Since arriving here I've hardly spent any time in New York, despite being practically next door. Living out on Long Island, it seems hard to believe that the metropolis is just down the road, even though on a clear day you can see the distant skyline.
But it is really the wrong time of year to go into the city, when everyone who lives there is madly heading out to the Hamptons and upstate New York to escape the heat. Plus, however much I might want to swan around shopping on Madison Avenue and sipping Cosmos in bars, I'm hardly able to do so with two small boys in tow.
Nevertheless, the past week has seen a couple of forays into Manhattan. And somehow, anything that happens on that indredible island never fails to be an experience.
Last weekend we arranged to meet up with a friend of The Doctor's family, who we'd never met but who had sent us some friendly emails welcoming us to New York and suggesting a meeting. To keep the Littleboys happy, we opted for meeting at Central Park zoo, followed by tea at her apartment. We arrived in the city on one of the hottest afternoons of the year so far, and piled into a cab. Our cab driver not only appeared not to have heard of Central Park Zoo, but also to speak little English, but eventually we managed to explain. ("You know - zoo? animals? elephants?" The Doctor valiantly tried. Sadly there are no elephants in Central Park Zoo, but he wasn't to know that.)
After a rather fast and furious cab ride we arrived, sweaty and irritable with the Littleboys, who always misbehave terribly in cabs, at the Zoo entrance on Fifth Avenue. The Doctor had asked me for some dollar bills to pay the cabbie, and I handed them over, but in the heat and confusion of getting out of the cab with boys, bags and pushchair, I suddenly - I have no idea or excuse why - thought that he also had my purse. "You've got my purse, haven't you," I said, as we regrouped on the pavement. A look of horror came over his face and we looked, as if in slow motion, at the departing taxi.
Before I could say anything he had taken off at a full sprint along a crowded Fifth Avenue in pursuit of the cab, now roaring away to terrify another passenger. I then did what I should have done in the first place - looked in my bag. The purse was still there - I'd never even handed it to him.
I now started to run down the pavement, shouting "I've got it, I've got it', leaving the bewildered Littleboys standing on their own by the pushchair. I ran back to find them being fussed over by concerned Japanese tourists. A few seconds later, The Doctor reappeared, looking hot. He had also been informed by various passers-by that 'Your wife's got it". Let's just say he was not overly impressed.
However, all's well that ends well; we enjoyed the zoo, which features in one of the boys' favourite films, Madagascar. It looks much like its depiction in the film, with pretty brick arches and a central square. As ever, Hollywood seems to have taken a few liberties and there is no lion, zebra, hippo or giraffe there (let alone speaking with American accents and plotting their escape to Grand Central Station). But the penguins were there, the sealions entertained and the polar bear, though asleep, was impressively polar bear-ish.
Afterwards, we went back to our friend's apartment on the Upper West Side, and up to its roof garden, affording the most spectacular view of The Hudson, Empire State and the distant bridges. For the first time since we arrived, I began to hanker after city living again.
My second trip, in the evening and unencumbered by kids, again reminded me that, at heart, I am a city girl. I caught up with an American friend and former work colleague for drinks and noodles in the East Village. The streets were lively and pulsating with cafes and bars; we ate at a cosy, brick-lined bar serving delicious ramen, and my cab-ride back to Penn Station, in the middle of a sudden, violent thunderstorm (which I later heard uprooted more than 100 trees in Central Park, the worst damage to the Park in 30 years), was dramatic to say the least.
Just an hour later, I was walking back down our wooded Long Island street, into what seemed like a different world. But I vowed that I'm definitely going to make more of our proximity to the city in future. Keeping an eye on where my dollar bills, my children and my husband are at all times, of course....