Alastair Cameron's Letter from America

News, views and opinions from the one kiwi expat sent to New York University on a Fulbright Scholarship to study his masters of law.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Happy Holidays in New York and Beyond






Me and Hamish
Christmas in New York
December 2005



Happy new year to you all, and here's to a successful and fulfilling 2006. For those back in New Zealand, I hope the kiwi summer has provided some restful good times. I've thought of you often, as either on the beach, or enjoying a heavenly flat white in the Wellington sunshine - two of things I miss the most.

Still, here with my lover, I had a fantastic break. My holidays began officially on December 22nd, the final day of exams. I handed in my final paper, and that was it, the first half of my masters degree was over. I've been away six months, and while it now seems to have flown by, it also feels like a much longer time. So much has happened, I guess, that it is hard to believe it is only six months.

We (my class-mates and I) celebrated our freedom that night with a bit of drinking and dancing, but my real focus was on the next night, when Hamish was to arrive. His coming to New York was the light at the end of the exams tunnel, so I couldn't wait to get on the subway out to JFK airport to meet him off the plane (that long, tedious subway ride is not normally something to look forward to, but this time I definitely was).

What was a fantastic holiday began the moment we saw each other outside the airport gate. We had a marvelous time together, experiencing New York at Christmas time and over new year, and then traveling up to experience the winter wonderland that is Quebec in January.

Our extreme thanks go to David and Barrie who let us stay in their apartment while they were home in New Zealand. Up on 20th Street in Chelsea, one of the NYC's best areas, it is a cute place with all the amenities we needed to be happy and comfortable. It meant we could cook our Christmas and new year meals in a proper kitchen, eat at a real dining table, relax together in a comfortable lounge, and perhaps most importantly, sleep in a double bed. Having to cope in my little dorm would not have been cool.

On the whole, we spent much of our time just wandering around New York. It's a strange place at Christmas time. The days before are mad with Christmas shoppers. The day itself is eerily quiet, although that only lasts until the early evening, when the city comes to life again. And then boxing day is insane, as people head for the shops to take advantage of the (supposedly) massive sales. Avenues 5 to 7, anywhere between 30th and 50th Streets, literally teem with people; there seemed no end to the sea of people.

All roads apparently led to the Rockefeller Centre, where there is a giant Christmas tree and ice-skating. Against our better judgement, we fought the crowds to see the tree, and have photos to prove it. I'm pleased to have done it, but am in no hurry to do so again.










Hamish at the Rockefeller Center


Christmas Day itself was low-key, but perfect. We'd had a pot-luck dinner on Christmas Eve with some other international students who had also remained in the city. They were mostly New Zealanders, Australians, South Americans and South Asians, all those for whom the trip home was too far (there were very few Europeans around). Christmas morning began slowly, with some ripe melon, followed by coffee and bagels with cream cheese and jam (so, so good). We opened our presents, and I did particularly well as Hamish had carried quite a loot across with him.

We then walked down to Greenwich Village to meet another student friend, Gianni, for coffee; we went to a Jewish owned place, which of course was open on Christmas Day. After wandering home again, we cooked our festive dinner, which was followed by sublime kiwi chocolate (how I had missed that!).
But that wasn't the end of our Christmas Day. This is New York City on a Sunday night, so there was much fun to be had! There is a regular Sunday night party called "Spirit" where we thought we'd go for a little Christmas dance. Well, not that little...we didn't get home until 6am the next morning! Not only that, but we managed to get our photo taken and placed on the Spirit web site. Showing you doesn't actually do our image that much good (given some of the company), but in the spirit of openness, follow this link to check it out.

Shopping was one order of the week between Christmas and new year; Hamish managed to fill up another bag entirely, and I bought one or two small items... There were actually some pretty good deals, so it was a worthwhile time to shop, in spite of having to fight the crowds. Otherwise, I showed Hamish the New York that has been keeping my amused, taking him to my favourite cafes, restaurants and bars (the latter revolving around the specials nights that treat a student budget very well). Highlights included Spirit, Distortion Disco at Duvet (the bar with beds), and Eatery (fantastic midtown restaurant). Gingernut rice pudding at Rice To Riches, the rice pudding restaurant, was a must-do but not necessarily a must repeat...

As well as seeing the places that keep me amused, Hamish got to meet some of the people that keep me amused, including my flatmate Quang and several other LLM students, as well as Karlis and Kevin, two American guys from law school I've got to know well. They managed to put on a good front, convincing Hamish I have upstanding friends here in NYC... It was also great fun to hang-out with Jacinda Ardern (now a NYC resident from NZ) and Darren Hughes, who was over from NZ for the holidays. We reached a consensus that the watermelon margaritas at Food Bar were excellent.

There are more photos from the week; I'll put them on Webshots once the site has finished its maintenance.

What felt like the second half of the holiday began when my sister and Manue arrived in New York from Montreal on New Year's Eve. I was especially pleased to see them since they had to drive through a blizzard to get here (well, not quite a blizzard, but a big snow storm). It was odd, because the weather until that point had been remarkably mild - only three layers of clothes were needed when outside, instead of the normal four or five.







Manue and Kirsty with the Statue of Liberty silhouetted in the background


Anyway, we didn't go to Times Square for new years. We thought about it for about five seconds, and then decided against standing in the cold for eight hours in a crowd of strangers, with nothing to drink and no opportunity to go to the toilet, all in an effort to hear from Dick Clark and see a little ball drop. Reports from those who did go confirmed that our decision was the right one. Nonetheless, we could hear Times Square from the apartment at midnight, so we got a little bit of the action (and we watched it on TV).

Instead of being out in the cold, we cooked a beautiful meal, drank some lovely wine, and generally had a very civilised evening.
We saved the big celebration for the next night, driven mostly by the fact that new years eve itself in New York is hideously expensive and there are long lines everywhere. So on the night of the first, we went to Brite Bar to see Candis Cayne do her show - incredible! CC has hair and legs most women would kill for, and does a stand-up show in between going out onto the street (10th Ave) to do her numbers, incorporating into her act the taxis and pedestrians who happen to be passing by. It's not often you see a woman doing the splits in the middle of a New York avenue... From there, it was back to Spirit for some more dancing - I think fun was had by all.

Manue then drove us all up to Canada on 3 January. The country-side got progressively whiter as we went further north, until we arrived in Montreal, which was under a think layer of snow. It was charming to see Christmas decorations with real snow on them, instead of the fake frosting stuff we use in summary New Zealand. And the little time we spent in Montreal proved again what a great city it is. Good shopping and cool restaurants, with L'Avenue topping the food poll once again. I think my preference is to go in the summer - since it is #%&*!! freezing - but I'm glad to have visited in the winter time.

Quebec City was even more beautiful under its coating of snow than Montreal. Hamish and I stayed in a little B&B in Old Quebec, amongst 400 year old stone buildings, and beneath the City's original fortifications. The St Lawrence River with its ice-sheets was a sight to see, as was the construction of the ice hotel for the winter festival. Very cool. One other notable thing from Quebec City was our ice-skating. Or to be more precise, Hamish's ice-skating and mine and Kirsty's amateur hobbling around the ice-rink. Something everyone should do once, in my view.








Looking out over the St Lawrence


As promised we had some great food in Quebec City. The highlight was the stunning meal Dominique, Manue's mother, cooked for us in her home. How lovely to have a home cooked meal during holiday time in Quebec. In addition, we had an authentic Quebec breakfast at a fantastic greasy spoon (baked beans with maple syrup instead of tomato sauce - sounds gross, but is great with eggs, bacon, sausage and toast!). On a slightly more upmarket scale was some of the best Eggs Benedict I have ever eaten at another little breakfast place. The coffee still left a lot to be desired, but that is par for the course here in North America I'm sad to say.

The only downside of Quebec is that both Hamish and I got sick. Traipsing around in the snow and freezing cold finally took its toll, and we both had to retire to bed. Still, at least we were sick together, and we did get to watch some trashy Canadian TV in the hotel room, which is always fun. I reckon you learn a lot about a nation from its adverts and reality TV programs...I'll say no more...

Then it was back to New York where we stayed with David and Barrie for a couple of nights before retiring to my hostel for the final two nights. Again, it was a low-key few days (during which I had to attend classes), but a nice way to end the holiday. For instance, we spent a morning walking in Central Park and checking out just a fraction of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On Hamish's final night we saw Avenue Q, one of the leading Broadway shows, and it was so good - a great way to end the holiday. New Yorkers seem to hold Broadway in a bit of contempt as being a glitzy tourist trap, but there is no doubt the productions are impressive. The actors have great voices, excellent timing with the jokes, and some pretty tricky dance moves. Anyway, we laughed a lot and had a good time. (Before going to Canada we saw an off-Broadway show called Altar Boyz, which was less impressive but still good, fun entertainment.)

Saying goodbye at the airport the next day was horrible, but the less said about that the better. The point is that we had a fantastic holiday together, providing us with memories to share forever. And it won't be long before we see each other again - less than the time we'd been apart before this holiday.

In the meantime, school is back into full swing, and focusing on that will see the time fly by. And I have a few things to look forward to along the way - friends visiting and various times, Miami in February, hopefully Washington too, and maybe the Caribbean for spring break in March. Keep an eye out here for more details.

7 Comments:

At 3:30 PM, Blogger Dean Knight said...

lovely!

but, *sigh*, I know how sad it is to see your boyf head home after fun times like that...

d

 
At 2:26 AM, Anonymous Barrie & David said...

We enjoyed the occasion to share our home in New York with dear friends. You are always welcome here. We love you both.
Barrie & David

 
At 12:39 PM, Blogger G. said...

I lived those days through your words...
Bellissimo!

 
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