Rossella and I had a wonderful time in New York (as expected), though I spent much of it ill with bronchitis (as usual, unfortunately). So here’s another travelogue (late, because I’ve been very busy since I got back):
Getting There is Half the Fun?
We arrived the afternoon of Thursday the 20th, on a direct flight from Milan Malpensa airport. That was the easy part. We had taken a train from Lecco to Milan’s Central Station, where we would catch an airport bus. As we were waiting on the platform in Lecco, we heard an announcement that the train just before ours had been cancelled due to “material problems,” possibly related to the snow that had fallen two days before. This missing train was to be replaced by a bus. Our own train was on time, and I had calculated a comfortable margin to catch a bus and get to the airport –I’m a paranoid traveler, I never aim to make a flight by the skin of my teeth.
Our express train made an unscheduled stop in Calolziocorte, the next town down the line, I supposed because the substitute bus service had not stopped there. Further on, we stopped unexpectedly, not at a station platform. Everyone looked puzzled as we just sat there. After a few minutes, the conductor came bustling through, saying: “Some people have blocked the line and stopped the train.” She was shortly followed by said people. They had been waiting for the cancelled local train at their small station, and the substitute bus had not arrived. After watching several other trains pass without stopping, and seeing their pleas to the stationmaster fall on deaf ears, they had taken matters into their own hands and blocked the track to force our train to stop so they could all pile on. (our train was already standing-room only). Ross and I were sitting on fold-down seats in an corridor because our suitcase would have blocked the aisle in the main part of the carriage, so we now found ourselves hemmed in by elbows and loud conversation.
At that time of day, trains into Milan are tightly scheduled, and once you’re off schedule, you often have to wait for another train coming or going on the same stretch of track. This being the case, the powers that be evidently decided that our express train might as well be a local, and thenceforth we made every stop, with more passengers getting on til we were packed like sardines. To reduce pollution, Milan had declared several days of “alternate license plates,” meaning that only cars with odd-numbered plates could drive in the city that day, increasing pressure on the trains as people who normally drove were forced to take the train.
The trip which should have taken 45 minutes took nearly two hours. My margin of comfort was eaten completely away, and there was nothing I could do but stew and stare at people’s stomachs as we stopped, started, crawled, and stopped again. No announcements were given of any sort, let alone to tell us when we might expect to arrive in Milan. I mentioned that I’m a nervous traveler, right?
We finally arrived at Milan’s Central Station and raced for the airport bus stand (down the left-hand staircase, the buses are parked right outside) and onto a bus, which fortunately was leaving immediately. Thanks to the alternate license plates, there was less traffic than usual, and we made it to Malpensa at 10 am, just about the required two hours before the flight. As it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried: the flight was half empty, so we stood in line only long enough to be asked the usual inane security questions before we reached the check-in desk.
The flight itself was uneventful; for the record, “The Princess Diaries 2” was more bearable than “Catwoman,” and “The Village” was better than both — and arrived at JFK airport on time.
We took a cab from the airport to our friend’s place near Columbia University, went out to dinner with her, bought some cough medicine, and went to bed.
Why We’re Here
As far as Rossella was concerned, we went to New York to shop. Friday morning we got an early start with breakfast at Tom’s Restaurant , a greasy spoon diner whose claim to fame is that it was used in “Seinfeld”; we went there because it was close. We had pancakes and bacon, so-so coffee, and orange juice in tiny plastic glasses that had been washed so many times they were cloudy. Thus fuelled against the cold, we hit the city.
We bought 7-day passes for the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority –subways and buses) for $21 each. We swiped them and went through the turnstiles, then I realized that from this side we could only go uptown, and we wanted to go downtown. I often get confused about that; New York’s is the only subway system I know that has separate entrances for uptown and downtown trains (at some stations). We crossed Broadway to the downtown entrance, swiped our cards, but the turnstile blocked us with the message “card just used.” The lady at the booth told us that, once you swipe the card, it can’t be swiped again for 18 minutes, presumably so that multiple people can’t use the same card to travel together. (Why precisely 18 minutes?) But she let us go through the turnstile immediately anyhow, “now that you know the rules.”
This was an early example of how nice almost everyone in New York was. New Yorkers have or had a reputation for being brusque, even downright rude, especially to tourists. But I’ve rarely experienced this, in many years of visits to the city. People even went out of their way, unasked, to be nice. One of the many times that Ross’ MTA card was repeatedly rejected at the turnstile for no good reason, a lady who was just coming out swiped her card so that Ross could enter.
We were constantly delighted with the service in stores. You can get good service in Italy, especially from family-owned small shops, but really bad service is sadly common, especially in chain stores where no one seems to feel any “ownership” of the customer experience. I am constantly amazed at how well-trained chain store employees are in the US; they can’t ALL have such cheerful personalities, surely?
Encouraged by all this good service –and the low dollar – we shopped a lot. Ross wanted Ugg boots , and Susan recommended buying them at Harry’s Shoes. While Ross was trying them on, another salesman came along and said “That’s the exact same style and color that Sarah Jessica Parker wore in an episode of €˜Sex & the City'”. Smart man – if Ross hadn’t been sold before, she was now! I tried on a pair myself, which immediately sold me on them. Uggs are basically a trendy excuse to wear warm, cozy sheepskin slippers in public –my feet have rarely been so happy in winter. The boots even stood up to the blizzard and subsequent days of slush with only minor salt damage.
shot Jan 22-24, 2:05 mins
music by Lena Horne
It started Saturday morning while we were at the videoblogging conference, and continued without letup until Sunday. The streets were eerily, magically deserted (see video), but the subways ran smoothly, so we had no trouble getting from the conference (held at NYU’s Tisch School of Art) to the place we were staying uptown, back down to Tribeca for a party, and back up to Susan’s again.
Sunday we were out most of the day. Walking around in the slush, snow, and ice was tiring, but we were able to get most everywhere we wanted to go by subway, including a matinee of Hairspray, which was every bit as great as we had hoped and expected –for a good time on Broadway, I highly recommend it. The sets were gorgeous and clever. It took me a while to figure out why the backdrop of colored lights looked so familiar, til I finally dredged up a fragment of my childhood: it’s a giant Lite Brite!
Hot, Hot, Hot
I have complained before that Americans tend to overdo air conditioning. As I learned in New York, they also overdo heating, which I don’t think is good for anybody’s health. When it’s well below freezing outside (20 F), it’s a shock to the system to enter a store or home heated to 80 F. One store I went into (Best Buy) was apparently heated for the comfort of the employees (in short-sleeved polo shirts), without regard for the comfort of patrons, who were coming in off the street in multiple layers of sweaters and coats. It was so hot that I felt nauseated and nearly fainted in the checkout line. I would have liked to stay longer and look at MP3 players, but I simply couldn’t take the heat.
lunch break: Leslye, Deirdré & Andrew
The official reason for the trip was to attend the world’s first conference of Video Bloggers. I originally started hanging out with them (online) last June, because I had a feeling that their interests would intersect with those ofTVBLOB, the high-tech startup I’m working for. I was right: these folks are the cutting-edge early adopters who will help to drive the development and use of technology such as ours. The videobloggers are also a fun, creative, invigorating bunch of people, so it was a privilege to hang out with them, and hear and see the results of a great deal of hard thinking (and shooting, editing, and coding) that they are putting into the joys and problems of distributing video over the Internet.
I had told Ross that, in order to accompany me to New York, she had to qualify as a videoblogger by doing at least one blog before we left. She proved (to my complete unsurprise) to be a natural in front of the camera. She’s having fun with it, and so are her classmates. What the text- and photo-based web has been to my generation, video will be to hers, so it’s good that she is already learning how to express herself both behind and in front of the camera. Several of the videobloggers told her they’re fans of her work, and her videos are already more popular (in terms of traffic) than mine!
photo by Dan Melinger on Flickr