As soon as I finished my degree James and I escaped for a week in New York and so commenced two months of eating entirely too much and soaking up all the lovely culture I'd been missing whilst in the final throes of my project. Our lovely friend Puja showed us around Rochester, taking us on a wine tour of the Finger Lakes and even took us as far as Niagara Falls. What a spectacular waterfall, the water was astonishingly blue, and seeing it drove home just how crazy all the people who have gone over the falls in a barrel really were.
We also got to go to the Strong Museum of Play, and spent a full three hours being adult children - haven't had so much fun in a museum in ages. Here we are on the Sesame Street stoop:
It was pretty interesting to learn how Sesame Street was geared towards kids from deprived inner-city areas to give them positive role models and teach them the basics like shapes, colours and the alphabet.
I made James pose as a news anchor in the children's tv studio and it came out a little bit r/accidentalwesanderson.
We went back to Manhattan for the rest of our trip, but spent one of our days on a day trip to Sleepy Hollow (yes, it's a real place - super-exciting for my inner literature geek). James booked us a cemetery tour for that evening but first we got to go on tour of Philipsburg Manor (an old house that belonged to one of the state's wealthiest slave-owners and operated as a farm and a mill) and Kykuit, a Rockefeller mansion. The Rockefellers are just inconceivably rich - like, anything you could imagine, they have a version that was made by the pre-eminent artists of the time. The surprising thing was that it was mostly done with unerring good taste. All the lamps in the house were made by Tiffany, they had a church in the grounds with stained-glass windows by Matisse. There must have been about 10 tapestries by Picasso hanging in the private basement art gallery. There was a fountain whose base was made from marble imported from Italy to give a wavy effect on the bottom that cost something like $80,000. Just for the base of one fountain (which was far from the only fountain). They imported stalagmites, for goodness sake.
The whole thing made me a bit sad. It was all very impressive, but getting a perspex case made for your 2000-year old Ming Dynasty china so that your dogs and kids don't knock it over just sounds a bit mental to me. And what was left for their kids to strive for? A couple of them suffered from what sounded a lot like depression, which was hardly surprising - what could they achieve that their father hadn't already? If you can be anything you want, how do you chose what to be? It was a pretty fascinating place to visit for sure, but it didn't make me want their life.
James has an internet friend called Bill Lessard who is a PR expert and who lives near Sleepy Hollow, so we met him and his wife Judy for dinner there and had the best time meeting their lovely dachshund Strudel and hearing their amazing Bronx accents. It was pretty nice for James to finally meet someone he had been speaking to online for three years, and they were both so interesting that we were loath to leave for our cemetery tour afterwards.
However, leave we did, and we were rewarded with a tour guide who clearly loved her job and gave us all kerosene lanterns to make things a bit spookier while she told us the stories of those buried there and even unlocked the receiving vault for us to have a look inside (it was like a stony morgue room where they would keep bodies in big drawers over the winter when the ground was too hard to dig up).
The cemetery was next to the Old Dutch Church (of Legend of Sleepy Hollow/Headless Horseman fame) and contained not only the grave of Washington Irving but also those of Andrew Carnegie and his wife. It was interesting to hear about a Scottish boy who emigrated to America with his parents when he was only 13 then made it big. Huge, in fact. It was rather nice to hear that his philosophy on wealth was to avoid ostenation, and that "he who dies rich, dies in disgrace". Carnegie was on a Bill Gates-esque mission to donate most of his fortune in his later life, hence all the institutional and public buildings now named after him.
The cemetery was also the setting for the Ramones' Pet Sematary video (featuring a cameo by Blondie). I just watched it to see if I could recognise the place, and found the lyrics a bit peculiar since I am sure someone from my year at school did request to be buried in a pet cemetery.
I've been super into all things morbid and dark recently (I know I'm not the only creep out there, so listen up, everyone else who likes creepy things - I'm about to tell you where to get some). I've been listening to Morbid History Podcast, broadcast by two girls who work in a London museum and are fascinated by the macabre. It was there that I learned the origin of the phrase "sweet Fanny Adams" (it's really quite an interesting tale). I recently started listening to the Macabre London podcast too, and have been learning about Dr Crippen and the Moorgate tube disaster. James and I are big fans of having new things to google and learn about so we can impress each other with allll the facts, and I'm finding podcasts are a brilliant source for this. They're also great for when you're cooking, ironing, driving, painting or otherwise have occupied hands but a free mind. My inner literature geek, who is a big fan of Victorian literature, has really been enjoying all the haunted Victorian London stories and I'm now desperate for another trip down during the cold dark weather so I can fully appreciate the atmosphere (if you live there, take yourself on a London Walks tour one evening, they are so good and I really miss them!).
Anyway, back to NYC if you please.
We decided to go on a bike tour of Brooklyn because it's so sprawling and we figured we could cover a fair bit of it that way. That proved to be a good plan because a) we had a great local guide who had grown up there, b) it was super hot so being on a bike was grand, c) pizza and d) the other people on the tour were really nice.
My favourite part was exploring Williamsburg and learning about Hasidic culture (even though I had seen a lot of Orthodox Jews in London, I didn't know that the dress code for women was based on 18th-century Austrian clothing, or that they were obliged to shave their head and wear a wig once they married). I also found it fascinating seeing all the nannies wheeling around rich peoples' babies in moneyed Brooklyn Heights, and getting to visit a rooftop urban farm in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. We ate some tomatillos straight from the vine and they were di-vine (ha).
It surely wouldn't have been a trip to New York without a trip to Katz's deli, but we were wiser this time and just got one plate between us (as you can see, it was more than enough and easily defeated us before we'd even eaten half of it).
We stayed in a very plush hotel, because we hadn't been away for a year and we've both been working like dogs in the meantime. Both of us feel pretty guilty spending that much on ourselves, because for the last year and a half we've spent any spare money on our flat or our business and we felt like the care-free days of spending money on holidays were kind of behind us. Both of us are bad for rarely slowing down and never stopping, and honestly the holiday felt like it was more than required to recharge us. It's easy to get caught up in paying things off and getting things done but sometimes you have to remember that life is for living, and you shouldn't neglect to invest in yourself too. So if your self tells you it needs a holiday, let it have one.
It was lucky I did bring back the tins, since a cake I baked with one of them helped me get a part-time job as a baker in a cute little west end cafe. So I'm currently working there, still hosting our Airbnb and teaching myself new DIY skills while I do up our new flat. I'll be publishing a wee post about our bedroom transformation just as soon as I can get that headboard made, and I'm hoping to take on more freelance work in interior design/decoration and professional organising too, so if you have a project for me get in touch!
In the meantime, I'll be mainly Christmas shopping, planning our Christmas trip to Barcelona, cosying up with any new books and films you can recommend (as well as finishing my long-neglected Stieg Larsson one - also, this list is a good resource for what to watch next on Netflix) and cracking on with some more DIY! This has gotten a bit long, so I'll leave it here until my next snappier (I promise!) post. Tschuss!