Changing seasons

New York is beautiful in the Autumn. The summer heat really surprised me in its muggy oppressiveness, but the crispness of ‘Fall’ is a beautiful respite. It is more pleasant exploring the city, and the colours are breathtaking. We spent an afternoon out in the Bronx recently, watching squirrels rummaging in the leaves and admiring the changing colours of the park.

img_0497
Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx

It was lovely to feel like we were back amongst nature for a little bit, and I enjoyed an escape from the concrete. At times, we were actually on a dirt path! Such a novelty now.

It is entirely possible to ‘escape’ the trappings of the city without actually leaving, but I have found it challenging at times to adjust to just how much concrete there is. Probably a reflection of previously living by the beach, where evening walks on the sand were a regular occurrence. In contrast, our current neighbourhood features trees and playgrounds, but all surrounded by concrete. It is a great area to live, but I miss Mum and Dad’s massive lawn quite often, and think about my beach walks in that blissful way of sentimentality.

What New York lacks in lawn space though, it certainly makes up for in seasonal flair. Manhattan is gorgeous as Autumn arrives and the Christmas markets start to appear.

fullsizeoutput_27e5
Along the Hudson River in Manhattan
fullsizeoutput_27de
Ice skating rink at the Winter Village in Bryant Park

Exploring the Winter Village in Bryant Park was one of my highlights of this city so far, and it was everything that I had hoped for. I will take more photographs next time I am there – need to sample a few more hot chocolates so that I can offer a more detailed report I suspect… The markets and ice skating rinks stick around till well into the New Year, so there is a permanence to the buildings everyone is operating out of. What is lovely is that they seem to be made up of small businesses, often selling stuff they have made themselves rather than what one would buy in a bigger store elsewhere. The skating is fun to watch, with a wide range of skills on show. It might be something to save for a little later in the season though – those queues could put anyone off.

 

I understand a lot of the stores on Fifth Ave and around Manhattan now have their Christmas windows on display, and I cannot wait to see what they look like. Ever since we got to New York I have been most excited about seeing what the city is like at Christmas time, so far it is living up to its promise.

It is time to do all the good you can. My reflection on a turning point in American politics.

img_0504
What else could I use other than a photo with Lady Liberty herself?

I need to preface this with clarifying that I am a cryer. If you have met my husband, you can only imagine how that would confound his analytical, rational brain. Whilst he confronts a problem head on and carefully weighs his response, I am far more likely to lose the plot, cry and occasionally throw a spoon… I cry when there is a cute ad on television, or a happy story about a puppy, I cry when I am angry, sad, or happy.

So with that noted, I do not think it takes much imagination to guess how election night played out in our house. Oh, did I rage, throw a spoon, make grandiose statements, and then cry. The next day, I cried a bit more and even today I got close to shedding a few more tears. On the flip side, Ashby represented a calmer reaction. I do not think he will mind me saying that he did not vote for either Trump or Clinton (on a policy basis rather than any personality aspects), and he is calmly waiting to see what happens before making judgement. I am less pragmatic.

The reaction in our house I think plays out some of the themes that are seen in the bigger picture of America’s reaction to the election. The divide between those who are (probably quite sensibly) waiting to see how this plays out, and those of us who are concerned about the sky falling tomorrow. This includes swing voters who have given Trump the benefit of the doubt. I live in a massive urban centre, that predominantly voted Democrat. For the most part, I engage with media outlets that see the world the same way, have interacted with people who share my views, and whilst I have tried to understand the other side, I have not been able to shake my anger enough to truly say I see where they are coming from. All of these aspects led into the tears I have shed for the future of this country and reflect the problems that have led to the split in American political discourse.

Honestly, my life here is pretty insular (a result of not being able to work while I wait for my immigration stuff to be sorted, and an introverted nature which sees me more likely to get lost in the fictional world than reality sometimes), and I have actually actively avoided political discussions with strangers. The reasons for this are multiple, but predominantly it is because I have very strong feelings but I do not feel it is my place to argue with Americans about how they feel regarding the state of the nation. I have struggled to separate rational discussion with a desire to shake people who I think are misguided. As a visitor, who has observed this country from some distance for many years, I still feel I need more time here to really get to the heart of the issues. To tell someone I think they are wrong, when I have yet to walk in their shoes, does not sit well with me and yet I cannot separate my contempt for what I hear with a rational appreciation for why it is being said. Perhaps this is a poor reflection on me, but I believe that in knowing one’s own weaknesses you gain strength over time. Try as I might, I cannot yet truly get into the headspace of someone who would vote Trump and as such I stand back. For me, this has been an ongoing internal battle, and thus I have removed myself from political debate for the time being.

However, while I choose not to debate I have been an active observer. My husband loves little more than a nitty gritty political discussion, and has a skill in getting to the heart of the issue. It is that rational, thoughtful brain of his. This has led to meeting some interesting characters as we crossed the US earlier this year. I have not argued, but I have listened to the views of people who I know will have voted for Trump. From a woman in Colorado Springs who was so angry about how easy it is to immigrate to America (she has clearly never seen the process first hand about how complicated it is, even when you are married to an American), to a man in Dallas who wanted a change from the horrors he believed the Obama administration had inflicted on his America. These were people on the ground, who would never have voted for a continuation of the status quo. In contrast, we chatted to a man when we visited the Arkansas State Capitol. He was a Republican who had worked with Mike Huckabee and was certain there was no chance that Trump would win. Even within a broader Republican base, the differences between those within the political system and those on the ground were stark.

That is where the pundits got it wrong ultimately. It is where I got it wrong. I have been convinced for many years that Hillary Clinton would be the next president. This was before she announced her run, and certainly before we saw who the Republicans would put up against her. I was confident on election night that I had called it correctly and the early data supported that. Her policies resonated with me, her fighting temperament and her commitment to doing good in the world meant a lot to me, and I believed that the time was right for a woman to take on the job. The polls were close, but the path for a Trump victory was so narrow I believed that the Clinton camp would succeed.

When the early results came in, I remained optimistic. From previous election nights, I knew the advantage usually went to the Republicans and then as urban centres came on board the Democrats came back into play. But the swing did not come. The anxiety started creeping up till I realised that it was done. This was not going to be our night.

Instead, it was the night of a large number of people in this country who feel overlooked. Their feelings are as real as mine. They are looking at a life where they feel they are worse off than their parents were. Where their country does not look like it used to. Politicians are easy to blame and in many cases it is a fair response. I believe Obama has been a great president, and I do think history will look at his administration as a good one. However, my beliefs are shaped as a left leaning New Zealander. We will see what future generations say, but maybe I am wrong.

Trump won for a host of reasons, he tapped into a part of America that feels they have been left behind. A vote for him was, for the most part, a vote against the status quo. I would argue that given his vagueness and sweeping statements, few could have truly voted for him. They are voting for their projections of what they hope an outsider can do (just as I am reacting based on my projections on what I fear he may do). It remains to be seen how his administration will play out. In most likelihood it will result in him either being impeached for something, or he will end up being a shadow of the man he was as he campaigned. His sweeping ideas are for the most part unrealistic and certainly unconstitutional. I suspect in two years the Democrats will take back congress and the government will stall again. It just remains to be seen what will happen in the next two years.

In the meantime I feel it is more prudent for me to take heart from the message of the Clinton campaign. This is not about conciliation, because I believe that what has happened is wrong and a move in a dangerous direction. I think that, whilst there is fairness in giving Trump the benefit of the doubt, the Democrats who are responsible for working as the opposition must now buckle down and fight harder than ever to make their voices heard. I often heard Clinton speak the words of her mother: “Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as you can.” So for me, that is my new guiding light. In a time where fear had a victory, I want to fight back on the side of hope.

I miss NZ tonight

fullsizeoutput_27cb

I never really appreciated how wonderful it was to live on a tiny island so far from the rest of the world. Now I live on a tiny island in the heart of the world and it’s rather terrifying. I am working on a more thoughtful response to tonight, but for now I am just going to take a moment to think about how glad I am that I will always have a NZ passport in my pocket.

Exploring NYC: Governors Island

14249806_10208431532044372_7229261470195324808_o
Checking out Manhattan from atop Castle Williams, Governors Island.

Over the time we’ve gotten to know each other, New York and I, it has become apparent that some of my favourite things about her are peripheral to what makes her so well known. Perhaps it is that I am a little older now, but while the hustle and bustle of Manhattan enthralled me when I visited previously, as I make the city my home I have found a special place in my heart for some of the smaller spots. Our neighbourhood of Sunnyside, which I will introduce you to properly soon, exemplifies that. Another highlight has been visiting Governors Island, a 172-acre island in the middle of New York Harbour.

There are a couple of ferries that run to the island, but when we decided to go one weekend in late summer we jumped aboard the East River Ferry. A crowded journey down the river allowed for entertaining people watching alongside some impressive views. I finally got to see one spot where Ashby has done a bit of work, and enjoyed the new view of the city.

fullsizeoutput_27bb
Brooklyn Bridge from the ferry.

The island itself has had a long history, and the National Park Service do a great job of summing that up here. I was particularly interested in the role it played in establishing the defence of New York following the America’s victory in the Revolutionary War. Two fortifications were built on the island – Fort Jay and Castle Williams – and they successfully acted as a deterrent for the British Navy in the War of 1812. We managed to sneak onto the final tour of the day through Castle Williams when we visited, and learning about the history and unusual design of the fortification was another testament to how good the National Park Service is at preserving America’s history. By 1830, the defensive efforts of Governors Island were so successful that the fortifications were now redundant. As a result, Castle Williams has gone through a host of different roles. During a period of guardianship by the U.S. Coast Guard the castle itself was mostly used as storage, but apparently once a year hosted a most epic haunted house for Halloween! Now a good chunk of the island, include the fortifications, have been declared a National Historic Landmark District, and the island as a whole is a public space operated by the City of New York. There is masses of green space, and spectacular views of the city skyline.

There has also been a move to use the old fortifications in new ways, and they housed a variety of art installations when we visited. Certainly a different setting than what I am used to.

Governors Island only operates during the summer, but it was such a great way to spend a Saturday as the weather got just a little bit cooler. After our visit, we took a different ferry back, heading towards Manhattan. A few drinks and nibbles along the waterfront capped off a beautiful day in NYC.

 

New York baby! A long overdue update

img_0178
Manhattan from Governor’s Island

In a twist I did not see coming, Ashby and I now call New York home. From an epic road tripping honeymoon, to a short job search and an incredible opportunity for Ashby, we found ourselves living in one of the most amazing cities in the world. It is a long way from where the year started in Paraparaumu, that’s for sure!

I am still planning on going back and writing about the rest of our trip (and also sharing some photos from our wedding and NZ holiday earlier this year), but I thought it was better to jump right in to where things are at today.

img_0317
Filming the next Spiderman movie in our neighbourhood.

We are living in a place called Sunnyside in Queens (if you are from Christchurch, I am sure you can appreciate just how much I giggle about the fact I have ended up in Sunnyside!). Our apartment is a lovely wee one bedroom place on the ground floor of our building. It is about a two minute walk to the subway station, and we can be at Grand Central in about fifteen minutes. Ashby’s office is in Manhattan, but he spends a good amount of time on different sites around the city. It is a bit of a change of pace for him, moving to a consultancy, and he seems to be enjoying the new challenge.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I have started to adjust quite nicely to being a housewife! While I am in a holding pattern for immigration, I cannot work. What this has led to is a new enjoyment of cooking, and some time to start digging into my own writing. After feeling rather weird not working, having consistently been studying or working since high school, I am enjoying the luxury of having time to dig into some of my passions.

img_0277
Night out in Manhattan

New York itself is all the madness that one expects from a big city, and only increasing in my estimation as the weather cools! The summer was long and sticky, but the crispness of Autumn has been lovely so far. We have been warned on numerous occasions that it gets really cold in winter, so I am intrigued as to just how bad that is. Having experienced an Indiana winter, I feel I am at least a little prepared! The central heating has been kicking in over the last few weeks as the temperature dips, so as a preview to what is coming, at least we know home is comfortable and warm.

img_0255
Sunset from Long Island City

Expect a few updates to start popping up in the next few weeks. Need to get it all written down while I still remember it! Feel free to follow me on instagram, where I am a little better and adding photographs.

 

Colorado: snow in the springtime

After our romp through the desert region of the United States’ southwest, it was a nice twist to move to the chillier shadow of the Colorado mountains. The capital city of Denver sits just east of the Rocky Mountains and is known as mile-high city, due to its altitude. We again opted to book a room through Air BnB, retiring our tent for the foreseeable future. With our base sorted, we gave ourselves a few days to explore the city.

DSC05599

Denver, and Colorado more broadly, is simply a fabulous place. We found ourselves walking for hours, I discovered the deliciousness that is a well executed ice cream sandwich (cookies and ice cream? simply heavenly), and the crisp air had a refreshing feel to it. Whenever I end up in a state’s capital city, I try to get the chance to explore the capitol building. In Denver, they run regular free tours, where you get a chance to learn a little more about the history, and to head right to the top of the building itself. The dome tours let you step outdoors and check out the view of the city. Clouds obstructed the beauty of the mountain range on the day we visited, but it was still a cool exercise.

State and the Nation

Visiting these buildings is a lot of fun, in particular because you get a little more insight into the ongoing discussion regarding the role of state and nation in the United States story. It does not take long before you start to appreciate just how different the individual states are from one another, and the contrast between the external concept of what signifies an American and the internal reality. In New Zealand, with a tiny population and relatively small geographic footprint, we still hold some disparate views of what makes a ‘kiwi’ based on where in the country we come from. In the US, this is amplified. Individual states operate in a way where they are constantly seeking to balance the rights of the state with that of the collective idea of nation. It is possible to both love the whole and to be fiercely protective of the right of the state to set its own laws and shape its own way of life. Finding how to balance this troubled America’s founding fathers, and continues to be a fundamental debate in contemporary America. Delving into the stories of the history of the state is an engaging way to reflect on the complexity of the American story.

In Colorado, the outdoors plays a central part in the reflection of self. With the jagged points of the Rockies cutting through the centre of the state, it is apparent why this would be. Historically, a place noted for its restorative abilities, it was an area associated with healing. It also played host to gold rush and war, with conflict between a multitude of peoples shaping the historic makeup of the state. Today, in the capitol building there is a prominent tribute to this history of notable women, and a reflection on the leaders who have played a role in both the building of nation and state.

In our wanderings of the city, we were at one point caught out by a snow flurry – though the novelty was enough for us to laugh through it before seeking shelter in the library (not exactly a hardship to hide in a library for a short while!).

Pike’s Peak

A key destination in Colorado for Ashby was Pike’s Peak. The site of an annual rally car race, it is a location that means little to me but can be appreciated by looking at this video from a record breaking drive in the 1980s.

While Ashby has pretty much memorised a lot of the corners after driving this track in a virtual format, snow and an under-powered rental car limited the ability to do anything more than a quiet drive to the end of the road. Unfortunately snow hampered any chance of getting to the top – so we might just need to save that for a return trip. We went as far as we could, but any further and the wind was blowing snow drifts across the road faster than it could be cleared.

We had a night in Colorado Springs, before heading east again. Leaving behind forecasts of more cold weather we took to the plains of Kansas, right in the midst of the season of thunderstorms and tornadoes.

 

National Park Week: Traversing the Rockies and into Denver

DSC05559

The first thing to note is that unless you are planning some epic hiking, Rocky Mountain National Park is not a recommended visit till the summer time. You see, it snows there – a lot. Even visiting in April we were caught out by the snow. I thought maybe some snow would still be visible on mountain peaks, instead we were driving through flurries and awestruck by frozen lakes. Really large frozen lakes.

Our intention was to drive through the National Park, a detour on our route between Grand Junction (where we stayed the night) and Denver where we had booked accomodation for a few nights. Unfortunately, we realised once we got there that this road does not open till the end of May and it did not take long for us to see why with the road closed sign ahead of a deep snow drift. However, the benefit was that we did not have to share the park with many people! The small bit we saw was beautiful and it was refreshing to layer up with the winter jacket. It does not take much to have me playing in snow, and a few snow dances took place under the flurries.

DSC05564

There was not a lot we could do, but we explored where we could and popped into the visitor’s centre. Intriguingly (for Ashby at least), Colorado is home to 53 fourteeners – that is mountain peaks with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet (4267 metres). There are a multitude of resources aimed at people attempting to climb all of these peaks, and I will not be surprised if Ashby takes the opportunity to climb at least some of these in the future. I will take charge of having the hot dinner ready for when he gets back to the bottom!

Our trip to the National Park may have been a little underwhelming, but this was one of the more spectacular drive days of our trip. Perhaps influenced by the welcome sight of snow after all of the desert, it also allowed Ashby to drive on a road he will remember for years to come. The I-70 travels east to west and across the Rocky Mountains. It is regarded as an engineering marvel (the Americans have given the world a few of those) and the Wikipedia article about it is rather informative. Thankfully, someone else has also put together a bit of a video which is worth a watch (the music is painful, but we can not have everything). We drove this route heading east (while most of the video is about going west), but you can still get an understanding of the road and driving conditions.

We drove past a multitude of ski fields, with lifts still working and people on the slopes. After our detour north to the national park, we ended up on the I-40 and crossing Berthoud Pass and the continental divide. Here, playing in the snow got a whole lot more fun as it was super deep.

DSC05582DSC05571

This site is notorious, particularly with the interstate being in the path of several known avalanche routes. It is also a well utilised area for outdoor activities, and there is a warming hut at the peak (not for overnight use). An activity community maintains the area, and the Friends of Berthoud Pass work hard to maintain this (more information can be found here, and it made me think particularly of my Aunty Carol and Uncle Bob).

We made it through the region and headed into Denver late Sunday afternoon. After checking in at our Air BnB for the night, we grabbed dinner and got ready for a return to city life in the state capital of Colorado.