Tag Archives: new york

My top ten New York moments of 2010

19 Jan

I haven’t actually posted for quite a while and I was thinking, have I outgrown my blog?

I set this up to write about all the weird and wonderful experiences I’ve had being a newcomer to New York – and to American life as a whole. But maybe, could it be that I’ve been here for long enough (I’ve now been a Green Card resident for 14 whole months) that I’m simply not finding things weird anymore? Could it be that I’ve acclimatised to this brave new world?

Anyway in the spirit of end-of-year Top 10 compilations, I’m going to try and put together a list of my top ten New York highlights (funny or unforgettable or just plain strange) from 2010, my first full calendar year of residing in the USA:

In no particular order:

1) Enormously overweight young Bronxite woman with a MASSIVE attitude who very nearly beat me up for daring to attempt to sit comfortably in MY seat on the bus – her massive thunder thigh/posterior was overhanging into my seat and I committed the cardinal sin of inching back in my seat and inadvertently leaning against said thigh, whereafter all hell broke loose.

2) Snow blizzards! New York snow is serious snow – no pussy-footing, lame attempt at the white stuff à la London. Ended up in Brooklyn during the most recent, awe-inspiring, snow blizzard of Boxing Day 2010, where for some reason, the snow ploughs (NOT plows) had not quite reached, and there was literally thigh-high snow heaped up in the streets. It was a surreal winter wonderland.

3) Teaching English on the 63rd floor of the Empire State Building. Apart from the views, there was something wonderfully old-fashioned, in a quintessentially New York way, about the mighty skyscraper; the majestic Art Deco lobby, the pristinely-uniformed doormen greeting you with a “Welcome to the Empire State Building”, the grandiose lifts swooping you up to the 63rd floor…

And reading Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, in which the Empire State Building plays a central part, at the same time as working there felt quite incredibly cool.

Here are a couple of pics of the view from my classroom:

4) Visiting the two sides of Williamsburg in one afternoon – the cool, skinny-jeaned-clad, hipster side full of trendy cafes and bars, and the atmospheric hasidic side, full of cute children (the boys with long, curly peyot – sidelocks, and the girls dressed in ultra-modest skirts and tightly plaited hair) playing on the sidewalk and calling out to each other in Yiddish, and ancient rabbis with long long grey beards walking meditatively along the streets on their way to or from shul or a shiur. (click here for related post, “Williamsburg Wanderings”).

5) The cringeworthy hug moment at work, when the big bad stentorian shiny plastic-coated American boss gripped me in a huge inescapable bear-hug to welcome me into his company. (click here for related post, “Please don’t say he’s going to hug me”).

6) Getting a shiny new bike and discovering that New York is unexpectedly quite a bike-friendly city, by cycling the length and breadth of the metropolisfrom the glorious Hudson River Greenway that we cycled from the very top of Manhattan Island all the way to its southern tip, to the totally unexpected and very pretty green cycle/pedestrian path that runs all the way west-to-east across the whole of the borough of The Bronx, entirely avoiding roads, over to Pelham Bay Park, City Island and a glimpse of the sea.

7) Ending up in Coney Island on an unbearably sticky hot summer’s day, and loving the kitsch retro arcades, the revamped Luna Park, the boardwalk and unexpectedly, a real beach with the real Atlantic Ocean to sit and gaze at for hours on end while eating a rapidly melting ice cream. Here are a few pics:

8 ) Sitting in Barnes & Noble bookshop cafes for hours on end reading, writing, sipping cappuccinos and generally ruminating on matters profound and non-profound. (Sadly my favourite B&N has just closed down, the one at 66th Street near the Lincoln Center – I fear I was partly to blame for its demise, being one of the many customers who didn’t buy many books but who sat for hours reading them in the cafe…)

9) It’s not really a top highlight of 2010 for two reasons: a) it’s not that earthshattering and b) it actually happened at the beginning of 2011, but just for the sake of having a no. 9, here’s a pic of a funny little moment on an otherwise dull subway ride when a feathered New Yorker hopped into my carriage for a free ride before hopping off again at a station a couple of stops down the line:

10) And again taking chronological licence…Although this pre-dated 2010, how can I forget that unforgettable herring incident at my local New York supermarket which started off this whole blogging adventure…click here for a recap of “The Herring Incident and how I am transformed into local supermarket hero”.

green bagels and ham

22 Mar

As I might have already mentioned once or twice, I’ve often noticed how America seems to be the Land of Ultimate Exaggerations.

This was nicely illustrated recently on St Patrick’s Day, which is a huge deal here in NYC with so many people of Irish descent.

Not only were about 50% of the people in the streets dressed in green and drinking Guinness, and every shop window bedecked with four-leaved clovers, but when I passed by a bagel shop, they were selling luminous green bagels.

this time a lovely friendly bus ride – New York is redeemed :-)

4 Mar

After last posting’s horrible, nightmarish, doughnut-shaped loop of a bus ride, I’m happy to write that I had a very funny and friendly bus ride yesterday and have decided New Yorkers are much friendlier than Londoners.

People often start talking to each other on the buses here – they even, gasp, make eye contact with each other (as opposed to staring blankly ahead into the middle distance, a special talent of Londoners).

Yesterday, a guy sitting opposite me was showing another guy some aloe he had bought from the fruitshop. He was showing him how you can eat aloe raw and it’s really good for your health etc. (fyi, it looks a bit like a cactus plant). Anyway so I chipped in and started asking him about it, and he broke off a bit of the aloe and passed it to me to examine. He was saying how not only is it good for your skin, but it’s also good to eat.

And before you knew it, half the bus was joining in discussing the benefits of aloe and grilling him with questions about it. Everyone was smiling and enjoying the discussion.

I got off the bus in a very good mood.

Honey, I’m just popping down to the garage to pick up some….cholent

17 Nov

Important preliminary explanation: CHOLENT – A greasy stew made up of any or all variety of beans, barley, pulses, spuds, carrots and lumps of unidentifiable meat (or without for the vegetarian version) etc which is slow cooked overnight from before the start of Sabbath on Friday evening and generally eaten by Jewish people for Saturday lunch. Origins in eastern European Jewish communities from a long time ago to provide warmth through the bitter winters. Etymological root said to be the French “chaud lent” – slow heat. (For other unfamiliar terms, please refer to the “Glossary for the uninitiated” at the bottom of this post)

Question: Surely cholent – that stodgy, heavy, greasy stew that many of us Ashkenazi Yidden are partial to, the one that makes you need to collapse heaving, rendered immobile, on the sofa for many an hour on a Shabbos afternoon, should only and ever be eaten for Shabbos lunch (usually after a long and arduous stint in shul in the morning), and never at any other time in the week?

Answer: YES if you live anywhere in the whole world except for Monsey. NO if you live in Monsey.

For you see, I have just returned from a most pleasant and insightful weekend spent at my sister-in-law and brother-law and family who live in the most pleasant locale of Monsey, a smallish, mediumish, largeish town in upstate New York. And in Monsey you will discover, cholent has taken on an omnipresent, omniscient, all-singing all-dancing presence.

For Monsey is not what it first seems – a typically small-town American small town. It is in fact a modern-day shtetl set in modern-day USA where thousands of Hassidic and other types of Jews have made their home. Here you can find Mordechai the Jewish locksmith, Benyomin the Jewish hauler, Mr Glatt the kosher butcher, and so on and so on.

And this is where the cholent story comes in. For in Monsey, you can now buy cholent ANYWHERE! ANYTIME! No longer sold on Friday afternoons before Shabbos, the cholent scourge is creeping earlier and earlier back in the week. You now have to cringe at that unmistakeably overpowering cholenty smell when you pop down to your local bagel shop for breakfast of a Thursday morning.

And much much crazier than that, you can now go down to your local Jewish-owned Shell garage, and while you fill up your massive American automobile, you can nip into the garage shop and buy a bowl of STEAMING HOT FRESH CHOLENT bubbling on a giant-sized hotplate!!!

According to a well-informed local source, the Shell garage is only one of a number of local “cholent hang-outs” where the chow is now on sale most nights of the week, and where some young Hassidic men and women go to surreptitiously eye each other up over a bowl of the unctuous stuff. In fact, my source claims it is only a matter of time until the said-cholent-guzzlers are, shock horror, chatting each other up à la “So how’s your kishka?” Surely not! Horror of horrors! A slippery slope! Where will this end!

And if that were not bad enough, these Jews – generally so punctilious about eating only strictly kosher food stamped with a hundred or so proofs of its “kosherness” by a whole gamut of rabbis – are apparently eating cholent WITHOUT A HECHSHER ON IT! Stop! Say no more!

(OK, so I’m exaggerating a little bit – it’s not really as bad as it sounds, for the cholent is made by none other than the extremely frum garage owner’s extremely frum wife. But even so, they should know better.)

Indeed, there have been sightings of said Shell garage owner scurrying back and forth between his garage and his nearby home weighed down by huge steaming pots of the stuff. Unconfirmed reports state that his cholent revenues now vastly exceed his petrol revenues.

Next visit to Monsey, make no mistake about it, I’m making a pilgrimage to this cholent heaven to sample for myself. Pictures to follow.

Glossary for the uninitiated:

ASHKENAZI: Jews originating from central and eastern Europe, who tend to be pale of skin and whose ancestors probably spoke Yiddish at some point or another.

YIDDEN: “Jews” in Yiddish.

SHABBOS: The Jewish Sabbath, or day of rest, beginning Friday sundown and ending Saturday sundown. Also pronounced “Shabbat”.

SHTETL: A close-knit Jewish community, where everyone knows each other’s business. The term was first used to refer to such communities in eastern Europe in previous centuries.

SHUL: Synagogue

HECHSHER: A certificate proving that restaurants, packaged food etc are kosher.

FRUM: A Yiddish term to denote Orthodox or practising Jews.

This post is dedicated to Family Kind

The herring incident and how I am transformed into local supermarket hero

10 Nov

Picture the scene – it’s Friday afternoon, just a few hours before the holy Sabbath, and I’m browsing the local supermarket in my newly adopted New York neighbourhood, minding my own business, when I come face to face with an elderly lady brandishing a trolley contraption of sorts. We size each other up before she cries out that most majestic of cries (with an unmistakeable just-got-off-the-boat-from-Eastern-Europe-yesterday accent, rolling her tongue deliciously over the double “rr”):


She looks at me expectantly. Puffed up with pride that I can be of such use to another human being, I oblige. I help her make her choice through the dizzying array of  jars and plastic containers of herrings bursting off the shelves of the kosher fridge section, handing her different flavours (in cream sauce, schmaltz, plain, in wine sauce etc), and different brands (Gold’s, Miller’s etc), each of which she scrutinises thanks to the magnifying glass she brandishes in her right hand. Hurrah! She finds her perfect herring choice – right flavour, right brand, and thanks me profusely. We both walk off beaming.

I round the corner to the next aisle, and another old lady, about a quarter my height and with suspiciously gleaming jet-black locks, comes at me.  “Am I glad you’re so tall!” she cries out with that most Semitic of New York intonations, as she indicates for me to stretch up to the lofty heights of the top shelf to reach for her favourite type of “kasha”, all the while extolling the praises of this most versatile of Shtetl grains (starch? pulse?) with a dreamy look in her eye. “Oh how good this tastes with the juice from your roast chicken!”

I walk over to the cheese section. It’s only a matter of time until another elderly lady looks to me for succour, I can feel it in my bones. And sure enough, a more portly middle-aged woman, looking half in my direction and half at the cheese display, pronounces out loud, with deep irritation: “Now where have those herrings gone, they’ve moved them again!” Bristling with usefulness, I swiftly set her in the right direction and assure her that her chosen brand is well stocked.

I see a dazzling new career path opening up to me:

“Herring Consultant and High Shelf Reacher”

knew the streets of this new Goldener Medina would be lined with gold, but little did I realise how soon it would be before I found my calling in life.

New York life beckons, brimming with new opportunities.

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