January 22, 2012
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Click on any photo to see it enlarged. [Temporarily disabled.] It will appear as part of a slide show of all photos on this page. The image size can be changed by clicking on the plus and minus buttons. In the upper-left corner of a slide show click on either of the small-blue triangles to see another album (sets of photos). One of the photo albums is of London and another is about the 9/11 memorial in lower Manhattan.
This Frontpage covers our time in London and NY/NJ (December 23 - January 22) and a following one covers our stay in the Washington DC area (January 22 - March 4). We wrote them at the same time but split what we wrote because what we had to say was so long. Furthermore we thought it would be easier to track where one was and that the photos would be quicker to load that we split it into two parts. That is sort of continuing what we don't want to be a tradition: our last posting was split into three parts. In that case, it was more legitimate, since we'd written them all at the same time but had omitted to post the first two entries.
London, December 2011
After a bit more than two weeks in Darlington catching up with Jan's family, we went on to London, repeating our 2010 travels, but without the cold and snow. This time we knew the place where we were going to stay, Hampstead Gardens Suburb, and were looking forward to it. Our roles were a bit reversed: In 2010 it was Gerry who was the slower part of the team while Jan had had to hold herself back; by this visit Gerry's legs were pretty much recovered but Jan was suffering from over use of her hips in Rome. (They are slowly getting better)
Two weeks is longer than the normal tourist trip to London but still far too little to see it all. This stay we got to go to the National Theatre, see the new-years fireworks from Trafalgar Square, and make three visits to the National Gallery. It was fun being in Trafalgar Square with the crowd but only once there did we realize that the real action was down by the Thames; two giant screens showed us the fireworks that we could have been seeing direct. In the National Gallery, as we do everywhere we can since our stay in Italy last year, we checked out the Italian Renaissance art and were delighted with the works and how many of the artists we were familiar with. We went to the Museum of London; it was Jan's first visit and a return one for Gerry; even a full day was not enough. We were staying just a mile from Golders Green and when we found there would be a public lighting of Hanukah candles we went to the first two nights; we asked ourselves why we'd missed it in 2010 and then quickly — and a bit sheepishly — realized that the Jewish lunar calendar moves on at a different pace than our customary solar calendar. We also accepted a candle-lighting kit to take home with us and for the first time in our life together, lit Hanukah candles and recited the accompanying prayers "at home".
We bought two back-to-back one-week bus passes and that made it easy to get around. Gerry spent two different days off by himself just riding around, seeing the architecture and letting the city soak in — sort of a modern Dickens, who did his roaming of the city after midnight in search of characters. It's the 200th anniversary of his birth (February 7, 1812) and we saw exhibits on Dickens at the National Library and the Museum of London. In addition Gerry gave himself a walking tour that covered numerous Dickens sites. Along this tour he discovered The Monument, built in 1671-77 to commemorate the London Fire, and walked the 311 steps to the top. It still gives a great view of London but instead of being the tallest building around most of the view is of modern skyscrapers which have so tremendously changed London.
Outside St Paul's there was a rag-tag encampment of “Occupy The City”, imitators of the original New York “Occupiers”. We saw them as we were going into that magnificent cathedral for an afternoon Christmas carol service. We'd missed getting in in 2010 so this was our first view of its extent for perhaps 30 years or more. Wren's masterpiece stands up to the Florentine and Roman churches. The only other significant church visited was Southwark Cathedral which Gerry passed by on his Dickens Walk. There was an American group practicing for an evening performance of Handel’s works and he just sat down and enjoyed himself for an hour. Reminiscent of our time in Rome.
We spent the Christmas holidays wondering how we would handle moving our double-dose of luggage to Heathrow and beyond. Before we went from Paris to Morocco Jan had made a lightning trip to Darlington and taken half of our bags with her; once in Darlington we picked them up and added other things from our Darlo stash of clothing. For once, Jan wanted to take some semi-smart clothing, and some dress clothes. She also wanted to be sure to have enough warm weather clothing as the east coast can be frigid in January and February. At the same time we got one of our older and larger bags out of the loft; it had the advantage of wheels and the disadvantage that when full it was really too heavy for us to carry more than a few feet. And then a few days before departure in London we bought another, even bigger bag. All because the airlines now only allow one large instead of several small free piece of checked luggage per person when crossing the Atlantic. We had to succumb nd pay for a third bag, but happily we easily got it all to Heathrow using a private-hire driver who had a very large car.
The biggest part of our problem with luggage came from the smallest item. After we had checked in with Virgin Atlantic Gerry realized that he had forgotten to put his Swiss knife in the checked baggage. Ouch! He didn't want to have to forfeit it at security because of all the memories associated with it. So back to the VA check-in to ask for help; they were great. The counter agent went and found a box almost big enough for a Christmas ham and put the tiny knife into it and issued us one more baggage claim. That piece of baggage took us farther over our allotted quota and the rules said we should pay about 35 quid for it; more than a replacement knife would cost. But we were treated just right: no extra charge.
From the time we completed check-in at Heathrow all went smoothly, excepting a bit of exceptional turbulence, and seven hours from take off we were in the USA. Our first time since August, 2007. Moshe picked us up at Newark-Liberty airport and we just managed to squeeze our mountain of luggage into his car for the drive to Scarsdale, which would be our base in New York. There our friend Ann opened her home to us twice in as many weeks. She fed us, ferried us, and generally kept us entertained and amused, making nary a comment about the disaster area we made out of her bedroom. One outing was a nostaligia breakfast to the City Line Diner; one of three diners that we'd visit this trip. Initially the weather was well above freezing but later we had to get used to being bundled up, another “new” experience.
Our first full day in the USA was spent resting. Then we started renewing old connections by seeing Jose and meeting his family. Our last sighting of Jose had been in Berlin in 1974 and we'd lost touch. Through the power of the Internet he'd found us. The next day was an all-guy event that Gerry arranged. He got himself, Moshe, Jose, and Joe together for a brunch and trip to Staten Island. Except for Gerry all are immigrants who came to the US 40-50 years ago (and Gerry has known them most of that time); except for Joe all are physicists who gave it up for something else. In that regard Jose made the greatest change in that after being a tenured professor of physics he switched to medicine, an achievement in itself, and became a tenured professor of medicine, an even greater achievement. On another outing Gerry spent a day in Manhattan with Moshe, starting with a touching visit to the memorial for the 9/11 victims at Ground Zero – it is exceeding well done – and ending with long discussions of black holes, fracking, and the EPA while intermittently taking a walking tour of lower Manhattan.
Another day Joe and Lynn gave a dinner party in our honor and we saw several people we hadn't seen in a long, long time. And they took us on an historical tour of Brooklyn that was great, included lunching for the first time at Nathan's Original , and that ended with a tour of Breezy Point, an isolated, almost rural enclave that one can hardly believe is part of New York City. Gerry arranged a tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to be guided by art-historian Lynn and then had some strange illness that lasted 36 hours and made him miss it; the four who went had a great time seeing the Renaissance portrait exhibit as well as the re-done Islamic exhibits. Perhaps the finest food memory is the Korean meal we shared with Sue, complemented by much conversation.
One of our highest priorities was getting or renewing driver's licenses. Jan's had expired six months before arrival and Gerry's had been stolen by a pick-pocket. There being no way to replace them except for in-person we had to wait until we got to the USA. (We did consider bribing somebody in Morocco or Romania to issue something but we're too scared for such antics.) Moshe chauffeured us about as he too had business with the DMV. We first went to the wrong place only to learn that a money-saving consolidation had closed the office that had once been there. (Aside and moral: beware asking that your taxes and fees be lowered.) With only one more hiccup we did find the right office and did get our licenses: The hiccup for Gerry was that he had to have proof-of-address, which he hadn't thought to bring with him. But he had brought his wife, and with no request for a photo-id marriage certificate, Jan's renewal notice, which was her proof-of-address, was accepted for him. And voila, two legally licensed drivers.
From there we went to Moshe's nearby Jersey City apartment and finally got to see his wife Cris and their all-grown, 8-year old son Uri; the last time we had seen him he was one year old and just beginning to walk. We got treated to a mini-violin concert followed by a magic show. Wow!
From Ann's in Scarsdale we moved to Middletown to stay with Ron and Virginia and then to Robbinsville to stay with Faina and Simon. From each we made forays into Manhattan but we also renewed our acquaintance with our old neighborhood and places farther a field. Using our newly acquired licenses and a car borrowed from Ron and Virginia we drove for the first time in a year and a half. We arranged a dinner party and play in Princeton for the six of us, which, for us, was preceded by a walk about in Princeton ending at the Art Museum. Our recent Italian art education made us appreciate the Princeton collection more than ever.
We, Gerry in particular, had hoped to eat at “The Annex”, a restaurant that he had started patronizing in 1969. Every return visit to Princeton was an occasion for eating there again. This time it wasn't possible: we ate within the same walls, and had a good meal, but it was no longer “The Annex” but a sports bar with a completely different feel. The play, “The Convert” was about a young black girl in South Africa and her conversion to Christianity and its aftermath; it was wonderfully acted, the ending was very surprising and not a little thought-provoking, and we all enjoyed it. Sadly, for us, it was not in the main McCarter Theater that we had grown to love so much, but in a new smaller theater behind and below the original venue. All of which testifies to the fact that things have changed quite a bit in the last twelve and a half years.
Our time in New Jersey was too short to even get over to the beach. What's happened in Asbury Park or at Seven President's Beach? We don't know. What's happened at Sandy Hook? We don't know. What's happened at our storage locker in Forked River? We don't know – but in this case expect to have the joy next month of discovering what we left behind.
It wouldn't sink in for a while but it was strange to be back; things had moved on while we were gone. Perhaps the biggest challenge was getting used to the very idea that “we're back”. We'd be in the USA for a long time, spending “real money”. We started using credit cards again, which we mostly had not while in Europe. Speaking English, everyday to everybody, was also a novelty. It continually was a surprise that we didn't have to search for words to explain ourselves and that everybody understood. Nonetheless, we found there were new words and new ways of saying things. And we found things richer and more spacious than what we were used to.
We loved being back to lots of smiles and pleases and thank-yous and have-a-nice-days. Jan was especially happy to be back in the land of the bottomless coffee pot and of course of American coffee. She loved the little Italian capuccinos she drank in Florence, Rome, etc., but still preferred the large mug of decaf with cream that she had been used to in New Jersey. We also loved being back to American-size supermarkets, American-size cars, and American-size highways, but especially to American-size dwellings. At first every home and apartment seemed exceptionally spacious compared to European and British standards. Now they are beginning to seem more normal.
We hadn't owned a car for two years, since we'd sold our van in New Zealand, and that was only a few steps above being a candidate for the junk yard. In New York and New Jersey we found ourselves being driven around in cars that had conveniences we'd only read about. One of them was back-facing video, that showed what was behind the car. It's wonderful to live in a rich country.
We'd been in cars with GPS navigation but not in a world where everybody had it and everybody relied upon this wonderful, dependency-inducing “weapon”. With Moshe going from Newark airport to Scarsdale we should have taken the NJ Turnpike north and we could have done that by following the signs. But the GPS navigator said take the Holland Tunnel and we did, consequently going 10 miles out of our way. With Ann we were using GPS to go to a movie and we missed our turn; because there was no map in the car we drove around as if in a fog. How to get back? The navigator didn't tell us soon enough which lane to get into and we missed three more turnoffs. Returning to Scarsdale with Jose we took a wrong turn, ending on the George Washington bridge; no U-turn possible, and again not being able to use a map to plan, we blindly followed the GPS and put an extra 20 miles on the car. Another time with the Vainbergs it was a question of how to get around Brooklyn: did the GPS-navigator or Gerry know better which streets would be the fastest? We got there in the end. The silver lining that accompanied the natural frustration is that we got tours of lots of places we didn't expect to see. Given that we often go out and deliberately get lost, we, if not our companions, were quite content.
Besides modern amenities in cars we found changes in shopping. We'd never heard of the Trader Joe's food market chain and now it was everywhere. The banking crisis had made many familiar names go belly-up and now there were many banks new to us. We went over to the shopping center in Shrewsbury, NJ, that had been “our local” and again found that half of the names we used to know were gone. Acme and Marshalls were still there but completely reorganized. Wow.
Two of our visits were sad reminders of the direction we will all take: downhill. Relatively slowly or relatively quickly, age diminishes all of us. We visited Harold, our former neighbor and now, at 90, he needs full time care. Iosif, a relative of Gerry's, is 7 years older and still can do much for himself, but he too needs some help for a good part of the day. Happily he is as quick witted and cheerful as ever.
Off to the South
On January 23 we are going to DC to get serious about our apartment search. When we arrived in NY-NJ we deliberately had not fixed our date for departure. We just weren't sure how much difficulty we'd have in getting our driver's licenses nor how many of our friends would be around and how much time we'd spend with them. Numerous people we'd like to have seen weren't even in New Jersey; they'd moved off to Florida or China or elsewhere. And some were busy. Finally came the day where we said that we must, must get going. We looked into the alternate forms of transport: the train cost twice as much and would be less convenient because of the way one must get baggage on and off. With our newly re-acquired drivers licenses we could have taken a rental car or even bought a car. We didn't buy one because we didn't have an address where we wanted to register it. And picking up and dropping off a car seemed as if it would be as much trouble as taking the train. So it like a bolt out of the blue, or more exactly, with Boltbus that we'll be off.
While in London, we also took on a rather giant translating project. Jan gets several requests for translation every day. They are forwarded from a website she subscribes to. If the subject matter is interesting, fits her profile, and she has the time, she might make an offer. Offers are only rarely accepted, maybe at the rate of one in ten. This time, however, the offer was very unusual. It was to translate a 160-page book about quantum physics. Given Gerry's background it seemed ideal. We always collaborate on translations. If French is the original language, Gerry sometimes helps with the actual translation, but if not he always does the proof-reading. From our London digs, we talked directly to the client in Paris and made a deal. We started work on it as soon as we got to Scarsdale in hopes of making our first delivery in early February without too much sweat. We have to make our second delivery three weeks later. What with seeing friends and trying to find an apartment it is going to be hard to keep to schedule. But we'll do the work that has to be done, even if it means temporarily giving up other things.
Now we're off!