Thursday 30 September 2010

Made in Manhattan; what's your favourite New York movie moment?

Since I've been living near New York, I've taken an extra special delight in watching, and often re-watching, films and TV shows that feature the city and its environs. It's amazing how many times it crops up; and not just with the obvious Manhattan candidates, like King Kong, Sex and the City, West Side Story, countless Woody Allen films, Working Girl, Ghostbusters, Taxi Driver, The Devil Wears Prada....well, obviously, the list is endless.

With our new-found knowledge of the city, we can now recognise the less obvious and less glamorous parts of the city on screen. Our blogger heroine in Julie & Julia lived in Long Island City, Queens, suspiciously close to what looks like the Long Island Railroad. Sitting at home watching Tony Soprano driving his car in the introduction to The Sopranos, we can gleefully point out and recognise the New Jersey turnpike and Lincoln Tunnel. Watching Madagascar, we suddenly get all the New York references (eg. "this is the Jersey side of this island") more than ever before, as well as pointing out Central Park Zoo and Grand Central Station to the boys. And we could also scoff at the recent series of 24 which feaured Jack Bauer in New York, knowing that there is no way he could have taken two minutes of screen time to get between two points which we know could easily take up to an hour....

Wall Street; Money Never Sleeps, which I saw last night, was no exception. As you might expect, it features the City in all its glory; amazing panoramas of the New York skyline over the Hudson and the East River; a sumptuous fundraiser ball at the Met; a scarily fast New York cab ride with a maniac driver (and yes, they really do drive like that); glossy loft-style apartments. But this time there was an added bonus: Long Island!

Jake, the young investment banker played by Shia La Boeuf, comes from, in the words of his friend, 'some Long Island town no-one's ever heard of, let alone can spell' . (There are quite a few of those; Ronkonoma, anyone, or Hauppage?) His mother, brilliantly played by Susan Sarandon, is a realtor out on the Island and when they go out to visit her, she shows them around a house, telling them Long Island is always popular, due to the 'good schools, and plenty of doctors' (well, thank goodness for that!). But perhaps the best bit was the scene featuring Jake and his fiancee driving down the Long Island Expressway, with cars bumper to bumper and apparently dangerously close behind them. That, my friends, is no Hollywood fantasy....

The film is a great follow-up to the original Wall Street, and features Michael Douglas at his reptilian best as Gordon Gecko. It's sumptuously filmed by Oliver Stone, and even if the storyline is a little bit unbelievable, I'd highly recommend it. In the meantime, if you have a favourite New York movie, let me know in the comments box....

Sunday 26 September 2010

I'm becoming indoctrinated.....

You know you've been in the States for over a year when:

1) You are not surprised when people start asking you in mid September what your kids are going to wear for Halloween. (What's more, you even have it sorted, having craftily picked up a couple of $5 costumes from a secondhand sale).

2) When local mothers start on their favourite conversation of which doctor or dentist in town is the best, you can happily join in (rather than wondering why the hell they don't just go to their nearest one?)

3). You finally know what the following food items are (even if you had to look them up on Wikipedia)

a) S'mores
b) Sliders
c) An 'open-faced meatball hero'
d) Fixin's

The last two were on Littleboy 2's school lunch menu. UK readers, any guesses without rushing to Wiki?

4. You don't have to spend embarrassing moments in shops trying to work out what's going on with your small change (clue: five cents is bigger than ten cents).

5. You don't refuse a lift home from someone, even if you just live around the corner and are quite happy to walk. They will just think you are weird.

6. You have already started thinking about what you'll be doing at Thanksgiving....

Monday 20 September 2010

An Education

So far, so good. Littleboy 1 loves school.

He's still the first up the schoolbus steps in the morning; still reports that school was 'great' when he climbs back down the steps at 3pm. I have had just one call from the school nurse's office so far (he fell off the monkeybars, luckily uninjured), which, considering the number of daily incidents in our household requiring first aid, is doing quite well. I am still waiting for the day when all is not quite so great, but thus far, the excitement has yet to wear off.

It helps that his teacher seems delightful. On the first day, after a lot of persuasion I got him to describe the day at school and was slightly surprised when he came to "And then, my teacher got out her violin and played it". It was only a few days later that I met a woman I know in the supermarket and mentioned the name of his teacher. "Oh, she's lovely," she said. "She plays the guitar and sings to them."

He's already come home with some new phrases. "It's your choice," he likes to tell me constantly. "Are you going to let me play the computer now, or later?" (Notice how the choice works entirely in his favour...). An awful lot of things are 'awesome' - a word he used a little bit before (such as the infamous time he told us that Rite-Aid was an 'awesome' shop), but he's definitely using it more now. And he's learned a new song, which he loves - the one about the peanut sitting on a railway track, and being turned into peanut butter (pronounced 'budda' in a very American accent).

I haven't yet discovered whether he knows how to Pledge Allegiance to the US flag (something that I can see is on the New York State Kindergarten curriculum). We asked him about this last night, and he mentioned that they had 'done a song about the red, white and blue' - however, he couldn't remember it and wondered if we could sing it. Unsurprisingly, we couldn't.

Littleboy 2, meanwhile, has started back at preschool, which is just as well, considering he spent the days when his brother was at school and he at home in a completely foul temper. Every morning as his brother left with me for the bus, he would eat his breakfast stony-faced looking more and more furious - one day running out into the street in his pyjamas, luckily chased by The Doctor, to follow us. It's hard for him, seeing his brother go off in the all-exciting bus, and I dread to think what will happen next year when the little girl next door (whom they both adore) starts Kindergarten too.

Still, his return to preschool seems to have prompted some searching questions of an educational nature. "Mummy, what's inside the sun?" he asked the other day, curled up in bed early in the morning. "Err......" I said, before mumbling something off the top of my head about lava. I realised I have absolutely no idea, physics not having been my top subject at school and the question having never occurred to airy-fairy Arts-graduate me. (The Doctor later told me it is hydrogen and helium). I've also had questions about why cars can go uphill, to which I honestly have no sensible answer.

I can see this is the start of a long Education for me......

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Social mores; your multiple choice quiz

Every time we go to a social occasion here, we seem to get it slightly wrong. I really should have learned by now that less is definitely not more now - the golden rule being, when in America, think big - but somehow I always err on the side of not wanting to go over the top, which is probably a very British attitude. See how you would do.....

1. You are invited to a Labor Day BBQ. The hosts say in an email that they are providing food. Do you bring:

a) A few beers to add to the coolbox
b) A large basket of preferably homemade pastries and cakes
c) A massive plate of homemade sushi

2) You are going on a 2 hour evening boat cruise with a group of friends; the cost includes food but you are asked to bring some booze. Do you bring:

a) A bottle of wine to add to what you assume will be the general stash
b) A small coolbox filled with beers and wine
c) An enormous coolbox filled with different drinks, which has to be dragged on board.

3) You are invited to a breakfast for all new kindergarten parents, on the morning that school starts. Do you wear:

a) Shorts and a t-shirt, accessorised by your grumpy smaller child hanging onto your arm and spilling your coffee
b) A pretty sundress and heels
c) Designer togs, accessorised by your husband who has taken the morning off specially.

All a)s Get with the program. You are obviously from out of town. You have no idea of what to do on these occasions - in fact, you could be British....
All b)s - You are doing pretty well, but still could do better....
All c)s - Congratulations! You know exactly how to behave on every social occasion and always make a special effort to impress.

Note to self; must try harder.....

Sunday 12 September 2010

A trip to the US Open; SW19 vs Flushing

Buying tickets for the US Open felt like something we had to do while here, given that we live just a 20 minute direct train ride from Flushing Meadows. I was also intrigued to see how an American tennis championship compared to a British one. I've been to Wimbledon a few times, mainly through work, and also Queens (which was always fun, as it's much smaller and you feel as if you are really close to the action).

So last week we set off to watch Nadal in the mens' quarter finals - the Littleboys were happily esconsed with our neighbours, where they were having their first ever sleepover. (The tennis here tends to go on until about midnight, and my neighbour had told us 'if you come back before 11, you've wasted your ticket'. )

The weather was distinctly windy, and probably the coolest day we've had here since the end of May; I therefore took a fleece. However, as we ascended to the top of Arthur Ashe stadium - we were right up in the gods, or whatever the equivalent sports-stadium term might be - I realised that a simple fleece would be no protection against the howling gale that was blowing up there. A few people had come with hats and blankets - however, most people were blatantly underdressed, and the stalls selling US Open sweatshirts must have made a fortune that night.

The atmopshere at the US Open - at least in the cheap seats - could not be more different from Wimbledon - where, if I remember rightly, no-one is allowed to come and go during the games itself (you can only leave or arrive at the change of ends). Instead, everyone is milling around, coming in with huge plates of fast food, hot dogs and beers during almost every game. After the first set, about half the people around us seemed to disappear, never to return. Either they thought the match was boring (and, to be fair, it wasn't a classic) or they were simply too cold - the outside area, with food and drink stalls, was packed. We had the impression that for many people it was a night out rather than a chance to watch tennis; the women behind us chatted about eBay for most of the first set. At Wimbledon, this was sometimes my experience when going on a corporate freebie - indeed, many people sat in the hopsitality tents boozing and never even went to watch the tennis - but when going as a normal fan, in the 90s, I remember everyone was concentrated on watching the match.

In between the games, loud music played and it felt more like an ad break than anything else - in fact, it reminded me of the MTV Europe Awards, which I once went to in Barcelona. There were promotional stunts - a couple of people were 'upgraded' to courtside seats courtesy of Continental Airlines -and ads did indeed play on the big screen at the top of the stadium. The whole thing was much bigger, brasher and certainly less formal than Wimbledon.

So which one wins? While I enjoyed our evening (especially once I had warmed up with a cup of coffee), I reckon Wimbledon offers more atmosphere, perhaps down to its formality and traditions, which, while stuffy in some ways, do engender a sense of occasion. (For instance, while I know that forcing the players to wear white might be old-fashioned, in a way I would rather that than Nadal's day-glo trainers, which were frankly distracting.) The US Open felt more like a huge, open-air gig, with the players as entertainment far below us if you could be bothered to watch. I'd love to go again, but maybe we'll spend more on our seats next time and try to get closer to the action. Unless, that is, anyone feels like giving me a VIP ticket......

Tuesday 7 September 2010

The Gallery: Back to school

The little patter of footsteps climbing down from a bunkbed interrupts my dreams at 6.30am this morning. It's only just light outside, the sun rising in a clear, cloudless September sky. The little warm body climbs into bed, and slips next to me. Then I hear the small, tired voice, asking: "Mummy?"

"Yes?" I reply sleepily.

"Did I miss the bus?"

It's a big day for Littleboy 1. Not only his first day as a kindergarten student at 'big school', but his first day riding the schoolbus. Luckily, when we leave the house at 8am, we are in plenty of time, walking the 20 or so yards to the designated bus stop. We walk with the little boy next door, a good friend of Littleboy 1's, who by a stroke of luck is in the same class (it's a big school, so there was only a one in five chance of that happening), and also has a big sister, who will help them both find their classroom. They're both excited. His friend tells him at the bus stop, 'No crying for Mommy on the bus', and they both dissolve into laughter.

After a couple of minutes, the big yellow bus pulls up, lights flashing. Littleboy 1 is at the steps before I've even had a chance to wish him luck and say goodbye. I just about manage to give him a kiss before he's away, first up the steps and busy choosing his seat.

As the bus draws away, I see him wave. My baby, off into the big wide world.
This post is for this week's Gallery at Sticky Fingers. Topic: Back to school.

Friday 3 September 2010

Back again

Well, the weather improved for the second half of our trip. In Anglesey, we had blue skies, cold nights and gloriously empty beachscapes like this, as the Littleboys reconnected with their four cousins and the extended family turned our hosts' thankfully large house into a sort of anarchic child zoo. The first overexcited yelp and patter of footsteps began the day around 8am, and it continued in the same vein until they all collapsed with exhaustion at some point during supper.

It was a vintage Anglesey experience; lobster and freshly caught shrimps for supper, paddling in rock pools, and possibly the coldest swim I've experienced since leaping into a river in Norway. The six children were in their element; riding on the back of a pickup truck, rock climbing, exploring gulleys and rowing in a dinghy. Even Littleboy 2 - the youngest at three - gamely joined in with all activities. The journey back - often a depressing crawl down the M6 - was an experience in itself, as we all met up and stopped in Snowdonia for a mountain-top picnic.

After all that, coming home could have been something of an anti-climax. But I have to say it felt good. After a tiring flight (not a vintage Virgin Atlantic experience; no inflight entertainment for the first 2 hours and no child meals left) and queuing at JFK, it was an immense relief to be returning, not to what felt like a foreign country originally, but to a familiar driveway, a house that somehow smelled homely, and a town I now think of as home. Littleboy 1, who had been desperately excited to go back to England, confessed today that he is really happy to be 'back in America'. And hopefully it's not just down to his joy at the new, expensive bath toys that I bought at the Heathrow Hamleys in an uncharacteristic moment of madness (a battery-controlled squid? What was I thinking....).