s home for those of us who have chosen to leave behind the country of our birth.

We didn’t flee in terror, so we’re not refugees who simply can’t stay in our country of origin, and leave knowing that we might never be able to return.

If we’re really lucky, we arrive in our new country with health, some savings, a good post-secondary education and skills, speaking the new language and with friends, relatives and/or a decent job awaiting.

 

In the film “Brooklyn”, young Eilis, the heroine, leaves the small Irish town of Enniscorthy for Brooklyn, with a job as a sales clerk in a department store arranged for her. A local priest also pays for her night classes in accounting.

It’s a lovely film, and one I enjoyed — but it is a golden story, and a much smoother arrival than many face.

Lake Massawippi, Quebec, one of our favorite spots to which we keep returning

Lake Massawippi, Quebec, one of our favorite spots to which we keep returning

I left my native Canada in 1988 to move from Montreal to small town New Hampshire, legally allowed to do so because of my mother’s American citizenship, which gave me access to a “green card”, the coveted right to live and work legally in the U.S.

I arrived in New York in 1989 with the man I would later marry — and soon be divorced from — with no job or contacts or advanced degree, which I would discover most my competitors in journalism possessed.

Then I weathered three recessions and an industry that has lost 40 percent of its workforce since 2008. Reinvention once is challenging enough. Post-secondary education in the U.S. is often extremely costly, and student loans are the only debt you can never discharge through declaring bankruptcy; I recently interviewed a young woman who owes more than $200,000 — for an undergraduate degree at a non-Ivy League school, a choice she now bitterly regrets.

I’ve been back to Canada many times since then, sometimes as often as four to six times a year. I’m not super-homesick, but it’s an easy drive for us, and I still have very close friends back in Ontario.

Every visit leaves me with a mixture of regret and relief. Regret for leaving friendships of a depth I’ve never found here and a kind of social capital impossible to achieve in a nation with 10 times the population of Canada.

But also relief for the option of another place to be, to try new things — like becoming a nationally ranked saber fencer and studying interior design — the freedom to create a new identity. I know I’ve done things while living in the States I’d never have ventured at home.

(I’ve also lived in England, France and Mexico, albeit for shorter periods of time.)

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The oddest moment for me is when I head north by train, because as it’s crossing the bridge high above the Niagara River we’re briefly suspended between the United States and Canada, their respective flags visible as well as the clouds of mist rising from Niagara Falls.

What better metaphor?

In the film, Eilis is initially wracked with homesickness; small-town Ireland, though, is so much more different from Brooklyn than big-city Toronto, where I grew up. It was no huge shock for me to arrive in New York, having visited many times before.

It was a shock for me to adjust to some American ways of behaving, from the relentless pressure to be real friendly all the time (exhausting!) to the omnipresence of privately-owned guns, (the subject of my first book.)

I still have difficult processing, (which I now pronounce as prawh-cess, not the Canadian pro-cess), the values of a country where everyone, everywhere, exhorts one another to “Have a good day!” — while millions of people own guns and many people now fear teaching in any classroom (thanks to so many college campus shooting massacres and that in Newtown, CT) or going to the movies (ditto) or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.p

Pre-emptive pleasantry?

And the poverty rate of 18 percent — 12 percent in Canada (OECD figures) — is depressing as hell to me.

The level of poverty in the U.S. is deeply shocking -- given the astonishing wealth here

The level of poverty in the U.S. is deeply shocking — given the astonishing wealth here

Watching a movie about immigration to the U.S., (my favorite of the few on that subject is the 2009 indie film, Amreeka), suddenly brought up a host of feelings I usually keep under wraps;  when you move to another country, you’re expected to fit in, to adopt its ways, to salute its flag and (in the U.S.) recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which I still don’t know or do.

In “Brooklyn” Eilis flees a tiny, gossipy town with few job prospects — the same reason I left Toronto, a city of 2.6 million now.

I recently had lunch there with a young friend, 32, who is super-smart and has a fantastic work history in his field. Yet he echoed what I keep hearing from people decades younger than I there, a deep aversion to taking risks. As one friend, also in her 30s, reminded me, if you misjudge the size or enthusiasm of the Canadian marketplace for your idea, there’s nowhere to hide your failure. With only a few major cities, where to go next?

And failing, getting fired, losing market share — these remain shameful in Canada for many people. That, in itself, discourages innovation, let alone the social and financial capital it takes to move ahead.

In the States?

Hah! People like Martha Stewart go to prison and come out unscathed, returning to their wealth and social circles. It can create a culture of lying and deception, (see: New York Legislature and its parade of felony convictions for corruption), but also encourages risk taking.

Lincoln Center, one of my greatest pleasures of living in New York

Lincoln Center, one of my greatest pleasures of living in New York

If dozens, if not hundreds, of people hadn’t been willing to take chances on me here, I’d have nothing to show for my own risk in coming here. I’m always grateful for that, and to them.

 

When you leave your home country behind, you also lose — especially in pre-Internet, social media days — the intimacy of your friends and family’s lives, all those births and christenings and showers and weddings you probably can’t afford the time or money to celebrate in person.

When I married for the second time, I chose to do so on a small island in the harbor of Toronto, a place filled with happy memories and the people I still feel closest to, even decades later.

I’ve made some friends in New York, but few, and several friendships here I thought would — as my Canadian relationships have — last for decades ended abruptly, three of them within a few years.  That’s a cultural divide I’ve never accepted or been able to successfully breach.

In Toronto on our last visit, I sat with a friend from university and her 23-year-old daughter, who I’d first met as a bump in her mother’s belly at my first wedding and only once more when she was 13. Now she’s an accomplished actress.

Another classic NYC pleasure. It can't be all work-all-the-time!

Another classic NYC pleasure. It can’t be all work-all-the-time!

There are some immigrants whose lives explode into massive wealth and success when they choose the U.S. Others find the grinding lack of social safety nets and ever-shaky job market, (zero job security, few unions, low wages, extraordinary competition), simply too much and return ‘home” once more.

If you have changed countries for a new one — especially the U.S. — how does/did that feel?

What have been your biggest adjustments?

My first book, published in 2004. As someone who grew up with no exposure to guns, I was deeply intrigued by this most American of obsesssions

My first book, published in 2004. As someone who grew up with no exposure to guns, I was deeply intrigued by this most American of obsesssions

Aaah, country life…where, in the U.S., suicide rates are higher

In behavior, cities, domestic life, life, travel, U.S., urban life on November 6, 2015 at 3:01 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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It’s not easy living in a rural area, as some people discover when they move to one.

This deeply disturbing New York Times story discusses the suicide rate in rural America — twice as high as in urban areas:

The C.D.C. reported last year that Wyoming has the highest suicide rate in the nation, almost 30 deaths per 100,000 people in 2012, far above the national average of 12.6 per 100,000. Not far behind were Alaska, Montana, New Mexico and Utah, all states where isolation can be common. The village of Hooper Bay, Alaska, recently recorded four suicides in two weeks.

In one telephone survey of 1,000 Wyoming residents, half of those who responded said someone close to them had attempted or died by suicide.

In September, mental health experts, community volunteers and law enforcement officers gathered in Casper to discuss possible solutions. Among the participants was Bobbi Barrasso, the wife of Senator John Barrasso, who has made suicide prevention a personal and political mission.

“Wyoming is a beautiful state,” she told the crowd. “We have great open spaces. We are a state of small population. We care about one another. We’re resourceful, we’re resilient, we cowboy up.”

…The realities of small-town life can take an outsize toll on the vulnerable. A combination of lower incomes, greater isolation, family issues and health problems can lead people to be consumed by day-to-day struggles, said Emily Selby-Nelson, a psychologist at Cabin Creek Health Systems, which provides health care in the rural hills of West Virginia.

This story hit home for me.

In 1988-89, I spent 18 months living in Lebanon, New Hampshire (now, shockingly, plagued by an epidemic of heroin addiction), a small town of about 10,000 close to the much more affluent town of Hanover, NH, home to Dartmouth College. I moved there to follow my then boyfriend (later husband) in his medical residency at Dartmouth, a four-year commitment.

Port Hope, Ontario. pop. 16,000

Port Hope, Ontario. pop. 16,000

I was excited. I had only lived downtown, and/or in large cities like Toronto, Montreal and Paris. I was really curious about small-town life and looked forward to trying it — but barely lasted a year before I was really in fear of losing my mental health. No exaggeration.

It was the worst time of my life.

We were broke, trying to live (and own two cars) on his salary of $22,000, the nation’s poorest-paying medical residency and my savings. I had no job and there were none to be found.

There was no Internet then. The winter was brutally long and cold. We had no friends or family nearby and every social overture I made was ignored or went unreciprocated.

Everyone was married or pregnant and/or had kids. We were “only” living together, not yet even engaged, which (!?) seemed scandalous to others our age, even students who’d moved there from other large cities.

The only time our phone rang, a voice would say “I need a windshield” — we had inherited the former number for Upper Valley Glass.

I know. That sounds funny.

I'd rather be surrounded by a horde of dancing strangers, thanks!

I’d rather be surrounded by a horde of dancing strangers, thanks!

I became almost agoraphobic because everywhere we went, alone or together, we were socially invisible. Plus, ambitious as hell, I was professionally dying on the vine. Journalism is incredibly competitive and staying out of it for even a year or two is never a great idea.

I had left my country, close friends, a well-paid newspaper job and a gorgeous apartment.

For this?!

The stifling pressure to conform to some really weird 1950s-era ideal of behavior was crazy. I was criticized — by a friend! — for choosing bright green rubber boots instead of sensible brown or black. And coming from Montreal, a vibrant, bilingual, sophisticated city, the region’s dominant ethos of Yankee self-denial was alien, all these women wearing no makeup or perfume or anything with a visible shape to it.

I had never felt so out of place, not even when I lived in France or Mexico.

Yes, we had a nice apartment. Yes, the countryside was gorgeous. Yes, I actually enjoyed attending the local auction every Friday and learned a lot about antiques.

But I fled to New York within 18 months of arriving there; I would never have made it through another three years there.

For the past 25 years I’ve lived in a small town, but one only 25 miles from Manhattan. It gives me the best of both worlds, easy, quick access to one of the busiest and most challenging cities in the world — with the beauty and silence that also recharges and refreshes me. I know enough people here now I’m always seeing someone I know at the gym or the post office or the grocery stores. but without feeling stifled or excluded.

London -- much more my speed!

London — much more my speed!

Do you live in a rural or isolated area or small town?

How is it working for you?

As fall arrives…

In beauty, culture, design, domestic life, life, Style, urban life on October 10, 2015 at 1:20 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

A vintage tablecloth scored this summer in Maine

A vintage tablecloth scored this summer in Maine

As some of you know from my previous posts, I’m obsessed with, addicted to…ahem..enjoy designing our home.

I studied interior design at the New York School of Interior Design, which has trained some of the best designers in the U.S., and learned a great deal about color, texture, materials and how to create a welcoming interior space. I had hoped to change careers from journalism but decided, for a variety of reasons, to continue as a writer, albeit one passionate, always, about beauty and assembling a space that’s both elegant and comfortable.

We live in a one-bedroom apartment that overlooks trees and the Hudson River. The building itself is nothing special. I find it pretty ugly, frankly — a 1960s red brick slab, six stories, with no architectural merit, even after 20+ years here.

But the landscaping is lovely, and we sit atop a high hill with great views…from our building’s southern exposure, (we face northwest), you can literally see the towers of lower Manhattan.

Inside our (nasty beige metal) door?

I love patina! This is the doorknob to our friend's home in Maine

I love patina! This is the doorknob to our friend’s home in Maine

It’s English country house:

— layered textiles, a mix of old and new, of flea market finds and some valuable photos and antiques, my father’s oil paintings, my husband’s images and my photos, photos of us and our families, etchings and engravings, posters from Paris and Mexico and Australia…

Fresh flowers and plants, always!

A table set for one of our dinner parties

A table set for one of our dinner parties

I buy and read a range of design magazines, from Elle Decor, House Beautiful and Architectural Digest to Period Living, Country Living, House & Garden (all British) and, occasionally, one of the gorgeous Cote series from France or World of Interiors.

It’s one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon. And I learn something every time I read one — about color, tone, mixing things up, design history. Even if the home featured is, (and in the UK ones, it is sometimes!), a castle or enormous mansion, I always find some inspiration and sheer visual pleasure.

I haven’t lived in a house since 1988 when we rented a flat in a New Hampshire house. I often hanker for a house, (a small, old one — 1840s or earlier), but our finances don’t allow for a second home and I like where we live right now.

My esthetic is eclectic, a little bohemian, but polished.

I like bold and interesting prints (in small doses.) I like patina, craquelure, weathered wood (but immaculate walls, windows and sills.) I love candles in all shapes and sizes, from votives to pierced lanterns that show glorious shadows. Textiles, especially vintage or ethnic.

I find things affordably everywhere: flea markets, auctions, department stores, discount stores, consignment shops, thrift shops, garden supply stores. (Yes, I’ve even traveled with bubble wrap).

From London, Paris, Stockholm, Istanbul, Mexico, Toronto, I’ve brought home early ceramics, 18th century prints, a tray and even our bathroom sink — ($32, handmade copper)  — from Mexico.

Over the decades, I’ve invested most heavily in a few fine case goods, (two armoires, three chests of drawers) and Jose and I both enjoy a small but good collection of classic photos.

I’ve furnished our home (with Jose’s approval!) as I do my wardrobe, a mix of vintage and new, classic and funky, some playful bits, some very good bits.

Fresh flowers -- a must!

Fresh flowers — a must!

As fall arrives, here are some of the changes I’m making:

— Adding two lovely new fabrics, one for our headboard and the other for our bedside tables. I totally blew it on the scale of the check! But, you know what? Better bold than bitsy. (total cost $150.)

The ikat is for the headboard, the checks for the tables

The ikat is for the headboard, the checks for the tables

— An antique Chinese ginger jar lamp we recently found at an antiques dealer in Grafton, Ontario. It needed a new shade and cord.

— A dramatic new hallway rug, a kilim. I love these flatweaves, with their bold-but-faded colors and intricate designs; this one is striped: faded teal, faded carmine with a narrow black and white stripe. I found it roaming on-line; it will be shipped to us from Istanbul after they repair it.

Switching out our art from summer, (pale colors and bleached frames), to winter: deeper hues, gold frames.

Our living room, reflected in that mirror

Our living room, reflected in that mirror

— Rehanging the Victorian mirror I scored in Ontario.

Five of these for $10 at our local thrift shop

Five of these for $10 at our local thrift shop

— Using deeper-toned pillows, table covers and rugs: reds, oranges, bits of black for drama.

As the days shorten and daylight so quickly fades and disappears, I wrap our home in color, texture, style and beauty.

Here in New York, winter lasts from November to March, at least, and we’ll soon miss the brilliant external colors of fall leaves and summer flowers.

Lucky you, readers in more tropical climes and countries — with gorgeous year-round greenery, flowers and and brightly colored birds!

We love these two -- one early folk art, the smaller...who knows?

We love these two — one early folk art, the smaller…who knows?

My husband is a photographer and photo editor (here’s his wedding website and his blog), and we both work at home — so clutter, mess and ugly, especially in a small space, are too much!

Every day, our pretty home soothes and nurtures us both — and the people we welcome.

How about you?

Does nesting appeal to you?

What does community mean to you?

In behavior, blogging, culture, domestic life, education, entertainment, immigration, life, the military, travel, U.S., urban life on October 1, 2015 at 3:28 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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Is it your town?

City?

Neighborhood?

Your running/cycling/yoga pals?

Your place of worship?

Maybe all of these…

I’ve lived in five countries and seven cities and towns in my life. That’s a lot for some, and nothing for people like TCK’s, third culture kids who move a lot around the world, with parents in the media, military or missionaries, to name only three.

It’s when, how and and where you find a sense of community, of truly belonging to a tribe of like-minded people, that intrigues me.

For some of us — like you, here! — it’s on-line. A place, 24/7, we know we’ll find some other fun, cool people who share our beliefs or concerns. It might be a widows’ support group or gamers or people coping with a chronic illness.

Real-life community interests me the most because that’s where, you should pardon the phrase, shit gets real. On-line people can quickly block, unfriend or delete posts they dislike or disagree with.

Face to face? Meeting people of different religions, politics, races and nationalities is what makes community vibrant, in my view. It’s where we hear different perspectives and learn (or practice!) our social skills. It’s where we see the value, at best, in one another and our individual and shared experiences.

It’s where diplomacy, tact, civility keep us from utter mayhem.

On a good day.

Our view of the Hudson River

Our view of the Hudson River

I belong to several communities, each of which nurture me in different ways:

a local Episcopal church. I attend infrequently, usually every 4 to 6 weeks or so. I’ve been attending there since 1998, though, so am known and know others to some degree. The people there are generally my age or older, many of them far wealthier and more politically conservative. No one seems to really understand what I do for a living or why. But I also think it valuable for us to be there for that reason, to meet “the other.”

a co-ed softball team. We’ve been playing together for 15 years. In a place like New York City, where work and family always trump anything else, that’s pretty amazing. I love these people. We range in age from 20s to 60s, from lawyers and doctors to a retired ironworker, editors, schoolteachers. When one of our members recently died, more than a dozen of us drove hours to his memorial service to show our love and respect for him and his widow. Here’s an essay I wrote about them for The New York Times.

several writers’ groups, both on-line and off-line. As someone who’s been earning her living as a journalist for decades, I need to know my industry intimately and hear what others are up to. I offer advice and support, as others do for me.

My desk -- Twitter allows me to connect globally, quickly and easily

My desk — Twitter allows me to connect globally, quickly and easily

my dance classes. I’ve been studying ballet and jazz for decades and take a jazz dance class every Monday and Friday (when I am being consistent!) I’ve gotten to know my teachers personally and really value the camaraderie they create in their classrooms. My fellow students live in my town and I run into them at the grocery store, concerts, on the street. I like that.

— our apartment building. It’s hard for me to even believe it, but I’ve lived in the same apartment for more than 20 years. So I’ve gotten to know some of my neighbors quite well as it’s the sort of place people like to stay, often moving into in their 70s and beyond. I’ve watched people’s children grow up and go to and graduate from college. As someone without children or close relative with children, it’s a way to mark the passage of time.

Which communities do you belong to and why?

How do they nurture you — and vice versa?

American life, 2015 — income inequality ‘r us

In behavior, business, cities, culture, journalism, life, politics, U.S., urban life on September 14, 2015 at 2:21 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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Are you familiar with the Gini coefficient?

It measures income inequality — the chart linked above lists it for every U.S. state.

This group of young men, the topic of a recent documentary, The Wolfpack, were raised in a NYC apartment by their hyper-controlling father

This group of young men, the topic of a recent documentary, The Wolfpack, were raised in a NYC apartment by their hyper-controlling father

New York, where I’ve lived since leaving my native Canada in 1989 — ranks 50th. i.e. second worst in this regard in the United States.

The worst? You have to laugh, albeit bitterly, Washington, D.C., home to the Capitol and the nation’s federal legislators.

I recently re-lived it, while working on a story for a New York City website about a company giving out food to bring awareness of food insufficiency — aka not having enough to eat every day — in the city’s five boroughs.

Fresh flowers, always on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fresh flowers, always on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a bequest from a wealthy patron. A gorgeous side of Manhattan many tourists see….but there are other, darker realities as well

Last week, I spent two broiling hot, humid days — 95 degrees — working in the poorest part of the poorest Congressional district in the country, the South Bronx. Local residents lined up that day, as I walked over from the subway, some carrying parasols against the brutal heat, some arriving from the public housing complex across the street, for a van offering medical care.

Many of them line up, three days every week, for whatever the food pantry has on offer; I saw many bags of bread and rolls, crisp green apples and cookies.

I was there to watch a company hand out food, and to write about it.

I did this with mixed feelings.

Yes, charity is a good thing.

Yes, alleviating hunger and poverty is a good thing.

But everything is a very small bandage on a large gaping wound.

It is deeply shocking, if you still have gauzy fantasies of America!!!!!! to see the reality of American poverty face to face.

I stopped that day for a quick lunch, (I never eat fast food!), at McDonald’s, one of a dozen fast or fried-food joints lining 125th Street in Harlem. Parts of that street, even in sunny mid-day, have some people nodding off after using a new synthetic form of marijuana.

The restaurant’s clientele that day was, possibly, 10 percent Caucasian.

I had a long conversation, half in French, half in English, with a young librarian from Normandy, traveling for a month with his wife. They planned to visit New York, Philadelphia, D.C. L.A. and San Francisco, which, I told him, would also offer some insights into the income inequality now splitting the country in a way unseen since the Gilded Age, some 100 years ago.

“I can’t believe what I see,” he told me, gazing around at our fellow diners, many using crutches, canes and motorized wheelchairs, some the result of diabetes and obesity.

Welcome to the U.S., I said.

The next day I visited another part of the Bronx; (for you non-New Yorkers, that’s one of the city’s five boroughs, north of Manhattan, a place very few tourists are ever likely to see), this one an astounding and essential part of the city, the Hunt’s Point Food Center.

I saw the warehouse for the Food Bank for New York City, an entity I was certainly well aware of; you can’t live here for any length of time without some idea of their work.

From their website:

Hunger is caused by food poverty, a lack of geographic and/or financial access to nutritious food. In New York City, one of the richest cities in the world, food poverty is around every corner. Throughout the five boroughs, approximately 1.4 million people — mainly women, children, seniors, the working poor and people with disabilities — rely on soup kitchens and food pantries. Approximately 2.6 million New Yorkers experience difficulty affording food for themselves and their families.

Their warehouse has nine bays, each loading millions of pounds of food each month, in and out.

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We were given a tour by the warehouse manager, running the place since 1994, a burly, lively whiz running a team zipping about in hand-trucks in a space so enormous it simply boggled the mind.

Imagine the biggest store you’ve ever seen, in the U.S. a Home Depot, for example. Try again!

This warehouse is 90,000 square feet — the above image, (mine), gives you some idea how enormous.

In my 25 years living here, few experiences have struck me as powerfully as these past few days, powerful and visceral reminders that there are many New Yorks, not just the ones tourists see or the ones shown in movies and on television.

It’s hard sometimes, living here, to manage the cognitive dissonance that comes with being even vaguely socially conscious in New York — the size oo’s in their Prada and Gucci, stepping out of their driver-chauffeured Escalades into helicopters to fly to their mansions in the Hamptons.

And…this.