About Grace Lessageing

Writer of novels, short stories, flash fiction, blogs. Leader of a creative writing group. Ex infant teacher. Living in Christchurch UK.

New York 1997. Part 6. A Fitting Finale.

We departed Buffalo and arrived late to Penn Station, too late to purchase tickets to Boston next day-another early start.

The subway from Westside to the station was becoming familiar and there was time for coffee before boarding the train, which was packed. Leaving New York via The Bronx was a much more dramatic and interesting journey than going out through New Jersey and there was a fine view of Manhattan’s skyscrapers as we left. Later, though, the scenes were the same dull, monotonous, derelict industrial sites that we’d seen before.

The train pulled into Boston at midday and we walked out into a proper station concourse, fitting for a large city in the way that Buffalo’s facilities were not. There were shops, cafes and bars-all very smart and clean. But we wondered how to go about finding a hotel. An information desk provided travel help, though not accommodation. We persevered and were pointed in the direction of ‘Hotel Reservations’ in a different part of the station, also bizarrely serving as a cigar stall. A sturdy, jovial woman called Marsha claimed to be there to help. After asking our ‘requirements’ she phoned several hotels. They were able to offer one night, but not two. We assured her we’d cope with staying ‘out of town’ provided it was on a subway route and sure enough, Marsha came up trumps. The ‘Hotel Farrington’. ‘You what?’ she hissed. ‘It’s messy? You have a back-packers’ room?’ She cast us an enquiring look. ‘OK-OK. They don’t mind. They’ll take it.’ She gave us a copied set of instructions for the route then we handed her the $5 booking fee and thanked her-feeling relieved and grateful, which was ironic when you consider what was to come.

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We studied the directions-a ‘red line’ train and a ‘green line’ train. Emerging into the Boston sunshine, towering buildings reared at us as we plunged down into the subway and to an unusually unhelpful ticket clerk. The Boston subway was newer and cleaner than that of New York, the trains quaint and picturesque, like historic trams. A number of lines converged and you had to clamber up steps into these tram-like compartments. ‘Boston College’ was our train. It rumbled along, slowing and almost stopping at intervals then emerged into a sunlit boulevard lined with college buildings and blocks. an ivy-clad ‘Alfred Morse Auditorium’ and several Oxford-like university piles. This was Boston University and Harvard lay just across the river in ‘Cambridge’. Boston is a university city and the society, pace, buildings and people reflected this.

As instructed we stepped down at the 3rd stop, located the street and walked; far, it seemed, carrying bags in the hot sun, but we came to Farrington Avenue and thus to Number 23. Farrington Avenue was elegant and tree-lined with large timber houses, one of which was our hotel, accessed by steps up to the polished doors. We entered into a grand, wood-panelled room, styled with antiques, chaises and a huge, burnished desk for reception. So far so good!

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The young woman there motioned us to a sofa. She had an unhurried air. It seemed unlikely that in this gleaming, gracious, stripped-pine, polished building there would be a ‘messy’ room. The woman took our details and searched around in some drawers for a key as one or two people drifted in and out. At last she led us out and up the road to another house of the same style, but here the similarity stopped. It had a neglected, decadent look, it’s wooden floors dusty, dirty and unkempt. We were led up two sets of stairs, weary of bag-carrying by now. The woman dithered at the top as we looked on, aghast. The entire building appeared like some kind of squat. She descended back one flight, apologising, round a corner and past what might have once been a kitchen but a quick glimpse made me shudder, through a once-glorious lounge area. Off this, behind a frosted glass screen was our room.

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It was dirty, cramped and unpleasant and the sheets worn and threadbare, though clean. The woman left us, saying that coffee and muffins would be served next morning from 8-10am. We threw the bags in and looked around in disgust, venturing out to see the bathroom, which would not have been out of place on the set of ‘The Young Ones’. It was grim. But the towels were clean.

Nevertheless, Boston awaited. We left everything and went to the subway to go into town, alighting at Park Street, where all was green and there were food stalls and folks enjoying the sunshine. Deciding on a trolley-bus tour we were told that next morning would be better due to rush-hour. Instead we walked the ‘Freedom’ trail, following a red line on the sidewalk and taking in the sights. Boston seemed a relaxed city, very conscious of its history and sporting a great many Irish pubs staffed by an unending stock of Irishmen, Bostonians proud of their history and eager to help with sightseeing suggestions. There was a huge market square like Covent Garden boasting gift shops, cafes and restaurants and it was here that we stopped to eat, choosing an outside table in the warm evening.

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Everywhere teemed with people and musicians played South American music as we ate, the food good and washed down with Samuel Adams Boston-brewed beer.

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By the time we returned we were too tired for a last drink at the Irish bar on our street. In the ‘hotel’ a man was wandering about on our floor looking for a screwdriver as the lock on his door had broken. We braved the shower together, using some discarded towels to stand on then tip-toed back to the room, through the dust and dirt of the lounge, to fall at last into bed. Then someone came into the lounge, putting on lights and TV, neither sound or light muffled by the tatty blind over the glass door. We groaned as a conversation also began, the TV, thankfully as dysfunctional as the rest of the place was extinguished and peace settled.

The Farrington breakfast was dispensed at reception, coffee and enormous muffins dispensed by an elderly. frail man at a table. Chatting to an Australian woman who confirmed the lack of Boston rooms we discovered that it was Graduation Week at Harvard, hence all was booked in advance. We had to grateful for our flea-pit!

We returned to Boston centre for the trolley tour, waiting while crocodiles of schoolchildren were shepherded along the streets. The tour began; the now-familiar, carefully rehearsed monologue punctuated by the odd joke. We got off at Charles Street, a quaint, though expensive row of shops with quirky signs, everything engineered for faux antiquity. We ate then took the next bus which drove past Harvard, through an up-market area and into theatreland where we left to walk on to Chinatown and on to the docks and the Boston Tea Party ship [unimpressive].

In the market square we had coffee and relaxed. The remaining time was dripping away. It would be our final evening in Boston and in the USA. We got a subway to Hynes Convention Centre for an ascent of the Prudential Tower, a tame 50 floors, to look over Boston at dusk. At the top it was quiet but with a stunning view over the blocks and landmarks of the city. It was a contemplative end to the trip.

At the ‘hotel’ a couple had moved into the next door hovel to ours and were complaining loudly, their remarks clear through the flimsy plywood between the rooms. ‘This room’s so Fucking depressing!’ cried the woman and the man’s low voice could be heard placating. We showered and went to ‘Arthur’s’, a small seafood cafe we’d spotted and had a last beer at the Irish bar. On our return the TV was silent, as were the next-door couple.

At the muffin and coffee breakfast next morning, two refined Oregon ladies proudly revealed the were in Boston for a reception in honour of Jackie Kennedy. Their hoe town had a population of 350 and this was an adventure for them. They were tremulous at the idea of the Boston subway so we told them they’d enjoy the experience for its period charm, and we recommended the trolley-bus tour.

Finally it was time to pack, lug the bags to the subway and to the station, board the New York train and sink back into our seats to watch the New England scenery float past with its quaint and pretty towns and villages, lakes and marinas, white churches and pastel, weather-board houses. The sky clouded briefly then cleared as we came to New York. The trip was done…

New York 1997. Part 5. The Walk to Canada.

During the [albeit sketchy, pre-internet] innocent planning of our New York trip I’d felt sure that Buffalo would be the ideal stopover point for visiting Niagara. It turned out that nobody else ever did this. No single person stayed at Buffalo in order to take a trip to the falls. Except for we two-Husband and myself. We’d made an error.

But we were prepared to make the best of things. After all-we’d overcome the hurdle of having to forego our vehicle [see Part 1], we’d find a way to mitigate this current crisis.

Evening in Buffalo and the streets were deserted, a few pieces of garbage blowing around in a stiff breeze and some tumbleweed rolling down the road in contemptuous abandon. As we approached what could be the centre of town there were cinemas, bars and restaurants, but patronised by no one. We saw no more than 2 or 3 others in the town. We walked on and selected a bar, part of a luxurious hotel complex. You could be forgiven for thinking we’d walked into a dystopian future world where unwitting tourists were lured by aliens to be consumed later.

There were 2 couples in the otherwise empty bar. We ordered beers and watched the TV screen, where ice-skating was being shown. Husband intimated that he’d prefer to watch paint dry. Then 2 men entered and we got chatting. ‘So how come you 2 ended up in a place like this?’ one asked. My thoughts exactly. We explained and I asked why the town was empty and quiet. He shrugged. ‘Used to be a boomtown, but it’s all old industry and now it’s died’. His wife was Scottish and they’d be visiting Scotland in the fall.

We left the bar and walked back up the dead street, now neon-lit but no more lively for it. En route there was the sound of a rock band playing, practising perhaps? A crumbling, stucco-fronted house held the sign ‘The Roxy’ over its porch. The windows were dark. It was a club. Inside was a strobe-lit disco floor [empty] and a bar with a few noisy teenagers [mostly girls] and a loud, blond, gum-chewing barmaid. The girls shouted and argued-mostly for display purposes. We returned to The Lenox, having judged Buffalo to be a sad place.

Next morning we rose quickly and went down to reception. The receptionist rang us a cab and we grabbed a coffee. Back at the bus depot we had time for a ‘biscuit’ filled with bacon, egg and cheese and more coffee. We climbed on to the Niagara bus, which pulled out and went swinging and lurching off to the falls. The one hour drive was unremarkable, although I always enjoy riding through foreign suburbs where the more trivial, domestic aspects of life are played out. There were pastel-coloured timber homes, porches with swing seats, screen doors and all the sights we are familiar with from watching movies.

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At the falls bus station all went according to the new plan and we deposited our luggage in a locker before walking the 4 blocks down to the Niagara river. Then there was a modest sign: Pedestrian Walkway to Canada. Through some gardens there was a visitor centre which provided a map. There were tantalising glimpses of the river but as yet, no falls. Here the flow was fast and foamed into rapids, separating past small islands and rushing along, a dim roar in the background.

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We walked down towards the American Falls and there was a sudden cut-off point where the river appeared to stop in mid-air. Moments later the American Falls were in sight, water roaring fiercely over a precipice in billowing clouds of spray and creating a sunlight rainbow. We were awestruck, although once the Canadian Falls, the ‘horseshoe falls’ came into view the American Falls were forgotten. A few hundred yards down the road a semi-circular tract plummeting over a cliff. We’d need to cross a bridge to Canada to see properly. Our Amtrak train would leave at 1.30pm. We’d have time.

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We spent time looking from different viewpoints, cameras in hand, then walked back, crossed the bridge, through a turnstile, into Canadian customs for a passport stamp before setting foot on Canadian soil, with an increasingly dramatic view of both sets of falls.

Eventually we reached a place at the top of the horseshoe falls where the Niagara river thundered over the cliff in a pale green arc of froth and fell in a billowing spray below. Small sightseeing boats chugged, ant-like into the spray, carrying blue plastic-covered sight-seers.

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We lingered as long as we dared, until time ran out and we needed to get our bus, then our train, but we felt euphoric to have made the effort. We arrived to the bus depot with 5 minutes to spare, retrieved the luggage and boarded the bus to Buffalo station, where we had an hour to wait, there being nothing but a water tap and the surly ticket clerk.

We were to return to New York, retracing our route before we could set off once more to execute the final part of the plan-to Boston!

New York 1997. Part 4.

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Tuesday. Train to Buffalo day. After an early start and with a scaled down bag of packed items we went to Penn Station and boarded the Amtrak train, impressively huge, silver and sleek with wide comfortable armchair seats. A small dining car sold snacks-good enough for a breakfast of coffee, bagels and cream cheese.

The journey out from New York was the most diverting part, it transpired as what followed was hours of attractive but not dynamic scenery. Tiredness and monotony led to some gentle skirmishing [if you’ve followed from the start you’ll know that the relationship was in its infancy].

At intervals the train stopped. Albany, Rochester, Syracuse, towns heard of in some way and now in context. Some passengers were travelling direct to Niagara; a few heading on to Toronto. We alighted at Buffalo, expecting to go straight to ‘Tourist Information’ and being disillusioned. Buffalo Station had nothing more than a ticket office-and a tiny one at that. One railway official remained as the train chugged off in the direction of Niagara. He looked at his watch. ‘Aaahm about to close up at fooour!’ he announced. We’d still to find accommodation and the bus station, for getting to Niagara next day.

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The buildings of Buffalo reared up in a menacing, unwelcoming way as the railroad man pointed vaguely in the direction of the bus station and suggested The Radisson or The Hilton in response to enquiries. We heaved our bags across the road and walked the few blocks to the bus station, where the wall-mounted schedule was incomprehensible. Braving the disdain of the ticket clerk we were none the wiser. I threw myself at his mercy. ‘We’re English’ I told him. ‘We’re all a bit dim. Please would you help explain this?’ He softened. ‘Sure. You go get schedule 40 and I’ll show you.’ I sighed. A cold sore had begun its ominous tingle at the corner of my mouth.

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Now we had to tackle the hotel problem. The transit police suggested the Hotel Lenox and that we’d need a cab [of course] to get there. The driver spent the entire journey earnestly trying to persuade us to take his cab direct to Niagara. ‘You can get a motel down there for 30 dollars and give me 30 dollars-that’s less than you’ll spend at the Lenox’. He laboured his point several times, until Husband gently persuaded him otherwise. ‘We’ll stay here now,’ he replied, ‘we like looking at places so we’ll have a look at Buffalo’, at which the driver capitulated and suggested a restaurant-‘The Anchor’, home of the famous ‘Buffalo wings’. Who knew?

The Lenox was once grand but now a decadent pile skulking in front of the Holiday Inn. The room was adequate.

Buffalo was not the tourist Mecca I’d expected. We debated our options, with this town seeming less hospitable by the minute. A connection to Boston, the next destination, was impossible. I suggested a flight, but there was no reply from any of the freephone numbers we called for ticket agencies. Maybe reception could help? The receptionist seemed invigorated by the challenge- a small, pale, bespectacled girl, offering the phone, finding numbers.

We were introduced to ‘Mr Pellegrino’, the hotelier, an effusive character who extolled the virtues of the Anchor Bar. ‘Tell them Mr Pellegrino sent you!’ and gave us a card. He was a portly ex-cop.

The travel research was not going well. Only one airline flew direct from Buffalo to Boston and the ticket was $301.

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We went out to find The Anchor, a red brick pub standing alone on a corner. The sun was still warm and the evening crisp and clear, the beer excellent. Here in the quiet gloom of the restaurant 3 mountainous men were consuming gargantuan meals while a family in the corner were setting into a banquet, with plates covering the whole table. A nearby couple appeared to be eating the entire menu of food. We were surrounded by eating machines-dwarfed by them. But the famous, spicy chicken wings were very good and following the meal we decided to look at the town…

New York 1997. Part 3.

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When we are young children our earliest, hazy notions of geography may lead us to associate iconic sights, sites and buildings with countries around the world, perhaps through a child’s atlas or one of those pictorial, world jigsaws. For me, it was kangaroos and Australia, polar bears and the Arctic and The Empire State Building in America; because for so long, throughout my childhood it remained the tallest building in the world.

When we woke on Empire State visiting day I peered out of the window blinds to see bright sunlight, the previous day’s fog and rain entirely dissipated. My suggestion to find breakfast somewhere around Central Park was futile on this Monday, which, it transpired was a state holiday, hence the quiet streets and shuttered diners. The park was busy with runners, cyclists and roller-bladers, their serious intent written clearly in their expressions. Exercise must not be for fun! We trekked back West towards our hotel area to find breakfast and Husband, who was persuaded into sampling pancakes and maple syrup, declared he was not a convert to this American staple. My disgraceful consumption of French toast + maple syrup + butter, however was delicious.

As there were several hours to fill before our ticket time we walked again-to ‘Columbus Circle’, Carnegie Hall and on to Trump Tower, the exterior of which is clad in gold up to the first floor. Inside the atrium an extravagant decor of amber marble and gold. In the basement, where we got coffee, one wall ran with water. ‘You’d think’ I remarked to Husband, ‘ that with all his money Donald would have ensured he didn’t get all this condensation’. Husband agreed. ‘Obviously the roof leaks’ he replied. To a minimalist such as myself the entire building is an excrescence-but each to their own, as they say.

It was a long walk to the Chrysler Building, a beautiful monument to Art Deco dressed in a cone of silver semicircles, the RCA building [radio and TV], the Grand Central Terminal and, at last, The Empire State Building. We could skip the queue for tickets but smugness was short-lived as we joined the elevator queue, though it moved swiftly. We chatted to the jovial Egyptians ahead of us. ‘I am from Luxor!’ announced one, rotund gent earnestly, ‘it is my town!’

‘Beautiful!’ I told him, ‘Beautiful place!’

‘Did you go to Aswan?’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I loved it there. I love hot places!’

We reached the lift and piled in for a rapid ascent, quickly up to 80 floors, where there was a viewing chamber, enclosed and still queuing, walking round in a pen. I was worried that this was it, but Husband assured me there must be more. On upwards and suddenly out into an observation area. Stunning! We strolled around-and around, taking shots, looking and looking. In the gift shop I succumbed to Empire State earrings, an item of jewellery subsequently seldom worn that is now lost.

When I peruse the photos of that day, of the crowded observation platform, the excited photographers, gift shop browsers, the views of Manhattan stretching below in all its geometric familiarity, one overwhelming feature cannot be ignored. There is the iconic view, the skyscrapers, the famous landmarks and there among it all, the dark, twin rectangles of The World Trade Centre, jutting up into the blue sky and dominating the skyline because then, for that short time, these were the tallest buildings. And in our innocence of what was to come we marvelled at them.

Washington Square was alive with street entertainers. Three, small black children were playing chamber music, a group of tumblers, glossy and muscular, a scrappy acoustic band of ageing hippies, crowds gathered to watch, to play, to exercise or relax. On to Little Italy, to Sotto and Chinatown and then to the finance houses and courthouses, until Brooklyn Bridge was upon us, dwarfed by the twin towers but no less breath-taking with the sun beginning to set behind it. We had just enough energy to walk across and back, then sank into seats in an Irish bar, the barman happy to converse.

As the skyscrapers became silhouettes we went to the World Trade Centre, eager to ascend the tower at dusk, for a night view of the city. There were few waiting for tickets or the lift, in which the ascent was lightning fast and my ears popped and popped. 107 floors.

The night view from the top of the World Trade Centre surpassed anything we’d seen thus far, rendering us speechless. In my journal there is a faded, pink post-it note of our plans for that day. On the same page I’ve written this passage:

‘They were somewhat speechless; higher than all the other skyscrapers, up amongst the aeroplanes. The road below illuminated like electrical wires, jewelled with sparkling lights. You could sit against the windows on a metal bench and feel that you were hanging over, a dizzying experience.’

The last page of the chapter bears this John Donne quote:

‘When I am gone dream me some happiness; Nor let thy looks our long-hid love confess; Nor praise, nor dispraise me, bless, or curse Openly love’s force;

 

 

New York 1997. Part 2.

So-New York then; sans car but with enthusiasm and itchy feet.

We walked, we got a sumptuous breakfast in a swanky diner. We took the subway to Penn Station. With no way to drive to Niagara we’d decided to try the train. How hard could it be? After managing, with some difficulty to decipher the timetable, we bought two tickets to Buffalo, from where [in our ignorance] we assumed we’d be able to access the falls. The tickets were for Tuesday morning, leaving us some city exploration in the meantime.

We left the station and went to the pier to get a Circle Line ferry trip around Manhattan Island with tour guide narration, an informative but foggy voyage marred by rain, the sights described mostly obscured by thick mist. The tall skyscrapers of the skyline had their heads in the clouds. Nevertheless the famous landmarks of New York duly appeared-The Empire State Building, The World Trade Centre, The Statue of Liberty, all misty but thrillingly real. We passed the apartments of the rich and famous, learning of outrageous property prices and chugged under the Brooklyn Bridge. A chilly wind sprang up. We sipped hot coffee and leant on the cylindrical outer cover of the engine for warmth. On board we encountered a Welsh rugby team, while the English wife of a businessman confided that she would probably go and see a Broadway matinee that afternoon to escape the weather.

The rain continued as we disembarked and walked towards Theatreland and Times Square then on to Macy’s. It is unthinkable to visit New York without ascending the Empire State Building but with ‘zero visibility’ we were told to buy the tickets and return next day when the weather just might have cleared up.

When we got to Greenwich Village the towering skyscrapers gave way to brownstone terraces decorated with iron fire escapes. By this time my jacket, supposedly impermeable had allowed the layers underneath to become soaked. We found a bar and had beers, punch-drunk from the bombardment of experiences. We had walked for hours. Revived a little by the Greenwich Brewery ales we headed off to find a subway, going via Christopher Street and discovering a whole shopping area of gay shops, sure enough crossed by ‘Gay Street’. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to peruse the wares and we browsed a couple of stores, innocent displays of ‘sportswear’ in the window and increasingly outrageous as we moved through the shop. We exited, passing one or two intense young men and a somewhat older man sporting a luxuriant wig. At last we located the subway and sank down gratefully to be conveyed all the way back to Westside Studios.

We returned to Times Square for the evening and to find somewhere to eat. Times Square is a magnificent overstatement in neon, surpassing all but Las Vegas in trashy vulgarity and is completely wonderful. The Chinese restaurant we selected must serve nice meals, we imagined, because a number of Chinese were eating there. On requesting beer we were firmly shown the teapot on the table. Our selection of three or four dishes to share was rejected by the waiter. ‘You very hungry?’ he asked. ‘Three is enough!’ This provoked much hilarity, as never before had either of us been told we’d ordered too much food in a restaurant-and of course, New York, like the rest of America enables the diner to bag up uneaten meal portions, ‘to go’.

We dragged ourselves back to the hotel. Tomorrow was the Empire State day…

New York 1997. Part 1.

In these times where travel is reduced to pedestrian or armchair varieties, Anecdotage posts will not be related to current travel or even to travel plans, as who knows when or where the next journey will be?

But all is not lost, reader, because travel for this writer began long before blogging. And along the way, hand-written travel journals began to accompany the journeys, so it is to these journals that I am turning for inspiration, with a little modern history included.

To provide some back story, this first set of posts concerns a 1997 trip to New York, taken very early in Husband and my relationship-five months in, in fact. That the idea had hatched during one of Husband’s previous dalliances might have been off-putting was something I set on to the back burner, the exciting thought of a visit to such an iconic city proving a more powerful pull than retrospective peevishness.

We began by booking a ‘Flydrive’, meaning to augment the week’s visit by a drive up to Niagara Falls via Boston-a cunning plan, as we thought. In many ways this only serves to demonstrate that detailed planning of trips does not always lead to holiday perfection…

We packed, we grabbed our tickets, we took advantage of a friend’s offer of a lift to Heathrow airport, then we were underway, a brilliant flight taking us in an arc over Canada and offering some spectacular views below. This is something I’ve continued to love about flying, the fascinating bird’s eye landscapes, but while I indulge in this pastime on flights, Husband will always have taken the opportunity to sleep, arriving refreshed and ready for anything, while I will be wiped out and needing an immediate snooze.

Arriving to JFK and getting through we duly found our way to the car hire depot to pick up our vehicle. There it was that we discovered neither of us had thought to bring a driving licence. It was a poignant, wince-making moment. ‘Could my friend fax it through?’ I asked the po-faced staff member, and ‘NO’ was the reply.

Without our own wheels we took a cab into the city and to the room we’d booked at ‘West Side Studios’. The cab cost a hefty slice of our holiday budget, the driver was taciturn and spoke minimal English. Had we been armed with more research we’d have known that the airport is served by a subway straight into the city.

It was late evening and dark by the time we reached the north Manhattan block but having deposited the luggage we gamely struck out into the locale and found a jazz bar where a competent trio were playing live. By this time I was struggling to stay awake and Husband was up for a late evening at the bar. And, remember, we’d not long been an item. There is nothing like travel for discovering compromise.

In the morning we set out to explore Manhattan, using the subway and our feet. My initial misgivings of riding the subway were quickly dispelled. It was safe, clean and easy to use. We were only a few stops from Penn Station so everywhere was accessible. We walked the streets, marvelling at the perpendicular nature of the city and craning our necks.

We’d been recommended a ‘Circle Line’ tour on a ferry that circled Manhattan; a good way to start, except that New York was shrouded in thick fog. It was, nevertheless atmospheric and informative, though cold and damp. We stood by the funnel to catch its warmth.

Meanwhile, as we walked, subwayed and ferried our way around we pondered on one knotty problem. How would we get to visit Boston and Niagara now, without a vehicle?

Pavement Etiquette

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As we know by now, routine is important in our new, scaled-down days. Here at the schloss we rise as always, never early and one of us stumbles down to make tea. Tea is accompanied by the news and the latest round of grim statistics, peppered with small sprinklings of hope and the usual puerile online offerings of entertainment.

I dress for exercise, following my self-imposed regime of Pilates on weekdays, varied by Yoga at weekends. We have coffee. I write, bake, correspond.

After lunch there is gardening or the permitted walk. Walks have taken on a new significance since the arrival of the virus, as the area we may explore has shrunk to our own locality. Though we are near to beaches and harbours and The New Forest National Park, we stick to the streets around our small town, where domestic gardens, concealed pathways, copses and lanes provide the interest.

In one direction lies a cemetery. Given the current situation it may seem a morbid choice for walking, but it is ancient, beautiful and peaceful as well as a treasure trove of historical discovery. I like to read the names on the stones, the ages of the inhabitants of the graves, the touching eulogies. Of course it is a melancholy place, with an area allocated to infants, their tiny plots adorned with toys and memorabilia revealing a universe of pain.

Inside the cemetery it is easy to avoid others. We can veer off around the paths in any direction we choose.

Outside on the streets, avoidance is a different matter. While a quiet street wit pavements both sides offers plenty of scope for diversion, the narrow pavements on the bridge crossing the river is a virtual minefield, with walkers both sides jostling with joggers and cyclists on the narrow path. At times you get stuck, walking on one side with no escape-then I resort to turning my back, since this is no time to worry about manners.

But we are fortunate, here. We have access to large areas of marsh, or woods, or country lanes and can escape into spacious landscapes with no more than a distant sighting of others.

And when we do cross over, or pass at a distance there is a small smile, a nod or a greeting, which all mean ‘we are in this together’.

One week later and the cemetery is closed to all except the users, so any of us may get to visit at some point…

The weather is perfect, sunny and spring-like, softening the pain of lock-down for those of us who are not sufferers of the virus or key-workers. We take to the saddle for our first cycle of the year and ride around the quiet lanes where avoidance is relatively easy, although even here there is congestion in places, some understanding the new ‘rules’ and some not.

But as time goes on the neighbourhood becomes quieter, there is increased understanding. What will life be like in the great ‘After? Will we have become institutionalised? Will we continue to creep about and cross the road to avoid others? Or will we gallop, whooping into the streets and fling ourselves at all and sundry? Only time will tell…