Well, just a few hours ago, Husband set off for the airport to cover the sad events in Boston… It all happened about 3pm today and the first I heard of it was him ringing me around 3.30 when I was on my way to the supermarket (! – my life is one big round of thrills and spills), to say he would be coming home briefly to get a few clothes before heading off to Boston straightaway. It is a real tragedy and as I’ve been glued to the internet this evening, there have been some shocking pictures coming out. On a personal note, it’s a relief that several Boston friends are all okay and not affected, and also very strange to watch a big event like this without being in a newsroom to cover it! Here’s hoping I’ll be back in one before too long…
But Husband’s absence does give me time to update you on my doings over the past few days. Firstly, thank you for all your lovely comments and advice so far. It is rather gratifying to think there are people out there reading all of my witterings! It turns out that the 32 degree heat was a bit of a freakish occurence, even for D.C – it doesn’t normally get that hot in April, and in fact last Wednesday was the hottest it has been on any 10th April since 1922. So I’m safe for a little while yet… call it a warm-up (literally) for the summer…
Not in a bid to escape the heat, but rather to see my uncle and cousins who were there for a few days, last Thursday I made the trip to the Big Apple for the first time since arriving here. I have been twice before, once in August 2001 (during which visit I went up the World Trade Centre towers) and another time in December 2008, but both times made me feel rather at sea. Even for someone coming from London, New York feels huge, incomprehensible and unfriendly. I’m sure that’s not at all the case really, but I didn’t really like the place either time I went there.
This trip was a bit different, though. Firstly I think that’s partly because both of the previous times, I was having to get my head around not only NYC, but the US in general. Everything felt different and new. This time, I’ve already ‘acclimatised’. Secondly, I arrived on the train – which felt entirely civilised. I got the Amtrak from Union Station at 7.25am (and it felt more like flying than going by rail – everyone had lots of suitcases, and you go to a ‘gate’ rather than a platform, and then wait until your platform is called to go through a certain set of doors, having your ticket checked individually by an inspector as you go through) and was at Penn Station by 10.44am, perfectly on time. The train itself wasn’t the most modern-looking, but the seats were huge and comfortable, it was very clean and it had excellent wifi. It’s just a shame it cost $82 one-way! I certainly got the impression that the train is perhaps a rarer form of transport than it is in Europe – at one point, as we were going past a view of the Manhattan skyline, a conductor came on the intercom to point out some of the sights (which was lovely!) but also to ‘welcome on board the Fredericksburg Children’s Choir… because it’s their first time to the Big City and their first time on a train!’ Wow.
My uncle and cousins met me at Penn Station, and we set off for Ground Zero – somewhere I have never been except in its former life as the twin towers. Back in 2008, it was still rather a hole in the ground, and it felt a little bit like ‘disaster tourism’ to go and peer through some railings at the site of so much destruction and heartbreak for others. Since then, though, I’ve been involved in covering the tenth anniversary, and the building of the new memorial, and felt that was somehow more appropriate to visit, as a monument in its own right. Although it was a grey day – hoorah! thought I, after the searing heat of D.C- we could see the ‘Freedom Tower’ that’s being built to replace them stretching up to the heavens as we queued to get in, through an extremely tight security procedure. Once we were inside, you realise that it really is a beautifully thought through space.
The two large reflecting pools, on the site of each of the towers, have waterfalls cascading into them, and that water then falls into a smaller, deeper pool into the centre. The names carved around each of the pools are arranged according to which plane or tower they were in, or whether they were an emergency responder. What I really liked was the arrangement of the names within these groups though – not alphabetically, but by ‘affiliation’, so employees of the same company or airline are displayed together. And within that, there are ‘requested adjacencies’ – people whose relatives thought they would want to be next to one another, or who were relatives, or even who were known to have tried to help each other as events unfolded.I thought that was a very sensitive touch. The other object of interest is the ‘Survivors’ Tree’ – the one tree on the site that seemed to have come through the attacks. It was nursed back to health in a New York park, nearly died of frost several years later, but lives on and is now covered in blossom. Something of a symbol! Eventually, there’ll be a museum on the site as well, but for now there’s merely a ‘visitor centre’ where you can buy ‘9/11 memorial’ T-shirts, mugs etc. I thought that was a rather tacky add-on to what was otherwise a sensitively arranged space.
After a quick trip to Battery Park to catch a glimpse of Lady Liberty (still closed after Hurricane Sandy) across the water, and an excellent catch-up over lunch in a nearby diner – during which the waitress looked scandalous when I ordered a beer (‘Are you sure? Really? They’re big!’ – they weren’t…) – we decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to get a view of Manhattan. Again, this wasn’t something I’ve ever done before but it really is worth it… the bridge itself is very impressive, and the pedestrian bit is in the middle, shielded from all the traffic on either side, so you are free to admire its majesty without worrying about being run over by a yellow taxi. There are some great views across to Ellis Island, Staten Island and the Statue of Liberty from the bridge itself… but even better is the view from Brooklyn Heights on the other side – as you can see.
We ended our day with a wander through Greenwich Village, since we felt that – despite one of my poor cousins being under 21, and therefore allowed to buy a rifle or a shotgun but not to have a glass of wine – the sun was well past the yard arm and it was time for some alcoholic refreshment. We walked up a particular street there for a good 15 minutes, past chemists, burger joints, clothes shops, banks, dry cleaners… but nary a bar in sight. Most odd, especially since we were right near NYU. We eventually found a ‘chocolate restaurant’ which also served cocktails, and I had something delicious involving peach juice and vodka, before deciding to look for somewhere to eat back the way we’d come. We decided to walk back down a different block and lo! all the bars in the New York were there. Ooops. We found a lovely little Italian place near Washington Square Park for dinner before my uncle and cousins gamely waited with me on a quiet, dark street for my – $17! – bus back to D.C. The ‘Bolt‘ bus got very good write-ups from the Washington Post for its DC-NYC services, and apart from the total lack of marking at their 6th Avenue stop (I eventually had to approach another stranger lurking with bags to check if that was indeed the correct location), it was definitely very good value. It took around the same time as the train, also had perfectly serviceable wifi, smelled clean (not always a given, apparently) and was full of sane, quiet people. Hoorah! All in all, a very successful trip to the Big City.
This past weekend was our first wedding anniversary – yes, this time 12 months ago we were on honeymoon in the Maldives! Little did we imagine that a year later we’d be living in Washington, D.C… Since we’re newcomers to town, though, we weren’t quite sure what would be the best way to celebrate this milestone. Fortunately, Husband had an excellent idea… cocktails in the roof bar on the top of the W Hotel, right next to the White House. There is a stunning view of the Washington Monument from there and you can even sneak a glimpse into the White House gardens too.
What I liked about the rooftop bar (appropriately called the ‘Point Of View’ lounge) was how formally everyone was dressed – even if my skirt and blouse did feel a little too casual in comparison! There were lots of chaps in DJs and ladies in long, colourful eveningwear, and everyone looked as though they were out to have a good time. In Paris, as is the stereotype, everyone dresses wonderfully elegantly… even to go to the shops, you feel you must don full makeup. But although they do chic very well, I’m not sure it ever had the same air of formality as some ‘Anglo Saxon’ outfits. Even to a fairly big event, it would be all right to turn up in a blouse, jeans and heels, perhaps with a jacket – so long as the outfit was beautifully put together and the clothes well tailored, it didn’t matter if the effect itself wasn’t terribly formal. Perhaps it’s a legacy of university, but I love formal dress, and I liked the effort everyone had gone to here. It’s also a marked contrast with some of the more casual dressing I’ve seen on American streets – white ankle socks, trainers and shorts seem to be quite the thing among men of a certain age!
After the W, we headed for an Italian restaurant near Eastern Market, recommended to us by some new friends. Acqua al Due felt beautifully romantic, with secluded corners and candlelit tables… We enjoyed a bottle of chianti, and I had chicken with white wine and mushrooms while Husband enjoyed a steak – though the experience left him resolved never to order ‘medium’ in the US, because it comes well done! The food was delicious, and although it was a little on the pricey side, we’d still recommend it as a good place for a celebration!
And to round off our anniversary celebrations, on Sunday night we thought we’d show our support for something of a British institution – Monty Python. The musical ‘Spamalot’ has been around since at least 2005 I think, but neither of us has managed to see it, in London, Paris or anywhere else! It was closing in Washington this weekend, so we thought we’d give it a go…even if the tickets were $58 dollars each for the cheapest seats (ouch! We’re too used to under thirties and journalists’ discounts… neither of which seem to exist here!) The National Theatre, which was hosting the show, felt rather sad and neglected compared to its successful London namesake – this was borne out when the manager came on stage before the start of the performance and said that sadly, the place had been ‘dark for far too long recently’ – but added that they’re proud to announce a ‘full Broadway season’ coming soon. I do hope its fortunes are on the up, I can’t bear it when things like libraries and theatres close down. That certainly made me feel a bit better about paying $58 for my place right up in the gods!
Anyway, the show was marvellous – with lots and lots of silliness, outrageous costumes, innuendo and campery. I don’t think either Husband or I had appreciated quite how much we miss the British absurdity and sense of the ridiculous until we saw this … but I think it perhaps explains why we are sometimes so silly with each other, to make up for it! At any rate, the US audience clearly adored it too- though I think there was added amusement value for us, as some of the ‘British’ accents went rather, shall we say, astray. They seemed to travel from Australia, via South Africa, to a Dick van Dyke-style cockney London, before ending up somewhere in New England. But it made it all the funnier really! And the cast were obviously having a whale of a time – it turned out that this was their last night performing together, and they gave it their all. The ‘Holy Grail’ was eventually found under a little boy’s seat in the stalls, and as he went up on the stage to be congratulated and sung to by the Knights of the Round Table (clearly while the stage was being prepared for the finale – which included a gay wedding and the line ‘To think in a thousand years this will still be controversial!’) I felt as though I were back in the Birmingham Hippodrome for a pantomime. We even all sang along at the end to ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ – and you know, despite today’s very gloomy news, evenings like that rather make you want to follow that advice.